Smoke Gets In Your Eyes -- Summer Book 16

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty

I have this kid, age 18, who plans on a career in the funereal field, and so we've had this book around the house for a couple of years now.  (A signed copy, even!)   I didn't really know anything about Doughty myself, though, until I got around to reading her book.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is half memoir, half ponderings on how Americans deal with death (spoiler: by pretending it doesn't exist).  Doughty was a medieval history major, but then got a job at an Oakland crematorium, where she could freely indulge her  fears and thoughts about death.

(Please note at this point in the proceedings that the funeral industry is not about Gothic fascination/romanticization of death.  Nope, should you have leanings that way, do not try to become a mortician, or if you do, it will be crushed right out of you right quick.  Nobody wants their funeral director mooning about death.)

Doughty's big idea is that we all need to engage with death a lot more and stop prettying it up or pretending it isn't there.  I actually already thought a lot of what she talks about, so I didn't find much to argue with except that she is really anti-embalming, and I think people should get be able to embalmed if they want to (which I don't).  She has an interesting little section on Jessica Mitford and her influence on the funeral industry, too.

You should probably not read this book over lunch if you have delicate sensibilities, but it's sure an interesting book, full of odd or affecting anecdotes, and with plenty to think about.  I didn't always love Doughty's sense of humor, but on the whole she is very funny and it's a book worth reading.


  1. I really enjoyed this when I read it a couple of years. For me, it was an interesting mix of funny anecdotes and an overarching Point about our society's feath of death.

    I've read her second book too, but it's a bit different. It's about her travels to different countries to experience their funeral and burial rites.

  2. That's really interesting that your kiddo is interested in this field so young. Of course, the only person that I know who is a funeral worker took up the career in her 50s. She started experiencing more death around her and wanted to be a part of dignifying those events. I really, really respect her!

  3. Yeah, I gather most people go into it a bit later. That turns out to be true for library school, too -- I was nearly the youngest in my program -- so maybe these things in the family :D I think it's a good choice, but answering the question "So what are your new HS graduate's plans?" is a bit interesting. Most people have a really good reaction -- especially nurses.


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