Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by Caitlin Doughty

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty
First published in 2014
254 pages (including bibliography)
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

I love educational page-turners -- non-fiction books that read like novels. I'm much more likely to remember a historical tidbit I learned in a funny (or horrifying) anecdote than a dry, boring text. For instance, did you know that embalming didn't become de rigueur until the Civil War -- and that was only by necessity, as the fallen soldiers' bodies became too putrid on the journey home for the train conductors to handle?

This memoir answers all your morbid-curiosity questions: what would move a twenty-something college graduate to get a job as a crematory operator? How do morticians keep corpses' eyelids shut? What does a dead body that's been floating in the water for a few days really look like? What exactly does embalming entail?

But Doughty -- who's become something of an advocate for alternative funeral practices -- also has a lot to teach readers about the history of the mortuary profession, death rituals in different cultures and times, and how contemporary society's denial of and distance from death shapes our attitudes toward dealing with our deceased.

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was a really fast, interesting read and I learned a lot about what happens to our bodies from the time we draw our last breath to the moment we're put in the ground or our ashes placed in an urn. Some of it was pretty disturbing. Some of it was pretty damn macabre. Some of it was funny. I enjoyed the author's wry and honest voice and appreciated her unflinching depictions of what goes on behind the curtains of the funeral home. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to read this book myself, and then we can discuss afterwards.


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