The best books for accepting and moving on from a tragedy

Who am I?

The five recommended nonfiction books on my list profoundly affected my life in my time of need. I struggled when a minor accident led to a brainstem stroke and being locked in at 45. How would I find happiness now? How can I go on? These five books gave me the strength to work hard, accept what couldn’t be improved, and be grateful for each day of good health. I hope the recommended books will help you prepare for the day your life will change...and it will.


I wrote...

Locked In Locked Out: Surviving a Brainstem Stroke

By Shawn Jennings,

Book cover of Locked In Locked Out: Surviving a Brainstem Stroke

What is my book about?

After Dr. Shawn Jennings, a busy family physician suffered a brainstem stroke on May 13, 1999, he woke from a coma locked inside his body, aware and alert but unable to communicate or move. Once he regained limited movement in his left arm, he began typing his story, using one hand and much patience. 

With unexpected humour and tender honesty, Shawn shares his experiences in his struggle for recovery and acceptance of his life after the stroke. He affirms that life is still worth it even without achieving a full recovery.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

Shawn Jennings Why did I love this book?

This is the classic memoir written by a locked-in author that was made into a movie of the same name. Bauby wrote this book by focusing his gaze on a letter-board interpreted and written down by another person. I was inspired by his determination to write despite the tedious process and to find freedom for his spirit (the butterfly). I was also influenced in my writing by his honesty. Bauby is not a particularly nice fellow, and he made no effort to portray himself as otherwise. It made the memoir genuine. So, I wrote honestly, with private thoughts exposed, and hopefully, readers felt the vulnerability and truth in my bio also.

By Jean-Dominique Bauby, Jeremy Leggatt (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whilst suffering from a condition whereby he was unable to speak and his only movement was the blinking of an eyelid, Jean-Dominique Bauby devised a code for each letter of the alphabet and dictated this book about his experiences and feelings. He died just after it was published.


Book cover of Slow Dance: A Story of Stroke, Love and Disability

Shawn Jennings Why did I love this book?

This memoir touched on all the feelings and struggles young stroke survivors experience and how love made the journey endurable. I related to much of her story, but I was more thankful than her. She writes about the inaccessibility of structures, and the ignorance society has about the disabled. All of this is true, but I was so grateful to be alive and free from being locked in; inaccessibility issues had no place in my memoir.

By Bonnie S. Klein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Slow Dance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A story of stroke, love and disability.

From the Hardcover edition.


Book cover of Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell

Shawn Jennings Why did I love this book?

Spong is an Episcopalian bishop who has no qualms questioning the fundamental aspects of religion. He uses familiar, non-scholarly language anyone can understand. I had spiritual experiences in my journey from being a healthy 45-year-old to a locked-in to a finally quadriplegic person. I couldn’t embrace all the tenets of religion, yet how could I explain what I experienced? Spong helped me be comfortable with my spirituality.

By John Shelby Spong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eternal Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on a lifetime of wisdom, New York Times bestselling author and controversial religious leader John Shelby Spong continues to challenge traditional Christian theology in Eternal Life: A New Vision. In this remarkable spiritual autobiography about his lifelong struggle with the questions of God and death, he reveals how he ultimately came to believe in eternal life.


Book cover of Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most

Shawn Jennings Why did I love this book?

Borg is another theologian who is liberal and questions all aspects of religion in a respectful way. Borg usually writes in a more classic theological style, but this book was personal and hence, more relatable for the average reader. This book helped me feel comfortable with my own spirituality, even if I couldn’t conform to any conventional religion. 

By Marcus J. Borg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Convictions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the occasion of his seventieth birthday, the renowned scholar Marcus J. Borg shares how he formed his bedrock religious beliefs, contending that Christians in America are at their best when they focus on hope and transformation and so shows how we can return to what really matters most. The result is a manifesto for all progressive Christians who seek the best path for following Jesus today.

With each chapter embodying a distinct conviction, Borg writes provocatively and compellingly on the beliefs that can deeply ground us and guide us, such as: God is real and a mystery; salvation is…


Book cover of On Death & Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy & Their Own Families

Shawn Jennings Why did I love this book?

This was published many years ago and profoundly affected how we understand the dying and introduced the five emotional stages of grief. This book helped me understand and support my patients. The five emotional stages occur in other losses in life, not just death. When my life suddenly changed, I mourned the loss of my old life and went through the five stages of grief. Recognizing didn’t prevent the pain, but Kubler-Ross helped me humbly accept my turmoil.

By Elisabeth Kübler-Ross,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked On Death & Dying as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The five stages of grief, first formulated in this hugely influential work forty years ago, are now part of our common understanding of bereavement. The five stages were first identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work with dying patients at the University of Chicago and were considered phases that all or most people went through, when faced with the prospect of their own death. They are now often accepted as a response to any major life change.

However, in spite of these terms being in general use, the subject of death is still surrounded…


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Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

Book cover of Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper

New book alert!

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

Martha's book list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD

What is my book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. But, as gamblers in love, they rolled the dice. And then they worked hard, took risks, caught lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the lottery of life. Over four decades, Lady Luck smiled on them, until one day, she didn’t. Out of the blue, Fortune spun her wheel and taught them that no one is immune to tragedy and heartbreak.

Betting on Bernie is Martha Marks’s memoir of their improbable courtship, happy and prosperous marriage, and not-so-golden “golden years.” It will make you think, wonder, laugh, and cry.

Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

What is this book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. No real reason for it, just a series of fluky coincidences. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. “It’ll never last,” people whispered after they got engaged. “Poor probability of success” was the general consensus when they married. But Bernie and Martha ignored the naysayers. Gamblers in love, they rolled the dice.

And then they worked hard, took even more risks, caught a few lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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