I’m kicking myself for omitting another must-get book to the “Building a Vampire Library” (Hogg 2013) list: Michael E. Bell’s Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires (2001). Why’d I omit it? Probably because I’ve focused on Slavic vampires so long, I simply forgot about this gem. Time to remedy that oversight.
Bell’s book isn’t a straight-up study of vampire folklore in the vein of Perkowski, Barber, et. al., though it’s invaluable as one, too. It’s more of a journeyman’s approach to the subject. It’s as much the story of New England’s vampires as it is about Bell’s quest to find them:
The use of the term “vampire” also reflects the insider/outsider duality. Insiders, the New England families and communities involved, never used the term. Following the vampire trail, I discovered that a vampire is much more complicated and interesting than simply a corpse who returns from the grave to suck the blood of the living (xii).
If more non-fiction vampire books were written in Bell’s wonderfully engaging, personal style, perhaps the field would be more popular than it is.
The book was originally published by Caroll & Graf. Wesleyan University Press reprinted it in 2011. That version features “an extensive preface by the author unveiling some of the new cases he’s learned about since Food for the Dead was first published in 2001″ (UPNE Book Partners 2013). Buy it.
In case you’re wondering where I’d place it on the “Building a Vampire Library” list, it’s a very tough call, but I’d place it at #6. That doesn’t diminish its worth in any way, because it’s a brilliant work.
But remember what I said about focusing on Slavic vampires too much? Well, there’s a reason for that: they’re the version our modern vampire conceptions derive from—right down to the name “vampire”, itself, which not only derived from Slavic sources, but has a Slavic etymology. Therefore, the Slavic stuff gets precedence.
UPNE Book Partners. 2013. “Food for the Dead.” Wesleyan University Press. Last updated October 20, 14:18:45 -0500. http://www.upne.com/0819571700.html.
Bell, Michael E. 2001. Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers.
Hogg, Anthony. 2013. “Building a Vampire Library.” The Vampirologist, November 29. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/building-a-vampire-library/.
UPNE Book Partners. 2013. “Food for the Dead.” Wesleyan University Press. Last updated October 20, 14:18:45 -0500. Accessed November 30, 2013. http://www.upne.com/0819571700.html.