Review: The Dead Beat, Marilyn Johnson

I am late to the Marilyn Johnson party, y’all. I am not fashionably late. I am so late the servers are washing glasses and the other guests have long since departed for the after-party at the library books bar. By which I mean, y’all have probably all already read this and gone on to read This Book Is Overdue, and by now y’all are probably Marilyn Johnson’s agent for her next book about, I don’t know, the lives of book scouts or something. So, sorry. As my mother says, sometimes it be’s that way.

The Dead Beat is about obituaries: obituary writers and obituary enthusiasts. Because obituary enthusiasts are apparently a thing, to the point that they have conventions for obituary enthusiasts. I do not say this critically. I would love to be a fly on the wall at a convention for obituary enthusiasts. In related news, I like the word “enthusiast”, and any convention for an unusual interest reminds me of the very funny and very Gaimany serial killers’ convention in the second volume of Sandman.

The Dead Beat tells about famous obituaries, introduces us to notable obituarists, and explores trends in obituaries: the warts-and-all ones, the de-mortuis-nil-nisi-bonum ones, the obituaries of the rich and famous, the obituaries of the common man. Obituaries written and saved decades in advance of the subject’s death. Obituary interviews conducted almost before the body is cold. Common-man obituaries after 9/11 and criticism of same. This last was extremely affecting, and I read the book ages before the 9/11 anniversary.

If you like books that introduce you to pockets of everyday life you’ve never thought of before — and y’all know that I do like that — then The Dead Beat is the book for you. But then, considering this book was a big deal years and years and years and years ago, and I was like the only one not paying attention, you probably already know that.

There are thousands and thousands of other reviews. Because I am the last person ever to read this book in the entire world.


34 thoughts on “Review: The Dead Beat, Marilyn Johnson

  1. I enjoy obituaries and it makes me so happy to find out there are actual conventions for obituary-lovers. I may need to read this.

    (Your Sandman reference cracked me up. I hated Sandman, but the closest I came to liking it was the idea of the Cereal Convention.)

  2. As the cliche goes, better late than never. I discovered Marilyn Johnson earlier this year. I’ve read This Book is Overdue (loved!) but not The Dead Beat yet. I’ve always been fascinated by obituaries especially really good ones.

  3. You are not the last person ever! I’ve never even heard of Marilyn Johnson before. Anywhooooo, this sounds wonderfully wonderful. I will admit to flipping through the obits when I get hold of a newspaper. Not in a creepy way or anything. It’s just interesting to imagine peoples lives. Okay, I do sound like a creep. Nix what I just said.

    • Hahahaha, everyone hasn’t heard of her now! This is awesome! And makes me feel better about myself! You don’t sound like a creep at all. Maybe before I read the book but definitely not now. :p

  4. This does sound really weird and wonderful, and I had no idea that obituary enthusiasts were even a real phenomenon. So glad that you enjoyed this one, even if you came late to the party. You will be happy to know that I came even later than you!

  5. Not read it. Not even on my list. Although, it does sound interesting…if slightly morbid. But I like that in my books. πŸ™‚

  6. I’ve never read anything by this author, but I have heard of this book, because my former housemate would really like it and I’ve spent years trying to remember the title of it after it was mentioned to me once in passing.

  7. oh, and I forgot to mention that one of the things this former housemate liked about central Ohio was the “vast necropoli” we passed on the way from Columbus to my small, rural town.

  8. *waves hand wildly in the air* I haven’t read this! So you’re not the last person in the entire world to have read it. I did read This Book is Overdue!, though.

    • Okay, maybe not everyone read this but, like, a LOT of people did. And a lot of people read This Book Is Overdue which I also did not read and still haven’t.

  9. Nope, not read. Didn’t recognize the author until you mentioned Book Overdue (and still didn’t, but did vaguely recognize the book TITLE).
    I do now want to read both. I know am also thinking about The Imperfectionists because one of the features in that is about an obit writer. And also John Green for Looking for Alaska. huh.

    Can’t WAIT to see what you are making me wait to see!! TELL!

    • I cannot tell! I still haven’t decided how most eloquently to describe its awesomeness! I keep writing drafts of the review and finding them ultimately inadequate!

  10. Jeepers, if you were that late to the party then the rest of us weren’t even invited. πŸ˜‰

    Obituary enthusiasts? Who would have known? I do like it when obituaries include a picture of the person when they were young, it makes it seem a little more personal.

    And yes! Tell us of the amazing book!

  11. I read this book years ago, pre-blog. I remember finding it to be pretty interesting and thought it might have me reading obituaries after that, but it didn’t. I guess I’m not an obituary enthusiast, then. πŸ™‚ I have heard of The Book is Overdue but didn’t realize it was the same author. Actually, having spent a number of years in the library world, I do not feel compelled to read the Book is Overdue, as I have read so many articles, etc. defending the profession of librarianship, that I’m rather saturated by that discussion topic.

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