Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson

Do you enjoy reading unique nonfiction books? Boy, do I have just the book for your reading pleasure! It's titled The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and The Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson and it's a book which I had the "perverse pleasure" of reading back in 2010. 

I stumbled upon The Dead Beat while perusing through a Borders Bookstore's bargain section and it's unique title and cover design caught my attention immediately, so I thought I'd give it a go. Little did I know I'd enjoy reading this little gem of a book! I never thought I'd enjoy reading about the subject of obituaries, but Ms. Johnson's writing style and her way of sharing information makes reading about obituaries fun. I learned a lot about the topic of obituaries and have a new appreciate of this dying art form.

Listen to 'The Dead Beat' Highlights the Joy of Obituary Writing on NPR, where host Renee Montagne talks with Marilyn Johnson about her book.

The following is an editorial review of The Dead Beat from
Once upon a time, journalism profs duly instructed their greenhorn grads to seek out community papers and the obit pages as logical entrance points into the world of newspaper reporting. Working for cash-strapped local papers allowed novices to practice writing everything from hard news to lifestyle features. Obituaries, meanwhile, were a rung on the ladder of major publications, albeit the lowest. The musty, dusty obit pages also traditionally hosted aging reporters put out to pasture. Not any more, argues Marilyn Johnson in her unabashedly knock-kneed love letter to the obit pages, The Dead Beat. Today, august publications like The New York Times, England's Daily Telegraph, Independent, and The Economist, and Canada's Globe and Mail use exalted members of the fourth estate to turn out smart, hip tributes to widespread, almost cultish, acclaim. Why? Because, as Johnson persuasively demonstrates in her book, truth is almost always stranger than fiction and a well-written, deeply researched obit is not only a vital historical record but a damn fine read over coffee and toast. "God is my assignment editor," cracks Richard Pearson of the Washington Post and if that isn't more interesting than what's going on in your city council chambers, author Johnson and those working the so-called Dead Beat don't know what is. As Johnson explains in free-wheeling prose, today's obit writers are virtual folk heroes with global Internet followings and their own conventions. With care and an ear for gentle humor, Johnson guides her readers through the surprisingly structured, labyrinthine obit scene, pausing to meet the writers while pondering both the essence of our being and why, in the right hands, the life of an average Joe can be just as riveting as the shenanigans of a high-flying playboy. And infinitely more resonant. Savvy J-school professors and their students are advised to take heed. --Kim Hughes
Pick up a copy of The Dead Beat and find out for yourself why this book is such a good read. Maybe you'll become an avid obituary reader after reading Marilyn Johnson's book!

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