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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Where to start? First, this book was suggested to me by Mary Millwhistle’s weekly reader page. I liked her concise review and since she is the nonfiction reader ands writer extraordinaire, I thought I would use my library card to buy a little resolution fulfillment.

Considering my history, I would think a book about dead people, real ones, would not be at the top of my list for a fun read. Luckily, Stiff is not about dead people, it is about dead bodies, a distinction made in Roach’s introduction:

“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, stinky and embarrassing, and there is 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… This book is about the already dead, the anonymous, behind-the-scenes dead. The cadavers I have seen were not depressing or heart-wrenching or repulsive. They seemed sweet and well-intentioned, sometimes sad, occasionally amusing. Some were beautiful, some monsters. Some wore sweatpants and some were naked, some in pieces, some whole.”


All the bodies in this book were donated to science and Roach explores the many diverse directions that this direction can take. Your head could end up on a plate in a bland conference room for plastic surgeons to practice on, you could be used as a crash test dummy or thrown out in a field to see how fast you rot. She is in control of every sentence and the result is at turns surprising and brain-stuffingly factual, and always funny. As Mary mentions, Roach’s use of footnotes in superb.

Roach leads us through bizarre historical examples, graphic first-hand experiences with corpses and a menagerie of folks who deal with the dead daily. She also relates the current trend to remove cadaver use from medical schools and labs. Stiff convincingly illuminates why this will be a tragedy for students and scientists who are trying to make life safer, or just more interesting for the living. Who would’a thunk it?

I read this while my boyfriend’s parents were in town, leaving us little to talk about. It was worth it, and if I weren’t so afraid that the library police are going to come and kneecap me soon, I would keep this book out even longer and read it again.

1 comment:

moonlight ambulette said...

i love the way you write about books. seriously, it makes my head-cold-blurry day...