I am always on the lookout for science-y books that make science accessible to literature majors like myself. Bonus points if the topic is slightly quirky, such as brain abnormalities, digestive processes, or corpses. Because I’m a lucky gal, my husband also stays on the lookout for these types of books, and for Christmas he bought me Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (Eat your hearts out, ladies!)
I wasn’t familiar with Caitlin Doughty, but I soon learned that she is a New York Times best-selling author as well as the star of the Ask a Mortician YouTube series. She also founded something called The Order of the Good Death, which seeks to break the silence and discomfort around the topic of death and promotes acceptance (it is inevitable, after all). In her introduction, she sums up the reason she wrote this book. “Here’s the deal: It’s normal to be curious about death. But as people grow up, they internalize this idea that wondering about death is ‘morbid’ or ‘weird.’ They grow scared, and criticize other people’s interest in the topic to keep from having to confront death themselves.”
Because of this reluctance for adults to ask the hard questions, in Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Caitlin shares answers to questions posed by her smallest fans, the kids. Young people aren’t afraid of death the way adults are. They are curious about all sorts of things that will make those same children squeamish in another 10 or 15 years.
First thing first, your cat will not eat your eyeballs; that is, not until you’ve been dead a few days, and even then they will eat the soft tissue first, like your eyelids, neck, and tongue. Eyeballs are harder to get to and so are less appealing to them.
I feel so reassured.
Feline proclivity for gnawing on corpses is just one of many interesting topics that Doughty addresses in this light-hearted and informative book. Other questions she explores include: how deep does a body need to be buried to prevent animals from smelling it and digging it up (three and a half feet is a good compromise, or as Doughty says, “three and a half feet, and you won’t become a treat,” possibly the darkest nursery rhyme since “Ring around the rosy”); is it possible to prank your loved ones by eating a whole bunch of corn kernels before you die so that they start popping in the cremation machine (no, but thanks to research in this area we now know the ideal temperature for popping corn is 356 degrees Fahrenheit); if the person next to you on an airplane dies mid-flight, they won’t just leave the body sitting next to you, right (I’ve been advised by the FAA not to answer this, lest our economy take a major hit by people boycotting air travel; but seriously, how much extra space do you think they have on those planes when there isn’t even enough room for a 5’4″ woman to stretch her legs?).
On top of the eye opening information in this book, it’s also filled with friendly yet slightly macabre artwork by Dianné Ruiz. At times I think Ruiz is having a little too much fun with drawings of skeletons and long-haired morticians that look suspiciously like our author.
I will leave the topics for these illustrations to your imagination!
One suggestion for future books: I really wish the author had included an index. I never know when I’m going to need to refer back to her explanations of rigor mortis vs. liver mortis, and an index would be so helpful in that case (Rigor mortis, in addition to being the stiffening of the muscles that happens after death, is also the name of Doughty’s python. Liver mortis is the pooling of blood in a corpse, usually on the person’s back, assuming they are lying on their back when they died. In Latin, liver mortis means “the bluish color of death,” which is really going to come in handy next time the “Latin death terms” category comes up on Jeopardy.)
Is it possible for a humorous book about death to also be reverential? If so, Doughty accomplishes this. In her own words, “We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about death fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity.”