04 January 2012

5 - 3 = 2 nonfiction books that are arguably fascinating—C'mon, stick with me here!

I'll read fiction when forced to, or when it's something I should read so I can sound not-so-completely out of it. But I vastly prefer nonfiction. Not so much the pop politics and pop philosophy, the "self-help" books (don't get me started on where I think that's taken us), or those instructing the manipulation of others. (I so don't care about How to Win Friends and Influence People. In that, I prefer a more focused approach.)

What I like is delving into the nitty-gritty of an offshoot of a sub-field of a field I already know next to nothing about. It's like, New World! Here are some of my favorites:

1. The American Way of Death Revisited

This exposé of the U.S. funeral industry was first published in 19xx; Mitford revised it in 19xx; then, she died.

I've seen this book cited in countless other books and articles. Once you've read it, you'll see it all over, too.

Mitford positively skewers the creators of the "beautiful memory picture" and their sneaky money-making techniques. Her deadly courteous interview questions and her deadpan observations will make you laugh—and make you writhe.

After reading this... 3 times so far... I can see more of the "hidden" industries as, well, industries. The book's a general education as well as a specifically focused one.

Of course, Mitford's practical viewpoint on the funeral industry is not the only way to look at things. I find myself balancing a few of her pronouncements against the natural workings of a market economy and against some indications that mourners get comfort out of arranging and spending for varying amounts of funeral pomp. Nonetheless, this book "puts too fine a point on it"—with wicked success.

2. One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal

This book is not Check Out What These People Did While Stuck Together—Wink, Wink. It's not even Oo, Here's How That Works. It's about identity, that is, "I" vs. "The Other," informed by the voices of conjoined twins. Imagine that conjoined twins might have a lot to say about this, huh?

You can read the opinions of many twins who were never separated (because of medical impossibility or their families' "do no harm" approach). To a one, they express happiness with remaining conjoined and conviction in that it was the right thing for them. Their individual identities incorporate conjoinment: it is normal to them. As many have pointed out regarding congenital differences, the person feels normal "to themselves." Who are we to muck about before they can even give a perspective on it?

This can be hard to grasp emotionally. Once you accept this new way of thinking about conjoined twins, there are implications for other "medical interventions." I was mulling this over when I watched a video about Abby and Brittany Hensel. It expanded my concept of individual identity. It focuses the question of valuing deviation from the norm vs. "correcting" it. (Though the possibility—or threat—of separating Abby and Brittany did not arise.) Well, see what you think.

That seems like plenty of content for a blog post. I'll continue another time, to review three more books. I already know which ones.


  1. Both seem like interesting reads. I think, if you don't mind, I'm going to bounce off of you and do a couple of reviews.