The best books for contemplating mortality

Emily Blejwas Author Of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened
By Emily Blejwas

The Books I Picked & Why

The Big Book of the Dead

By Marion Winik

Book cover of The Big Book of the Dead

Why 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.


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Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

By Max Porter

Book cover of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Why 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.


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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande

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

Why 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.


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All the Young Men

By Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O'Leary

Book cover of All the Young Men

Why 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.


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

By Thich Nhat Hanh

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

Why 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.


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