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Books by the Blogger:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

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Authors & publishers:
I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them. The blog, however, will continue, and if you've got a good first line to share for TwitterLit please do so here.



  
From a random review:

  

« McCall Smith, Alexander: The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs | Main | Sharratt, Mary: The Vanishing Point »

Johnson, Marilyn: The Dead Beat

  

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HarperCollins © 2006, 244 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Marilyn Johnson is a connoisseur of obituaries. At once an avid reader and occasional  writer of obits--her words have ushered out such luminaries as Bob Hope and Princess Diana--Johnson has now become, with The Dead Beat, a chronicler of the history of obituaries and of the subcultures of obituarists and obituary enthusiasts. In her perfectly titled book, in perfectly readable prose, Johnson discusses a number of topics: the difference between American and British obituaries, how various newspapers memorialized the victims of 9/11, the online haunts of fanatical obituary watchers, the "revolution" in obituary writing that took place in the mid-1980's, when obituarists--in particular Jim Nicholson of the Philadelphia Daily News--began to write up the lives of the ordinary departed. Johnson profiles a number of obituarists in her book--I found them hard to distinguish from one another after a time--but her portrait of Nicholson, now retired and caring for his ailing wife, is particularly affecting.

As Johnson explains, obituaries preserve information--personal anecdotes and gossip and small moments in a life--that you won't find elsewhere in a newspaper.The obit lovers about whom Johnson writes presumably already understood this, but what I came away from her book with was an appreciation of the obituary, at its best, as an art form and as history. As Johnson explains, obituaries preserve information--personal anecdotes and gossip and small moments in a life--that you won't find elsewhere in a newspaper. Of the obituary of a Russian émigré that mentioned the deceased's escape from the Bolsheviks as a child, for example, she writes:

"Where else would a story like this surface in our world? It wouldn't be on the local news because there's no video footage. It happened long ago, to someone who died, so we won't be reading it on the front page, or the editorial page, or in the lifestyles pages, where cookie recipes meet movie reviews. Only the obituaries keep such personal history alive."

An obituarist writing up the life of the owner of a wine store cum diner in Atlanta dug up another historical gem that might otherwise have gone unpreserved:

"One day, Marvin Griffin, the former segregationist governor of Georgia, Ralph McGill, the liberal editor of the old Atlanta Constitution, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., found themselves shopping in the store at the same time, and ended up in the back room together. A few bottles of Mr. Jim Sanders's wine smoothed the meal in this tantalizing footnote in the history of the South. The three men, all great storytellers, stood outside the wine store after it closed, laughing and swapping tales. King was killed soon after."

Johnson ends this anecdote with a line that elegantly sums ups the historical function of the obituary: "The vast waterfall of history pours down, and a few obituarists fill teacups with the stories." Good writing--as that sentence demonstrates--and a great subject make this one worth the read, whether you're an obituary follower already or not.

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Book-blog.com reviews by Debra Hamel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.