Aug 25, 2011

Books of Love and Loss

I am now reading Elizabeth Berg's novel, The Year of Pleasures, about 55-year-old Betta Nolan, a widow who has moved from Boston to the Midwest after the death of her husband, bought an old Victorian house in a small town in Illinois, and started life over, with the memories of her husband still vivid.
The Year of Pleasures

"As for me, I liked things that couldn't be explained. I liked outrageous statements of faith; defiant acts of belief that flew in the face of science and practicality. Dia de los Muertos, for example; I loved the idea of bringing food and cigarettes to a grave site. The Japanese ritual of sending out offerings on burning paper boats....In a curious mix of sacredness and absurdity, these things suggested...that the dead do not entirely leave us. " (p. 66)
I have most of the book left to read and have not yet reached the reason for the title, A Year of Pleasures, but I'm looking forward to seeing how she moves on with life.

I've also just read The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed, a new book about four women in their 30s, friends from childhood, who lose one of their group to cancer. Samantha, Isabel, Kendra and Mina have been taking vacations with Isabel's and Kendra's parents every year since childhood and have become a close knit group.Mina keeps three journals while she is ill, writing notes to her three friends to leave them after she is gone. The journals keep them going. Samantha in particular is anxious and vigilant, hoping to see signs that Mina is still with them even after her death.

The Summer We Came to Life

"UVA has a whole division devoted to scientific study of the paranormal - and after-death communication. It gives me goosebumps, it gives me hope." (p. 63)
Samantha has an experience in which she communicates or dreams she communicates with the dead Mina, who sends her back to reality and life to help her family and friends. I liked the book a lot but thought that it's more of a YA novel, and that the women would be better portrayed as in their early 20s.

In The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache, close friends of a dying woman cope in different ways with her illness that they know has no cure. The dying woman makes it easier for her friends with her cheerful demeanor. The author based her novel on a true story of a neighbor of hers.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

"Our friend handled her decline with a grace that amazed and humbled us, and forced us to appreciate the preciousness of our own healthy lives. In the stark glare of our shared mortality, we shed hurtful old habits and fears. We acknowledged what was really important to us." (from Ellyn Bache's note to readers)

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye: A memoir by Meghan O'Rourke chronicles the days leading up to and the months after the death of  her mother after a long illness. The book discusses our society's general lack of mourning rituals that go beyond the period of death and burial. People go about their lives after the death of a loved one, but very often they may continue to mourn, very often alone and in silence. Heartbreaking and honest.
There are many other books about loss and coping with loss and death. Which ones have you read and which would you recommend?


  1. Several months ago, I read the Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and loved it. Thanks for the list. It will be a good reference for the future.

  2. To be honest, book dealing with loss and death are usually just too emotional for me. I tend to avoid them.

  3. Grief is such a personal thing that it can be hard to read about. I need to read The Art of Saying Goodbye since the author is local for me.

  4. BookQuoter: Thanks for the name of the book.

    Carol: I can understand this and I only started reading these books after the death of my mother. I find there is often something redeeming and hopeful in each book.

    Bermudaonion: You'll like the book, I'm sure!

  5. I love that quote from The Year of Pleasures. One of the kids books I have on Hiroshima (Hiroshima No Pika) ends the book by showing how every year the Japanese set out luminaria on the water - one for each person in their family who died. It's such a beautiful image on which to end the book!

  6. Rhapsody; it is a beautiul tradition and a way to remember.

  7. I enjoyed A Year of Pleasures, Berg's writing always appeals to me. He book, Home Safe, is also about loss. I recently read Good Grief by Lolly Winston and loved it.

  8. Thanks for the suggestions, Stacy. Will look these up!

  9. I loved A Year of fact, Elizabeth Berg is one of my old-time favorites (from years back). Hope you enjoy it.


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