Accounting for the Afterlife's New Appeal

And it will play into the imaginations of future generations even more, she says. While Henry didn't know any of her grandparents before they died, her son, who is 16, will see all of his grandparents die, she said.

"It used to be people died much younger and much quicker," she said. "With technology we're living longer and dying slower."

Life's Defining Contrast

However, Henry doesn't see anything unusual with this latest fascination with death and the afterlife.

Every generation has dealt with death, she said. A baby boomer herself, she brought up previous trends toward the macabre: the music of The Doors, and movies such as Harold and Maude, a 1971 comedy about a death-obssessed 20-year-old who befriends a senior with a zest for life, and The Loved One, a 1965 comedy about a man from Hollywood who goes to England to inter his uncle.

But Henry also notes that even if boomers are interested in death, many of them are doing all they can to pretend it will never come. With face-lifts and liposuction, she says, "we're doing everything to say we're not [aging]."

Regardless of generation, Americans still don't die well, she said. "It's always a crisis." There's an aphorism, she said: "In Asia, death is a requirement. In Europe, death is inevitable. In the U.S., we think it's optional."

Diana Gill, a book editor for publisher HarperCollins, said there "doesn't seem to be some sort of gestalt in changing people's attitudes towards death, at least in book publishing."

Instead, she said the fascination with death that may extend from the interest in angels a few years back. "I think it's just sort of the next extension of that."

But one thing about death is inarguable. As Gill said, "it's something people have always been fascinated and repulsed by."

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