Allie Holtzer, 127
How is your relationship with death? Is death something you’re comfortable with, something you think about with ease? Or are you scared of death? Is death something you’ve faced and never want to again or have you accepted it as inevitable?
No matter what your answers to those questions are, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is a great “light” book to explore your relationship with something that happens to everyone. I say “light” because it is written in a witty, (for the most part) upbeat, 20-something style, but it does tackle a topic that not everyone is comfortable with.
The author, Caitlin Doughty, was raised in Hawaii and had a distant relationship with death until she witnessed a terrible accident at a mall when she was a child. From that point on she seems to be consumed with learning about every aspect of death. With a degree in the Medieval period, she jumps into a job at a crematory in the Bay Area of California. As time progresses you can tell Caitlin’s relationship with death grows into a close friendship rather than something she fears.
“There are many words a woman in love longs to hear. “I’ll love you forever, darling,” and “Will it be a diamond this year?” are two fine examples. But young lovers take note: above all else, the phrase every girl truly wants to hear is “Hi, this is Amy from Science Support; I’m dropping off some heads.”
This book is filled with entertaining anecdotal accounts of her journey to becoming a “deathxpert”, all the while the reader is introduced to amusing people in her life that you wouldn’t expect to be in the death industry.
However it’s not only the story of her journey, but also the journey of different cultures and how they have dealt with death throughout history. Caitlin educates the reader about death rituals around the world and introduces you to the birth of common practices in the U.S., such as embalming (which didn’t start until bodies needed to be shipped home from the battlefield).
If you are not comfortable with the topic of death, this is a great book for you because it takes you through the steps of death without having to attach it to someone you love. If you are comfortable with death, this book is great for you because it takes a look at the change of death culture throughout the years in America and other countries.
Caitlin is most
popular for her videos, “Ask a Mortician” and her website “The Order of the Good Death”. Caitlin’s aim is to have people reclaim their relationship with death as something natural. She wants to break down the barrier of people thinking dead bodies are gross and dangerous, to people remembering they are bodies of people that we love and to treat them as such.
“Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.”
As someone who personally has had a comfortable relationship with death since a young age, I truly appreciated this book and how it tackled some of the flaws and misconceptions about death and the industry in today’s society. It also made me think of death rituals in Thailand and how they’re different but also similar to American traditions. I think the way a culture handles a dead body says a lot about the people and religion in that country. I think to be content with death is a gift, but it can also be learned so if you have trouble with facing that fear, maybe this book will help. It’s also a great escape from daily life, this is definitely a book that will distract you while making you smile and think at the same time.
I bought the book for my Kindle for $8.33 on Amazon.
Below are links to Caitlin’s site and videos (I read the book before watching the videos and I personally like her writing style more, but the videos are entertaining).