Here I am talking about death again. Part of me worries that 'harping' on about this subject and these books will turn away the average reader to my blog but the larger part of me (and the one who runs things) believes that if I am going to be authentic with my reviews then I have to follow my mood with what books I voluntarily choose to read. That being said, I'm here to talk about Caitlin Doughty's second book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. As the title suggests, this is a bit more of a travelogue piece about the death industry. This book explores in depth the way that death is viewed, celebrated, and treated in different countries and cultures. [A/N: I don't know that it needs to be necessarily spelled out but just in case: This book is not for those who shy away from talk of decomposition and graphic depictions of death in general.] Caitlin visits places both far-flung and just around the riverbend all in search of what she terms the Good Death. (For more info visit her website to see if you'd like to join her group.) She attended an open air cremation where the body is laid atop a pyre and the ceremony is experienced by all members of the community (Colorado). In Japan the families are brought in after the body has been cremated so that they can extricate the bones by chopstick to place them in an urn for safekeeping. She experienced Fiesta de las Ñatitas in La Paz and spoke to those who celebrate these saints by collecting and displaying shrunken skulls (and in some cases mummified heads). One of my favorite places that she described was the Corpse Hotel in Japan where you can visit your deceased family member in the comfort and splendor of an upscale hotel. Overall, From Here to Eternity is a fascinating look at the way that death is addressed by various cultures around the world. It serves as a sobering reminder that death is not accepted but rather feared here in America. If you are interested in the ways that others approach death and how they treat their dead (some cultures revisit the dead to clean and redress them as a sign of honor and remembrance) then I urge you to read this book. 9/10
P.S. I'm not done with books on this subject. Keep an eye out for at least 1 possibly 2 more in the not too distant future.
What's Up Next: How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
What I'm Currently Reading: The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford
I don't know where the person who offered me this book found me, nor why they thought I'd like the book. Nor do I even remember what it was about this book that I thought sounded like it could be my cup of tea -- but man, were we both wrong.
Which is not to say that this is a bad book, or an uninteresting book. But this is not the kind of thing I usually read or blog about -- the typical secular Jewish writing around here is Jennifer Weiner or Hagit R. Oron. And the academically-oriented reading I usually do is definitely not the secular variety.
This is essentially a manifesto and apologetic for the study of Secular Jewish Culture as an academic discipline. The various authors definitively state what it is that Secular Jews believe, think, and cherish -- which is far less diverse than say, CNN on-air talent, or members of my household. White largely set positively, on the whole much of this book defines Secular Jewish Culture by what it isn't, and given that most people have a hard time separating the ethnicity from some form of the religion, that makes sense. But it doesn't make for good reading.
Granted, it's obvious from the outset that I'm not going to approach the Hebrew Scriptures from the same perspective as these authors, so it's not surprising that I'd characterize almost all of their reactions to those scriptures as misreading the text -- I can handle that, really. But some of the misreadings are so bad, and seemingly deliberately so, that I was frequently angered as I read them.
I had a long list of things I wanted to talk about, but I really can't muster the interest -- and I can't imagine anyone reading this post will be able to, either -- so I'll just wrap things up.. It was generally a slog to read -- but I can't fault it for that, it's not supposed to be a page-turner. It definitely set out to accomplish a few tasks, and on the whole, it succeeded. Except for making me want to read anything else from any of these authors. Did I like it? No. Is it a good book? Maybe? Probably? Are there many people that will think this book is a treasure? Yup, but I'm not one of them.
I honestly think this book deserves more stars than this, it's a good book. But, I didn't like it and this is my blog, so . . .
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, I appreciate the opportunity.
Yes, I'm somewhat fascinated by death culture. No, I don't think it's unhealthy. Yes, I do recognize it makes many people uncomfortable especially when walking around with a book somewhat shaped like a coffin with the title Rest in Pieces emblazoned across the front. (It might have been unwise to read this on an airplane but I'm a risk taker.) The subtitle of Bess Lovejoy's book is a dead (ha!) giveaway as to the substance of what lies within (on a roll here!). This book is full of fascinating histories of what became of famous people's corpses. She covers everyone from Presidents and political leaders to outlaws, radicals, and artists. No matter their designation, the dead were rarely left to rest peacefully and with all of their pieces together. There was a lot of ground to cover and I honestly felt like I learned quite a bit (I'm going to be a hit at my next dinner party if I ever get invited to another one). If you have a strong stomach, an interest in the unconventional, and some time on your hands then this is one you definitely shouldn't pass up. 10/10
Inside art from the illustrator Mark Stutzman
What's Up Next: I've Got This Round: More Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart
What I'm Currently Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman