Column Classic: Deadhead

By Lisa Scottoline

Of course I read the obituaries.

I can’t be the only one.

I do it every morning, in two newspapers, before I start to work. It takes a lotu of time. I know, it sounds like stalling, but it’s more like praying.

You’ll see what I mean.

And it’s not as if I started reading them recently, now that it’s likelier I’ll die than find a date.

In truth, I’ve read obits all my life, even as a kid.

I never saw them as being about deaths. I saw them as being about people, and I love people.

In other words, it’s not a death story. It’s a life story.

I’m always struck by how accomplished people are, and what they’ve done in their lives that’s benefited me, only I didn’t know it. For example, today I read an obit of a doctor who was one of the first to link smoking to cancer. I owe that guy, though I ever knew him. I nagged my father to quit, and he did. I nagged Mother Mary to quit, but she didn’t until she got and survived throat cancer.

Did I mention she’s stubborn?

I read another obit, of a real estate developer who changed the skyline of my beloved hometown, Philadelphia, and was also responsible for one of my favorite works of art, the giant Clothespin by Claes Oldenburg, which sits in front of the office building where I used to work.

I owe that guy, too.

I used to love to look out of my office window at that sculpture. It’s a brown clothespin that’s ten stories tall, and it made me smile, every day. Because of it, I bought a book about Claes Oldenburg and learned about his life and his art. So the least I can do is take the time to read about the man who introduced me to Claes Oldenburg and send him a mental thank-you note.

I always read the obits of soldiers. I owe it to them, each and every one of them. They’re so young, and they’re out there day and night, putting their very lives on the line while I make dinner or walk the dogs or pour coffee. The obits are the stories of their lives and their accomplishments, which are the greatest and most unselfish of all.

Sacrificing one’s life for another.

But not every obit is of a soldier or a famous doctor, and that’s precisely the point. Lots of obits are of cooks, dentists, teachers, and mechanics. Every death matters, because every life matters.

Everybody owes somebody for something.

For example, I read an obit today about a high school English teacher. I can’t imagine how many people owe her. Hundreds, maybe thousands, in all her years of teaching. I also read an obit of a fire captain who trained new firefighters at the fire academy. This was a man who saved lives, and who taught others to save lives. How many people owe him?


In our own lives, whom do we owe? Mother, father, daughter, sister, brother, aunt, teacher, doctor, girlfriend. It’s all in the obits. Each one tells the story of a human life, and of a family’s love. I look at the notices, I see the names. Grieved by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Greatly missed by his father. Survived by a beloved wife.

It sounds simple to say, almost simplistic, but all of us are connected by love and by gratitude.

And the proof, its very particulars, are the obits.

It’s true that I’m a little sad after I finish the obits.

Sometimes the pictures break my heart.

The faces smile at the camera, grinning at someone they love, happy and alive.

They’re me.

And I remember how lucky I am, every morning.

How lucky we all are, in each other.

Past, present, and even future.

All of us.


Copyright Lisa Scottoline

In Praise of Dillon Helbig

By Lisa Scottoline

Do you know who Dillon Helbig is?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Because I’m betting that one day his will be a household name.

Dillon is a second-grader in Idaho who loves to make up stories. One day he wrote one down and titled it The Adventures of Dylan Helbig’s Crismis. It was eighty-one pages, and he made a cover and illustrated it himself. Underneath the title he wrote, By Dillon His Self.

I love this kid.

But it gets better.

So then, on his next trip to the library with his grandmother, unbeknownst to anyone, Dillon slipped his book onto the shelf in the children’s section. What happened next is that the librarians discovered the book, read it, decided it meets their selection criteria, and added it to the library’s collection. Everybody who reads it loves it, and now there’s a long wait list to check it out. Not only that, the library awarded Dillon its first-ever Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist.

I love everything about this story. I love that Dillon loves books, loves the library, and doesn’t always follow the rules. I love librarians for myriad reasons, and this story illustrates all of them, but mainly because they love books, love the library, and don’t always follow the rules.

Dylan is reportedly working on a sequel to his book, which will involve his dog Rusty.

This kid is a genius.

His marketing instincts are unerring.

Dogs always work in books.

If I didn’t have a dog named Rusty, I would say I did.


Dillon’s next book idea is reportedly about a closet that eats clothes.

Honestly, that’s the best book idea ever.

This kid is the master.

I mean, he wrote a book and put it on the library shelf.

He wanted his book in the library.

Who doesn’t?

I lived in the library when I was younger, and I used to dream of having my books in the library.

I should add that this story about Dillon appeared in The Washington Post, to which I digitally subscribe, and the piece was written by Kellie B. Gormly. If you want to know more details, you should read it there because it will make you feel really good.

The story is all the more remarkable when you realize it happened in the same week that books are being taken off library shelves.

Because you may have read that a school district in Tennessee banned the graphic novel Maus, effectively taking it off its school library shelves, even though the book won a Pulitzer. Maus is about the Holocaust and is written by Art Spiegelman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, and is based on his father’s stories. In the novel, the victims are mice and the Nazis are cats.

The Tennessee school board gave some reason for banning the book, but I’m not going to repeat them because there’s no good reason to take Maus off the shelf in any library.

Especially at a time when people are waving Nazi flags from overpasses in Orlando.

The United States Holocaust Museum said that Maus played “a vital role” in Holocaust education. And by the way, the Tennessee school district took this action the same week as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’m guessing they forgot.

It’s ironic that a child’s instinct is to put a book on the shelf, but at the same time adults who lack his wisdom take books off.

It hit home for me because my novel Eternal comes out in paperback this week, and it’s about many things, among them the Holocaust in Italy. I wrote the book for many reasons, among them that I want people to know what happened during Fascism and Nazism, in the very heart of Rome. I’m proud I wrote the book, proud it’s been so well-received, and proud it’s on a library shelf, where it belongs.

And it better stay there, or I’m going to get very South Philly on somebody’s tushie.

What we need in this country is more books, not fewer.

What we need in this country is more education, not less.

What we need in this country is great big thinkers like a little kid.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2022