Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty
Summary: 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).
Source: I purchased a paperback
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes seemed like a pretty unique memoir, but the first sentence is what really sealed the deal. “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.”
It was often funny, but in a realistic way, as we got to see the “behind the scenes” of death through the eyes of Caitlin. I expected to be kind of shocked by what actually happens and I expected that people who work in the death trade would have to use some macabre humor to get through the day. What I didn’t expect was how educational and thought provoking the memoir was.
Caitlyn felt a certain way about death after having something happen to her as a kid. It prompted her to do a lot of research into the way different cultures dealt with death and what their ceremonies were. She also did some research into the American death trade and why we do the things we do. Much like most things the Western world does, the answer is basically we have no legitimate reason for doing the things we do, but somehow we stuck the word tradition onto whatever we do and then we just keep doing it. The last half of the book was incredibly thought provoking and somewhat.. difficult to deal with because of how out of touch our culture is with death and what is natural. I was shocked to learn what I’ve learned.
I really enjoyed the book and I loved how thought provoking it was. It makes me think about the way we view death, what I might want done to me, and how out of touch with death, dying, and the inevitable we really are as a culture.
I highly recommend the book, especially if you don’t mind a little stark humor, thoughts about death, and interesting cultural ceremonies involving death. It was much better than I expected, but it is not a book for anyone who is squeamish about death or uncomfortable with talking about it.