Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vampire Taxonomy (Review)

A few weeks back I was honored with a request to do a review, in this case of the book Vampire Taxonomy: Identifying and Interacting with the Modern-Day Bloodsucker by Meredith Woener. My reaction was mixed to this news--pride at the compliment, worry they might be disappointed with my opinion, coupled with some trepidation. The premise seemed straightforward and fun enough. Suppose for a moment that vampires were real, that to some extent the swelling numbers of books, t.v. series, movies, etc. about them represent a source of genuine knowledge. What follows is a self-help book for those dealing with the undead.

So far, so good. Only...I've seen stuff like this before. Or cousins of it as a genre. Generally, what I felt upon reading them was disappointment.

Reading this book, though, I was very pleased to discover a lack of precisely what had bothered me elsewhere. The author, for example, actually knows quite a bit about vampire fiction and remembers the telling details. To give an example of how this can sometimes work out, another "nonfiction" book about vampires recently described the title character of LeFanu's Carmilla as hunting down and feasting on men. Ms. Woener, on the other hand, gets her facts right. She gives a broad overview of vampires from Dracula to Edward Cullen with most points in between. Different types and powers, including reactions to sunlight or relatively contagiousness of undeath, are spelled out logically. More, she does so with an easy-to-read style that avoids the same jokes over and over again (she even finds what seems like seven dozen different ways to say "you might end up dead", nearly always avoiding cliches or doing a fairly clever spin on them). She's not in love with her own wit, or at least not that it shows, so her humor doesn't get in the way of the content.


As to content--there are several sections, each dealing with different aspects of the nosferatu. Initially, it is all about types of vampires: Romantic (Hemophage remanorum), Villainous (Hemophage sceleratus), Tragic (Hemophage tragicus), Halfies (Hemophage dimidium--those not yet completely turned or 'enjoying' one vampiric parent) and Child (Hemophage iuvenus). The last two chapters deal with vampiric society or societies, and the last with how do we--humans--live in a world with the undead. This last includes some straightforward advice about romantic relationships involving an undead partner. It finishes up with some advice in case of a vampire takeover of the world (unlikely, but at the very least the attempt might be made which would be trouble enough).

Do I have any quibbles? Well, yes. For example, there's the bit in the next-to-last chapter about the scenario wherein you get tipsy and mention to your vampire boyfriend how a certain bully was so mean in middle school, whereupon the next day you learn said bully fell/was dropped from a very tall building, sans most of their blood. The author assumes the reader's reaction will be one of guilt. Mentioning this scenario to a co-worker, she thought if her boyfriend were a vampire and had done that she'd reward him as lavishly, as sensually and as imaginatively as her gratitude and mere mortal body could manage. Ms. Woener's sense of humor is just a tad vanilla.

Likewise, I'm just a tad disappointed she didn't mention the titular hero of Young Dracula in her work, especially regarding Halfies and/or Tragic Vampires (with Vlad's family all examples of Villainous). But that is entirely personal.

Overall, I was quite impressed. To someone, like myself, who knows vampires and their portrayals in fiction of all media, this very nearly qualifies as a reference guide. It spells out many of the tropes and archetypes, the considerations inherent in same, as well as (this is rare) not trying to force portrayals to fit a scheme. An interesting and intelligent discussion of the Vampire Detective is one of many little diversions that pepper the book.

Intelligence, knowledge, humor, wit and readability--asking for much more seems greedy.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

That actually sounds like a worthwhile read - cheers Zahir

Anonymous said...

This actually wants me to read the book. Is it in the library? I can't buy any books yet.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this informative review, Zahir. I usually tend to skip over books like this, as there are quite a few, but this one seems like it might be worth picking up.

Zahir Blue said...

It was published this week.

LM Preston said...

Thanks for the review. I am going to check it out. I was on my Vampire binge the last two weeks so this adds to my vampire fetish.