Bookworm: Author Kathy Benjamin puts the fun in ‘Funeral’

‘Innovation’ is the final installment of Ackroyd’s ‘The History of England,’ but you can read it first, if you’d rather

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime – Before It’s Too Late”

  • By Kathy Benjamin
  • c. 2021, Quirk Books
  • $16.99, $22.99 Canada; 176 pages

How do you say “goodbye?” How can you let go, knowing that it’s the last time, the last moment, that the laughs you shared, the meals, the trips are over? How do you take your leave, and leave behind nothing but good memories? You read “It’s Your Funeral!” by Kathy Benjamin, that’s how, and you go with a nudge, a wink, and some awesome tunes.

You’ll never get out of this world alive.

Kathy Benjamin thinks we all need to remember that. She’s going to die, you’re going to die, everyone in the past who ever drew a breath has died, full stop. So, because you have no choice in this matter, you might as well make your final farewell as personal as possible.

“It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime – Before It’s Too Late” by Kathy Benjamin.

Most people who’ve gone before you have had ground burials, but today’s decedents have choices, says Benjamin. Ground burials are not the most earth-friendly actions you can take and, most surprisingly, neither is cremation – although, if you decide on cremation, there “creative” things that can be done with your dead self.

Otherwise, you might choose a natural burial, or composting. You could become food for trees and plants, or you could be made into “sludge.” Burial at sea might be an option, or go out with a bang, become bling, or be “buried” in space. If you’re really science-minded, you could be plastinated, or you could donate your body to a medical facility or a “body farm.” Check local laws before going wild.

“It’s Your Funeral! Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime – Before It’s Too Late” author Kathy Benjamin.

As for your funeral, Benjamin touches upon the various religious services you can have, and ideas for venues. Imagine your funeral at your favorite bar, or at a bowling alley. Give out goodie bags, ask friends to sign your casket, and choose funeral tunes that mean something to you in life. Write your own obituary and be sure to give your digital passwords to your loved ones. Then leave a legacy, a bench with your name on it, a park, or a brick at a stadium. You might be gone, but you won’t be forgotten...

By now, you already know that “It’s Your Funeral!” isn’t your usual funeral planner. Nope, this planner is made for the person who cha-cha’d through life, catching every adventure, looking for the next party, and who doesn’t want to go until Last Call is announced.

Though the subject is normally quite morose, author Kathy Benjamin puts the fun in funerals by making readers chuckle, kind of in a shoulder-nudging way that lets us know it’s okay if we don’t necessarily want crying beside our crypts. In addition to helping with the tiniest details in our personalized send-offs, Benjamin writes about other things that you may wonder about: grave-robbing, building your own coffin, what items lie in celebrity graves, jazz funerals, and how to ask a famous singer to perform at your send-off.

That makes this something you can read even when you’re not planning on going anywhere soon. If you’re dying for a unique book, in fact, grab “It’s Your Funeral” and say hello!

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“Innovation: The History of England Volume VI”

  • By Peter Ackroyd
  • c. 2021, St. Martin’s Press
  • $29.99, higher in Canada; 512 pages

“The King is in his counting-house, counting out his money.”

Written as a parody, those old nursery rhymes didn’t make much sense to you then, and they probably still don’t. The Queen in this particular rhyme might’ve had bread with honey, but a nose-pecking blackbird? Wouldn’t you really rather get your British history from “Innovation: The History of England Volume VI” by Peter Ackroyd?

“Innovation: The History of England Volume VI” by Peter Ackroyd.

At the end of the Boer War in 1902, British citizens were “shocked,” not by the war itself, but by the “wretched condition of the British troops” as they struggled home. It would take time for Great Britain to recover.

Part of that recovery would happen outside London, as both upper- and middle-class citizens migrated from city to suburbia, driven at least partially by a nostalgia for an imaginary country life that most had never really known. Leaving London meant that many now had to commute to their jobs, and the English became, as Ackroyd says, “car crazy.”

“Innovation: The History of England Volume VI” author Peter Ackroyd.

Life took a bit of a turbulent turn when King Edward VII died, and his son George V ascended the throne. Women had been lobbying for the vote and some were imprisoned, where they went on a hunger strike and were subsequently force-fed, causing outrage around the world.

George struggled elsewhere politically, too, as Germany’s growing power eased Great Britain toward World War I.

At Wars’ end, British women finally got their vote, but with limitations; and flappers were changing social mores in both bedroom and bar. This, unrest in Ireland, and general politics led to “confusion, pessimism and disquietude,” but also “vitality and exhilaration.” Homes became cheaper and more available, incomes rose, and new homeowners enjoyed mass-produced goods and chain stores.

“And then,” says Ackroyd, “came the crash.”

It was followed alarmingly quickly by Hitler’s rise to power and World War II. George V died in 1936; his son Edward VIII ruled for a few months before famously abdicating for the woman he loved, George VI ascended the throne and died in 1952.

And just like that, Great Britain was thrust into a new Elizabethan era...

Don’t even try to get away with calling “Innovation” a “peek” at history.

No, author Peter Ackroyd offers a very wide, deep examination of a century of big change for citizens of Great Britain, both private and public, extending to change for the world at large. The tale sweeps and swoops, diving into every small corner of twentieth-century life from posh pads and palaces to Parliament with a focus on politics, culture, war, and a variety of affairs of state, dropping readers off at the door of the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, this means a relative scarcity of the presence of Royalty in this tale that might make Royal watchers slightly miffed; still, Ackroyd’s work is lively enough without it to remain quite enjoyable.

“Innovation” is the final installment of Ackroyd’s “The History of England,” but you can read it first, if you’d rather. For fans or scholars of British History, this book’s great.

You can count on it.

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“You Have More Influence Than You Think”

  • By Vanessa Bohns
  • c. 2021, W.W. Norton   
  • $28.95, $38.95 Canada; 235 pages

There's something you need to know, eyes forward and listen, keep an open mind and a shut mouth, and pay attention. Then know that this is not the way to persuade anyone to do anything; in fact, it'll backfire and in "You Have More Influence Than You Think" by Vanessa Bohns, you'll learn what will work to gently change someone's mind.

"Hey, I like your shirt!"

It literally takes two seconds to say that but watch what happens when you say it to a stranger: they stand a little taller, happily flustered that someone approves; they feel good, and boom, you've just influenced someone to smile.

You'd be surprised at how easy it is to be influential, says social psychologist Bohns. You just have to be noticed, and you won't need to "wave your hands around and shout" for that to happen. If you want attention, "you already have it" because we humans are "wired to notice... people," and people who are noticed are often followed.

So, you have influence without even trying, but how do you create the biggest impact? Here's another surprise: studies show that sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Students sent out to borrow cell phones from strangers were successful more than not; one experiment proved that people would commit minor vandalism if they're asked.

This may be explained by an extreme human difficulty in saying "no." Research shows that even if something is illegal or uncomfortable and a person clearly doesn't want to say "yes," many will, to avoid saying "no." This, says Bohn, is why understanding the ask is essential, and dating and mating can be irritating; add perceived power to the mix, and an issue becomes less influential and more wrong.

To further your influence, try to connect with people. State what you think; that alone may help. Utilize crowd behavior. Always communicate in-person. And chill: as every parent will tell you, overreactions just make things worse ...

You are being watched. And that's a good thing but it can also be detrimental, so complete your actions wisely: in "You Have More Influence Than You Think," you'll see how even innocuous behaviors can make an impact.

Beware, but as author Vanessa Bohns states, there's no need to be "paranoid" if you keep in mind that the title of this book is correct and that being an influencer has serious weight. Indeed, the notion that influence can be harnessed with a mere appropriately-stated request is almost shocking, like having a superpower that’s too big to control. Whether it's verbal, action, or a posting, your influence can hurt someone and can cause misinformation and rumors to be perceived as truth, even when said in jest. Pick your convictions with caution, as she indicates, and remember that "You don't need to have an opinion on everything..."

Read “You Have More Influence Than You Think” carefully and with great thought, take its confidence-boosting, and use it wisely. There's power in this book and if you need sway.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.