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Monday, June 30, 2008

Writing Obituaries


Here's an unusual topic for a library blog: obituary writing. I guess there's a real skill involved in writing a good one. I wouldn't know, since I haven't reached the stage in life where the obits are the first thing I read each day. Those who write them gathered together a few weeks ago in Little Las Vegas, New Mexico for the 10th Great Obituary Writers' International Conference, appropriately titled "From Here to Eternity!" The conference was reported on in an newspaper article, but the bulk of it dealt with notable obituary writing. Maybe it's just me, but none of the obituaries struck me as particularly notable. What was notable, however, is the eccentricity of the subjects of the obits. If you're writing about someone who was a little odd, you'd expect an obituary to reflect it, wouldn't you?

Now you're probably saying to yourself, "How's she going to relate THIS to the library's collection?" Fear not, gentle reader, we have the topic covered! First there are the works of fiction: The Obituary Writer by Porter Shreve [F SHR].
Gordie Hatch is twenty-two, charmingly naive, and certain that his first job as a writer for the St. Louis Independent's obituary page will be a stepping stone to a crackerjack career in journalism.
A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser [F LEI] starts off with an error-riddled obituary.

And don't forget to check out Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case [F HIA]
Once a hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger now bangs out obituaries for a South Florida daily, "plotting to resurrect my newspaper career by yoking my byline to some famous stiff."
Then there are the nonfiction titles: If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende [979.82 LEN]. Lende explains how she writes her obituaries
I spend as much time as I can researching a life but, with a weekly deadline, invariably I'm talking with friends and family heartbreakingly close to the death. Often within a day or two. Mostly I just listen. The details I need for the obituary are usually given right away, but the visit lasts much longer. By the time I'm ready to write, I know a lot about the person, and their friends and family. Much more than we'll ever print in the paper.
This book, however is much more than a recounting of Alaska's dead, it's the story of small town life in a harsh environment. Despite everything, the author says, "This is our home now, and I have a feeling it always will be."

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson [070.449 JOH]. The title says it all!

If you want to read more, head back to the conference website link above and click on "Great Obits" or "Obit News."

Did you ever imagine there'd be so many obituary-themed books on our shelves?

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