Since moving to the Island in September, I’ve been reading about the Vineyard in many forms and on different websites — novels, poems, memoirs, histories both human and natural, trail guides and tide charts. For one who’s just washed ashore, they are all helpful, but I’ve found that the best source of information and insight into the life of the Island arrives on Friday in the Vineyard Gazette: the obituary pages.

When I open the paper, I glance at the front page and then set the paper aside until I have a stretch of clear time. I like to sink into a comfortable chair so that I can, without hurry, read the news of the departed. So many of the obits are about people I wish I’d known. Their life stories are intimate, moving, revealing, full of vivid anecdote and shining detail. One man climbed the steeple of the West Tisbury Congregational Church — a tale he told, with pride, for the rest of his life. A woman who loved poetry recited Shakespeare and Billy Collins at the doctor’s office or to telemarketers.

Not all newspapers have room for that kind of anecdote, and often obituaries are not personal at all. In Washington, my former hometown, they were often scrupulously impersonal. They focused on the career, the public life. Paragraphs were spent documenting the subject’s education, positions held, title, awards, notable achievements. To get a proper obituary in the Washington Post — that is, one that was written by a staffer — you had to be deemed worthy. In a city where the battle for attention is waged constantly, the lengthy obit was the final triumph, the crown of a career.

As for the almighty New York Times obituaries, it is hard to mention them without making a joke. These are the obituaries to die for! Long ago, when a bright young writer I knew was basking in early success, he crowed that he’d achieved his immortality — now, surely, the New York Times would run his obituary! I hoped he was kidding, but he wasn’t. More recently, I was at a dinner party where the host speculated which guests at his table would make the New York Times. Disclosure: I won’t.

It probably goes without saying that I’m a regular reader of obits of all kinds. I can’t avoid them. They turn up everywhere — in class notes in alumni magazines, in reports from organizations I belong to, on social media. Decades ago, I reached the age when my contemporaries began to slip away, and I can no longer ignore obituaries as reports from a faraway land. My age cohort, to borrow a metaphor from John Updike, is now “in the big guy’s range.”

I’ve come to realize that the obituaries that claim my attention and respect are not those that provide simply a record of a person’s deeds. They do something more difficult and more meaningful. They show me what mattered to a particular human being, what he or she loved and lived for — they show me who the person was.

In one way or another, nearly every Gazette obituary notes how much the departed loved the Island, a love often rooted in childhood experience. Who doesn’t want to return to the place where they were happy as children? In the stories of both seasonal and year-round residents, the Island figures as a place of adventure, inspiration, discovery, beauty, magic. The Vineyard has also been the setting for many affairs of the heart — it’s striking, really, how often an Island romance has turned into an enduring relationship, the bedrock on which family traditions are built.

With such deep attachment as the starting point, the Gazette obits are able to trace lifelong pursuits and passions. The kid who liked to mess around in small boats becomes a blue water sailor. The girl who met her husband at a school dance is last seen, sixty years later, still dancing with him. Viewed through the prism of Vineyard experience, lives often reveal a meaning and coherence that isn’t evident from any other perspective.

These obits appear to be written by friends or family of the departed. Sometimes the voice is so particular that I wonder if the subject was looking over the writer’s shoulder. To my eye, the page seems run on strictly democratic principles. The woman who raised seven kids and worked eight jobs gets the same number of words as the noted historian or the corporate CEO.

Collectively, these obituaries are the portrait of a complicated, beloved Island. There’s no single kind of person who decides on the instant that this is where they want to spend their precious days. Vineyarders are here by choice, not chance. This is the place, above all others, where they feel at home. They want to be in a place that sings to them. What I take away from the obits is that this Island has its own spirit, its own soul, and its own powers of enchantment.

No doubt I overstate, but, obviously, I’m one of the many who’s fallen under the spell. I don’t expect an obituary in the New York Times, but I think that someday — please, not soon — I might get one in these pages. It won’t be that hard to write: From body surfing at South Beach to chasing stripers, from the stories of watermen and stone workers to the music in the Tabernacle, from eating scallops with his wife and fishing with his son, he loved what the Vineyard had to offer. To the very end he kept scribbling away, and one of his last essays was about swimming in the Atlantic.

Stephen Goodwin lives in Vineyard Haven. He is a co-author of The Nature of the Game: Links Golf at Bandon Dunes and Far Beyond, forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf in May.