The Bookworm Sez: A book you can sink your teeth into

You’ve got a packed schedule.

Extra meetings, vacation planning, guests arriving, errands, it’s a lot to do but one thing’s for certain: you’ll find time to have a good meal. Gotta keep your strength up because there’s a lot on your plate this week, but read the new book “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” by Bill Schutt (c.2017, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $26.95, 352 pages), and you know what won’t be there.

Ever since you learned about what happens to him, you’ve always been thankful you’re not a male praying mantis. He’s the guy who literally loses his head over mating which, admit it, has “the ick factor” we can’t turn away from.

But why? Even though it’s straight-up disgusting, why are we so “utterly fascinated” by cannibalism?

It’s not like it doesn’t happen all over in the animal kingdom: tadpoles, as Schutt learned, cannibalize their smaller brethren for the nutrition of it all. Tiger shark embryos do it in-utero. Hamsters will eat their young, if they’re stressed or crowded; chimps and lions do it to eliminate the competition’s offspring. A surprising amount of creatures eat their own species because they don’t seem to recognize the fact that they’re related, which must make family reunions very interesting.

Even so, says Schutt, it makes sense: first, there’s the little issue of food, and if it’s in short supply, a reduction in the population of the young of the species in favor of the health of the reproducing ones seems like a right move. Reproductive benefits, territorial issues, space to live, all good enough reasons.

But what about us?

Scientists are divided on whether or not prehistoric humans practiced cannibalism, but we know it happened in recorded history. Human parts were eaten by the victors of war, partly as an in-your-face move. Columbus claimed the “Caribs” ate human flesh (which may have been a “tall tale”). It supposedly happened during World War II, The Donner Party infamously ate others (or didn’t), zombies do it, and so did Ed Gein.

And, says Schutt, cannibalism “is also being practiced today here in the United States .”

So you’re ready for different reading material this weekend. You want something with meat, something you can really sink your teeth into. “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” might just be it.

But don’t be grossed-out: yes, there’s plenty of “ick factor” in this book, but author and zoologist Bill Schutt adds laugh-out-loud humor to lighten things up, putting a different spin on a rarely-discussed disgust while still taking it as seriously as it deserves. Indeed, Schutt follows his topic with respect, a scientists’ curiosity, and a willingness to (gulp!) participate in the research without making a reader nauseous. That means that you’ll learn here, and you’ll be very entertained, but you won’t be scandalized with unnecessary sensationalism.

For sure, this wonderful book will speak to the science-minded, to folks who like history, or to anyone who’s crazy-curious about taboo subjects like this. You might not find dinner-table small-talk inside “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History,” but it’s not just another thing on your plate, either.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

More in Life

File
Minister’s Message: Are we seeing flowers or weeds?

In diffiult times, we need to watch what we watch

A plate of fried fish is photographed in this undated photo. Frying up cod or halibut in a beer batter is a delicious way to enjoy Alaska’s catch. (Courtesy Victoria Petersen)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: A secret ingredient for fried fish

Victoria Petersen serves up beer-battered halibut with a not-so-secret ingredient.

Photo from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art 
                                Dr. David Hassan Sleem stands on the front porch of his large Seward home in 1906.
The multitalented D.H. Sleem, Part two

Syrian-born David Hassan Sleem settled in Seward in 1903.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: So sayeth the almanac 2020

Once again, the summer has rocketed by and we find ourselves on the precipice of the autumn equinox.

File
Minister’s Message: Being trustworthy in troubled times

Many people have forgotten that the source of our American values and virtues is the Bible.

The cast and crew of “Knife Skills” poses for a photo at Pier One Theatre during a recording session in August in Homer, Alaska. From left to right are Peter Sheppard, Theodore Castellani, Chloë Pleznac, Joshua Krohn (sitting, at sound board), Darrel Oliver, Helen-Thea Marcus and Ingrid Harrald. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Schneider)
KBBI broadcasts new radio play on Friday

‘Knife Skills’ was written and directed by Homer playwright Lindsey Schneider

Squash from my neighborhood farmers market will be roasted into a sheet pan dinner, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Lazy fall days

Farmers markets keep your hard-earned dollars within your community.

Anchorage Museum of History and Art
                                Dr. David Hassan Sleem stands on the front porch of his large Seward home in 1906.
The multitalented D.H. Sleem, Part one

Most people, if they have heard of D.H. Sleem at all, know the name because of his Alaska maps.

The Bayside Buskers perform from noon-1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, at Land’s End Resort in Homer, Alaska, as part of the Alaska World Arts Festival. (Photo by Aaron Christ)
Alaska World Arts Festival returns

For 2020, most of the festival will be virtual — and sometimes live

Low-bush cranberries are gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
                                Low-bush cranberries are gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Cranberry conundrum

I have enough cranberries to try multiple recipes. So I will.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Our daily bread

Lately it has been baking bread.