Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasure of the Obituaries

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasure of the Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson. When I first saw this book, the name reminded me of a former nursing school instructor by the same name, but since the author is neither a nursing school instructor or living in Illinois, just a coincidence. At the same time, the title was completely intreguing, and what I thought was going to be a collection of obituaries, based on the title alone. I really regularly judge a book by its title, and then if intregued, and at the library, I am likely to pick it up. The book was not a collection of obituaries, but a dive into the cultural world created by the obituaries section of the paper. I liked her stories of the editors of the obituaries of the various major newspaper and the history of the modern newspaper obituarie of the "common man", although I didn't feel like her writing flowed well. I felt as though her thoughts hadn't been fully revised, and it was difficult to follow her train of thought.

While her writing may have left something to be desired, anyone who has ever read one of the staff written obituaries, about all the slighltly famous, or not famous at all that die everyday, will enjoy this book, and the look at the culture, a newly discovered culture for me, that surrounds the obituaries, and will think harder about the next time you see a newspaper and look at the obituaries sections of the paper.

Ms. Johnson comments on the form of the obituary and the changes along almost a pendulic line of the obituaries. From obituaries that celebrate life, to obituaries that focus on death, and back again. She also does a nice job of dealing with the effects of Sept. 11 and the following bombing of London Public Transit, and how obituary writers deal, or don't in some cases with crisis. She also focuses on the difference between an English Obit and an American Obit, highliting some of the people who make this section of the paper a must read for some people every moring.

The obit section will never surpass the comics section or the crossword puzzle for me, it is a section of the paper that I do seek out, and I think after this book I will pay this section more of the attention that it deserves.

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