Genre Saves: Zombies Don’t Read

Do you know how to survive a zombie apocalypse? I don’t—despite the fact that genre fiction has been teaching how to for the past 30 years.

Like every self-respecting ’80s-era bohemian, I nurtured a healthy disrespect for any notion of “genre.” While my plebeian friends devoured Stephen King horror novels, I choked down Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre and contemplated the void of my own navel. 

I realize now that I likely would’ve learned more about existentialism and life in general from reading, say, The Stand, or even my mother’s mystery novels, which always seemed downmarket from the lofty literary heights of James Joyce—from whom she plucked my name. 

In his paper, “Existentialism and Art-Horror,” scholar Stuart Hanscomb points out that the “uncanny atmosphere” of existential lit—think Gregor Samsa turning into a bug in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—is akin to such “nihilistic art forms” as “absurdist theater, film noir, and beatnik literature” and ultimately the “horror genre.” In my self-styled cafe curriculum, I ticked all those boxes except the last because A) I was a snob, and B) I’m a slow reader, and the prospect of reading one of King’s doorstops scared me.

Mind you, this was before the geeks inherited the earth and made everything that was once dorky—comic book heroes, Star Wars, monster movies—cool. Admittedly, had I been less of an elitist and kept up on pop culture in my formative years, I would have been better prepared for this brave new world.

It was with this personal failure in mind that I received an email from the boss listing the Best Cities for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse—he’s always looking out for us. Coming in at No. 92 is Santa Rosa, CA, which is comforting enough to at least rank a news peg. It is also where the Bohemian is ostensibly headquartered, though, truth be told, since the pandemic, I’ve been editing from various cafes throughout Petaluma and Marin, my car, and, at present writing, in bed. Now, for once, I really wish I was in Santa Rosa.

Inspired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zombie Preparedness 101—your tax dollars at work—online grass site Lawn Love “dug through the data graveyard to rank 2021’s Best Cities for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse.” They compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities on 23 key indicators of zombie-preparedness, which included the share of the “living population in good health to the share of available homes with basements to hunting-gear access.”

So, when the shit comes down—any day now—you can find me at the downtown branch of the Santa Rosa library, in the horror section, editing the paper and catching up on some reading.

Originally published in the North Bay Bohemian.

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