The best books for contemplating mortality

Why am I passionate about this?

Emily Blejwas directs the Alabama Folklife Association. She is the author of The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods (UA Press) and two middle grade novels: Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened and Once You Know This (Random House). Emily grew up in Minnesota, attended Auburn University, and now lives in Mobile, Alabama with her husband and four children.


I wrote...

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

By Emily Blejwas,

Book cover of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

What is my book about?

After his father's death, Justin discovers that some things are just unknowable. He learns that time and space and memory are grander and weirder than he ever thought, and that small moments can hold big things, if you’re paying attention. Just like his math teacher said, even when you think you have all the information, there will be more. There is always more.

Set during the Gulf War era, Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened is a story about learning to go on after loss, told with a warmth that could thaw the coldest Minnesota lake.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Big Book of the Dead

Emily Blejwas Why did I love this book?

The premise is simple but ingenious. Winik catalogs the lives and deaths of people she’s known throughout her life, some well, others hardly at all. Each entry is no longer than a page or two, and her writing is stark and unruffled, creating moments of dark humor. She never glorifies the departed, yet her emotion buzzes below the surface. And you immediately wonder how your own page or two might go.

By Marion Winik,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Big Book of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marion Wink is esteemed for bringing humor and wit to that most unavoidable of subjects: death.

At last, Winik's critically acclaimed, cult favorites, Glen Rock Book of the Dead and Baltimore Book of the Dead, have been carefully combined in their proper chronological order, revealing more clearly than ever before the character hidden throughout these stories: Winik herself.

Featuring twelve additional vignettes along with a brand-new introduction, The Big Book of the Dead continues Winik's work as an empathetic, witty chronicler of life.


Book cover of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Emily Blejwas Why did I love this book?

Porter is more than happy to veer into zany and uncharted territory, which is a perfect place to explore death. In this story, a talking crow acts as a companion to a grieving young father who recently lost his wife. Why not? The writing is sublime and unlike anything else you’ve read, guaranteed. The story is weird and wild and Porter is completely unapologetic about it, which is what we’d all like to be.

By Max Porter,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Grief Is the Thing with Feathers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 NOVEL OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year award and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize.

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow - antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family…


Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Emily Blejwas Why did I love this book?

We fight death in America, insisting everyone battles to the bitter end, no matter how low quality of life drops. Gawande bravely challenges this notion, giving us permission to define what a “good life” means to us. Is it consciousness? Eating chocolate ice cream? Living at home? He encourages each of us to draw our line in the sand, a refreshing and clarifying exercise for readers at any stage of life.

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Being Mortal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

'GAWANDE'S MOST POWERFUL, AND MOVING, BOOK' MALCOLM GLADWELL

'BEING MORTAL IS NOT ONLY WISE AND DEEPLY MOVING; IT IS AN ESSENTIAL AND INSIGHTFUL BOOK FOR OUR TIMES' OLIVER SACKS

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's…


Book cover of All the Young Men

Emily Blejwas Why did I love this book?

While the rest of America stigmatized and shunned people living with HIV, Burks, a divorced single mother in 1980s Arkansas, stepped up to give dignity, kindness, and care to the dying. Her bravery will stun you, and make you question whether you could have done the same. Her matchless personality, somehow both huge and understated, will have you turning the pages as fast as you possibly can.

By Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O'Leary,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked All the Young Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A renegade Florence Nightingale cares for the ill in a remarkable tale of compassion and combating prejudice" The Guardian

'Breath-taking courage and compassion [...]a beautiful book' The Sunday Times

'An extraordinary tale' Evening Standard

'If I have one message with this book it's that we all have to care for one another. Today, not just in 1986. Life is about caring for each other, and I learned more about life from the dying than I ever learned from the living. It's in an elephant ride, it's in those wildflowers dancing on their way to the shared grave of two men…


Book cover of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Emily Blejwas Why did I love this book?

The power of contemplating death is that it forces us to contemplate life. Focused on the latter, Hanh’s book is full of gentle reminders about how to live each day. His quiet observations about how we move through daily life and his genuine wish that we will slow down enough to appreciate it radiate in the pages, and if we truly take them in, can exist off the page as well.

By Thich Nhat Hanh,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Peace Is Every Step as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'This is a very worthwhile book. It can change individual lives and the life of our society.' The Dalai Lama

Lucidly and beautifully written, Peace is Every Step contains commentaries and meditations, personal anecdotes and stories from Nhat Hanh's experiences as a peace activist, teacher, and community leader. It begins where the reader already is - in the kitchen, office, driving a car, walking in a park - and shows how deep meditative presence is available now. Nhat Hanh provides exercises to increase our awareness of our own body and mind through conscious breathing, which can bring immediate joy and…


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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


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