10 Ways To Recycle a Corpse
Some books are exactly what you've been craving
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
3:00PM, Thu. Aug. 2, 2012
A lot of the books that come over the transom here at –
OK, no, you're right: We don't have an actual transom here at the Chronicle. You caught me, there, either resorting to a cliché or outright lying. Crazy, right? Next I'll be claiming that we have, like, a three-legged dog that hangs out in our eastern offices every day and that there's tequila and beer next to the coffeemaker in the kitchen. Heh, what shenanigans this guy indulges in, what crack-fueled mendacity.
But I'll go on: An unfair number of the books we receive for review here are collections of weird trivia of one flavor or another. And most of those books are lackluster affairs, not much context provided to ground the parade of factoids, a lot of white space and large typography used to disguise how the editors were too damned lazy to do further research and writing and provide much in the way of actual content.
You know the sort of books I'm talking about.
Books like that, filled with potentially narrative-sparking trivia, they'd be enjoyable if only a lot more effort had gone into them – if they were more like a curated offering of informational tapas, so to speak, instead of merely a sampling of cheap, insubstantial candy. If only there were such a book that a person could feast upon …
Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.
Karl Shaw's 10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse is just that sort of substantial collection-of-trivia you've been jonesing for – especially if your intellectual desires also tend toward the more macabre and grisly bits of world history. Shaw, who previously brought us Royal Babylon: The Alarming History Of European Royalty and 5 People Who Died During Sex, offers in this newest volume such annotated lists as "10 Contemporary Cures for the Black Death," "12 Radical Remedies for Hair Loss," "10 Milestones in Juvenile Bad Behavior," "10 People Who Drank Their Own Urine," "5 People Who Slept With Corpses," and so on in that blood-curdled vein.
Really – it's a diverse array of weird historical material, very well-presented. And although this review started out by employing culinary metaphors, I can imagine few books more suited for perusing while one is ensconced on the toilet; and, well – thanks to ingestion and metabolism and peristalsis – we've all gotta go sometime, don't we, Mr. Brown?