Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires From Nosferatu to Count Chocula by Eric Nuzum

The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires From Nosferatu to Count Chocula
THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST by Eric Nuzum - Cover Image
by Eric Nuzum

The author, Eric Nuzum, is far from the gothic vampire type. He’s a pop culture critic that has both VH1 and NPR on his resume, but nary a fang or a cape in sight. So this book probably came as much of a surprise to him as it did to us. But, after a trilogy of vampire references cropped up in three different forms of media in rapid succession one morning, he took it as a sort of Jungian sign, and embarked on a mission–nay, an Unholy Quest–to discover exactly where the vampire myth comes from, how it became a modern archetype, and what exactly it all means.

This could quite easily have become another clinical examination of horror movies, an episode guide of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or another fanboy’s unauthorized fluff piece dedicated to the works of Anne Rice. That is to say, it could have quite easily become another book that I abandoned about twenty pages in. Instead, I read the entire thing from cover to cover in practically a single sitting. Nuzum doesn’t dwell on any of these things, but he does touch on all of them–what kind of a book about vampires would it be if he didn’t?

For someone who who didn’t seem all that interested in vampires to start with, the man sure does dive into his work with full gusto. It takes a dedicated, if not frighteningly obsessive, journalist to hijack medical supplies from the hospital with which to draw his own blood for private consumption. And lest you think that this is a Donnie Brasco situation, or that the author has found himself In 2 Deep, let me assure you that this happens on the very first page! Only after imbibing the aforementioned hemoglobin does he embark into the nether regions of the night to begin his Quest.

And what a Quest it is, taking him (and us) from the house of Monster Kid King Forrie Ackerman to the Castle Hotel Dracula in Transylvania, and every conceivable place between and beyond. And while the enigma that is the vampire may never truly be cracked within these pages, well…that’s really part of the vampire’s appeal. At least we had fun, met some rather memorable characters, and learned a thing or two along the way.

Nuzum’s writing is crisp and never takes itself too seriously, almost full-confessional style, like an old drinking buddy who has had a few too many Bloody Marys. Once you start the journey, you’re not going to want to stop, so be sure you have sufficient time to commit.

The Dead Travel Fast is my favorite type of travelogue, the kind that could potentially go on forever because the destination being sought isn’t a location, it’s a concept. It ranks right up there with a few other books that I implore you to read, Death: The Trip of a Lifetime by Greg Palmer, and the improbably titled Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes and the Quest for Transcendence by Clifford A. Pickover.

Highly recommended for vampire fanatics, Dracula lovers, and anyone who has ever heard anything go bump in the dark.


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