A Book of Cheeky Obituaries Highlights ‘Eccentric Lives’

Dwight Garner in The New York Times:

It used to be that, when you died, what you wanted was an obituary in a good newspaper, not that you’d be around to savor it. Since the introduction of the smartphone, the stakes have been raised. “I got a breaking news alert when I croaked,” some overachiever has surely bragged in the great beyond. “How about you?”

Obituaries in newspapers like this one have loosened up in the past few decades. Résumé virtues, like being the inventor of Velcro, still matter most, but eulogy virtues, like being able to mimic an old school bus starting up, are increasingly sneaking in as well. One newspaper led this shift in tone: The Daily Telegraph in London. It was The Telegraph’s inspiration, beginning in the 1980s, to treat obituaries as an essentially comic form. The paper’s cheeky, truth-dealing obits have inspired a cult readership. The books that collect them, with titles devoted to “Rogues,” “Heroes and Adventurers,” “Naval Obituaries,” “Sports” and so on, are oddly uplifting, better than edibles, to tuck into before bed.

The latest Telegraph collection is titled “Eccentric Lives.” It’s a book about oddballs and joy-hogs and the especially drunken and/or irascible, and it may be the best yet. The English journalist Jessica Mitford, in her letters, said that the slogan for her funeral would be “brevity followed by levity.” The Telegraph seems to abide by similar rules.

More here.