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Obit by Jim Sheeler

Image of Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives
Last week I headed to Crested Butte, Colorado. It turns out there’s no better book to bring along than Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives , which is as much about creating a picture of Coloradoans as it is the individuals profiled.

Author Sheeler spent years an obituary writer for the Denver Post, and this short compilation focuses on those whose lives would never make huge headlines, but who lived interesting lives. Some of the stories are uplifting, some are tragic, but all have a dignity appropriate to what will probably be the last thing written about a subject. Several focus on the individual’s connection to the outdoors, such as the farmer who never quite replicated the success he achieved in 1976, or a rock-climbing pair who plunge to their death. A large number of those profiled don’t start in Colorado, but end up there having left Kansas or Missouri in search of a better life.

Sheeler’s prose is spare, and occasionally stilted, but he also treats his subjects with the appropriate level of gravitas without veering into melodrama. There’s a powerful theme of everyone in this book in that they weren’t famous, but that they had complex lives. Everyone will find a story that speaks to them – for me, it’s the couples who die in close proximity to each other; for others it will be the teenager who dies from a congenital heart defect. This is not the type of book that necessarily moves you to tears, but it should at least make you stop and think about what your obituary would be about.

Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives is appropriate for middle- and high-schoolers, and could be used in a lesson plan illustrating the different types of writing. It would also be helpful to those embarking on a newspaper career, as good obituary writing is an undervalued skill.