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Remember Me
A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death

by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

      Despite the subtitle, Remember Me isn't really an updated version of Jessica Mitford's famous/infamous The American Way of Death. That was an edgy, cutting exposť of the U.S. funeral industry. Painfully funny at times, but more about the industry qua industry, while looking at people involved primarily as cogs in its wheels.

This is something much more warm and personal, the expansion of an assignment for Time magazine focusing on "the personalized and often wacky ways Americans reinvented rites and rituals of death." It's a very human look at people who decide to have their loved one's ashes made into diamonds, and their thoughts about it. Or how and why someone develops a side line in scattering peoples' ashes at sea from their small plane, and their approach to doing so as respectfully and well as possible, even in things no one else will know about.

The result makes for a surprisingly engaging and enjoyable read, thanks largely to the author's style in taking us from mortuary school through "green cemeteries" by way of modern mummification, the Frozen Dead Guy Festival, and caskets as art form, with curiosity tempered by empathy and respect. There's also an undercurrent of gentle humor, from the opening line "What do you wear to crash a funeral?" and the author's thoughts on that subject.

While there are the moments of sadness inevitable in any discussion of people dealing with loss, this is a surprisingly positive read. The humor helps, especially because it is gentle, not belittling. It is also positive because the book focuses on people and how, rather than just give in to the inevitable, they find ways to make their end memorable, distinctive and very personal. A celebration of who they were in life rather than a dwelling on the sad inevitability of death. Remember Me indeed, warmly and with a reminiscent smile. Recommended.

The Book

Harper Collins
August 2006
ISBN 10 0-06-076683-2
ISBN 13 978-0-06-076683-2
Non-Fiction social customs
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2006
© 2006