The best books about aging, family, and relationships (all with dogs, because, well, why not!?)

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, our public library in the basement of the Methodist church became my second home. However, I considered any visit a bitter disappointment that didn’t result in one or two dog stories in the stack I signed out. Big Red, Old Yeller, Lassie, Lad a Dog, Call of the Wild, White Fang (the occasional wolf was also okay), I loved them all. That experience has continued to affect the adult I’ve become. As I’ve turned to reading, and writing, stories of family, relationships, and, lately, of aging, it’s become clear to me that I’ve never found a story that wasn’t improved by the appearance of a good dog.


I wrote...

An Invitation to the Party

By MJ Werthman White,

Book cover of An Invitation to the Party

What is my book about?

Your nephew has been staying with you (temporarily) for the past three years. Your ex moved into a house down the street and keeps forgetting where he lives. Your dog has decided on bachelor number one who lives next door but you prefer number two, the man whose daughter busted up your marriage. And, the last straw, you suspect that your family, ignoring your wish for no fuss, is planning a BIG seventieth surprise birthday party for you.

Who says you can’t have a page-turning charmer of a novel (in which no dogs die), one that will make you laugh, cry, and leave you wanting more, as it addresses aging, dementia, loss, and death? An Invitation to the Party is that book.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nobody's Fool

MJ Werthman White Why did I love this book?

You open a novel and begin reading. The author’s voice draws you into a story that leaves you feeling bereft at the end because it’s over. Wanting more, you read all the writer’s other titles, then reread the first one again.

Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool is such a book, despite its eponymous main character, the aging loser, sixty-year-old Donald Sullivan, someone whose life is such a mess that his landlord, Miss Beryl, once Sully’s eighth grade teacher, is the only one harboring any hope he may yet redeem himself.

From such unpromising material, Russo crafts an engaging story that has the reader as often laughing as tearing up. An added plus, a Doberman Pinscher named Ralph has a starring role in the novel’s satisfying conclusion.

P.S. This is one time I recommend seeing a film before reading the book simply for the pure pleasure of having in your head as you read, Paul Newman as Sully, and Jessica Tandy as Miss Beryl.

By Richard Russo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nobody's Fool as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of The Accidental Tourist

MJ Werthman White Why did I love this book?

I read Ann Tyler for her unrivaled ability to create heartfelt stories illuminated by humor about family in all its broken splendor.

The trepidatious Macon Leary is our accidental tourist, writer of an advice column full of tips for making travel feel like staying home. He’s lost his son; his wife has left him. He’s back living with his two brothers and sister when Edward, his choleric Welsh Corgi, starts biting people. This bit of bad luck pulls him into the orbit of the irritating, opinionated, big-hearted dog trainer, Muriel, and on a journey back to a life worth living for both Macon and his dog.

Read The Accidental Tourist if your family (or certain members thereof) make you crazy. You will feel seen. (It’s also a terrific movie.)

By Anne Tyler,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Accidental Tourist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover a beautiful story of what it is to be human from Pulitzer prize-winning Sunday Times bestselling Anne Tyler

How does a man addicted to routine - a man who flosses his teeth before love-making - cope with the chaos of everyday life?

With the loss of his son, the departure of his wife and the arrival of Muriel, a dog trainer from the Meow-Bow dog clinic, Macon's attempts at ordinary life are tragically and comically undone.

**ANNE TYLER HAS SOLD OVER 1 MILLION BOOKS WORLDWIDE**

'One of my favourite authors ' Liane Moriarty

'She spins gold' Elizabeth Buchan

'Anne…


Book cover of The Friend

MJ Werthman White Why did I love this book?

In Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend a terrible event (a dear friend and mentor’s suicide) results in the unnamed narrator’s acceptance, out of a sense of responsibility, of an unwanted burden (the heartbroken Great Dane, Apollo−the narrator admitting she is more of a cat person).

I love that by book’s end, that obligation turns out to be a precious gift that assuages both their griefs, serving to connect them to the departed one they both loved. Along the way we, lucky readers, get to eavesdrop on the literary discourse of an agile mind attempting to parse the unparsable as the narrator, a writer herself, addresses both the lost (her mentor) and the found (the dog).

Does the dog die? Don’t ask and I won’t tell.

By Sigrid Nunez,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog.

WINNER OF THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD * A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2020 INTERNATIONAL DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD

'A true delight: I genuinely fear I won't read a better novel this year' FINANCIAL TIMES

'Loved this. A funny, moving examination of love, grief, and the uniqueness of dogs' GRAHAM NORTON

'Delicious' SUNDAY TIMES 100 BEST SUMMER READS

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has…


Book cover of Our Souls at Night

MJ Werthman White Why did I love this book?

Kent Haruf wrote Our Souls at Night as he was dying. What happens in it? Not a lot. It’s much easier to write stories in which things blow up, plot devices creak, and an ending ties everything up neatly. This quiet, elegiac novel is not that.

Addie and Louis, elderly neighbors, begin sleeping together because the nights are long and they are lonely. Her young grandson, Jamie, visits. Louis gives him a catcher’s mitt and brings home a shelter dog, Bonnie. Their grown children interfere. Complications ensue. And there are no quotation marks to indicate dialogue.

Yet, here I am telling you to go, now, find this book and read it today? Am I crazy? You decide (after you read the book).

P.S. Skip this film. Jane Fonda’s Stepford Wives’ perfection ruins a movie that needed its female beauty defined by wrinkles and gray hair, and an aging, infirm body. (Not possible, you say? I refer you to Jessica Tandy, above.)

By Kent Haruf,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Our Souls at Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Absolutely beautiful' The Times

'Luminous' Ursula K Le Guin, Guardian

'I loved Our Souls at Night' David Nicholls

Addie Moore's husband died years ago, so did Louis Waters' wife, and, as neighbours in Holt, Colorado they have naturally long been aware of each other. With their children now far away both live alone in houses empty of family. The nights are terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk to. Then one evening Addie pays Louis an unexpected visit.

Their brave adventures-their pleasures and their difficulties-form the beating heart of Our Souls at Night. Kent Haruf's final novel is an…


Book cover of Last Days of the Dog-Men: Stories

MJ Werthman White Why did I love this book?

Last Days of the Dog Men by Brad Watson, another recently deceased, much-mourned (by me, anyway) writer, is a beautifully written collection of short stories that I revisit at least once a year just for the pure pleasure of rereading this southern writer’s tales.

Every story has its dog and yes, some of the dogs die, which ordinarily I find unforgiveable in fiction, people expiring in a book not bothering me nearly as much−and if that last resonates, this book is for you. Alas, dogs do die (but also, thankfully, live) in Watson’s imperfect world and he tells their stories along with those of their flawed humans with empathy and humor in his distinctive southern voice.

By Brad Watson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Days of the Dog-Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. In each of these "weird and wonderful stories" (Boston Globe), Brad Watson writes about people and dogs: dogs as companions, as accomplices, and as unwitting victims of human passions; and people responding to dogs as missing parts of themselves. "Elegant and elegiac, beautifully pitched to the human ear, yet resoundingly felt in our animal hearts" (New York Newsday), Watson's vibrant prose captures the animal crannies of the human personality-yearning for freedom, mourning the loss of…


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Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

Book cover of Wrightsville Beach

Suzanne Goodwyn Author Of Wrightsville Beach

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing all my life, but was never able to find my voice until I had my daughters. It was for them I wrote “Wrightsville Beach”. I wanted to show them what a good relationship should look like and how their decisions make a difference in where they will go. I want my readers to relive that feeling of falling in love and to be sent in unexpected directions, as life so often does to us. I want you to enjoy it so much, you don’t want to put the book down until it’s finished and once you do, to sit and reflect on it, savoring the feeling it has left behind.

Suzanne's book list on smart women trying to figure it all out

What is my book about?

Two years ago, devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Hank Atwater went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested. Since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess feel connected to each other in a way neither has ever felt before.

But when Hank’s past leads to a frightful incident, it ends their relationship. Jess leaves to work on the beach with sea turtles, thinking about what really happened that summer with Hank, while Hank sets out to find his own path in hopes of one day winning her back.

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

What is this book about?

Two years ago, Hank Atwater made a terrible mistake. Devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Rob, he went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested for aggravated assault. Sober since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck.

Working a dead-end delivery job, Hank uses surfing and running to deal with being ostracized as he waits for his probation to end. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess…


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