My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a spectacularly beautiful book, which I fully expected after seeing Grant’s photography by way of the cemetery groups on Facebook. His pictures capture the vivid colors of spring, summer, and autumn, as well as the indignities wrought by time, lichen, and pollution. The photos manage to be both joyful and melancholy, like the best exploration of a cemetery on a sunny day.
Unfortunately, rather than caption the photographs as to where they were taken, there’s an index with minuscule print on the penultimate page. I’m going to have to do the work to cross-reference the photos, because there are monuments that Grant has documented that I would like to see for myself.
The book’s text is primarily limited to epitaphs drawn from Grant’s cemetery travels. That element disappointed me, since the epitaphs appear without any identifying information beyond a date — which I assume is the date of death on the tombstone from which they are copied, although that isn’t made clear. I’d like to know more. What state did the epitaph come from? What city? What graveyard? Was the person it remembers male, female, young, old? Can anything be inferred about the family’s religious beliefs or familial connections or social relationships? Is the epitaph original to the stone from which it came? Is this person individualized? Or are the epitaphs quoted from scripture or hymns or poetry of the time?
Without more information, the epitaphs became tedious. They appear to be mostly Christian, mostly Victorian, and while they don’t seem to repeat exactly, their all too similar sentiments become repetitious.
Several years ago, I heard a fascinating presentation at an Association for Gravestone Studies conference on the origins of familiar epitaphs. I wish Grant had included some of that information here.
About halfway through the book, I gave up on reading the epitaphs altogether and returned to simply gazing at the wonderful pictures. They are where the true magic of this book lies.
You can get your own copy of this book here: Final Thoughts: Eternal Beauty in Stone. Buy a copy for a friend who needs to be shown what it is you see when you visit a cemetery.