Taking It With You, or Booked to Death

My husband and I took a nice afternoon outing to Laurel Hill Cemetery, in Philadelphia PA. Picnicing and taking photos are a past time of ours. Yes, really. We came across a particular monument that inspired me to ask the question, does your vision of the afterlife include books? Are there lending libraries,or personal wood paneled places for your favorites to reside? If your vision is more in spirit than solid, would there still be ways in which to read? And then of course, the typical question, but one I am interested in knowing from people–if books are allowed in heaven, but only 5, which 5 would be essential, that a person would not tire of for eternity? Is there any book that could weather that amount of time and repetitiveness?

And the last part of my question fest–what novels come to mind dealing with cemeteries–not ghost stories per se, but the subject being specifically set in or about cemeteries?

We’ve been to cemeteries all over the place. On each of our weird road trips, we’ve visited at least one. We love the offbeat t0mbstones, such as the man who was ridiculed and even jailed because he wore a beard! Or the double monument of a woman and man in separate beds holding holds across the stone. People are as inventive planning for death, as they are living their lives.

I’ve seen many monuments with books as a feature, but they tend to be scroll like or tablets of a profound nature. Wisdom is written on a page beside a wreath or flag or weeping angel. The monument in Laurel Hill was different, the man atop had a real book in his hand, sitting in what appeared to be a nice comfy chair. And I couldn’t help but wonder if he read for pleasure, or this piece was to indicate scholarship. Knowing the Victorian, reading for knowledge would be the likeliest.

My perfect heaven would be an immense yet cosy  Tudor library, with ceilings so high you needed binoculars to spot the top shelves. A sliding ladder allows one to move easily from one book laden area, to others. A spiral staircase up and farther up to the very top is easily climbed–after all, it is heaven, one shouldn’t need to exert oneself. Alice in Wonderland stained glass windows open to a white cotton candy cloud sky. Unique William Morris upholstery covers a windowseat, matching down filled pillows scattered about. A leather overstuffed chair worn to incredible softness sits close by a glorious  Craftsman hand-tiled fireplace, where above the mantle, magnificent framed pieces of illustration changes daily. Rackham, to Dulac, to Nielsen, to H. Robinson, to Charles Robinson, to Anne Anderson, to my latest passion, Dugald Sewart Walker. You never see the same piece twice, unless you choose to.
The shining wood floors are covered here and there by muted carpets of tapestry patterns, and paneled walls that aren’t part of the shelved books gleam with firelight and reflected spines. Books are piled to varying degrees, teetering, tilting, sagging, or straight, they are at my fingertips to pick up at will, nothing preventing my sinking into the leather chair and  loosing myself for hours in an engrossing tale of a serial killer dismembering his victims.

Ah, yes, heaven. For about 5 days, then boredom beyond words would set in and I’d want to be off doing things, before returning to cracking a bookspine.

5 books? Hmm. I don’t enjoy reading books a second, third time. If read once, even if I forget everything about it, I want to move on–no time to linger over one title–I need to go to the next in a pile of unread gems. So, 5 books forever, and ever and ever?

I think I’d need some kind of huge coffee table book of children’s illustrators work from the Golden Age. I don’t seem to tire as much when looking at art. A perfect mystery book? Ugh. Crime fiction is particularly tough because once the murderer is revealed–what is left to re-read? So, characters and situations must out draw the puzzle. I must be involved again and again in the tale, and that’s almost impossible for any book to do for me. Maybe if the game of Clue were a book, each time read, a different suspect/murderer is found? I need to ponder this question.

History, biography, fiction? How to chose! Perhaps a 10 volume set of the history of the world–would that be cheating? All the same title, just many volumes. I figure reading 10 v0lumes  should take a few years. and by the time I’d finished them all, I’d forgotten what I’d read and be able to start all over fresh!

I think I couldn’t do without a version of Mother Goose–the rhymes are soothing and reassuring–remember, it’s heaven and I’ve no idea if I’ve got a permanent spot or something a tad warmer is in store.

So, how many is that? If you count the 10 v0lume as one, and find a mystery to take Clue’s place then I’ve 4. You’d think an obsessed book collector like myself would have too many picks, not too little. Again, it’s the repitition that worries me, but, hey–Then I guess it would need to be–ta da–In Powder and Crinoline–illustrated by Kay Nielsen–not that I own this now–or ever will, out of my price range– but I figure heaven is named that for a reason and if I can’t attain it in heaven, well, that would just plain be mean!!!

I can think of two cemetery themed books offhand–but don’t ask me what they are about in detail–I read them eons ago.

The Loved One–Evelyn Waugh, (I think)–mocks out the funeral industry, I believe–please correct me, I’m not thin skinned, ha ha.

A Fine and Private Place–Peter S. Beagle–I read this so long ago, but remember it was haunting, in some way. Also, the cemetery it is set in, happens to be one I passed a great deal. Again, I think. I think I shouldn’t think anymore and let  posters correct whatever needs it or ad to my feeble attempts here!

Please write some of your thoughts on the subject!

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  • Hey, I didn’t expect a pop-quiz today…!!

    1. The biggest, longest anthology of poetry
    2. Ditto but world history
    3. The Arabian Nights
    4. ? by Anthony Trollope
    5. My last choice is a result of consulting with my husband… “A guide to the afterlife” which may or may not exist! His other choice was “Communicating with the Living”, another made-up title. Remind me never to cheat off his test papers!!

    Re: your second question — I have no clue. The only one I can think of is Pet Cemetary but I’m not sure I even read it. When I was growing up I used to visit this cemetary frequently http://www.oakhillcemeterydc.org/map.html (I grew up in northwest DC.) When I lived in Cambridge, MA my apartment was a 5 min walk from here http://www.mountauburn.org/gallery/
    Your question is coincidental with my morning newspaper insert of “Places to visit this summer in Yamhill County, Oregon” and my decision to visit a cemetary I haven’t yet seen.

    And, BTW, wouldn’t you consider taking The Plumley Inheritance?

    • A quiz, the idea! When I give a quiz, you’ll know it–the questions will be much more difficult, like identifying which episode of Law and Order I’m describing–now that would be a quiz!

      No poetry for me, too short, and I’d go crazy trying to figure out what the heck they’re saying.

      I’ve never read the Arabian Nights–though I love the illustrations. So, that’s not of interest either.

      Oh, I’m embarrassed to admit–I’ve never read Trollope, and to tell you the truth, other than some vague whisperings in my brain that his work was scandalous when first out, I’ve not a whit of thought as to what or how he writes. I’m illiterate, I know!

      I will check out your cemeteries and see if we’ve been or not. Oak Hill sounds familiar, but then again almost all cemeteries are named after trees or plants. Tee hee.

  • I’m totally bummed, Nancy–we missed Mount Auburn on our last trip. Either it wasn’t in Weird Ma or Roadside America, or it wasn’t within our route. It looks swell.
    And Oak Hill doesn’t look familiar either.
    So, these are must sees–the bucket list of bucket kicking.

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