Michelle's Reviews > The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries

The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson
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's review
Apr 28, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in April, 2008

I never realized what intense writing went into the ordinary and the extraordinary obituary. This book takes you deep inside the business of the dead beat. It covered the whole gamut from Ordinary Joe to the Egalitarians and ultimately to the Obituarist's Obituary!

The chapter on September 11th, was fascinating. The NY Times had quite a dilemma. What do you do when you need to write up 3,000 obits? Well, it was quite remarkable. They snagged 120 journalists, from all parts of the paper and had them help out in the task. And what about those who never had a body to confirm their death? They decided to write instead about the missing and called it Portraits of Grief. They took all those phone numbers and email addresses on the papers we saw tacked all over the city from loved ones begging for info on their missing family member and they contacted them and put together this beautiful celebration of each individual life.

And then the poet, Billy Collins, said something most eloquently. It was a time when everyone found themselves useless. "What was needed was poetry," he wrote. "What we want to hear (at times like this) is a human voice speaking directly in our ears." I loved that. I remember how it felt then and he was right.

The entire book was interesting as it reveals the secrets of that last little outpost for our lives here on earth. For as Marilyn Johnson writes, "what else, really, do we have besides the story?"

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Michelle Oh is this fun to read! (Especially for really weird people like myself who clip and collect obituaries for a living...)

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