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

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Published October 15th, 2014 by W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover; 254 pages
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Avg. Goodreads Rating: 3.89
My rating★★★★★

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), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased. [Via Goodreads]

Caitlin Doughty has been both terrified and fascinated by death since a shocking incident in her childhood. In a decision to face her fears and further probe her fascination she accepts a position at a local crematory. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a collection of short stories written about her time spent learning to do strange things like shave a dead body, pick up a collection of severed heads, and of course, prepare a body for cremation.

Though the topic may seem dark and macabre for some it truthfully isn’t. Doughty handles the subject matter with a light touch and writes about things that most people are unwilling to think about let alone discuss with others. In fact, some passages are downright hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud.

Doughty learns much more than how to operate the cremation machine and has since begun to tackle the subject of why we, as a society, have such an emphatic case of death-phobia. Some people cannot even bring themselves to say that a person has died and instead use terrible euphemisms like like “passed on” or “in a better place”. The majority of society embalms the deceased in such a way that makes them appear more lifelike. Does this make any sense at all? In order to get people talking about the ins and outs of the funeral industry, Doughty created a website entitled The Order of the Good Death to promote the idea of death acceptance. She also has a popular YouTube web series, Ask a Mortician.

In short, this book is everything I wanted Stiff to be. Perhaps I just read Stiff too late after it’s release date (published in 2004, read in 2014) and thus it wasn’t really any new information for me. (I am a self-professed queen of forensic and police procedural TV, okay?) I really enjoyed this book and I don’t even think that’s weird to say. I have similar feelings on the subject as the author: we die. It can’t be helped. There’s no reason pretending it doesn’t happen. We might as well embrace it and live with it. (Pun intended.)


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