A Block of Newspaper by
(40 Stories)

Prompted By Newspapers

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I read (present tense) obits in the Boston Globe every day, except on days when I inadvertently miss them and risk missing notice of death of someone whose death I would like to know about, which could lead to missing a funeral I would want to attend, which could make me feel badly because I believe paying respects in person to a person important to me is an important thing to do in the scheme of things.  There being no second funerals.

I tied piles of accumulated newspapers together to form a solid block of newspaper, which I used as a guest stoop.

There was a time back in my go-go years (broadly defined) when I took daily paper delivery of the Times, the WSJ, and the Globe. I read (past tense) the Globe sports page over breakfast, time permitting, and generally skipped the others. I liked having all of them around, just in case. They kept my countertops stacked, and well-informed. Oh, in addition to Globe Sports I also took a daily dose of paper NYT Crossword.  My BFFs, especially in baseball season, and Fridays.

Back then the obits were not the de rigeur they’ve become in the recent decade when death began reaping her way through my contemporaries.  I’m retired now, retired from most of the things that used to keep me hopping in the morning, parenting, commuting, preparing for the day (shaving, putting on a suit and tie, worrying). I don’t hurry the coffee nowadays. I intend to not hurry anything. I stroll through my on-line newspapers, sip the coffee, do some texts and emails between strolls. I don’t watch or listen to shows in the morning, or to people for that matter. I like the quietude of the virtual papers.

I miss the paper sports page, but not the paper crossword.  The on-line crossword suits me fine, without muss, fuss or inky blotches. By way of an embarrassing admission, in my pre-go-go years (broadly defined) I tied piles of accumulated newspapers together to form a solid block of newspaper, which I used as a guest stoop. A design statement? An effort to expand newspaper utility? Sloth? I should have covered it with a doily to avoid newsprinting guests’ bottoms, but I don’t remember being so thoughtful, or having many guests. I do remember that a block of newspaper, left to its own devices, produces, encourages, and/or releases mites.

I feel lucky to be living in our transformative digital age, to experience the wonders of immediate and constant contact with the world via on-line, to enjoy the ever changing, ever more alluring skill sets available on my I-Phone, even though I don’t have a half clue how things work, or how to fix them when they don’t, and seem proud of my ignorance.  Back in my pre-pre-go-go years (between Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks), I may have been more curious and less proud, but that switch flipped.  The gap between me and the digital universe expanded too fast for my old school brain to hear the whoosh of, and I quit trying.


Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    The obituaries have certainly become more interesting since I have come to occasionally recognize someone, and have more curiosity about lives lived. Can also appreciate a leisurely cup of coffee while reading the news. Go-go has gone-gone.

  2. Suzy says:

    Jon, you have certainly taken a different view of newspapers, expressing a preference for digital rather than physical papers. Hard to know if this is tongue in cheek or serious. I do agree with you that the obits are getting more and more relevant, unfortunately. And I like the way you distinguish between present tense and past tense of “read.” Funny that they are the same word, and it can be difficult to tell which one is meant, even with the context. Thanks for an interesting perspective.

    • Gee-whiz, Suzy. If your tally is true, that your participants unanimously (except for me) stare back longingly at a disappeared past, and do not appreciate and welcome the amazing digital moment we are so lucky to have lived long enough to partake in, then I would gently whisper in their sleeping ear, “Friends, it is time to wake up.”

  3. Thanx Jon, I too am not bend out of shape because the techno age is edging out the hard copy – it’s the future and it’s here.

    I’m a retired-but-still-at-heart librarian which doesn’t mean I worship the physical book over the Kindle , or newsprint over digital newsfeeds .

    Let’s just fight to keep wisdom and truth in there too.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I hear you, Jon, although even in my post-go-go life, I still prefer paper to digital. Like you, my husband is an obit reader. I avoid them figuring bad news travels fast, especially in our FaceBook, texting era. Love your featured image. Is that a Weimaraner?

  5. Laurie,
    The dog is my son’s dog of indeterminate lineage. His characteristics include great energy, gentleness w grandkids, and complete unresponsiveness to obedience commands.
    As to obits, for me it is not just seeing a familiar face. Each obit (ie death notice, as opposed to reporter -written obits which are a literary genre unto themselves, and sometimes literary triumphs) tells a short story (opens the door a crack) about the deceased, and the folks who posted the notice, what they chose to include and not include, etc).
    In re the dividing line between paper and not paper, each person finds their own level of digital immersion, but as I sit here tapping into my phone, about to launch into the ether, as opposed to trudging thru the snow to the mailbox, assuming I can find a stamp and a pen, and a pair of dry boots, I can only express awe at this new-fangled gizmo.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Jon, like you, I, too, am an obit reader, searching for familiar names (yesterday it was a well-known person, whose son lived in the same building as us in the Back Bay and once scared me half to death when he followed me to the front door, then told me he was Josh’s dad. Whew; I was afraid I was about to be mugged on Beacon Street).

    I am 100% with you about reading online rather then trudging out into the snow to get the paper (like this morning). And I do appreciate getting updated news throughout the day. But I still prefer the form factor of newsprint.

    • Betsy,
      I tend to look first at the geographic key to see who died from Brookline and Newton. After that I scan for familiar faces. But in general, assuming no one important to me has passed away, I read for style and content, and for the sad recurrent melodies.

  7. This was a highly engaging and humorous story (broadly defined). I love that you can define the segments of your youth by Bob Dylan’s albums.

    • Dale, I am glad to hear from you, and your appreciation of the humor content. As to Bob, I had a Bob experience this morning. I arranged w a local record (LP) dealer to bring a trunk load of records to his shop today (gathered from all the record repositories of my house and following numerous fair warnings to my kids), to see what he might pay. I thumbed through them before packing my trunk, and somehow the Bob albums got pulled, and set aside for another day.

  8. Jim Willis says:

    Jon, thanks for this retrospect on the importance of newspapers in our daily lives. I was especially interested in your comments on the obit page. As a young reporter and editor, I was often told that obits were the best-read part of the paper by older readers. Now I know how true that is. How does the saying go:? “I read obits everyday to see if I’m there.”

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