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.

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Reading Update #14

SGF Reading

This is not being a good several weeks for reading. Or blogging. Sorry.

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, April 10. I am three days late with this update. As of today, I have read 32 out of 52 books — two new ones since the last update.

update14

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi was not a pleasant read, but I’m glad I read it anyway (and I would read more by this author if I found more of her books). It’s a novel — or is it? the lines between fact and fiction are very blurred here — about an Egyptian woman condemned to death for killing her pimp. She is telling her life’s story to a psychologist, showing how she ended up in such a situation, and in doing so casts a light on the darkness that is a poor woman’s life in Egypt. The narrator, Firdaus, is bitter and hard and ready to die. She has learned about man’s worship of money and control, and she has learned the value of her own well-marketed sexuality — and, ultimately, how impossible it is for a woman to have any value in her society. WaPZ is ugly and raw. It’s very short, very direct. It reads so much like the transcript of someone just speaking aloud — someone with no formal education but great innate intelligence — that it’s hard to believe that it is really a work of fiction at all.

The Selection Stories: The Prince & the Guard by Kiera Cass was a nice change of pace from WaPZ. This is the 2.5 book in a highly enjoyable YA trilogy (book 3 comes out this May) and contains two novellas and a sneak peak of the finale. I won’t get into it too much, but the series itself is a bit of a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, and is excellent leisure reading for people who like their fairy tales to have a lot of gray area.

Currently Reading: I am currently reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Styxx, the companion novel to the book that launched my paranormal romance habit, Acheron. A word to the wise: the first halves of both books are far from romantic, and are extremely hard on the heart. Acheron and Styxx are identical twins born in a time before the fall of Atlantis — but one of them is the son of a destructive goddess, and their mortal parents reject, to varying degrees, both sons. One is sold into sexual slavery, and the other is subject to dreadful familial abuse, finally culminating in the worst sort of sexual abuse. It is heartsickening, and truly well done, because the protagonist of this book — for whom GREAT sympathy is felt — is the villain of other books in the series, and Kenyon does a marvelous job of bringing him to life. I guess I’m kind of doing my post-read review now, but fear not; the second half of the book, if it mirrors Acheron, will change pace drastically and give me something new to write about.

Looking Ahead: I’m planning to read Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts after Styxx. There are a few YA books that recently came into our library that I’d like to read as well, but I think I’m going to prioritize The False Prince because its author is coming to visit our school in a couple of weeks.