Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Week 40: The Whole Death Catalog by Harold Schechter

The Whole Death Catalog by Harold Schechter was something of an encyclopedia of death-related subjects - everything from embalming to green burials to torture and dismemberment. Some of it was a little grisly but as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

Since this book was laid out in encyclopedic format, the author really had to work hard to keep his reader's attention. Despite the subject's depressing nature, the author incorporated so many interesting facts and clever humor that I got through it without too much difficulty. (The segment on the humor of undertakers was, not surprisingly, the least funny.) But by the time I got to the end, I was ready for the end.

For me, the most memorable chapters dealt with the history of embalming (yuck), 18th century French execution practices (double yuck), the process of mummification (ugh), famous epitaphs (Mel Blanc's is "That's all, folks!"), and famous last words (I have got to work on mine.) And of course, I could not be prouder that Philadelphia is the home of perhaps the grossest collection of dead people, on display at the Mutter Museum. I will never be brave enough to visit that museum. Go ahead, make fun of me, get it over with.

I was surprised at the differences between the required and the optional as far as burial options are concerned. You probably would be, too. One thing's for sure... I'm never going to let a funeral home get their hands on my body. This one's going straight into the oven and then off into the breeze.

One subject was not addressed in this book. I wish that Schechter would have addressed the idiotic tendency of some people to giggle uncontrollably during memorial services, as well as suggest coping mechanisms for people who carry this obvious personality flaw. Because I'm one of 'em.

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