Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister

Stories in Stone:  A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography is a slender volume, designed to be easily pocketable on outings to cemeteries.   Written by photographer Douglas Keister, it provides a useful compendium of information including a brief overview of architectural types present in cemeteries, a list of social organizations ranging from the well known Masons to the less well known, and an explanation of the symbolism in the decorative carvings on stones.  The volume is lavishly illustrated with beautiful color photographs, and the text is well written.  In addition, the book is divided into logical sections and well indexed, so quickly finding a particular entry is not a problem.  
It is available in both a hardback binding and a plasticized paper binding.  The paper binding seems slightly more rugged, and would be preferable if you plan to make this an "always with you" part of your cemetery explorations.  The hardcover
is handsomely bound and an excellent choice for your home reference library.  Either binding should serve cemetery students well. Amazon is even offering a kindle edition for your on-the-go reading pleasure (but I'd still recommend the hardback so you can see the full-color photography).  

My one criticism of this book and others like it is that it sometimes overemphasizes the symbolism.  Stories in Stone does a better job than most of not falling into the "every stroke of the carver's chisel is symbolic" trap but it is a point worth making, regardless.  Sometimes a flower is just a flower, chosen by the family because it was a favorite of the deceased or because they like the way it looks - still symbolic, but a very personalized symbolism which cannot be discerned solely from appearance.  

Still, Stories in Stone is one of the better reference works I've seen.  Certainly worth checking out. 
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1 comment:

Douglas Keister said...

Thanks for the Stories in Stone review. You may be interested in my latest book, Forever Dixie. It doesn't have as much symbolism, since it concentrates on 13 Southern Cemeteries, but it does have some symbolism that is Southern specific. Forever Dixie is available on Amazon