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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Publisher: Published September 15th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company
ISBN: 9780393240238
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession. Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallo A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession. Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Doughty learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Doughty soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures. Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like? Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Doughty's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Doughty argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

30 review for Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    There are many words a woman in love longs to hear. “I’ll love you forever, darling,” and “Will it be a diamond this year?” are two fine examples. But young lovers take note: above all else, the phrase every girl truly wants to hear is, “Hi, this is Amy from Science Support; I’m dropping off some heads.” You have all seen The Producers, right? The version with Zero or Nathan, in the cinema, on TV, on the stage, whatever. Those of you who have not…well…tsk, tsk, tsk, for shame, for shame. Well There are many words a woman in love longs to hear. “I’ll love you forever, darling,” and “Will it be a diamond this year?” are two fine examples. But young lovers take note: above all else, the phrase every girl truly wants to hear is, “Hi, this is Amy from Science Support; I’m dropping off some heads.” You have all seen The Producers, right? The version with Zero or Nathan, in the cinema, on TV, on the stage, whatever. Those of you who have not…well…tsk, tsk, tsk, for shame, for shame. Well, there is one scene that pops to mind apropos this book. In the film, the producers of the title have put together a show that is designed to fail. The surprise is on them, though, when their engineered disaster turns out to be a hit. During intermission of the opening performance, to Max and Leo’s absolute horror, they overhear a man saying to his wife, “Honey, I never in a million years thought I'd ever love a show called Springtime For Hitler. One might be forgiven for having similar thoughts about Caitlin Doughty’s sparkling romp through the joys of mortuary science, Smoke Gets in your Eyes. If you were expecting a lifeless look at what most of us consider a dark subject, well, surprise, surprise. Yes we are, and dead-ender Caitlin is happy to help with the cleanup Caitlin Doughty has cooked up a book that is part memoir, part guidebook through the world of what lies beyond, well, the earth-bound part, at least, and part advocacy for new ways of dealing with our remains. Doughty, a Hawaiian native, is a 6-foot Amazon pixie, bubbling over (like some of her clients?) with enthusiasm for the work of seeing people off on their final journey. Her glee is infectious, in a good way. The bulk of the tale is based on her experience working at WestWind Cremation and Burial in Oakland, California, her first gig in the field. She was 23, had had a fascination with death since she was a kid and this seemed a perfectly reasonable place in which to begin what she believed would be her career. Turned out she was right. Caitlin Doughty from her site Smoke Gets in your Eyes is rich with information not only about contemporary mortuary practices, but on practices in other cultures and on how death was handled in the past. For example, embalming did not come into use in the USA until the Civil War, when the delay in getting the recently deceased from battlefield to home in a non-putrid form presented considerable difficulties. She also looks at the practice of seeing people off at home as opposed to institutional settings. There is a rich lode of intel in here about the origin of church and churchyard burials. I imagine churchgoers of the eras when such practices were still fresh might have been praying for a good stiff wind. No Kibby, no smoke monsters here Doughty worked primarily in the cremation end of the biz, and offers many juicy details about this increasingly popular exit strategy. But mixing the factual material with her personal experience turns the burners up a notch. The first time I peeked in on a cremating body felt outrageously transgressive, even though it was required by Westwind’s protocol. No matter how many heavy-metal album covers you’ve seen, how many Hieronymous Bosch prints of the tortures of Hell, or even the scene in Indiana Jones where the Nazi’s face melts off, you cannot be prepared to view a body being cremated. Seeing a flaming human skull is intense beyond your wildest flights of imagination. Beyond her paying gig, Doughty has, for some time, been undertaking to run a blog on mortuary practice, The Order of the Good Death, with a focus on greener ways of returning our elements back to the source. (Would it be wrong to think of those who make use of green self disposal as the dearly de-potted?) One tidbit from this stream was meeting with a lady who has devised a death suit with mushroom spores, the better to extract toxins from a decomposing body. I was drooling over the potential for Troma films that might be made from this notion. No, not pizza One of life’s great joys is to learn something new while being thoroughly entertained. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes offers a unique compendium of fascinating information about how death is handled, mostly in America. Doughty’s sense of humor is right up my alley. The book is LOL funny and not just occasionally. You may want to make sure you have swallowed your coffee before reading, lest it come flying out your nose. I was very much reminded of the infectious humor of Mary Roach or Margee Kerr. Doughty is also TED-talk smart. She takes on some very real issues in both the science and economics of death-dealing, offers well-informed critiques of how we handle death today, and suggests some alternatives. If the last face you see is Caitlin Doughty’s something is very, very wrong. The face itself is lovely, but usually by the time she gets her mitts on you should be seeing the pearly gates, that renowned steambath, or nothing at all. Preferably you can see Doughty in one of the many nifty short vids available on her site. You will learn something while being thoroughly charmed. Reading this book won’t kill you, even with laughter, but it will begin to prepare you to look at that event that lies out there, somewhere in the distance for all of us, and point you in a direction that is care and not fear based. If you enjoy learning and laughing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is dead on. Review posted – 12/11/15 Publication date – 10/15/2014 (hc) – 9/28/15 - TP I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Well, not really. I mean they specifically said that there was no obligation to produce a review, so there is no quid pro quo involved, but it does seem the right thing to do, don’tchya think? =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages You MUST CHECK OUT vids on her site. My favorite is The Foreskin Wedding Ring of St Catherine . All right, I’m gonna stop you right there. Go ahead. I know you wanna ask. No? Fine. I’ll do it for you, but you know this is what you were asking yourself. “If she rubs it does it become a bracelet?” Ok? Are ya happy now? Sheesh! If you are uncertain about making a final commitment to reading this book you might want a taste of the product first (That sounds sooooo wrong) Here is an article Doughty wrote about her first experience with death as a kid, from Fortnightjournal.com. There are several other Doughty articles on this site as well. Another book sample can be found here, in The Atlantic Doughty offers a nifty list of sites to use for dealing with death, your own (presumably, you know, before) or others. Interview in Wired I came across this Caitlin Doughty video in June 2016. The caps are all hers. WHAT HAPPENED TO TITANIC'S DEAD? You might want to check out one or more of the following -----The Loved One -----The American Way of Death ----- The American Way of Death Revisited -----Six Feet Under Some items noted in Doughty's tale are getting a bit of attention. Here, a NY Times article by Katie ROgers - April 22, 2016 - Mushroom Suits, Biodegradable Urns and Death’s Green Frontier

  2. 5 out of 5

    Petra X

    I finished the book. The first part is 2-star fluffy. The main part is 5-star interesting with lots of gems on what we really look like dead and how even dead premature babies get shaved of their lanugo and cosmetically-enhanced so they will look 'natural' for their viewing. That was creey, right? But that's what makes the book so interesting, it's creepy (view spoiler)[Why crematory floors need to be old and pitted and why obese people are cremated early in the day and skinny old corpses later. I finished the book. The first part is 2-star fluffy. The main part is 5-star interesting with lots of gems on what we really look like dead and how even dead premature babies get shaved of their lanugo and cosmetically-enhanced so they will look 'natural' for their viewing. That was creey, right? But that's what makes the book so interesting, it's creepy (view spoiler)[Why crematory floors need to be old and pitted and why obese people are cremated early in the day and skinny old corpses later. Because with a starting cold crematory machine the fat burns off gradually. If it was hot already the body would burn before the fat. The floor is best pitted and not new and smooth hecause the melted fat of obese bodies pools into the pits and burns off slowly. On a smooth-painted floor, it runs out, in bucketfuls. (hide spoiler)] , creepy (view spoiler)[.There is this woman who doesn't want to pay $175 for a last viewing of their mother before she is consigned to the fires of the crematory machine. She doesn't want to pay. So the author, to us, describes why they charge. She describes exactly what a dead body looks like before it is prepared for viewing. And how after a long period on intravenous fluids and bed ridden a michelin-man body with skin slippage covered in oozing slime, gaping mouth and wide open milky eyes are not really what people think of as a body 'at rest'. (hide spoiler)] , creepy (view spoiler)[When the skull survives the crematory flames whole, the author smashes it with her sweeping-out broom before it goes it to a pulverizer to mash all tthe bone fragments into the ashes called "cremains". (hide spoiler)] But then the author is definitely out on the left field herself. When an athlete in school she and a couple of friends used to dress up in rubber Goth ballgowns and go to an S&M club to spend the night being tied to a cross and whipped by strangers. That's more than a little unusual. I wonder how she hid her bruises from her parents and school? She always dreamed of own funeral business and enlightening people to what happened after death, wanting to encourage them to take responsibility for their own family corpses. After nearly a year in the crematory she writes about, she went to a mortuary school which she didn't like (mostly because of the embalming). The final part really does go off a bit. I wasn't terribly interested in the man she loved rejecting her which made her suicidal and so we get long musings on how she might kill herself. Although this didn't go on too long, apart from the interlude at the mortuary school which was only quite interesting, the book never really picked up again and at some point, just petered out. The author can write and had obviously done a lot of research. I think a better editor would have made the book tighter and explored interesting aspects, like being a teenager who finds it a nice night out to be whipped by strangers, and forgotten the boring ones - we all had a first love that didn't work out, it's only interesting if you are the one involved (or like reading romances). Definitely a good read especially if you like books about death, I have a whole shelf called death. I find it an interesting business but I cannot imagine who would actually want to work in it. The author though, seems very jolly, and I'd like to have lunch and a chat about work with her every now and again, but not too often. _____ In spoilers are my initial thoughts and a bit about a jewelry scam that funeral directors - burials or cremations operate. (view spoiler)[After reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsI wanted something a little lighter. This is so featherweight I can scarcely keep my attention on it. I've been musing on 'fluffy' and 'light'. Does that equal flighty? What is one word to describe a book that has an interesting title and no substance whatsoever? The author has absolutely no respect for the dead people she is about to burn, or whose still-whole skulls she reduces to dust with her retort scraper. 2. The funeral business really is one of scam the grief-stricken customer while they are so emotional they won't notice. You can buy a 14k gold cross with a teeny 0.05 ct. diamond on the net for $120 and up. Or buy one at a crematory for $2,470! I was looking at another site which doesn't have gold crosses but does have a lot of jewelry you can fill with a bit of the dear-departed's ashes from about $50. They'll even make jewelry from the ashes Wearing a bit of old auntie Ada around your neck... If you want to look at some rather creepy (to me) funeral and crematory equipment, this site has a good selection. Nothing has changed since Jessica Mitford wrote her expose of the money-making scam that is the The American Way of Death. (hide spoiler)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    Ten months into my job at Westwind, I knew death was the life for me. When Caitlin Doughty took a job at a California crematory, she learned more than just how to dispose of dead bodies. The daily exposure to death changed her thinking on the subject and turned her into a warrior fighting the good fight for the good death. While practicing the process of turning a former human into four to seven pounds of grayish ash and bone, Doughty's way of thinking on the subject began to evolve. Corpses keep Ten months into my job at Westwind, I knew death was the life for me. When Caitlin Doughty took a job at a California crematory, she learned more than just how to dispose of dead bodies. The daily exposure to death changed her thinking on the subject and turned her into a warrior fighting the good fight for the good death. While practicing the process of turning a former human into four to seven pounds of grayish ash and bone, Doughty's way of thinking on the subject began to evolve. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality. I had lived my entire life until I began working at Westwood relatively corpse-free. Now I had access to scores of them - stacked in the crematory freezer. They forced me to face my own death and the deaths of those I loved. No matter how much technology may become our master, it takes only a human corpse to toss the anchor off that boat and pull us back down to the firm knowledge that we are glorified animals that eat and shit and are doomed to die. We are all just future corpses. In addition to her philosophical musings, Doughty presents a nice historical overview of death and its many resulting rituals. Particularly interesting was how a book - The American Way of Death - helped popularize cremation in this country. Doughty's relaxed conversational tone, positive attitude and great sense of humor keep a potentially depressing subject from getting too bleak. She offers a unique perspective on the fate that awaits us all. This book made me do a little rethinking of my own. Doughty's mention that to incinerate one body uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip, made me question if cremation is right for me. And while it was Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers that first made me give some serious thought to what should happen to my carcass when I'm done using it, THIS book prompted me look up Green Burial options in my state. There aren't many. Hopefully, when I check out in a few decades - fingers crossed, knock on wood - the choices will be bountiful. But it doesn't hurt (too badly) to think about it now. After all, I'm just a (future) dead gal, typing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Call me morbid? ....ghastly?.....Bonkers? Right after I finished reading the memoir "When Breath Becomes Air", by Paul Kalanithi- a 4th year medical student working at Stanford Hospital ...(only 30 minutes from my house), - who died this year of Lung Cancer.., THIS book arrives in my mail box the SAME day (just 'hours' after I wrote a review for Kalanithi's book) Creepy! AND .....what's even more creepy ... is I don't know who sent me this paper back 'new copy'. Thank You to the Mystery Person!! Call me morbid? ....ghastly?.....Bonkers? Right after I finished reading the memoir "When Breath Becomes Air", by Paul Kalanithi- a 4th year medical student working at Stanford Hospital ...(only 30 minutes from my house), - who died this year of Lung Cancer.., THIS book arrives in my mail box the SAME day (just 'hours' after I wrote a review for Kalanithi's book) Creepy! AND .....what's even more creepy ... is I don't know who sent me this paper back 'new copy'. Thank You to the Mystery Person!!!! Is somebody trying to send me a message? So... I read it! Apparently, the author, Caitlin Doughty, a fascination with death, is her life's work. The very first sentence made me laugh ( a little anyway).... "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." Caitlin also says..... "It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity." OK???? Mary Roach....( I'm thinking)... "Are you and Caitlin friends" ....(Mary Roach wrote the morbidly fascinating- oddly fun- engrossing book "STIFF"). They ' must' know each other ( and I love Mary Roach.... whom I've met twice ...as she lives in The Bay Area) Caitlin also worked the suburban San Francisco's 'Westwind' Crematorium. I can't believe how much I enjoyed reading Caitlin's memoir. ( it's a different take than STIFF)...but like STIFF, there is humor, historical anecdotes about death, body disposal, the death industry, and how things are done behind the scenes. ( GORY DETAILS r-us)) Yuck! ... [DO NOT READ DURING EATING DINNER]... However, I liked Caitlin's human warmth ...( she was real and personable). I also enjoyed her candor about her own struggles within the funeral industry ( her own infatuation and preoccupation- if you will about her own emotional- wired brain) I think two books in a row - "imagining facing death" - and "behind the scenes" of what happens to the bodies ... Is enough for awhile to say .., "I've done my Mitzvah" reading for this month... Worth reading... Yet... mix it up with a good comic book - or an adorable youthful playful children's book, (as I did), to balance you 'chi'! Hugs ... and "cheers-to-life", my sweet friends!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I saw this title on a few Best Of lists for the year, but I thought it was just OK. Caitlin Doughty worked at a crematory in the San Francisco area. She said she had been both fascinated by and terrified of death since she was a little girl, when she witnessed a child's fatal fall in a shopping mall. This book is a combination of her stories about cremating bodies, her research into the history of death practices around the world, and tales of woe about her love life and attending mortuary school I saw this title on a few Best Of lists for the year, but I thought it was just OK. Caitlin Doughty worked at a crematory in the San Francisco area. She said she had been both fascinated by and terrified of death since she was a little girl, when she witnessed a child's fatal fall in a shopping mall. This book is a combination of her stories about cremating bodies, her research into the history of death practices around the world, and tales of woe about her love life and attending mortuary school. She also writes about wanting to help educate Americans about death so we aren't so afraid of it. "We can do our best to push death to the margins, keeping corpses behind stainless-steel doors and tucking the sick and dying in hospital rooms. So masterfully do we hide death, you would almost believe we are the first generation of immortals. But we are not. We are all going to die and we know it. As the great cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker said, 'The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.' The fear of death is why we build cathedrals, have children, declare war, and watch cat videos online at three a.m. Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves." This is a book that was more interesting in theory than in practice. Caitlin's writing style is immature, and she relies heavily on pop culture references. If this is your first book about death practices, you might find her stories interesting. If you want to read about grief rituals and bereavement, I recommend "The Death Class" by Erika Hayasaki.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Debbie "DJ"

    I think this book gets the award for best opening line. "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." So, yeah, I was pulled in from the beginning. Caitlin is 23 and lands her first job as a mortician. Why you ask? Well, turns out she is terrified of death. Has been ever since she saw a documentary that depicted death when she was very young. She is obsessed with thoughts of her, her family, and friends demise. The beginning wasted no time in taking me right into the world of the mortici I think this book gets the award for best opening line. "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." So, yeah, I was pulled in from the beginning. Caitlin is 23 and lands her first job as a mortician. Why you ask? Well, turns out she is terrified of death. Has been ever since she saw a documentary that depicted death when she was very young. She is obsessed with thoughts of her, her family, and friends demise. The beginning wasted no time in taking me right into the world of the mortician. I got to learn all about what it takes to be embalmed, (OMG) and just how a crematorium works. Yet, this is not the focus of the book. Doughty is on a mission to show how our society has become separated from the natural process of dying. She talks about other cultures, and the rituals they have around death. How we as Americans are becoming more secular and no longer have these rituals, and/or the priest/ spiritual leader in our final moments. It is the doctor now. How our culture is separated from death. She went from thinking it was strange our culture doesn't see dead bodies anymore, to believing this absence is the root cause of so many of our troubles. Death is now seen as a failure of the medical system, so we've cleaned it all up. Everything is designed to mask death. From our obsession with youth, to all the beauty products designed to keep us looking young, even the embalming, done to make us look our very best. This book really has a lot to offer. It's not a heavy read either, in fact, sometimes it's too light. Still, I learned a lot of valuable information. Being exposed to death properly, at an early age is very important. I don't have to be embalmed, or even cremated. Most of all Doughty exposes the real fear of death, and is leading a call to teach people how to take care of their dead like our ancestors before us. Really an excellent read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)

    This review was also posted at Carole's Random Life This was the best little book that I didn't even know that I wanted to read. I have to say that I would have probably never picked this book up for myself. I didn't even know that this book existed until it showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. My initial impression of the book when I received was lackluster at best. I thought it was an advance copy of a book at first because the cover looks just so unfinished. Nothing about this book scr This review was also posted at Carole's Random Life This was the best little book that I didn't even know that I wanted to read. I have to say that I would have probably never picked this book up for myself. I didn't even know that this book existed until it showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. My initial impression of the book when I received was lackluster at best. I thought it was an advance copy of a book at first because the cover looks just so unfinished. Nothing about this book screamed "Read Me" at first glance. But then I decided to pick it up and my thoughts changed very quickly. Whatever stars lined up on the day this book found its way to my home, I can't say but I am very grateful. This really is the perfect book for me. I have a slight fascination with death. My favorite class in college was Death Education. When the local coroner came to class to give a presentation complete with slides, I was completely impressed. I have never worked in the death industry but my husband actually has delivered caskets part-time for the past couple of years. This book deals with a difficult subject in a way that really pulls the reader in. I think everyone could find something in this book that they would relate to in these pages. I liked that this book made me think and it also made me laugh. I didn't think that this was a sad or depressing book at all which is kind of surprising when you think of the subject matter. I learned a lot from reading this book. There are so many misconceptions regarding death and the funeral industry. I do think that most people really would appreciate this honest look at the subject. Each of the people that are in this book really add to the overall story. Everyone from Caitlin's co-workers to the families who have lost someone they loved really had a story to tell. I liked the parts that featured Caitlin's co-workers because I feel like it takes a special kind of person to want to do this kind of work. People who work in the funeral industry really see people when they are at their worst but they must stay at their best. It has to be incredibly hard to do that day after day. I really appreciated the parts of the book that really let us see how much this kind of work affected the author. I liked the way that this book was written. I was completely engaged in the book from the very beginning. I think it reads almost like one of your friends are telling you a story. Even the more educational sections that gave some history were completely mesmerizing. There was enough lighthearted and funny moments to balance out the sections that were really anything but funny. I would highly recommend to others. I think that this is a topic that we need to know more about and this is an entertaining way to get a peek. This is the first book by Caitlin Doughty that I have read but I would definitely read more of her work in the future. I received a copy of this book from W.W. Norton & Company for the purpose of providing an honest review. Initial Thoughts I loved this book! This isn't a book that I would have ever picked up for myself but it was a great fit for me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Reilly

    Amazing! Yes, it is about death, but not in the way one would typically think. It was difficult for me to describe this book to friends who asked what I was currently reading, as most would give me a funny look when I said it is about a woman who worked at a crematory. However, I can say with great confidence that Ms. Doughty has written one of the most interesting, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. She poses many questions and notions about death, and does something not Amazing! Yes, it is about death, but not in the way one would typically think. It was difficult for me to describe this book to friends who asked what I was currently reading, as most would give me a funny look when I said it is about a woman who worked at a crematory. However, I can say with great confidence that Ms. Doughty has written one of the most interesting, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. She poses many questions and notions about death, and does something not many would dare toe the line to do -- ask why we treat death and the process of dying the way we do in our country. Naturally, people tend to fear death, however death can be an incredibly moving experience for those of us left in its wake. Having lost both parents, my siblings and I might have a different outlook on it than some others who have not experienced such loss. Ms. Doughty's work hit a nerve for me in this regard -- death is a devastating loss to the living, but can be a celebration of peace and freedom to those who have died. I highly recommend this title to anyone who enjoys nonfiction works that can inspire deeper-level thinking and personal exploration. (ARC obtained at Book Expo of America convention. Did not meet author at convention.)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I’ve had more first-hand experience with death than just about anyone else I know in my age group. By the time I hit thirty, I’d lost three grandparents (five, if you let me count my high-school boyfriend’s grandparents; they lived with his family), a mother, two high-school friends, a former roommate, an uncle, a dozen great aunts and uncles, three dogs, and a small army of cats. I briefly considered becoming a grief therapist before realizing I was just too misanthropic to pursue graduate stud I’ve had more first-hand experience with death than just about anyone else I know in my age group. By the time I hit thirty, I’d lost three grandparents (five, if you let me count my high-school boyfriend’s grandparents; they lived with his family), a mother, two high-school friends, a former roommate, an uncle, a dozen great aunts and uncles, three dogs, and a small army of cats. I briefly considered becoming a grief therapist before realizing I was just too misanthropic to pursue graduate studies in counseling. So in some ways I am both less afraid and more afraid of death than many of my peers. I feel like I think about it as a realistic possibility (as opposed to a vague, scary, distant concept) more than most people I know. I wasn’t familiar with Caitlin Doughty’s work before I picked up her book -- I’d heard her name but had never perused her video series or Jezebel articles -- but I’m interested enough in the grieving process and familiar enough with death that I thought I would enjoy this. And I actually enjoyed it quite a bit; I read the whole thing in a single day. It sounds to me like Caitlin applied for a job in a crematory because she A) has the kind of darkish personality that leads to a fascination with that kind of thing and B) had a kind of useless B.A. in medieval studies. She spent a year as a crematory operator in San Francisco before pursuing licensure as a mortician and becoming the death-awareness advocate she is today. This book is chock-full of interesting facts about the death industry (part of the reason Americans started embalming the dead was because the number of Civil War casualties was too many to deal with before the smell became unbearable for anyone tasked with transporting them) and the rituals performed by other cultures (a tribe in Brazil that was forced to give up their cannibalistic traditions). Caitlin talks a lot about the kinds of activities that she performed on a regular basis and how those things shaped her views on life and death: transporting deceased people, preparing their bodies for a final viewing, handling unclaimed remains, and dismissing the general public’s misconceptions of her job. Even the science of how cremation works was incredibly interesting, such as how the day is scheduled according to the size of the bodies. I was a little disappointed that she kind of speeds through her time in mortuary school because, by that time, she had already decided that she disagreed with the positions of academic morticians. It was a combination of her time at the crematory and what morticians were being taught that drove her to start her “Ask a Mortician” video series and The Order of the Good Death, which advocates for more open, natural approaches to both death preparation (let’s talk about our final wishes more) and burial practices (which she believes sanitizes death to a point where we fear it too much to process it in a healthy way). This book obviously handles some things that might be upsetting to some people, but Caitlin’s argument is essentially that we let death upset us too much. It’s one thing to grieve and to worry that our lives will be cut short before we’ve fulfilled our goals, but it’s another thing to try to slow down the natural aging process in an attempt to avoid dealing with death entirely. Her stories aren’t meant to shock so much as demonstrate how normal this whole thing is. I enjoyed her writing style, which is conversational and engaging, and I feel like there’s a lot about this book that’s going to stick with me. Very highly recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jay Green

    Yes, I finished it on Halloween. Perfect! Except I would have been happy for it to have had another 100 pages to devour. I'm still on a kind of coming-to-terms-with-Dad's-death reading program, and since we followed his wishes and had him cremated, this book seemed like it would offer real insights into that process and help me understand what his remains went through. But it was better than that. Caitlin Doughty offers a down-to-earth but always matter-of-fact and everyday approach to death and Yes, I finished it on Halloween. Perfect! Except I would have been happy for it to have had another 100 pages to devour. I'm still on a kind of coming-to-terms-with-Dad's-death reading program, and since we followed his wishes and had him cremated, this book seemed like it would offer real insights into that process and help me understand what his remains went through. But it was better than that. Caitlin Doughty offers a down-to-earth but always matter-of-fact and everyday approach to death and dying. She doesn't pretend to offer much information on the experience preceding death (how to accompany a dying person in their final days or hours, for instance) or how to cope with grief and grieving, but that isn't really her metier, and I've been able to research elsewhere into those aspects of the death process. What she does provide is a clear and comprehensive account of what crematoria workers do, how they deal with the decomposing body, and how she came round to being a advocate for natural death. I have to confess to a bit of a crush on her after reading this and watching her videos, but it's mostly because she genuinely offers empathy, help, and kindness in relation to a left-field subject in a not-at-all-weird way, and such kindness is a trait that's sorely lacking in this day and age.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    "The meaning of life is that it ends." -Kafka This book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is difficult to characterize. It's part memoir and part history of death customs; but it is also an advocacy for a much needed change in the way our society views death, the deceased and our own mortality. The author, Caitlin Doughty, describes herself as a 'death-positive' mortician. She also blogs about issues and attitudes regarding mortality and she has a web series called 'A "The meaning of life is that it ends." -Kafka This book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is difficult to characterize. It's part memoir and part history of death customs; but it is also an advocacy for a much needed change in the way our society views death, the deceased and our own mortality. The author, Caitlin Doughty, describes herself as a 'death-positive' mortician. She also blogs about issues and attitudes regarding mortality and she has a web series called 'Ask a Mortician'. Caitlin Doughty explains that she has always had a complicated relationship with death. From the time she realized that the fate of human beings was death, she battled warring feelings of fear and curiosity. This book really is a result of her long emotional journey. She describes that, as a child, she witnessed a bizarre accidental death of a young girl at a shopping mall and this death has always stayed with her. So at the age of 23, with her newly minted degree in medieval history in hand, Caitlin Doughty decided to explore death in a more 'up close and personal' way. She got a job as crematory operator at Westwind Cremation and Burial mortuary in Oakland, California and her experiences there were another step in her journey to make sense of her personal feelings about her own mortality and also to explain the way Americans experience death. Although the subject matter of this book may seem morbid and gruesome, I found Ms. Doughty's writing engaging, humorous and not at all grim. Certainly, if you are squeamish, then this book may not be for you because Ms. Doughty DOES describe in great detail (although as tastefully as possible) her experiences working in a crematory. She discusses her first time shaving a corpse to prepare him for a family viewing before cremation and all the emotions engaging in that very intimate act evoked in her. She relates her duty of keeping watch of the body inside the cremation chamber and the shock she felt when she witnessed a flaming, glowing skull. And she describes being repulsed and curious about viewing a corpse with the blackened skin of advanced decomposition and a thick, spidery white mold covering the face. All of her descriptions are startling and arouse feelings of revulsion but Ms. Doughty is never disrespectful in her writing. Instead, she is matter-of-fact and entertaining and you can't help but feel she is regarding you knowingly.. as if she feels sympathy for her readers and their reactions. It's apparent that Ms. Doughty's motive in providing the realistic and often ghastly details of death is not to shock or disturb; rather, I believe she is being intentionally provocative, hoping her readers will become familiar, if not entirely comfortable, with the reality facing all living beings.... we all will die. She has become painfully aware through her work in the funeral industry, that many people have become quite separated and isolated from death and that has resulted in a culture that is full of fear, misconceptions and often in total denial of their own mortality. In order to understand how society has become so distant from the thoughts and emotions regarding mortality, Ms. Doughty provides a kind of history of death practices in the United States. This history illustrates that our emotional isolation from death is a direct result of being PHYSICALLY separated from the practices of caring for the deceased. Death practices in America were constant for hundreds of years. When a person died, the family of the deceased (mostly women) took charge of preparing the body for burial. The family members would wash the body, wrap it in a shroud and lay it out in the home for several days, keeping a constant vigil over the body because of a belief that the corpse might awaken. Meanwhile, other family members or a local cabinetmaker would assemble a plain wooden coffin and the body would then be placed in the ground. The tradition of the family caring for their dead was the norm until the Civil War. It was the Civil War which started the shift in America's death rituals. Because of the massive casualties incurred during the war, there was a need to devise a new way to transport the large number of dead soldiers back got their families. This need led to the development of various embalming fluids which could be sued to preserve the dead for their train rides home, often in the extreme summer heat of the American south. This technique of embalming the dead caught on and although initially, these 'undertakers' were not the medical professionals they are considered today, the death industry became quite lucrative.. creating great wealth until the early 1960s. It was the period from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1960s that death rituals went from being performed in homes to being taken care of by 'professionals' providing more and more elaborate funerals, fancy coffins and extravagant flower arrangements. And of course, more people began dying in hospitals than at home. These societal changes led to changes in how we thought of (or rather didn't think of at all) of the deceased. Family members were isolated from their beloved deceased for the first time in history. Although the extravagant funerals seem to be a thing of the past and there has been an increase in cremations in recent years, families are still very much left out of the death process. This removal of the family from this last phase of life is part of what Caitlin Doughty is determined to change... to bring the idea of a 'good death' back to families where she feels it belongs. Through her years at Westwind Cremation and Burial; her extensive research into the history of America's death rituals and the death rituals from cultures around the world and her subsequent training in mortuary school, Caitlin Doughty, formed the educated opinion that America needs to change its relationship with death... how we view our own deaths and how we care for the dead. She concluded that when death became 'big business' and people began making a great deal of money off of the deceased and their families, a shift began to occur in Americans' thinking about death and mortality and people began to be pushed out of the end of life care of their family members. She writes... "We can wander further into the death dystopia, denying that we will die and hiding dead bodies from our sight. Making that choice means we will continue to be terrified and ignorant of death..." Ms. Doughty advocates for better laws at all levels of government.. local, state and federal.. so that people might be encouraged to experiment with and pursue different death customs and rituals... such as natural burials, where bodies can be laid out in open areas so that nature can consume the bodies or open-air funeral pyres. In the end, Ms. Doughty believes that connecting emotionally with our own mortality and participating in meaningful death rituals are important for the LIVING... after all, the dead no longer require anything of us. Replacing the myths and superstitions regarding death and the deceased with information and facts won't take the sting out of death but perhaps a bit of knowledge combined with meaningful rituals can provide comfort and acceptance. This book is an honest, funny and thought-provoking look at a subject that is relevant to all of us and I highly recommend it! A YouTube video from Caitlin Doughty's first episode of her web series 'Ask a Mortician': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTCg6...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    A little bit morbid, a little bit gross, a whole lot empowering. That’s basically the only way I can describe this book. Caitlin Doughty has been obsessed with death her whole life, so it’s only natural she goes to work at a crematory. In her tales, she busts a lot of myths about the death industry, like, no, crematories don’t dump the day’s worth of bodies in and scoop out bits of ash for the families’ urns afterward. At least, reputable ones don’t. She ends on a philosophical look at life and A little bit morbid, a little bit gross, a whole lot empowering. That’s basically the only way I can describe this book. Caitlin Doughty has been obsessed with death her whole life, so it’s only natural she goes to work at a crematory. In her tales, she busts a lot of myths about the death industry, like, no, crematories don’t dump the day’s worth of bodies in and scoop out bits of ash for the families’ urns afterward. At least, reputable ones don’t. She ends on a philosophical look at life and death, how our culture views death, and how we can change that. It’s just the book I needed this month. – Ashley Holstrom from The Best Books We Read In April: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/29/riot-r...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    My fascination with the macabre and death is perhaps a case of staring at the boogeyman till he loses its power over me. This book gave me the opportunity to stare very hard! Part memoir, part research and full of the right intentions this book covers a range of death related topics: 1) Death rituals of other cultures and just how skewed the Western worlds desire to detach itself so completely from death and any reminder of its own mortality 2) Death through he ages – from medieval times to now 3) Co My fascination with the macabre and death is perhaps a case of staring at the boogeyman till he loses its power over me. This book gave me the opportunity to stare very hard! Part memoir, part research and full of the right intentions this book covers a range of death related topics: 1) Death rituals of other cultures and just how skewed the Western worlds desire to detach itself so completely from death and any reminder of its own mortality 2) Death through he ages – from medieval times to now 3) Comparing Egyptian embalming (which had a very specific religious meaning) to modern day embalming. Embalming in today’s world has zero cultural value yet it’s the backbone of America’s billion dollar funeral industry 4) A glimpse into the politics in the funeral industry of the USA 5) Our obsession to cheat death and live forever 6) Even the impact of our ever growing geriatric population Unlike Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers which is more of a laugh a minute type of book, this one handles the subject with a bit more compassion even though a healthy dose of humor is also present. But be warned, there are one or two sections where you really need to put your food down and NOT EAT while reading. Trust me on this! The writing is not bad for someone who does not make a living off of it but its no literary masterpiece and overall is around a 4 star rating. However what the author is trying to do with this book and her very cheesy You Tube videos, is bring education and demystification to us, a culture that will do everything we can to ignore our own mortality. For that effort she gets my full 5 star rating. Highly recommended!!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Nietzsche I was thoroughly impressed by this memoir and social commentary on death and dying written by such a young woman. Caitlin Doughty, at the age of 23, has produced an impressive, well researched commentary on how we as a society perceive death, talk (or not talk) about death, and view the body and what happens post-mortem. She brings the death industry to light as well as the options available for burial or cremation. She speaks frankly and doe “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Nietzsche I was thoroughly impressed by this memoir and social commentary on death and dying written by such a young woman. Caitlin Doughty, at the age of 23, has produced an impressive, well researched commentary on how we as a society perceive death, talk (or not talk) about death, and view the body and what happens post-mortem. She brings the death industry to light as well as the options available for burial or cremation. She speaks frankly and does not gloss over details that some may find distasteful. This is a book written by someone who has spent a lot of time ruminating over what makes a good death and what should happen with the body. She has worked in various facets of the death industry, most notably a crematory and has attended mortuary school. Admittedly, I approached this book with some level of apprehension, presupposing that a book about cremation would be awfully dull. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of wit and humor sprinkled within such a dark and morbid topic. The author is wise well beyond her years. The fact that she can discuss these topics and make them so riveting, compelling, and in some cases, downright laughable make this book not only a super important read, but a highly enjoyable one. I am an emergency medicine physician. I see dead people often. One of the greatest gifts I can give a patient and family, is a death with dignity. Too often, patients come through the ER, without a hope of surviving a tragic accident or disease, yet everything is done to try. The more humane option in my opinion is to speak to the family about the prognosis and how much they want done. These conversations can lead to a much more peaceful end of life, and lead to a much more gratifying experience by all involved (nurse, physicians, family and loved ones). Caitlin speaks to the increasingly ever-aging population; the increasing physician-shortage, especially in the area of geriatrics; and the increasing need for care-givers for the elderly. These are critically important topics which need increased awareness and discussion to be held on many levels. Caitlin speaks about the need for people to think about their own mortality and what they would like to happen with their bodies after their death. It is a huge burden to families and loved ones, emotionally and financially, to know what to do these circumstances when the wishes of the deceased are unknown. This is a book that everyone should read. It is a book that will hopefully change misconceptions about death and encourage more conversations. Death should not be such a mysterious process. For pictures, discussion questions, links, please visit: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=415

  15. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    This is a quick read and a relatively light, frothy take on a dark subject. Doughty adopts the authorial persona of "cheerful goth" which largely works for her approach, combining anecdotal accounts of her time in the death industry with repeated polemics to bring death back into our daily awareness through proximity to bodies and decay, a la her "Order of the Good Death." There are some weird tonal shifts that I think may be evidence of clumsy editing (e.g., a single chapter digression about he This is a quick read and a relatively light, frothy take on a dark subject. Doughty adopts the authorial persona of "cheerful goth" which largely works for her approach, combining anecdotal accounts of her time in the death industry with repeated polemics to bring death back into our daily awareness through proximity to bodies and decay, a la her "Order of the Good Death." There are some weird tonal shifts that I think may be evidence of clumsy editing (e.g., a single chapter digression about her love for a friend named Luke does tie back thematically in a strained way, but the concluding tossed off aside about a hunky teenager she beds as a rebound is a weird touch in a book that otherwise skims the surface of her intimate interpersonal interactions). The biggest problem with her narrative is the astounding lack of progress that it shows. She talks all of the time about her philosophy of death and treats it as fully formed from basically before she started working at her first crematory, but then repeatedly violates her own principles without any rationale. For instance, she decries the professionalization and normalization of embalming, yet decides to go to mortuary school to learn the trade. She believes in the importance of keeping the dead in the home and avoiding the masks of embalming to conceal death, yet runs her own grandmother through the death industry machine in its most disneyfied and obtrusive forms. Uh, what? Either she's deeply lacking in self-awareness, or more charitably, has bungled the timing of her story and is unable to imaginatively place herself back in the mental space she inhabited before this became a personal crusade. If she only lately came to her current position through these traumatic and formative experiences, you have an interesting memoir of her journey to death activist. As it stands, you have the story of a funny but slightly airheaded young woman who is estranged from her own espoused doctrines. Doughty seems like too smart of an author for the latter to be true, so I will simply assume she was not given adequate editorial assistance to tell her story in the gripping manner it deserves. That said, this is written in a breezy, slightly humorous, and winkingly irreverent way that definitely will appeal to fans of Mary Roach. I expected more of a literary memoir (partially judging the book by its cover) but this is pure bubblegum. Sure, she tosses in a lot of literary references about death, but the book's true nature is decidedly more pop. There's nothing wrong with a little bubblegum sometimes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bark

    “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” I sometimes think I’ve missed my life’s true calling. That of being a mortuary worker. But after reading this book I’m not so sure. I always thought the idea of working with people who didn’t talk back was a nice one, you know? No office politics, no grumpy personalities to tip-toe around, no one stealing your lunch and there’s never a lack of business. Sounds like bliss to me. Until I read this book which shattered those daydreams. There are “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” I sometimes think I’ve missed my life’s true calling. That of being a mortuary worker. But after reading this book I’m not so sure. I always thought the idea of working with people who didn’t talk back was a nice one, you know? No office politics, no grumpy personalities to tip-toe around, no one stealing your lunch and there’s never a lack of business. Sounds like bliss to me. Until I read this book which shattered those daydreams. There are some unsavory, heartbreaking and infuriating parts of the job that I never considered like . . . Incinerating Babies Gushing molten fat Cheap ass relatives Moving heavy bodies into the incinerator by yourself Heads. Yep. Just the heads. But then again, no job is perfect, right? Caitlin Doughty captures her experiences while working at a mortuary and later going to school to make it official, with humor, insight and horror. I loved every captivating word. She has an extremely fanciful imagination and morbid wit that keeps you listening even when things get really dark or really disgusting and believe me they get disgusting! She delves deep into the history of death rituals and how it all evolved into the system currently in place today. She doesn’t pull any punches and explains how embalming, though once a necessity on the battlefield, has morphed into nothing more than a money maker for the death industry. Fascinating! I always wondered why bodies weren’t buried naturally and given back to the earth and now I know the reason and it’s pretty damn depressing. Doughty narrates this audiobook and she does a fantastic job. She knows her material best, after all, and her voice is clear and pleasant to listen to. She adds humor in all the right spots and it never feels forced. She has a strong grasp on the toll that being surrounded by death brings on those who deal with it day in and day out. She and her co-workers look at the world a little differently than most folks. I guess it’s hard not to when you face down death and deal with the aftermath every day. Death happens to everyone sooner or later and there’s no point living your life fearful of it coming for you. And it is coming for you! “We are just future corpses.” If you’re a morbid sort such as I, I highly recommend this book to you.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mariana

    Hace muchísimo tiempo que quería leer algo escrito por Caitlin Doughty, me encantan sus videos de Youtube y toda su propuesta acerca de ser más "death positive" me parece muy interesante. Llegué a este libro sintiendo que yo ya era súper aceptante de la muerte y que es un tema del cual no me molesta hablar. ¿Cadáveres? He visto varios, pues durante un año -antes de entrar a mi carrera- estudié la carrera técnica de perito en criminalística. Como parte de mis clases tuve que participar en autopsi Hace muchísimo tiempo que quería leer algo escrito por Caitlin Doughty, me encantan sus videos de Youtube y toda su propuesta acerca de ser más "death positive" me parece muy interesante. Llegué a este libro sintiendo que yo ya era súper aceptante de la muerte y que es un tema del cual no me molesta hablar. ¿Cadáveres? He visto varios, pues durante un año -antes de entrar a mi carrera- estudié la carrera técnica de perito en criminalística. Como parte de mis clases tuve que participar en autopsias, levantamientos de cadáver y otras cosas más, por lo que, SEGÚN YO, ya nada dentro de este tema podía causarme ningún tipo de impresión. Sin embargo, este libro logró hacerme sentir muy incómoda en algunos momentos. A tal punto que decidí dejarlo de leer justo antes de ir a dormir y mejor hacerlo durante la mañana. ¿La razón? La autora hace que enfrentes y reconozcas tu mortalidad y -peor aún- la de tus seres amados. Es muy diferente ver a la muerte como parte de un trabajo/actividad de estudio a enfrentarte con la idea de que te vas a morir (de que mientras estás leyendo esto, estás muriendo un poquito), la gente que amas y te rodea va a morir y es algo natural, todos vamos para allá. Pero ojo, no es un libro trágico. Caitlin Doughty maneja todas sus anécdotas como trabajadora de un crematorio con muchísimo humor negro. Como ejemplo, el capítulo que dedica a la tarea que implica cremar cadáveres de bebés recién nacidos, se titula "Demon Babies" y hace reflexiones y comparaciones que te hacen esbozar una sonrisa con temas que de otro modo pueden ser difíciles de digerir. Lo que más me gustó de este libro fue que me hizo sentir. Me hizo pensar en la relación que en la actualidad tenemos con la muerte y en cómo no es una relación sana. La muerte es un proceso natural y no debería de ser un tabú hablar de ella. Debería de ser muy fácil preguntarle a tu mamá: Cuando te mueras, ¿cómo quieres que te enterremos?; deberíamos de estar mucho más familiarizados con la idea de un cadáver como algo natural (ojo y no me refiero a los que vemos en la tv o películas, sino a los reales, a los que se descomponen, emiten olores horrendos, etc.) y de propiciar una revolución en la industria funeraria actual, que más que dejarnos sentir la muerte, se esfuerza en ocultarla. En fin, un libro que se disfruta y que te hace pensar sobre mucho temas que la mayor parte del tiempo, te esfuerzas en arrojar de tu mente. No le doy 5 estrellas porque sentí que faltó una conclusión un poco más fuerte y contundente, aunque quizá ese sea el propósito de la autora, que nosotros saquemos nuestras propias conclusiones ante el panorama que ella nos plantea.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I've always been interested in the rituals surrounding death. W.W. Norton & Company grabbed my attention with this synopsis of Caitlyn Doughty's Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory "A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession." If you've ever wondered why anyone would become a mortician, work in a crematory or choose to help the living in the process of death, then this is the book for you. Ri I've always been interested in the rituals surrounding death. W.W. Norton & Company grabbed my attention with this synopsis of Caitlyn Doughty's Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory "A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession." If you've ever wondered why anyone would become a mortician, work in a crematory or choose to help the living in the process of death, then this is the book for you. Right from the start we know we are going to get an up close and personal view of the business when Doughty proclaims" "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." If this makes you uneasy, quit right now. If you believe as Doughty states "I found out that the ultimate fate for all humans was death" then read on. "We have put the dead beneath. Not just underground, but under the tops of fake hospital stretchers, within the bellies of our aircrafts, and in the recesses of our consciousness." Doughty pulls no punches in this study of the way we die and what happens next. She takes us on a journey behind the scenes of the funeral business exposing questionable practices and laws regarding remains. She provides a cultural history of death practices around the world. The rituals of death are not always pretty but this reader found them fascinating. Kudos to Doughty for her bravery in exploring this taboo topic and for wishing to provide a step back to a time in which we were more comfortable with the final act in the lives of our loved ones. The quotes contained here are from an uncorrected proof provided by the W.W. Norton & Company who graciously provided an e-galley of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory to be published in September 2014.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Did you ever read the first line of a book to see if it grabbed you? Well, this odd memoir grabbed me from the first sentence and wouldn't let go until the end of the source notes. Most of us probably hold at least a little bit of morbid curiosity about what goes on behind the doors at your local crematorium. Your curiosity will be more than satisfied by Ms. Doughty's account of her years as a burgeoning mortician. In addition to details such as how they keep those darn eyelids closed during the Did you ever read the first line of a book to see if it grabbed you? Well, this odd memoir grabbed me from the first sentence and wouldn't let go until the end of the source notes. Most of us probably hold at least a little bit of morbid curiosity about what goes on behind the doors at your local crematorium. Your curiosity will be more than satisfied by Ms. Doughty's account of her years as a burgeoning mortician. In addition to details such as how they keep those darn eyelids closed during the funeral, Doughty educates us on death rituals from around the world and obscure funeral laws. There was a day when the families of the dead were responsible for preparing the bodies for burial, but -- with the advent of the funeral business -- our society has become detached from the reality of death, to the point of denial. Doughty seeks to reconnect us with the very last page of the last chapter in our book of life.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director in her early thirties, is on a mission. Her goal? Nothing less than completely changing how we think about death and the customs surrounding it. Her odyssey through the death industry began when she was 23 and started working at suburban San Francisco’s Westwind Crematorium. She had spent her first 18 years in Hawaii and saw her first dead body at age eight when she went to a Halloween costume contest at the mall and saw a little girl plummet 30 feet ove (3.5) Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director in her early thirties, is on a mission. Her goal? Nothing less than completely changing how we think about death and the customs surrounding it. Her odyssey through the death industry began when she was 23 and started working at suburban San Francisco’s Westwind Crematorium. She had spent her first 18 years in Hawaii and saw her first dead body at age eight when she went to a Halloween costume contest at the mall and saw a little girl plummet 30 feet over a railing. In another century, she reflects, it would have been rare for a child to go that long before seeing a corpse; nineteenth-century tots might have experienced the death of multiple siblings, if not a parent. “Today, not being forced to see corpses is a privilege of the developed world,” she writes. And if we do see a dead body, it will have been so prettified by mortuary workers that it might bear little resemblance to how the person looked in life. Here Doughty reveals all the tricks of the American trade – from embalming (a post-Civil War development) and heavy-duty makeup to gluing eyes closed and sewing mouths shut – that give the dead that peaceful, lifelike look we like to see at wakes. Compare our squeamishness with the openness of various Asian countries, where one might see dozens of corpses floating down the Ganges or Buddhist monks meditating on a decomposing corpse as a memento mori. Doughty is in a somewhat awkward position: she is part of the very American death industry she is criticizing – those “professionals whose job was not ritual but obfuscation, hiding the truths of what bodies are and what bodies do.” Although she reveled in her work at the crematorium despite its occasional gruesomeness and seems to believe cremation is an efficient and responsible choice for body disposal, she also worries that it might be a further sign of people’s determination to keep bodies out of sight and out of mind. As anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer noted, “In many cases, it would appear, cremation is chosen because it is felt to get rid of the dead more completely and finally than does burial.” Could cremation be noble instead? Doughty traces its origins to ancient Roman funeral pyres, as different as could be from the enclosed, clinical environment of a modern crematorium. Two factors led directly to cremation becoming increasingly accepted and popular after the 1960s. One was Jessica Mitford’s book The American Way of Death (1961), which mocked the same Los Angeles area cemetery Evelyn Waugh does in The Loved One, Forest Lawn. The other was Pope Paul VI overturning the Catholic Church’s ban on cremation in 1963. Doughty quotes George Bernard Shaw’s rapturous account of his mother’s cremation in 1913 as proof that it can be not only natural, but even aesthetically pleasing: And behold! The feet burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet colored lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like Pentecostal tongues, and as the whole coffin passed in it sprang into flame all over, and my mother became that beautiful fire. It is rare, however – and, for the workers, nerve-racking – to have witnesses at a cremation. For the most part Westwind worked like a factory, cremating six bodies per weekday. Doughty experienced all sides of the work: collecting dead fetuses from hospitals for free cremation, shaving adult corpses before burning, enduring the stench of decomposing flesh, and taking delivery of a box of heads whose bodies were donated to science. She is largely unsentimental about it all; who is this fairytale witch who speaks of “tossing” babies into the oven and grinding their little bones? “Handmaiden to the underworld,” she describes herself, and given her medieval history degree and Goth-lite looks, you can see that a certain macabre cast of mind is necessary for this line of work. She also has a good ear for arrestingly witty one-liners; my favorite was “As a general rule, if anyone ever asks you to put stockings on a ninety-year-old deceased Romanian woman with edema, your answer should be no.” Still, Doughty recognizes the almost unbearable sadness of many of the cases the crematorium sees – the young man who traveled to California from Washington just to stand in the path of a train, the “floaters” found in the ocean, the elderly with oozing bed sores, and the homeless folk of Los Angeles who were cremated and dumped in a mass grave after they were used for embalming practice at her mortuary school. She even considered committing suicide herself on a lonely trip out to a redwood forest. What has kept her going is the desire to combat misconceptions and superstitions about the dead. As she realized after a potentially serious car accident on the freeway, she has lost her own fear of death, and she wants to help others do the same. This will require getting people talking about death, something she is doing through her online community Order of the Good Death and her Ask a Mortician YouTube videos. She would also like to see people having involvement with dead bodies again, as they did in previous centuries, perhaps by washing their dead relatives or keeping them at home before the funeral rather than having them taken away. “It is never too early to start thinking about your own death and the deaths of those you love.” This is not morbid; it’s just planning ahead for an inevitable experience. “We can wander further into the death dystopia, denying that we will die and hiding dead bodies from our sight. Making that choice means we will continue to be terrified and ignorant of death, and the huge role it plays in how we live our lives.” The sections of personal anecdote in this book are better than those based on anthropological research – which is not woven in entirely naturally. Ultimately, it’s a little unclear exactly how Doughty plans to change things. She speaks of designing her own welcoming crematorium, an open, airy space that doesn’t suggest a death factory. But it’s enough that she’s part of a movement in the right direction, and beneath her wry tone her passion is clear. (Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.) Further reading suggestions: For more on how people are revolutionizing how we think about death, I highly recommend Anne Karpf’s book for the School of Life, How to Age. Other death-themed reads I have particularly enjoyed are The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch, The Removers by Andrew Meredith, and A Tour of Bones by Denise Inge. Less effective as a memoir but still interesting for its view of the funeral home business is The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield. Note: I was originally going to review this book for a British website, so I received a free copy of the UK edition from Canongate. Doughty inserts British statistics and information to increase the book’s relevance to a new audience. She also astutely notes that British funerals minimize interaction with a dead body, something I have certainly found true in the two cremations I have attended in England. The Irish are famous for their wakes, but the British do not have this custom. In fact, when we attended my brother-in-law’s viewing and funeral in America earlier this year, it was the first time my husband (aged 31) had seen a dead body. Although I can see Doughty’s point about a prettified corpse not being representative of what the dead ‘should’ look like, I must also say that the funeral home had done a fantastic job of making him look happy and at peace, like he was sleeping and having pleasant dreams. He certainly didn’t look like a man who had suffered the ravages of brain cancer for four years. The same was not true for my ninety-something grandmother, however, who was nearly unrecognizable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Puck

    “Today, not being forced to see corpses is a privilege of the developed world.” 3 stars. With humor, compassion and interesting facts about death-culture, Caitlin Doughty takes us with her into the crematorium. We learn about the embalming process, what happens to a body in a cremation oven, and why make-up on a corpse is more important than you think. True, reading vivid descriptions of embalmed bodies, cut-off heads and burned body fat takes some getting used to – squeezy people should better “Today, not being forced to see corpses is a privilege of the developed world.” 3 stars. With humor, compassion and interesting facts about death-culture, Caitlin Doughty takes us with her into the crematorium. We learn about the embalming process, what happens to a body in a cremation oven, and why make-up on a corpse is more important than you think. True, reading vivid descriptions of embalmed bodies, cut-off heads and burned body fat takes some getting used to – squeezy people should better stay away from this book – but Doughty always manages to see the beauty or the funny awkwardness of the (gory) situation. Maybe you’re not a fan of morbid stories, but I think many will laugh about Caitlin having to deal with odd corpses or handle the strange requests of the mourners. “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves. It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity. The hands of time will never move quite so slowly as when you are standing over the dead body of an elderly man with a pink plastic razor in your hand.” Sprinkled through her descriptions of her job as a mortician are short pieces of information about the history of funerals, (American) death-culture and the different death practices all around the world. It’s not a lot of information – she talks more on this subject in her newest book – but it might spark your interest to research these subjects yourself. So this is an entertaining and enlighting memoir about working in a crematorium, but unlike the smell of a decaying body, isn’t very memorable.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Erin Lee

    It's kind of weird that in our culture, we'll talk endlessly about what might or might not happen to our souls after we die, but it's considered morbid or impolite to discuss what happens to our bodies when we die. If you're concerned about where your trash goes, or whether or not you can recycle that plastic salad container, maybe spare a thought or two to how you want your body disposed of when you're done with it. I saw the author speak at a panel at a library conference, and I knew her book It's kind of weird that in our culture, we'll talk endlessly about what might or might not happen to our souls after we die, but it's considered morbid or impolite to discuss what happens to our bodies when we die. If you're concerned about where your trash goes, or whether or not you can recycle that plastic salad container, maybe spare a thought or two to how you want your body disposed of when you're done with it. I saw the author speak at a panel at a library conference, and I knew her book would be for me. I'm glad someone's working as hard as she is to remove the stigma from death as a conversation topic and empowering people to engage with the dying process in a healthy way. This book is informative, thought-provoking, and an enjoyable read. Lots of good stuff in here about cultural rituals surrounding death, and corrections to the misinformation out there about bodies.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    Caitlin Doughty is doing great work to educate the public about all aspects of death. In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty tells the story of the childhood event that first sparked her fascination with death, her experience working as a crematory operator, and her foray into mortuary science education that would eventually allow her to start a mortuary business in Los Angeles. Along the way, there's much to learn about how bodies are prepared for viewings, how they are transported, what happens t Caitlin Doughty is doing great work to educate the public about all aspects of death. In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty tells the story of the childhood event that first sparked her fascination with death, her experience working as a crematory operator, and her foray into mortuary science education that would eventually allow her to start a mortuary business in Los Angeles. Along the way, there's much to learn about how bodies are prepared for viewings, how they are transported, what happens to the bodies of the unhoused, the process of cremation, and many other fine details most people don't know anything about. Doughty approaches death with openness, honesty, and just the right blend of humor and vulnerability to humanize the subject. While there are many descriptions of decaying bodies and stories that will gross out readers, the overall lessons are clear: the decomposition process is natural, dead bodies aren't harmful, death should not be ignored or hidden, families should be more involved in the handling of their loved ones, and embalming and rigid burial structures are almost always unnecessary. Doughty advocates for the good death: an exit from life that is demystified, planned for, minimally painful, and strengthens family bonds. It all starts with a culture that destigmatizes death and sees it as a natural part of life: the very part that gives our limited time on Earth focus and meaning. Caitlin Doughty is doing so much to contribute to that culture, and I can't recommend this book (and From Here to Eternity) enough. She also has a YouTube series called "Ask a Mortician". I had originally purchased this as an ebook, but then added on the audio as "whisper sync" so I could listen to it in the car. Doughty's narration is so good that I ended up listening to the entire thing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Chung

    What an extremely well written and informative look on death and the behind the scenes of cremation and burial. This is Caitlin Doughty's autobiographical account on starting her life in the death business. Going from a lonely cremation operator to licensed mortician. Loved her sense of humor and was delighted in her unending NEED to make death less of an unknown. Fighting to bring mortality to the forefront and to squash the misinformation surrounding death in general from cremation to burial a What an extremely well written and informative look on death and the behind the scenes of cremation and burial. This is Caitlin Doughty's autobiographical account on starting her life in the death business. Going from a lonely cremation operator to licensed mortician. Loved her sense of humor and was delighted in her unending NEED to make death less of an unknown. Fighting to bring mortality to the forefront and to squash the misinformation surrounding death in general from cremation to burial and everything in between. There is a list toward the end of the book from a paper written in 1961, from the 'Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology' that gives seven reasons humans fear death. 1. Death would cause grief to relatives and friends. (one of my biggest fears!) 2. Plans and projects would come to an end. (my tremendous TBR pile would be left unread) 3. The process of dying might be painful. (Yep that hits home) 4. One can no longer have any experiences. (Again look back up at number two) 5. No longer be able to care for dependents. (As a mother this is all I think about) 6. Afraid of what might happen if there is a life after death. (that would be cool) 7. Afraid of what might happen to the body after death. (meh don't care) I absolutely loved this nonfiction. It just makes sense all around. I've always been okay with death in general. I'm not afraid of dying per say, but I would be sad to make others sad. As for what I would want when I die? Definitely cremation with my ashes buried to plant a tree.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I really liked this book. I totally agree with the author that society needs a very deep, very honest re-think of how we approach death, and how we deal with our dead bodies. Our current 'norm' of embalming/burial, or cremation, wasn't always the norm. We are woefully ignorant of what the law actually does require regarding a dead body ... less than you probably assume. Death used to be handled by the family, in the home, and had more significance. You can now order a cremation online ... yep, you I really liked this book. I totally agree with the author that society needs a very deep, very honest re-think of how we approach death, and how we deal with our dead bodies. Our current 'norm' of embalming/burial, or cremation, wasn't always the norm. We are woefully ignorant of what the law actually does require regarding a dead body ... less than you probably assume. Death used to be handled by the family, in the home, and had more significance. You can now order a cremation online ... yep, you never have to talk to a real person, you never have to see the dead body ... someone else picks up the body, takes it to the crematorium, scoops up the ashes afterwards, and mails them to you ... if you want them. I like the author's writing style, and think she did a great job with this book. I enjoyed it. I'm even going to look her up online, and keep reading her posts there. 4 Stars = It gave me much food for thought.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a thorough description of bodily death and decomposition. Death is part of life. But it has been mostly hidden from our lives by modern western culture. So the material from this book is bitter medicine for most readers unaccustomed to these details. It's an unpleasant subject, but the reader is wiser for having read it. The book is structured around the author's memoir of her several years working in the funeral business (i.e. body disposal business). This experience included This book provides a thorough description of bodily death and decomposition. Death is part of life. But it has been mostly hidden from our lives by modern western culture. So the material from this book is bitter medicine for most readers unaccustomed to these details. It's an unpleasant subject, but the reader is wiser for having read it. The book is structured around the author's memoir of her several years working in the funeral business (i.e. body disposal business). This experience included time working in a crematory, attending mortuary school, and then post-school employment as a body transporter and funeral arrangements planner. Her story includes an episode in which she considered the option of suicide. I understand the author's comments about modern embalming practices to be generally negative. Though she's not overly preachy about anything. She simply tells it like it is, and when it's all said and done a quick unembalmed bury or cremation sure sounds preferable--at least more natural. It's hard to think of any aspect of death and decomposition that's not fully explored by this book. It's a book I would never read on my own initiative. However, this book was selected by a book group I sometimes attend, and I figured the book's gruesome message probably will keep the number of attendees low. So I believe it my duty to up the body count. (pun intended)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Societally, death simultaneously intrigues and terrifies us; it is an ever present aspect in our lives and perhaps the one certainty we can all expect to encounter. This is an interesting, sensitively written account of how a young woman in her twenties finds herself caring for the dead whilst working within the walls of a Californian crematorium. The author writes with a hefty dose of dark humour (really, is there any other kind suitable in this line of work?) but still maintains her compassion Societally, death simultaneously intrigues and terrifies us; it is an ever present aspect in our lives and perhaps the one certainty we can all expect to encounter. This is an interesting, sensitively written account of how a young woman in her twenties finds herself caring for the dead whilst working within the walls of a Californian crematorium. The author writes with a hefty dose of dark humour (really, is there any other kind suitable in this line of work?) but still maintains her compassion for the dead and their families. Although she poses little thought into the afterlife (if any), she considers the religious and cultural implications of death and the dying process. On a personal note, in my working life as a nurse, I have had my fair share of encounters with death. However, the journey ends for me when I have sufficiently cared for the patient and their relatives and transferred the deceased to the hospital mortuary. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of what happens next. Some of the book makes for uncomfortable reading, particularly descriptions of dead children and the decaying process. Some readers may wish to approach with caution. Above all perhaps the greatest lesson the reader takes from this book is the importance of communicating wishes with loved ones. The author suggests this doesn't have to be a morbid process, but rather an informative one. With millions of people dying everyday, it is the least we can do to prevent unnecessary worry once we have passed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves. I struggled with this book. It was very interesting and I especially found the idea that most of us are not in touch with our mortality and that we try and avoid death and everything related to it at all cost thought-provoking. On the down side I couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be a memoir or not, and it felt a bit like the b Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves. I struggled with this book. It was very interesting and I especially found the idea that most of us are not in touch with our mortality and that we try and avoid death and everything related to it at all cost thought-provoking. On the down side I couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be a memoir or not, and it felt a bit like the book was all over the show - telling you a bit about this, then jumping to something else etc. I do however admire her absolute passion! If all of us puts this much energy into our interests, the world would be a very different place.

  29. 5 out of 5

    MissSugarTown

    Un essai vraiment intéressant et très drôle sur la mort et plus précisément le lien avec celle-ci au sein de la société américaine, que faire de notre corps une fois hors service ? On n'y pense jamais et pourtant ça en dit long sur nous-mêmes.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Stoolfire

    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty is a fascinating, refreshingly frank, and a very educational look into the death industry, death rituals, and Doughty's personal experiences. I highly recommend this book of social science, though, fair warning, it isn't for the faint of heart. There's so much to learn and take into consideration. By the way, Svengoolie even gets a mention (!) in the final chapter as a suggestion for the author's web series to be pa Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty is a fascinating, refreshingly frank, and a very educational look into the death industry, death rituals, and Doughty's personal experiences. I highly recommend this book of social science, though, fair warning, it isn't for the faint of heart. There's so much to learn and take into consideration. By the way, Svengoolie even gets a mention (!) in the final chapter as a suggestion for the author's web series to be paired up with a classic horror movie. I like her series as it is, but to be honest I'd totally watch her in a show like that! If you're interested in Caitlin Doughty's Ask A Mortician series on YouTube, you'll definitely want to try this book. I'll definitely need to read her 2017 release, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.

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