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Cool Dead People: Obituaries of Real Folks We Wish We'd Met a Little Sooner Paperback – April 1, 2001
About the Author
Jane O'Boyle is a former publishing executive and the author of Catnip for the Soul; Wrong!; and Free Drinks for Ladies with Nuts (the latter two are available from Plume). She lives in South Carolina.
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(Who assumes we aren't, by the way?)
If you ARE an obituary buff (and there seem to be a great host of us now), this book is probably not for you. First of all, it's not a collection of original obituaries at all, but brief thumbnail sketches rewritten, one would assume, from previously published obituaries. (The book contains no attributions or dates of publication, no newspaper sources, etc.) These are very general summaries, whereas what most readers relish are the specific details of a well-written obit, the telling particulars that illuminate, perhaps in the flash of a single phrase, the life being celebrated.
Speaking of illumination, the author, Jane O'Boyle, unintentionally reveals an interesting personal quirk of her own. In at least four different obits, she calls our attention to the short height of her subject, though in no case is this fact relevant:
We are told, for example, that Stuey Ungar, a poker champ, is "only five foot five."
That "Abramowicz, who was only five feet tall, was the head librarian. . . . "
Informed that " 'I didn't like to stay home,' said Mrs. B. . . , who was only four feet ten inches tall."
Assured that "although only four feet tall, del Rey was a giant among New York City book publishers. . . . "
Some might make a case here of "heightism," especially since the shortness in each case has nothing to do with the achievement. Others would see patronizing condescension. The rest of us would most likely just consider it, oh, uncool.
For true obituaries that make delightful reading (surely some of the more upbeat reading available today), here are a few suggestions:(1) The Daily Telegraph's Book of Obituaries: A Celebration of Eccentric Lives, edited by Hugh Massingberd; (2)The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, by Marilyn Johnson;(3)If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: Notes from Small-Town Alaska, by Heather Lende. And for a truly outstanding book, not a collection of obits but a rich memoir by a poet who happens to be an undertaker, read The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, by Thomas Lynch.