Recent Reads

Recent Reads

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Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality, by Jacob Tomsky

I got this book at a Goodwill for $1, and started reading it as my weekend book because it's a small paperback. I had high hopes for this inside look at the hospitality industry and the inner-workings of New York City hotels, but unfortunately the author is kind of an asshole. There were some humorous anecdotes and helpful hints (you never have to pay for things from the minibar!) but by the end of it, I was tired of Tomsky's smugness and wondering how he had been able to hold down a job in the service industry for so long (answer: a union).


We are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays, by Samantha Irby

There were hundreds of holds on this collection of essays at the library, but I managed to get my copy fairly quickly (even the librarian that checked me out said she was something like 400th in line). I blew through this in two days and found myself laughing out loud on the bus more times than I usually allow myself. Irby is hilarious, and despite the title (and the hatred toward human interaction of any kind that we both share) I found myself wishing that we were best friends.

Her essays cover some pretty heavy subjects—the death of both of her parents, her sickly, demon cat Helen Keller (!!) and her aversion to almost everything—but I can't remember reading something so smart, so deftly worded and so damn funny in a very long time.


Fever: A Novel, by Mary Beth Keane

I hesitate to say that I’m “obsessed with Typhoid Mary,” although if you’ve spent any time at all on this blog, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. A few years ago I read a biography of Mary Mallon, written by Anthony Bourdain (she was a cook, after all) and last year I finally tracked down Mary’s final resting place in the Bronx.

Fever is a novel, but it is based on a very real person and covers the pursuit of Mallon—one of the first asymptomatic carriers of Typhoid to be discovered—by New York City sanitation engineer, George Soper, the resulting trial and her two separate stints in quarantine on North Brother Island. Keane fills in the gaps in the history with details of her own creation—Mallon’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Alfred is entirely fictitious—but those are the parts of the story I found myself enjoying the least. Mary Mallon was such an interesting character and the parts of her story that we know are fascinating enough without the addition of relationship drama and other domestic woes.

I’ve read that Elizabeth Moss is adapting Keane’s novel into a TV series, with Moss taking on the role of Mallon and I’ll definitely be watching for that. Hopefully it will satiate me while I patiently await a miracle that would allow me explore the now notoriously off-limits North Brother Island.


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Death's Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Teaches Us About Life and Living, by Brandy Shillace

This book would be a good overview if you're interested in death rituals and the ways death culture in America has evolved through the years, but if you've read quite a lot in the death/dying genre (*raises hand*) you could probably skip this book. It wasn't all repeat information—I learned a few new things—and sometimes it is nice to read something that nicely ties together a lot of different threads throughout history.

The parts about the Resurrection Men (grave robbing / body snatching) were my favorite, and led me to put a few more books on my to-read list, which is always exciting. Coincidentally, I finished this book on my way to a lecture/book signing by Caitlin Doughty for her new book, From Here to Eternity, but I think I need to read a few books not about death before I dive into that one.


Dead Presidents: An American Adventure in the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders, by Brady Carlson

This book showed up in my Goodreads feed and I immediately put it on hold at the library. I've been getting most of my holds very quickly—which means I'm reading things that literally no one else in the New York City library system cares about—but the instant gratification is a nice side effect of having strange tastes. There's almost no way I wasn't going to like a book like Dead Presidents—I'm fascinated by all things related to death and mourning practices and I also love history and seemingly superfluous facts about famous people.

It was an easy, fun read and I couldn't help but think about how the current President will one day be memorialized (the idea of a Trump "library" is laughable, at best). Thanks to this book, I've added a bunch of Presidential graves to my list for future Ohio trips and a return trip to Grant's Tomb (the largest mausoleum in North America!) is also imminent now that I live just a few blocks away again.

Project 365: Days 295-301

Project 365: Days 295-301

Charter Street Cemetery

Charter Street Cemetery