Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty

“It’s normal to be curious about death. But as people grow up, they internalize this idea that wondering about death is “morbid” or “weird.” They grow scared, and criticize other people’s interest in the topic to keep from having to confront death themselves.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  240 pages.
Read from April 13, 2020 to April 18, 2020.

Anyone else struggling to get reading done during this virus? For whatever reason I find I read more when I’m on the move and busy. I read on the bus and on my lunch but when I’m stuck at home I’m distracted by many other things to fill my time. Obviously, I’m still reading but clearly, it’s not been at the same volume. I might have to adjust my reading goal this year…

I had been on the waiting list for this book for a long time at the library after a recommendation from a friend, which speaks to this book’s popularity. While I’m currently in mourning myself, this lighthearted and graphic book on corpses and dying might seem inappropriate for me but I figured since so many aspects of death are already on my mind, may as well make it somewhat enjoyable if I can.

This isn’t Caitlin Doughty’s first successful novel and she is also a successful mortician and funeral homeowner in LA. After getting a lot of interesting questions over the years, mostly from inquiring young minds, Caitlyn decided to write all these curious questions and answers in a book. The tone of the book is a mixture of intrigue with blatant corpse humour along with cute skeleton cartoons that weave between the chapters. Caitlyn doesn’t spare any details when it comes to the science and decay of dead bodies.  From straight forward questions such as, why we turn colours when we die? To more macabre questions such as why we as species don’t participate in cannibalism? My personal favourite questions, however, including wanting to know if you can have a Viking-style funeral, and what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before death and were then cremated.

“We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!”

Death is universal. Well, with our current technological advances it is anyway. Maybe one day we’ll overcome it? Whether or not that’s a good idea or not is a whole other ethical debate. Despite death being something we all share, our modern society has no death culture and little support for the grieving. Grieving is something that people are expected to keep private and get over as soon as possible. Grief makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even for the person experiencing it. Why are we so uncomfortable with death? Probably because it terrifies us and we don’t know a lot about the process. It’s books like this one that help turn fear into intrigue and acceptance. Death is awful. No one wants to experience it, yet we all will. Knowing about the death process and what goes on at funeral homes once the bodies of our loved ones get there is a way to ease the pain of their loss.

Caitlin’s writing is scientific, yet approachable. She makes it comfortable to read grisly topics that would make other people squeamish and despite death being a grim affair, she somehow manages to make you laugh at the same time. I mean, someone who can make a Justin Timberlake and a dead body reference in the same sentence has some serious talent.

“I’m bringing body back. Returning corpses, but they’re not intact.”

*Kids, this is a Justin Timberlake reference. You’re fine not knowing who that is.

This book was just what I needed. An easy, interesting read on death. It’s the perfect book to pick up during this COVID-19 crisis too, especially if you’re in lockdown. This book will help alleviate anxieties during this stressful time. I’ll definitely add Caitlin’s other book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, to my reading pile. I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a curious and lighthearted read, even if you’re slightly squeamish.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”

4/5 stars.
197ebook, 208 pages.
Read from January 24, 2020 to Janaury 29, 2020

I had never even heard of this book until a few years ago. It kept coming up in a few blogs in lists as one of those life-changing novels that you read in your youth. You know the ones, books like Harry Potter, The OutsidersThe GiverSpeak, Tuck Everlasting, and Where The Red Fern Grows. Perhaps this book was read more in the US than it was in Canada as it didn’t reach my repertoire as a kid. I wish, however, it had.

Bridge to Terabithia was originally published in 1977 and follows the story of Jess Aarons. Jess and his family don’t have much but he has been training all summer to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. What he doesn’t expect is that a new kid, a girl named Leslie, while absolutely whoop him and all the other fifth graders on day one. While Jess was initially annoyed at losing, especially after he trained to so hard, he comes to form a formidable bond with this fearless new girl who has come from the city. The two of them create a magical place called Terabithia at tree past a stream behind Jess’ house. It’s a magical place that the two of them rule over in which they can dream and imagine. The two, despite coming from very different homes become inseparable. However, a tragedy occurs that changes Jess and their story forever.

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

I’ve read reviews of people who have never forgotten how this book made them feel when they read it as a kid and their utter devastation at the loss of one of the characters, however, I still didn’t expect the outcome and was shook when I came to the tragic point in the story. I can see now how devastating a story like this would have been for a kid reading this for the first time as even I was taken back. The story manages to breach the topic of death, loss, and grief in a way that is tangible for a young mind. Unless tragedy touched you in your own youth, chances are you never gave a second thought to death even if you watched or read about it in other mediums. There is something special about this book with the way that death is approached and how the characters cope afterwards that really drives the point home. I could see this book being helpful for a youth dealing with tragedy themselves as it depicts well someone with minimal understanding or experience of death might cope or approach a tragedy. The story encourages deep compassion for people of different circumstances that may not seem to need it at first.

The writing is inviting and the characters enjoyable and relatable, another reason this book is so timeless. We’re looking at 40+ years on and this book is still being read and discussed and that is because death and grief are universal. Despite this, we’re poor at dealing with death as a society and it’s novels like this one provide a useful way for youth to broach and deal with the topic. I would highly recommend this novel if you’ve not read it before or are looking for a middle-grade appropriate read that discusses, love, friendship, death, and grieving.

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 451 pages.
Read from March 24, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

Well, finishing this book wraps up all five of the 2020 Canada Reads finalists for me. I’ll post my final thoughts on the five next week. From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon when the debates resume after the COVID-19 virus settles. Now, let’s talk about the amazing story of Jesse Thistle…

“My words belonged to me, they were the only thing I had that were mine, and I didn’t trust anyone enough to share them.”

From the Ashes is the epitome of inspiration. Jesse Thistle overcame some of the worst things a person can endure; parental abandonment, drug addiction, homelessness, sexual assault, trauma, identity loss, and dealing with severe chronic physical pain (*spoiler* he almost loses his leg). Jesse Thistle is of Metis and Cree descent but he didn’t always know that. Jesse was raised by his grandparent’s after his mother mistakenly left him and his brothers in the care of his drug-addicted father. While Jesse was eventually able to reunite with his mother, he never did see his dad again. Jesse’s grandparents were firm but loving but it didn’t stop the trouble that Jesse eventually found himself in. After getting caught with drugs at 19, his grandfather accused him of being just like his dad and kicked him out of the family home and barred him from ever returning. Jesse left his home in Ontario and began his homeless life in Vancouver where he abandoned his best friend before ending up back in Ontario. Jesse was homeless for most of his young adult life. While most of us have fond memories of our 20s and early 30s, for Jesse it was a matter of survival, nearly giving up, and then making the choice to live again.

Jesse is now happily married to a woman he knew from his school days who helped him achieve his dream of getting a university degree after he got clean. His studies led him to explore his own family and heritage which then helped him pursue his career in academics. Jesse is now the Assistant Professor of Métis Studies at York University.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it. I mean, if a story like this, during a time like this doesn’t put life into perspective for you I don’t know what will. Imagine being a nobody. Having nobody, no home, no clean clothes, no money, no personal hygiene…  You can’t, there is no way to truly envision it unless you’ve lived it the way Jesse had. Jesse’s story is surreal, making it all the more shocking that too many Canadians, especially ones of Native or Metis descent, currently live the way he did, most of whom don’t escape the tragic lifestyle.

Mr. Thistle’s writing is highly engaging, succinct, perceptive, and humble. Feats that many accomplished authors are not able to do, which makes it even more amazing to acknowledge the fact that Mr. Thistle wasn’t always exceptional at reading or writing. It wasn’t until he started working on his GED while serving time in prison that he began to improve. Despite it being a worn-out saying, it doesn’t make it any less true to say that Mr. Thistle is the embodiment of being able to do anything you set your mind to.

Even in Jesse’s darkest moments, he held onto some form of code and personal honour in that he refused to deal drugs for the money he needed for his addictions and never took advantage of people he got close to. A rare quality even for those who are not addicts.

Mr. Thistle includes some of his own poetry snippets between the chapters and photos of himself, from childhood, mug shots, as well as family and wedding photos, adding to the heart-tugging emotional depth of this novel.

michif-boy-lead
Jesse Thistle – Photos – CBC Canada Reads

Out of all the Canada Reads books I read this year, I can safely say that I enjoyed this one the most. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It touches on topics that have been making waves in Canada such as Native American rights, homelessness, drug addiction, sexual assault, and trauma. The fact that this story has a positive outcome also gives it an edge against the others in meeting the theme. We will have to wait and see what happens when the debates resume. The Canada Reads debates have been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 virus.

Stay safe and healthy, readers!

 

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