Mary Roach is usually a journalist, and it comes through in her writing. Not in a bad way at all--in fact, it's exactly the kind of non-fiction that I like to read. Each chapter stands on its own, so the result is a book of related essay/interviews.
Stiff is totally worth reading--and since each chapter examines a different facet of the life of the dead, you can pick and choose. If you want, you can avoid the really icky stuff. (Or, if you're like me, you can go straight for it).
In the introduction, she addresses a major issue: death vs. dying:
There are those who will disagree with me, who feel that to do anything other than bury or cremate the dead is disrespectful. That includes, I suspect, writing about them. Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Being dead is absurd. It's the silliest situation you'll find yourself in. Your limbs are floppy and uncooperative. Your mouth hangs open. Being dead is unsightly and stinky and embarrassing, and there's not a damn thing to be done about it.
This book is not about death as in dying. Death, as in dying, is sad and profound. There is nothing funny about losing someone you love, or about being the person about to be lost. This book is about the already dead, the anonymous, behind-the-scenes dead.
I think that there's a chapter in here for everybody (not counting the people who'd be horrified by the book in the first place). There's a chapter about the history of body snatching (which let to full-on murders--it's easier to bonk someone over the head than it is to dig them up later), one in which she visits the guys that are the brains behind forensic science (they put cadavers in the backyard and just let 'em go), and one about reconstructing plane crashes (apparently, a lot of your clothes come off when you fall from great heights).
There was a guy in the 30s who wanted to prove that the Shroud of Turin was the real thing. What did he use? Cadavers. Later, there was a guy that wanted to prove that the first Shroud guy was full of it. What did he use? Cadavers. (That chapter, for whatever reason, was the one that freaked me out the most).
There's a guy that's wants to perform the first human head transplant. Actually, the book came out in 2003. For all I know, he could have done it by now. I hope not.
There's one about definition of death, which was really interesting, especially in relation to the Schiavo case.
In Sweden, there's a lady that has come up with a method of more ecologically-sound burial. It involves both freeze-drying and composting. And it's pretty cool.
In my search for a new forensic detective series to read, it was inevitable that I'd come across Kathy Reichs. She's a real-life forensic anthropologist, so one would think that even though it's fiction, she's writing at least partially from experience. Which is slightly frightening--but also bizarrely fascinating, if you go for that sort of thing.
I knew going into it that it wasn't going to be exactly what I'm looking for (I want historical forensic anthropology--finding old bodies, or going over old unsolved mysteries), but it didn't stop me from (pretty much) completely enjoying myself:
Next, I placed the arms to the sides and the legs below. The limbs hadn't been exposed to sunlight, and weren't as desiccated as the chest and abdomen. They retained large portions of putrefied soft tissue. I tried to ignore the seething blanket of pale yellow that made a languid, wavelike retreat from the surface of each limb as I withdrew it from the body bag. Maggots will abandon a corpse when exposed to light. They were dropping from the body to the table, from the table to the floor, in a slow but steady drizzle.
EEEW!! There are a lot of mega-ick moments in the book, both because of maggot-y type stuff and because of pure gruesome-ness.
My major complaint about the book wasn't really all that major--I hated the main character's best friend. A lot. And I don't think that I was supposed to. But I'm not too worried about her showing up in the next book, if you know what I mean.
Eh. It was worth the twenty minutes it took to read, but Love That Dog was still a million times better.
I liked parts of it. Like Annie talking about her future sibling as "the alien" baby, but in an affectionate way. I liked the parts about running, for the most part. I liked the differentiation between running because you love to run vs. running to win. Annie runs because she loves it--her friend Max runs because he wants to escape.
But overall, it was too sappy for me. Also, it did that thing where the new life coming counteracts the Grandfather getting older and entering into dementia. I'm just so OVER that as a theme.
I hate it when I assign someone to a sit-down computer and they sit there, but they put their coat over the seat next to them. What do they think they're doing? Saving it? Preventing me from assigning someone to the computer next to them? We only have four frickin' computers--I'm not about to tell them, "Oh, I'm sorry--actually you can't use a computer because that lady doesn't want anyone to sit next to her."
I hate it when somebody pays for photocopies by throwing crumpled up bills on the counter. For those of you that have never worked retail or serving the public in some other capacity--DON'T DO THAT. It's insulting and rude.
Today seems to be shaping up to be a grouchy day. More later.