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Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training Paperback – March 23, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A CBC journalist in Winnepeg taking "a month's leave to dabble in deathcare" reveals the changing face of the funeral industry in this informative but rote tour of duty, an update of sorts on Jessica Mitford's 1963 The American Way of Death. On his first day as an intern at the Winnepeg crematorium run by Neil Bardal, the undertaker tells him that "the traditional funeral is gone and it's never coming back"; the bereft world has embraced cremation, with specific impact on a number of industry segments, from vehicles and florists to tombstones and caskets. Jokinen is nonchalantly graphic when getting into the day-to-day of cremation ("I dump the pan of bones onto the steel table and crunch through it with the heavy magnet"), touching on juvenile at times, but makes the point in many ways that, eventually, we'll all be paying for this industry's changes. The industry's big bet is that 75 million North American baby boomers, afraid of death, will want unprecedented control over their funerals, illustrated in examples like a successful Milwaukee funeral home owner who calls Ritz-Carlton and Disney his models. Readers who understand that Joniken took on the role of apprentice undertaker for one reason (they're reading it) will find an interesting glimpse into an almost-invisible industry, and the forces pushing it in strange new directions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 was transformed into a “death fairy” by apprenticing 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 that were morphing into Disney-themed options. Recounting his experiences, he delivers ironic dialogue with stand-up skill and smoothly integrates technical information (“Formaldehyde changes the structure of the body’s protein, . . . making it inhospitable to the bacteria of decomposition”) and market data (“‘Celebration of life’ cremations instead of burial funerals will account for 59% of the industry by 2025”) without hindering the flow of readable insights. --Whitney Scott
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818912
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Like the tv show "Dirty Jobs", there are some jobs only a select few can do. The funeral industry is one of them. Imagine you (a regular person) are suddenly dropped into a funeral home to be an apprentice. "Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training" is that book. It's one of those "I want to know/I don't want to know" situations but the book is fascinating. It will get you thinking about death, life and the meaning of it all. Tom Jokinen's observations are right on the money and reflect what, I think, I would feel if placed in the same situation. An unusual topic but a page turner nevertheless.
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Format: Paperback
This book is okay. It's a quick read, covers a fascinating topic, is well written, has a few interesting insights, and is amusing in places.

Unfortunately, it's like a ton of other similar books out there. I didn't find anything in this one that would be any better or worse than all those other books that you'll see under Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, What Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item, and so on. If you've never read one of these before, great. You'll enjoy it. If you have, though (like me), you'll probably feel like you've already read it before.

It's basically an outsider's take on a fascinating "dirty job." Now, that includes some dark humor, some scattered musings, some interesting tidbits, and one (not-all-that-closely-related) vignette after another. It's kind of a like an extended magazine article, or maybe a series of magazine articles hooked loosely together.

What it's lacking is any real story line, depth in the musings, or feel for the characters. If that's what you're after, let me recommend, perhaps, In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarius. Forgive the pun, but Curtains, like a bad grave, was just a little too shallow for me.
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I work in the industry and must say that Jokinen did a fabulous job with the details! A little wordy at times, but I enjoyed it very much! There is a lot of information to cover when writing about the Death Care industry and he covered a lot of ground in a short amount of pages. Awesome job! I've passed the book on at work to see what my co-workers thought and I haven't seen the book since!
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Kudos to Tom Jokinen. (I'm sooo envious of his writerly chops.) As founding prez of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, now research director with the Green Burial Council of North America (and no, neither was on my bucket list), I gotta say -- Tom's nailed it. I took Curtains out of a university library that lets you keep a book for a year (unless someone recalls it), yet a half hour into it had ordered my Kindle edition because I needed to mark it up and wasn't about to stop reading. Even the philosophizing didn't wear me down. I recommend it highly. (Don't know about that reviewer who said he's no Mary Roach. Mary Roach is Mary Roach -- amazing. Tom Jokinen is Tom Jokinen -- equally amazing.)
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By Trish on June 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up to add to my ever growing collection of death-care literature while I start the process of becoming a funeral director. This is one of the most enjoyable reads so far, (equally as entertaining but much more informative about the actual processes than Mortuary Confidential.) Somewhat irreverent at times, but not at all in a bad way, the author clearly respects the business, but is just trying to find ways to wrap his head around it. It is interesting reading a book written by somebody who had no intentions of making this his career, and entering into it later in life than most (as I am.) I am sad to say that it is so engaging that the read was a quick one (its not a terribly short or long book, but his writing style was so smooth that I couldn't put it down.) I love that while there are several books on the subject of death-care, it is a small enough community that each book references the others and I am constantly adding to my 'must read' list. Up next will be The Undertaker, Does this mean you get to see me naked?, and *gulp* American Way of Death (which I know I need to read, but haven't quite mustered the energy to take on the negative portrayal of the industry that it portrays.)
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I can't stop reading this! I was a bit suspicious of this book, as some of the 'death books' out there are a little on the creepy side, somewhat exploitative. They're badly written, and feel like they've just been cranked out to fill a voyeuristic need. But this author, Tom Jokinen, is a guy who is curious about a lot of the same things I am. And he can write! I find myself laughing every other page. He presents individual people in the funeral industry sympathetically for the most part, while at the same time is pretty cynical about the business as a whole. Jesssica Mitford would get a kick out of it!
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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.
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