Book #15: “They Went That-A-Way: How the Famous, the Infamous, and the Great Died” — Malcolm Forbes & Jeff Bloch (1988)
Ever read the obits just to read them? Not because you knew anyone who died or anything, or like the old joke from Ben Franklin, but just because. Back when I actually read a newspaper, I always picked out a few each day, based on name or picture or age or length of the entry, and tried to piece together their story.
That’s the thing with obituaries: except for the occasional outrageous “let ‘er RIP!” winner, most are just benchmarks, outlines, the parameters of a life. Born, died, wife, kids, lived, worked, a couple of hobbies, maybe a passion or two. Most don’t even list the cause of death (though ‘send donations to’ is often a clue.) Rarely anything such as — were they happy? Did they do what they wanted to do in life? Did people like them? We’re they funny or boring, good parents or complete dicks? What were their secrets? Were they faithful to their spouse? Did they even have a spouse and if not why didn’t they ever marry? What was their story?
That’s what made “They Went That-a-Way” such a great read — it wasn’t that they were celebrity deaths, but that the encapsulated obits told great stories, whether it was epic or mundane (including dispelling the myth of Oscar Wilde’s last words.) Plus, it had one of the most beautiful cover designs I’ve ever seen — really, what more do you want from a book?