The best books on grief and joy: you can’t have one without the other

Why am I passionate about this?

While writing this book, a study on a professionally competent woman who is taken out by grief when her partner dies due to an act of violence, my grandfather passed away and my theoretical study of grief quickly became a real one. Working through Stella’s grief helped me work through my own and allowing her to heal and fall in love aided in my healing immensely. Grief is brutal and feels endless, but coming out of the other side of it with the support of the people around me changed me for the better. 


I wrote...

Honey in the Marrow

By Emily Waters,

Book cover of Honey in the Marrow

What is my book about?

Stella Carter is a former criminal prosecutor and new widow facing down middle age alone in Los Angeles. Without being a prestigious lawyer and someone’s wife, she’s not sure who she is anymore or where her life is headed.

When she invites her niece to move in with her, Stella accidentally reconnects with her former colleague, LAPD Captain Elizabeth Murphy. The woman is beautiful but cold; someone she was always at odds with on the job. Surprisingly, Stella finds herself leaning on her niece and Elizabeth more and more to navigate her loss. But as time goes on, Stella can’t keep seeing Elizabeth and pretending she’s not attracted to her. Besides, there’s absolutely no way Elizabeth feels the same way. Is there?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Inciting Joy: Essays

Emily Waters Why did I love this book?

Gay’s collection of essays is so lovingly and delicately penned.

His writing is approachable, but poetic. Matter of fact but brimming with despair and hope in equal measure. Grief can be so all consuming, but Gay’s main thesis is that Joy is an act of resistance to a callous world and art creates meaning. A valuable lesson that I keep in my pocket and worry like stone when I start to forget.  

By Ross Gay,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Inciting Joy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of gorgeously written and timely pieces in which prize-winning poet and author Ross Gay considers the joy we incite when we care for each other, especially during life's inevitable hardships.

In "We Kin" he thinks about the garden (especially around August, when the zucchini and tomatoes come on) as a laboratory of mutual aid; in "Share Your Bucket" he explores skate-boarding's reclamation of public space; he considers the costs of masculinity in "Grief Suite"; and in "Through My Tears I Saw," he recognizes what was healed in caring for his father as he was dying.

In an era…


Book cover of A Living Remedy: A Memoir

Emily Waters Why did I love this book?

Chung’s anger at the American healthcare system is all too relatable and the source of grief for so many people.

She writes about her parent’s illness and the frustration of trying to get them care, and then ultimately losing them with such an honest and deft hand. Constantly asking what could have gone different, the guilt of being far away, the anxiety and panic and rage are such an intrinsic part of the grieving process and Chung does not shy away.

I hold on to her rage and the eventual growth that comes of it like a map that will guide me through any hard loss. 

By Nicole Chung,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Living Remedy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of the Year by: Time * Harper’s Bazaar * Esquire * Booklist * USA Today * Elle

From the bestselling author of ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW comes a searing memoir of family, class and grief—a daughter’s search to understand the lives her adoptive parents led, the life she forged as an adult, and the lives she’s lost.

In this country, unless you attain extraordinary wealth, you will likely be unable to help your loved ones in all the ways you’d hoped. You will learn to live with the specific, hollow guilt of those who leave…


Book cover of Walk Two Moons

Emily Waters Why did I love this book?

The books we read as children are so incredibly formative. In Walk Two Moons, 13-year-old Sal has lost her mother and lost her way.

As the reader, especially when I read it as an adult, I can see so clearly Sal’s pain and grief motivating her every decision. As a child who was often in the care of her grandparents, I could see myself in Sal. Her journey became mine, her path to healing made my journey easier as well.

There’s a reason Walk Two Moons won the Newbery in 1995 and Sharon Creech remains one of the best writers for middle grade fiction around. 

By Sharon Creech,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Walk Two Moons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins.

What is the meaning of this strange message left on the doorstep? Only Sal knows, and on a roadtrip with her grandparents she tells the bizarre tale of Phoebe Winterbottom, Phoebe's disappearing mother and the lunatic. But who can help Sal make sense of the mystery that surrounds her own story . . . and her own missing mother?


Book cover of Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

Emily Waters Why did I love this book?

When you’re going through the ups and downs of grief, someone telling you that your experience is making you grow as a person is likely the last thing you want to hear, but Susan Cain makes a solid case for joy and sadness being intertwined.

People often feel drawn to sadness because permanent joy doesn’t work. Cain tells us that we need not strive for joy or sadness because they will always be there, essentially holding hands. What we need to look for is acceptance. As a fan of her bestselling book Quiet, I was excited to see her take on grief and it turned out to be poignant and wise. 

By Susan Cain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB PICK

THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER -- FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING

In her inspiring new masterpiece, the author of the bestselling phenomenon Quiet describes her powerful quest to understand how love, loss and sorrow make us whole - revealing the power of a bittersweet outlook on life.

Bittersweetness is a tendency towards states of longing, poignancy and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. It recognizes that light and…


Book cover of AfterMath

Emily Waters Why did I love this book?

Besides well written non-fiction and sapphic romance, my favorite type of book is always going to be middle grade fiction.

In AfterMath, 12-year-old Lucy is struggling with the death of her younger brother from heart failure. When she changes school, she comes into the aftermath of a school shooting where her classmates struggle with grief of a different kind. Chock full of character development and with a solid plot, this takes a gentle look at grief, trauma, gun violence, terminal illness, and the real-life things that we have to face, no matter our age.

I love a story where children are resilient, though I wish they didn’t have to be so resilient all the time. 

By Emily Barth Isler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked AfterMath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

"This book is a gift to the culture." ―Amy Schumer, writer, actor, and activist


After her brother's death from a congenital heart defect, twelve-year-old Lucy is not prepared to be the new kid at school―especially in a grade full of survivors of a shooting that happened four years ago. Without the shared past that both unites and divides her classmates, Lucy feels isolated and unable to share her family's own loss, which is profoundly different from the trauma of her peers.

Lucy clings to her love of math, which provides the absolute answers she craves. But through budding friendships and…


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Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years In Rural Japan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Snow lover Fish out of water Traveller

Sam's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who teaches him the meaning of being 'priden'.

Struggling with Slovene, a language with grammar so complex it can cause brain damage, and battling bureaucracy, he explores the culture and characters of this underappreciated ex-Yugoslav republic, its wild beauty, and its wild animals.

A love letter to Slovenia, this rare, adventurous account follows a foreigner trying to build a new life — and rebuild an old house — in a young country still finding its own place in the world.

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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