Monday, July 29th 2019

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Published by W. W. Norton Company on September 28th 2015
Pages: 272

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.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

I wish I could remember exactly where I heard Caitlin Doughty’s name first. I feel like she was referenced in a podcast that I listen to. It might have been Last Podcast on the Left. Either way, when I heard that she was a mortician with a YouTube series called “ask a mortician,” I knew I had to look her up immediately. And I am so glad I did.

This book reminded me of my favorite Mary Roach book, Stiff. She is just so candid and no-nonsense about the whole process. From cremation to embalming, to putting make-up on the dead, it is a fascinating read and I love her humor sprinkled throughout. If you have any interest whatsoever in what happens to our bodies after we die, I highly recommend this book and her YouTube channel.


Sunday, July 28th 2019

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful BoyBeautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff
Published by Mariner Books on January 6th 2009
Pages: 340

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets.

David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? The police? The hospital?), the rehabs. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll, but as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on him. Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional roller coaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.

This book was INTENSE. It is not only a memoir of a father with an addicted son, but it was also very informative as he discovered more and more about addiction. I really felt for him and I could not imagine the amount of stress and anxiety his son’s addiction caused not only himself but the entire family. They never knew where he was or if he was even alive.

This book was a difficult read but I am glad I picked it up. The son also wrote a memoir but I have not yet had the chance to check it out. There was also a movie recently made based on their story and I cannot wait to see that as well.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. I feel it should be a required read as addiction becomes more and more prevalent.


Thursday, July 25th 2019

Midnight in Chernobyl

Midnight in ChernobylMidnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
Published by Simon & Schuster on February 12th 2019
Pages: 538

The definitive, dramatic untold story of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, based on original reporting and new archival research.

April 25, 1986, in Chernobyl, was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland. Midnight in Chernobyl, award-worthy nonfiction that reads like sci-fi, shows not only the final epic struggle of a dying empire but also the story of individual heroism and desperate, ingenious technical improvisation joining forces against a new kind of enemy.

It feels weird to rate/review a book based on this event. I listened to the audiobook during the same weeks the HBO miniseries was on. The miniseries stayed pretty true to the real events that took place. But this is not my thoughts on the miniseries (but it was great. Go watch it.)

This book is an amazing account of the events that lead up to the Chernobyl disaster and the aftermath. It is a very comprehensive look at what caused the disaster, the people involved, and the coverup. If you have ever wanted to know more about Chernobyl I highly recommend this book (and the HBO miniseries).


Saturday, November 17th 2018

Batch Reviews

I am behind in my book reviews and now it’s been a while since I have read some of them. Here are my quick thoughts and ratings. 

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: 3/5 stars. Meh, this is more like 2.5 rating for me. I read all eight comics. They were okay. Honestly, I like the show better. 

History is All You Left Me: 5/5 stars. Adam Silvera breaks my damn heart again. Jerk.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You: 4/5 stars. Just want I wanted. Enemies to lovers. A favorite trope. 

The Nowhere Girls: 4/5 stars. This was heartbreaking and intense. And all too familiar. 

The Wicked Deep: 4/5 stars. Beautifully atmospheric. 

The Perfect Mother: 4/5 stars. Creepy and a pretty good “who done it.” 

Meaty: 4/5 stars. I will read/listen to anything Samantha Irby puts out into the universe. 

Anger is a Gift: 5/5 stars. Very timely. A must-read for everyone. 

My Plain Jane: 4/5 stars. Not quite as good as My Lady Jane, but pretty close. Can’t wait for the third book. 

Saturday, December 30th 2017

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life

We Are Never Meeting In Real LifeWe Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
Published by Vintage on May 30th 2017
Pages: 288


Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., "bitches gotta eat" blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making "adult" budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette--she's "35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something"--detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms--hang in there for the Costco loot--she's as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.

I listened to this as an audiobook and I highly recommend that version to everyone as it is narrated by the author herself. I loved these essays. They were real, they were raw and they were hilarious. I can’t even remember how I came across this book. It may have been recommended to me as a fan of Jenny Lawson, and the recommendation was very much appreciated.