Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nonfiction November--Be the Expert/Ask an Expert/Become the Expert

This week's topic is hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
I'm going to go with be and become the expert. This month I've been focusing on books on death and dying, especially within the United States. How has our death practices and rituals changed overtime as a culture? How do others handle their own grief? What makes a good death? Does modern medicine give us a good death or does it just prolong it?

So far I've read Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons in the Crematory. Her focus was how her handling of dead bodies and their disposal changed her views of how we deal with death and the death of our loved ones as a culture. She has since gone on to create a series of videos called Ask a Mortician. She has also created the Circle of the Good Death that brings together experts and everyday citizens to help create the good death for anyone who wants it.

Her book has really made me think about what I want done with my body after I die and how I've directly and indirectly dealt with death in my own life.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. I read this one a couple of years ago. She gives an often humorous but graphic detail of each step a human cadaver will experience, from heading off to medical labs for would-be doctors, experiments, to the embalming process. All were very surreal.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. This was a great treatise on what truly matters in the end. When we are growing old and the end of our life is upon us...do we accept it? Do we prolong it unnecessarily? How can we get our assisted living places and nursing homes to take care of our loved ones better? These are all thoughtfully explored in this beautiful work.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. This was a fascinating graphic novel memoir on how Bechdel deals with her relationship to her father after his suicide. It's funny, poignant, and just tragic. We never know what makes another tick and why our friends and families do the things they do. We're all just so human.

Honorable mentions go to: Henry Marsh's Do No Harm: Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. A neurosurgeon's perspective on all of this. American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney.

Books I'm planning on reading this month and in the future:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion looks back on the death of her husband and the year that followed. I want to read this for personal stories on how others deal with death of their loved ones.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty. This is Doughty's new book. She sets out to discover how other peoples and cultures handle the death of loved ones. I'm excited to see how others around the world deal with death. What rituals are done? How do people show grief? What is expected of loved ones after a death occurs? How does that compare to how I deal with death and my culture deals with death?

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford. She exposed the predatory nature of the funeral industry way back in the 60s. It'll be an interesting classic to read on how the funeral industry became what it is now or was.


  1. I haven't read any of these! I have read others by Mary Roach, and found them interesting. I also have Being Mortal on my list.

  2. The Year of Magical Thinking sounds really interesting!

  3. I'm always surprised when I realize how many books I've read related to death and dying! I suppose it is one of the big questions in life, but I'm still surprised both by how many books there are on the topic and by how many I've chosen to pick up. I think my list that I've read is a subset of yours though, so I don't have any others to suggest :)

  4. I've read a few of these - Stiff, Being Mortal,and The Year of Magical Thinking. Have had Fun Home in my hands several times at the library... maybe I'll bring it home next time.

  5. I was surprised that I enjoyed Being Mortal so much -- it was not an easy topic but he covered it so well.

    From here to Eternity sounds really interesting.

  6. I think you might like Glimpsing Heaven by Judy Bachrach...

  7. The first three are already on my wish list - Being Mortal is one I'm especially hoping to read soon. I can't recommend The Year Of Magical Thinking enough. I loved it so much when I listened to it that I ended up buying a print copy.

  8. Have you tried When Breath Becomes Air yet? Will Schwalbe's End of Your LIfe Book Club was also one that fits this topic.

  9. This is such a good list! This is at topic I often come back to, it's so morbid and interesting. I'll have to bookmark this for suggestions. Thanks for joining us this week!


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