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3 Books about Death to Read While Waiting for Caitlin Doughty’s Latest

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Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.

Ask a Mortician host Caitlin Doughty has a new book coming in October and I. Am. STOKED. From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death is a look at death and burial rituals across the world. I never thought I would be excited for books about death, but here we are.

Her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, got me hooked on books about life after death. But not in a spooky way. It’s a straight-up collection of stories from working in a crematory, and some are harder to read than others, so be warned. But she is gracious and honest in her book, sharing knowledge few get to have.

To tide you over, here are other cool death-related books to read over the next three months. A book a month. You’re welcome.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

When you die and donate your body to science, you don’t get to choose where you go. Crash test dummies. Target practice. Forensics research. Medicine. Mary Roach gets down and dirty in the world of dead bodies, but in a respectful way, of course. She interviews medical students who have a ceremony for their cadavers at the end of the semester. She lies in a field with decomposing bodies for forensic research. She visits a museum exhibit showcasing the sleek muscles of former athletes. Her curiosity and humor are excellent for a book about something you probably have never thought about.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande 

Atul Gawande looks at the medical world and how it handles death. Mostly, the bad parts: Watching people you love suffer operation after operation, treatment after treatment, hoping for a cure, but just extending their painful life longer than necessary. Himself a surgeon, he brings up important points, like how we should switch our mindset from quantity of life to quality of life. We must discuss death before it comes knocking at our door. We must make decisions for ourselves before it’s too late. And we must do better for the people we look after, to give them a good ending.

Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer, Caitlin Moscatello

Publishers Weekly said this is like if Carrie Bradshaw worked at a funeral home, and, well, it really is. Rich young woman living on the Upper East side works at rich people funeral home. She sees it as event-planning, but for an event where the guest of honor won’t be a pain in the ass. Later, she hangs out in the basement with the embalmer, admiring his knack for beautification that rivals Cosmopolitan. Meyer is constantly name-dropping the designers of her shoes and handbags and dresses, which makes this book really accessible. It’s about death, but not in a scary or morbid way.