32 (More) Books About Death and Grief
A few weeks ago, we put together the first half of a book list about death and grief. Today, we’re finally getting around to posting the second half.
Some of these books we’ve read, while othes are on our ‘want to read’ list. Although there are many self-help/advice/informative type books out there written specifically to help people get through grief, you will not find any on our list. The vast majority of the books we’ve listed are memoirs or novels, but if you are looking for a book specifically focused on helping you get through grief you should check out the comments section of our first post, 32 Books About Death and Grief, because many people left recommendations.
1. The Disappearance: A Primer of Loss by Genevieve Jorgensen
What do you do, how do you live, when both of your daughters are killed on the same afternoon? On April 30, 1980, Geneviève Jurgensen found herself facing that question when she lost her four- and seven-year-old daughters to a drunk driver. Here she presents her search for an answer. Read our post on ‘The Disappearance’ here.
2. The Accidental Tourist: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) by Anne Tyler
Macon Leary is a travel writer who hates both travel and anything out of the ordinary. He is grounded by loneliness and an unwillingness to compromise his creature comforts when he meets Muriel, a deliciously peculiar dog-obedience trainer who up-ends Macon’s insular world–and thrusts him headlong into a remarkable engagement with life.
3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.
4. My Sister’s Keeper: A Novel (Wsp Readers Club) by Jodi Picoult
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Read our post on ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ here.
Jesmyn’s memoir shines a light on the community she comes from, in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, a place of quiet beauty and fierce attachment. Here, in the space of four years, she lost five young men dear to her, including her beloved brother-lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet their lives had been connected, by identity and place, and as Jesmyn dealt with these losses, she came to a staggering truth: These young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck. Because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle. The agonizing reality commanded Jesmyn to write, at last, their true stories and her own.
7. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.
8. A Very Easy Death (Pantheon Modern Writers Series) by Simone De Beauvoir
A Very Easy Death has long been considered one of Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpieces. The profoundly moving, day-by-day recounting of her mother’s death “shows the power of compassion when it is allied with acute intelligence
9. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.
Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.
As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.
10. The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief by David Plante
The Pure Lover is David Plante’s elegy to his beloved Nikos Stangos, their forty-year life together, and its tragic end. Written in vivid fragments that, like the pieces of a mosaic, come together into a glimmering whole, it shows us both the wild nature of grief and the intimate conversation that is love.
11. Nothing Was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison
Kay Redfield Jamison, award-winning professor and writer, changed the way we think about moods and madness. Now Jamison uses her characteristic honesty, wit and eloquence to look back at her relationship with her husband, Richard Wyatt, a renowned scientist who died of cancer. Nothing was the Same is a penetrating psychological study of grief viewed from deep inside the experience itself.
12. Epilogue: A Memoir by Will Boast
Having already lost his mother and only brother, twenty-four-year-old Will Boast finds himself absolutely alone when his father dies of alcoholism. Numbly settling the matters of his father’s estate, Boast is deep inside his grief when he stumbles upon documents revealing a secret his father had intended to keep: He’d had another family before Will’s―a wife and two sons in England.
This revelation leads to a flood of new questions. Did his father abandon this first family, or was he pushed away? Still reeling from loss, Boast is forced to reconsider the fundamental truths of his childhood and to look for traces of the man his father might truly have been. Setting out in search of his half brothers, he attempts to reconcile their family history with his own, testing each childhood memory under the weight of his father’s secret. Moving between the Midwest and England, from scenes of his youth to the tentative discovery of his new family, Boast writes with visceral beauty about grief, memory, and his slow and tender journey to a new kind of love.
13. Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve by Sandra M. Gilbert
Prominent critic, poet, and memoirist Sandra M. Gilbert explores our relationship to death though literature, history, poetry, and societal practices. Does death change–and if it does, how has it changed in the last century? And how have our experiences and expressions of grief changed? Did the traumas of Hiroshima and the Holocaust transform our thinking about mortality? More recently, did the catastrophe of 9/11 alter our modes of mourning? And are there at the same time aspects of grief that barely change from age to age? Seneca wrote, “Anyone can stop a man’s life but no one his death; a thousand doors open on to it.” This inevitability has left varying marks on all human cultures. Exploring expressions of faith, burial customs, photographs, poems, and memoirs, acclaimed author Sandra M. Gilbert brings to the topic of death the critical skill that won her fame for The Madwoman in the Attic and other books, as she examines both the changelessness of grief and the changing customs that mark contemporary mourning.
14. Patrimony: A True Story by Philip Roth
Patrimony, a true story, touches the emotions as strongly as anything Philip Roth has ever written. Roth watches as his eighty-six-year-old father—famous for his vigor, charm, and his repertoire of Newark recollections—battles with the brain tumor that will kill him. The son, full of love, anxiety, and dread, accompanies his father through each fearful stage of his final ordeal, and, as he does so, discloses the survivalist tenacity that has distinguished his father’s long, stubborn engagement with life.
15. After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey
“Family? Secrets? Sometimes I think they are the same thing.” So writes Michael Hainey in this unforgettable story of a son’s search to discover the decades-old truth about his father’s mysterious death. Hainey was a boy of six when his father, a bright and shining star in the glamorous, hard-living world of 1960s Chicago newspapers, died under mysterious circumstances. His tragic absence left behind not only a young widow and two small sons but questions about family and truth that would obsess Michael for decades.
Years later, Michael undertakes a risky journey to uncover the true story about what happened to his father. Prodding reluctant relatives and working through a network of his father’s old colleagues, Michael begins to reconcile the father he lost with the one he comes to know. At the heart of his quest is his mother, a woman of courage and tenacity—and a steely determination to press on with her life. A universal story of love and loss and the resilience of family in the face of hardship, After Visiting Friends is the account of a son who goes searching for his father, and in the journey discovers new love and admiration for his mother. Read our post on ‘After Visiting Friends’ here.
16. Final Payments by Mary Gordon
When Isabel Moore’s father dies, she finds herself, at the age of thirty, suddenly freed from eleven years of uninterrupted care for a helpless man. With all the patterns of her life suddenly rendered meaningless, she turns to childhood friends for support, gets a job, and becomes involved with two very different men. But just as her future begins to emerge, her past throws up a daunting challenge. A moving story of self-reinvention, Final Payments is a timeless exploration of the nature of friendship, desire, guilt, and love.
17. First Love by James Patterson
Axi Moore is a “good girl”: She studies hard, stays out of the spotlight, and doesn’t tell anyone that what she really wants is to run away from it all. The only person she can tell is her best friend, Robinson–who she also happens to be madly in love with.
When Axi impulsively invites Robinson to come with her on an unplanned cross-country road trip, she breaks the rules for the first time in her life. But the adventure quickly turns from carefree to out-of-control…
A remarkably moving tale with its origins in James Patterson’s own past, First Love is testament to the power of first love–and how it can change the rest of your life.
18. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text by William Faulkner
As I Lay Dying is Faulkner’s harrowing account of the Bundren family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Narrated in turn by each of the family members—including Addie herself—as well as others the novel ranges in mood, from dark comedy to the deepest pathos. Considered one of the most influential novels in American fiction in structure, style, and drama, As I Lay Dying is a true 20th-century classic.
19. A Complicated Kindness: A Novel by Miriam Toews
In this stunning coming-of-age novel, award-winner Miriam Toews balances grief and hope in the voice of a witty, beleaguered teenager whose family is shattered by fundamentalist Christianity. “Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing,” Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.
20. The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Bantam Classics) by Leo Tolstoy
Hailed as one of the world’s supreme masterpieces on the subject of death and dying, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his death so much as a passing thought. But one day death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise he is brought face to face with his own mortality. How, Tolstoy asks, does an unreflective man confront his one and only moment of truth?
21. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
In Small Victories, Lamott offers a new message of hope that celebrates the triumph of light over the darkness in our lives. Our victories over hardship and pain may seem small, she writes, but they change us—our perceptions, our perspectives, and our lives. Lamott writes of forgiveness, restoration, and transformation, how we can turn toward love even in the most hopeless situations, how we find the joy in getting lost and our amazement in finally being found.
22. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal, Book 2) by Madeline L’Engle
A loving daughter has promised her mother that she will never put her in a “nursing home” when the old lady is no longer able to live alone. But after her ninetieth birthday, when she arrives in Connecticut to spend the summer with her daughter’s family, it becomes quickly apparent that atherosclerosis it taking its toll: the onoce-gentle Southern woman will not be able to make the trip home. This is the dilemma Madeleine L’Engle describes in this non-fiction book about the problems, crises, fustrations, and guilt engendered by her mother’s rapid slide into senility.
23. Out Stealing Horses: A Novel by Per Petterson
Trond’s friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on “borrowed” horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day–an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.
24. A Scattering by Christopher Reid
Lucinda Gane, Christopher Reid’s wife, died in October 2005. A Scattering is his tribute to her and consists of four poetic sequences, the first written during her illness, and the other three at intervals after her death.
25. A Widow for One Year by John Irving
Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character–a “difficult” woman. By no means is she conventionally “nice,” but she will never be forgotten. Ruth’s story is told in three parts, each focusing on a crucial time in her life. When we first meet her–on Long Island, in the summer of 1958–Ruth is only four. The second window into Ruth’s life opens in the fall of 1990, when Ruth is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason. A Widow for One Year closes in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother. She’s about to fall in love for the first time.
26. Tell the Wolves I’m Home: A Novel by Carol Rifka Brunt
In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.
27. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, a mother of four spends one year savoring a greatbook every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. In the tradition of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and Joan Dideon’s A Year of Magical Thinking, Nina Sankovitch’s soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss,hope, and redemption. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy andthrough her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.
28. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
There was a time when the world was sweeter….when the women in Beaufort, North Carolina, wore dresses, and the men donned hats…. Every April, when the wind smells of both the sea and lilacs, Landon Carter remembers 1958, his last year at Beaufort High. Landon had dated a girl or two, and even once sworn that he’d been in love. Certainly the last person he thought he’d fall for was Jamie, the shy, almost ethereal daughter of the town’s Baptist minister….Jamie, who was destined to show him the depths of the human heart-and the joy and pain of living.
29. A Death in the Family (Penguin Classics) by James Agee
Published in 1957, two years after its author’s death at the age of forty-five, A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is killed in a car accident – a tragedy that destroys not only a life, but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family. A novel of great courage, lyric force, and powerful emotion, A Death in the Family is a masterpiece of American literature.
30. Night (Night) by Elie Wiesel
Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
31. Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish
For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”
From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them….
32.A Lesson Before Dying (Oprah’s Book Club) by Ernest J. Gaines
A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson’s godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.
What do you guys think? Should we start a WYG book club?
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