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Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

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At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year o At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year of adventures both hair-raising and hilarious, Jokinen finds a world that is radically changed since Jessica Mitford revised The American Way of Death, more surprising than Six Feet Under, and even funnier and more illuminating than Stiff.If Bill Bryson were to apprentice at a funeral home, searching for the meaning of life and death, you'd have Curtains.


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At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year o At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year of adventures both hair-raising and hilarious, Jokinen finds a world that is radically changed since Jessica Mitford revised The American Way of Death, more surprising than Six Feet Under, and even funnier and more illuminating than Stiff.If Bill Bryson were to apprentice at a funeral home, searching for the meaning of life and death, you'd have Curtains.

30 review for Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X has been locked down for one full year

    I finished the book, and I've changed my mind completely about it. The book delved a great deal deeper into the funeral business than I had initially thought it would, taking as a starting point, Jessica Mitford's seminal, The American Way of Death. The extremely distasteful aspect of gouging money out of people's desire to their best for their late loved one and to assuage their grief by shopping that so disgusted Mitford, hasn't changed. People who buy a 'pre-need' policy to cover their funera I finished the book, and I've changed my mind completely about it. The book delved a great deal deeper into the funeral business than I had initially thought it would, taking as a starting point, Jessica Mitford's seminal, The American Way of Death. The extremely distasteful aspect of gouging money out of people's desire to their best for their late loved one and to assuage their grief by shopping that so disgusted Mitford, hasn't changed. People who buy a 'pre-need' policy to cover their funeral costs rather than leaving it to their family find it is considered by undertakers in the same way as an advertised bargain funeral price, it is the "sit down price". Since the family will now be at the undertakers, extras of all kinds can be presented and sold, doubling or more the cost and making a mockery of the deceased's desire to not burden their family. What worries the funeral trade in the US is the much lower death rate due to the extended life expectancy of the baby boomer generation combined with the increasing popularity of cremation. Urns priced high as works of art, green funerals and upping the cost of embalming and beautification of the corpse are all seen as revenue streams. As long as Americans want open coffins, they will pay for embalming. (This isdescribed in a truly brutal way - sticking a thick hollow needle attached to a 'vacuum cleaner' into the belly a few hours after death to suck out the fluids. Kind of like liposuction for the dead), They will pay for cheeks plumped up with cottonwool, with stitches here and there, coloured fluids pumped under the heavily-made up skin. They will pay for fancy coffins with vaults and liners and pillows with telephone books stuffed under them to raise the dead face to a 'natural angle' all just to enhance the illusion that the corpse is merely asleep in a satin cocoon. The author who is very good at relating his own feelings and experiences in a very straightforward manner is as concerned with the undertakers role in enabling grieving as he is their (nefarious) ways of trying to increase the profit per death since the number of deaths is falling. He feels that the funeral chapel offers comfort and that it isn't all about profit (I was unconvinced). In this vein of leaving the shopping alone, getting-back-to=basics and going straight to the heart of dealing with grief, he declares, "I have seen the future and it's Jewish!" What he meant was the simplicity of the funeral and the concentration on the family and grief. His idea is to call it brand it Tahara (which is the name of the ritual of washing the body) and sort of combine it with Buddhism and have calm, sparsel-furnished room with incense and a flower and an orange robed 'monk' instead of the rather kitsch funeral chapels with their 'tasteful' paintings and inoffensive ornaments. A Jewish funeral is very simple. The coffin, which is a plain wooden box with holes drilled underneath so that the body may return to the earth, ashes to ashes, is always close. The deceased wears a simple shroud of white linen and nothing they didn't come into the world with do they leave with, no nail polish, no rings, no watches, no photographs. The ceremony is simple, the coffin is filled by all taking turns with the spade. There are no flowers, . Afterwards there is a reception at home that family and friends will have prepared. Just as they will bring food for the entire mourning period of 7 days (the freezer is full for months, but the dishes must be returned at some point!) The door is left unlocked so that people may come and visit and sit and talk to the family. Prayers are held at the house rather than the synagogue for the week. Like weddings, it's a time when distant family come together. It's a good book, both from the perspective of the author trying to learn about the business to write about it and also to work in it to not just experience it, but to earn a living. The early humorous tone which is entertaining doesn't last, but the author's dedication to telling the story of the business and how it is practiced does. The book's title is bait and switch, it's not frippery but a deeply-considered examination of how people bury their dead, why it is so expensive and how they and the undertakers might be in the future. ________ Notes on reading (view spoiler)[What makes the book special, is a really good read. Long time since I've read a book with a smile of real enjoyment, not humour. The author can seriously writlee in a really original way and if you like writing for writings' sake, as I do, this one is unclassifiable, unique. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    There are only two certain things in this world, so the saying goes, death and taxes. But what happens to us after we die but before we reach our final resting place, wherever that may be? What happens to our bodies in the hands of undertakers and funeral directors? That's what Tom Jokinen, a CBC radio producer from Winnipeg, set out to discover when he took a leave of absence to apprentice in a local funeral home/crematorium. The opening chapters of the book discuss, as you might expect, Jokinen There are only two certain things in this world, so the saying goes, death and taxes. But what happens to us after we die but before we reach our final resting place, wherever that may be? What happens to our bodies in the hands of undertakers and funeral directors? That's what Tom Jokinen, a CBC radio producer from Winnipeg, set out to discover when he took a leave of absence to apprentice in a local funeral home/crematorium. The opening chapters of the book discuss, as you might expect, Jokinen's initial reactions towards being around corpses, from transporting them from the hospital back to the funeral home, to dressing them, embalming them, and sorting the remains from the "retorts" (where the bodies are cremated). He's just like you or I, really. If I had to carry a dead body, I'd probably be pretty uncomfortable. And even more so if you asked me to search around with my hands for the femoral artery and rip it out (to introduce the embalming fluid). And so's Jokinen, at least initially. But as the book wears on and Jokinen becomes less uncomfortable around the dead, the narrative turns towards the innovations within the funeral industry. If you think that "innovative undertakers" are as oxymoronic as "honest politicians," think again. The challenge to the funeral industry is twofold: first, people are living longer, and the first wave of deaths expected from the baby boomer generation probably won't hit for another fifteen years at least, so there is less need for their services. Second, people are increasingly opting for cremation instead of burial. Which means reduced fees (no casket, no elaborate service, no embalming, etc.) and reduced profits. Funeral directors are innovating in many ways, trying to regain their livelihood and their lost income. As I Jew, I found a lot of Jokinen's anecdotes about funerals and services strange. A sparsely-attended service, personalized however you want, with a cremation at the end or a burial in an elaborate coffin, and then everyone flies back home? A completely foreign concept to me. I've never been to a small Jewish funeral (the ones I've been to have had at least 50-100 attendees), and it is forbidden according to Jewish law to be cremated. Caskets with ceramic liners or rubber gaskets (to keep out the elements for as long as they can) are likewise forbidden: Jews are buried in plain wooden boxes; in Israel they're buried only in shrouds. And Jews have a ritually-mandated mourning period called Shiva, the week after the funeral in which the mourners are visited by friends and family to help them grieve. I'm glad that Jokinen touched on some of these in Curtains. He even feels that the Jewish way may be the way to go. "I've seen the future and it's Jewish," he says. In the end, Curtains was an interesting read that opened the door to a world I would otherwise know nothing about. It's written in a comfortable, conversational style that makes it quick to get through. While it might not be the most stand-out book I read this year, I think it was certainly worth my time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    What an interesting book! Starts out laugh-out-loud funny in the vein of offbeat novelists like Bill Bryson or Carl Hiassen, then transforms into an in-depth look at the funeral industry and the salesmen who work in it and how they ply their trade, then finishes with metaphysical musings on alternative ways to look at death. I think the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book should be required reading for everyone (everyone who plans on dying someday), and the last part of the book is well worth the effor What an interesting book! Starts out laugh-out-loud funny in the vein of offbeat novelists like Bill Bryson or Carl Hiassen, then transforms into an in-depth look at the funeral industry and the salesmen who work in it and how they ply their trade, then finishes with metaphysical musings on alternative ways to look at death. I think the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book should be required reading for everyone (everyone who plans on dying someday), and the last part of the book is well worth the effort also. This is not something most people will be able to read while snacking though. While I didn't feel there were gruesome scenes, there are some matter-of-fact descriptions of the embalming and cremation processes. Since Jokinen says from the outset that he's doing a sort of internship in the funeral industry, the storyline is the various situations he finds himself in. As a result of this overall theme, the writing can seem disjointed at times. I don't have a burning desire to go out and read the similar books Goodreads recommends based on this book, but perhaps a single book on this topic is enough.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Tom Jokinen took a job as a paid intern for an undertaker in Winnipeg, Canada. In this book, Jokinen details the process that takes place between death and the final disposition of human remains. The result is a sometimes humorous, yet fascinating glimpse into the profession of undertakers as they strive to give meaning to life and death in our society with its diverse and continually changing attitudes. A very worthwhile read!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erin Lee

    Informative but slow. I wanted more of a story line with this book. I did love the authors humor.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sue Smith

    You know, death isn't funny. It isn't supposed to be funny. And it is something we all have to address at some time in our life, whether through the deaths of family or friends or one's own pending doom. But this book was - well - funny! Trully looking at the whole scheme of things at the end of ones's life before you're trying to deal with it all and your emotions, is not a bad thing to do. Especially with a dose of funny. (And isn't that what Mary Poppins says to do - a spoonful of sugar helps You know, death isn't funny. It isn't supposed to be funny. And it is something we all have to address at some time in our life, whether through the deaths of family or friends or one's own pending doom. But this book was - well - funny! Trully looking at the whole scheme of things at the end of ones's life before you're trying to deal with it all and your emotions, is not a bad thing to do. Especially with a dose of funny. (And isn't that what Mary Poppins says to do - a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?) Now the book isn't poking fun or being demeaning to death in any way, shape or form. But it does look at the reality of it with a wee bit of tongue in cheek, as the author is trying to search out his own particular feelings on the whole dog and pony show. And for the most part, the funeral rituals are a real dog and pony show. Too much dependancy on people's emotions to play the event and the guilting into a show of value and respect without the time to decide on the matter first hand as to what you really want for your loved ones. (Like prepping a full blown wedding in a week with all the trimmings - it'll cost you big time!) Only at the time, you're too distraught to care. The trouble with the modern society we live in is, as Tom Jokinen states-"the Victorian fussiness over sex and its fascination with death switched places. Sex came panting out of the closet, and death, and all its trappings, went in: it was best managed in the dark, preferably after a few stiff drinks." Couldn't have put it better myself!! The business is changing somewhat. People are opting for cremation more and more. Plus people will eventually start to realize, like sex, it's better it have it all out in the open, in the daylight, so you can best handle what the ritual means to you and your loved ones. Grieving shouldn't just be something you do in private, that it's part of the whole and is part of the healing process. So Tom Jokinen's answer to his quest for the death ritual? Finding a funeral director who will deliver a ritual with meaning. Shop around and ask questions - that will probably tell you how much they're into the dog and pony show and how they handle the meaning of it all for you. The best mantra he wrote of was -'the simpler the act, the better'. It will hold the most meaning for you. Unless,of course, pomp and circumstance dictate otherwise!!!!! For me, personally, I'll stick to the KISS method. Works for me!!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katie Wojtowicz

    This book was interesting. It definitely gave me a different outlook on death and the funeral industry. I was disappointed however that the author focused the majority of the book on the struggles of the funeral business. I was expecting more "adventures" so to speak. This book was interesting. It definitely gave me a different outlook on death and the funeral industry. I was disappointed however that the author focused the majority of the book on the struggles of the funeral business. I was expecting more "adventures" so to speak.

  8. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    What happens behind the scenes when someone dies until they “appear” at the funeral? The author looks at this, in addition to the business of being an undertaker, in all the historical changes – from burial to cremation… and still to come, green burials. He works with a family funeral home in Winnipeg where he learns all the different aspects of the business. He also heads to California, where he learns more about green burials (at the time of writing – this was published in 2010 – in Canada, th What happens behind the scenes when someone dies until they “appear” at the funeral? The author looks at this, in addition to the business of being an undertaker, in all the historical changes – from burial to cremation… and still to come, green burials. He works with a family funeral home in Winnipeg where he learns all the different aspects of the business. He also heads to California, where he learns more about green burials (at the time of writing – this was published in 2010 – in Canada, the only place you could have a green burial was in Guelph, Ontario, and somewhere in BC was building someplace for it), then to Las Vegas for an undertaker trade show – see all the new and best in funerial apparel!! I found this really interesting. Of course, there was a bit of humour thrown in here and there. In such a business, I think there needs to be!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sharanya Subramaniam

    DNF at about the last third of the book. Will probably finish if I get back to it soon.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    'Curtains' by Tom Jokinen is a very engrossing book. I had read Jessica Mitford's 'American Way of Death' in 1987 and wondered what more could he say. He covered some subjects that were not in Jessica Mitford's book and I felt that learned a lot. Tom Jokinen quit his job as a radio producer to find out what it is like to be an undertaker in training. The two first things that he learned were: 1. Make sure that you are picking up the right body at the "silver doors". They were silver; the doors to 'Curtains' by Tom Jokinen is a very engrossing book. I had read Jessica Mitford's 'American Way of Death' in 1987 and wondered what more could he say. He covered some subjects that were not in Jessica Mitford's book and I felt that learned a lot. Tom Jokinen quit his job as a radio producer to find out what it is like to be an undertaker in training. The two first things that he learned were: 1. Make sure that you are picking up the right body at the "silver doors". They were silver; the doors to the morgue were just called that. 2. Don't stop for food on the way back. This book is filled with humor, some of it was gallows humor, but at the same time recognizing that it may be too much for the reader. He was very courteous to the reader. I enjoyed his conversational tone and the telling of the trepidations that the author faced some of the situation, like embalming. Now I know why some people look better embalmed than when they were alive. The embalming process did give me chills and I know that I do not want that for myself when I die. He dug in deep in the culture of the funeral home, the traditional and the quick cremations centers and some very nontraditional ceremonies. With the revealing information in the American Way of Death, there have been fewer traditional funerals, resulting in less need for undertakers, embalmers, florists and casket makers. The jargon of undertaking is a lesson in itself and it is deeply influenced by the type of funeral. He explored the different kinds of funerals from those done in Las Vegas, Mennonite and Jewish. I was very interested in the Mennonite funeral since my mother's father's family was largely Mennonites. Funerals are not alike; there is an enormous amount of differences in body preparation, ceremony, remembrances and the way that death is perceived. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about what kind of funeral they want and the culture of burial.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter Roach

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Interesting book, should be read by those that could in the future be spending money in this area. May be upsetting to some. Of double interest to me since I live in Winnipeg, from which the book is based. I really did find this a fascinating read. The ugly stuff is easily skipped (about 10% of the book, in the first third). The author describes the local scene here in Winnipeg as an example of the industry or market that could be found most anywhere else. He does go into detail with what goes o Interesting book, should be read by those that could in the future be spending money in this area. May be upsetting to some. Of double interest to me since I live in Winnipeg, from which the book is based. I really did find this a fascinating read. The ugly stuff is easily skipped (about 10% of the book, in the first third). The author describes the local scene here in Winnipeg as an example of the industry or market that could be found most anywhere else. He does go into detail with what goes on behind the closed doors, but not in an scandalous way. I do wonder that funeral home that he worked for must at times questioned the intelligence of hiring him, while knowing he was writing about them. But I suspect that they got more business from this book, than not. At least the clients knew exactly what they were purchasing. The funeral business, is a business where profit is the purpose. The book describes this, and the different flavours of it. Chain Funeral Homes, Small Town Homes, Religous Based Homes, and lastly the Family Run Homes. By reading this book you will be enlightened on this and other things, and it all comes down to in the end, how do you chose the package for whoever, when you only have a day to chose. In the book Jokinen said, you need ask possibly two questions, "Can I visit the body without having it embalmed?" and "Can I sit with it at the crematorium while it's in the retort?" Even though you don't intend either. The answers will tell you what kind of funeral business you are dealing with.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sally Kilpatrick

    Spoiler alert: this isn't exactly the feel good book of the year. (Please don't flag me, Goodreads, I'm not really spoiling anything. It's nonfiction.) I can't seem to like this book as much as I want to, but I think that's okay. I have two main bones of contention. First, the book feels disjointed at times. Even the ending where I think Jokinen makes some very nice points, doesn't quite give the resolution I was hoping for. That said, the undertaker he's shadowing makes the excellent point that Spoiler alert: this isn't exactly the feel good book of the year. (Please don't flag me, Goodreads, I'm not really spoiling anything. It's nonfiction.) I can't seem to like this book as much as I want to, but I think that's okay. I have two main bones of contention. First, the book feels disjointed at times. Even the ending where I think Jokinen makes some very nice points, doesn't quite give the resolution I was hoping for. That said, the undertaker he's shadowing makes the excellent point that there really isn't a resolution for how to handle death. Jokinen struggles with this book, and I think that's perfectly okay. One of his struggles is with organized religion, and that brings me to bone of contention, too. His cynicism about religion and how it's a made up ending really grated on my nerves. That said, if you're agnostic, atheist, or of another religion, I don't think his attitude will bother you at all. Even disagreeing with him as I do, I can't contradict a lot of what he says about empty ritualism--that doesn't happen. It annoys the snot out of me, too. Now, if you're looking for a peep into the life of the undertaker in all of it's glorious detail, then this book is for you. Jokinen lived it, and he gives more detail than Jessica Mitford or Mary Roach. I have a feeling this one's going to be hanging around for reference as I write the mortician's story. P.S. It's Grauman's CHINESE Theater, not Egyptian. (But the heck if I'm going to penalize anyone on a review for a typo or little thing like that!)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tina Hamilton

    My review: A sometimes graphic, but always humane (and sometimes witty) study of the death industry and how it is changing as baby boomers turn more and more to cremation. Interesting note: some funeral directors have changed careers to providing services for pet deaths. As one man put it, "Some people spend more on their pets than their family members." Hmm. . . Give one pause. WARNING: The book is not for the squeamish. What follows is a fair review from Booklist: (NOTE: ellipsis and brackets m My review: A sometimes graphic, but always humane (and sometimes witty) study of the death industry and how it is changing as baby boomers turn more and more to cremation. Interesting note: some funeral directors have changed careers to providing services for pet deaths. As one man put it, "Some people spend more on their pets than their family members." Hmm. . . Give one pause. WARNING: The book is not for the squeamish. What follows is a fair review from Booklist: (NOTE: ellipsis and brackets mine.) Jokinen’s wry observations on and revelations about mortality and the industry it has engendered evoke a youthful adventure into the unknown—not only the philosophical mystery of death but also the “black hole” between the last breath and the reappearance at funeral or cemetery, in casket or urn, the period that, Jokinen says, “people pay us to keep to ourselves.” Quitting his job at 44, Jokinen. . . {apprecenticed} for a year with a third-generation undertaker. Fear became respect and awe for the body as he performed grunt work, took notes, and explored rituals and traditions. . . . Recounting his experiences, he delivers ironic dialogue with stand-up skill and smoothly integrates technical information. . .and market data. . . without hindering the flow of readable insights. --Whitney Scott

  14. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I was disappointed. I am fascinated by death and everything that goes with it. Jokinen takes time off of his radio job to join the world of undertakers. Admittedly, I wanted the down and dirty. What happens to my body after I die? Most of my questions are highly philosophical and theological and I didn't expect to get them answered in at book like this (if ever, at all!), but this book, while informative in some regards, largely focused on the history of the funeral industry and the problems the I was disappointed. I am fascinated by death and everything that goes with it. Jokinen takes time off of his radio job to join the world of undertakers. Admittedly, I wanted the down and dirty. What happens to my body after I die? Most of my questions are highly philosophical and theological and I didn't expect to get them answered in at book like this (if ever, at all!), but this book, while informative in some regards, largely focused on the history of the funeral industry and the problems the funeral industry has with Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death and how and why they felt attacked by her treatise on the way the funeral industry is economically and environmentally wasteful and exist to continue to bilk millions of grieving families out of their money. To me, the book came across as whiney, with an attack attitude when it came to that particular subject. It had it's moments. Some of the anecdotes were amusing, some were disgusting, some were just downright undignified--dignity: the mantra of the funeral industry. In the end though, it was just plain boring. Such a shame, too, because I so rarely buy books at full price anymore and in this one, I apparently managed to flip to the interesting part while trying to decide to buy it in the store. Oh well. Lesson learned!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andres

    No pun intended but this book is surprisingly full of deadpan humor about what you would consider a very humorless subject: the funeral industry. And make no mistake, burying the dead is no different than any other business where everything is geared to making a tidy profit. The author chronicles his adventures working for a small, independently run funeral home and uses the experience to observe, comment, and reflect on the industry as a whole. It has a Canadian locale but pretty much stand for No pun intended but this book is surprisingly full of deadpan humor about what you would consider a very humorless subject: the funeral industry. And make no mistake, burying the dead is no different than any other business where everything is geared to making a tidy profit. The author chronicles his adventures working for a small, independently run funeral home and uses the experience to observe, comment, and reflect on the industry as a whole. It has a Canadian locale but pretty much stand for anywhere in North America as far as I could tell (the text doesn't go in depth with the funeral business in other countries). It's definitely an interesting look at this not often talked about service industry, and having been a fan of HBO'sSix Feet Under and this book, I knew what I was getting into, and I would recommend this book not only to people who can stomach some gallows humor but also those who really do want to know about the business side of funerals. I wouldn't call this a consumer's guide to the inevitable but it certainly will make you a more informed consumer when the time comes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Aishe

    I am generally not a fan of non-fiction, except when it comes to anything dealing with human bodies. It's the public health advocate in me, I suppose. This book sucked me in. I couldn't put it down. Tom Jokinen is an excellent writer and explores his own relationship with impending mortality as he explains the burgeoning options now on offer for the death care industry. He keeps away from the cryogenic and neo-pyramid cults and sticks to the real issues, embalm, casket, cremate, inter, grave mar I am generally not a fan of non-fiction, except when it comes to anything dealing with human bodies. It's the public health advocate in me, I suppose. This book sucked me in. I couldn't put it down. Tom Jokinen is an excellent writer and explores his own relationship with impending mortality as he explains the burgeoning options now on offer for the death care industry. He keeps away from the cryogenic and neo-pyramid cults and sticks to the real issues, embalm, casket, cremate, inter, grave markers, perpetual care, pre-need services, and the gimmicks and old and new rituals around death. I think it was fantastic. If you are easily creeped out, this is not the book for you. But if you have a genuine interest in how we as a society deal with death, I encourage you take the hearse for a spin. If you are fascinated with economies of death, also a good go-to place. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brittanie

    This was a really interesting, often funny look at the modern North American funeral industry from someone who didn't grow up around the business. Jokinen has a raw, dry humour that works well with the subject and I found myself laughing more than once, which really made this book all the more enjoyable. I also learned a lot about the ins and outs of the business side of death and it made me think about what I would want for my own (hopefully not in the near future) funeral and burial. While the This was a really interesting, often funny look at the modern North American funeral industry from someone who didn't grow up around the business. Jokinen has a raw, dry humour that works well with the subject and I found myself laughing more than once, which really made this book all the more enjoyable. I also learned a lot about the ins and outs of the business side of death and it made me think about what I would want for my own (hopefully not in the near future) funeral and burial. While the writer does visit the west coast of the US and looks at some of the cemeteries there, the majority of the book takes place in Canada so some of the terms and the culture varies from what I'm familiar with. If you're looking for an in-detail look at the American funeral industry, this isn't for you, though I'd recommend you read it anyway. This book is definitely for anyone even remotely interested in the trade of death and the dying.

  18. 5 out of 5

    D.m. Grace

    A sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing look at the funeral industry from a man that left a career in radio to study the art of being an undertaker. Throughout the book, you learn along with Tom Jokinen, about the customs and rituals, how sometimes in the office, the funeral home workers are dancing (respectfully) and that inside those sombre walls there are conflicts and posturing for position, just like every other workplace. Mr. Jokinen also delves into the business side of the funeral ind A sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing look at the funeral industry from a man that left a career in radio to study the art of being an undertaker. Throughout the book, you learn along with Tom Jokinen, about the customs and rituals, how sometimes in the office, the funeral home workers are dancing (respectfully) and that inside those sombre walls there are conflicts and posturing for position, just like every other workplace. Mr. Jokinen also delves into the business side of the funeral industry, the worries that funeral homes have as more an more people are opting for a basic funeral or not having one at all, instead choosing memorial services as the burial happens for family only, or doesn't happen at all with cremations. if you've ever been curious of what happens behind the scenes in the funeral business, this is an informative read that doesn't try to titillate or go into gross and inappropriate detail.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This was not a book I expected to enjoy. But I found myself deeply interested in everything Jokinen wrote about, morbidly interested in fact. Although, I have come to learn, purely through reading this book that there is NOTHING morbid about death. Not in Winnipeg anyway. Being an undertaker is a vital role in society and one that is greatly overlooked. Staff at a funeral home become family and their work is greatly undervalued. I think that when I die, I'd like my ever after to be handled by so This was not a book I expected to enjoy. But I found myself deeply interested in everything Jokinen wrote about, morbidly interested in fact. Although, I have come to learn, purely through reading this book that there is NOTHING morbid about death. Not in Winnipeg anyway. Being an undertaker is a vital role in society and one that is greatly overlooked. Staff at a funeral home become family and their work is greatly undervalued. I think that when I die, I'd like my ever after to be handled by someone like Bardal Inc. This is an insightful, interesting and morally questioning book. It makes you think about what you want for your own afterlife as well as remaining an informative guide to funeral preparations, giving the public a deep look into what a funeral could be, no matter what your background, faith, beliefs etc.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shonna Froebel

    Jokinen is a journalist who has worked on a number of CBC shows. When his family relocated to Winnipeg, he decided to do a project on the business of dying. He began working with a family-owned funeral home with its own crematorium. As he learned more about the business, he also delved into literature about it, and travelled to other locations to see what trends were developing in the industry. His account is personal yet informative, humorous yet respectful. This is an industry few of us know mu Jokinen is a journalist who has worked on a number of CBC shows. When his family relocated to Winnipeg, he decided to do a project on the business of dying. He began working with a family-owned funeral home with its own crematorium. As he learned more about the business, he also delved into literature about it, and travelled to other locations to see what trends were developing in the industry. His account is personal yet informative, humorous yet respectful. This is an industry few of us know much about, and most of us don't think of until we have to, yet there are so many interesting aspects of it. I was fascinated by the detail and the variety of choices. While Jokinen describes the processes involved, it never seems gory or offputting. I found that I learned a lot and will be better prepared when I do have to deal with death. I recommend this to anyone with a curious mind.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Misty

    This book was really quite good, it left me knowing that I need to pre-arrange my funeral so that my loved ones are not burdened and therefore convinced to pay for more than what is needed. The funeral industry has been in the business of making rich men richer and exploiting the grief of people for so long, and this book was fabulous at illustrating their current state of anxiety. Cremations are cheaper than burials and more and more people are choosing to be cremated. Funeral home owners are n This book was really quite good, it left me knowing that I need to pre-arrange my funeral so that my loved ones are not burdened and therefore convinced to pay for more than what is needed. The funeral industry has been in the business of making rich men richer and exploiting the grief of people for so long, and this book was fabulous at illustrating their current state of anxiety. Cremations are cheaper than burials and more and more people are choosing to be cremated. Funeral home owners are no longer buying yachts, wearing Rolex watches and driving Jaguars, they are being forced to live within the means of their customers, and it’s about time. This book was really easy and enjoyable to read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    I enjoyed this book. The tone was just right and it was informative as well as entertaining with some good doses of laughter. You really do need to inject some humour into this kind of subject and he does it well. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already read "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. That is an outstanding book. I loved it. Not for the squeamish. I suppose I shouldn't compare because one is more about the industry and the other is more an explo I enjoyed this book. The tone was just right and it was informative as well as entertaining with some good doses of laughter. You really do need to inject some humour into this kind of subject and he does it well. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already read "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. That is an outstanding book. I loved it. Not for the squeamish. I suppose I shouldn't compare because one is more about the industry and the other is more an exploration of different places a dead body can head off to (not just with respect to "disposal"), but there is overlap. Both writers have a good sense of humour - would likely make a good writing team.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gail Burns

    I've only just begun this book and already found myself chuckling at its pared back honesty. I'm glad I have a black sense of humour and can laugh a story which deals with a subject most people would rather not know much about. Tom's early ridiculous efforts to manage the tasks of an undertaker effectively are a scream. He manages to couch the horror most people feel at the details of this end of things into his amusing observations and experiences. I'm looking forward to absorbing every word. I've only just begun this book and already found myself chuckling at its pared back honesty. I'm glad I have a black sense of humour and can laugh a story which deals with a subject most people would rather not know much about. Tom's early ridiculous efforts to manage the tasks of an undertaker effectively are a scream. He manages to couch the horror most people feel at the details of this end of things into his amusing observations and experiences. I'm looking forward to absorbing every word.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This is a book that covers the period of time from death to eternity(almost). It describes, sometimes in vivid detail, what happens at the funeral home, both actual sales/embalming, and during cremation. It is written in a lighthearted way, sometimes, and in a serious way at other times. It describes the funeral business in great detail, leaving nothing out. It describes the past, present and also the future of the funeral business. I think a book like this should be required reading for anyone w This is a book that covers the period of time from death to eternity(almost). It describes, sometimes in vivid detail, what happens at the funeral home, both actual sales/embalming, and during cremation. It is written in a lighthearted way, sometimes, and in a serious way at other times. It describes the funeral business in great detail, leaving nothing out. It describes the past, present and also the future of the funeral business. I think a book like this should be required reading for anyone who is going to die, or will be looking after a funeral for someone else.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alissa Hodgson weichel

    An interesting look at "the gap" - the time between when we die and the next time our loved one see us; at our "funeral". I didn't expect that I would get as involved in this book as I did, but Tom asks questions of us that we would not otherwise ask ourselves...it does something not many books do; makes us think! Well done and worth the read! An interesting look at "the gap" - the time between when we die and the next time our loved one see us; at our "funeral". I didn't expect that I would get as involved in this book as I did, but Tom asks questions of us that we would not otherwise ask ourselves...it does something not many books do; makes us think! Well done and worth the read!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tia

    Well written and humorous look at the current state of affairs in the after-care business. Very Manitoba/Winnipeg centric. I felt like running over to some of the places he mentioned after reading, just to make the connection with the book that much more real.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I expected to like this book quite a bit, as I loved Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, both of Caitlin Doughty's books, and various other books in this, um, genre. But it never grabbed me and eventually became a chore to read. Yes, he updates Mitford's observations, and that's mildly interesting. And the earlier parts of the book have stories about the dead bodies and the families he encountered while apprenticing with an undertaker. But there's a lot of repetition, especially about t I expected to like this book quite a bit, as I loved Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, both of Caitlin Doughty's books, and various other books in this, um, genre. But it never grabbed me and eventually became a chore to read. Yes, he updates Mitford's observations, and that's mildly interesting. And the earlier parts of the book have stories about the dead bodies and the families he encountered while apprenticing with an undertaker. But there's a lot of repetition, especially about the various options available for disposal of bodies, the major shift to cremation, and how that affects the undertaking/funeral home industry. And how the industry tries to make up the resulting lost revenue. One thing I did find interesting was how the people he worked with were pretty respectful of the dead and the families. Though not so much of potential customers. I didn't like the author's liberties with California geography. He found it too tempting to resist naming a chapter "Death in Venice Beach," even though the closest he came to Venice Beach in that chapter was 500 miles. And implying that Willets and Jenner are part of the same community when they're a 2-hour drive apart. It makes me wonder what other liberties he took with facts. I was interested in the Funeria urn gallery (very artsy, and he does get the local vibe down) in Graton, local to me; its website is way outdated, but I want to try to drive by and see if it still exists. Apparently a lot of people liked the book. It wasn't poorly written, and I did learn a few things. But that's the best I can say about.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jean Walton

    Well, it's not a pleasant job but someone has to do it. The things some people requested for funerals, the costs incurred and the commercialism involved astounded me. Personally I would like a sky burial but unfortunately you can only have that in Tibet (assuming the Chinese who have control of the country now still allow them to do it) though I doubt my relatives would want to pay to fly me out there. Maybe its for locals only anyway. I can just see a carrion bird sitting there looking at my co Well, it's not a pleasant job but someone has to do it. The things some people requested for funerals, the costs incurred and the commercialism involved astounded me. Personally I would like a sky burial but unfortunately you can only have that in Tibet (assuming the Chinese who have control of the country now still allow them to do it) though I doubt my relatives would want to pay to fly me out there. Maybe its for locals only anyway. I can just see a carrion bird sitting there looking at my corpse and saying "I don't want any of that foreign muck". I believe in life after death and would be happy for the body I've left behind to be recycled or used to help others in some way but I realise others may feel differently. I did like the author's final thoughts and the thanks offered in the acknowledgements. I understood the term "growing up funeral" as more than any other business, it is nearly always a family affair rather than a Corporate thing. People around here actually shudder if someone has a co-op funeral rather than a family firm.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    An interesting and informative look at the "death care industry," one of those things that we all know exist but generally choose not to think about. I learned about lots of types of end of life rituals from the eyes of a true fly on the wall to all of them. I added Jessica Mitfords book, the American way of Death to my list before I was even halfway through, but still really enjoyed it. Graphic, but not to a grotesque or disturbing degree. some portions required a somewhat stronger stomach, but An interesting and informative look at the "death care industry," one of those things that we all know exist but generally choose not to think about. I learned about lots of types of end of life rituals from the eyes of a true fly on the wall to all of them. I added Jessica Mitfords book, the American way of Death to my list before I was even halfway through, but still really enjoyed it. Graphic, but not to a grotesque or disturbing degree. some portions required a somewhat stronger stomach, but it was definitely informative. The author did a nice job of not judging anyone's beliefs or methods, but rather setting them all out as equals and letting the reader decide the pros and cons of each.

  30. 5 out of 5

    JaneeApostrophe Harrings

    It's been a few years since I read this book. I found it interesting and gave me a new perspective of the funeral business. I find the funeral business to almost be criminal, but that's being general as I know not every business runs things the same ways. I found it intriguing how other countries give their farewells to the deceased and how many if not most other areas of the world honor the dead much differently than we do here and in Canada. I've always wanted to donate my body to science rath It's been a few years since I read this book. I found it interesting and gave me a new perspective of the funeral business. I find the funeral business to almost be criminal, but that's being general as I know not every business runs things the same ways. I found it intriguing how other countries give their farewells to the deceased and how many if not most other areas of the world honor the dead much differently than we do here and in Canada. I've always wanted to donate my body to science rather than have a funeral and after learning more and more about what happens in the business side of this industry, I am even MORE reluctant to waste my life insurance on a funeral/memorial. I really enjoyed this read, I will read it again, definitely.

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