This Mortal Coil: Exploring The Business of Death

As the nights draw in and Halloween approaches, I wanted to highlight some of the books we sell at Dubray about death, dying, and what is known as the “death industry”. We have numerous books written by morticians, funeral directors, scientists, and those like me who are  fascinated with the rituals surrounding death; which are morbidly fascinating reads, and some of my favourite books I’ve ever come across.

I suppose there’s really no such thing as a “light read” on this topic, so I’ll just dive straight in. A personal favourite of mine is the autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Fun Home tells the story of Bechdel’s upbringing living above the family-owned funeral home. Alison recalls entering the morgue numerous times as a child to find her father performing an embalming, or other cosmetic procedures the dead require, and requesting her assistance in handing him tools. Bechdel describes this graphic novel as “a family tragicomic” as she so seamlessly weaves her childhood together through tragedy and comedy. Fun Home is the perfect place to start reading about death and the funeral industry. Bechdel never takes herself too seriously and the book shows the realities of death and how utterly normal it can become when you’re surrounded by it.

Next up is Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by Kenneth McKenzie and Todd Harra. As two seasoned death professionals, McKenzie and Harra have seen their fair share of horrors, resulting in this amazing book full of terrifying, funny, and creepy death stories. Todd and Kenneth collated their best, and worst, moments from their careers in deathRead stories of bodies falling out of coffins, shoot-outs at funerals, and screaming corpses, perfect for the month of Hallowe’en..

On a more serious and haunting note, we have Sorry for Your Loss: What Working with the Dead Taught Me About Life by Kate Marshall. Kate’s book follows the journey of her first year in the morgue of an NHS hospital in England. Kate introduces the reader to the people she met, both dead and alive, and how they affected her life. We learn about a man who has been lying in the morgue for almost a year, has had nobody claim him, and he’s starting to decompose. Do you think you could handle working in a morgue? Read Sorry For Your Loss and think again.

The next book is quite scientific, and an absolutely fascinating read, This Mortal Coil: A History of Death by Andrew Doig. If you’re still reading this blog post you hopefully aren’t too scared of the topic of death, and if that’s the case, this book will be perfect for you. It’s entertaining, it’s full of interesting facts, and it’s incredibly eye-opening. Doig delves into the history of death, and how death has changed over our existence. In the past century alone, we have almost doubled our life expectancy. This Mortal Coil explains why, and how, with some of the most interesting and fascinating stories you’ll ever read.. And finally, we have Sorry For Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death by Ann Marie Hourihane. What better way to spend  the Irish festival of Samhain than reading a book about how the Irish deal with death? It’s a well-known fact that the Irish handle death differently than most cultures; we treat a death as a social event; we drink, we eat, we laugh, we sing. We cry in the church and then we move to the pub and celebrate the life of the person we lost. Ann Marie dives into the world of death and dying in Ireland in an attempt to understand why we treat death the way we do. I truly hope you pick up some of these fascinating this October.

Happy Halloween!

Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir!

Nik Scully (they/them) Nik is a nonbinary queer person who is "parent" to 2 cats, countless fish, and 2 hens. Nik is also a booklover who has spent their life reading everything from children's classics like Charlotte's Web, to Have A Nice Day! the autobiography of hardcore wrestling legend Mick Foley. Nik recently received their Bachelor Degree in English and is on their way to becoming a librarian.

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