Julie Orringer

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


„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]


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

Here are my recommendations [Link]:


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.


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.]


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


Related Links:

Buchtipps 2011: meine Lieblingsbücher des Jahres


Nur kurz, und nur als Mosaik:

The best books I’ve read in 2011.



verwandte Links:

  • meine Literaturempfehlungen für September 2011 (Link)
  • junge deutschsprachige Literatur: 50 Empfehlungen (Link)
  • 10 neue US-Fernsehserien: Empfehlungen (Link)

Underdog Literature, September 2011: 15 fresh or compelling, off-the-wall titles


Here are 15 books that caught my interest lately.

Fresh, off-beat, quirky or curious titles that might deserve more attention:


01: CHAD HARBACH, ‚The Art of Fielding‘, 528 pages, 2011.

02: CATH CROWLEY, ‚Graffiti Moon‘, 264 pages, 2010. [Coming of Age]

03: SAREE MAKDISI, ‚Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation‘, 320, 2008. [Nonfiction]

04: JAMIE O’NEILL, ‚At Swim, two Boys‘, 576 pages, 2000.

05: JULIAN BARNES, ‚The Sense of an Ending‘, 144 pages, 2011.

06: JOHN FANTE, ‚Ask the Dust‘, 165 pages, 1939.

07: JULIE ORRINGER, ‚The Invisible Bridge‘, 602 pages, 2010.

08: LILY KING, ‚Father of the Rain‘, 384 pages, 2010.

09: RICHARD YATES, ‚Liars in Love‘, 272 pages, 1981.

10: THOMAS SAVAGE, ‚The Power of the Dog‘, 304 pages, 1967.

11: JOHN HERSEY, ‚The Wall‘, 640 pages, 1950.

12: DAVID MARKSON, ‚The Last Novel‘, 220 pages, 2007.

13: KATI RICKENBACH, ‚Jetzt kommt später‘, 304 pages, 2001. [German, Graphic Novel]

14: JÖRN MORISSE, RASMUS ENGLER, ‚Wovon lebst du eigentlich? Vom Überleben in prekären Zeiten‘, 256 pages, 2007. [German, Nonfiction]

15: ANTJE RÁVIC STRUBEL, ‚Sturz der Tage in die Nacht‘, 437 pages, 2011. [German]


Here are five books that made me curious enough to buy them:

01: AMOR TOWLES, ‚Rules of Civility‘, 352 pages, 2011.

02: ANDRÉ ACIMAN, ‚Call me by your Name‘, 248 pages, 2007.

03: JOSH KILMER-PURCELL, ‚I am not myself these days‘, 305 pages, 2006. [Memoir]

04: OLIVER SACKS, ‚Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf‘, 208 pages, 1989. [Nonfiction]

05: THOMAS BERNHARD, ‚Meine Preise‘, 144 pages, 2009. [German, Nonfiction].


…and finally, here are three books that I read – and that were really good:

[this month: three indie graphic novels.]

1: 5 of 5 stars: DANIEL CLOWES, ‚Ghost World‘, 80 pages, 1997.

2: 4 of 5 stars: HOWARD CRUSE, ‚Stuck Rubber Baby‘, 216 pages, 1995.

3: 4 of 5 stars: DAVID B., ‚Epileptic‘, 358 pages, 2002.


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