BGH Book Club- The Dead Travel Fast

Eric Nuzum's "The Dead Travel Fast," is a book that dares to ask the question "why do people like vampires so much?" Whether he's trying to get contacts in the vampire world, tracing the footsteps of Bram Stoker or Vlad The Impaler, or just watching as many vampire movies as he can stomach, Nuzum does his best to understand the evolution of vampires in pop culture and their emergence in our popular lexicon.

The book begins with the story of Nuzum trying to do some vampire research before beginning his sojourn. To this end, he vows to eat Count Chocula, try to watch every vampire movie ever made (yes, all of them,) and...drink blood. The author feels like the only way he can accomplish the last task is drink his own, in lieu of finding a willing and potentially non-diseased donor. So, he purloins a syringe from his doctor (who advised him against the course of action,) and gives it a wing. I won't spoil how it turns out, but let's say that the journey doesn't start on the best foot.

One of the highlights of the novel comes early on, as Nuzum describes some of the vampire films he has subjected himself to:

[Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter] is a kung-fu action movie focusing on Jesus’ Second Coming where he battles a vampire cult for control of the earth. Featuring the taglines: ‘The first testament says an eye for an eye, the second testament says love thy neighbor, the third testament…kicks ass!’ and ‘The Power of Christ Impales You.’ When Jesus gets into trouble with the vampire, none other than masked Mexican wrestling legend El Santo shows up to cover his back. And by the way, it’s a musical.

One of the continuing themes of the book is Nuzum's attempt to actually make contact with vampire communities and those who believe themselves to be vampires. While he does make a few contacts, the conclusion in the end is (not surprisingly,) that people who make themselves out to be vampires are generally bereft of other forms of self-esteem, and use vampirism as an enabler to appear more menacing, or at least, less shy. More often than not, Nuzum describes how he makes momentary contact with a “vampire,” but in the end, they stop responding to his emails, or don’t show up to arranged meetings.

Over the course of the book, Nuzum reports his travels and encounters with a whimsied frustration, especially in dealing with the type of foibles that occur on an excursion like he embarks on. Still, Nuzum’s determination drives him to continue, a conviction that many would have given up on.

The “story” is punctuated with a lot of great references into the history of vampires and vampire lore, ranging from the life of Vlad Dracula (who Nuzum makes is clear is mostly involved in the lore because Stoker liked the name ‘Dracula,’) to the history of eastern Europe’s fear of the dead coming back to life. Nuzum also points out the places that vampires have inhabited in our cultural lives; how every time there is some blight or epidemic or widespread fear, the number of vampire movies increases. He also points to how vampirism can be seen as an attainable goal for some, as they see vampires as creatures who don’t follow rules, or don’t fit society’s laws.

Whenever these sections begin to get long in the tooth however, Nuzum slams us back home into the present of his journey. He presents the conversations he has with “vampires” and people who study them, he watches every episode of “Buffy: the Vampire Slayer,” he goes to a “Dark Shadows” convention, meets Forrest Ackerman and discusses Bela Lugosi with him, and a host of other adventures that will make you laugh.

One of the highlights of the book comes when Nuzum tries to become a vampire using instructions he finds on the internet. When it doesn’t work (shocker,) he realizes that the instructions say that “all the activities must be done on seven consecutive days,” but that it also states “none can be done on a Saturday.”

The humor throughout the book is solid and constant, whether it is in conversations with his wife, with friends, with vampires, or what have you. In any event, if you’re at all fascinated by vampires, or are looking for a light read with some good humor, pick this book up, I quite enjoyed it.

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