Getting All the Death Books

Well, not to brag or anything, but last weekend at BookCon went pretty nicely. Allow me to show off my stack o’ books I compiled by the time I finished taking that convention floor by storm.

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Yes, those are Choose Your Own Adventure books on top. You Jealous?

It was only part way through BookCon that an interaction made me notice a trend in the books I was picking, not one I’d been consciously fostering, but definitely something apparent enough that I creeped my mother out a bit when I told her about it. I think she figured I was going through the goth/emo phase she thought she lucked out of once I got past the really broody parts of puberty with buying any black lipstick.

Turns out I bought a surprising number of books about death,well four books anyway. A smallish portion of my overall haul, but still. The fact that it was a mostly unintentional trend kind of weirded me out more than anything. I’d bought one book that promised a good time, some necromancy, fantasy, and some laughs, and then found a table of the author Mary Roach.

She was one of those authors that, when I said I’d never heard about her before and asked about her work, people could only say, “Oh my God she is amazing though! You have to read everything she’s ever done!” She’s written two books that are about death in one way or the other, and both are nonfiction, like the rest of her work. One, Spook, talks about scientists investigating the afterlife. The other, Stiff, talks about the whole “death industry” and how people deal with dead bodies. I guess I can blame Roach for this, because I apparently had to read all the books she’d ever written and here were two books to start that seemed like the perfect buddies.

Then, the sales rep for that publishing company saw the two books I’d picked out, and said, “Oh, well then you’ve got to read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, If you’re getting all the death books.” And I did buy it, of course, and I’m reading it now. The anecdotes are charming and funny and the author, Caitlin Doughty, is very frank about what she does and what place she feels it has and should have in the world.

I shopped around plenty after that, very consciously choosing books that looked like they did not mention death in the least, except for maybe in an action oriented “Will they escape the danger?!” type of way, which is really more about survival than death anyhow. As much as those books I’d picked up looked interesting, I felt weird being the one a salesperson would see and go, “Oh, we got a morbid one here folks. Get all the books fixating on our fragile state of mortality and insurmountable demise likely leading to an endless abyss!” Is that supposed to be me now?

I suppose I have just as many questions about death as anyone, maybe even more, speaking as a college student with loads of existential questions shoved into my head and a firmly held personal belief system of “WTF? IDK.”

Death is just one of those black holes of a subject, the dark kind that draw you in. It compels authors to write about it and readers to read about it. From what I’ve read of the books so far, it’s all quality stuff, and some of it even is shaping the way I think about death, for the better. The nonfiction books  I picked poke fun at death, ask questions we probably should be asking about it, and try to provide answers.

Basically, I felt a bit weird getting pinned as someone interested in nonfiction accounts of a darker subject, but came out feeling it’s worth the stigma to pick up odd, dark, books, if they are drawing your attention. Maybe deep down you are asking questions abut this sort of stuff, and there are too many books out there with intriguing answers to feel shy about asking for them.

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