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Dayton Foster's coffee-table book for true deadheads

It may seem downright unChristmasy to be talking about the dead, grateful or not, at this time and season. But if you've got an eccentric, contemplative, bookish, introspective type on your shopping list, then I have a suggestion: Dayton Foster's The Dead Do Speak To Us...of Love, Life & Death (Author House), a local author's surprisingly sunny tour of tombstones, cemetery monuments and other forms of memorials of the dead.

It's an entire necropolis at your fingertips, and that's not nearly as weird as it sounds. See also: Westword Book Club with donnie betts on reading from the bottom shelf of the library.

Foster, described in press materials as a retired advertising professional, apparently likes to visit graveyards in his spare time. This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Other than in zombie movies, cemeteries tend to be rather quiet retreats from the workaday world, with marvelous stonework and occasionally puzzling or pithy epitaphs. Foster's book is essentially a collection of photographs of tombs grand and obscure, accompanied by elegiac lines from various poets and philosophers, from the likes of Shakespeare and Whitman to the ever-elusive Anonymous.

While the idea of a couple hundred pages of tombstones and sepulchres may sound a bit overly morbid, there's an inspirational quality to such a tour. All these somber soundings on mortality and eroding tributes to long-gone loved ones encourage reflections on the brevity of any given life span and what sort of victory, if any, can be wrung from merciless time. "To recognize the reality of death in our lives allows us to enjoy the preciousness of life," Foster writes in a brief preface. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, this self-published softcover retails upwind of $50. But folks who don't mind contemplating the resting place that lies ahead -- and you know who you are -- might see it as an investment in the future.

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