People. I am not kidding when I tell you that I LOVED this audio book.
Hailed by Burkhard Bilger of the New Yorker as the "funniest science writer in the country," Mary Roach delivers a fascinating, engrossing, and shockingly delightful account of the "life" of the human cadaver. A history of everything from body-snatching, public autopsies, crash test dummies, crucifixion experiments, and...medicinal cannibalism, this will absolutely make my list of Top Books of 2012. Written in 2003, the hilariously brilliant and easy-to-understand approach of Mary Roach's writing, combined with the stellar narration of Shelly Frasier, was unquestionably a grand slam listening experience for me.
The full title is Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. And curious, it is. Non-fiction at its finest, Mary Roach has done what most authors may not be able to make a reader feel: take the emotion out of death and look at it clinically; even sometimes, laugh at it. Other than watching shows like The First 48 on A&E, I don't know what happens to bodies once the person is no longer alive, nor am I aware of the good our bodies can provide for science. I also had no idea that there were so many people in the world who were experimenting with creative and alternative ways for body disposal (note: only in legitimate and natural circumstances, not in a Mafia-esque type of way) that are outside of the "standard" options like cremation and casket burial (how about composting your body and being used as fertilizer? That's one way to "recycle" yourself). While some sections made me cringe and I made a note to stop eating any food right before, during, or right after listening to my copy, I loved every single second of this experience, and cannot imagine anyone not enjoying it.
Like most people, I'm humbled by the experience of dealing with the aftermath once someone we care about passes away. With this book, I got a chance to take the emotional aspect out of it, and was able to reflect on moments in my own life dealing with death. For example, my mother passed away after complications from a heart transplant eight years ago, and those last few weeks were painful. In listening to this audio, though, I removed quite a bit of the sad memories and ultimately was absorbed in several chapters, particularly by the theories presented later on as to "where" in the body the soul may reside, either the brain or the heart. Mesmerized, I was.
This is exactly what this book is: an experience. It's such a completely insightful snapshot of the history of a cadaver that I was disappointed when it came to an end. While I giggled, cringed, and gasped through chapters, it gave me quite a bit to think about, even so much as changing my own opinion on my plans for when my time comes (provided there are no available organs that are usable for donation). Maybe I will have to donate my body to science. I can't imagine not. At least right now.
As I mentioned earlier, this will make my Top Books List for 2012. Mary Roach delivers successfully an engrossing, hilarious, and humbling account of all the many things a cadaver can do, and you may recognize her most recent book making the blogging rounds, Packing for Mars. I cannot wait to snag that one next. She's got a bunch of other books out there, even one about sex called Bonk. I think I might get that one first. (After all, one of the questions presented in that book is whether or not one can "think" themselves to org*sm.)
What are you planning on doing when the time comes? Are you like me and just thought a standard burial or cremation would be the way to go?
Audio Notes: The narrator was spectacular! Shelly Frasier is a new-to-me narrator and my goodness, she delivered the humor remarkably. Her voice perfectly resonated, even through a few of the later squeamish discussions on "medicinal cannibalism." Click here to go to the Audible.com page and click the play button below the book cover for a five-minute sample.
Others said (let me know if I missed your review):
Publisher: Tantor Media
Release Date: 9/28/2003
Audio Time: 7 hours, 59 minutes
Narrator: Shelly Frasier
About the Author
Journalist and former Salon.com columnist Mary Roach didn't leave readers and critics cold with her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In fact, the comical-yet-scientific look at the "life" of the dead body throughout history earned her a spot in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. She is also the author of Spook, Bonk, and Packing for Mars.
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This is another selection for the 2012 Audio Book Challenge hosted by Teresa.