Sick is a Relative Term: 3 Gross Books

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Kristen McQuinn

Staff Writer

Kristen McQuinn is a medievalist who dreams of reading more, writing more, and traveling more while being the best single mama by choice she possibly can be. By day, she can be found working with English teachers at the University of Phoenix, where she also teaches the occasional class on mythology, Shakespeare, or Brit lit. Sometimes she updates even her own blog. Follow her on Twitter:@KristenMcQuinn or  Twitter: @KristenMcQuinn

One of the things that I love best about my friends is that we’re mostly dark and twisty. We are the ones who go to the horror movies in the theater and howl with laughter, especially if it deals with anything having to do with demonic possession or the like. Seriously, I thought The Exorcist was comic genius, both the film and the novel. I was maybe seven or eight when I started reading the Goosebumps books and found them too tame, so I moved on to the slightly edgier Christopher Pike novels. I blew through most of Stephen King’s then-published books well before I entered high school, and when I was in high school, he had many, many published books. V.C. Andrews was old hat and Shirley Jackson was like my favorite twisted auntie. They all contributed to me writing a story for my high school English class that made my teacher ask if I was all right and did I maybe want to talk to the counselor? I suspect I am not in any way unique in my peer group, given some of the posts I’ve seen by fellow Rioters. Black is a happy color here.

Since most of my friends are as weird as I am, we consider it a challenge to find the books that will actually scare us bad enough to send us to therapy. Totally grossing us out is a worthy accomplishment, too. At the least, we would consider it a win if a book made one of us have to do flying leaps onto our beds and then cower under the sheets until we passed out from panicked exhaustion for a few days, just in case the murderous thing living underneath it grabbed our ankles. Like this clown. Clowns are the minions of Satan. I’d do flying leaps onto my bed forever if I read a book with this on the cover. I still can’t step off a curb where there is a drainage opening. Thanks, Stephen King. When my roommate read It, she did flying leaps for longer than a week, until she missed her bed while flying onto it and thought she broke her foot. I win!

Recently, I haven’t read as many dark and twisty books as I would like. My kid is wicked smart and she reads things if I leave them laying about, so I need to be more circumspect with what she might see. She told her kindergarten teacher all about the book that has invisible things that make you go crazy and kill everyone around you and then kill yourself (Bird Box). Ask me how that parent/ teacher conference went.

But! I am not completely cut off from my darker side. While it’s true that I read a shitload more books about My Little Pony now than I ever imagined I would (talk about dark and twisted), I still manage to find different books that are not quite as in-your-face, but that are still entirely cringe-worthy. Some of my favorites are:

feeding-hannibalFeeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook by Janice Poon. This is one of the most awesomely twisted books I’ve encountered in a looooong time. It is also one I am careful to keep up where my daughter can’t see it. Some of the photos are entirely gross and disturbing! But don’t let the title or the photos fool you – this is a serious cookbook filled with some truly beautiful recipes. Some require some major culinary skill to do. Some of them I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because it’s too gross (Janice Poon wins! Well played!), but others I have already tried. I didn’t totally fail at the Tandoori Liver (though I opted to use pork), Carciofi Chicken, Cauliflower Peas Pilaf, and Caesar’s Garden! This was the most unique and fun book I’ve read in a long time.

stiff by mary roachStiff by Mary Roach. An old classic in my circle. How can I not love a book that is all about what strange and unusual things a cadaver can have done to it? Body Farm tenant? Being someone’s gross anatomy pet? Literally being a crash test dummy? The science is all terribly important, but ew. However, if anyone can make the lives of human cadavers, and the awful things we do to them, funny as well as highly informative and sensitive, it is Mary Roach. This is also the book that taught me about the various and honestly important things we can learn from cadavers, and is the reason I am an advocate for organ donation and giving one’s body to science.


Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray. My mom is a nurse and I remember when I was little and she was in nursing school that I would spend hours and hours looking at the pictures in this book. I thought all the blood vessels were especially pretty. She even let me color in her The Anatomy Coloring Book, which was wayyyyyy cooler even than the Mickey Mouse coloring book I had. I wonder if this was the genesis of my fascination with the bubonic plague?

Do you have any favorite gross books you’d care to share with the class?