The best books to help you accept, embrace, and laugh at your silly mortality

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a death professional who lives in a world where nobody wants to talk about my specialist subject, so I hoover up any books that discuss mortality and our relationship to it. To do my job well, I need to face death on a daily basis in a matter-of-fact way, without losing that reverence, but equally not getting lost in the reverence because there is plenty to smile at, laugh at and be brutally honest about. These things make me the rounded human that is needed to perform the task well and the kind of people who write these books typically embody those qualities and inspire me. I hope they can inspire you too.


I wrote...

Book cover of Ashes To Admin: Tales from the Caseload of a Council Funeral Officer

What is my book about?

What happens to us when we die without family or money? The answer to this kick in the guts of a question is that me, or someone like me, will step in and arrange your funeral. This is a memoir of my job as a council funeral officer. It ends up being much more though, because when a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right, and when a job is about death, things get existential. The inherent absurdity of life keeps things in check though, and there are funny moments in there, as well as uplifting ones too. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Evie King Why did I love this book?

Mary Roach is a woman after my own heart.

Grimly fascinated and unflinching without crossing the line into disrespect. Her very personal introduction, discussing how a cadaver is just that, no longer a person, and how she realised this when inadvertently made to spend time with her mother's body, sets her up as the perfect person to discuss bodies with humour, warmth, and interest.

The opening chapter about the medical use for decapitated heads sets the tone from the off, and the book made me finally get around to donating my body to medical science so that I too could go on a strange and useful to humanity adventure post-mortem.

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Stiff as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For two thousand years, cadavers - some willingly, some unwittingly - have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender confirmation surgery, cadavers have helped make history in their quiet way. "Delightful-though never disrespectful" (Les Simpson, Time Out New York), Stiff investigates the strange lives of our bodies postmortem and answers the question: What should…


Book cover of The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

Evie King Why did I love this book?

I read this book when I was in a slump whilst working on my own and it really inspired me.

The job depicted here is fascinating but the woman carrying it out is doubly so.

Sandra - originally a married with kids man called Peter, who had suffered violence as a child - has been a drag queen, a sex worker, undergone gender reassignment, and takes all of this suffering and rich experience into her work cleaning up death scenes and hoarder houses.

The latter involving working with the damaged living who are often resistant. The human side of her job is beautiful and I saw the parallels with my own work and started writing again with vigour. 

By Sarah Krasnostein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Trauma Cleaner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. You've got to hear Sandra's incredible story.

Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Audible's editors fell in love with Sandra because of her warmth, humour and grace, and we think you will, too. Here’s what we thought of The Trauma Cleaner:

"As an acquiring editor at Audible, I read a huge number of books but this…


Book cover of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

Evie King Why did I love this book?

This book contains questions posed by kids but we are all kids when it comes to death.

Scared kids with unanswered questions that creep up on us at three in the morning. This book combines that heavy morbid curiosity with the easy breezy comforting tones of Caitlin Doughty, my death hero.

She is expert, funny, reassuring, and keen for us all to embrace death so that we can live life better. Her enthusiasm for this is infectious and you walk away from any of her books or youtube videos happier to be mortal.

The questions kids asked got me thinking that writing for children about death is an excellent idea, starting that journey early. It's something I am toying with doing for book two after a friend's kid couldn't sleep because they were scared of becoming nothing.

This is the heaviest of light reading, in a good way.

By Caitlin Doughty, Dianne Ruz (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. What would happen to an astronaut's body if it was pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poop when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral?

In the tradition of Randall Munroe's What If?, Doughty's new book, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, blends her scientific understanding of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious and candid answers to thirty-five urgent questions posed by her youngest fans. Readers will learn what happens if you die on an airplane,…


Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Evie King Why did I love this book?

You'll usually find this one in the science section of the bookstore but don't be put off, it is not at all dry and it is completely accessible and universal, I mean it's about being mortal, you don't get much more universal than that.

This book is wonderful because you get the expertise of a doctor mixed with the philosophical human questions of how we should best deal with the experience of living with dying.

The take home that palliative care, far from giving up, can sometimes extend life longer than painful treatment, will make you rethink your end-of-life decisions and realise that living and being alive are two different things. 

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Being Mortal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

'GAWANDE'S MOST POWERFUL, AND MOVING, BOOK' MALCOLM GLADWELL

'BEING MORTAL IS NOT ONLY WISE AND DEEPLY MOVING; IT IS AN ESSENTIAL AND INSIGHTFUL BOOK FOR OUR TIMES' OLIVER SACKS

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's…


Book cover of Can I Have My Ball Back? A memoir of masculinity, mortality and my right testicle

Evie King Why did I love this book?

This will look like nepotism because Richard is a dear friend who provided a quote for my book cover, however I am mainly friends with him because we are of the same mind about most things, including death.

We both deal with it using a good dose of sarcasm and humour whilst also being big old existential softies who have our moments.

His book about his cancer diagnosis sees his coping mechanism of humour balanced with the honest sadnesses of potentially leaving behind young children who might forget him, before returning to humourous disapproval at his wife's imagined new man.

My own firmly held belief that you can't live well without the shadow of death also comes through as he starts to live better and healthier in recovery, thanks to his brush with the reaper. 

By Richard Herring,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Can I Have My Ball Back? A memoir of masculinity, mortality and my right testicle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Very funny, moving and heartwarming' BOB MORTIMER

'A bollockbuster!' ADAM BUXTON

If we are cowardly, we are told to grow some
If we're brave, we're said to have huge ones
If it's cold, they are liable to fall off - even if you're a brass monkey
If we're in trouble, someone will threaten to break them
If we have to work hard, we might very well bust them
If we're in somebody's thrall, then they've got us by them

About fifteen years ago, Richard Herring first took part in a campaign to encourage men to have a little (non-sexual) feel…


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Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

Book cover of Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

Felice Picano Author Of Six Strange Stories and an Essay on H.P. Lovecraft

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author

Felice's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood.

Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart.

He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano exits his boyhood sooner than most, but with this sense of self intact and armed with a fuller understanding of the world, he is about to enter.

Controversial when it first came out, Ambidextrous was burned on the docks of London in 1989 by Her Majesty Inland Service and decried by many. This reprint, with a Foreword by the author, discusses its banned book history and how it has become a classic depiction used by professionals involved in modern childhood studies.

Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

What is this book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood. Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old, possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart. He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano…


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