Tuesday 25 October 2016

Devouring Books: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

It's been a few weeks since I finished Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and I still can't get over how much I just resoundingly, consistently, so-many-other-adverbs-ly enjoyed the crap out of it. I think it might just be one of those books that is so entirely my thing that it's almost too much, but also that I don't know is my thing until I'm actually reading it, when it becomes the best thing ever.

I think (know) I might be rambling, so let me start again.

Sum is a really difficult book to categorise because it doesn't quite fit into anything I've read before. It's fiction, but there aren't any set characters. Each chapter (or essay. Or scenario. Or, or, or) is only a couple of pages long, but it doesn't really fit the title of short stories either. To call the tales philosophical essays isn't strictly true because Eagleman isn't exactly trying to prove or argue anything, although maybe each one is a teeny thought experiment. Maybe it's best to just let the subtitle speak for itself- Sum is a book containing Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and that's what it delivers- forty different ideas of what the afterlife could possibly look and feel like, a topic which has as many possibilities as there are people on earth, and then some.

I didn't know I wanted forty different ideas of the afterlife until I read this book. My own assumption is that death is pretty much the end of consciousness, and since that's kind of depressing, I try not to think about it and just get on with my life. This book has left me far more open to the thought that, although I still don't really believe that there is anything more, just thinking about what there could be is an incredibly rich and interesting topic that I definitely haven't paid enough mind to. This collection of what-ifs manages to be thoughtful and funny and interesting, and strangely it's a lot more about how we choose to live and think than it is about death. For instance, there's the musing that the afterlife only exists for sinners and it's kind of a dull suburban nightmare because God (or whoever you like) knows how fucking boring eternity is and doesn't want to subject those who lived good lives to have to suffer it forever.


Whilst I was reading, and upon finishing this book, I pretty much spent all my days talking about it to people, relaying scenarios and saying 'wouldn't that be COOL' or 'isn't that SO WEIRD' or 'That would be so sad'. I could genuinely feel my brain expanding with this whole new way of thinking that I was absorbing, and brain expansion is pretty much my favourite feeling in the world. I'm sure there is a flip side of readers who would find this book maybe offensive (since it rarely sticks to any religious ideas of the afterlife- and if it does then it's still not what people expect) or not that interesting to them, but for me, it was everything. And kind of still is.

I think I've written this review in my head a hundred times better than it has actually come out, but I hope it still does justice to how much I FREAKING loved this book. If you're even a little bit interested in thinking differently and being entertained and just... interested about something, then this is the book you have to go for. It's basically the best thing I've read this year, even if it is so freaking hard to categorise and write about. Go. And. Read. It.


  1. This sounds SUUUUUPER interesting. Alright, yeah, I'm gonna have to read this at some point

    1. Umm also I'm glad I saw your review first, cos I just looked in Goodreads and the first review that pops up makes me want to eye roll HARD