Ahoy there me mateys! For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. Occasionally, I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. So today I bring ye:
smoke gets in your eyes: and other lessons from the crematorium (Caitlin Doughty)
Death. Decay. Ashes. Topics that don’t naturally bring light-hearted fuzzy feelings to the masses. In fact, most folks avoid the topic whenever possible. In America, in particular, many people seem to think that if ye talk about death then Death may hear those thoughts and come knocking. It is a topic that many people avoid altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of me crew skipped this post after readin’ the full title of the book.
Seriously though, dealing with death is important. I genuinely believe that end of life should be discussed early and planned for as best one can. And then those discussions and plans should be updated as one’s life progresses. I worked as a paralegal for a time. It is not easy having to go into a hospital in someone’s final days and try to get paperwork together. Or worse yet when there is nothing in place and grieving and planning take place concurrently. Also I feel strongly that a person has a right to have their wishes followed in regards to end of life. Imagine being witness to fighting over whether the plug should be pulled or if there should be a burial or cremation. These experiences have led me to be more open to talking about death and planning.
Naturally, I don’t know much about the practice of dying. The first book I read to gain more insight was called stiff by Mary Roach. This dealt with the science of death and discussed what happens to cadavers when we die. It was both eye-opening and even funny in parts (while still being respectful overall). I highly recommend it.
So then I picked up this book to learn more about the crematorium. This book is also funny in parts and very detailed. And gross. That cannot be escaped. But the information was fascinating and detailed. The author is passionate about her subject and her commentary was thought-provoking. I loved getting more insight into this billion dollar industry and seeing some of the “tricks of the trade.” I will be reading her newest book for sure.
Ultimately these two books have opened dialogues about death culture and led to further examinations about me own thoughts about me personal end of life wishes and care. I highly recommend them to me crew. Also if me readers know of any other interesting books on the subject, please share below.
Side note: Everyone, regardless of age, should have a written Will and advanced medical directive! The laws vary by state and it is really best to use a lawyer who practices estate and/or elder law. Though ***disclaimer*** I am not a lawyer and this should not be construed as legal advice!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
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), Caitlin 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, Caitlin 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, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).
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