The Last Word Book Club Meeting: August

After my first meeting with the lovely folks at The Last Word in Charlotte, I told my hubby, “I have found my people.”

Now I’m three meetings in and I haven’t changed my mind. In recent months we have read The Circle by Eggers and Ready Player One by Cline. I’m sorry I hadn’t started this little venue then to publish our thoughts here but maybe I’ll give my reviews here another time. 


For August we read Stiff by Mary Roach. I haven’t read much non-fic that wasn’t assigned to me by someone in a position of authority, although now that I think of it I suppose our club leader Shauna does have a certain confidence about her… Anyhow, I was excited to read this book. The cover alone just cries out to me, “Pick me up! There are so many things inside that will gross people out, especially at parties!” 

I was not disappointed. Roach approaches the topic with tact, asserting that this book is not written about dying but about those already deceased from the very start. I appreciated that. Not because I am particularly squeamish about death thanks to working in a palliative care unit but because the ending of a life is far different from the vessel we leave behind. Everyone at the meeting admitted that they had known at least one person to die, attended one funeral or had seen a dead body. (Mary won this conversation when she told us about finding a dead body in the woods à la “Stand By Me” in 6th grade.) I think the fact that we had all at least experienced death in this second-hand way gave our conversation much more weight. We all had someone in mind as we read the book or talked about the things that happen to bodies donated to science. 

Everyone learned from this book. We have Mary, a member not the author, to thank for pushing this non-fic book on a group of decidedly nerdy folks. (Some of whom have been known to play WoW or Magic.) Roach delves into everything from the history of anatomy and all of its ethical and societal implications to ballistics testing and whether a deer leg can stand in for a human leg during boot testing. (It cannot.) She also gets herself into a few unexpected situations in the name of thorough “research.”

We were also able to discuss some very sensitive and personal experiences because this book brought them out in the open in such an accepting way. Is your body truly yours or does it then belong to your family who can, and probably will, do what they feel is most “right”? If a relative makes a request in his will, giving you the nod as pallbearer despite not having talked for several years, are you wrong for not following through? Or will the decision haunt you no matter what you choose because the act in itself is so unexpected?

I personally learned that if your plane crashes and your body makes it to the earth intact or not, you will be naked thanks to the velocity of the wind. And that in the past, guinea pigs were dressed in clothing and dropped from airplanes to test and prove this theory. I have decided that if at all possible I do not want to be buried in a coffin or embalmed at all. I don’t want the last memory of me to be a waxen and unrecognizable corpse. I’d much rather go with a Swedish composting and have a seed planted in my fertile remains. Then my kids can say, “Wow, Mom smells really great,” even years after I’m dead. Or maybe even become plastinated and be on display in a touring museum exhibit. I would be so toned. Maybe I could have them pose me reading a book, then I could spend thousands of years preserved in the way I have spent countless hours alive. 

The book is filled with such humor that even if you are squeamish it is still enjoyable and educational in a sneaky way. You don’t care that you’re learning, you’re having so much fun! You may also come away with a greater respect for those who have paved the way for advances such as the collapsible steering column or face lift procedures. And you will definitely find yourself enlightened and considering whether your body could do some good even after you’re gone. 

Have you read this book? Let me know what your thoughts were. Do you have any further reading suggestions for me? Post them in the comments below!


Thank you to my fellow book club members for your stories and experiences. Please consider being an organ and tissue donor and notifying your loved ones of your wishes. 



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