Books (literary) about grief

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief by Sheila Bender

A Real Emotional Girl: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Tanya Chernov

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (a novel)

A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCraken,  McCraken writes that  “This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.” It is the story of her late term miscarriage…  and the grief she experiences.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion. Didion follows up the Year of Magical Thinking with this book that covers the time after her daughter died. This book not only has more temporal and emotional distance than the previous, it also delves into her feelings about her own aging.  Didion, as always, employes the same precise and lyrical prose that makes me (Jennifer) want to read her sentences over and over again.

Booing Death by Pamela Sackett brings you into the artist’s whirl through her own grief and loss when family relations are less than ideal. In thirty lyrical verses Pamela doesn’t just question death, her own and everyone else’s, she spars with the whole concept through monologues, dialogues, poems and stories.

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood

Dark Wine Waters by Fran Simone, PhD is one woman’s heartbreaking story of a marriage destroyed by her husband’s addiction to alcohol.  The dynamics of codependency are illuminated in this gripping tale. Author Fran Simone describes her husband’s attempts at treatment and subsequent relapse, his suicide, and her own recovery through a twelve-step program for families.

Exit Laughing: How Humor Takes the Sting Out of Death, anthology edited by Victoria Zackheim.  Great collection of essays. Some I didn’t consider especially funny, but if you want to read an essay that will make you laugh so hard that tears will run down your face and you if you try to read it aloud, read “Kitty…Mimi” by Karen Quinn.

Ghostbelly by Elizabeth Heineman is a personal account of a home birth that goes tragically wrong—ending in a stillbirth—and the harrowing process of grief and questioning that follows. It’s also Heineman’s unexpected tale of the loss of a newborn: before burial, she brings the baby home for overnight stays.  Check out my review.

Heaven’s Cost: a memoir by Mark Doty an intimate chronicle of love, its hardships, and its innumerable gifts. We witness Doty’s passage through the deepest phase of grief — letting his lover go while keeping him firmly alive in memory and heart — and, eventually beyond, to the slow reawakening of the possibilities of pleasure.

Holding Sylvan: A Brief Life by Monica Wesolowska who gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for “observation” when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan, and they must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not a story of typical maternal heroism. There is no medical miracle here. Instead, we find the strangest of hopes. Certain of her choice, Monica must still ask herself at every step if she is loving Silvan as well as a mother can. The result is a page-turning testimony to the power of love. By raising ethical questions about how a death can be good in the age of modern medicine, Holding Silvan becomes a joyous paean to what makes life itself good. Whether you have suffered profound loss or not, this book will change your life.

History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky

I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time by Kristen Prevallet

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell.  This book explores grief over Caldwell’s loss of her very special friend and fellow writer Carolyn Knapp.

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
By Rob Sheffield.  From Publisher’s Weekly: “Sheffield’s captivating memoir uses 22 ‘mix tapes’ to describe his being “tangled up” in the ‘noisy, juicy, sparkly life’ of his wife, Renee, from the time they met in 1989 to her sudden death from a pulmonary embolism in 1997. Each chapter begins with song titles from the couple’s myriad mixes—’Tapes for making out, tapes for dancing, tapes for falling asleep’—and uses them to describe a beautiful love story…” It’s a story of love and loss and an elegy to Sheffield’s first wife.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward.  In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why?

My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid

Paula by Isabel Allende. In this, Allende’s first memoir, she writes tells the story of her family to her daughter Paula, who is in a coma. Allende brings the magical realism into the memoir form and weaves a poignant tale of childhood stories and family secrets.

Resisting Elegy by Joel Peckham.  Collection of narratives exploring the  transformative power of emotional and physical pain from the vantage point of a husband and parent who lost his wife and a child in an accident that left him in chronic distress. Along the way, he fills a need for a brutally honest literary examination of not only grief and suffering, but also of recovery.

Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain.  Memoir of a mother-son relationship that is also the searing, unflinching account of a murder and its aftermath.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Yuknavitch expertly moves the reader through issues of gender, sexuality, violence, and the family from the point of view of a lifelong swimmer turned artist. In writing that explores the nature of memoir itself, her story traces the effect of extreme grief on a young woman’s developing sexuality… (NOTE: Yuknavitch gets away with writing about such difficult subjects because she uses such beautiful prose).

The End Of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.  During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading.

The Long Goodbye by Meaghan O’Rourke.  An extension of and blending of the essays written on Slate and for The New Yorker O’Rourke’s book explores not only the emotional side of grief over her mother’s death, but the more current studies about the grieving process.

The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith.  This book is about coming of age and coming to terms with the death of both her parents by the time she is 25.

The Sixteenth of June (a novel) by Maya Lang grief and mother loss as a young adult is explored through one of the main characters

The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese. Friendship and loss

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  In this memoir, Didion explores the year following the death of her husband John Gregory Dunn as her daughter lays in a coma.  Didion’s slow, steady, precise yet lyrical prose mimics a somewhat limited range of emotion–not the least of which is shock and numbness.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch.  Following the death of her sister, Sankovitch embarked on a journey to read a book a day as both an escape and a way to make meaning of life again and reconnect.

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke by Rob Sheffield. Young widower Rob Sheffield (contributing editor for Rolling Stone Magazine) moves to NYC and finds karaoke, and love again….

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala.  On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived….

When Did Everybody Else Get To Be So Old? by Jennifer Grant.  In the book, Grant writes about the death of her sister, and of a dear friend, both lost to cancer.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  This memoir is not really billed as a grief memoir, but rather as an adventure memoir–Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail solo.  But it was the loss of her mother that is at the heart of the story, and what sent her on the hike in the first place.

One Response to Books (literary) about grief

  1. Pingback: Grief Literature Spotlight: Half a Life by Darin Strauss | Writing Grief

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