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A little light reading
August 25, 2010 - Deb Gau
I'm back from a little bit of vacation time, in which I started, but didn't quite manage to finish a book. It's not what I would call typical beach reading, but "The Dead Beat" by Marilyn Johnson is pretty entertaining nevertheless. It's a nonfiction book all about obituaries and the journalists who write them. Fascinating stuff — at larger newspapers that have their own separate obits departments, it's a job that kind of straddles the line between being a scholarly biographer and a human interest features writer. Being an obituarist often means keeping one eye on aging or ailing public figures at all times, just in case, or sometimes compiling biographical info or interesting stories about a person years before they die. On the human interest level, it also means being able to unveil ordinary people's personalities and their impact on the community.
The most interesting thing I've learned so far is that there are whole "schools" of obituary writing. Some newspapers favor a more sentimental or heartwarming writing style for obituaries, while others employ humor. Apparently, the major newspapers in England are known for tongue-in-cheek or outright catty profiles of the departed.
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