Sunday, August 16, 2015

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory; Caitlin Doughty


W.W. Norton - 2014



While many people choose not to think about death and dying, 20-something author Caitlin Doughty was obsessed by it at an early age.  At the age of eight she performed a ritual the she believed would help keep death at bay. After growing up in Hawaii and a college degree in medieval history, she briefly considered a career in academia, but quickly decided it just wasn't for her.  Instead she took a job as a crematory operator at Westward Cremation & Burial in California and later went to mortuary school.

Her story is an eye-opener and certain words will stick in my mind forever when I think about a body being prepared for viewing --- eye-caps, mouth-closing gun, super glue and even sometimes saran wrapped arms when clothing on the deceased is a bit too tight.

She even talks about what is required when embalming a body that has been autopsied, and describes what human decomposition smells like ---ugh --ugh (I'd quote it, but you really need to read it for yourself if your curious).

Fortunately, given some of the details that she shares, much tactful humor is infused throughout.  It was interesting to learn about death practices and customs in this country and other cultures as well (where death is less feared because of customs and attitudes). Here in the US we tend to avoid talking about death and even spending time with the dying, We also tend to have this fear or aging gracefully and accepting that death is one thing no of us can avoid.  I felt like I learned a lot as I read. The biggest message that came across overall is that once we understand more about death and become more accepting of the end of life process, the fear some individuals experience when they think about death won't seem as frightening.

I'm happy I gave this memoir a try and, in many ways it reminded me of another memoir I read and enjoyed in the past year on the same subject more or less -- The Removers, by Andrew Meredith.  I would recommend both of these books to readers who are curious about the funeral business, what happens to the body after we die, as well as various methods and processes used for the preparation and the disposition of the body.  Overall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, is told in a candid manner that makes the subject of death anything but dry or matter-of-fact. It's honest, at times gritty, but very very good.

4.5/5 stars
(library)

25 comments:

  1. I don't think I'd mind aging gracefully - it's the other alternative that scares me. This might be a tough read for me right now since my mom and father-in-law are both getting up in years.

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  2. My parents and siblings are all gone now, and I'm one of those weirdos who like topics like this, yet despite that I still had many WOW moments as I read.

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  3. I might read this some day, I enjoy memoirs and the topic is new to me.

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  4. Death is handled very matter of factly here in my country so this won't be a strange topic for me!

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    1. Americans should take a lesson instead of being obsessed with preserving a youthful appearance IMO.

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  5. I think my attitude toward death has changed in recent years with the loss of my parents and my sister. It just seems that it will come everyone and we should be grateful for the time we have with loved ones. At least that's my opinion.

    I've heard good things about this book and other recent books that relate info about the funeral preparation process. I'm sort of interested, but would have to be in the right mood. Perhaps one day.

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    1. I have this odd fascination with the morbid at times.

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  6. Compelling reading, and I still find myself thinking about the book.

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  7. I would normally be interested in reading this but my husband's death is still too raw. Maybe I'll read it in the future.

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    1. So sorry Vicki, I hadn't realized you lost your husband.

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  8. I've heard really good things about this one! I listened to Mary Roach's Stiff on audio and it sounds like it's a bit similar to this one.

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    1. Stiff was a good one as well although it's been a real long time since I read it.

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  9. I might like that one...the title is a hoot!

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  10. I've read Stiff which I enjoyed and a book called American Afterlife by Kate Sweeney which I absolutely loved. This sounds like a similar vein but with perhaps a little more humor. I will have to look for this one. Thanks for sharing! I love the title on this one.

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    1. Katherine, I need to check out American Afterlife. I did enjoy Stiff.

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  11. This sounds really different and intriguing.

    There seems to be a lot here that I think that I would find appealing. I like books that are a little different and that embody subtle humor. Ruinations on death are usually interesting too.

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    1. Brian, At times I felt weird that I enjoyed this one as much as I did.

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  12. I really liked the way Doughty approached death in this book; the humor kept it from getting too dark, but it was also really thought-provoking.

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  13. I don't know that this has ever been a subject I have a lot of interest in but when you give a book 4.5 stars (and given all of the other great reviews I've read), I think it's one I need to check out.

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  14. This one does sound fascinating! It is something I would pick as well - sometimes I like morbid subjects in my books.

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  15. I'm interested in the funeral process, but am not sure if I could handle a book. I will make it a note of it for when I'm feeling more adventurous

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