Joyce Maynard

Books against Sadness […and Loss, and Grief]: Personal Book Recommendations

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„I’ve been in an emotionally fragile state for a couple months. I’m looking for some literature that will help me be happy with existing again. What do you recommend?“

Books That Will Help Me Grapple With Existence? [a recent discussion in the „books“ section of Reddit.com]

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Last night, I wrote a quick list, answering the above question.

Here are my recommendations [Link]:

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Let’s split this up in… books that deal with dark/depressing themes, but show lots of hope and will be uplifting BY THE END (…but not neccessarily right from the beginning):

  • Gabriel Bà: Daytripper [mortality; life is short]
  • Evan S. Connell: Mrs. Bridge [everyday life is depressing; make your own decisions)
  • Cormac McCarthy: The Road [life can be hell; love prevails]
  • Stewart O’Nan: A Prayer for the Dying [everyone is mortal; you can overcome any loss]
  • Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking [it’s not the end that counts; it’s the memories you make]
  • David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp [everyone’s an island, but the happy, accidental connections between people make life worth living]
  • Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture [you might die tomorrow; strife harder TODAY!!]
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: No Exit [hell is other people; avoid the ones that belittle you]
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley: Lost at Sea [it’s okay to feel adrift once in a while]
  • Rob Sheffield: Love is a Mixe Tape [you will lose love – but you’re stronger than you think!]
  • Gayle Forman: If I stay [even with horrendous loss, there’s lots to live for!]
  • Brad Kessler: Birds in Fall [grief is complex and frightening, but consolation can be found in the weirdest moments]
  • Miriam Toews: Swing Low [if a parent decides to die, it does not mean that he didn’t love you]

I also very, very much would like to recommend the anime series „Neon Genesis Evangelion“. It has a fragile, nervous, deeply unhappy soul-searching main character who has an existential struggle with questions like „Why should I care? What can I do? Who should I fight for?“. The answers are complex, and not sugar-coated at all.

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Then, there’s a second, different category: feel-good books, with lots of joy, energy and a life-affirming atmosphere. If you want to feel… happy, warm and consoled, pick the follwing books:

  • Kyohiko Azuma: Yotsuba&! [everyday life is an adventure]
  • Jiro Taniguchi: A distant Neighborhood [when youth is gone… your sense of wonder should remain!]
  • Tove Janson: A Summer Book [life is like the weather. the harsh moments are as much a part of life as the lush ones.]
  • Harper Lee: To kill a Mockingbird [stand up for your beliefs, and reach out to the people around you]
  • Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen [find your family. they don’t have to be the people you were born with.]
  • Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore [life is rich, magical, paradox, scary and unpredictable. and that’s a good thing!]
  • Joyce Maynard: The Usual Rules [kids are growing. and you are, too.]
  • Kurt Busiek: Superman: Secret Identity [every step of growing up is scary. there’s a fuller picture. don’t get clouded by fear and alienation.]
  • Julie Orringer: The Invisible Bridge [every moment counts. celebrate reality. tell people you love them. make a difference.]

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That’s all for today: a couple of quick book recommendations for anyone who felt sad or needed consolation. Enjoy!

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Related Links:

Literature about 9/11: Recommendations

In 2005, I read nearly 30 fiction and nonfiction books about 9/11 (Link) for a long essay/feature for the German literature e-zine „lit05.de“ (Link).

Since then, I continued to read literature about the 2001 attacks: Some great books, a lot of mediocre stuff – and lots of obscure or over-hyped titles.

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Coming up: The best – and worst – 9/11 related fiction and nonfiction:

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Five novels that I can recommend:

– FRÉDÉRIC BEIGBEDER: ‚Windows on the World‘, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER: ‚Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOYCE MAYNARD: ‚The Usual Rules‘, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOSEPH O’NEILL: ‚Netherland‘, 2008 (rather loose connection to 9/11, Link)

– BRIAN K. VAUGHN: ‚Ex Machina‘, 2004 to 2010 (Graphic Novels, Link)

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Windows on the World Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Usual Rules: A Novel Netherland Ex Machina (Volume 1): The First Hundred Days

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Five personal essays that I can recommend:

– ELSE BUSCHHEUER: http://www.else-buschheuer.de: Das New York Tagebuch, 2002 (Link, German)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ISABEL ALLENDE: ‚My invented Country‘, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– NOAM CHOMSKY: ‚9-11‘ / ‚The Attack‘, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DAVID WYATT: ‚And the War came‘, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– MITCHELL FINK: ‚Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11‘ (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

WWW.Else-Buschheuer.de: Das New York Tagebuch (Kiwi) My Invented Country The Attack: Hintergrunde und Folgen And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11
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Personal Essays and Nonfiction that I can’t recommend:

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– RAFIK SCHAMI: ‚Mit fremden Augen: Tagebuch‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– KATHRIN RÖGGLA: ‚really ground zero‘, 2001 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link. It’s fun if you like young German literature…)

– LILY BRETT: ‚Between Mexico and Poland‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ORIANA FALLACI: ‚The Rage and the Pride‘, 2001 (Link)

(horrible Italian right-wing author, I reviewed it here, Link)

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Survivor Tales (most of them not *that* good…):

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– RICHARD PICCHIOTTO: ‚Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOANN B. NAMORATO: ‚The Long Road Home: Memories after September 11th‘ , 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ABD SAMAD MOUSSAOUI: ‚Zacarias Moussaoui: Mein Bruder‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ANNIE THOMS: ‚With their Eyes: September 11th – The View from a High School at Ground Zero‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ALISSA TORRES: ‚American Widow‘, 2008 (Graphic Novel; pretty bad, Link)

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Collections and Journalism (hit-and-miss):

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– RICHARD BERNSTEIN: ‚Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11th, 2001‘, 2002 (Link)

(quite good – I reviewed it here, Link)

– ULRICH BAER: ‚110 Stories: New York writes after September 11th, 2001‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– PAUL AUSTER u.a.: ‚Dienstag, 11. September 2001‘, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JACK CANFIELD: ‚Chicken Soup for the Sould of America‘, 2002 (Link)

(pretty bad: I reviewed it here, Link)

– NEIL GAIMAN u.a.: ‚9-11: Artists Respond‘, 2002 (Comic Anthology, pretty bad, Link)

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Don’t bother: 6 bad 9/11-related novels:

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– NICHOLSON BAKER: ‚Checkpoint‘, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DON DeLILLO: ‚Falling Man‘, 2007 (Link)

– JAY McINERNEY: ‚The Good Life‘, 2006 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOHN UPDIKE: ‚Terrorist‘, 2006 (Link)

– ROLAND SPRANGER: ‚ThRAX‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– FRANZISKA PEDERSEN: ‚Der 11. September oder: Die Geschichte von Lukas und Saira‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(horrible book; I reviewed it here, Link)

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private drama: novels about people who were not involved in the attacks

(in some reviews, these books appear to be books about 9/11... they’re not. Incidentally, none of these books is particularly good / recommended, either:)

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– IAN McEWAN: ‚Saturday‘, 2005 (Link)

– JOANNA SMITH RAKOFF: ‚A fortunate Age‘, 2009 (Link)

– PETER CAMERON: ‚Someday this Pain will be useful to you‘, 2007 (Link)

– KEITH GESSEN: ‚All the sad young literary Men‘, 2008 (Link)

– IAIN BANKS: ‚Dead Air‘, 2002 (Link)

– FRANZISKA GERSTENBERG: ‚Wie viel Vögel‘, 2003 (German short story collection, Link: Story ‚Glückskekse‘)

– NICK McDONELL: ‚The Third Brother‘, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– WILLIAM GIBSON: ‚Pattern Recognition‘, 2002 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– AUDREY NIFFENEGGER: ‚The Time Traveller’s Wife‘, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– CLAIRE MESSUD: ‚The Emperor’s Children‘, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– HEIDI JULAVITS: ‚The Effects of Living Backwards‘, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

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A Culture of Fear: (good!) novels from the 2000s that deal with terrorism and the climate of a post 9/11 world:

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– CHRISTIAN KRACHT: ‚1979‘, 2001 (German, written before 2001, Link)

– MEG ROSOFF: ‚How I live now‘, 2004 (Link)

– FIONA MAAZEL: ‚Last Last Chance‘, 2008 (excellent; Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‚Queen & Country‘ Vol. 1, 2001 (an espionage Graphic Novel set in Afghanistan, written in early 2001. Excellent research/tone… and very prophetic. Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‚Queen & Country: A Gentleman’s Game‘, 2004 (a novel that’s part of the same espionage series and deals with terrorist bombings at the London underground, written in 2004. Very, VERY prophetic. Link)

– JEPH LOEB: ‚Superman: Our Worlds at War‘, 2001 (a mediocre 2001 graphic novel, written before the attacks… but dealing with ALL the major political issues. Eerily propheric. Link)

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1979 How I Live Now Last Last Chance: A Novel Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Volume 1 A Gentleman's Game: A Queen & Country Novel Superman: Our Worlds at War

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and: 4 books about 9/11 that I WANT to read:

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– ART SPIEGELMAN: ‚In the Shadow of no Towers‘, 2004 (Graphic Novel, Link)

– DAMON DiMARCO: ‚Tower Stories‘, 2004 (Oral History, Link)

– NICHOLAS RINALDI: ‚Between two Rivers‘, 2004 (Link)

– ANJA REICH / ALEXANDER OSANG: ‚Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York‘, 2011 (Link)

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In the Shadow of No Towers Tower Stories: The Autobiography of September 11th Between Two Rivers: A Novel Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York
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Related Links:

  • ‚Underdog Literature‘: 23 book recommendations for August 2011 (Link)
  • ‚No need to read?‘: 40 disappointing literary classics (Link)