Monday, 2 July 2012

Stiff - Mary Roach

A few months ago, I read Spook by Mary Roach and fell in love with it. Her writing style and humor combined with nonfiction made her an easy and fun read. Although I knew a lot of what she talked about in Spook already, I couldn't wait to read more by her as I was sure I would enjoy it just as much.

Stiff is kind of the opposite of Spook. It takes a look at the various ways in which cadavers are used. From anatomy class to burial, from test dummies to medicine (ack!) there are dozens more ways than you ever expected to deal with dead bodies.

Some bits are extremely interesting. I especially liked a chapter on how one could use the injuries on passengers from airplane crashes to detect just how and why the airplane malfunctioned. Other chapters on the history of bodysnatching and rumors of Chinese cannibal restaurants were just as fascinating, if not just fun.

Although I never think of myself as squeamish, a few bits did make me a little rough around the edges. Chapters on how cadavers are used to test car crashes did make me a little uncomfortable. However, I blame most of my nauseousness for reading that chapter on a hot, crowded subway train.

The best part of the novel is just the fact that Mary Roach is just so gosh darn personable. She writes in first person, as befits an ex-travel writer, and brings you right there into the experience with her. Not only that, but she shows that she's the kind of person that you'd want to be doing these kinds of things with. She infects you with her good humor and honest reactions to everything. Just reading a few paragraphs of her book and you'd know you'd want to be her friend.

Stiff is a bit of a hard read sometimes. Although the material is presented in an engaging and interesting manner, there's just no getting over that it's a book about dead bodies. However, it's definitely worth a read if you get the chance. I would recommend Spook over Stiff but I just happen to like the subject matter in Spook better. If you have a strong stomach and a keen interest, then this is a book for you.

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