Paper World

A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality / Goldfish Ghost

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 10

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars
by Maria Birmingham, Josh Holinaty (Illustrator)
2015, 48 pages, 7.4 x 0.6 x 9.7 inches, Hardcover

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Featuring simple, bold, and colorful illustrations, A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality examines humanity’s never-ending quest to discover the secret to eternal life. The book is categorized into five options on extending one’s life: Elixirs, Meeting Immortals, Visiting Magical Places, Patience, and The Future.

Starting with a look at historical figures such as Gilgamesh’s search for youth-restoring seaweed and Qin She Huang’s hunt for a fruit which grants eternal life, the book touches on the unsuccessful search for mythical life-extending tools like alchemical elixirs, the philosopher’s stone, and the flesh of the ningyo fish. The folkloric Moon rabbit is shown is vibrant yellow, stirring its cauldron of the Elixir Of Life.

The journey continues to mythical places where some form of a fountain of youth supposedly exists in Bimini, St. Brendan’s Island, and Tir Na Nog. A dynamic full-page illustration of a maiden soaking in a mountain stream in bold aquamarine evokes an idyllic atmosphere. Real-life places such as those in Earth’s Blue Zones occurring in Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California, where inhabitants regularly live to upwards of 90 years, are also investigated.

Venturing into the realms of biology and other sciences, long lived animals such as naked mole rats, planarian worms, and a jellyfish known as turritopsis dohrnii are described. A gene that centenarians may possess known as FoxO is examined. Healthy routines like eating well, regular exercise, and flossing are suggested. A humorous full-page illustration of famous literary immortals is shown, featuring amazons, wizards, Pinocchio, and Dracula.

Ending the book with options that might exist in the future, cryogenics, mummification, cloning, and inserting one’s consciousness into a digital avatar are all represented. The theory of biomechanical immortality is vividly illustrated in emerald green with an enormous robot having its puny human brain installed as pleased scientists look on. Finally, the belief in an afterlife in world religions is presented.

A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality is a lively, quick read, exploring concepts in history, science, literature, and geography, and presented in an easily digested manner. Charmingly illustrated in a blocky, comic book style, with chunky images of futuristic robots with glowing brains, medieval alchemists mixing strange chemicals, and Ponce De Leon wielding a metal detector, it’s an informative, humorous book.

– SD


Goldfish Ghost
by Lemony Snicket, Lisa Brown (Illustrator)
oaring Brook Press
2017, 40 pages, 8.4 x 10.4 inches, Hardcover

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Goldfish Ghost does not begin with the death of a fish. It begins with the birth of a ghost. The wonderfully clever, silly, sweet story about a ghost in search of good company comes from husband and wife team Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown.

Though the story is great, it’s the little details in Brown’s illustrations that make me love this book. Goldfish Ghost (and the ghosts of the sea creatures he meets) floats through the story belly-up. Tucked into the beach scene is pair of people ghosts, watching the waves in old-timey bathing suits. The subtle way in which Brown uses scrawled, faint, white line—ghost-like in its own right, like the chalked words erased from a blackboard but not really gone—is so lovely and smart, it’s probably my favorite thing about the whole book.

– Mk Smith Despres


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