Review: Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

I picked up Shelley Tanaka’s Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a “spooky book” shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn’t expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring “Wow!” every time I turned a page.

Published in 2005, Mummies is a 48-page illustrated nonfiction book at an 8.2 grade level. It meets the reader right where we’d all start when opening such a book: “Mummies… Right away we think of the ancient Egyptians.” Tanaka immediately pivots, explaining the broader definition of mummies and sending us around the world from Egypt to Chile, where the earliest mummies were found.

This is a book about death and corpses, and it neither sensationalizes nor flinches away from this. In a straightforward manner that will appeal to any reader (but probably especially young guys) Tanaka explains how ancient Chinchorro people skinned and dismembered their dead before reconstructing the bodies with the aid of sticks, fur, feathers, and clay.

She explains how the Inca performed human sacrifice by immobilizing/killing and leaving their “most beautiful and healthy children” in mountaintop tombs, where they were frozen and preserved so perfectly that their blood — even their eyelashes! — are still in place centuries later.

Readers learn about peat bog mummies in Ireland, the Iceman of northern Italy, medieval mummies as far north as the Arctic Circle, 4,000-year-old mummies preserved by heat and sand in a Chinese desert, and of course the famous Egyptian mummies.

Tanaka also brings mummification into the contemporary world by telling about researchers who reproduced the Egyptian techniques on a man who left his remains to science, and about Buddhist monks who mummify themselves before dying! She also talks about famous political mummies Lenin, Mao, and Peron, and about the plastinated mummies currently touring the country with exhibitions like Body World and Bodies: The Exhibition.

Mummies is full of glossy, full-color pictures of mummies, coffins, artifacts, and corpses — including an actual-size photo of the shockingly well-preserved face of an eight-year-old girl, and a far number of skeletal remains. Somehow they didn’t strike me as especially disturbing or disgusting, although I’m sure the majority of adolescent readers will be delightedly grossed out. And if they’re anything like me, they’ll find themselves intrigued, wanting to learn more about non-Egyptian mummies, making surprising connections to history and cultural geography, and probably passing the book around to all of their buddies. I read several sections out loud to my husband and son* and can’t wait to feature this book more prominently in our library collection.

* My son (who at seventeen months old has relatively little prior knowledge of mummies) leaned forward and kissed the picture of an ancient bust of Tutankhamun seen above, then stole the book from me and spent several minutes intently flipping through the pages of desiccated ancient corpses. As recommendations go, that seems like a pretty solid one.

Work

Mom has told me that she knows when I’m not liking something or when something isn’t going well because I just stop talking about it.

Work has been hard this year, so far. Adjustments, change, things like that. I guess no job is ever going to be a complete hayride, right?

I still am very happy to be where I am doing what I’m doing. There are just things that I miss. People. You know how it is. It is what it is.

Hit That

I play percussion in a local community orchestra. Specifically, I usually play what is collectively called (after three adverbs) “mallet percussion”: things with keyboards and tuned notes, rather than the “battery” (things you, y’know, batter).

Most of my time is dedicated to the triangle (which is much harder than it looks), the chimes, the bells/glockenspiel, and the xylophone. For the uninitiated, these are chimes, this is what I mean by bells, and of course this is everyone’s favorite token X word.

(I wasn’t always a percussionist and, in fact, I’m not entirely sure I can call myself one with a perfectly straight face. I’m an accidental percussionist, by way of years of saxophoning and many more years of pianoing. Hence the mallets; I lack the chops for battery. Yes, it’s harder.)

The reason I tell you all this is to set up the sharing of a hilarious discovery. If you’ve ever spent time in a band room, you’ve probably seen The Posters. Ubiquitous, creased, oft-laminated souvenirs of a time when the director had energy and funds to attend music conferences. Perhaps (s)he even inherited them from a predecessor. They’re always outdated, featuring musicians who were “small world” famous years before.

And the musicians in them are always stiff, fussy looking folks in black tie — especially if they are mallet percussionists. Take, for instance, this lovely lady whose benign visage has popped up in several band rooms I’ve frequented:

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Sometimes they loosen up a little. Give us an action shot, looking away from the camera. Maybe even a look of distracted elation or concentration as they nail a particularly tricky lick:

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Both of these posters have been wilting on the wall of our orchestra’s rehearsal space for as long as I’ve been a member.

And then, this week, they were joined by a third.

A new mallet percussion poster.

Ah, but this is no Mona Lisa of the mallets, no earnest devotee of the keyboard. Here we have no bow tie, no artful black and white photography. All of these things are far too buttoned-up for this, the Casanova of the Marimba.

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Men only wish they could achieve the sheer suaveness of the popped-collar multimalleted alpha male. Women swoon at the sight of his erected music stand.

He stares into the eyes of the anonymous middle school percussionist. To some, he seems to say, “You will never be as hot as I am.” To others, he seems to promise things the average twelve-year-old has yet to imagine. He is… the most interesting percussionist alive.

And to the exhausted-to-the-point-of-giggles adult amateur percussionist, he whispers huskily, “You have GOT to blog about this.”