Reviewed by: Carey Gibbons, Reference Specialist
Genre: Non-Fiction, Death/Funerary Practices
Suggested Age: Adults
What is the book about?: This book is like a travelogue of death. Caitlin Doughty is a mortician who owns her own funeral home and has been fascinated with death her entire life. In her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, she discusses her own experiences in caring for the dead. In this book, she takes readers around the world to examine some of the more unusual (to us) death and funerary practices of other cultures. Among other places, we visit a glowing electronic Buddha columbarium in Japan, the most beloved, favor granting ñatitas of Bolivia, and the small (but growing) human remains composting movement in America. Doughty interviews practitioners with each culture she introduces and looks at deathcare from their perspectives.
My Review: I really loved this book and took a lot of comfort from it. Doughty briefly discusses “big funeral” as an industry that has taken over death care, offering very few options for those whose loved ones have passed away. In America, we think that entombed burial or cremation are our only options, and largely that is true. Doughty’s look at the deathcare practices of other cultures is illuminating. She not only covers what these cultures do with human remains but how they feel about death and the people who have died. There is an overarching feeling for many of these cultures that literal care for a person does not end with that person’s death. I especially loved her chapter on the Bolivian ñatitas – skulls that spoke to their current caregivers from the grave to come get them and take care of them in exchange for favors. The ñatitas take on a second life in this new form that is unconnected to the life they lived when they had meat attached. Their caregivers worship and pamper them, lavishing them with clothing (beanies, sunglasses), cigarettes, and even money. That doesn’t seem like a bad post-death gig.
Three Words That Describe This Book: Enlightening, Comforting, Taboo-breaking
Give This a Try if You Like… Stiff (or anything) by Mary Roach, Beetlejuice, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
About FDL Reads
Welcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library. Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available. If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently. We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!