The Postmortal by Drew Magary: Resources for Faculty and Staff

Events (AY 2014-2015)

Sep. 4 (Thursday): Freshman Convocation at 6 p.m., preceded at 4 p.m. by a conversation (for faculty and staff only) with Drew Magary in the Ferman Presentation Room, Oviatt Library.

Sep. 12 (Friday): information session for the Postmortal Performance Project. For more information about the Postmortal Performance Project, contact Dr. Ellyn Gersh Lerner.

Dec. 3 and 4: the annual Freshman Celebration

Ideas

Photo blog: Postmortal Posts. The common reading program at USC (that's the University of South Carolina) hosts a student photo contest called "Picture Me Reading." Here is our campus-wide blog for photos of the book (and readers reading the book) at CSUN: Postmortal Posts: CSUN. Note that the 2013 common reading book at USC was The Postmortal.

Staged reading based on excerpts from The Postmortal. For more information about the Postmortal Performance Project, contact Dr. Ellyn Gersh Lerner before September 12, 2014.

News

CSUN Freshmen Welcomed to Campus at Convocation by Jasmine Haygood. CSUN Today, 22 Aug 2014.

CSUN Freshman Reading Choice Explores the Cure to Aging. CSUN Today, 7 July 2014.

Seeing Red in the Gene Pool by Matt McCann. Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism. New York Times, 11 Jun 2014. CDC scientist checks sheep for newly discovered virus.

New Virus Related To Smallpox Is Found In Republic of Georgia. Michaleen Doucleff. Shots: Health News from NPR. 1 May 2014. Photo credit: CDC.

The College Course that's All about Death: An interview with Erika Hayasaki, author of The Death Class: A Story About Life. The Atlantic, 14 Jan 2014.

Unified We Serve

Plans for fall volunteer events linked to The Postmortal will be posted by Unified We Serve.

Poster by CSUN graphic design student Nivardo Esteban

CSUN design student Nivardo Esteban's design emphasizes the death's head behind the mask of postmortality.

What CSUN faculty and staff are saying about The Postmortal

Other works by Drew Magary

  1. Boston, Newtown, Challenger: how to talk to kids about awful things. Deadspin (Dadspin), 4/18/13.
  2. Men with Balls: The Professional Athlete's Handbook. Book. 2008.
  3. Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood. Book. 2013.
  4. Why does it matter if Jason Collins is a bad pro basketball player? Deadspin, 4/29/13.

Other campuses reading The Postmortal

East Stroudsburg University (2014)

Hiram College (2014)

University of South Carolina (2013)

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (2014)

Document viewers

Use these free document viewers to read documents on this site.

Freshman Convocation: Thursday 9/4/14 at 6 p.m.

Postmortal author Drew Magary will be the keynote speaker at Freshman Convocation (Thursday 9/4/14 at 6 p.m. on the Oviatt Lawn). Wondering whether to go? Here are Ten Reasons Why You Should Attend Freshman Convocation.

You are also invited to join other faculty and staff from 4-5 p.m. the same afternoon in the Ferman Presentation Room of Oviatt Library for an informal talk and Q&A with Drew Magary.

Postmortal Poster Gallery

We have about a dozen different posters you can choose from for display in department and program offices on campus. Choose a design and email me (Cheryl) with your preference. (For high-traffic offices only; if you want one for a private office or for your desk, I have the same collection available for 8-1/2 x 11-inch printing.) Visit the Poster Gallery (and don't forget to scroll down the page to view the designs).

Faculty & staff summer book groups: what you missed

We had five wonderful book group discussions this summer:

March 7: you missed a great discussion with Catherine Givertz (AFYE/U100) but you can still read Catherine's handout

March 11: you missed another great discussion with Lindsay Hansen (Oviatt) but you can still read Lindsay's handout

April 21: and Stacey Bieber (English) had additional wonderful ideas which you can see if you read Stacey's handout

April 23: and here are two handouts from Ronit Sarig (English): a set of essay topics and a collection of resources on the topic of immortality

July 17: we had a big turnout for this session; here are several thought-provoking questions and project ideas from Debbi Mercado (WPE/U100) which sparked quite a vigorous discussion.

About the book

Cover of _The Postmortal_ by Drew Magary showing the grim reaper, with his scythe plunged straight through his own back, impaling him and leaving him dangling in midair (p. 24).

Written in the form of blog posts, The Postmortal (Penguin 2011) tells the story of John Farrell beginning in the year 2019 when he decides to take the newly discovered "cure," a form of gene therapy that stops the aging process: his body will be twenty-nine until the end of his life. As the cure becomes widely available, enormous social changes sweep across the globe. The book raises moral and ethical questions about overpopulation, mortality, the environment, families, birth, marriage, death, interpersonal relationships, income inequality, and the role of government in the lives of the governed.

Drew Magary--the book's author--has written for Deadspin, NBC, Maxim, and Kissing Suzy Kolber, as well as GQ, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Yahoo!, Comedy Central, Playboy, and Penthouse.

Resources for teaching and discussing The Postmortal

The process of identifying resources has only just begun. If you find something you think we ought to include, do tell!

My thanks to the book group leaders and other colleagues who have contributed links and material so far: Stacey Bieber, Glenn Collins, Catherine Givertz, Lindsay Hansen, Andrea Hernandez, Matthew Jackson, Sharon Klein, Daisy Lemus, Debbi Mercado, Michael Neubauer, Martin Saiz, Ronit Sarig, Paul Schantz, Wayne Smith, and Derek Tang. (If your name should appear here but doesn't, I obviously goofed. Let me know so I can make amends and add you to the list.)

Academic expertise at CSUN

  1. Epidemiology: the Department of Health Sciences offers advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in epidemiology, and has three faculty who are expert epidemiologists: Stephanie Benjamin, Lawrence Chu, and Kaitlin O'Keefe. CSUN librarian Marcia Henry's Library Research Guide on Epidemiology provides some starting points for research.
  2. Genetics & Development: several faculty from the Biology Department and beyond are conducting research in this field, including Ray Hong, Cindy Malone, Rheem Medh, Aida Metzenberg, Steven Oppenheimer, Cheryl Van Buskirk, Virginia Oberholzer Vandergon, and others.
  3. Gerontology: the Department of Health Sciences offers graduate degrees and an undergraduate minor in gerontology, which they define as "the study of the aging processes and individuals as they grow from middle age through later life."
  4. Psychology: Psychology 365 focuses on gerontology. CSUN professor Luciana Laganà (who teaches PSY 365 regularly) lists ethnogeriatrics (the study of ethnically diverse older adults) as one of her specializations.
  5. Sociology: Sociology 440 focuses on the sociology of aging.

Discussion questions

  1. An Assignment that Helps Students Connect with Course Content (which in this instance has to do with aging/getting older). Alisa McArthur's assignment idea (from Faculty Focus) could and should be customized by faculty for use with The Postmortal.
  2. Assignment ideas from faculty member Stacey Bieber (English) who led the book discussion on 4/21/14
  3. Discussion questions and project ideas from faculty memnber Debbi Mercado (WPE, English, and U100) who led the 4/17/14 book group.
  4. Immortality and The Postmortal: a selection of readings and a video, from faculty member Ronit Sarig (English), 4/23/14 discussion leader
  5. Postmortal Essay Topics from faculty member Ronit Sarig (English), 4/23/14 discussion leader
  6. Postmortal Reading Guide by Rebecca Hatkoff and CSUN faculty member Terry Hatkoff (8/30/14).
  7. Questions for discussion; teaching activities: ideas from Lindsay Hansen (3/11/14 discussion leader)
  8. Questions from the University of South Carolina Freshman Common Reading Program (.pdf; summer 2013).
  9. Themes and projects for The Postmortal: ideas from Catherine Givertz (3/7/14 discussion leader)
  10. Words and place names in The Postmortal: a collection of challenging and interesting words and places in the book, assembled by Wayne Smith (Management; also a U100 faculty veteran).
  11. Thinking positively about The Postmortal: three questions from Mark Stevens (Director, University Counseling Services):

Until quite recently, the life expectancy for humans was only 45 years. So we do live longer and will gradually extend our life spans over the next decades. The question to ponder is not about trying to live a really long life, but rather what you are going to do with the time you do have. What decisions do you want to make about living a fulfilling life? What is a fulfilling life? How does that definition perhaps change during one’s life time? Planning ahead is necessary in some ways and not necessary in other ways. What does this statement mean to you?

As often happens in real life, so too in the book there were strained relationships between father and son. Even though there was physical distance over time, there was still a bond. We learn that in one case, the son (David) protected and had his father’s back. Why do you think the son decided to protect his father, even though they did not have a great relationship?

What aspects of the book did you find inspirational? Why?

Related readings (and a movie or two)

  1. Could a Pill Slow Aging? Geneticist David Sinclair Thinks So. Slate content sponsored by Prudential. July 2014.
  2. Death Be Not Decaffeinated: Over Cup, Groups Face Taboo. The New Old Age: Caring and Coping. Blog. New York Times, 16 June 2013.
  3. Death, be not proud. Holy Sonnet by John Donne. Poetry Foundation. (Read more death poems from the Poetry Foundation.)
  4. The Ethics of Anti-Aging by Peter Singer. Project Syndicate. 10 Dec 2012.
  5. Galileo Matters More Than Ever on His 450th Birthday. National Geographic Daily News, 15 Feb 2014. Web.
  6. Genetic signatures of exceptional longevity in humans. Paola Sebastiani et al. PLoS ONE. 18 Jan 2012.
  7. Genome Founder, X Prize Pioneer Tackle Aging. Maggie Fox, NBC News. 4 Mar 2014.
  8. In Pursuit of Longevity, a Plan to Harness DNA Sequencing by Andrew Pollack. New York Times 4 Mar 2014.
  9. An interview with Drew Magary by Marcus Gilmer for The A. V. Club. 29 Nov 2011.
  10. In Time: this 2011 movie has thematic parallels with The Postmortal. People stop aging at 25 but only live more than a year if they buy extra time.
  11. Naked mole rat may be ugly, but it could hold secret to longevity by Geoffrey Mohan. Los Angeles Times, 1 Oct 2013.
  12. Nature's Anti-Aging Secret by Hillary Rosner. Discover Magazine. Sep 2014. (Note: CSUN users only.)
  13. "Please help--cannot age." La Cucaracha by Lalo Alcaraz. 9 Mar 2014.
  14. A President for the Cyborg Generation: "Rollins College President Lewis Duncan asks students to consider the ethics of their own immortality.... 'I have a huge advantage over many of you....I get to be part of the last generation to die.'" 20 Oct 2012.
  15. Should We Live to 1000? by Peter Singer. Project Syndicate. 22 Aug 2014.
  16. This Old Man: Life in the Nineties by Roger Angell. The New Yorker. 17 Feb. 2014.
  17. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (1975). A classic children's novel centered on characters who (somewhat like those in The Postmortal) have found a way to stop the aging process. More info: Amazon, Goodreads, Wikipedia.
  18. What the Duck?: Drew Magary's GQ interview with Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. (Probably not entirely suitable for children. But college students should be okay--though some of the reader comments are a bit rough.) (January 2014)
  19. Will We Ever Conquer Old Age? by Jonathan Silvertown, Zócalo Public Square. 13 Jan 2014. The answer: maybe; but, Silvertown argues, we certainly can address disparities in life expectancy by addressing "inequality of incomes among people within the population."

Stretch Composition: How and Why You Should Teach The Postmortal this Fall

How? Use the book for Project Text or Project Web.

Or use it for Progression One; Renee Moreno (Chicano/a Studies) suggests developing dystopia as a theme and asking students to write an imaginary letter bequeathing the last of their possessions.

Why? Derek Tang (Asian American Studies) offers these good reasons:

  1. The book is written as separate blog posts and focuses primarily on concepts rather than character development. This will allow easier class discussions on smaller segments of the book. Students will not feel pressured to have read up to a certain point and you can even include these discussions in the Supplemental Instruction section (if applicable) to help encourage and motivate students to read critically.
  2. Students can easily relate to the contemporary issues and themes in the book. The Postmortal poses many questions about what we should value and cherish. The book focuses on the idea of leaving a legacy and finding a purpose in one's life. This generation of students is heavily pressured due to the changing landscape of the job market and the rapidly increasing cost of higher education. This book in many ways captures their struggles with an uncertain future.
  3. The book can be applied to any of the Progressions of the current Stretch Writing Model. For an example for Progression 1, you might decide to assign your students to write a short entry contemplating what life would be like for them in that setting if they were given The Cure. Or for Progression 2, you might ask your students to write a short dialogue between two characters debating the best age to receive The Cure.
  4. The book has many possibilities and can be readily connected to many popular TV shows and films. Students are riveted by shows such as The Walking Dead, Twilight, True Blood, etc. Now they can immerse themselves in a similar setting and answer hypothetical questions about human nature.
  5. The author of the book will be on campus to address the freshman class during Freshman Convocation (Sept. 4, 2014). Students are usually excited about meeting the author in person. There is also a sense of community when other students find out that people outside of their class are reading the same book.

Science: Try this yourself!

You, too, can isolate DNA. And it's easy to do, as Scientific American explains in Squishy Science: How to Extract DNA from Smashed Strawberries. (Thanks to CSUN professor Mary-Pat Stein for this resource.)

Talking points (by departments A-Z) even if you're not teaching the book

Note to faculty: please send me your idea(s) for discipline-based talking points. The idea here is to suggest how you might reference The Postmortal in your classes even though you're not assigning it. An obvious possibility: display the book in your office. (Send me a picture with your office location and your name and I'll add it to the new photo blog: Postmortal Posts: CSUN. (Optional: send a selfie: you and the book in your office.)

ANY discipline: "Have you read The Postmortal? Are you going [Did you go] to see the author speak at Convocation?"

Athletics: "I have no problem with players taking the cure and breaking records and all that....And the never-ending influx of long-lasting talent (thanks to the cure) will make the game better than ever. But one thing that does concern me is how we're going to quantify success from this day forward.....It's just the cure forcing us to redefine the notion of excellence." (110) Many sports have changed significantly because of technology. Should we "have no problem" with that?

Anthropology: in the postmortal world, what is a family? " You become a parent, and your whole life becomes about worrying. You just worry constantly....And the idea that I'll be worried forever about them and what they do . . . I almost have a panic attack when I think about it. . . .Do I have the ability to keep my husband happy for centuries upon centuries?"(58-9)

Biology: the cure involves a virus that recodes a piece of DNA: "this involves . . . taking a sample of your DNA, then finding and altering--or, more precisely, deactivating---a specific gene in your DNA, and then reintroducing it into your body through what's known as a vector, or a carrier" (7). Is this science? Fiction?

Business and Economics: examine entrepreneurial activities in the book such as the marketing of grails; the new industry of cure ceremonies in Las Vegas; the new job category of end specialists; the price of bottled water; the effect of scarcity on food prices....

Child & Adolescent Development: "What do we do with Baby Emilia?" (116-122).

Communication Studies: "Need a little more breathing room? Try once-a-day Claustrovia. Claustrovia is the first prescription drug ever medically proven to help treat symptoms stemming from overcrowding anxiety disorder (OAD). . . . Ask your doctor if Claustrovia is right for you. Claustrovia is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing. Children under eight should not take Claustrovia......" (281-2).

Criminology: Texas decides to "step[] to the forefront of innovation in law enforcement in the postmortal world" by passing Darian's Law, which permits Texas to expand the death penalty to various prisoners whose crimes have resulted in a life sentence. "There are only two fiscally smart things to do with some of these prisoners: kill them or let them go" (153-4). You can see the problem: prisoners, too, are not aging. Other states suggest other approaches: "officials in Oklahoma have considered implementing a delayed death sentence, which would mandate the execution of any state prisoner over the true age of eighty-five, regardless of cure age" (154).

CTVA: "Endcasts are an extra hundred dollars" (190). What are the limits of reality TV anyway? Also: Which media sources will be dominant in another few decades? Does Magary have it right?

Education: "[The kids] don't want to finish high school....I read about how all the college enrollments are way down" (157-8).

English: this is a novel by a practicing writer. Run with it. Also: a famous line by American poet Wallace Stevens asserts that "Death is the mother of beauty." Discuss.

Epidemiology: late in the book, "an outbreak of an unknown illness" in Virginia begins to spread rapidly throughout the country (288ff.). Over the next 20 years, the so-called sheep flu kills "over one hundred million Americans and five hundred million people worldwide" (298). What causes epidemics? How realistic is this one? What precautions could world health organizations take now to prevent something like sheep flu from spreading today? One of the main reasons for conducting epidemiology is to determine risk factors for disease and high-risk populations so that prevention/control is possible. Are there certain people in the population who are at higher risk for sheep flu? What are the probable causes for sheep flu?

Family and Consumer Sciences: "Three weeks ago I helped our firm devise a lucrative new type of prenuptial agreement....It's a forty-year marriage. Set in stone. No divorcing allowed without significant penalties, . . . with the marriage automatically dissolving at the end of that period and the assets divided at a previously agreed-upon percentage. The couple could then pick up an additional forty-year option if they wished" (80).

Gerontology: What would it mean to stop the aging process?

History: John's blog is discovered by accident. How is history written, and by whom? And: how would "spending the next decade reading history books" (252) persuade someone to join the Church of Man?

Journalism: Magary is a journalist and The Postmortal includes fictional interviews, articles, blog posts, broadcast transcripts, and news stories. Mention one; have your students identify various generic hallmarks of an excerpt you post on Moodle.

Library (information competence): how do you evaluate the worth of competing news sources on a given topic?

Linguistics: the book invents many new terms ("end specialist") and includes many examples of American Regional English. How and why does language change?

Political Science: The president reverses his ban on the cure after just three years (66-69). Why did he forbid the cure for those younger than 26? What might be the policy justification for treating people differently based on their age? Are older people more valuable to society? Are younger people more expendable? What might be the Constitutional justification for differentiating people in this way? AND: the pro-death activists use violence to promote their position on the cure. Why? What similarities do you see (if any) between the radical pro-death activists and similarly radical anti-abortion activists?

Psychology: "so-called Peter Pan cases, like that of Emilia Burkhart" (120). Discuss.

Religious Studies: "When I was a kid, I saw religion as insurance against death. . . . I wonder if we've completely flipped the script on that now. I wonder if the cure represents insurance against religion" (13-4). Also, the Church of Man (130-134); and the Church of the Black Man (203).

Sociology: reference the book's foregrounding of youth culture. Many minor characters are identified as members of a group: Greenies, bankers, lawyers, and so on. And if you're a gerontologist, the book has quite a lot to say about aging, including this: "I don't think most people die natural, peaceful deaths....All the loved ones I've seen die have been sick, frail, and helpless" (9). Also: "citizens who get the cure will no longer be eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits, regardless of how long they live" (68).

Sustainability: "We must consider the impact that . . . longevity will have . . . on the large yet delicate planet we call home" (66). "While we may now have a virtually unlimited lifespan, our natural resources almost certainly do not...we have been consuming resources at an unsustainable rate" (67).

University 100 and The Postmortal

  1. Sample Information Competence Essay Project by Catherine Givertz.

Videos

  1. Article and documentary trailer: "We'll Cure Death in a Decade, Say the Stars of the SXSW Doc The Immortalists. LAWeekly Blogs, 17 Mar 2014.
  2. The Longevity Genes Project at the Institute for Aging Research, Yeshiva University.
  3. The Postmortal: Penguin's video trailer for the book. 2011.
  4. A Roadmap to End Aging. Aubrey de Grey. TedGlobal, 2005.

The deal: free copies for CSUN faculty and staff

As of August 28, 2014, I have no more copies of The Postmortal to give away. If you already have your free copy from me, here's the deal: you have agreed to speak about the book with at least one new CSUN freshman in summer or fall 2014. Short conversations will satisfy the terms of this agreement so long as the conversation includes a reference to the book (and perhaps a mention of Freshman Convocation). Ask: "Would you take the cure?"