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

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

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughtya twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabretook a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her lifes 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 didnt 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)....

Title : Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393351903
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 272 pages
Url Type : Home » Smoke » Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory Reviews

  • Debbie "DJ"

    I think this book gets the award for best opening line.

    "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves."

    So, yeah, I was pulled in from the beginning. Caitlin is 23 and lands her first job as a mortician. Why you ask? Well, turns out she is terrified of death. Has been ever since she saw a documentary that depicted death when she was very young. She is obsessed with thoughts of her, her family, and friends demise.

    The beginning wasted no time in taking me right into the world of the mortici
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  • Marie

    “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Nietzsche

    I was thoroughly impressed by this memoir and social commentary on death and dying written by such a young woman. Caitlin Doughty, at the age of 23, has produced an impressive, well researched commentary on how we as a society perceive death, talk (or not talk) about death, and view the body and what happens post-mortem. She brings the death industry to light as well as the options available for burial or cremation. She speaks frankly and doe
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  • Rebecca Foster

    (3.5) Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director in her early thirties, is on a mission. Her goal? Nothing less than completely changing how we think about death and the customs surrounding it. Her odyssey through the death industry began when she was 23 and started working at suburban San Francisco’s Westwind Crematorium. She had spent her first 18 years in Hawaii and saw her first dead body at age eight when she went to a Halloween costume contest at the mall and saw a little girl plummet 30 feet ove

    And behold! The feet burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet colored lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like Pentecostal tongues, and as the whole coffin passed in it sprang into flame all over, and my mother became that beautiful fire.


    It is rare, however – and, for the workers, nerve-racking – to have witnesses at a cremation. For the most part Westwind worked like a factory, cremating six bodies per weekday. Doughty experienced all sides of the work: collecting dead fetuses from hospitals for free cremation, shaving adult corpses before burning, enduring the stench of decomposing flesh, and taking delivery of a box of heads whose bodies were donated to science. She is largely unsentimental about it all; who is this fairytale witch who speaks of “tossing” babies into the oven and grinding their little bones?

    “Handmaiden to the underworld,” she describes herself, and given her medieval history degree and Goth-lite looks, you can see that a certain macabre cast of mind is necessary for this line of work. She also has a good ear for arrestingly witty one-liners; my favorite was “As a general rule, if anyone ever asks you to put stockings on a ninety-year-old deceased Romanian woman with edema, your answer should be no.”

    Still, Doughty recognizes the almost unbearable sadness of many of the cases the crematorium sees – the young man who traveled to California from Washington just to stand in the path of a train, the “floaters” found in the ocean, the elderly with oozing bed sores, and the homeless folk of Los Angeles who were cremated and dumped in a mass grave after they were used for embalming practice at her mortuary school. She even considered committing suicide herself on a lonely trip out to a redwood forest.

    What has kept her going is the desire to combat misconceptions and superstitions about the dead. As she realized after a potentially serious car accident on the freeway, she has lost her own fear of death, and she wants to help others do the same. This will require getting people talking about death, something she is doing through her online community Order of the Good Death and her Ask a Mortician YouTube videos. She would also like to see people having involvement with dead bodies again, as they did in previous centuries, perhaps by washing their dead relatives or keeping them at home before the funeral rather than having them taken away. “It is never too early to start thinking about your own death and the deaths of those you love.” This is not morbid; it’s just planning ahead for an inevitable experience. “We can wander further into the death dystopia, denying that we will die and hiding dead bodies from our sight. Making that choice means we will continue to be terrified and ignorant of death, and the huge role it plays in how we live our lives.”

    The sections of personal anecdote in this book are better than those based on anthropological research – which is not woven in entirely naturally. Ultimately, it’s a little unclear exactly how Doughty plans to change things. She speaks of designing her own welcoming crematorium, an open, airy space that doesn’t suggest a death factory. But it’s enough that she’s part of a movement in the right direction, and beneath her wry tone her passion is clear.

    (Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.)

    Further reading suggestions: For more on how people are revolutionizing how we think about death, I highly recommend Anne Karpf’s book for the School of Life, How to Age. Other death-themed reads I have particularly enjoyed are The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch, The Removers by Andrew Meredith, and A Tour of Bones by Denise Inge. Less effective as a memoir but still interesting for its view of the funeral home business is The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield.

    Note: I was originally going to review this book for a British website, so I received a free copy of the UK edition from Canongate. Doughty inserts British statistics and information to increase the book’s relevance to a new audience. She also astutely notes that British funerals minimize interaction with a dead body, something I have certainly found true in the two cremations I have attended in England. The Irish are famous for their wakes, but the British do not have this custom. In fact, when we attended my brother-in-law’s viewing and funeral in America earlier this year, it was the first time my husband (aged 31) had seen a dead body. Although I can see Doughty’s point about a prettified corpse not being representative of what the dead ‘should’ look like, I must also say that the funeral home had done a fantastic job of making him look happy and at peace, like he was sleeping and having pleasant dreams. He certainly didn’t look like a man who had suffered the ravages of brain cancer for four years. The same was not true for my ninety-something grandmother, however, who was nearly unrecognizable. ...more

  • Sonja Arlow

    My fascination with the macabre and death is perhaps a case of staring at the boogeyman till he loses its power over me.

    This book gave me the opportunity to stare very hard!

    Part memoir, part research and full of the right intentions this book covers a range of death related topics:

    1) Death rituals of other cultures and just how skewed the Western worlds desire to detach itself so completely from death and any reminder of its own mortality

    2) Death through he ages – from medieval times to now

    3) Co
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  • Tania

    Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves.


    I struggled with this book. It was very interesting and I especially found the idea that most of us are not in touch with our mortality and that we try and avoid death and everything related to it at all cost thought-provoking. On the down side I couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be a memoir or not, and it felt a bit like the b ...more

  • Darlene

    "The meaning of life is that it ends."

    -Kafka

    This book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is difficult to characterize. It's part memoir and part history of death customs; but it is also an advocacy for a much needed change in the way our society views death, the deceased and our own mortality. The author, Caitlin Doughty, describes herself as a 'death-positive' mortician. She also blogs about issues and attitudes regarding mortality and she has a web series called 'A
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  • Sandy Reilly

    Amazing! Yes, it is about death, but not in the way one would typically think. It was difficult for me to describe this book to friends who asked what I was currently reading, as most would give me a funny look when I said it is about a woman who worked at a crematory. However, I can say with great confidence that Ms. Doughty has written one of the most interesting, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. She poses many questions and notions about death, and does something not ...more

  • Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a thorough description of bodily death and decomposition. Death is part of life. But it has been mostly hidden from our lives by modern western culture. So the material from this book is bitter medicine for most readers unaccustomed to these details. It's an unpleasant subject, but the reader is wiser for having read it.

    The book is structured around the author's memoir of her several years working in the funeral business (i.e. body disposal business). This experience included
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