My Newest Literary Obsessions: Compounding, Bad Plants, and the Good Death

My one and only lifelong obsession has been with reading. I’ve consumed more nonfiction than I can remember. Case in point: my brother-in-law recently loaned me his copy of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I was more than sixty pages in before I began to suspect that I may have already read the book. A quick check of my Goodreads account confirmed that I read it eight years ago and have officially become my mom.

My bibliophilia has only recently extended to nonfiction. It used to be that I would only read nonfiction for school. Maybe that was the problem. Textbooks and encyclopedias are informative, but not terribly interesting.

When I started this post, it came as a surprise to me that my recent literary favorites were all works of nonfiction. It turns out that the dull academic style of textbooks is not universal. The authors of these three books have voices that are unique and conversational, yet authoritative. They made fun and interesting what academia makes boring. The books are:

From Here to EternityFrom Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

From Here to Eternity chronicles Caitlin Doughty’s travels across the world to study the death customs of different cultures. Each chapter focuses on a particular region and the death customs practiced there. Caitlin is a mortician, funeral home owner, founder of The Order of the Good Death, and hostess of the YouTube series “Ask a Mortician”.

Since the book is in first person, fans of “Ask a Mortician” will hear Caitlin’s voice in the words as they read. All of the stories are interesting. Some of the practices are shocking, but Caitlin’s matter-of-fact style puts the reader at ease.

One chapter talks about a facility that does research on composting human remains. As she describes her arrival at the facility, she mentions seeing some of the mounds for the first time. Caitlin acknowledges, “It makes you uneasy when a body is somewhere it’s not “supposed” to be, like seeing your chemistry teacher at the supermarket” (p. 111).

I would recommend From Here to Eternity to anyone who has even a slight interest in the subject. Caitlin makes this an easy, enjoyable, and enlightening read. I mean, come on, who could not love a book written by a mortician with a sense of humor?

Wicked PlantsWicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants catalogs the world’s dangerous and deadly plants. The book includes sixty-two plants in all, each with their own two to four page spread. Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ sketches give the book an old world feel. Stewart’s conversational style and infusion of stories add a laid back vibe. Like Doughty, Stewart tackles often macabre subject matter in a respectful yet lighthearted way.

My favorite wicked plant (Is it wrong to have a favorite wicked plant?) is the deadly nightshade or atropa belladonna. Deadly nightshade is basically the evil twin of the tomato plant. The tomato plant produces yellow flowers that yield red fruit. The purple flowers of the deadly nightshade produce dark purple berries. The berries look like glossy blueberries or cherries and are (apparently) somewhat tasty. Unfortunately, consuming even a small amount can be fatal.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes plants, gardening, or who has a general morbid curiosity. It is perfect for those who can’t carve out long amounts of reading time. The bite-sized chapters make it an easy book to pick up and put down.

The Compound EffectThe Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

If dead bodies and murderous plants are not your cup of tea, maybe this last book is for you. The Compound Effect is a self-help book about the big impact that small habits can have on our lives over time. Hardy shows how this effect can work for or against us, depending upon the habit.

The Compound Effect contains six chapters. Each focuses on a different concept and ends in a short list of actionable steps. The book is to the point, easy to read, and scattered with simple illustrations.

What I like about this book is that Hardy’s ideas seem doable. Some self-help books get the reader pumped up, but leave them with no direction. The Compound Effect tells you what to do next. Hardy gets right to the point making this short book a quick read. I recommend it to anyone who would like to find small ways to make big improvements in their life.

Leave a comment if you have any thoughts on these books or if you would like to recommend a book. (I’m always looking to add to my “to read” mountain). Please subscribe if you would like to receive an email when I make my weekly post about a random topic.