by Alice Morgan

Cornelius is here to warn you that this article contains some spoilers.

Walking the Bones

Every now and then I like to pick up a random book. A choice that is not based on recommendations or reviews, but on a whim. I check who wrote it, of course, but I will probably not recognize the writer. I note the title, the genre and the cover, because yes, I absolutely judge a book by its cover. Wanting to read a detective mystery, a thriller, or something along those lines, I browsed through my Hoopla selection and borrowed Walking the Bones by Randall Silvis.

Oops

What I neglected to notice at the beginning was that I picked up the second book of a series. This eventually dawned on me as I kept reading, but I didn’t care enough to stop. Starting with the second book didn’t take anything away from the experience because the story mentions events that happened in the first book, and reading further filled in the blanks. But damn, this was a difficult book to get through.

From a large pool of water, a hand is desperately reaching for the shore.

Ian Espinosa

Here is a riddle

Can you call a story a thriller/detective mystery, if 70% of the book is none of those things? There are detectives in it, but I don’t think that alone is a qualifying factor, which leads me to my biggest complaint about this book: It is in the wrong genre. I can’t describe how angry I was when I discovered that I was mislead. (Actually, I’m still pretty angry.) Because here is the thing. If the book was listed as a character study—which is what it is—I would not have touched it, because that’s not what I wanted to read. 

The story begins with an action scene from the future and when the scene ends, the story loops back to the present. I really dislike this plot device for a number of reasons, so let’s examine that for a bit.
The first chapter is the most difficult to write in any book. You, as the writer need to introduce characters, create a setting, set up the atmosphere and do all this without overwhelming the reader, because you want them to keep reading. Long, drawn out descriptions are a huge turn off for a lot of people, so how can you accomplish all that and make the story interesting at the same time?  Of course! Throw in an action scene from towards the end of the book! The readers get a glimpse of what is to come and they will want to know the resolution. How did our protagonist got himself into this situation? Is he going to escape/survive? Who is the antagonist?

This might keep the readers going for a while, but it also creates pacing issues right from the beginning. If you put your character in life threatening danger on page 1 everything between that and page 450 is going to feel like they are filling out their tax return. What’s worse, when the readers finally catch up with the action, it is going to feel like a huge let down, because you can’t possibly make up for all that anticipation. The writer is, A: hopes that you are invested enough in the story to push through the second half of the book or, B: the book is 80% done and you are not going to stop reading by that point.

I’m sure there are books out there that manage to pull this off, in which case I would love to read them and feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email about your suggestions. It’s just that I haven’t read any, so it’s usually a major red flag for me.

Fluffy dandellion seeds burning.

Henry Be

Anyway, the story is about the personal struggle of the main character who is grieving for a number of reasons, suffers from some level of depression and can’t seem to figure out how to move forward with his life. The focus of the story is basically this, and his relationship with his lover. The crime/detective factor is only secondary. It would probably make no difference if the main characters were dentists or librarians. If you are still reading I applaud you. This is already way longer than I intended it to be.

Where things turn 18+

What else? Oh yeah, sex and masturbation. Two things I didn’t think I would be reading about in a book tagged as Crime, Detective & Mystery, Police Procedural. Don’t get me wrong, both of those things are fine in their respective genre, but I think when people decide to read detective stories they are there for the investigation and not for soft porn. There is a scene where the female lead—who is in high-school at the time—has sex with her dead friend’s father. Did we really need that in this story? I’m not even going to comment on the implied or not so implied incest.

Walking the Bones consists of 464 pages and 152 chapters. To put that in perspective: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the longest, most difficult book I have read. It is a 1049 pages with 30 chapters. That should give you an idea about how broken the structure of the book is. Often, when a scene ends, the author decided to start a new chapter. It usually makes no sense, because based on the content, there is no reason for the chapter to end. This stylized spacing is completely arbitrary and it takes away from the reading experience. I think it’s one of the reasons why some people can’t read past chapter 14. Instead of being immersed in the story, the book constantly reminds you that you are reading a book, and how much you still have left to read.

too many things…

Other things that I’m just going to list quickly: Both leads are unlikable and they don’t work as a couple. Their attempted humor doesn’t work most of the time and it falls flat. There is not a single likable character in the book. The group of characters called the “Irregulars” have no reason to exist. (Three amateur investigators that accomplish nothing.) One of them would have been enough to give the lead a phone call and it would have saved everybody a 100 pages. The book  asks you to take leaps of logic that are longer than the trippiest fantasy novel you have ever read. There is a lot of backstory in the book and all of it relates to nothing. It has no baring on the present. For example, we learn that the protagonist’s mother committed suicide. So you would think that he would be more shaken, or be able to empathize more with people who went through a similar tragedy. At the end of the book, he gets a phone call that his wife is in the hospital because she tried to kill  herself. He says to his lover: “I’m the only person who understands what she’s going through. I need to go there. [..]”

A paragraph later, I’m talking about 6 sentences here with 2 dialogue points included.

Lover: “You better come back.”

Lead: “I promise. With a divorce agreement in hand.”

Are we not supposed to like these characters? What is wrong with these people? I would expect more empathy from a rock. I guess the two leads deserve each other after all; they are both horrible people.

So, we learned all that backstory for nothing. At the end it didn’t make a difference that his mother killed herself. It was all just a sob story; content to add to his tragic past.

Do judge a book by its cover

When the first ever book was printed graphic design didn’t exist yet. Back then it made sense to not judge a book by its cover, because they slapped a title on it and called it a day. Today, however, it’s someone’s job to make book covers. There are designers who specialize in that branch of design. It is their job to make the book marketable, to make it stand out. When you look at a cover you are supposed to be able to tell what it is about, or get a feeling of its contents without reading the title.

Book Cover: Stephen King, IT Book Cover: Sara Crowe, Bone Jack Book Cover: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

With that in mind, here is the cover of Walking the Bones:

Book Cover: Randall Silvis, Walking the Bones

The small part of the book that does focus on the crime has very little to do with buried bodies. It’s relevant maybe for the total length of 3 sentences. The shovel is a generic device to imply corpses and murder, but it doesn’t fit the story. So even the cover is misleading.

“…deeply satisfying….this solid procedural offers heart-pounding moments of suspense. Silvis smoothly blends moments of exquisite beauty into a sea of darker emotion to create a moving story…”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

Yeah. Clearly, they have read it.
Even the description is a lie.
“Walking the Bones is a story about things buried—memories, regrets, secrets, and bodies.”

Am I the only one who actually read this book? The biggest mystery here is that why the letter “B” on the cover is highlighted with orange for no apparent reason.

In conclusion, you should question anybody who rated the book more than 2 stars. I could go into more detail about all the things that are wrong with it, but what’s the point? I think you get the idea. If what I listed above is not a turn off for you, then you might actually enjoy this one.

best, Alice
alice@cozyloft.us

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Nécropole Nationale de Sigolsheim, Kaysersberg, France

Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE

Ask a Mortician – not your typical YouTube channel

the second diamond

Ask a Mortician is not your typical YouTube channel. I’m not actually sure what a typical YouTube channel is, but I know that this channel is the opposite of that. The host is Caitlin Doughty, mortician/funeral director and best selling author. As such, you would think her channel would be more widely known, but you would be wrong. This made me sad, so I decided to write about it.

The philosophy of Ask a Mortician could be summarized with this one sentence:

“I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation,
and scholarship.”

The Order of the Good Death

In a classic Ask a Mortician episode Caitlin takes questions from the comment section and—using her expertise as a funeral director—answers them. “What does it take to become a mortician? How do you dress a corpse? Do I really get my mother’s ashes in the urn, or is it just cement dust?” Do you have questions about cryogenics, mummies, or anything death related? You have come to the right place! This small corner of the internet is dedicated to discussion about death. 
A large number of Caitlin’s videos comment on the current state of the western funeral industry, our burial traditions and why innovation is necessary to combat our unsustainable practices. How long can we continue to waste resources trying to stop the inevitable decay of our dead bodies? What other alternatives are there?

Death and taxes

Most people are not ready to face death. Most people don’t even want to talk about it. It is a horrible thing to lose someone, and being unprepared for it makes it so much worse. If you had to call a funeral home right now, what would say? Do you know the right questions to ask? Are there any red flags you should pay attention to? Remember, you would be at the most vulnerable time of your life, relying on the help of a complete stranger, who could be the sweetest most honest person you have ever met, or he could be someone who would try to take advantage of your grief. If the questions above made you feel unprepared, consider watching this video, it will make you feel better. 

The second-half of Caitlin’s videos focus on culture and history. There are segments such as “Iconic Corpse”, which takes a look at dead bodies that became famous due to their extraordinarily well preserved state, or some sort of horrible mismanagement. “Morbid Minute” is… well… morbid. but these episodes are usually around 3 minutes long and focus on a single, strange tidbit in history, such as the consumption of lovely, green, arsenic candy, or the act of chilling inside a decomposing whale. You know, normal things. On that note, I would argue that all of her videos are morbid minutes, with such classic titles as:

Skulls, Willows, Cherubs & Other Gravestone Emojis!
The Trial of the Corpse Pope!
A Short History of Human Skulls and Drinking Cups!

You know. Normal things :’D <3

How did all this information change me?

I haven’t realized there were so many things about this subject I never knew before. I never wanted to be embalmed, even before I saw an actual embalmed body I thought it was strange. Now, I’m 100% sure that I don’t want to be embalmed, and I feel like most people wouldn’t if they would know what does it actually entail. The world “embalm”, is a nice word. It implies something nice and desirable, like putting lotion on your skin. It doesn’t invoke the image of a big ass needle stabbing you in the abdomen.
For the longest time I wanted to be cremated. It seemed cheaper, but most importantly it skipped the “maggots feasting on my eyes” phase of decomposition, which made me uneasy. I’ve never considered how much energy is wasted by cremating a single person, nor did I know that the end result is infertile dust that can’t nourish anything; a blow to everybody who thought they would become part of a tree after their ashes are scattered. Listening to Caitlin describe her own death plan with confidence made made me more comfortable with my own mortality.

“Looking mortality straight in the eye is no easy feat. To avoid the exercise, we choose to stay blindfolded, in the dark as to the realities of death and dying. But ignorance is not bliss, only a deeper kind of terror.” 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty

Books? Books!

Caitlin Doughty has written two books so far. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is a memoir that describes her first job as a crematory operator with the help of gallows humor and corpses. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death explores death rituals around the world, comparing our lack of interaction with the dead against the rich traditions of other cultures. The book introduces the reader to alternative forms of burial, some of which are not currently legal in the US, but one day could become the norm.
When I recommend people to see a movie or read a book, I’m usually specific. I never say “Yes, I recommend this to everybody.” There are not many things you could recommend to everybody, since people have a wide range of tastes and interests, however this is one of the rare cases when I can honestly say, I do recommend these books to everybody, because no matter how different we are, we will all experience death at some point in our lives. I will die. You will die. Everybody will die at some point. 

Greatest book trailer ever?

          

Death positive?

Death positive is a movement and a way of thinking. It promotes the ideas you have been reading about so far. If you would like to know more here is a better description of what it really means, 

…and because this is equally important, here is a description of what it is NOT.

If you decide that you want to do more, you can find a list of resources here.

If you are like “meh, I’m not really into all that reading”, there is this 30 minute documentary for you to enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, but more than that, I hope you learned something new. 

Seriously though, check out her videos, that channel needs more love.

 

best, Alice
alice@cozyloft.us

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Caitlin Doughty

Mortician, Author