A handy guide that demystifies the challenging art of modern obituary writing.
Most people are familiar with the boilerplate newspaper obit, but some may wonder: do we really need to keep writing them in the modern era? “The web has obliterated space limitations and media restrictions,” writes the author in her introduction, “yet obituary writers are urged to follow the same shopworn templates folks used 30 years ago.” The past few decades have seen great shifts toward secularism, confessionalism, and online social interactions. Kinsey, a longtime professional editor and writer, argues that contemporary obituaries should accommodate this evolution in order to properly celebrate the recently deceased. Her debut book is intended as a beginner’s guide to obit writing, offering not only tips on the writing process, but also an expanded notion of what an obituary can be. Modern obits, she says, must celebrate the deceased’s individuality and humanity—even if that means recognizing some flaws—with photos, videos, voice recordings, music, and other media in addition to simple prose. Kinsey tackles such topics as collaborating on an obituary (or writing one’s own), figuring out a subject’s essential qualities, choosing a digital platform, and even photo and video editing techniques. Citing real obituaries as examples, the author takes readers through the myriad options for making sure that an “obituee” doesn’t become a mere name on a piece of paper. The author writes in a colorful, cajoling prose that keeps things light with numerous jokes and asides: “On my very first report card, the teacher wrote ‘Easily distracted.’ What do people remember about your obituee’s habits and behavior?” She also peppers the text with quotes from famous authors and experienced obituary writers. Most illuminating are the excerpts from dozens of real obituaries, which Kinsey highlights to demonstrate successful uses of place and nostalgia and other elements of a thoughtful, balanced remembrance. In more than 150 pages, Kinsey approaches this art from every angle, and although she advocates for highly personalized obituaries, her book works well as a catchall guide to the form.
A thorough, accessible obit-creation manual.