IS America death-obsessed? You'd sure think so from a...

Salmagundi

August 31, 1994

IS America death-obsessed? You'd sure think so from a glance at recent New York Times lists of best-selling hardback and paperback books. Writers are making a killing off death.

A title that's been at or near the top of the hardback list for more than a year is "Embraced by the Light," a recounting of one woman's "near-death" experience. This shouldn't be confused with another non-fiction best-seller, "Saved by the Light," about a South Carolina businessman's two near-death experiences. Considering that the latter book costs 95 cents less than the former and contains not one but two -- count 'em, two! -- near-death tales, we wonder why it hasn't sold as well as "Embraced by the Light." Don't people know a bargain to die for when they see one?

These likewise graced a recent Times list of non-fiction hardbacks:

* "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," an examination of a young man's mysterious death in Savannah, Ga.

* "Motherless Daughters," about women's reflections on the deaths of their mothers.

* "The Lessons of Love," in which a woman describes her recovery from the death of her 12-year-old son.

Authors of best-selling hardback fiction have been holding up their (dead) end as well. Among them are John Grisham ("The Chamber," about a man on death row), Caleb Carr ("The Alienist," a story of a murder 100 years ago), Steve Martini ("Undue Influence," another murder mystery) and Elizabeth George ("Playing for the Ashes," ditto). You could even throw in the best-selling book version of the Disney film, "The Lion King," which some viewers have described as a melding of "Bambi" and "Hamlet."

In addition, a recent Times paperback list showed six fiction and five non-fiction titles linked to the Great Beyond, including two non-fiction works about encounters with angels and another about -- who else? -- O.J. Simpson.

The O.J. story, of course, is irresistible for how it touches on so many fascinating themes: sex, race, class, Hollywood, sports, the media, law. And death. How could we forget death? As the best-seller lists show, death sells.

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