Sunday, February 22, 2015

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

--Sorry for the hiatus! I've been working on my own writing.--

In 2015, I decided to read more nonfiction because if I don't actively try, I won't read any. For me, nonfiction has been this giant, musty cave where nothing lives except overstuffed academics and Bill O'Reilly (I'm exaggerating, but I like the imagery). I'm quickly and happily proving myself wrong. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty not only gets a place on my "Nonfiction For People Who Aren't Actively Writing a Thesis" shelf, but might be one of the best things I've read, ever. This is a big deal. Savor this moment.

I first heard about this memoir through Jezebel. Doughty had posted an excerpt from the book on the site under the title That Time My Job Involved Tossing Dead Babies Into a Crematory. As expected, I loved it - there was dark humor, historical information on witches, and, above all, a searing, painful honesty. If you're at all on the fence about reading this, read the excerpt. The tone and grittiness factor are pretty consistent throughout the rest of the book.

So, intrigued, I bought the book. I came for the yucky bits, but stayed for the introspection. Doughty is hilarious and sweet. Even while she is caking makeup on a moldy corpse, you relate to her. She's completely honest in regards to the funeral industry, and, more importantly, herself.  There were moments of insight that made me throw the book down and text my friend, right then and there, because I had found someone "who gets it." The whole concept of a "good death," embracing death without longing for it, the drive to educate others on something they'd rather not think about - Doughty gets it, Maybe it's because she's accepted her mortality so gracefully that she is able to write so genuinely about being alive.

Toward the end of the book, Doughty sheds her desire to entertain, which was jolting at first because the quirky, funny tone is lost, but it is a much needed transition. This became less of a memoir, and more of a manifesto and action plan, which I liked because I agreed with it, but I can see how other readers may be perturbed after so many anecdotes and witticisms.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in current funerary practices, interesting funerary practices from other cultures and time periods, and weird/morbid self-discovery.

5 stars: Puking on your own terms, in your own bathroom, after delicately consuming your deceased neighbor, a la the Wari. You feel like you've really done something - and you have.


  1. I once had a student write a paper about how we do death so very wrong, and one detail I remember is how we (according to her research) send tons of mercury into the air when we cremate people with old fillings.

    1. Wow really!? I never knew that! That's crazy and horrifying.