Smoke Gets in your Eyes

Smoke Gets in your Eyes

& Other Lessons From the Crematory

Book - 2014
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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).

Publisher: New York :, W. W. Norton & Company,, [2014]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780393240238
Characteristics: x, 254 pages : illustration


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vm510 Jan 11, 2018

In Doughty's memoir about working in a crematory in California, she shares stories and forces the reader to debate death and Americans' aversion to it. She details some of the history of the death industry, our use of embalming, and how thinking on burial/cremation has changed over time. She does this in a humorous, entertaining, and thought-provoking way; her voice and narration, especially in the first half of the book, had me smiling and giggling. She doesn't flinch discussing dead bodies, grinding leftover bones, and standing over a body to dress it. Towards the end of the book, I found her less revealing - which is totally fine, but if you do decide to bring up something personal and devote only a couple pages to it, it will have less of an impact on me. Just for the questions it raised while reading it though, I think it's a worthwhile read.

Aug 11, 2017

This author has a great voice--clever, funny and open. Though she's waay different from me, she has a way of writing that anyone can relate to. Fun and fascinating.

Jul 14, 2017

You couldn't get closer to a mortician/creamator than with Doughtry in this amazingly stark, funny, yet soul searchingly realistic trip into that transition of death. It leaves me with questions of my own wishes. The question of cremation, rituals, funerals, embalming, etc. are brought to the forefront and no longer a simple act of tradition-and"at a time like this, there is no limit to creating rituals relevant to our modern lives". No one could have brought to life (ha) such a subject with life and death stories.

Jul 13, 2017

If you or someone you love will die some day, you need to read this book. It's beautifully written, funny, sad, and both personal and informative.

Marlowe Apr 21, 2017

I came across this while browsing available eBooks, and was initially intrigued by the title. It reminded me of something, and upon reading the summary, thought I would give it a try. Doughty's life is certainly interesting. At first, I struggled with the idea a young woman would want to work in a crematory. But as Doughty fills up in on her life, and passions, and personal beliefs, her chosen profession does not seem that weird after all. The cultural and historical information that she provides throughout the work is incredibly interesting, and has changed my views on death and end of life arrangements. I think Doughty offers a balanced view of western practices, and while she certainly has clear opinions, at no point to I think her intent is judgement. Her career has allowed her to see death from so many perspectives, and see how different people react. This is a fast and engaging read, that I encourage others to try.

AL_HANNAHS Nov 16, 2016

Thank you to the author for writing this book. I found it to be very enlightening, personal, and informative. In a society that has moved as far away from the topic of death and dying as it can, I think this is a very important book. Witty, entertaining, and at times very sobering, this is a great read for anyone who wants to know a little more about what goes on behind the scenes at the local mortuary.

Oct 19, 2016

“The fear of death is why we build cathedrals, have children, declare war, and watch cat videos online at three a.m.”

Doughty's writing is so clever and well-informed that both the anthropologist and the inner dark minion sides of my heart are completely appeased. The biting, unforgiving nature of her writing is uniquely charming and informative.

AL_BRIDGET Aug 24, 2016

I love the author's YouTube videos "Ask a Mortician," because she's so personable and interesting. The book is part memoir, part discussion/history of the funeral industry, and I loved all of the information she imparts in such memorable and engaging ways. A great book that can start really valuable conversations about aging, death, and medical care.

Jul 13, 2015

Excellent book! Well written, honest and respectful yet extremely entertaining and informative. Such an important topic to think about and discuss in our society.

lbarkema Jul 08, 2015

This was really interesting, much like the kind-of interest one has in "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" if science and death interest them, which is does me. I also liked how it was more of a study on death culture, and how Americans' views have changed over time and how our "beliefs" are not really rooted in anything substantial whereas many other cultures practice rituals of death that have been their belief for centuries or thousands of years. Definitely recommended for people who are interested in the science part of death, but also interested in a mini philosophical discussion on death practices.

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