Have you ever come out of a film thinking, “everyone must see this”? Every once in a blue moon, a book will leave me with the urge to proselytize.
Admittedly, it’s a dubious urge. Just because something is MY FAVORITE BOOK EVER doesn’t mean it will strike the same chord with someone else. It may even fall victim to becoming overhyped by my own praise. I came to the following two books with few expectations myself. I plucked them from other “Best of” lists and added them to my reading queue. Obviously, the books had struck a chord with other readers. That is one of the things they have in common — their writing capture the truth and messiness and hilarious details of larger emotional journeys.
These books were:
To round out the list (3’s always a nice number, isn’t it?) I would probably add a book I read a few years back. I found this book (or it found me) during my 2011 sabbatical, when I was reading every book I could get my hands on that were explicitly about death and dying — including Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its 5 Stages and the New Science of Loss (better than the 5 Stages, IMHO), Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Motherless Daughters, and a couple unfinished sociology tomes on how different cultures treat death and dying. None of these books that I pulled for my “research” were ever as powerful as the stories that fell into my lap when I wasn’t looking.
I wasn’t expecting a book about loss when I started reading Wild. Or The Fault in Our Stars. And I knew An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination was about a mother’s loss, but I didn’t expect it to resonate so deeply with my own.
While Joan Didion’s writing never “landed” with me, Elizabeth McCracken’s did. Parts of her story have stuck with me more powerfully than the social-science storytelling of Motherless Daughters — even though those losses directly paralleled mine. Grief is universal after all, and it’s no surprise that I find solace in the specificity of how an individual (not unlike myself) grieves a loss very different than my own. It’s the power of authentic storytelling over how-to’s and data and patterns.
I should also mention that these three “must-read books” are all very FUNNY books. That is what makes them human and heartbreaking and uplifting, which is why I want to sing them from the rooftops.
When I finished reading them, I had the uncontrollable urge to tell you that you should read them too. (I also had the uncontrollable urge to start re-reading immediately. I’ve now read Wild thrice, TFIOS twice, and have referred to certain sections of An Exact Replica as reference for my comics.) I wanted to Tweet-Facebook-Instagram-Tumble-Blog about them. I felt like Wild and TFIOS should be required reading for everyone in the world! Then I realized, it’s not just because I think you will like them (though I think you will), and it’s not just because I think they will touch you (though I know they will).
I realized that I want you to read these books because these books reflect my story, and I want you to know — to really know — my story. I want you to understand my experiences with loss. Not the sadness, but the laughter. Not the shock, but the absurdity. Not the tears, but the rage. Not the tears, but the hate. Not the tears, but the joy. Not the dying, but the living. Not the difficulties of grief, but the all-encompassing love that makes the world a bigger, brighter place.
Any old “5 stages” article will tell you about the valleys I imagine you imagine when I tell you I’ve lost my parents. But these books will take you on the journey that I have journeyed to the glorious mountaintops on the other side of all that. And until I muster the gusto to write down my story…you should read these books.