“I See Dead People”

November 8, 2006

Whether or not it was the British who invented writing obituaries that make for good reading is debatable. What isn’t worth arguing is that they seem to have an unnatural knack for creating miniature novels with fascinating details about the dearly departed. Perhaps it stems from their inimitable sense of humor. We have all at one time or another (or daily n some cases) turned to the obit page in our local newspaper and been sadly disappointed as we expected the kind of delight to be had from obituaries in British newspapers such as The Times, The Independent, The Guardian, or The Daily Telegraph.

A number of authors have figured that if you can make a bestseller out of a book about a seasoning (Salt) or a fish (Cod) then one about obituaries ought to be a piece of cake. Hence, Marilyn Johnson’s The Dead Beat. Johnson indulged her curiosity about those who write these marvelous life synopses and how obituaries have evolved through the ages. She claims nothing less than that “obituaries contain the most creative writing in journalism” and that “we are currently in the golden age of obituary writing.” What about us fiction readers you ask? Yes, there are obituary books for you too. My personal favorite is “Who’s Who In Hell” by Robert Chalmers. This book runs the gamut from funny to bitersweet with a crew of interesting characters and plot turns.

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