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Curtains: Adventures of an…

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training (2010)

by Tom Jokinen

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13311139,118 (3.64)12
Tom Jokinen began to seriously question the secular funeral rites that are taking over the industry. The question had such a hard grip on his Finnish soul that he decided to become an apprentice undertaker. This book is about what he found, from the mundane to the macabre. For anyone who's secretly wondered why they paid $2000 for a 5-lb bag of dust--or questioned whether that dust was really the person they loved--Curtains lifts the veil on the funeral industry in the 21st century.--From publisher description.… (more)

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It was a very interesting read, almost an updated version of "The American Way of Death".

One learns about the ins & outs of the funeral/mortuary/crematorium trade and the very many options one has when dealing with the death & remains of a family member.

Towards the last chapters the author writes about Grandview Cemetery in Glendale and the nightmare it became for those previously interred and dug-up, those whose ashes were dumped inside a closet, the lack of perpetual-care upkeep, the closure, & the lawsuit.... I am very familiar w/ all that as a friend buried her son there & was unable to visit him (except by climbing over a wall), but later when reopened also buried her husband there. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jul 11, 2019 |
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! ( )
  LibraryCin | Jul 2, 2019 |
The ratings on Goodreads always give me some trouble, because I think books often fall between one category and another. Was the book "amazing" in the way that some of my all-time favorites are? Not quite. But it gave me so many wonderfully rendered scenes and so much food for thought that it ranks just above the "really like it" rating. So I'm rounding up, and may we all be so lucky to have generosity provide us more than rigid definitions saddle us with less.

The subject matter is is extremely interesting. This is an obvious read if you're a fan of Six Feet Under. I enjoyed getting background on the death-care industry and the particulars of its day-to-day activities. The details dovetail well with those from the HBO series, and I was pleased to learn that many of the fictional conflicts from it were playing out in the industry, especially the aggressive conglomeration that bought up many of the family-run funeral homes. Interesting, this book is being published in an era when more recent economic downturns have forced contractions of some of this growth, so the snapshot Jokinen provides feels very fresh.

Having recently taken a crack at Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking, I was pleased to find that Jokinen is an amiable narrator who can editorialize without pontificating. I couldn't make it through Lynch's book for his numerous intrusions into the text. Jokinen also manages to relate his year as an undertaker-in-training without succumbing to the temptation to place himself at the center of the action. Many other contemporary authors could take a few lessons on that score. He also manages to mine some meaning from what he experiences, and draws conclusions that feel natural rather than retrofitted to make his reflections appear more booklike.

The only time I felt the book sagging a bit was in the last 70 pages or so, when the action shifts from the funeral home in Winnipeg to follow Jokinen as he travels to California and Las Vegas to investigate some developing trends in the industry. The information here is all very interesting, but we lose the continuity and familiarity that the previous setting had. The rapid introduction of people and places (especially cemeteries, an astonishing number of which have "Lawn" in their names) makes the narrative choppier, so the information sticks, but the journey does not. We do, however, come full circle back to Winnipeg, and the book ends on an appropriately graceful note. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
If you interested in the ins and outs of the funeral industry, this would be a great read. It has a lot of “insider” information and insights on the industry that I found fascinating. What kept the book from being really good is that Jokinen doesn’t have the sense of humor that would have elevated this book from “interesting read” to “kept me glued to the book from page one.” (In other words, he’s no Mary Roach.) Still, it is worth reading if you enjoy books of this type. ( )
  Jenners26 | Jan 9, 2013 |
I liked the mortuary aspect of this book, but the business and life philosophy was boring. ( )
  LemonLover | Sep 21, 2012 |
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Has your life been a failure? Let's make your death a success! --Jean Teulé, "The Suicide Shop"
Books...are tombstones. --Antonin Artaud
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Two rules for picking up a body at the hospital, known as "removal": (1) Make sure it's the right one. This business, when you shake it down to first principles, is the burial or cremation of the dead, two relatively irreversible acts. Mistakes are frowned upon. Please check the ID tag carefully; and (2) Never stop for food on the way back to the funeral home when you're "carrying," not even at a drive-thru. It's bad for the brand, and is apt to put other drive-thru-ers off their doughnuts.
Until someone comes up with 100 percent cremation, there'll always be a remainder. Our mission is to do something interesting with it.
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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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