Biography, History, Nonfiction

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca

Great Lives Worth Reliving

Mobituaries was featured in the holiday catalog for the regional association for the indie bookstore I work at, and it really sold quite well for the holidays. When it came time to find a new audiobook to listen to before bed, I thought I’d give Mobituaries as try, not knowing it tied into the podcast of the same name.

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap:
Mo Rocca has always loved obituaries – reading about the remarkable lives of global leaders, Hollywood heavyweights, and innovators who changed the world. But not every notable life has gotten the send-off it deserves. With Mobituaries – the companion book to the hit podcast of the same name – the journalist, humorist, and history buff is righting that wrong, profiling the people who have long fascinated him – from the twentieth century’s greatest entertainer… to sitcom characters gone all too soon… to a shamefully forgotten Founding Father. Even if you know the names, you’ve never understood why the matter… until now.

Review

I’ve long been fascinated by the lives of famous people – both living and gone. I’m an Anthony Bourdain fanatic, I love news on the British royal family, and I’ve always enjoyed both biographies of people, as well as biographical fiction written about them, both accurate and inaccurate. But I’d never really thought about their obituaries.

My sister, Laura, spent some great length of time on the phone with me the other day complaining about how funeral homes don’t know how to write obituaries. Our uncle had just died and apparently the obituary wasn’t up to snuff. This was the third time in the last few years I’d heard her rant, she practically reads obituaries for a living for her job as a genealogist, so when she tells me something is wrong, I take her word for it.

To then listen to so many obituaries, after reading those of many family members (three family members died in the first week of January), felt oddly normal and cathartic. Last year was the summer of death books, January is the month of obituaries apparently. But with a twist. After listening, it is my understanding that Mo Rocca takes the people who he thinks did not receive appropriate send offs in their obituaries, and rewrites them to give them a better send off, which I think is a wonderful idea.

For most people, squeezing their life’s work and accomplishments into a single newspaper column is daunting. And for someone who was known to a great deal of the world for their accomplishments, it can be so much harder. You want to write a whole biography, but space is limited. In this sense, Mobituaries is similar to my favorite mini-bio anthologies like Rejected Princesses and A Gross of Pirates. They are single works, that highlight the lives of many people around a similar theme.

Mobituaries is divided into thematic chapters and I love them all. From politicians to actors, aviatrixes to community activists, Mo Rocca covers so many people of diverse backgrounds and industries, that grouping them together is essential. Each chapter has one in depth obituary followed by a few shorter ones of people who accomplished similar things or lived similar lives. Some of my favorite features, however, are the pages where Mo’s signature wit shines through. For instance, when he explains the difference between those with similar names that we may confuse, like Gore Vidal and Vidal Sassoon.

While I haven’t really had great success getting into podcasts, I tend to prefer audiobooks, Mobituaries is my first podcast inspired book, and it has led me to want to investigate podcasts in greater detail. I’ve been given the names of so many to listen to, at this point, it’s probably inevitable that I will start!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through IndieBound or your local independent (most of us received signed copies from the publisher!), in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.

And stay tuned for this week – I’m participating in Top 5 Tuesday for the second week in a row and my Thursday Diary of a Bookseller feature will come to you from the nationwide American Booksellers Association winter institute conference in Baltimore!

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