What I’m Reading:
Mary Roach’s delightfully morbid, tastelessly funny Stiff. I’ve read Bonk before, Roach’s book on the scientific study of sex, and this one is similar, but I think much better. Stiff is all about cadavers (that word sounds too much like a food item for my taste, yet I like it more than “dead bodies”). How we care for them. How we use them. How we abuse them. In the introduction to the book, she describes the process of becoming so deeply obsessed with a topic that she pursues it for years—despite the fact that many people find her work off-putting and strange and her professional interests disturbing, even threatening. “I’m a curious person,” she explains. “Like all journalists, I’m a voyeur. I write about what I find fascinating. I used to write about travel. I traveled to escape the known and the ordinary. The longer I did this, the farther afield I had to go. By the time I found myself in Antarctica for the third time, I began to search closer at hand.” The world is full the strange and unfamiliar things, and Roach wants to find them, to peer closely at them, to play doubting Thomas and prod at their wounds. Reading this, I was reminded of a quote by essayist Kathleen Hale: “I never look for things to grab me. They just do, and once they do, the obsessions usually continue until I’m so sick of them—or of myself for enacting them—that suddenly, and with a sense of great relief, I’m repulsed.” When I read this passage, I wanted to find Hal and shake her. “You nailed it!” I would yell in her face. “That’s exactly exactly what it’s like!” To be obsessed, to be a voyeur, to be relentlessly curious to the point where you begin to wonder if it’s really healthy—I think maybe that’s what it is to be a writer.
What I’m Admiring:
To stay true to theme, I’ve been really digging the work of artist Travis Bedel. He use anatomical imagery as the jumping off point for his intricate collages, turning the human body into a lush and unsettling menagerie. I imagine if one dissected a nymph, or a citizen of Narnia, they might find this waiting inside. It’s a lovely visual depiction of the circle of life (dust to dust and earth to earth and guts to flowers and the worms crawl in and all that) or an eerie reimagining of what lies within. I personally think his work is very pretty, but then again, I consider Stiff light bedtime reading, so perhaps I’m a terrible judge of these things. (If you like his work, you can buy prints online at Society6 and Etsy.)