Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematory – Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematory – Caitlin Doughty

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s 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.

Review: I’ve always been fascinated by corpses. I know that probably sounds awful, but I grew up on a steady diet of ghost stories and Stephen King novels. If a story didn’t have any corpses in it, I was very disappointed.

When I read the synopsis of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I knew that I needed this book. I’ve read a lot about bodies, but I don’t know much about the funeral industry.

The author graduated from college with a degree in medieval history, and the only job she could get with that was “beer wench” at a medieval-themed restaurant. She decides to work at a crematory instead. This book is a collection of darkly humorous anecdotes, observations, death-related history, and insider information about how the funeral industry operates.

You’d expect a book about death to be depressing, but this one isn’t. I actually laughed out loud a few times because the author has a wonderful sense of humor. Her coworkers are funny, too. I guess you need to laugh a lot if you’re going to burn bodies for a living. The humor starts right away. This book has one of the best opening lines ever:

“A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The book isn’t all funny, though. Working with bodies and grieving families has an impact on the author’s mental health. I love that she’s honest about the difficult parts of her job. It would’ve been easy to make this book humorous and nothing else.

This memoir is more philosophical/psychological than I expected. The author spends a lot of pages talking about modern society’s relationship with death. This stuff is interesting, but not as interesting as the author’s personal anecdotes.

I read the majority of this book in one sitting. It’s an engaging, informative memoir. I recommend it to everybody because it encourages readers to think about topics that they’d often rather ignore.

Fun Facts About Corpses

1. In the past, death was everywhere. Most children died before reaching adulthood. Funerals were held in homes. Churches—which were surrounded by cemeteries—were community meeting places. Nowadays death is hidden. It’s mostly kept in hospitals and nursing homes. People can go their entire lives without seeing a dead body. The author argues that death would be less anxiety-provoking if we understood what happens during the dying process and afterward.

“The fear of death is why we build cathedrals, have children, declare war, and watch cat videos online at three a.m.” – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

2. Fat corpses smell worse than thin corpses. Bacteria love to eat fat and multiply.

3. It requires a lot of effort to make a corpse look “natural.” Spiky bits of plastic are used to keep the eyes shut. Wires are shot into the jaw to keep the mouth closed. There are special kinds of makeup just for dead people. Plastic wrap is wound around the body so that the bloated limbs fit into clothes. None of this is very “natural.”

4. Corpses don’t make hospitals look good. You can’t just roll a corpse down the hallway at a hospital. That’s why hospital workers use fake gurneys to move dead people. To the casual observer, it looks like a regular empty gurney, but the corpse is hidden inside it.

“I had lived my entire life up until I began working at Westwind relatively corpse-free. Now I had access to scores of them—stacked in the crematory freezer. They forced me to face my own death and the deaths of those I loved. No matter how much technology may become our master, it takes only a human corpse to toss the anchor off that boat and pull us back down to the firm knowledge that we are glorified animals that eat and shit and are doomed to die. We are all just future corpses.” – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

5. During the American Civil War, undertakers followed armies around. After a battle, they’d gut the corpses and stuff them with sawdust right on the battlefield. (As long as someone paid them to do it.)

6. The author isn’t a fan of embalming bodies. It’s a standard practice in the funeral industry, but it’s not always necessary. It’s just an extra cost for the dead person’s family. This is why you should make plans for your own corpse. Know what you want done with your body and how much everything should cost. Leave instructions for your family.

“Though you may have never attended a funeral, two of the world's humans die every second. Eight in the time it took you to read that sentence. Now we're at fourteen. If this is too abstract, consider this number: 2.5 million. The 2.5 million people who die in the United States every year.” – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Sunday Post #120

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.
  • On Tuesday I show you some of the creepy books on my TBR list.
  • On Wednesday I review The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg.
  • On Thursday I wrap up October.

In My Reading Life

Last week was #AutumnReadathon, so I read a ton of short books. I finished The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Then I reread When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Then I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton, et al. Right now, I’m reading All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I tried caramel M&Ms. They mostly taste like sticky regular M&Ms, but I like them.
  2. #AutumnReadathon has been fun. I love going on Twitter and seeing what everybody is reading.
  3. I only have 6 unread books on my TBR shelf right now. I’ve been so good about not buying a zillion books. A few of my unread books are fat bastards, though. It’ll probably take me months to finish them.
  4. I’ve been watching Halloween-themed baking competitions on TV. Halloween and food are two of my favorite things ever.
  5. 500 Bloglovin’ followers!

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Book Cake Tag

I have no idea where this tag started, but I love books, and I love cake, so this seems like a good idea.

Book Cake

Flour: A book that is slow to start off but really picked up as you went along

Snow Falling on Cedars starts off talking about fishing boats. Yawn. The pacing is slow all the way through, but when a corpse gets dredged up, things get much more interesting.

Butter: A book that has a rich plot

I just realized that I don’t read many plot-heavy books. Characters are more important to me. The Love Interest is pretty plot-oriented, though. Who will win the battle of the sexy boys in this satirical YA novel?

Eggs: A book you thought would be bad but turned out to be enjoyable

Why would I read a book I thought would be bad? This question makes no sense. I was skeptical about Most Dangerous because the cover looks serious, and the synopsis makes the book sound educational. It is educational. Educational and brilliant. A must-read for anyone interested in American politics.

Sugar: A very sweet book

"Sweet" isn't a word that can be used to describe the books I read. The sweetest I've read this year would probably be The Upside of Unrequited. Nerd-on-nerd love, people. It’s so adorable it makes me gag.

Chocolate filling: A character with hidden layers

Griff has some secrets . . .

Baking time: A book with a slow-burn romance

Will they get together? Won’t they? Will they ever stop acting like angsty idiots and talk to each other? The world needs to know!

Icing: A book that covers every element you enjoy in a book

Small towns, quirky kids, strange religions, blogs. It needed more snakes. For a book called The Serpent King, it has a depressingly small number of snakes. You’d think the king of serpents would rule a whole kingdom of snakes.

Sprinkles: A book series you can turn to for a pick-me-up

Let’s be real: The answer to this is Harry Potter, but that’s a boring answer. I’m going to say Shades of Magic, even though I still haven’t read the third one. I have a thing for deadly parallel universes.

Cherry on top: Your favorite book of the year so far

I hate cherries, but Most Dangerous for the win!

Do you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. 
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Review: Look at me! I actually read this book right after it came out instead of buying it and putting it on a shelf for months. I’m proud of myself. To an outside observer, it might look like I’m in control of my life.

“If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.” – Turtles All the Way Down

Okay. I’ve been a John Green fan for nearly a decade. I love his sense of humor and the way he looks at the world. When I heard he had a new book coming out, I was thrilled. I went out on release day, found myself a copy, and started reading immediately. I adored the beginning, but as the book went along, I started to get disappointed.

The story is narrated by sixteen-year-old Aza, who has crippling obsessive compulsive disorder. When the billionaire father of her childhood friend goes missing, Aza and her other friend, Daisy, decide to investigate. Maybe they can find the missing billionaire and claim the $100,000 reward.

The plot of this novel is very different from what I expected. I blame the synopsis for that. It kind of felt like a bait-and-switch. I expected to read a story about two girls searching for a missing billionaire. The book actually does start out that way. Then the mystery disappears, and it becomes a book about a girl having OCD. That’s when my attention started to wander. I found the mystery story a lot more compelling than the sick-lit story. I kept hoping we’d get back to the mystery, but we didn’t until it was accidentally solved at the end of the book.

Basically, this novel has an identity issue. It’s a story about mental health problems with an underdeveloped mystery thrown in. Novels don’t need to fit into neat genre boxes, but I’m not sure what this book is. It isn’t what I expected.

Even though the mystery gets lost in all the OCD stuff, I like the ethical questions it raises. What if a missing person doesn’t want to be found? What if the missing person’s family wants them to stay missing? If you know where the person is, are you required to call the cops, or can you keep the info to yourself? It’s all very thought-provoking.

The author gets a lot right about anxiety. I can’t comment on the OCD stuff because I don’t have experience with that, but I think the portrayal of anxiety is extremely realistic. Aza is trapped inside her own head. She feels cut off from others, even when she’s sitting right beside them. She feels like she’s an inconvenience to other people. I’ve experienced all that myself. I love that Aza’s mental illnesses weren’t cured in the book, and I like that being in a relationship made the illness worse, not better. I’ve never seen that in a book before, but it makes complete sense to me. Starting a new relationship can cause big changes in a person’s life. Even positive changes can be stressful.

“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.” – Turtles All the Way Down

“Everyone wanted me to feed them that story—darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it, too.” – Turtles All the Way Down

I did wonder who Aza is on her “good” mental health days. This book shows her at her worst. She’s hospitalized and struggling to find a medication that works. But, what does she do on days when she feels okay? We learn that she loves her car, is in AP classes, and doesn’t like space movies. There has to be more to her than that, right? Why is Daisy friends with her? What do they do together? I wanted to know more about Aza.

How much you enjoy this book will depend on your tolerance for John Green’s characters. Like in his other books, the characters in this one are overly precocious teens who discuss philosophy and quote poetry at each other. I (mostly) like them because they’re funny and make me think. Their pretentiousness did get on my nerves a few times, though. I rolled my eyes especially hard at Davis’s melodramatic blog posts. Why did we need to read so many of those?

I guess I have the dreaded mixed feelings about this book. I had fun reading it. It made me laugh. It made me think. It irritated me. It’s not what I expected. It’s relatable. It’s beautifully written. It’s a half-baked mystery with a lot of other stuff going on. I mostly liked it. I’ll definitely read whatever John Green publishes next.

“Like, the world is billions of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.” – Turtles All the Way Down

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Titles That Made Me Cringe

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten unique book titles. While I was on Goodreads searching for unique titles, my search quickly veered from “unique” to “unfortunate.” I don’t want to judge anybody’s reading tastes, but these book titles made me cringe.

Cringe-Worthy Titles

I was going to ask you if you've read any of these, but maybe that's not a good idea . . .