You can’t make this stuff up …

I was more than a little taken aback last week when no fewer than four readers – one of whom actually works here at the newspaper – accused me of making up “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks.

This what we in the news media refer to as “an alarming trend.” If we hear from four readers who have come to an erroneous conclusion, there are probably 11,000 other readers out there who may have come to the same conclusion but haven’t said anything yet.

To set the record straight, “The Zombie Survival Guide,” as reviewed here on Jan. 18, is a real book. It was really written by Max Brooks who, to the best of my knowledge, is a real person who writes books, although I suppose “Max Brooks” may be a pen name.

C’mon, people, I couldn’t make this stuff up.

There’s weird and then there’s weird. And Max is way out of my weirdness league, although I wholeheartedly agree with him that the venerable .30 M-1 carbine is a good choice for stopping zombies at close quarters as well as from a distance (if you’re an above-average marksman).

Besides, making up a book – about zombie eradication, no less – and then making up an author and then reviewing the whole imaginary mess is a lot more work than simply reviewing a zombie eradication manual that’s already been written by someone else who really exists.

Sad as it may seem, this isn’t the first time readers have questioned the existence of a book reviewed in this column.

Admittedly, the books usually reviewed here are not your average New York Times best sellers or selections from Oprah’s Book Club. Ninety-five percent of the books you read about here are supermarket paperbacks and what makes them great supermarket paperbacks is that they’re rarely, if ever, found on a national bestseller list. They will, however, be packed with vampire detectives, singing werewolves, undead space aliens and have really cool titles like “Coffin’s Got the Dead Guy Inside.”

(The latter title, I should point out, is based on the old underworld joke “What’s the difference between a coffin and a cello?” And, yes, it’s a real book by a real guy named Keith Snyder…).


Supermarket paperbacks and the like may be a little weird, but a tendency toward weirdness doesn’t mean I made them up here at my dimly lit, coffee-stained desk. Horned toads and Republicans are both demonstrably weird, but I deny having created either.

One irate reader once telephoned to accuse me of making up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to further “some kind of disgusting juvenile humor” in a book review about a sinister Seattle steakhouse murder mystery.

Sorry. I didn’t make up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As much as I’d like to take credit for it, the aforementioned strait is named after a historical figure named, curiously enough, Juan de Fuca. It runs along the northern coast of Washington. Really.

Persons having difficulty discerning the veracity of this column should, perhaps, take the advice of former newspaperwoman extraordinaire Cynthia Roberts:

“The weirder it is, the more likely it’s true.” I rest my case, amigos…

Originally published January 15, 2004

Are you ready for zombies?

If you add only one volume to your 21st-century-survival library this year, make sure it’s “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks.

This indispensable volume tells the layperson everything he – or she – needs to know to survive an unexpected zombie infestation – from a handful of the undead to a horde of hungry ghouls lurching and moaning across the countryside.


“The Zombie Survival Guide” (2003, Three Rivers Press, New York, N.Y., $12.95, 256 Pages) covers everything from optimum anti-zombie weaponry to armor, tactics and documented zombie outbreaks.

Author Brooks is a no-nonsense tactician who scoffs at those who would attribute the existence of zombies to voodoo or the supernatural.

Zombies, he asserts, are created by a particularly tenacious virus that’s invariably fatal, incurable and capable of re-animating its victims with alarming results for the unwary.

But not to worry, amigos.

With the right armament, attitude and knowledge, one can defeat zombies.

They’re undead, not unbeatable.

The right kind of weaponry, Brooks says, is critically important to handling zombie outbreaks.

“Hand-to-hand combat should almost always be avoided,” Brooks cautions.

Well, duh…Instead, try for a solid head shot with an ax handle, lead pipe or crowbar. Even better, go into battle with an edged weapon – an ax, sword or the utilitarian machete.The Shaolin spade, Brooks adds, is another good choice, although it’s length makes it somewhat impractical for indoor combat.

Hey, how about power tools, like a chain saw?

Not a good idea, Brooks cautions.

“Chainsaws and similar powered devices rank extremely low on the list of practical zombie-killing weapons. For starters, their fuel supply is limited. Once drained, they provide as much protection as a hand-held stereo.

“Handguns, he adds, can be effective, but should not be considered one’s primary weapon when taking on a zombie.

“Never forget that many dismembered, half-eaten corpses have been discovered with these weapons still clutched in their cold, dead hands.

“Uh-huh…When it comes to firearms, Brooks gives high points to the reliable M1 carbine – “Its light weight and short muzzle perfectly suit this weapon to indoor combat or long journeys on foot.”

Of course, dealing with zombie outbreaks entails a lot more than arming oneself. You’ve got to know the tactics of surviving in zombie territory.

“Remain invisible,” Brooks recommends. “Other than speed, your next closest ally will be stealth. Like a mouse trying to crawl through a nest of snakes, you must do everything possible to avoid detection … fight only when you have to. Delays brought on by battle will serve only to draw more zombies.”

Great advice but, you might ask, just who is this Max Brooks?

Unfortunately, “The Zombie Survival Guide” gives few clues, possibly for Brooks’ own protection. The book states only that the author “lives in New York City but is ready to move to a more remote and defensible location at a moment’s notice.”

Sounds like Max is ready for trouble – are you?

Originally published January 18, 2004