Tomes of the Dead

Reviews/reactions to Books from Grinny's Shelf (and an extensive list of books on the topic):


New Books (not reviewed): 

Reviewed Books:

New! "Ghosts & Gravestones of Haworth" by Philip Lister (Tempus Publishing Ltd.,  Local guide Philip Lister provides a meticulously researched book about the Victorian village of Haworth, nestled away in the steep hillsides of Yorkshire, England.  This fascinating book includes haunted tales, graveyard maps, 90 original photos, and even a Graveyard Cookbook.  Better still, the author can provide Laternlight Graveyard Tours for those readers brave enough to venture off to this eerie and atmospheric part of the English countryside.  For more information about tours, visit Lister's Web site:  

"James Dean Died Here: The Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks" by Chris Epting (Santa Monica Press; $16.95). Road trip!  This summer, take this guidebook and visit some 600 pop-culture landmarks across the country, including the death sites of John Belushi, Kurt Cobain, James Dean, 
Marvin Gaye
and Tupac Shakur..

"Where the Bodies Are: Final Visits to the Rich, Famous & Interesting" by Patricia Brooks (The Globe Pequot Press, $15.95 paperback).  Yet another text, in a rather congested market, dead-icated to the final burial places of the famous and infamous.  This book's focus is graveyards of the United States.  Accurate, informative and well worth a look (Thanks to Captain Neil for bringing this book to my attention).

"Cemetery Stories"  
by Katherine Ramsland, Harper Collins, 2001.  

If you like this Web site, you'll enjoy "Cemetery Stories" as there are certainly enough similarities between the two.  Ramsland (author of: The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles;  The Witches' Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice's Lives of the Mayfair Witches; The Anne Rice Reader; and The Roquelaure Reader: A Companion to Anne Rice's Erotica) has compiled a collection of short reports about cemetery-related topics.  Ramsland's writing style is like a "quick sketch artist" -  not a lot of detail, but you get the picture.  There's information about various cemeteries and graves, offbeat items about people involved in cemetery culture, and tales from actual cemetery workers.  The title of the book might be misleading for readers who are expecting creepy narratives in the Edgar Alan Poe or Stephen King tradition of scary story-telling.  Instead, the reader will embark on a series of short, often intriguing, items that are usually informative, disgusting, creepy, or bizarre (or a combination of the four!).  This book is not as well-researched as Dr. Kenneth Iserson's 1994 masterpiece, "Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies," (see review below) although it contains similar material about how bodies decompose, embalming secrets, and autopsy information.  If you are looking for a light, fun read, this book is well worth picking up! 


"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"
by Dave Eggers, Vintage Press, 2000.

A New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice" and "One of the Ten Best Books of the Year," AHWSG is a somewhat autobiographical tale creatively told in a satirically humorous manner.  Eggers' parents both died of cancer scarcely a month a part of each other in 1991, leaving the 21-year-old college senior to become the guardian of his 7-year-old brother Toph (short for Christopher).  He then moves from Chicago's North Shore to live in San Francisco where he raises Toph with his sister Beth.  The author describes his ailing mother's final days in graphic detail, not for the emphasis of the tragedy or suffering, but for his reflective need to share this experience with readers.  

Grinny particularly appreciated his thoughts on his own demise: "I will not be buried, I assure myself.  I will disappear.  Or maybe by the time I die, there will be machines, utilizing advanced laser technology and fiber optics, that will evaporate people shortly after they pass away, without actually burning them.  Experts in the operation of the machine will enter shortly after a death, assemble the machine - it'll be highly portable - and with the pull of a few  levers, the person will disappear, instantaneously.  There will be none of this interment, no carrying bodies around, inspecting the, embalming then, dressing them up, buying holes in the ground for them, this building elaborate boxes for them, boxes reinforced, double thick -   

Or, I'll be launched into space.  Or by then people, dead people, will be raised atop mile-high white towers.  Why not mile-high white towers, as opposed to six-foot holes?  There would be obstacles, surely, for engineers and architects, and the problem of space.  But space could be set aside.  There is Greenland, for instance, vast and white like heaven..."

For me, the first third of the book is riveting, funny and clever.  It seemed to lose focus, and my interest, once Eggers uses an MTV "The Real World" cast member-wannabe  interview as a device to share his motivations for writing this book.  Regardless, it's well worth reading and enjoying for it's shear innovative writing style.


"Good-Bye My Friend" by Michele Lanci-Altomare, Bowtie Press, 2000.

I have long been a fan of Michele's infrared cemetery photography, so when I heard she recently had a book published, I couldn't wait to review it.  A kindred spirit, Michele has focused a great deal of her photographic talents on graveyards and cemeteries. I have to admit, I was only aware of her work as it related to human remains.   This book is a valentine to pet owners everywhere as it features pet cemeteries, related memorials, and various tributes to former pets.  Many of the images in the book are Polaroid transfers giving them a dreamy, almost surreal feel, which softly accompany the many thoughts and feelings from pet owners, cemetery caretakers, and veterinarians.  The content is a wonderful mix of facts, feelings, and humor.  I learned that the Pet's Rest Cemetery, Crematory for Pet Animals, in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the most visited cemetery in an area with no less than fifteen human cemeteries!  I also appreciated Michele's extensive resource section that includes: pet loss grief support hot lines; Web sites on a variety of related topics; a selected bibliography; and a state-by-state listing of pet cemeteries in the United States.  Pet owners who want to know how to deal with their loss, and how to bury or cremate their pet, will find this book invaluable.

Personally, I'm not a "pet person," but I couldn't help but be touched by Rena Edwards' heartfelt essay which dealt with how she still grieves for her many pets and how they affected her life.  She writes, "Each pet has taught me a different thing about life.  Put together, I learned about unconditional love, caring, and wisdom, not to take myself too seriously, to trust in God completely, to always look for a rainbow, and that we are never really alone.  I still feel their presence in my home and I visit their graves often...I still love each one."

"Goodbye My Friend" celebrates the unconditional love many pets provide their owners.  I highly recommend this book as a gift to anyone who loves animals or for yourself, if you are they type who appreciates the patter of little paws around your home. 


"Who's Buried In Grant's Tomb?  A Tour of Presidential Gravesites" by Brian Lamb and the C-SPAN staff; John Hopkins, 2000.

Entertainment Weekly (February 18, 2000) gave this book an "A" in a review that says "(this book) is the perfect gift for that morbid political junkie in your family."  


"Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson" by Mitch Albom; New York: Doubleday; 1997.

College professor and mentor, Morrie Schwartz, is dying and his wisdom and insights on life are recorded by his former student, Mitch Albom.

Morrie has a wonderful sense of humor, as illustrated by this excerpt: "Morrie wanted to be cremated. He had discussed it with Charlotte (his wife), and they decided it was the best way. The rabbi from Brandeis, Al Axelrad - a longtime friend whom they chose to conduct the funeral service - had come to visit Morrie, and Morrie told him of his cremation plans.
'And Al?'
'Make sure they don't overcook me.'"

There are also portions of the book that are incredibly profound. This is my favorite metaphor for life:

"'I heard a nice little story the other day,' Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.
'Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He's enjoying the wind and the fresh air -- until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.
'My God this is terrible,' the wave says.
'Look what's going to happen to me!'
Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, 'Why do you look so sad?'
The first wave says, 'You don't understand! We're all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn't that terrible?'
The second wave says, 'No, you don't understand. You're not a wave. You're part of the ocean.'
I smile and Morrie closes his eyes again.
'Part of the ocean,' he says, 'part of the ocean.'"

This is a must read. "Tuesdays with Morrie" emphasizes the importance of love and relationships and provides a wisdom to help readers really examine their lives. It could also provide a source of comfort to those dealing with long-term illness and fatal diseases. "Tuesdays" is concise, well-written, and a joy to read!


THE coolest book on death…….

"Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies" by Kenneth Iserson, M.D., Tucson, AZ : Galen Press, Ltd., 1994.

This book could easily be retitled: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Death, But Were Afraid to Ask. Iserson does a great job of covering every aspect of what happens to a person, once they stop breathing. Chapter titles include: I’m Dead - Now What? Beauty in Death (what undertakers do with the body and industry jargon and buzzwords) The Eternal Flame (cremation) Souls on Ice (cryonic suspension) and Say It Gently: Words, Sayings and Poetry About the Dead. The glossary contains an extensive collection of death-related terms and the appendices include various federal laws regarding human remains, as well as the National Selected Morticians Code of Good Funeral Practice.  Iserson’s writing style is very readable and much of the book’s content is fascinating. This is a must read!


Other books on death and cemeteries...

(in no particular order of importance)

"The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians" by Scott Stanton, 3T Publishing.  After learning on a trip to Macon, Georgia that Duane Allman's grave was the No. 1 tourist attraction there, this author set out to locate the final resting places of other musicians. This book traces the lives, deaths and permanent residences of artists as diverse as Bessie Smith and Kurt Cobain.

"Dead Ends: An Irreverent Field Guide to the Graves of the Famous" by David Cross and Robert Bent (1991) is a personal favorite….it offers fast, concise information about celebrities and their final resting places in an easy-to-read format.

"How We Die" by Dr. Sherwin Nuland reached #2 on the Publishers Weekly Best Seller List!

"Death: A Trip of a Lifetime" by Greg Palmer was not only a successful book, but also a PBS special (I like Palmer’s offbeat sense of humor….if you like this Web site, you’ll appreciate this book).

The controversial "Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying" by Derek Humphry and published by The Hemlock Society received lots of press before Dr. Kevorkian made headlines.

"Tombstones: Eighty Famous People and Their Final Resting Places" by Gregg Felsen received a pick review in the June 2, 1997 issue of People magazine.

"Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America" by Stanley B. Burns, M.D. (1990), a very eerie, yet intriguing, book as it was once the practice to photograph children who had recently died (a difficult book to browse if you are a parent or sensitive).

  • "Death-Lite" series (all cover near-death experiences):

  • "Embraced by the Light" by Betty J. Eadle

  • "Saved by the Light" by Dannion Brinkley

  • "Closer to the Light"

  • "Transformed by the Light"

  • "Soul in Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland" by John Gary Brown

  • "Saving Graces: Images of Women in European Cemeteries" by David Robinson, foreword by Joyce Carol Oates, contains truly beautiful cemetery photography

  • "Beautiful Death: Art of the Cemetery" by David Robinson with the text by Dean Koontz (1996) is another visual treat by Robinson

  • "After the Funeral: Posthumous Adventures of Famous Corpses" by Edwin Murphy

  • "Elmwood Endures: History of A Detroit Cemetery" by Michael S. Franck(1996)

  • "Old Cemeteries of Southeastern Massachusetts" (1995)

  • "Cemeteries in the U.S." (1994)

  • "Gardens and Graveyards of the Southeastern Seaboard: A Photographic Journey" (1994)

  • "Old Burial Grounds in New Jersey" by Janice K. Sarapin (1994)

  • "Ethnicity and the American Graveyard" (1993)

  • "Pacific Graveyard" (1993)

  • "Cemeteries and Grave Markers: Voices of American Culture" (1992)

  • "The Glasgow Graveyard Guide" (UK) (1992)

  • "Allegheny Cemetery: A Romantic Landscape in Pittsburgh" (1991)

  • "Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries: A Reappraisal" (UK) (1991)

  • "Scoring in Heaven: Gravestones and Cemetery Art of the American Sunbelt States" (1991)

    "Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries" (1995) (a collection of photos and essays)

  • "Final Curtain: Deaths of Noted Movie and Television Personalities" by Everett Grant Jarvis (1996)

  • "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" (a recent interpretation of the classic

    Tibetan Book of the Dead" by renowned Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche) continues to bury its competition.

  • "The Bedside Book of Death" by Bob Wilkins (1991)

  • "The English Way of Death" by Julian Litten (1991)

    "The Cemetery Book" by Tom Weil (1992) is pretty dry and academic.


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