So, a few years ago on Columbus Day when the library was closed, I did what all librarians do on a day off – I went to Barnes and Noble. At Barnes and Noble I disguised myself as a real person and went up to the help desk, where I said, “I’m looking for a book, but I don’t remember the title or author.” I’d like to say I did it just to see the guy’s reaction, but alas it was true. I heard the author interviewed on the radio, but hadn’t written her name or the title down.
I then did what everyone does in that situation. I tried to come up with some way to describe the book. “I think it has crematorium in the subtitle.”
“Oh yeah,” the Barnes and Noble guy answered, “I’ve heard of that book. And the weird thing is, it’s by a woman.”
What’s weird about that, I wanted to say. Women, after all, can love dead things as much as any ten year old boy. After all, in fantasies it’s often the queen running around saying “off with their heads.” And how many murder mysteries have little old ladies trying to figure out who done it? And then there’s Dr. Brennan on Bones, who thinks a session of dissection and rearticulating skeletons is good family bonding. Or there’s one of my favorite reads, Stiff: the Curious Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach. But I restrained myself from climbing up on my soap box and waited while he tried to come up with the book title.
He searched crematorium and didn’t find anything.
I said, “It has smoke in the title. Like maybe…. Up in Smoke,” I added, which sounded like an excellent title for a book about cremation. But that didn’t bring up any books in Barnes and Noble’s database.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I can look it up on the NPR website.” Because that’s what I would do if someone came to the library wanting a book they heard about on an interview and couldn’t remember the title.
“I’ll do that for you,” Barnes and Noble guy said, thereby earning brownie points and making me feel obligated to actually buy the book if he every managed to find it. Which, of course, he did.
The book was called Smoke Gets in your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. I bought the book and because I am a woman who likes poking dead things with sticks, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes became one of my favorite books about the dead. It also contains one of my favorite opening lines. “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.”