Today’s review is on what’s most likely to be my favourite book I’ve read this year. This is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty.
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I stumbled upon Doughty by accident. She was in a podcast I used to listen to, about not so common jobs. Doughty is a licensed mortician. The way she talked was absolutely fascinating. As someone who is absolutely terrified of death, I was really interested to know more about the author and how she is at ease with her own mortality. I totally forget about this until I saw Doughty somewhere online again and found her book in my library!!
The title is pretty self explanatory, but this book talks about how the author came to work in a crematory, her own thoughts about death and the rituals of several cultures.
I read this in over a few hours, which is something really odd for me, but always a good thing when it happens. This book was absolutely fascinating, like what I really thought of the author herself!
What I wasn’t expecting, was this to be so hilarious. I know it is a weird thing to say about a book on such a sad subject but there’s parts where I literally laughed out loud. The author is so funny and she always tries to add some humor to it. It really made this read a whole lot more enjoyable. And it made me relax. Of course, there are some really sad parts, like when Doughty talks about preparing and cremating babies and children. Those parts kinda hit me, really hard, but I think they’re important too and totally relevant for what the author is trying to say with writing this book.
Like I said, I really don’t like thinking about death. I’ve never seen a dead body even. At first, I was really afraid there were going to be some descriptions that would made me feel uncomfortable. Not at all. Everything related to dead bodies, their preparation for cremation and burial is described in a very tasteful and respectful way. That’s one thing about the author that I noticed. She has a lot of admiration and belief on what she does and that shows throughout the book.
This is not only a work about death and some experiences of Doughty with it, but it’s also an analises on the way some cultures, specially western, treat death. I think she does a lot of relevant points. If death wasn’t such a taboo and even something that’s very hidden, maybe if we discussed it more openly, people, like myself, wouldn’t be so afraid and uncomfortable with it. Of course there’s some aspects of it that will always make some weird about it, but maybe a more open approach to it would make it easier to deal with. I never really thought of it in that light, but it kinda makes some sense. And that’s what really made this book for me. Yes, I still get anxiety when I think of mine or my loved one’s death but Smoke Gets in Your Eyes made me a little less afraid.
I also particularly like the little stories about death on other cultures that the author includes throughout the book. It featured one about Budah, which I didn’t knew and really liked, and other about the most tragic love story in Portugal’s history, D. Pedro and Inês de Castro. I recommend you guys go check it out. It’s both sad and beautiful. Their tombs are some of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen with my own eyes, but I’m a sucker for gothic art, specially sculpture and architecture, so I’m biased!
Anyway, I loved this book. It was serious, fun, sad and specially, enlightening. I would strongly recommend it to anyone, specially if you’re a chicken about death, like myself.
Here’s one quote I particularly enjoyed:
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.
Anyway, have any of you guys read this book? I only know like two people who have and I seriously think this book needs more recognition!
See you guys soon,