Jefferson according to Burr. Jefferson according to his daughter. These are fun to read at the same time!
I've been thinking about death a lot. And not in an existential way or in a 'oh man she needs professional help' kinda way. I've been thinking about the culture of death and how I'd like my own death to be handled. To that end, I chose a few titles which I'm convinced has skewed the way my co-workers view me. (lol but really) The first is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. (I'll be discussing her second book at a later date.) This is the autobiographical story of how Caitlin came to work in a crematory and the path that it led her down to discover the 'good death'. It's an exceptionally frank discussion of death but more specifically death culture (or lack thereof) in the United States. Here in America it's a taboo subject. Many people choose to remain ignorant of the reality of death because of a fear of their own (and their loved one's) mortality. Caitlin talks about the current death practices of burial, embalming, cremation, green burials (many different kinds), and donation to science. It reminded me that I should really draw up a will with the specifics of what I want and then discuss it with those who will most likely be honoring my wishes. (And you'd better do what I say or I'll haunt you! hahaha but really)
The truth is we are all going to die one day. Wouldn't it be better to see this as natural and be prepared for it? Having open discussions with those who will be charged with taking care of you after you have died makes the process less fraught with uncertainties and fear. Centuries ago, death was embraced because it was necessary to confront it head-on. There were no mortuaries like we know them today. The family was the one who cleaned, wrapped, and sometimes buried the bodies. The grieving process wasn't rushed but was allowed to progress naturally. (Think about the last funeral you attended and how the viewing was timed. Nowadays, you have to leave the cemetery before the casket is even lowered into the earth. Everything is orchestrated and sterile.) I don't think it's morbid to plan ahead and to try to make it as simple and straightforward as possible so that in the end it's about the life that I led and not the stress and confusion of what to do with me once I'm dead. 8/10
What's Up Next: The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates
What I'm Currently Reading: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart
I don't remember if I've ever talked about my fondness for Stephen King before on the blog. I know that I've mentioned that horror is a genre that from time to time I thoroughly enjoy. There was one summer in particular that I found myself binge reading some of King's works. I read through Carrie, The Tommyknockers, The Shining, and Needful Things that summer but that wasn't where my love affair started. It actually started with It: King's novel about a group of kids who face an unspeakable horror while growing up that comes back to haunt them as adults. I've actually re-read this one a few times simply because I find something new each time that I read it. There are all of the elements of horror as well as a healthy dosage of psychological thriller which King is known for. It's all set in Derry, Maine which I for one would love to visit as it seems to be the epicenter of King's works. It is not for those who suffer from Coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. The nexus of evil in this novel is a shape-shifting entity that primarily takes the shape of a clown so that it can lure children to its lair. (Not sure what kid would willingly follow a clown but these kids seem to be into it.) The main group of children that this book focuses on were outcasts who formed the 'Losers Club' and because of their combined strength they were able to provide a united, threatening front. The book flips between the present day (1984-85) and the past (1957-58) and tells each of the main characters stories. You get to know them and root for them all to various degrees. If you've never read any of Stephen King's books and you want a good place to start then I definitely recommend It. (Warning: There are adult themes and coarse language so keep that in mind.) If you'd like to delve into horror but you're a little overwhelmed with all of the choices then I recommend this one to you as well. :-D (Warning: Likely to induce nightmares for the faint of heart.)
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is a graphic novel which was used as the basis for the documentary film of the same name which came out in 2017. This is the account of Jeffrey "Jeff" Dahmer during his adolescence in Ohio from the point-of-view of his friend, Derf. [A/N: I would say "friend" is pushing it as it was frequently noted throughout the book that while a group of boys dubbed themselves The Dahmer Fan Club and imitated him/quoted him on multiple occasions Jeff was rarely (if ever) asked to hang out with them.] Derf talks about Jeff's home life which was as you'd expect: turbulent and troubling. His parents had an argumentative, unhealthy relationship and his mother in particular monopolized much of the attention in the home making it possible for Jeff's habits to remain under the radar. Jeff was an alcoholic from a very early age and somehow this went unnoticed by the adults in his life including his teachers. However, Derf says that it was common knowledge among the kids at school that he was often drunk in class and looking back it was most likely a coping mechanism against his darker impulses. Besides his unhappy home life, he was struggling with his sexuality as a gay man and his sexual fantasies which revolved around having total (i.e. sexual) control over male corpses. He managed to keep this urge in check by murdering animals, skinning them, and keeping their bones in a shed behind his house. And yet no one had any idea this was happening. Hindsight is 20/20 and Derf seems to employ this readily when explaining that he and the other boys in the Dahmer Fan Club "knew" something wasn't right with Jeff which is why they often didn't invite him to be a part of their group activities. His parents were too caught up in their imploding marriage and his teachers seemed to have turned a blind eye even when he imitated people having epileptic fits to comic effect in their classrooms. (This bothered me a lot by the way.)
I found the informative background knowledge on a serial killer that I knew little about quite interesting but the artwork (remember this is a graphic novel) was not my cup of tea. It was the faces which I really didn't like. Perhaps that was artistic license since Dahmer tended to dehumanize his victims. I just know that it brought me out of the narrative more often than not. I'll give it a 7/10 overall because it was almost too unbelievable to be true. If you enjoy true crime and find the evolution of serial killers to be fascinating then you'd be remiss not to check this one out.
|The fits. [Source: American Book Center]|
What's Up Next: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin
What I'm Currently Reading: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
I have to be straight up about the fact that it took me several weeks to get through this book. This is not because I didn't enjoy it because I actually did quite a bit...it's just that once I put it down I didn't feel that overwhelming urge to get back into it again.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman is a dystopian (or utopian depending on how you look at it) young adult novel about what would happen if technology progressed to the point where disease, poverty, and even death were overcome. What would be humanity's biggest problem? If you guessed overpopulation then you're absolutely correct. The solution to this problem was to create the Scythedom which consists of specially recruited and trained individuals who seek out and 'glean' (strike down, kill, murder) members of the community. The Scythedom is purported to be a morally sound group of people who have the capability to decide who to 'glean' for the sake of the greater good. The Thunderhead which is the name for the evolved information cloud (think Google on speed) oversees the majority of day-to-day operations with the exception of this group of people. What could go wrong? When morality and mortality are inextricably intertwined is it possible to keep your objectivity and still be a good person? Can you be a conscientious killer? If you enjoy asking questions about ethics, justice, and what it means to be truly 'human' then this might be one that you should check out. If you're squeamish about graphic depictions of death then I don't think this is the book for you. The sequel titled Thunderhead is already out and as the title suggests the primary focus is going to be on the all-seeing eye of the world. (I had it in my possession but didn't get to it before I had to send it back out to another reader. Maybe something to look forward to later in the year?) 8/10 but I had to take a few points off because it wasn't my first choice to pick up and continue.
What's Up Next: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
What I'm Currently Reading: From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty