Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stiff by Mary Roach

My pal Amy tried to give me a copy of this book for Christmas. I say "tried" because of course I have it (and have read it). Her first clue should have been the subtitle: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. If that doesn't say "Jana" then I don't know what does.

Anyway, I love this book so much. I just about swoon whenever it's mentioned and have to take a deep breath before I can speak. It's incredibly graphic, gross, and hilarious. Mary Roach asks every oddball question that pops into her head, even if it makes her look like a creep. I heart her.

I told Amy to keep her copy and I would re-read mine along with her. And I almost never re-read books. I can't think of the last time I did that—maybe Do the Windows Open?

Perhaps surprisingly, I haven't ready Roach's other books: Spook and Bonk (And I don't own them. Hint-hint, Amy).

From Publishers Weekly via Amazon:
"Uproariously funny" doesn't seem a likely description for a book on cadavers. However, Roach, a Salon and Reader's Digest columnist, has done the nearly impossible and written a book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty. From her opening lines ("The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back"), it is clear that she's taking a unique approach to issues surrounding death. Roach delves into the many productive uses to which cadavers have been put, from medical experimentation to applications in transportation safety research (in a chapter archly called "Dead Man Driving") to work by forensic scientists quantifying rates of decay under a wide array of bizarre circumstances. There are also chapters on cannibalism, including an aside on dumplings allegedly filled with human remains from a Chinese crematorium, methods of disposal (burial, cremation, composting) and "beating-heart" cadavers used in organ transplants. Roach has a fabulous eye and a wonderful voice as she describes such macabre situations as a plastic surgery seminar with doctors practicing face-lifts on decapitated human heads and her trip to China in search of the cannibalistic dumpling makers. Even Roach's digressions and footnotes are captivating, helping to make the book impossible to put down.


  1. Jana, your reviews always make me want to read the book. I'll likely head down to Indigo later today.

  2. Hi Renae! Thanks--that's so nice! If you read Stiff, let me know what you think of it.

  3. I've been wanting to read this, and with such high praise now I'll have to.