Saturday, December 13, 2008


I love to read the obituaries. For obvious reasons, they are an important vehicle to knowing what is going on in one's community. I often spot a friend's family member or an old co-worker who has died. I can more fully understand the story of my town that unfolds every day.

But in addition to that, obituaries are fascinating reading. Small stories of people's lives. Who were they? What did they enjoy? Who loved them? Who did they love?

In the olden days, the cause of death was always printed in the obituary but in the early 80's papers stopped the practice --probably driven by relatives who in the era of AIDS were embarrassed to have the cause of death publicly proclaimed. Cause of death became a private matter.

I love the long obituaries of women who you think never worked outside the home and there you find out they ran the PTO and the church bazaar and attended a book group and drove for meals on wheels and were active in the local historical society. I love reading professor's obituaries that list all the places to which they traveled and the books they wrote. I love the sweet tributes to young people who die. Touching people's lives for a small time but teaching them so much about the shortness and fragility of life.

People live such rich and full lives. I recently read that when George Harrison died the London Telegraph devoted 6 pages to his obituary. When Bob Hope died they devoted 2 pages to his. Most of us truly have a life story that could fill at least that much.

So, my early reviewer book for the month--interestingly enough is The Economist Book of Obituaries. This is a beautiful hardback book of 200 obituaries published by the Economist since 1994. This book is a obituary lovers dream and the writers of these mini-biographies painted fascinating portraits of famous and near famous people.

It is best read as a series of short biographies and it is fun to leaf through and pick out interesting ones. I have read about Brooke Astor and Alex the Parrot. I read the obituary of Steve Irwin and the guy who coined the term WASP.

If you like obituaries--you will love this beautiful book filled with well written stories of the famous and the near famous. If you like to write--take a turn at writing your obituary. What would you like it to say about you?


lisa said...

Sounds like I need to keep my eyes open for this book. I enjoy it when you can feel the love in the words one has used to write a special obituary. I know that's strange, but it makes me feel like someone really cared about that they mattered.


Steph said...

What an interesting concept!