I’m not big on reading non-fiction; a stubborn carry-over from school texts perhaps, when I had to read something for a class I was required to take, and put on my Serious Reading Face and then proceed to squirm and kick and change positions in my chair 20 million times, and get up to get something to drink, and hmmm a little smackerel of something, too, and then back at it for a couple of pages and my eyelids would get heavier and heavier and…whahh?! next thing I know I’m drooling and my sweaty head is stuck to the pages of the book. But now that I’m free to read what I like for pleasure, the occasional non-fiction piece might catch my eye, if it’s an interesting topic, say, or I really love the writer, like Mary Roach.
The first book of hers I read was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Which you would think would be a rather dark, heebie-jeebie producing kind of a book to idly pick up and bury yourself in, and while it did sometimes have me squealing out an “Eewwww!” I was more likely to be squealing in laughter because while she’s a science writer, she’s a damn witty one. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter “A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” about plastic-surgery instruction on cadavers:
The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had the occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan. But here are forty of them, one per pan, resting face-up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on…. “Isolate the brow as a skin island.” The [instructor] speaks slowly, in a flat tone. I’m sure the idea is to sound neither excited and delighted at the prospect of isolating skin islands, nor overly dismayed. The net effect is that he sounds chemically sedated, which seems to me like a good idea.
She also has a wonderful, entertaining habit of getting sidetracked in footnotes, which I actually look forward to, and going on for a paragraph or so on, say, the US laws on necrophilia. (Like everything she writes, more interesting than you would think. Really.) She obviously researches her topic of choice in a wide variety of media, but plays a role in each book with a lot of hands-on action, going directly to the source. You should see the things she sees and does in her latest, Bonk, The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex!
Speaking of which, I haven’t quite finished it yet, but can tell I’m nearing the climax, so off I go!