Ten Wonderful Books That Deal with Loss

When confronted with grief or loss in my life, I often find comfort in books. Below is a list of books I’ve read that have helped me confront difficult times.

Image result for a monster calls book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Thirteen-year old Conor awakens one night to find a monster at his window, but not the monster he’s been expecting. Since his mother began treatment for cancer, he’s been having nightmares of a monster nearly every night. But what he finds is something ancient and wild, who promises Conor a secret in exchange for the truth.

Patrick Ness has a special talent for tapping into the fears and wishes of childhood. A Monster Calls is by turns frightening, funny, and heart-wrenching.

Image result for the pact jodi picoultThe Pact by Jodi Picoult

The phone rings at midnight. Seventeen year old Emily is dead from a gunshot to the head. Her boyfriend, Chris, tells the police that the single other bullet in the gun was meant for him, as part of a suicide pact between the couple. In the coming days, their families begin to wonder if they ever really knew their children at all.

Jodi Picoult’s novels are generally guaranteed to make you ugly-cry, and The Pact is no exception.

 

Image result for the art of racing in the rain bookThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This novel is told from the perspective of Enzo, a golden retriever who carefully watches his master in order to understand the humans around him.

This book was sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but ultimately cathartic and refreshing as it deals with family, love, and loyalty.

Image result for lovely bones bookThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

After a predator lures her into a trap Susie Salmon finds herself in heaven, watching as her family struggles to cope with the devastating loss of their young daughter.

I had heard a lot of great things about this book before I finally picked it up. I was initally worried that it was going to wallow in melodrama but author Alice Sebold paints a calm and refreshing portrait of the afterlife in which everyone can enjoy themselves and be at peace.

Image result for this is where i leave you bookThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Until the death of Judd’s father, the Foxman family hasn’t come together in years. Still reeling from the collapse of his marriage, Judd joins his family to fulfill his father’s dying wish, to spend a week together in their home, together. As a family.

This novel made me laugh out loud while it was making me cry. It’s a wonderful story of the bonds of family, marriage, and all the other ties that bind people together whether they like it or not.

Image result for revised fundamentals of caregiving The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

Ben Benjamin is broken, unemployed and aimless following the death of his child. He ends up becoming a caregiver to an angry young man named Trevor who suffers from advanced muscular dystrophy. Together the two embark on a road trip and learn what it really means to care for another person.

Another book that made me laugh, this novel by Jonathan Evison uses a very deft hand at mixing comedy and sadness. This is a book that left me feeling uplifted and hopeful.

Image result for everything i never told you Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Teenage daughter Lydia is the pride and joy of her Chinese-American family, her parents are determined to see her fulfill the hopes and dreams that they worked towards their entire lives. Until her body is pulled out of the local lake. Now Lydia’s parents find themselves spinning into chaos as Lydia’s secrets begin to surface.

Celeste Ng does an excellent job of unraveling the complicated connections that exist between parents and their children. This novel was powerful and left me with a heavy heart.

Image result for song of achilles The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Narrated by Achilles’ childhood friend Patroclus, this novel deals with the ancient legend of Troy through the eyes of someone who sees the great hero as a friend and lover rather than a warrior.

Madeline Miller is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I loved this interesting spin on the Battle of Troy. She does a great job of portraying the human cost of a legendary war.

Image result for the giving tree The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This short children’s book kept popping into my mind as I was putting this list together. While it is not necessarily a story that deals with death, it does deal with loss in a very interesting way. Seeing how the giving tree gives everything it has to the boy, only to find itself alone and unwanted, has always hit me hard. It’s a powerful allegory of the bond between parents and their children.

Image result for harry potter booksThe Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

In my opinion, there are few situations that are not covered perfectly by the Harry Potter novels. J. K. Rowling delves carefully but masterfully into the anger, fear, and loss that can accompany the death of a loved one. I felt as though I was experiencing that grief along with the characters, and there are some losses that resonate with me even now.

If you’re reading this, hopefully one of these novels can help you find the solace you’re looking for. If there are any other books that you would recommend to those dealing with a loss, let us know in the comments section!

Happy reading everyone.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Donna St. Julian, who inspired a lifetime love of reading and who will be in my thoughts every time I open a new book.

Ten Novels Everyone is Supposed to Read (That I Just Couldn’t Get Into)

If you Google “Books to Read Before You Die” or “Must-Read Classic Novels”, you will receive hundreds upon thousands of book lists compiled by various magazines and blogs. These are the novels that, supposedly, one must check off their literary bucket list at some point in their life.

There’s just one problem. Just because a book is very popular, or has been around for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that it is well-written, or has a compelling plot. Here is my list of ten novels that so often appear on these “must-read” lists that, in my opinion anyway, failed to impress.

 

  1.  Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Image result for hamlet shakespeare  I absolutely love Shakespeare. He was my primary focus while I was completing my Bachelor’s degree, and I have had the privilege of performing Shakespeare in amateur productions. However of all his major works, I have always found Hamlet to be the least impressive. The character’s are incessantly whiny, the “play within a play” is an interesting idea that fails to materialize, and I’ve always found the female characters to be weak and useless compared to some of his other works. If you’re looking for a truly remarkable Shakespeare play, I would suggest Macbeth or Othello.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Image result for sound and the fury This was required reading for my AP Literature class when I was seventeen, which may explain why I didn’t enjoy it. I read the first hundred or so pages and then gave up. The early sections of the novel are narrated by a mentally challenged child from the South, and his young sister. Ultimately, I couldn’t follow the plot at all, couldn’t figure out what was going on, and had to throw in the towel.

3. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Image result for lord of the rings books I adore Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. I’ve seen the extended edition so many times I can damn near quote it word-for-word. However, Tolkien’s novels lack characterization to the point where Frodo and the gang feel more like chess players being arbitrarily moved around Middle Earth than real people. And the complete and utter lack of meaningful female characters doesn’t help. Trying to read the books always makes me appreciate just how spectacular a job Jackson did with his film adaptation.

Beowulf by Anonymous

Image result for beowulf book I dislike Beowulf for the same reason I could never get into Canterbury Tales; the language is so frustrating that it’s just not diverting. I read in order to immerse myself in another time and place, and while I can enjoy the history and legacy behind an epic poem like Beowulf, it’s just so much effort. Does this mean I’m lazy? Possibly, but I prefer reading as a form of entertainment, rather than a cerebral exercise.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Image result for frankenstein by mary shelley As an avid horror fan, I remember being really excited to read Frankenstein, which has contributed so much to both the horror and science fiction genres. However,  this novel is incredibly boring. The parts of the book that deal with Frankenstein’s monster are interesting and beautifully sad, but too much of the plot focuses on the Doctor as he lists his many regrets in life, leaving me underwhelmed and underscared.

Les Miserables

Image result for les miserables To the best of my knowledge, Victor Hugo was one of many nineteenth century novelists who was paid by the word, and my God does it show. I got three hundred pages into Les Miserables, realized that literally nothing had happened yet, and had to set it aside. At one point, Hugo dedicates an entire chapter to describing an alleyway, at which point I just couldn’t take it anymore. I also can’t stand the musical, which is terribly written except for one really good song. Also Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe should never, ever sing.

Moby Dick

Image result for moby dick book Has anyone actually enjoyed Moby Dick? Or is it just one of those novels that people buy to keep on their bookshelf in order to feel cultured? Cause I guarantee that’s why I read it. It’s the “Great American Novel” after all. Except it’s not. It has amazing plot with wonderful characters that gets completely buried under extraneous detail and useless segues.

Eat Pray Love

Image result for eat pray love The only “nonfiction” book on this list is also the only one that made me actively angry. I had to put nonfiction in quotes because I doubt nearly every word of Elizabeth Gilbert’s supposedly transformative experience through Italy, India, and Bali. Gilbert is a monster of selfishness who abandons her life and her family in order to “find herself”. Travel does not solve all your problems, and Gilbert consistently comes across as shallow, trite, and privileged.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Material series) by Philip Pullman

Image result for dark materials I actually rather enjoyed the first installment in this series. The Golden Compass is an entertaining children’s story that does a great job of introducing an alternative world to ours and populating it with interesting and compelling characters. In the following books, Philip Pullman goes completely off the rails and foresakes character and plot development in favor of soapboxing on the evils of organized religion. The final novel, The Amber Spyglass, barely made sense at all.

Anything by Charles Dickens

Image result for dickens books Image result for dickens books Image result for dickens oliver twist I’ve tried, I really have, to enjoy the works of Charles Dickens. I made it all the way through A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol, and about halfway through Oliver Twist. Like Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens was paid by the word, which encouraged him to never use just one word when thirteen would do. This leads to overly long descriptions which don’t contribute anything to the novel. I think that Dickens does a wonderful job of developing plot and characters since I’ve enjoyed the film adaptations of his works. However, his novels just get bogged down with unnecessary detail which ultimately took away from my enjoyment.

Which of these books did you enjoy? What are some other “classic” novels that don’t live up to their reputations?

Happy reading everyone!

Ashley