The week in books #11! I’ve got some catching up to do, so here’s the list of books I have read in the recent weeks, and what I have coming up next.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach – I picked this up a long time ago at the Saltspring Island Book Sale, and just now finally found cause to read it. Following the very sudden loss of a friend and also all of the death I have faced at work in the last year, I’ve been wanting to explore the ideas of death, dying, and the afterlife more. I feel like it is something I actually know very little about but find very shocking when it happens (as many people do, I’m sure). In the quest for answers to my numerous questions I thought I’d start with my good old friend the book. Spook by Mary Roach covers a variety of different subjects all under the header of the afterlife; cases of children remembering details of their past lives in regions that believe in reincarnation, people who claimed they could communicate with the dead at seances, and an interesting section on the weight of the body changing after death which was believed at the time to be the soul leaving the body (results were not replicated by any other investigator). Overall I thought Spook was interesting but also a bit disappointing because all paranormal investigations were basically dis proven, so if you wanna know what happens when you die this book won’t tell you (maybe no books will tell you haha).
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – This is a very interesting book on what happens to human cadavers after they have been donated to science. Mary also writes about the early search for science cadavers (grave robbing!), using bodies from plane crash sites to determine what happened to the plane, crucifixion experiments, decapitation and head transplants, and converting human remains into compost. There’s a bit of overlap with Smoke Gets in Your Eyes when it comes to information on the funeral industry, cremation and embalming, and if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I preferred Caitlin Doughty’s book to this one. Not to say it wasn’t fascinating though!
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty – This is a fabulous book on the funeral industry and what happens after you die with regards to your remains. Lots of great information on the inner workings of the funeral industry and processes of cremation, embalming, and the rest of your options. I loved Caitlin’s writing style and have already pre-ordered her upcoming release about death customs around the world. There’s some great information about organ donation and green burials; I hadn’t heard of a green burial until my friend passed away last month. They were able to save a 4 year old boy with their liver, plus 4 other people received organs, and the rest of their body was laid to rest wrapped in a shroud and laid on a simple board. I love the idea of allowing the body to decompose naturally in the ground rather than being burned up or (ugh) embalmed and buried in a super expensive coffin. The fact that their organs were able to save others made the process a little easier to swallow.
When I was in my 20’s I kept pet rats, and one day one of them fell very ill so I panicked and took her to an emergency vet for care. In the end they couldn’t save Boo Ratley, so I agreed to have her euthanized. At this point I was already super upset and not thinking clearly, and they then came at me with papers to sign and asked what I wanted done with the body. Of course when you are grieving you are going to pick what seems to be the most respectful option, so I chose to have her cremated and the remains returned to me in an urn. I paid and left in a blur of tears then realized that the bill I had paid was over $400. For a rat! A similar thing happens when you die, and the funeral industry is capitalizing on grief. I don’t really think it’s appropriate to talk people into huge purchases in a moment of intense emotion, but that’s what happens. Probably better to think about what you want done with your body when you pass so your loved ones aren’t left facing expensive decisions. I definitely recommend this book!!!
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – I was really looking forward to reading what Christopher Hitchens had to say about mortality, particularly what his views of death and the afterlife were as an atheist/antitheist. This was Hitchens’ last writing, in fact the book trails off at the end as he becomes sicker and sicker, ending abruptly at his death in 2011 at the age of 62. The realness of the ending made a big impression on me.
On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen – My mom got this book for me and I thought it was excellent. Every little detail that Andrea describes about her anxiety struck home with me, we have had a LOT of the same experiences! This is a great read for anyone wanting to understand anxiety better, Andrea’s writing style is very accessible and conversational which makes it easy to blast through this book. I have already started recommending it to people, it’s definitely amazing!
Upcoming books: Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath, The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson.
I leave you with lyrics from Chris Cornell, who took his life on May 18th, as they seem pretty fitting. Soundgarden were a huge band for me when I was a teenager and I have rediscovered Chris’ incredible lyricism following his untimely death, and it has been a huge help for me at this time.
“On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death
Reading how we’ll die alone
And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest
Anywhere we want to go”
Chris Cornell (Audioslave “Like A Stone”)