20 June 2009

Book Review: Stiff

Title: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Author: Mary Roach
Published: 2003 Pages: 294
Genre: Nonfiction, Death and Dying
Rating: 5/5

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Weekly Geeks asked participants to list books they have read but not reviewed and then invite others to ask questions about these books. The idea was to help us catch up on our reviews. I listed Stiff as an option.

Plot Synopsis

Mary Roach explores life after death in Stiff. What are the possibilities for a human cadaver? Wide-reaching according to this books which looks at test-cadavers, body snatching, crucifixion, human decay, and medicinal cannibalism.

Eva wants to know my favorite part of Stiff.

Choosing a favorite part of this book is like deciding which sprinkle you like best on your ice cream sundae. This is one of my favorite books, for a few reasons: it's hilarious, well-written and researched, and fascinating. Two parts stand out to me a bit more than the others: I think it is very cool that in Sweden my body can be thrown on a compost pile and used as fertilizer. The chapter discussing the history of the definition and identification of "dead" had me laughing and shaking my head in despair. Really though, the entire book is full of interesting facts.

softdrink of fizzy thoughts couldn’t read the chapter on plane crashes, and Vasilly said the part on how bullets get tested and the "corpse" farm almost made me lose my lunch a few times. Both wanted to know if there were any parts in the book which were difficult for me to read.

I have yet to encounter something I can't read...at least for the reason suggested in your questions. I mean, I've put down a boring book and a headache causing book, but I've never had to put down a book because of "graphic content" be it bloody body parts, deviant sex, or any other cause for an R rating.

In some instances, I couldn't tell you why. For example, A Child Called "It", while it definitely disturbed me - I was sick to my stomach - I kept on reading. This doesn't make sense. Stiff, on the other hand, I can tell you why it doesn't bother me. She is writing about dead bodies, not real people. Whatever happens to a body after death, you are gone, whatever it is that makes you you, the soul, the mind, whatever, it is done for, kipput, out the door. I don't hold with the beliefs that your body has to remain intact after death. I believe cemetaries are, basically, a waste of space, and I believe the world is better served if my body is put to some good use after death - harvest my organs, practice surgery on me, then throw me on the compost heap. In other words, Stiff, to me, is a practical book, not a scary or disturbing one.

I'm not sure what that says about me....

Vasilly also asks: What did you think of Stiff? Was this your first book by Mary Roach?

Well, I certainly think I've answered the first question: I loved this book. It was my first one by Mary Roach, and I can not remember where I first heard about it. New York Times best seller list? Chicago Tribune 'what people are reading around town' section? Television? It seriously might have been television; I'm pretty sure I remember the book being mentioned on some random sitcom; although I think that was after I purchased the book and before I read it.

Once I read Stiff, I was hooked. Now, I have read Roach's other nonfiction works as well. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science are, just like Stiff, very interesting, very humorous looks at concepts that fascinate. In Spook, Roach researches the use of science in detecting, evaluating, and debunking the supernatural. Bonk, obvious from the subtitle, is a collection of essays (all of these books read like an essay collection) on the scientific - and not so scientific - study of sex.

My Final Thoughts on Stiff

I loved this book and I would highly recommend it to others. I enjoyed the topic, the personality of Roach revealed in this first person narrative, and the way the essays were written. I actually don't have much to say that is negative. Perhaps time has made the heart grow fonder about this book - it has been quite a while since I read it - but I don't think that is the case. I remember fully enjoying Stiff and wishing, when I reached the last page, that it wasn't over. It is possible, however, that any annoying bits have washed away from my memory. But if they were there to begin with, they must have been small.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, what an interesting topic. I don't know if I'd want to read the book or not but I'm glad you wrote about it.


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