Book Report: Writer addresses practical side of preparing for death
I read the first 100 pages of many books. There is one I plan to finish before I die.
Death, no longer a taboo subject, is having its moment in the sun. To wit: "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning," about getting rid of stuff so your relatives don't have to, is a bestseller. Could be why I can't leave my parent's home without, say, an old hammer under my arm or the offer of a vintage bike pump.
Now add Sallie Tisdale's book "Advice for Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying" ($25.99, Touchstone) to the death genre. It's written for a wide audience: all of us. She addresses her readers directly, all of whom will one day die, as well as the readers who will outlive their loved ones.
Covering topics such as preparing for a good death, communi-cation, last days and grief, reading the book is like having a nice, long chat with an unsqueamish friend.
Tisdale, a nurse for over 30 years who has worked over a decade in palliative care, writes that when it comes to death, experience helps. In her early 20s, she began practicing Buddhism and she draws upon those beliefs and famous statements by philosophers and thinkers, some of which are quite funny.
She writes on page 7: "We pretend that what we know to be true somehow isn't true. But the nasty surprises can't really be avoided: the midget varicosities, the bald spots, the speckling, the softening — in Emerson's words, 'Nature is so insulting in her hints and notices.'"
From her early fascination with bodies and how they are made to her keen observations about how adults shield children from death and funerals, Tisdale writes warmly, sharing what she knows with a natural gift.
• West Linn-based writer R. Gregory Nokes is a Western history expert.
The subject of his new book "The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett, Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California" ($19.95, Oregon State Press), until now little more than a footnote in Oregon's history, looks like a cross between Paul Newman and Woody Harrelson. Burnett, we learn, often made a good first impression but failed to live up to his good looks and eloquence. Burnett served in Oregon's first elected government and was Oregon's first Supreme Court judge.
He decided early on that his name would sound classier if he added a second letter 't' to it. Burnett, we learn, was obsessed with status and easily embarrassed. He had an early job in Tennessee waiting tables for the likes of Davy Crockett and General Sam Houston. Eventually, he headed out to Oregon to outrun the debts that dogged him, and he organized one of the first wagon trails, which consisted of 121 wagons.
Due to his poor skills as a leader, Burnett hasn't been given much credit for his early role in what came to be known as "Oregon Fever." The anti-abolitionist slaveholder traveled to Oregon in 1843, and a young African-American girl, presumably one of his slaves, died along the way. The author makes a good case for why Burnett's narrow thinking on the subject of abolition held him back.
The eventual first governor of California was no Jerry Brown — his political career was very short, and he abruptly left the governor's office without offering much of an explanation. But he did leave behind a researcher's paradise — many long letters and a verbose personal history from which the author draws up to flush out his subject.