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

Marilyn Johnson, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-06-075875-2

A journalist who's written obituaries of Princess Di and Johnny Cash, Johnson counts herself among the obit obsessed, one who subsists on the "tiny pieces of cultural flotsam to profound illuminations of history" gathered from obits from around the world, which she reads online daily—sometimes for hours. Her quirky, accessible book starts at the Sixth Great Obituary Writers' International Conference, where she meets others like herself. Johnson explores this written form like a scholar, delving into the differences between British and American obits, as well as regional differences within this country; she visits Chuck Strum, the New York Times' obituary editor, but also highlights lesser-known papers that offer top-notch obits; she reaffirms life as much as she talks about death. Johnson handles her offbeat topic with an appropriate level of humor, while still respecting the gravity of mortality—traits she admires in the best obit writers, who have "empathy and detachment; sensitivity and bluntness." The book claims that obits "contain the most creative writing in journalism" and that we are currently in the golden age of the obituary. We are also nearing the end of newspapers as we know them, Johnson observes, and so "it seems right that their obits are flourishing." (Mar. 1)

Reviewed on: 01/30/2006
Release date: 02/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-285-63777-1
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-206211-6
Paperback - 247 pages - 978-0-285-63805-1
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-204711-3
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-147013-4
Paperback - 252 pages - 978-0-06-075876-9
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 272 pages - 978-0-06-147016-5
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-147018-9
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-185036-3
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