February Book Recommendations: / by Deborah Clague

Written by Tom Jokinen

A bit of a morbid topic, this book, written by a former CBC producer who left his media gig to become an apprentice undertaker, is an insightful (and even entertaining) glimpse into the modern funeral industry. If you have ever been curious about what happens when you cease to exist, this book may provide some very detailed answers. At least in regards to your physical form. 

I personally found the subject of marketing tactics fascinating … in an era when the popularity of cremation has drastically cut into profits and the threat of having a multi-generational family trade being driven out of business by one of the big corporates from Texas constantly looms, the industry has had to get creative. In one of the, er, more interesting examples of this, a funeral home in Winnipeg has started offering loved ones the opportunity to observe the cremation process in a special viewing area. If this provides closure to some, then who am I to judge?  

Funerals, alas, are for the living and not the dead. 

Favorite line: "Cemeteries and funerals, the way French historian Philippe Ariés see it, are social constructs to keep nature … separate from a civilized life of flat-screen TVs and microwave chapatis. We evolved, beautifully, from monkeys into Type-A control freaks with a system (government, laws, religion, organized labour and technology) designed to overcome [it]. And for the most part, we pulled it off. There are only two weak spots where chaos sneaks in, wild, wet and savage, reminding us we're doomed animals: sex and death. So we devised taboos to deal with the former, to take away its power, and ritual to weaken the chaotic impact of the latter." 

To buy this book, click here

Written by Atul Gawande

Continuing with the uplifting theme of death in my book recommendations for the month, 'Being Mortal' initiates a vital conversation that is absent in modern society: that of the lack of knowledge and dialogue surrounding end-of-life care. By examining the limitations (and failures) of modern medicine, author Dr. Atul Gawande, exposes how healthcare can – and should – do better to promote a life of meaning vs. a life of simply existing. 

I wish this book had been published a year earlier. 

Favorite line: "The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes like significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine's focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul."

To watch the PBS Frontline documentary on Being Mortal, click here

To buy this book, click here

Written by Masha Gessen

A number of recent hard-hitting documentaries on Russian President Vladimir Putin intrigued me to pick up this book by journalist Masha Gessen, whom, it would seem, has risked her own safety to expose the criminal underbelly that currently governs the nation. 'The Man Without a Face' paints a chilling portrait of espionage, assassination and corruption on a massive scale that is not only permitted but encouraged by those in power. This is not a work of fiction. 

Propaganda comes in many forms. And while this book might be perceived as an embellished tale originating from the western sphere of influence, recent history suggests that critical examination and commentary on this man is merited.

Glasnost and perestroika are missed. 

Favorite line: "If anyone in Russia or outside had cared to pay attention, all the clues to the nature of the new regime were there within weeks of Putin's ascent to his temporary throne. But the country was busy electing an imaginary president, and the rest of the Western world would not begin to doubt its choice for years to come."

To watch a CBC Fifth Estate documentary on Vladimir Putin, click here

To buy this book, click here