I've been fascinated by how modern american culture cares for or more appropriately, fails to care for our loved ones when they passed so when I had the opportunity to read 'What Remains?' I jumped at it. Ru Callender is considered a 'punk undertaker' and he started the first green mortuary business in the UK. This book is intriguing and I wanted to not only turn the page, but also sit down with Ru and chat with him about his work and his life and how it has impacted him as a person. Thankfully though, Ru puts a peek of himself into each of theses pages.
This book was too much of a memoir for my liking. I understand the narrator is very accomplished, but their voice came off pretentious…
Thank you to NetGalley, Ru Callender, and Chelsea Green Publishing Co for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
When I started working in a healthcare facility 30 plus years ago, the dead and dying were treated quietly and ceremoniously ( hushed tones, slow moving family members.) it was solemn and expected that it was terrible that a person had died. In other words it would have been appalling to the community if a life was celebrated any means other than solemn , quiet funerals.
Then I expected that. But, as time marches on you learn things. And you know what? People die! Everyday. It is our natural end of life with exception of course of those who die suddenly or young, we ordinarily expect to live until an older age and then we die. No exceptions.
So why do we continue with the maudlin rituals of the modern funeral? Partly religion, partly the history of funerals and family expectations and more..
Working in healthcare made me realize that while the death of a person is almost always a sad event, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be glad for the life, the person they were!
This book was written by a European undertaker who became a staunch defender of a personalized version of the funeral experience.created his own service and cared for a great number of families.
The author takes a long road to get to the points of this book but it is still a solid, quality read. Maybe American funeral directors should take a look.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC.
What Remains? Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking by Rupert Callender #sixteenthbookof2023 #arc
CW: discussions of death, dead bodies, the embalming process, mention of aliens, crop circles
The author of this book is the founder of the Green Funeral Company. He is a self proclaimed punk undertaker. While he himself is afraid of death, he attempts to make funerals more about the deceased and less about the ceremony of traditional funeral services.
I expected a little more from this book. Callender talked in circles a lot, repeating the same facts, phrases, and quotes. He starts off talking about the death of his father and how he was sent to boarding school immediately following his not being allowed to attend his father’s funeral. This series of events traumatized him so much that he speaks of little else. He doesn’t begin talking about the undertaking until 30% in. There’s no real heft to this book. There are only a handful of anecdotes describing his new type of funerals. He talks so much about how punk he is that it’s difficult to believe him.
At one point he describes a funeral for a local homeless man, and says of a speech he gives after carrying the coffin through town, “I am a little preachy, but a good funeral should be anyway.” This is completely contrary to everything he’d been saying in the book till that point. It was gross how he’d used that funeral to rail against the society evil of gambling that this homeless man had as a vice during his life when the rest of the book discussed how funerals should be about the deceased, not a preachy sermon.
The author lives in the UK and references the fact that undertakers have very few regulations, unlike the US. I’m curious whether his type of funerals would be legal here. The book does make me want to explore options where I live to see what kind of burial would be possible. I will say that his description of how embalming is done really turned me off that procedure. If given the choice I wouldn’t choose it for myself or for anyone who’s funeral I’m planning.
Thank you to @netgalley and @chelseagreenbooks for the advance copy. (Pub date 3/23/23)
Rupert Callendar, a lifelong punk and rebel has a bone to pick with the patriarchy and he fights that battle through individual and family centered undertaking and coping with rituals such as making crop circles or building shrines What Remains? Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking details Callendar's life, both his biography and his work.
Callendar presents himself as a doubly traumatized individual, first by the youthful loss of his father and his not being able to take part in his funeral, and secondly, by boarding school. He willingly squandered his inherited wealth but had two key life epiphanies. The first was in an acid house party gathering where all gathered enjoyed the communal atmosphere with no barriers put in place due to differences. The second was while high and watching television, seeing an interview with Nicholas Albery sharing his experiences. Albery spoke about welcoming his son to the world around the same time his father died, spurring him to look into the legalities and eventually establish the Natural Death Centre, a charity dedicated to informing the public of their rights around funerals and the benefits of doing it yourself.
Callendar went all in on undertaking as a career, very much seat of his pants, but with the goals of speaking the truth of the deceased and building a community. The rest of the book details Callendar's growth in this field, from the early funerals to specific ones that challenged him and the creation of a partnership (and marriage) and eventually dissolution of the partnership with his ex wife Claire. A frequent counterpoint and focus of his ire is on the funerary industry as it exists in the United Kingdom. All this before a ending chapter about Callendar's part in a music/media festival with his heroes.
An angry, traumatized look at possibilities outside the standard way of death. Of most use to those in the United Kingdom. I can't say I recommend this to any readers, Alison C. Meier's Grave covers a lot of this content more succinctly.
This is a memoir of sorts. It covers the life of Rupert Callandar, a holistic undertaker in the UK, the epiphany that led to him becoming an undertaker and some of various experiences he has had in his work, and the toll that it takes in every aspect of one’s life to live in the presence of death, constantly.I have some mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, this is a really interesting line of work. I mean to be in the line of burial preparation is definitely unique and is certainly not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to do such things. On the other hand there are certain things discussed in this book, like ritual drug use and some really strange rituals, that are a little bit head scratchers for me. Maybe I’m just not evolved enough yet to understand such things. I think the world needs more people Like Rupert. He does make it quite clear that the line of work that he was chosen is not an easy one to live with and it has been both rewarding in experiences and costly in what it takes from you. This may not appeal to everyone. Review posted to Amazon, Goodreads, Litsy, Facebook, and Instagram.
As a morbid realist who is generally fascinated by the entire death care industry, it's not surprising that I enjoyed this book but not in the ways that I expected. Contrary to many of his counterparts I enjoy, Callender is not part of the "death positive" movement. Not only is he not part of it, he openly dislikes and fears death.
Callender outlines his backstory and reasonings for his discomfort in detail so that you can understand his position, then fills the reader in on how his unique funeral home and body of work have come to be.
For me, his position on the issues with the traditional funeral industry and his vision for what is possible is where our views meet perfectly and this was my favourite part of the book. To hear of the beautiful, thoughtful and personal services he provided to the families in his care is what I hope the industry can lean into in the future.
“What Remains: Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking,” by Ru Callender, published date: 23 March 2023, ISBN 9781915294128 and Kindle Edition, earns three stars.
If the average reader is like me, little is known of undertaking. We may have been involved with the last rites of a family member, but the funeral industry does their best to insulate families from the details of their business, if not also the funeral and memorial service specifics. So, in reading this book, one learns much, some of it quite surprising. For me, the biggest surprise was how little the industry is regulated in England, where the author lives and works. I have no idea how similar or different the funeral industry is in the United States.
The interesting thing with this book is the author, Rupert (Ru) Callender is, according to his Green Funeral Company website, “…a self-taught ceremonial undertaker and writer who has worked in Devon and Cornwall since 1999. His partner is Claire Burton, making the multi-award-winning Green Funeral Company fully a two-person operation. Simple, honest, and compassionate, they make funerals as much a part of living as life itself. It is a fascinating read and perhaps may make the reader thinking differently about funeral arrangements in the United States.
Sincere thanks to the author, and Kindle Edition (PDF) and Chelsea Green Publishing
for granting this reviewer the opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley for helping to make that possible.
This memoir is all about him and yet he seems unusually judgmental of those who grieve.
My perspective is different from his as I am a retired nurse who has worked in many situations and seen a lot of death, but not as much as my friend who came from a family of undertakers and even in the jungles of SE Asia. I have also attended rites of several types and what he describes would be at home with the California relatives, but not as eco-friendly as the Coloradans. A very interesting book of memories and perspectives.
I requested and received an EARC from Chelsea Green Publishing via NetGalley.
I received a free e-arc of this book through Netgalley.
I've been reading a lot of books about death in the last 3 years when my sister became terminally ill. I like to investigate other peoples' perspectives around death and dying. There is still so much that is taboo about death. This memoir from Rupert Callender is about trying to lift the taboo and mystery around death and burials and accept it for the normal part of life that it is.
Rupert is in the U.K. so it was interesting to compare how the system is there compared to the U.S. where I live. I didn't realize that 75% of people in the U.K. choose cremation. This book made me tear up several times probably. He makes some good points about the war on drugs being a racial divide as well since alcohol is much more destructive, but is considered acceptable.
In What Remains, Rupert (Ru) Callender presents his journey to becoming an undertaker, his wealth of experiences working in the death industry, and how it relates to his personal experiences with death and punk music scene. Each story, each death, reveals something new about the author's past experiences or philosophy in life.
As someone who's familiar with the death positive movement, it's interesting to compare Callender's approach to writing and the industry to a similar author and creator like Caitlin Doughty. Callender explicitly says at the beginning of the book that death scares him.
I am not part of the death positive movement, although I have the greatest respect for those who are.
He's much more concerned with honesty in death not creating pretense or falsehoods in funerals and not using euphemisms like lost or loved ones.
To properly honour someone, they - we - should be seen in our entirety.
Additionally, it's interesting to hear about his experiences in the UK, where there's no required formal training or education for undertaking. Callender's experience is all hands-on, DIY, and based on The Natural Death Handbook. Callender eventually goes on to compile and edit the fifth edition of this book and at times it feels like he's trying to sell you a copy of it.
He compares his profession and the healing powers of honest "punk" undertaking to his experiences with psychedelics and the punk music and art scene. While the two subjects might not seem related at first, the author makes a clear case for why those things are so important and intertwined to him.
Rather than being an expose or informational book about the undertaking industry, this book is firmly a memoir and deep dive into the author's experiences, personal life, and spiritual beliefs. The narrative is quite moving once you get into it but it starts extremely slow. The first chapter is largely about Callender creating crop circles and how he considers that act to be a magical, spiritual ritual and doesn't make the connection between this scene and the premise of the book for quite a while. If the premise is interesting, I'd encourage readers to give it a few chapters as the beginning didn't do a great job of holding my interest but ultimately it was worth the read. Some of the prose is quite busy and uses flowery antiquated words that may distance readers. I don't consider myself to be a particularly emotional reader but found quite a few of the stories quite evocative and poignant. The spiritualism and ritual narrative wasn't very impactful to me but I could understand why it was included and its importance to the author.
Thank you to NetGalley and Chelsea Green Publishing for providing me with a digital advanced reader copy of this book to review.
Slow mover; kept waiting for more about the work of an undertaker and the effect when reflecting on life.
I did not finish this book, the synopsis sounded great but once I started reading the book didn’t really get into him being an undertaker it talked about his marriage crumbling and how he would make crop circles and didn’t know why I stopped reading at this part
There are books that come along that make you feel they have made you a better person by opening up your self to other ways of thinking this is one of those books . It’s hard to put into words how truly wonderful this book is part memoir , part critique of mainstream death industry ,part musical anthem to 90’s rave culture and part performance art/death ritual creator. . Mostly it’s the voice of the author which is never morbid and opens up so many questions about living as much as dying in regards to loss and what it means to live .
This book changed my mind in the use of hallucinogens as a therapy tool and to consider life without God and what it still means to leave a legacy . Truly remarkable thank you NetGalley for the pleasure of reading this amazing book . Thank you to the author for sharing so much of the beauty of his life formed from trauma .
It is always a treat to find a new memoir that has a truly unique story to tell, and "What Remains?" decidedly meets any criterion I could create that quantifies a unique or worthy story. This book explores western funerary customs and Callender's personal interaction with them. One could say that it explores and cements his legacy as a self-proclaimed "punk undertaker," and most would have difficulty disagreeing. Regardless of the topic of the book, fascinating as it was, What Remains? told of a captivating life and accomplished much in its literary merit alone. By this, I mean I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this memoir. It made me laugh, cry, and contemplate. I related to the author, and I found him absurd in equal measure. While it certainly does not hurt that I am already fascinated with the complexities of death and its industry, such an interest is decidedly not required for someone to enjoy this book. All that is necessary is an open mind, and a curious spirit. With that, a reader cannot go wrong reading "What Remains?".
I'm torn on this book. Parts were definitely fascinating and well-written, but it also seems like the author has some things they need to sort out in their personal life before they can take a more balanced look at life and death. I'm not particularly sure who the intended reader is, so I'm not sure we'll be purchasing for the collection unless we are specifically asked for it.
This was one of the most fascinating reads. The way that something as final as death can be so different for so many. This book really opened my mind!! Great storytelling and an unforgettable author. Highly recommend
What Remains is a fascinating look at all the ways people can celebrate the moving on of a spirit, person, etc. Told in a different format from what readers know, (I mean, they are creatives in the punk scene), it does take a bit to adjust to the style.
However. This book is a treasure. I'm have very traditional values, but an open mind, and I loved this book.
Will definitely handsell to my readers!