Today’s entry into my Favorite 2013 Reads Lists is for non-fiction entries (see part 1 here). I read a lot of these non-fiction books in my job as college professor, but also simply because I R Nerd. 🙂 For the most part, I tend to gravitate toward academic works about popular culture, especially of the SFF variety, but sometimes I also read books about my Ph.D. specialization of eighteenth-century British literature–it seems like a good idea to keep up with the newest idea in the field, though none of those books made it into my favorites list this year. See below for those books that did make the list (in no particular order):
The Triumph of The Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s Zombie Epic on Page and Screen, ed. James Lowder (BenBella Books, 2011).
This collection of essays offers some interesting insights into a television show that I find both fascinating and frustrating (I spend far too much time yelling at the characters to set a perimeter guard, you idiots!). I was particularly fascinated by David Hopkins’ claim that Carl is the true protagonist of both the comic book and the television series in the essay “The Hero Wears the Hat,” and Arnold T. Blumberg’s essay “Four-Color Zombies” gives a compelling history of zombies in comics and the laws (yes, laws!) forbidding them. The rest of the essays are strong, too—and they’re all written in language that is nicely accessible to both scholars and laypersons.
TV Goes to Hell: An Unofficial Road Map of Supernatural. Ed. Stacey Abbott and David Lavery. Toronto: ECW Press, 2011. Pp. xvii + 326.
TV Goes to Hell currently stands as the only published volume of academic essays on the series (though there have been special issues of journals devoted to the show, including, for example Transformative Works and Cultures No. 4). As such, this book is an invaluable contribution to the growing scholarship surrounding the CW’s Supernatural, a series now in its tenth season. This volume covers only seasons one through five—with a short epilogue by Lavery discussing season six—but it does so with impressive depth and breadth. In part, that scope is generated by the fact that the book is divided into six disparate categories: Comedy and Music; Time and Place; Gender and Sexuality; Narrative and Storytelling; Folklore and Religion; and Auteurs, Fans, Critics. In the introduction, Abbot claims that Supernatural is “a hybrid series, mixing horror and the road movie with melodrama, but . . . it privileges horror as its dominant generic mode, visually and narratively” (4). However, in its many approaches to Supernatural, this collection highlights hybridity over horror, covering everything from the difference between folklore and “fakelore” (Mikel J. Koven and Gunella Thorgeirsdottir, “Televisual Folklore: Rescuing Supernatural from the Fakelore Realm”) to the connections between economy and religion (Erin Giannini, “‘There’s nothing more dangerous than some a-hole who thinks he’s on a holy mission’: Using and (Dis)-Abusing Religious and Economic Authority on Supernatural”) to the series’ representations of fans and authors (Brigid Cherry, “Sympathy for the Fangirl: Becky Rosen, Fan Identity, and Interactivity in Supernatural” and Alberto N. García, “Metafictional Strategies in Supernatural”). (You can read my full review of this book in Studies in Popular Culture, Spring 2013.)
The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, ed. Asa Simon Mittman and Peter J. Dendle. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2012.
I first read this book when it initially came out in 2012, but I found myself returning to the essays within again and again throughout 2013. Like the monsters discussed within it, The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous is perhaps best initially described as what it is not. It is neither an encyclopedia of monsters nor a compendium of monster studies. Despite including essays that deal with monsters from ancient Greece and Rome to modern cinema, it is not an historical overview of monster studies. It is not a geographically complete discussion of monsters, though it includes discussions of monsters in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Though echoes of, for example, Jeffery Jerome Cohen’s seminal 1996 collection Monster Theory resound throughout the collection, it is not an homage to previous theorists. But it includes elements of all of these things. Therefore, The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous is a hybrid. In that hybridity, it echoes its subject. (You can find a full copy of my review of this book in the academic journal Monsters and the Monstrous.)
Fan Culture: Theory/Practice. Ed. Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.
I’ve recently become interested in what it means to be a “fan”–as an academic, as an author, and as a fangirl lurking on the edges of fan culture, I am interested in what constitutes “fandom” and why it’s important in our current culture. In 2013, I ran a discussion on academic fandom at the Marginalised Mainstream conference in London; as part of my preparation for that discussion, I read this collection of fascinating essays. Among my favorites: Simone Becque’s discussion of oppositional readings in Twilight fan fiction and Catherine Coker’s essay on fan fiction as political statement.
Gelder, Ken. New Vampire Cinema. London: Palgrave MacMillan/British Film Institute, 2012. ix + 155 pages.
Weinstock, Jeffrey. The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. New York: Wallflower Books/Columbia University Press, 2012. 144 pages.
Despite their apparent differences in scope – Gelder’s book covers only the last twenty years of vampire cinema, whereas Weinstock discusses a more general history of vampire movies – Ken Gelder’s New Vampire Cinema and Jeffrey Weinstock’s The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema offer remarkably complementary readings of the vampire in film. In particular, both Gelder and Weinstock deal with the ways in which vampire films “endlessly and in so many ways talk about vampires and vampire movies” (1) in order to build “narratives around the vampire’s capacity not just to create a disturbance but to endure it and survive” (vi). Ultimately, these two books deserve to be read together as they work together to illustrate the importance and cultural value of vampire cinema. (You can find a full copy of my review of these two books in the academic journal Monsters and the Monstrous.)