199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

199cemeteries_1aIt’s been forever since I wrote an honest blog post. That’s because in September I was approached by a big New York publisher.  They asked if I might be interested in writing a cemetery travel book for them.  I said I’d been thinking of something along the lines of “99 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.”  The editor laughed.  They’d just been playing with that title in their marketing meeting.

After meeting a little more, they decided that 99 cemeteries weren’t enough. I wrote up an annotated table of contents in November. They were excited about how comprehensive it was. I went into research mode.

I finished the first draft in mid-January.  It was about twice the length it needed to be.  I’ve done two more drafts since, chopping it down, and turned it in yesterday.

I’m really excited about this book.  I learned a huge amount in the writing of it. The page designs I’ve seen were really lovely.  To be honest, I think I should’ve had 250 cemeteries — or maybe 500, because even 199 meant I had to leave things out.  But the deadline was very short, because the book is coming out this October. Maybe if this one sells well, I can do a sequel.

In the meantime, I need to clean up my desk, put my books back on the shelves, file away the research, clear out my emails, and prepare to get the editor’s notes so this bad boy can go to the printers. It’s not over yet.

I haven’t taken a day off since Christmas Day. I haven’t seen my friends in months.  I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, but it was hard to remain so focused for so long. I may wander down to Cypress Lawn today, get some sun, and listen to the birds sing. It’s time to put more living in my work/life balance.

If you’d like to preorder an amazing book about the 199 Cemeteries You Should See Before You Die, it’s up on Amazon at a good discount: http://amzn.to/2mip0G6.

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Lovely Photos of a Bygone Era

Carved Memories: Heritage in Stone from the Russian Jewish PaleCarved Memories: Heritage in Stone from the Russian Jewish Pale by David Goberman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Pinsky’s introduction to this collection of David Goberman’s gravestone photography is poetic and devastating. Pinsky speaks of these gravestones as not only recording the lives whose names they bear but also as markers that memorialize the death of a world that no longer exists, wiped out by World War II and Stalin.

Starting in the 1930s, David Goberman photographed the Jewish graveyards beyond the Pale of Russia. In this so-called Pale of Settlement, Jews made up almost twelve percent of the population. A million and a half Jews lived in some 700 towns and cities that had Jewish majorities. In some cases, they had lived there for centuries. Some of the grave markers are no better than folk art: lions carved by someone who has only ever seen a lion pictured in a book. Others are wonderful, complex works of art, combining typography and symbolism to reveal the lives of the people buried below.

This is a beautiful book and lovingly produced. The only reason I’ve taken one star off is because it paints such a dire picture unnecessarily. Yes, much is gone: the communities, their culture, the graveyards themselves. However, some does survive: the large, lovely graveyard at Chernivitsi in the Western Ukraine still exists and still welcomes heritage tourists.

This is not to say that what graveyards do survive are not endangered. These days, more than ever, it seems that we are called on to protect the relics of the past, to remember the lessons they teach us.

This book is really cheap on Amazon and you should have a copy for your cemetery book collection: http://amzn.to/2lxy48Z

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The Art Tour of Staglieno Cemetery

Staglieno: The Art of the Marble CarverStaglieno: The Art of the Marble Carver by Walter S Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first cemetery book I’ve read that was written by a sculptor. Arnold enthuses about the magnificent statuary of Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa. He goes through all the hands that a grave marker statue passes through from initial conception to the final polish, then spends the rest of the book drawing the reader’s attention to the exquisite details on display in Staglieno. I will never look at cemetery statues the same way.

However, if you are looking for a guide to Staglieno, full of biographies of the dead or names of particular artists, this is not the book for you. Beyond a cursory history of the cemetery, Arnold isn’t interested in names and dates. He’s an artist, here to look at art. I really appreciated having him as my guide.

The book is available on Amazon, but it’s really expensive for a paperback. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2lYQfFO

I ordered my copy direct from Arnold and had him sign it, too: http://www.stonecarver.com/Staglieno.html

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The Gateway to Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries

Galveston's Broadway Cemeteries (Images of America: Texas)Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries by Kathleen Shanahan Maca
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book opens by saying visitors to Galveston don’t understand that what appears to be one cemetery running for blocks along Broadway is really seven cemeteries. Then in goes on to scramble all the cemeteries together, sorting their permanent residents into chapters on soldiers, businessmen, and politicians. Without an index, the only way to discover who is buried in, say, the Old City Cemetery — the original pioneer cemetery — is to look at the two-letter code beneath each photo. It’s possible, but needlessly complicated.

The glorious cover photo is the best image in the book. Although there are some lovely monuments included inside, the images tend toward photos of the deceased. It would be immensely helpful if you’re interested in historical portraits, but you know that’s not my primary focus. I could always do with more cemetery photographs.

The information in the final chapter about the restoration work being done at the cemeteries was cheering. It made a great ending to the book.

The book is on sale on Amazon.

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A History of Tour of the Hong Kong Cemetery

The Happy Valley: A History and Tour of the Hong Kong CemeteryThe Happy Valley: A History and Tour of the Hong Kong Cemetery by Ken Nicolson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is pretty much the epitome of a cemetery guidebook. It opens with a history of Hong Kong and the area where the cemetery stands, moves into the cemetery’s inspirations (including the Glasgow Necropolis, which I personally did not know enough about), and then goes into the rise and fall of the graveyard at hand. The next section offers a series of guided tours, pointing out monuments of note as well as heritage trees, wildlife to look for, and monuments in need of conservation. Finally, the book concludes with a glossary of cemetery iconography.

The only thing preventing me from giving it 5 stars is the photographs of the cemetery. They’re purely utilitarian snapshots, without any artistry at all. They serve the book’s purpose, but every other part of the book is such high quality, I wish the photos were, too.

This is a fascinating book, whether you’ve ever been to Hong Kong or not. In fact, it’s made me more determined to go at see the cemetery for myself.

I got my copy of Amazon.

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