Tanner/binder wanted for anthropodermic bibliopegy (future)
June 7, 2010 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to have a book bound in my tanned skin after I die, as a present for my family. Does anyone know of any legal issues with asking a tanner and binder to do this? Any other suggestions for how to go about it?

More background and history at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropodermic_bibliopegy

I've not yet decided exactly what to wrap myself around, but am open to suggestions. This is a long-term idea.
posted by mdoar to Human Relations (42 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Um, are you sure your family would appreciate this? I hesitate to point this out, in case you have thought it through, but a lot of people would find it terrifying to handle a book bound in a stranger's skin, and more so if it was someone they knew.
posted by amtho at 5:04 PM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]

I'd search for statutes about mishandling a corpse in your jurisdiction. In short, I'm sure there are all sorts of legal issues with this--criminal ones, not just civil. I cannot imagine this being legal in any jurisdiction in the developed world.

Moreover, I cannot imagine that your family would want such a book. I know that I would faint and be traumatized for life if I went to a probate meeting and was given a copy of Moby Dick bound in my father's skin.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:08 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

As a member of mdoar's immediate circle of friends let me speak up to say that

a) no, this is not a joke


b) certain members of his family would appreciate it.

As far as the book is concerned, how about "Grey's Anatomy"? It covers all the things you'd expect to find inside of a human skin.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:11 PM on June 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm sure you could find someone to take your cash but how would you be able on count on a specific tanner, binder or other type of "facilitator" still being in business when you eventually die? (unless you have some expectation of dying within a set amount of time)
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:12 PM on June 7, 2010

Beyond legal issues, it's unlikely any tanner would wish to expose his/her company & other products to potential bloodborne pathogen issues. While you may be perfectly healthy now, at your death you may in fact be ill, have various medicines coursing through your blood, etc. A business owner would have to be willing to override his/her employee and client interests for the sake of assisting you, and that's unlikely to happen, in my view.
posted by December at 5:14 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: People have urns with their parents' ashes which always seemed gruesome to me. Books are more attractive and useful. If they wait a few years, they can even auction it off.

But I do see that I'll have to warn my family v. carefully about my future wishes. And to not keep it with the pile of library books to be returned.
posted by mdoar at 5:15 PM on June 7, 2010

This is the sort of thing you need to work out with a mortician or someone qualified and legally allowed to do this sort of thing, at least according to Dear Abby. The laws on who can deal with human remains vary from state to state, but if you call a local funeral home they could let you know. What state are you in? For example, here are the laws for the state of Utah. So, it's sort of complicated.
posted by jessamyn at 5:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Echoing what Admiral Haddock said, you should probably start your conversation about this with a funeral director or someone else who is very familiar with the body disposal ordinances of your state and city (assuming of course your family really is Addam's Family enough to want this).

The Chicago Improv teacher/genius Del Close had wanted to donate his skull to the Goodman Theatre to be used as Yorrick (or whenever else they might need a skull..heh) and the gal who was in charge of fulfilling Del's wishes was thwarted in the attempt. (you can read about it here.) Of course she was trying to get it done at the last minute, tetting the lowdown on the actual ordinances beforehand would be infinitely helpful as I'm sure you know.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 5:16 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: Hmm. I wouldn't want to make anyone else ill. But aren't tanners already exposed to these kinds of risks by dealing with dead cows (I bet they didn't all die healthy deaths.)
posted by mdoar at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2010

Hi there

In terms of whether there are legal implications - we'd need to know what country you were in as that would vary (maybe a post in the law and government section would cover this part a little better?).

This reminds me of a doco I saw recently here in Australia. There is a man here who is pretty much 100% tattooed with botanical art, and his tattooist is an acclaimed artist. He wants to donate his skin to the National Gallery when he passes. The doco speaks to lawyers etc (apparently it's a-ok if that's his wish as his skin is dealt with like any other possession of his and he can leave it to whomever he chooses). It also shows him making some of the arrangements for how it would be done etc.. Anyway, here's the link - you may be able to find it for download somewhere.

Sorry - no suggestions on the book. I guess something that you feel reflects your personality or would give your family comfort? Personally I favor "The Little Prince" - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
posted by nothing too obvious at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Blergh - apologies for the comment about where you're based - that's in your profile!
Still, I guess it's relevant if you plan to die somewhere else or choose this to be carried out in a specific state.
posted by nothing too obvious at 5:19 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: I think jessamyn has pointed me in the right direction - tattoo parlours. I bet they have older clients asking about having their artwork preserved. It's sounds like similar technology would be required and must have the roughly the same legal and health issues.
posted by mdoar at 5:20 PM on June 7, 2010

I shoulda previewed....they not only differ from state-to-state as Jessamyn says, but also can be added to / overridden by local (city ordinances). You may also want to check out The American Way of Death. As I recall, it had listed in the back, by state, the various laws for disposing of bodies. Morticians / Funeral Directors may not be entirely honest in what can and cannot be done, you see. I'd found out from there, for instance, that in Illinois you can bury family members on your own land with only a few restrictions. (though the edition I was reading was old).
posted by Wink Ricketts at 5:21 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Book ideas:
  • Serious: The Necronomicon, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Holy Text of Your Chosen Religion, Your Favorite Atlas
  • Not-So-Serious: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The God Delusion, Whatever that L. Ron Hubbard book was, Jumbles/Sudoku, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield

posted by The White Hat at 5:21 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is an absolutely horrific idea. Please don't do it.

That said, Geoff Ostling is a heavily tattooed Australian man who wants to donate his skin to the National Gallery. Apparently the NSW Coroner has ruled that he does own his own skin, so it's up to him what happens to it when he dies. The gallery, however, hasn't yet agreed to accept or display his 'donation'.
posted by embrangled at 5:24 PM on June 7, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - don't like it, don't comment. OP, fewer lulz please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:28 PM on June 7, 2010

This is an absolutely awesome idea. Please do it.
As an idea for the book, the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft would be very appropiate.
posted by Memo at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, while I still think this is a really horrible idea, the Boston Athanaeum is notable for having a memoir bound in the skin of its author. You can see the book here, for some reference on the result.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think "Infinite Jest" would be a good book to do this with.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 5:32 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Possibly relevant
posted by jtron at 5:34 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Rather than a book which would be humorous to see bound in human skin, wouldn't it be more meaningful to have something that has to do with YOU bound in it?
A favorite book that has resonated with you in your life, a collection of stuff you've done, your memoirs... you could write yourself a note every month from now until the end and ask that these be bound in you.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:36 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just thinking out of the box here, but it might, within a decade or two, be feasible to grow your own skin and have that used. Or, if you ever have serious weight loss and have a lot of extra skin to dispose of, at that point, it probably is not considered human remains — you don't see pathology labs going nuts over the odd bit of skin. However, you would have to lose a lot of weight to get anything more than a little chapbook out of it.

At death, though, perhaps that skin might magically transform back into human remains, a sort of legal transubstantiation, although, at that point, it's a book in someone's house. Presumably the local constabulatory is not eagerly awaiting your death certificate so they can storm your relatives' homes in search of human remains.

As to what it might contain, I would go for a brief autobiography. "This is my book. I wrote it, it is about me, and it is wrapped in me."
posted by adipocere at 5:36 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: adipocere: interesting ideas, though I think skin is usually elastic enough to shrink again after weight loss? Most laws seem to be about preserving respect for remains, not about their possession so I'll not worry about that. Autobiographical notes are a nice idea. The idea is to produce an unusual memento, keepsake, and souvenir.
posted by mdoar at 5:43 PM on June 7, 2010

As a tengential suggestion, you could consider having some of your blood or your cremated remains mixed with ink and used to print a book. It's been done before, and I imagine would be significantly less legally messy.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:46 PM on June 7, 2010

. . . also possibly relevant.

Which is to say, please consider not only your immediate relatives who will inherit such a thing, but their progeny. As I learned, laws about human remains vary considerably from state to state, and getting rid of such a thing, should your relatives ever want to do so, may be problematic. In the end, all ended up being fine (Percy the anonymous skull now resides with the William Paterson University anthropology department), but not without vague threats of legal action made against my husband when he went to donate said skull first.

If you're earnest about this, you might consider donating it to some sort of rare/unusual books collection directly, rather than giving it to a relative. But please, do consider that what seems awesome to you might be a fleshy albatross to someone else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:48 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a bookbinder and general bibliophile, this is an awesome question. I've often wondered just how feasible it would be to bind a book in my own skin in just the fashion adipocere posits above (lab grown).

I've wondered what human skin is like to work with. I would imagine it's a pain, but I have no idea how human skin differs from goat skin and calf skin on a structural level.
posted by clockbound at 5:53 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could a tanner/taxidermist preserve and flatten organs and muscle? If so, you could make the book out of your various preserved bits and call it your 'scrap book.'

You could consider putting your face on the cover so that it looks like this.

You could get your DNA decoded and fill the pages with that, in case someone wants to resurrect you someday.
posted by ian1977 at 5:55 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, I would totally be interested in binding a book with your skin. It would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
posted by clockbound at 5:58 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I worked in the rare books library in college, my initiation was to touch a book bound in this way.

I suggest you donate your book to a rare books library for that purpose.
posted by melodykramer at 6:13 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Side note and/or addendum to the suggestion of ink made from your ashes...how about pencils your family can use to write with, instead? They can be active participants in writing The Book of You even after you die.

WRT the binding: consulting a mortician, tanner, and a receptive book binder all seem like good ideas, though I expect finding a willing tanner will be the most difficult part. A taxidermist might be a useful resource as well and might be able to refer you to others with more information.
posted by eralclare at 6:18 PM on June 7, 2010

I suspect the person you charge with undertaking the tanning and skinning is going to need legal advice. Many places have laws along the lines of "offering an indignity to human remains" which some busy-bodying official will invoke.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:09 PM on June 7, 2010

I love questions like this.

Absolutely, you can do this. Please refer to my answer in this similar thread. Basically, yes you can if you get 1. the local coroner to comply 2. someone willing to do the work (the hard part will be getting someone to agree to remove the skin. A tanner will probably not do it, but a coroner or doctor might. Money talks.)

Things to keep in mind: the body deteriorates quickly, so all the legal pieces have to be in place well before death occurs. Get a good lawyer and get everything written down. Also: make sure your executor is up to the task. Also: That skin is going to shrink, shrink, shrink, so make sure you're working with large pieces. The back, the upper thighs, the entire midriff. Areas that are free of hair will tan better. Keep out of the sun as much as you can. Pre-tanned skin is damaged and won't take as well to the process. (this was verified by my brother in law, who does...exotic taxidermy).

Of course, it's not as fun, but with the right amount of money, you can grow your own.
posted by ColdChef at 7:13 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

A thought on the tanning of the skin: you might want to look into modern artists who work with leather, especially of the Maker variety. I wouldn't doubt you could find one who would not only be willing but quite keen to work with human material, and a maker-type artist might well be experienced in tanning their own leathers.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:53 PM on June 7, 2010

What about compiling a book about you and having it bound in your skin. Part of it can be your reflections and photos that you compile while you are alive. After you pass your family can add their own contributions.
posted by nestor_makhno at 7:58 PM on June 7, 2010

These people will take the carbon from your cremated remains and turn them into a diamond. I don't know how relevant that is to your interests, but they possibly have dealt with some of the legalities.

Also, just as an addendum, might i suggest that you write an autobography, drain a little blood from yourself over years so you have a ready supply, then craft a quill pen from your fingernails, and write that autobiography in a blank book with your blood, which is then wrapped in your skin. Possibly some boning in the cover and spine can be from your literal bones, and the paper can be made with your actual hair woven in. Your hair might also be good for that little ribbon that some books have, so you can mark your place. Finally, it would be great if you could take your teeth and crenellate your initials on the cover.
posted by Sully at 9:10 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The last time I was at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, they had a few examples of books bound in human skin. The curators there might have some leads to help you out.
posted by Fuego at 11:39 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Tibetan Book of the Dead?

I think it's awesome as long as the recipients are aware of your plans.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:23 AM on June 8, 2010

I almost bought a book at a gallery maybe 10 years back that was bound in human skin. I believe it was the bible, it was $300, and I was flush at the time. Major regret.

And I'm Brian and so's my wife!, I came in here to suggest "Infinite Jest" as well. Get outta my head.
posted by nevercalm at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: I brought this up again over our family supper last night and there was a general shaking of heads. Except for our 5-year old, who was rather interested in the whole process. I think I still have a few years ahead of me, so I'll see what they think then.

p.s. I am pleased that I can discuss ideas like this with my family.
posted by mdoar at 9:56 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Rather than a book which would be humorous to see bound in human skin, wouldn't it be more meaningful to have something that has to do with YOU bound in it?

First off, I like this idea. It's no weirder then like most of the strange things we do to dead people (fill them with weird chemicals and stick them in fancy boxes? Burn them and keep them over the fireplace? Harvest their organs and then shoot them into space? Freeze their heads? It's all strange.). Secondly, I like the idea of it being a memoir, or photo album (oooh...how weird and strange but sort of beautiful would that be. Pictures of you, wrapped in your skin.)

Even if some people around you think its strange, in a few generations, given that this book is preserved and taken care of, you'll be that awesome "great grandpa who had his memoirs bound in his own skin!!!" You'll be a badass in memory.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:21 AM on June 8, 2010

I think this is a really great idea. You've seen the Greenaway film, The Pillow Book, right? I recommend it; I thought it was beautiful.
posted by heyho at 11:49 AM on June 8, 2010

According to my college history professor, some copies of the Malleus Malificarum were bound in human skin.

I personally think this is kind of cool, as a book fiend.
posted by QIbHom at 1:10 PM on June 8, 2010

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