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May 9, 2013 by Reader's Connection

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

You might as well brace yourselves. After you die, you may be a background character in the dreams of others. You know those people in your dreams? Where did you think they came from?

This is not a job choice but indenture: you owe the same number of hours of service as you spent dreaming during your lifetime. No one is very pleased about this work except for some former thespians among us. Mostly we give them the interactive roles every night; we’re happy to sit in the background. If we’re lucky enough that the dreamer casts us in a restaurant, we get a free meal out of it. On less fortunate nights, we’re cast as masqueraders at a terrifying party, or as sufferers in deep circles of Hell, or as co-workers who have to point and laugh when the star walks in without clothes.

If this isn’t something to which you want to look forward, David Eagleman has provided 39 alternatives in Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. I had included this book in an earlier post, but I’m three years older, now, and need to review my prospects.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the BrainEagleman is a neuroscientist and the author of the 2011 title Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. If I understood a radio interview with him that I heard recently, his neuroscience affected some of the afterlives in Sum (2009).

Despite occasional similarities, they are remarkably varied. “Cast,” which I’ve quoted above, may be akin to “Incentive”–in which, after you die, you play a part in another person’s life, rather than her dreams–but they strike out in different directions and each was worth my time. “Oz” is the only dud I’ve encountered, so far–it’s too obvious, especially given its title–but a couple of afterlives later, I was laughing at the rueful conclusion of “Mirrors.” Oz was behind me.

Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives on e-bookSince I first blogged about this title, it has become available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook; and this is my real reason for re-promoting the collection: On the audiobook, the different afterlives are read by Stephen Fry, Emily Blunt, Gillian Anderson and other performers.

I have lower back issues and don’t download much, but the idea of hearing, for example,  Mr. Fry reading “Sum,” the title piece, in which “all the moments that share a quality are grouped together,” is just so exciting.

You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower.

Until that time.

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1 comment »

  1. Steve Bridge says:

    *Sum* is one of my favorite books of the last 2 years. Tiny bits of genius that make you look at life in new ways.

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