'Mobituaries'

“Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving” by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg, c.2019, Simon & Schuster, $29, 375 pages.

Dust to dust.

That’s supposedly what we all become again when we exit, stage left: we are made of dust, and we’ll just be a pile of it when we die. But is that all, or can we hope to live on as a line in a page somewhere? 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 read that, you’re old enough to know its truth: everything and everybody ends eventually, and some leave without fanfare. We might not even see them go because, as Mo Rocca muses, “not everyone has gotten the send-off they were due ...” That set-things-right need for closure launched Rocca’s “Mobituary,” which is “an appreciation for someone (or some thing) who didn’t get the love she or he deserved the first time around.”

Take, for instance, “the long s,” which looks something like a small F and which can be found in the Declaration of Independence. It ceased to be used in late 1803, and is gone but not forgotten. Women don’t wear hobble skirts anymore, and men don’t wear codpieces; doctors don’t believe phrenology helps to diagnose your obsession with cats; encyclopedias won’t help a young author-to-be who thinks he’s gay; and you no longer can 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 rarely is mentioned.

Reputations can die ignominiously, TV shows get canceled, and careers fade away (or sometimes end with a President’s life). Complacency can die, as can grace. But sometimes, just when we think life is filled with nothing but death, demise and unpleasantry, it can return on the tops of champagne bubbles…

The first thing — perhaps even the only thing — you need to know is that “Mobituaries” is absolutely delightful.

Promise yourself two minutes with this book, and you’ll close its covers a half-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 now largely are 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 Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg don’t wade in too deeply; instead, they give readers just enough to whet appetites but not so much that we get full. And as with any feast, literary or otherwise, you can nibble without thinking you must have a helping of everything.

Rattle around and you’ll find that “Mobituaries” is gently humorous, kindly inclusive and plain fun to read. Have it nearby and you’ll know that this book won’t collect dust.

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