Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory- Caitlin Doughty

This book caught my attention in a Goodreads newsletter, which is weird since I rarely ever actually open those.  But I saw this, read the sample, got hooked and pre-ordered it immediately.

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician.  Mostly this book is Doughty’s memoir of getting into the funeral industry.  Her first job out of college was working in a crematory she calls Westwind.  Her anecdotes from Westwind were my favorite part of the book.  You can tell she learned a lot from that experience and that her coworkers at Westwind were people she really respected, even though they are a bit quirky (I mean, they are funeral industry people, after all).  She also interweaves into the story some of her personal experiences with death, as well as anthropological and historical tidbits about death culture to argue that as a culture we fear and ignore death and dead bodies so much that we don’t have a healthy (or any?) relationship with human mortality.  And we don’t really do death in a way that makes a whole lot of sense- environmentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually.

This book totally sucked me in.  Doughty’s writing is great… I never expected to have a hard time putting down a non-fiction book about death and dead bodies, but I did.  It did get a little preachy at the end, which didn’t fit much with the tone of the rest of the book, but that was my only complaint.  I left this book thinking about what I want done with my body when I die, how I really have no clue how my family members want their bodies treated when they die (except my mom who made a point to tell me a long time ago), and feeling a little more accepting of death as an inevitability.  My husband rolled his eyes when I initiated conversations about what we wanted done with our bodies when we die and I have sent some super awkward (and possibly creepy) texts to my mom while writing this review, but hey, this is stuff we will have to deal with some day, whether we like it or not, and I’d like to do it in a way that isn’t so fear-based and at a time that isn’t so emotionally-charged.

Anyways, I would definitely recommend this book, though I know that the topic probably turns a lot of people off (or makes them morbidly curious).  That said, if the whole idea of a book about death and funerals makes you squicky, then you probably need to read this book the most.

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5 thoughts on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory- Caitlin Doughty

  1. I would love to read this. I think a mortician/ funeral director do incredibly hard work and play a major part in helping a family in the early stages of grief, so I’d love to find out how she got into that kind of work and how she finds it.

    • It’s a really interesting book, though Doughty’s view are more alternative/counter the mainstream funeral director’s. So I’d imagine it’s a very different book than a “typical” funeral director would write. But worthwhile, nonetheless.

  2. I’m so excited to read this book, as I used to think I’d like to work in a morgue or something during my morbid pre-teen-hood. When I couldn’t even dissect a frog in science class, that dream turned right around. But funeral stories – funny or poignant – still fascinate me.

    Have you read Monica Holloway’s memoir Driving With Dead People?

  3. Pingback: Stiff- Mary Roach | Don't Take My Books Away

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