zen of zombieA Dead-Ringer for Some Zen Parody

Author: Scott Kenemore

Established as a self-help sensation (and evident path to the Nirvana of un-dead necropolises everywhere) The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead explores the underlying success mechanisms (such as ardent determination) which allow zombies to successfully kill, maim, and eat brains. Set up like a legit step-by-step improve your life enlightenment regime the 24 habits of highly effective zombies takes you through every zombie practice from being your own boss to pursuing romance. After establishing why the evil, flesh-eating undead are such compelling zen figures of potential realized (i.e. they are simply relentless devils who won’t take no for an answer), the book goes into a 90 day zombification plan taking you step-by-step through encountering the problems in your life and applying the WWZD (what would zombies do) methodology  to successfully keep yourself oriented in the achievements of your dreams (personally, I’m more of a WWCD

[what would Cthulhu do] person but hey, each to his own form of ancient and undefeated sanity sapping evil.) It’s a tongue and cheek stab at two industries at once – that of the super zen, touristy yogi with a penchant for peace through crystal meditation and the B-movie horror underworld rolled into one stocking stuffer sized package – for those seeking peace and brains in your life. Normally found in the humor (aka get a ten-dollar gift for that last minute person whom you have totally forgotten) section in Barnes and Noble, it’s basically everything you would expect such an inane gift to be – and just as oddly compelling as, you know, a real present.

Overwhelmed by my current quest to read all the classics that I somehow missed, I picked up this sassy little book and chucked it into my reading list to break up the seriousness and give me an outlet for some light-hearted, junk-food fiction (for that inner bad story craving). Going from years of randomly stumbling over this book, thinking “forgot I had that – it’s cute – must read sometime” to actual, cover-to-cover reading sated my need for some lighter fare on the reading list and made my to-be-read stack lighter. Is it brilliant? Not especially. Is it funny – eh, it’s a chuckle. Is it amusing – yeah, sure. Is it a good practical joke gift for the zombie lover or self-help geek in your life, absolutely. Will it compel you to read cover to cover – not really (unless you are a super pedantic person such as yours truly.)

What stunned me most was reading the Amazon reviews on The Zen of Zombie where actual readers and consumer reviewers were taking this book seriously, dissecting its self-help strategy and “good advice” potential. Wha??? Is the title not a, ahem, dead giveaway? Readers expressed disappointment that becoming like a zombie was not, in actuality, sound self-help, enlightenment producing philosophy and judged Kenemore critically for not taking his zombification to a higher level for some better life advice (than just inanely devouring the people you don’t like.)  I – I really . . . well, I just despair of the human race now. For the record, let me state: this book is a mocking testament to the pretentious self-help guidance, put-your-entire-life-together-perfectly-in-the-next-twenty-minutes-while-buying-Amway-products genre. It takes everything and turns it upside down presenting the humble zombie, a selfish and indomitable monster, as the testament to pure fortitude and an example for society. The undead don’t succumb to pain, fear, social peer pressure, religion, politics, family tradition, work-place norms, etc. etc. etc. You get the point. So now that Kenemore has stated what you already know so well – it’s time to take it a step forward and get in touch with your own cannibalistic, inner corpse. You can do it. I believe in you!

Oh, and did I mention that, perhaps more hilariously, were the Amazon reviews where disappointed customers noted how this or that aspect of The Zen of Zombie deviated from traditionally represented undead lore. For instance, high-functioning dead are not represented here. Instead, it’s the old, reliable, brain seeking, slow moving zombie horde that drives the central theme of the never-give-up-and-do-what-you-want regardless theme. This entire argument just proves that, as Barnum and Bailey so eloquently stated, there is indeed one born every minute.

But, ok, ok, back to the actual book. After all of those years chuckling at the title, making it through perhaps a chapter or two, and then bouncing off on other exploits, I didn’t exactly have high expectations when I sat down for a serious, let’s-finish-this-already read. I just wanted this book to entertain me and distract me from heavy literature and stuff I should be doing. This, it did. While occasionally on the mark (and sometimes even, shockingly, insightful in a weird, read-between-the-lines way) the book is more of an occasional trickle of chuckles than a continual belly-laugh. It’s has dry, sardonic wit and is not the type of book that, when picked up, ever really tends to get finished. It’s just quirky and amusing enough that readers find it appealing but yet just repetitive and soulless enough that we keep forgetting to continue reading all the way through complete zombification. Throw in the author’s unrelenting mockery of Christians and “Jebus” and the axe to grind motif destroys the more lighthearted aspects of this gore drenched parody. Likewise, the sloppy drawings don’t captivate the audience or build on the ludicrous nature of the book’s zen-ness, and the intimation that society in and of itself is a zombie-like, shuffling pile of selfish putridity, is clever but ultimately, not original. Not to say that the book doesn’t have some real winners from time to time and that the mockery, although dark and childish, isn’t enjoyable, but it all gets old very, very fast.

I’m still glad that I read The Zen of Zombie. It makes an adorable side present for some of the special bookworms and zombie-ophiles in your life and the very weirdness of its mere existence is enough to get a laugh and a hug from a grinning friend. More importantly, once purchased it serves as the most perfect prank gift for that very special someone whose birthday/life event/whatever you totally forgot.

–        Frances Carden


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Frances Carden
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