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Tuesday Book Review — Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death; The Wonder Years; Disapproving Rabbits

November 6th, 2007

Reviewed today:

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen has tackled a tough subject in a new way in her book, “Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death” (Collins, $14.95, 218 pages). “A must-read for anyone who plans on dying,” Mary Roach, author of “Stiff” says in a blurb. Well, OK then. Off I go with Cullen on a trip around the country. I flipped through the book first, to see what I was in for. Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colorado, complete with a Tuff Shed containing the worldly remains of Bredo Morstoel. And a frozen cake. Descriptions of “fantastic afterlife vehicles,” aka coffins. Mortuary School, with its “Funeral Service Principles,” its vacuum cleaners, its discussions of open coffins, yes or no?

Then there is the death of the author’s grandfather in a chapter titled “Orchids and Chopsticks,” where Cullen lovingly describe her family sitting vigil with his body all night, and talks about Buddhist traditions and funeral rites from the old country. Her Opapa’s final ride is in a dragon-led chariot. More sad news is to come from the author’s family.

“It occurs to me: The celebration is an antidote to the extreme and sudden loneliness many of us envision as death. We want to gather all the people who loved us and knew us and maybe even admired us to accompany us one last time.”

I started out feeling a little flip about this book — the green burials; the descriptions of loved-ones’ bodies turned into diamonds; the burials at sea inside artificial reefs; the cryonics. I was quiet and reflective by the time I’d reached the end of the first chapter. Cullen does nice work with this topic — it’s a good read. She could have taken a glib attitude with it, been irreverent as a way to “fun it up,” but doesn’t take the bait. Throughout the book, she treats her “interviewees,” even the Frozen Dead Guy, and their families with respect and dignity. Extra kudos to her for writing the book in the first year following her daughter’s birth. She schlepped her child with her everywhere, including funeral conventions, and wrote a great book.

Now, back to the beginning of the whole life cycle. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just released “The Wonder Years,” edited by Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP (Bantam Dell, $15, 224 pages). It’s a standard child behavior/development book but the lay-out is magazine-y (only more in depth, of course) and easy to read, which I appreciated. Movement, fine motor development, sensory development, mental development, social and emotional development, bowel and bladder development, developmental concerns, factors affecting development — everything that affects those first five years of a child’s life is here. I found these sort of books to be a big comfort when my kids were small. Now that they’re older, I think I need to pick up a new set, for 6- to 12-year-olds. I’m finding these years even more of a challenge, developmentally.

Looking for something fun? Try “Disapproving Rabbits,” by Sharon Stiteler (Collins, $12.95, 180 pages). My kids swiped this one from me and I couldn’t locate it for awhile to review. They’ve done the same with the new copies that arrived yesterday of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” “The Daring Book for Girls”? It’s around here somewhere, too. I came across my daughter and husband poring over it on the stairs the other night, figuring out hopscotch designs or puzzles or something. Part of the challenge of working/reviewing from home.

Rabbits really do seem to be disapproving, don’t they? I’ve never met a rabbit yet who was pleased with my behavior. The author found her pet rabbits, Latte and Cinnamon among them, to be… mysteries. What did they want? What would make them happy? Did they have enough parsley? Thus, a photo book, perfect for leaving on the coffee table, complete with “chewed-on” pages and captions:

“From up here, you still look ugy.”
“That Brazilian wax was a HUGE mistake.”
“That was my happy place.”

If you are interested in adopting a bunny, Ms. Stiteler would probably appreciate my referring you to the House Rabbit Society. Her own website can be found at Disapproving Rabbits.com.


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