Last year, I fell off the CBR wagon when COVID shut down all of our libraries and I was unaccustomed to actually buying books. Then I may have forgotten to return the books I already had out and accrued a fine. So I started 2021 determined to complete a 52 book Cannonball but obliged to pay for books until I settled my library account. Without the luxury of picking ten books and being free to abandon anything that didn’t work out in the first chapter, I needed something foolproof that I was practically guaranteed to enjoy. So I turned to the Pajiba! group on Facebook, laid out some book preferences and left myself at the mercy of my fellow Pajibans. My go-tos for books for guaranteed enjoyment would be Mary Roach or Liane Moriarty but I’m all caught up on their stuff. I had also barely read for the past eight months so my timing/discipline habits were shit and I needed a page turner.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes came up repeatedly, so it seemed like a sure bet. I’m a sucker for a juicy insider job perspective memoir and this was a pretty solid one about the death/cremation industry. I’ve read a million books from various sides of a corpse (Stiff, The American Way of Death, Confessions of a Funeral Director, Death’s Acre, Working Stiff, etc.) but I think this is the only one I’ve read that was centered around cremation. The logistics of cremation are a little more boring than the rest, for the most part no matter how a body winds up there, the second half is the same, so it limits the storytelling potential a bit. It’s still a very interesting book in spite of that, there are plenty of interesting anecdotes to be shared and the author does a great job balancing gravity and respect with humor and answering the things we’re all wondering about when we pick up the book.
The last 1/5-1/4 gets into Caitlin Doughty’s work as an advocate for a different perspective on death, and a different way of handling things. She has a Youtube channel and has done a lot of work on this. The last part that covers this felt very rushed to me and I would’ve loved to hear more about that, I felt like I almost missed how she even got involved in having a popular channel on this and that kind of thing. I know she has other books and lots of other content out in the world, so it may have been intentional and designed to get people to look into that further, but it felt like that part was a little underdeveloped. Overall, “so interesting I wanted even more of it” is not a bad endorsement, and it was the perfect start to my 2021 Cannonball.