The best funeral director books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about funeral directors and why they recommend each book.

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Grave Matters

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

This is the book where it all began. Mark Harris opened up eyes and hearts to the beauty of burying our loved ones naturally and on our own terms. I had never read such a clear reality of the embalming process and how Americans morphed from simple home burial to the industrial Googleplex of the funeral business. Want to be buried in your backyard or with a sheet off your bed? Read this book! The author is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and his work has been featured in many fabulous places.

Who am I?

Saving the planet one death at a time is truly what the world needs now: to reduce our carbon footprint and go out in eco-friendly style. As the one-woman funeral service in the rural town of Boring, Oregon, I support the philosophy of old-school burial practices that are kinder to both humans, the earth, and our wallets. I have humbly been baptized the Green Reaper for my passionate advocacy of green burial, and as an undertaker and the owner and undertaker of Cornerstone Funeral, the first green funeral home in the Portland area. I love to devour all literature possible on green burial and environmentally friendly death care.

I wrote...

The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

By Elizabeth Fournier,

Book cover of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

What is my book about?

Funeral expenses in the United States average more than $10,000. And every year conventional funerals bury millions of tons of wood, concrete, and metals, as well as millions of gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid. There is a better way, and Elizabeth Fournier, affectionately dubbed the “Green Reaper,” walks you through it, step-by-step. She provides comprehensive and compassionate guidance, covering everything from green burial planning and home funeral basics to legal guidelines and outside-the-box options, such as burials at sea. Fournier points the way to green burial practices that consider both the environmental well-being of the planet and the economic well-being of loved ones.

Hollow Heathens

By Nicole Fiorina,

Book cover of Hollow Heathens: Book of Blackwell

Hollow Heathens, a hauntingly dark romance, overflows with Fiorina’s poetic prose. This book single-handedly made Fiorina an auto-buy author for me. Dark, forbidden love, a dangerous curse, legends and lore, murder and intrigue, Hollow Heathens will have you falling from the very first page. Seriously, I still dream about Julian x Fallon. I read the NA version, but Fiorina also released a YA version with milder language and fade-to-black spicy scenes so her daughter could enjoy the story as well.  

Who am I?

I’ve been a lover and reader of the romance genre ever since I graduated high school and borrowed one of my mother’s paperback novels during our annual beach vacation (which may have been twenty years ago... Yikes!). While I read everything from contemporary to historical, paranormal to fantasy, I’ve always had a particular fondness for stories with a touch of magic—specifically the cursed kind. There’s something extra angsty and tragic about cursed love that makes overcoming obstacles that much sweeter. I hope you fall in love with the books on this list as much as I have. 

I wrote...

A Cursed Kiss

By Jenny Hickman,

Book cover of A Cursed Kiss

What is my book about?

After Keelynn witnesses her sister's murder at the hands of the legendary Gancanagh, an immortal creature who seduces women and kills them with a cursed kiss, she realizes there's nothing she wouldn't do to get her back. With the help of a vengeful witch, she's given everything she needs to resurrect the person she loves most. But first, she must slay the Gancanagh.

Tadhg, a devilishly handsome half-fae who has no patience for high society-or propriety-would rather spend his time in the company of loose women and dark creatures than help a human kill one of his own. That is until Keelynn makes him an offer he can't refuse. Together, they embark on a cross-country curse-breaking mission that promises life but ends in death.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

By Caitlin Doughty,

Book cover of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

A classic recommendation throughout the death world, but Caitlin’s memoir about working in a crematorium is shot through with activism, challenging society’s fear of death and the corpse, and makes a brilliant argument for it being the root of a lot of avoidable problems.

Who am I?

I’m Erica Buist, a writer, journalist, lecturer, and playwright based in London. I became interested in death anxiety when I realised mine was out of control after my partner and I found his father dead. Reading up on death anxiety, it struck me that some cultures seem to deal with it by throwing festivals for the dead, which seemed to be the very opposite of our policy of not talking about it unless absolutely necessary. I thought I’d better go and see how they managed that—so I did. Six years, eight countries and about a million espressos later, my book was published.

I wrote...

This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

By Erica Buist,

Book cover of This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

What is my book about?

By the time Erica Buist's father-in-law Chris was discovered, upstairs in his bed, his book resting on his chest, he had been dead for over a week. She searched for answers (the artery-clogging cheeses in his fridge?) and tried to reason with herself (does daughter-in-law even feature in the grief hierarchy?) and eventually landed on an inevitable, uncomfortable truth: everybody dies.

With Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities as a starting point, Erica decided to confront death head-on by visiting seven death festivals around the world—one for every day they didn't find Chris. From Mexico to Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan, and finally Indonesia—with a stopover in New Orleans, where the dead outnumber the living ten to one—Erica searched for the answers to questions around death anxiety.

From Here to Eternity

By Caitlin Doughty,

Book cover of From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

Caitlin, a practising mortician, travels the world to look at the various customs around death and the disposal of bodies. She introduces us to what we might consider unusual practices and explores the beliefs that drive the different practices. This is a thought-provoking comparison of the different ways we deal with our dead.

Who am I?

I am an anatomy educator and doctoral researcher looking at the use of human material in anatomy education. My historical research into the antics of body suppliers has caused me to explore many publications on what we do with the remains of our relatives. This is a subject that can be fascinating but also requires compassionate handling and sometimes asks us questions that we often do not want to ponder.

I wrote...

Burke - Now and Then

By Janet Philp,

Book cover of Burke - Now and Then

What is my book about?

My book is split: the first half is a story of the serial killers Burke and Hare told from the perspective of Burke’s skeleton which still resides at the University of Edinburgh. The second half is the 4 years of research that went into ensuring that the story matches the facts that we know about the duo. Burke and Hare provided medical teaching with 17 bodies during 1827-1829 and are the UK’s second most prolific serial killers. This is a story of a serial killer in the first person – it can be a challenging set of shoes to step into.

The American Way of Death Revisited

By Jessica Mitford,

Book cover of The American Way of Death Revisited

This is the classic, the moment at which the industrialization of death—like so much else in our lives—was made visible. And it was the start of a social movement to reclaim death as part of our social, interconnected lives. Mitford focused on the funeral industry, and how it turned death into a commodity – ‘ashes’ isn’t a good word because people would scatter them, but call them ‘human remains’ and you can charge to put them somewhere. Death often makes people feel remorse, even guilt – ah! That can be ‘satisfied’ by the purchase of a fine funeral. 

Mitford closed the book with a call for a social movement: “Whether the narrow passageway to the unknown, which everybody must cross, will continue to be as cluttered and expensive to traverse as it is today, depends in the last analysis entirely on those travelers who have not yet reached it.” (p228)…

Who am I?

I’ve been writing about birth for decades – how it became a medical process, managed by a surgical specialty in a factory-like setting. I’ve worked with contemporary midwives who are trying to reclaim birth, to move it back home, back to physiological and loving care. And over and over again, I see the similarities to the other gate of life – how death and dying also left home and went into the hospital, where people die, as they birth, pretty much alone – with perhaps a ‘visitor’ allowed. Covid made it worse – but in birth and death, it allowed the hospitals to return to what medicine considered essential: medical procedures, not human connections. 

I wrote...

A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization

By Barbara Katz Rothman,

Book cover of A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization

What is my book about?

It’s not all I write about, but from my dissertation onward I have been studying birth – as a medicalized ‘procedure’ done on not by the person giving birth, and as a social movement in response to that medicalization. And then, almost by accident, I found myself in the world of Food Studies. 

At first, it was funny how many things were similar between the two movements, from the ‘turn to the French’ in the 1950s (Lamaze and Bon Appetit) to the turn to the hippies in the 70s. But I listened to artisanal food makers and heard things that midwives say, like using technology, not being used by it, and I started taking it more seriously. These are similar social movements with similar values—health, community, human relationships – fighting similar battles against large-scale industries.  So I wrote a book about it.  


By William Gay,

Book cover of Twilight

It’s fitting that the creepiest novel on my list begins with a wagon full of corpses and a rural graveyard pocked with exhumed caskets. William Gay’s Twilight revolves around the dreadful plots of Fenton Breece, a dapper, well-spoken mortician whose ghoulish habits will keep even the heartiest reader up at night. After witnessing the undertaker stealing a family burial vault, young Tyler and his sister Corrie discover that Breece has been mutilating the bodies of the people he buries. A blackmail plot ensues, an assassin hired. Then things get really, really bad. 

Who am I?

I was lucky enough to land a job teaching English at the University of Montevallo, a small public liberal arts college where I have had the opportunity to explore my strange academic interests and teach classes with titles like “Am I Human?” and “Southern Neogothic II: Disability, Hicksploitation, Meat.” When I got tenure, I also had the time and freedom to try my hand at writing the kind of Southern Gothic, Bizarro, and Horror tales that I have always adored. From Mad Magazine to MaddAddam, I have always craved dark satire, body horror, and the grotesque. It’s in my blood. 

I wrote...

Ballad of Jasmine Wills

By Lee Rozelle,

Book cover of Ballad of Jasmine Wills

What is my book about?

Channel surfing, I saw a commercial where people were eating worms for the reality TV program Fear Factor. I thought, why would somebody watch worm eating for entertainment? What would I eat for all that media attention? These questions compelled me to write a book where an overweight banker is kidnapped and made the star of a reality TV show called Diet Extreme. Locked inside a studio in the middle of the Alabama woods, Jasmine is tortured with fancy food, brainwashed with self-help videos, and badgered with exercise routines for her growing mass of livestream fans.  

The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew

By Mary Wesley,

Book cover of The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew

This book turned me into an avid Wesley fan. Aside from her genius at creating characters that face their flaws head-on and then blow a giant raspberry rather than conform—parts of Poppy’s situation mirrored my own at the time. A longtime love had dumped me, then promptly changed his mind, leaving me questioning everything I believed to be true. Poppy bravely takes on a slew of challenges with humor and grace, grabbing back the reigns of her spiraling life. It’s easy to fall in love with a gutsy character like that.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish writer, based in the USA after living in eight countries. I spent thirty years following work, family, and love, and my experiences seep into everything I write—so there are often elements of travel in my books. Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and underwent life-saving surgery. That experience gave me a new perspective on the power of the human spirit, and our ability to forge new and unexpected paths, in the face of adversity. I love to read about and create characters that take on life’s challenges and find inner strength they didn’t know they had. That’s why feisty female protagonists appeal to me. 

I wrote...

The Child Between Us

By Alison Ragsdale,

Book cover of The Child Between Us

What is my book about?

This is an emotionally charged story about the unique bond between sisters, the destructive nature of long-kept family secrets, and what it truly means to be a mother. It explores loss, self-discovery, and the beauty in accepting what life delivers even when it is what you least expected—or didn’t know you wanted.

The Child Between Us is a heart-wrenching story about an impossible choice and what it really means to be a mother. Readers who love Kate Hewitt, Jodi Picoult, and Diane Chamberlain will be utterly gripped.

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