Marilyn Johnson, a journalist, has a ”heroin level” dependency on obituaries. The Dead Beat is her sunny exploration into the world of reading and writing them. In the best part of her cute little book, she brings to life great unsung obit writers in exactly the same way they’ve long done for the dead. Most memorably, there’s Jim Nicholson, a retired master who used to take time off to run military ”counterintelligence adventures” in Latin America, and Stephen Miller, a tech guy at the World Trade Center who survived 9/11 and then became the obits editor at The New York Sun. Sprinkled throughout are not quite enough tidbits from real obits — like the one about the comedian who used his penis as a prop and ”was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden” — but a helpful appendix will steer you to more.