Books and Reading

Grief Books

Since moving to Iowa, I joined a book club that focuses on reading narrative nonfiction books-memoirs, biographies and autobiographies mostly. I had not read copious amounts of nonfiction before this book club, but now I read quite a bit. One theme I have noticed running through numerous books is the theme of grief. I think in part, people write about grief to process and it is a way that connects us all. We all eventually lose someone we love. If reading about grief helps you cope these books might be good choices for you. I find most of them hauntingly beautiful. These books go from most relevant to least with a fiction book at the end to round the whole group out.

  • ​When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – I read this one recently on audiobook. This is a short one, but written in a manner that is acutely aware and able to consider a larger perspective. I appreciated both the practicality of the way it was written and the poetic and scientific language written with Paul’s particular voice. This is the story of a man who finds out he has cancer.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – This book is about a woman whose husband dies and how she copes/avoids her feelings afterwards. I appreciated the academic tone of this book as well as the way Joan’s voice comes through as well as her unique perspective surrounding this personal tragedy.
  • Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala – This is a book about a woman who loses her family in a tsunami. She copes with their death and the hole they leave in her life. This book was written as a method for helping her overcome her grief and at times is not as fluid, but I appreciated her rawness and honesty in coping with an unbelievably tragic situation. I found this book to be a beautiful story of despair and recovery.
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed – This book is extremely well known, but if you have not heard of it this book is about the author Cheryl as she tries to remake her life. In the process she copes with the death of her mother. Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and on her hike she reflects and looks back on her life, coming to terms with the sorrow and grief. I appreciated how honest and vulnerable she is when she is writing. Cheryl does not sugar coat her words and therefore I think this book would be helpful for people who feel broken and think they have no way of redeeming themselves.
  • The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater – This book describes the life of the author Tracy Slater as she falls in love and lives her life as an ex-pat in Japan. Along the process she helps care for her father in law as he is at the end of his life. I appreciated her thoughtfulness in taking care of him and how she views the process.
  • Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – This is a book of essays that describe the author’s journey of faith. She is honest in her reflections and she copes with loss in a few of the essays in this book. I appreciate her humor and honesty as she continues to work on her faith.
  • Plan B by Anne Lamott – This is another book of essays by Lamott, where she continues on her journey of faith. She copes with loss in a few essays here, and she discusses her process grieving.
  • Fictional Pick – The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood – This is a fictional book about a divorced couple coping with the unexpected death of their son. They cope with their grief as they encounter parts of his life and understand and know him better after his death.


Death is a part of life and it makes our living so much more meaningful. Our lives have an arc: a beginning, a middle and an end. Grief takes the place that love was, and is a sign of care and compassion. I know as a culture we do not like to acknowledge sadness and in certain ways grief can have taboos, but I also know that it is true to our experience and we are allowed to feel our feelings.

If you have any other suggestions of books dealing with grief or loss, please leave them below.


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