Cemeteries are more than just resting places for the dead. They serve a practical purpose. They also serve as historical markers, they reflect cultural values, and they impress us with their gorgeous designs, and much more.
Some people find cemeteries particularly interesting for these very reasons. Don’t worry if you’re such a person. You’re not weird, and you’re certainly not alone. You just happen to be a “taphophile.”
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For those looking to learn more about cemeteries and their cultural value and symbolism, there are many books about cemeteries worth checking out. Some are fictional tales, some are history books, and some merely highlight the aesthetic appeal of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries.
This list will cover some of the best around. If you’d like to read more cemetery books in the future, keep the following titles in mind.
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Fiction Books About Cemeteries
Cemeteries are naturally dramatic locations. It comes as no surprise that many fiction books about cemeteries and movies about cemeteries use them as their primary settings.
Noteworthy fiction books about cemeteries include:
1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This young adult fantasy novel from Neil Gaiman lets readers know where it takes place right in the title. It tells the story of a young boy who, after his parents are murdered, lives with supernatural beings in a nearby cemetery. A graphic novel adaptation of the book is also available, and there have even been talks of adapting it into a movie.
2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
The misspelling is intentional! Pet Sematary, one of horror master Stephen King’s most chilling novels, describes a cursed plot of land where the children of a Maine town once buried their deceased pets. However, they may have chosen this particular location for their “sematary” thanks to certain unique supernatural qualities.
Along with being a very frightening read, Pet Sematary is also one of the most devastating books about death you’ll ever come across. The way it explores the depths of grief is remarkably honest and painful. King’s book was also adapted into a movie in 1989, and a remake in 2019.
3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
True, it’s not exclusively about cemeteries, but this beloved book (and its two sequels) features just enough cemetery-centric stories to earn a spot on this list! Like many of these listed works, there is also a movie adaptation. Many children who traversed their local libraries in the 90s may remember the unsettling and creepy illustrations that accompanied these tales of fright.
4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
As a reader with an interest in books about cemeteries, you may enjoy books about funeral homes as well. Give this one a try if so.
In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Alison Bechdel tells the story of her strained relationship with her funeral director father. Featuring numerous scenes and descriptions of preparing the dead for burial, it makes for a powerful companion to these cemetery books.
5. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
The Victorians had a uniquely strong interest in death and burial customs. Their cemeteries for society’s elite embodied this fascination.
Falling Angels opens at such a cemetery, and as it progresses, its two protagonists’ attraction to the nearby graveyard plays a significant role in the story. It’s among the most nuanced explorations of the connection between cultural values and burial practices you’ll likely ever read.
6. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
A Fine and Private Place is, on its surface, very similar to The Graveyard Book, although it boasts an emotional resonance all its own. This is another fantasy book about a character who lives in a cemetery and forges relationships with the ghosts who also make the cemetery their home.
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Non-Fiction Books About Cemeteries
Fiction cemetery books may take advantage of the natural dramatic qualities of a burial ground, but they don’t always share much information about their history or designs. Luckily, these non-fiction cemetery books more than make up for that.
7. 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die by Loren Rhoads
If you enjoy checking out a unique cemetery or graveyard whenever you get the chance, consider referencing this book the next time you plan a vacation. As the name implies, it offers a glimpse into some of the most impressive and historic cemeteries in the world.
Along with helping you plan your next trip, it can help you better understand the cultural and spiritual role cemeteries have played (and continue to play) in human life throughout history.
8. The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds by Marilyn Yalom
Death is a universal human experience, and humans have always needed to dispose of their dead. That means cemeteries have been in use for ages. Because cemeteries are so ubiquitous, they can teach us much about a nation’s past.
In this book, author Marilyn Yalom views American history through the lens of burial practices. It’s not just a book about cemeteries, but also an overall look back at our shared national heritage.
9. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister
If you’re the type of person who likes to visit beautiful, historic, or simply interesting cemeteries, you may also have questions about the various images and iconography you often find in cemeteries. This handy guide will help you decipher their messages and meanings.
10. Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy
Not all burial spaces are traditional cemeteries! As this book proves, the bodies of some of the most famous people in history have often wound up in interesting spots.
11. Beautiful Death: Art of the Cemetery by David Robinson and Dean Koontz
This cemetery book features gorgeous photographs of many of the world’s most striking cemeteries. Thriller author Dean Koontz adds to the photographs by contributing his own thoughts on the deaths of his parents.
12. Elysium--A Gathering of Souls: New Orleans Cemeteries by Sandra Russell Clark
It’s difficult to pick just one when choosing which book about a specific city’s cemeteries to include on this list. There are plenty of wonderful books about London’s cemeteries, Paris’ catacombs and cemeteries. However, this title ultimately belongs here thanks to the way Sandra Russell Clark’s photography masterfully depicts the unique above-ground tombs of New Orleans cemeteries.
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13. The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians by Scott Stanton
Some people plan trips to various cemeteries not merely to admire their beauty or learn about their history but also to visit the graves of famous figures. If you have a particular interest in visiting the graves of popular musicians, this book will help you find them. The book includes (but is not limited to) the graves of Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix.
14. The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses by Paul Koudounaris
A charnel house or ossuary is a building or vault for storing human bones. Despite existing to serve a practical purpose, many of history’s ossuaries and charnel houses eventually became darkly beautiful monuments to death.
A room or building filled to the brim with human bones isn’t a sight everyone finds pleasant. However, many find that ossuaries and charnel houses have a strange morbid appeal. This renowned book covers their history and offers images of some of the most well-known charnel houses and ossuaries in the world.
15. Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman
This book offers a comprehensive general introduction to the various ways people have treated human burial throughout history. Penny Colman shares insights into burial practices you might find surprising or shocking, describes the process of preparing a body for burial, lists some of the most interesting epitaphs in the world, and much more.
16. The Hour of Our Death by Phillip Aries
Aries’ book doesn’t focus exclusively on cemeteries, though they are chief among the many topics covered. Overall, the book is a highly-researched description of the way attitudes toward death in the Western world have changed and evolved over the course of history. The book also helps shed light on the psychological forces driving our fear of death (or lack thereof).
17. Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Again, cemeteries can teach us a lot about history. Not just the history of a given place or society, but in many cases, our own personal and family histories as well.
However, to take advantage of this aspect of a cemetery, it helps to have some basic understanding of cemetery research methods. This book covers the topic in detail. Whether you’re an academic or simply someone with an interest in cemeteries, it serves as a very useful resource.
Cemetery Books: Stories from the Past
Whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, cemetery books appeal to many for numerous reasons. After all, every cemetery has seemingly countless stories to tell and lessons to share.