Death: An Oral History

deathcover_digitalPortland journalist Casey Jarman is winning praise for his eclectic collection of interviews, including one with yours truly.

Of all the conversations I’ve had amidst the current crest of death talk, the one I had with Casey stood out: wide-open, willing to wonder, curious, candid.

Death: An Oral History, available this month, is described by the usually restrained Publishers Weekly as a “profound collection of essays . . .Through Jarman’s discerning curation, interesting thought patterns emerge. Even those dealing with death professionally discuss it with remarkable candor and intimacy.” Read The Guardian review.

Join me at Casey’s October 27 reading, Powell’s on Hawthorne, 7:30 pm.

“[O]ne of the most fun, surprising, and inventive essay books readers might find on any subject. . . Part memoir, with the flow and appeal similar to that of an episode of NPR’s This American Life, this revelation of a book is chock-full of vignettes that dig deep into the psyche of the Grim Reaper and how we deal with him. “—Booklist
From the introduction to Casey’s interview with me

Before we’d even begun our interview—in Pruett’s quiet, two-story house in Northeast Portland—she had asked me a handful of questions about my project. I’d grown accustomed to explaining that death is still more of an academic concept to me than a cold reality. “I still think your experience is crucial,” she told me, undeterred. “You’re a generational representative: A lot of people your age are starting to ask these same questions. And your experience is really unique. People are going to want to read about that.”

So I’ll share. Talking with Holly really sort of rattled me. I have always looked at cherished social conventions like weddings and funerals as old-fashioned relics. But I never spent much time thinking about what, if anything, they ought to be replaced with. That’s Holly’s line of work….Holly is clear-eyed about the need for ritual in our lives. I’ve been keenly aware of its absence since we talked.

Among other subjects: a musician and a former death row superintendent
An essay by one of Casey’s other interview subjects, Semon Frank Thompson, was recently featured in the New York Times Sunday Review. The piece: What I learned From Executing Two Men. (Thompson was the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary from 1994 to 1998.)

In an excerpt published on The Believer, Casey interviews songwriter David Bazan on death: “For Bazan, learning to live without the promise of an afterlife has led to a rediscovery of the concept of death.”


Order Death: An Oral History from your local independent bookseller, or come have Casey sign one for you at his October 27 reading, Powell’s on Hawthorne, 7:30 pm. I’ll be there.

2 Comments on “Death: An Oral History

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