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The Baltimore Book of the Dead

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Approaching mourning and memory with intimacy, humor, and an eye for the idiosyncratic, the story starts in the 1960s in Marion Winik's native New Jersey, winds through Austin, Texas, and rural Pennsylvania, and finally settles in her current home of Baltimore. Winik begins with a portrait of her mother, the Alpha, introducing locales and language around which other storie Approaching mourning and memory with intimacy, humor, and an eye for the idiosyncratic, the story starts in the 1960s in Marion Winik's native New Jersey, winds through Austin, Texas, and rural Pennsylvania, and finally settles in her current home of Baltimore. Winik begins with a portrait of her mother, the Alpha, introducing locales and language around which other stories will orbit: the power of family, home, and love; the pain of loss and the tenderness of nostalgia; the backdrop of nature and public events. From there, she goes on to create a highly personal panorama of the last half century of American life. Joining the Alpha are the Man Who Could Take Off His Thumb, the Babydaddy, the Warrior Poetess, El Suegro, and the Thin White Duke, not to mention a miniature toy poodle and a goldfish.


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Approaching mourning and memory with intimacy, humor, and an eye for the idiosyncratic, the story starts in the 1960s in Marion Winik's native New Jersey, winds through Austin, Texas, and rural Pennsylvania, and finally settles in her current home of Baltimore. Winik begins with a portrait of her mother, the Alpha, introducing locales and language around which other storie Approaching mourning and memory with intimacy, humor, and an eye for the idiosyncratic, the story starts in the 1960s in Marion Winik's native New Jersey, winds through Austin, Texas, and rural Pennsylvania, and finally settles in her current home of Baltimore. Winik begins with a portrait of her mother, the Alpha, introducing locales and language around which other stories will orbit: the power of family, home, and love; the pain of loss and the tenderness of nostalgia; the backdrop of nature and public events. From there, she goes on to create a highly personal panorama of the last half century of American life. Joining the Alpha are the Man Who Could Take Off His Thumb, the Babydaddy, the Warrior Poetess, El Suegro, and the Thin White Duke, not to mention a miniature toy poodle and a goldfish.

30 review for The Baltimore Book of the Dead

  1. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    At 130 pages, this slim volume could be read in a couple of hours, but it deserves to be read slowly. I savored each essay and gave myself time to reflect on what I had read before moving on to the next. Each 2 page essay is a eulogy of sorts for people the author has either known personally or the lives of those who have had an impact on her life. None are named, but instead are given a title and the year of their death: The Alpha, died 2008, The Volunteer, died 2013, Portrait of a Lady, died 20 At 130 pages, this slim volume could be read in a couple of hours, but it deserves to be read slowly. I savored each essay and gave myself time to reflect on what I had read before moving on to the next. Each 2 page essay is a eulogy of sorts for people the author has either known personally or the lives of those who have had an impact on her life. None are named, but instead are given a title and the year of their death: The Alpha, died 2008, The Volunteer, died 2013, Portrait of a Lady, died 2017…etc. Each piece is written in beautiful spare prose with no wasted words. Some are funny and others are heartbreakingly poignant. What an amazing talent to convey so much in so few words. Never maudlin, no one depicted here is sugarcoated, they are celebrated for their uniqueness, flaws and all. Some lives are well-lived while others are more complicated. But all are remembered. It made me reflect on the people in my life who have gone before me and the impact I myself will leave behind one day. This book has earned a permanent place on my nightstand, where I can dip in and out of it at will. Highly recommended. Many thanks to my friend Victoria who recommended this book to me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Death is the subtext of life, there is no way around it. It is the foundation of life’s meaning and value. From the author’s introduction While the title sounds macabre, this is anything but, instead offering thoughtful remembrances in a series of short essays. Every essay is a mini eulogy of a life lived, sometimes well, sometimes painfully, but each brings forth a picture of its subject in a beautifully constructed, almost poetic way. There is nothing extraneous, no maudlin ramblings, only mem Death is the subtext of life, there is no way around it. It is the foundation of life’s meaning and value. From the author’s introduction While the title sounds macabre, this is anything but, instead offering thoughtful remembrances in a series of short essays. Every essay is a mini eulogy of a life lived, sometimes well, sometimes painfully, but each brings forth a picture of its subject in a beautifully constructed, almost poetic way. There is nothing extraneous, no maudlin ramblings, only memories boiled down to their essence and each is remarkable. Like her previous book, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead--which I haven’t read, but plan to immediately--the individuals eulogized are people she knew and others as she notes, ‘that she admired from afar,’ but none are identified beyond The Mensch, The Warrior Poetess, The Artist and so on. These titles lend an almost mythical quality to each life…and also a haunting memorial. I loved this tiny little book so much that I’ve read it twice, savoring the essays slowly the second time around just as Ann Patchett recommended. And I can’t recommend it highly enough to those who love beautiful writing stripped bare yet offering an emotional resonance that provides both insights into Winik’s life, but also our own. How will we be remembered, after all? Thank you to Amy, my ARC Fairy Godmother for introducing me to this wonderful writer and for sharing her book with me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    5 stars! ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ This stunning little book could almost fit in your pocket. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around all that is contained within the pages and deep within Winik’s words. I challenged myself to make this review bite-sized, too, and to hit at the heart of what this book is. Beginning with the story of her mother, Winik pens the memories of those who have passed away in brief essays. The writing is straightforward but filled with tenderness and hope. The themes are universal and ab 5 stars! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ This stunning little book could almost fit in your pocket. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around all that is contained within the pages and deep within Winik’s words. I challenged myself to make this review bite-sized, too, and to hit at the heart of what this book is. Beginning with the story of her mother, Winik pens the memories of those who have passed away in brief essays. The writing is straightforward but filled with tenderness and hope. The themes are universal and about what anchors us- family and home. I’ve read nothing like it, and I’m grateful a Goodreads’ friend (Victoria) reviewed it so highly. She read it based on a recommendation from none other than Anne Patchett. In summary, this book is poetic, simple, emotional, and absorbingly profound. Even with me doing my best to describe how it made me feel, I guarantee when you pick it up, it will feel different to you. It will become something bigger, and my hope is that it will fit neatly into your heart as it did mine. Thank you to Counterpoint Press for the complimentary copy. All opinions are my own. My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    This is an interesting concept of relating her life through short descriptions of people in her life who have died. The author is a poet and there are some great, quotable phrases throughout. It’s impressive how she is able to create a vivid portrait of a person in just a few paragraphs. 3.5⭐ This is an interesting concept of relating her life through short descriptions of people in her life who have died. The author is a poet and there are some great, quotable phrases throughout. It’s impressive how she is able to create a vivid portrait of a person in just a few paragraphs. 3.5⭐️

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    "Our lives are so full of dead people that any sane way of living involves constant remembrance. My days and my thoughts are shaped almost as much by people who are no longer here as those who are. That to cast this remembrance as depressing is to deprive ourselves of our history, our context, and even one of our pleasures, if a bittersweet one…Death is the subtext of life, there is no way around it.” Marion Winik’s “The Baltimore Book of the Dead” is highly reminiscent of the wonderful Eduardo "Our lives are so full of dead people that any sane way of living involves constant remembrance. My days and my thoughts are shaped almost as much by people who are no longer here as those who are. That to cast this remembrance as depressing is to deprive ourselves of our history, our context, and even one of our pleasures, if a bittersweet one…Death is the subtext of life, there is no way around it.” Marion Winik’s “The Baltimore Book of the Dead” is highly reminiscent of the wonderful Eduardo Galeano’s final book “Children of The Days”. I hold the latter in great esteem so this is one of the highest compliments I can give it. Galeano’s book takes men and women from history who may be either forgotten or not well known and writes a 1-2 page eulogy of sorts for them. It is a beautiful work and clearly something from Galeano’s heart. Winik’s book follows the same format, 1-2 page eulogies, but these are of people who touched Winik’s life in some way but are otherwise unknown (that is with the exception of eulogies to David Bowie, Prince, and Lou Reed who also touched her life in their own way). Many of her eulogies are from people she knew in Baltimore, (this book is actually a companion to an earlier work titled “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead”) a city that is no stranger to death, particularly of the violent variety. One only has to read Winik’s wonderful description of Baltimore to understand the context of the lives she writes about: “To the left and right of this spinal cord of gentrification is another Baltimore, the stubbled flanks of the city: crumbling projects, blocks and blocks of boarded-up row homes, crowded bus stops, street-corner car washes, churches, hairdressers, liquor stores, and chicken shacks.” The city, Black and White, rich and poor, sheltered and dangerously exposed is inextricably linked to the lives she describes. The message is no matter your station in life, or whether you do good or do harm, death will find you. What is most remarkable about these vignettes is how unremarkable on the surface these people are. They are middle managers, moms, dancers, teachers, advisers, strippers, a fish, two dogs, and random acquaintances who lived for the most part normal lives. What distinguishes them however is how they touched the author’s life. Some made herculean sacrifices for her, some offered their homes, others simply provided a hug or smile when she needed them most. Wink describes one such friend in one of the more beautiful passages: “Being his friend was like some kind of painless cosmetic surgery, leaving you just a little prettier and more interesting than you were before.” In the end, as we find our friends passing on and ourselves increasingly and seemingly alone in this world, is there anything more beautiful in this world than the thought that we had friends like this? There are few books about people I have never met that have the ability to move me and yet that’s exactly what this book did. It’s a testament to Winik’s skill as a writer as well as to the emotion that pours from each and every life presented here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    shirley

    Read the ebook, borrowed form the library. I really liked the format and idea of this book. And I enjoyed reading it and found it generally successful and sometimes specifically transcendent.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Preston

    This book about dead people has more life than any other 10 books. By turns funny, poignant and ironic, this touching memoir is told though those who have left this mortal coil although the author, nor you, will forget them. Highest rating!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erin Tuzuner

    Brevity is the soul of wit, and all the departed souls are residing in this slim paperback.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Fenster

    Winik populates THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD with enough people from her life to fill a small neighborhood, exposing the way a community weaves itself around a person in the course of a lifetime. She doesn't exactly bring the dead to life- that would be too easy- rather, Winik's poetic prose transforms these dear ones and acquaintances into new characters, shape-shifters, works of memory. Each vignette reinvigorates not only the remembered, but also those around them, and each holds a complex Winik populates THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD with enough people from her life to fill a small neighborhood, exposing the way a community weaves itself around a person in the course of a lifetime. She doesn't exactly bring the dead to life- that would be too easy- rather, Winik's poetic prose transforms these dear ones and acquaintances into new characters, shape-shifters, works of memory. Each vignette reinvigorates not only the remembered, but also those around them, and each holds a complex mix of celebration, anger, grief, gratitude, and (yes!) even humor. Many are deeply personal, but all speak to common issues: illness, accident, pet love, gun and police violence. This is a memoir of depth, poise, and artistry.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Lindsay

    "Death is the subtext of life," writes the author in her introduction of THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD, and she would be right. Poetic vignettes of 60+ individuals (including one dog and one goldfish), Winik captures the beauty of living in this slim book. Longtime commentator of NPR's "All Things Considered" (1991-2006), Marion Winik is a new-to-me author. I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to relish in her poetic, yet sparse writing. And relish, I did. Although THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DE "Death is the subtext of life," writes the author in her introduction of THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD, and she would be right. Poetic vignettes of 60+ individuals (including one dog and one goldfish), Winik captures the beauty of living in this slim book. Longtime commentator of NPR's "All Things Considered" (1991-2006), Marion Winik is a new-to-me author. I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to relish in her poetic, yet sparse writing. And relish, I did. Although THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD is a slim volume (heck, it could almost fit in your pocket), you might be tempted to breeze right through it in one sitting. But don't. Every short essay (2-3 pages at most) deserves your full attention, a careful read. I was amazed and awed with how vivid a portrait Ms. Winik could paint with few words. There's hope, love, family, pain all succinctly wrapped in a tidy package. THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD features 'death' in the title, and you might be wondering if you want to sit and read about death ...because doesn't that sound a bit depressing? Well, do it anyway. It's not as dull or macabre as it might sound. Winik writes with a graceful and amazingly light hand about a less-light subject and in essence, her observations are more of a lesson for the living, a glimmering memorial, and nuanced observations of the world we live. There were just a few stories that I had difficulty connecting, or wondering what, exactly, I read. But that could have just been me. Overall, I found THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD most insightful, though unusual, with a cumulative affect that will keep me thinking long after the last page. For all my reviews, including author interviews, please see: www.leslielindsay.com Special thanks to Counterpoint Press for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Bock

    This little book of bighearted essays, The Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik is truly about life, how we live our lives, how we should be grateful for having had certain people in our lives. Each essay is only a couple of hundred words and fall under generic titles, including my favorites: "The Mensch," "The Camp Director," "The Brother-in-Law," "The Father of the Bride," "El Suegro." The titles aren't my favorites, but the stories behind these men are -- imperfect, loving, giving, oft This little book of bighearted essays, The Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik is truly about life, how we live our lives, how we should be grateful for having had certain people in our lives. Each essay is only a couple of hundred words and fall under generic titles, including my favorites: "The Mensch," "The Camp Director," "The Brother-in-Law," "The Father of the Bride," "El Suegro." The titles aren't my favorites, but the stories behind these men are -- imperfect, loving, giving, often broken men are my favorites. They remind me of my Pop. There are essays on women too, and they are complicated, difficult women , several who die too young of cancers, breast, uterine. These are deeply, beautifully scored pieces. But for me, it was the essays about our imperfect men that captured my heart, that made me re-read them, and made me think of my Pop, may he rest in peace. By the end of this book, which travels to Texas, Pennsylvania and ends up in Baltimore, you mourn these people too, sometimes by laughing or smiling along with the author at the oddity and absurdity of life (this isn't an overtly sad book), but most of all, you are grateful that you have had the chance to meet these dead--and that they live on. Thank you, Marion Winik.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Non-fiction, slim volume of two-three page essays about people that the author has known in her life that have died. The essays are nameless and often the Chapter is titled with a nickname or one word descriptor of the deceased. And, somehow the book is not maudlin. It made me think of what I want to be most remembered for, what differences I would like to make in my own little tiny corner of the world, and who I might have made an impression on when I pass. It makes you examine your own mortali Non-fiction, slim volume of two-three page essays about people that the author has known in her life that have died. The essays are nameless and often the Chapter is titled with a nickname or one word descriptor of the deceased. And, somehow the book is not maudlin. It made me think of what I want to be most remembered for, what differences I would like to make in my own little tiny corner of the world, and who I might have made an impression on when I pass. It makes you examine your own mortality and the mortality of those you love. Somehow, most of the book is uplifting and written so succinctly that it sometimes feels poetic. What a talent to choose your written words so carefully that it can evoke emotions in just a few paragraphs! I volunteered to read this book in exchange for my honest review and found that I could highly recommend it. The only portion that I found extremely difficult to read were the chapters describing the sudden loss of a child. Horrific thought and my worst nightmare. As I was reading this book, I was watching the PBS Newshour one evening around Christmas in which two renowned authors recommended what they considered to be the best of 2018 as gifts of the season. I was surprised to see author, Ann Patchett include this one, too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alan Hines

    When anyone asked for suggestions about what to buy someone for Christmas this year, I suggested Marion Winik's book, The Baltimore Book of the Dead. I found it very moving. Each piece is a simply told acknowledgement of some unnamed person who is no longer living, and who made an impact on Marion's life - The Social Worker, The Neatnik, The Grandmother-General, The Statistic, The Babydaddy. The relationship might have been intimate or just in passing or somewhere in between. The pieces are shor When anyone asked for suggestions about what to buy someone for Christmas this year, I suggested Marion Winik's book, The Baltimore Book of the Dead. I found it very moving. Each piece is a simply told acknowledgement of some unnamed person who is no longer living, and who made an impact on Marion's life - The Social Worker, The Neatnik, The Grandmother-General, The Statistic, The Babydaddy. The relationship might have been intimate or just in passing or somewhere in between. The pieces are short enough and Winik's observations of these people and herself are so astute, that once I began reading, I kept reading. Then about a quarter of the way through something came up and I had to stop and when I picked it up again, I only read a few pieces at a time, then sometimes one a day because it was so amazing. Read either way, the pieces have a cumulative effect that is quite powerful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    I took a few weeks to read the slim collection. Each vignette has the power of a poem--something that you must sit with in order to let the full weight was over you. Whether joy or pain, you will feel while reading each portrait. "The sun, that oldest patron of the arts, came out from behind the clouds to hear." (107) The Baltimore Book of the Dead is a reminder of all the ways people coming in and out of our lives touch us. With death as the cornerstone, Winik lets life linger in memory (even p I took a few weeks to read the slim collection. Each vignette has the power of a poem--something that you must sit with in order to let the full weight was over you. Whether joy or pain, you will feel while reading each portrait. "The sun, that oldest patron of the arts, came out from behind the clouds to hear." (107) The Baltimore Book of the Dead is a reminder of all the ways people coming in and out of our lives touch us. With death as the cornerstone, Winik lets life linger in memory (even people that are dead to you). These are my favorite kind of pieces: funny and heartbreaking, like the range we feel as we live and reflect on circumstance. "She could start a real conversation or end a fake one with a single sentence. That's time management." (56)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katie Devine

    The newest from the author of The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (one of my absolute favorites), Marion Winik explores the deaths that have impacted her life since that book was finished. With masterful control, she weights their deaths on the page as literarily equal: each elegy is given less than three pages, be it her mother's friend, Prince or a goldfish. There is humor, there are tears, and most of all there is an honest and direct look at death, one of the only truly universal human experience The newest from the author of The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (one of my absolute favorites), Marion Winik explores the deaths that have impacted her life since that book was finished. With masterful control, she weights their deaths on the page as literarily equal: each elegy is given less than three pages, be it her mother's friend, Prince or a goldfish. There is humor, there are tears, and most of all there is an honest and direct look at death, one of the only truly universal human experiences. The forward acknowledges our general inability to face death, and the rest of this slim book of vignettes offers us a safe and comforting way to do just that.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Read this on Anne Patchett's recommendation. If it had been longer, I"d probably not have finished it. It is a series of essays (2-3 pages each) which are in essence a obituary for someone the author knew wished to memorialize. That's a lot of death. I didn't find much of it memorable. In fact, hard pressed to remember any specifics. She memorializes a couple celebrities, but honestly, I saw better writing about Bowie and Prince on facebook. If you need to be reminded that life is fleeting, that Read this on Anne Patchett's recommendation. If it had been longer, I"d probably not have finished it. It is a series of essays (2-3 pages each) which are in essence a obituary for someone the author knew wished to memorialize. That's a lot of death. I didn't find much of it memorable. In fact, hard pressed to remember any specifics. She memorializes a couple celebrities, but honestly, I saw better writing about Bowie and Prince on facebook. If you need to be reminded that life is fleeting, that accident, illness and old age come to all - read this. If you're pretty comfortable with that idea, this is not a necessary read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Winik provides short little snapshots of the lives of the dead. They're sort of like very focused obituaries. Most of the people in the book are people she knows who have died, but there are also some more well-known people though they are never named. You just know who they are from the details included in their stories. It's a very beautifully written book that meaningfully encapsulates people's lives giving you a picture of who they were in just a few details about them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Linden

    It's hard to write about death and not be either maudlin or sentimental, yet that's exactly what Marion Winik achieves here. This collection of brief contemplations is powerful and emotional and leaves you feeling uplifted, not drained.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    “Our lives are so full of dead people that any sane way of living involves constant remembrance.” This is a treasure of a book by a local writer I adore. It is full of poignant vignettes that interested, entertained and comforted me as I remembered those in my own growing book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is an extremely fast read that really should be read much slower. Each page is a perfect, beautiful eulogy to a person I have never met or known, but feel as though I have. A reminder to see the beauty in everything, every person, every moment.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    This was a present from my brother-in-law. Perfect to pick at through the holidays. Well written and sobering. If you liked the show “Six Feet Under”, you will like this book. Turns out it’s a sequel, so the first book, “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead” will be going on my TBR list.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    A little gem!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Piper

    Marion Winik manages to bring people back to life on just two short pages. Some of them will stay with me forever. A truly remarkable book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    John A

    A book of two-page obituaries that is quirky, funny, and surprisingly moving. Recommended!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mindy Baxter

    Such a unexpected, charming little book!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    Wonderful glimpses into people the author knew or read about. Succinct and insightful.

  27. 5 out of 5

    D.g.

    You must read this book! It's quick, moving, touching, poignant. It's everything. Lives contained in small passages each perfectly written. Read it!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Morbid and moving, grief-filled and gorgeous, this is a tiny book of lovely remembrance. Can't wait to meet the author later this month! I'll definitely be reading her prevous books!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rich

    Fascinating little book detailing the deaths of people - we all gotta go somehow.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    3.5 stars rounded up. Mixed bag of short vignettes.

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