Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Book of Obituaries

Ever read the Obits?

It's not as macabre as you might think. The worst part is that most of them are dry as dirt and are anything but interesting. I have always found them fascinating though.

Several years ago, I found a book which opened my eyes to just how much fun a newspaper Obit could be. It was "The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries, A celebration of Eccentric lives." Let me give you an example written upon the death of one Ian Board. "Board was an heroic smoker and drinker-until recently he would breakfast on brandy and he once consumed a bottle of creme de menthe at a sitting-and if his drinking destroyed his youthful good looks it also shaped and nourished his magnificent nose".

Or Denisa Lady Newborough, who has died at 79, was many things: wire-walker, nightclub girl, nude dancer and airpilot. She only refused to be two things- a whore and a spy-"and there were attempts to make me both," she once wrote. Ever read that in an American paper?

While I am neither recommending nor encouraging excess, wouldn't you love to be immortalized by someone who told the truth. This whole book is a praise to the stereotypical eccentric Brit.

Other editions celebrate the lives of war heroes, politicians, criminals and churchmen. You can find many of them at Alibris

Where all this was leading is this. British Obituaries are a much different breed of cat than you will find in America. They are funny. erudite, and mostly good natured fun in a way that no American would ever consider. While I cannot speak to the reputation or character of either of these, I hope they are not the English language versions of Pravda, I recommend that you take a periodic look at these.

Obituaries - Telegraph

Obituaries Times Online

You won't have a clue who the deceased are, but somehow it just doesn't matter.



Legallyblondemel said...

Wonderful stuff.

I for one would like to be remembered as an "international woman of mystery", and I'm fine if my survivors must go overseas to get that memorialized in print. If my recent experience calling in an obit to an American paper is any indication, they will assuredly and unfortunately have to do so.

Pigtown-Design said...

i did a post on that about a year or so ago, after i'd found a brilliant book on the new way of writing obits. sort of the british way. It's here.

Toad said...

Meg thank you. I was able to locate your recommendation at the local lirary.

ms. mindless said...

i thought i was a weirdo! i LOVE reading obituaries. at least someone else out there does it.

Anonymous said...

Obituary writing is alive and well, thank you very much. You only need to know where to look. The Economist regularly publishes fascintating one-of-a-kind obits befitting the life of people from all walks of life. I have a degree in journalism and have longed to be a full-time obit writer, traveling the globe to piece together the elusive stories of ordinary people. You can find some of The Economist' best work in a book at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Economist-Book-Obituaries-Keith-Colquhoun/dp/1576603261. Read a sample. You'll weep over your own comparatively boring life.

Toad said...

Anon I believe we can agree on this point. The Brits do Obits better than anyone in the US.

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