Thursday, April 16, 2009

"People have been slipping out of this world in occupational clusters ... for years."

I've left the artwork here a bit larger than normal because I absolutely love the cover of this book -- The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson. I don't remember where I heard about this book (maybe in this review from Jenners?) but it sounded interesting so it made it into my library queue. It's an odd-sized book for a slightly odd topic that Johnson swears is the most normal thing in the world.

Many facets of the obituary world are touched on in this book -- writers, obituary collectors, celebrity funerals and the tragedy of September 11th -- just to name a few. I thought the train of thought through the book was a bit scattered and sometimes I disagreed with Johnson's take on something but this was an entertaining read. The last paragraph really brings the whole issue together in a soft-hearted but professional manner.
"I still think that the point of the obituary and the beauty of it, aside from its elegant structure and the wonderful writing it can inspire, lies in that heroic act. There goes one, the only one, the last of his kind, the end of a particular strand of DNA. ... The better the obit, the closer it approaches re-creation. It's an act of reverence, a contemplation of this life that sparked and died, but also an act of defiance, a fist waved at God or the stars. And what else, really, do we have besides the story?"

I plan sometime soon to pick up the recently released The Economist Book of Obituaries, a collection of 199 obituaries run in The Economist over the last 13 years.

Wondering if the word "accomplished" could be used in my obit yet,

Buy The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries and The Economist Book of Obituaries on Amazon or find them at your local library.


  1. This sounds quite interesting! And I love that cover. :D

  2. This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages (50 cents at a library sale). I'll get around to it one of these days because it does look interesting.

    The Economist collection is great fun for dipping into. They include a very eclectic mix of people, not just your usual celebrities and notable figures.

  3. Eva - I'm sure you can grab it in one of your gigantic library runs! ;)

    Teresa - One day we will get to all of those books on our piles, eh? I will probably read the Economist one like short stories -- I can't imagine reading a whole pile of obituaries at once.

  4. I agree with you ... it was a bit scattered but an interseting look at a strange topic. Got me into Obituaries. And then I did get the Economist BOok of Obits and saw what hooked her! : )