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Book Review: ‘Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving.’

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Mo Rocca (photo by John Paul Filo/CBS)

Dust to dust. That’s supposedly our fate when we exit, stage left. We were formed out of dust, and we’ll once again just be a pile of it when we die.

But is that all? Couldn’t we hope to live on as a line or two on a page somewhere? Or, as in the new book Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg, will someone remember?

Nothing lasts forever. If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to know its truth: everything and everybody ends eventually, and some leave without any fanfare. We might not even see them go because, as Rocca (who is openly gay) muses, “Not everyone has gotten the send-off they were due.” That setting-things-right need for closure launched Mo Rocca’s Mobituaries podcast as a way to show his appreciation “for someone [or some thing] who didn’t get the love she or he deserved the first time around.”

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving
• by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg
• 2019
• Simon & Schuster (simonandschuster.com)
• 375 pages
• $29.99

Take, for instance, the “long S,” which looks something like a small F and can be found in the Declaration of Independence. It ceased to be used in late 1803, so it’s gone—but not forgotten. Women don’t wear hobble skirts anymore, and men don’t wear codpieces. Doctors don’t believe that phrenology helps to diagnose your obsession with cats, and encyclopedias won’t help a young author-to-be who thinks he’s gay. And you can no longer visit Prussia, because it hasn’t existed since early 1947.

But things don’t just disappear. People do, too.

Once upon a time, every man wanted to dress like a guy named Beau Brummel. We don’t talk about Ada Lovelace these days, or her 19th-century computer programming work. Few people know who Moses Fleetwood Walker is, and even in today’s political climate, Billy Carter’s name is rarely mentioned. Reputations can die ignominiously, TV shows get canceled, and careers fade away (or sometimes end tragically with a president’s assassination). Complacency can die, as can grace.

But sometimes, just when we think life is filled with nothing but death, demise, and unpleasantries, it can return on the tops of champagne bubbles.

The first thing—perhaps even the only thing—you need to know about Mobituaries is that it’s absolutely delightful. Promise yourself two minutes with this book, and you’ll still be reading half an hour later. Dip in for a little nostalgia (when did station wagons depart, anyhow?). Step back in time to witness the acts of people who made big impacts, but are now largely forgotten. See how celebrities can eclipse other celebs, even in death.

Like with a bag of potato chips, watch yourself reach into this book for another handful, because authors Rocca and Greenberg give readers just enough to whet appetites without filling them up. And as with any feast, literary or otherwise, you can nibble without thinking you must have a heaping helping of everything.

Rattle around, and you’ll find that Mobituaries is gently humorous, kindly inclusive, and just plain fun to read. Keep it nearby and you can bet this book won’t be collecting dust.

This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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