Book Review: Don’t Live for Your Obituary by John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s Don’t Live for Your Obituary is a collection of essays–blog entries really–formed into the loose structure of a book. If you’re familiar with his Whatever blog, you’ll probably recognize a lot of material. I’m not going to go into a lot of details on individual pieces. Scalzi is a great writer, and he, um, knows how to write.

The real question is: should you buy this book?

If you consider yourself a rabid Scalzi fan, then you’ve probably already bought the special edition of the book and made a place for it on your shrine next to your scrap of Hawaiian print fabric and your complete archive of John Scalzi film reviews from the Fresno Bee.

*slowly backs away*

The book is a treasure for writers. Scalzi has a strong background in financial advice, and he applies that advice to writing as a career. Yes, he makes way, WAY more than most writers will ever make, but he got there by starting with a strong understanding of money. In particular, he teaches the good lesson of valuing your work, and that’s something early-career writers absolutely need to hear.

This book also collects quite a few essays regarding the publishing industry. As a writer it’s fascinating to see how all the various gears fit together (or don’t) in publishing. That stuff will always be interesting to me, and Don’t Live for Your Obituary does a fantastic job of shining a light on those dark corners we don’t normally get to see and oh my god it’s dusty back there when was the last time anyone cleaned?


Part of the book is about various interactions with other authors and famous people. It’s fine. If you’re into that kind of thing, these stories are just as entertaining as you’d expect Scalzi’s stories to be. It’s not my thing, but if it’s yours, then I think you’ll be happy.

So should you buy it?

  • If you’re a writer: Look, if you spend the whole $35 on the special edition hardcover so that you can read about financial responsibility, that’s fine. That’s just fine. Maybe get it from the library, though?
  • If you have a friend or relative who is a writer: Buy it for them. A physical copy. They’ll like it. Or they’ll sell it and buy ramen noodles. Either way, you’re helping their writing career.
  • If you’re a reader: Look, this isn’t FICTION. I know you want another fiction book from Scalzi, and it’ll be here soon enough. But, this isn’t it. I don’t know, maybe head down to a bookstore and read a random essay. If you find it entertaining enough, then shell out the money. It’s a good book, and a fun read, but there’s no narrative cohesion here. It’s just a pile of (somewhat more polished) blog entries.

I reviewed a free copy of Don’t Live for Your Obituary from NetGalley.

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