74 books like What the Living Do

By Marie Howe,

Here are 74 books that What the Living Do fans have personally recommended if you like What the Living Do. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Wave

Melanie Bishop Author Of My So-Called Ruined Life

From my list on inhabiting unthinkable loss.

Who am I?

When my father died in 1998, bladder cancer, I was 41 years old and privileged to be his primary caregiver for five weeks. My first major loss and it was as though a mack truck had been driven through my chest. Ten years later, my mother died, after nine years of dementia, which is like losing someone twice. That was a more ravaging grief. Twelve years later, my nephew died, a month away from his 36th birthday. And in 2022, one close friend of mine took his own life and another died of cancer at age 57. Grief is the subject I gravitate toward in the books I read and the essays I write. 

Melanie's book list on inhabiting unthinkable loss

Melanie Bishop Why did Melanie love this book?

This book is about the most horrifying loss imaginable: the author loses her parents, her husband, and her two young sons all at once, in the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the day after Christmas, 2004. She and her family were spending the holiday in Sri Lanka when the wave hit and overtook the jeep in which they were attempting to flee. I can’t come up with a better justification for suicide than this—she’s lost everyone; she wonders why she was spared, just to suffer these losses every minute of every hour of every day. The book is both a horror story and a testament to human strength. I assure you, you won’t be able to put it down. 

By Sonali Deraniyagala,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the PEN/Ackerley Prize 2014

The book opens and we are inside the wave: thirty feet high, moving at twenty-five mph, racing two miles inland. And from there into the depths of the author's despair: how to live now that her life has been undone?

Sonali Deraniyagala tells her story - the loss of her two boys, her husband, and her parents - without artifice or sentimentality. In the stark language of unfathomable sorrow, anger, and guilt: she struggles through the first months following the tragedy -- someone always at her side to prevent her from harming herself, her…


Book cover of Ordinary People

Monica Starkman Author Of The End of Miracles: A Novel

From my list on good and bad psychiatrists.

Who am I?

There are very few novels written by psychiatrists, and even fewer that accurately show psychiatrists at work. That is one of the major reasons that I wrote The End of Miracles. I’ve been a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, seen many patients, and taught many psychiatry residents, so I know a good deal about people with mental illness and its treatment. As a novelist, I also wanted to write a book that is exciting and gives pleasure to readers. I think I succeeded. Here are some comments from reader reviews online: “gripping”… ”thought-provoking”… ”spell-binding”… ”illuminating”… “a page-turner”… ”a rich and satisfying read”.

Monica's book list on good and bad psychiatrists

Monica Starkman Why did Monica love this book?

In Ordinary People, the boating-accident death of the older teenage son shatters the family.

Conrad, the younger son who was also on the boat, is tormented by self-blame for his brother’s death. After a suicide attempt and a psychiatric hospitalization, Conrad is released. He is still beset with guilt and depression and begins outpatient treatment with Dr. Berger, a blunt yet also an empathetic psychiatrist.

I like the way he helps Conrad reconsider his unrealistic guilt and helps him look at the limitations of his mother, a parent unable to provide him the warmth and support he needs. I like the way Dr. Berger is portrayed as caring and skilled, an example of how psychiatrists effectively treat their patients.

By Judith Guest,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ordinary People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the great bestseller of our time: the novel that inspired Robert Redford's Oscar-winning film starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore

In Ordinary People, Judith Guest's remarkable first novel, the Jarrets are a typical American family. Calvin is a determined, successful provider and Beth an organized, efficient wife. They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one. In this memorable, moving novel, Judith Guest takes the reader into their lives to share their misunderstandings, pain, and ultimate healing. Ordinary People is an extraordinary novel about an "ordinary" family divided by pain, yet bound by their…


Book cover of The Reenactments: A Memoir

Nicholas Montemarano Author Of If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir

From my list on grief: literary companions after loss.

Who am I?

My most recent book, If There Are Any Heavens, tells the story of my mother’s death from COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic in America. As I wrote this book, I returned to some of the most powerful books I had read about grief. Because my book is a memoir in verse, I found myself reading mostly memoirs and poetry. My previous books are all fiction—three novels and a short story collection. No matter the book or genre, I’m attuned to the sonic qualities of the writing. My favorite writing, the kind I aspire to, strives for the emotional immediacy of music.

Nicholas' book list on grief: literary companions after loss

Nicholas Montemarano Why did Nicholas love this book?

I met the poet Nick Flynn over twenty years ago, not long before the publication of his most famous book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a memoir about his father’s homelessness. Since then, he has become one of my favorite writers. The Reenactments—for my money, his best book—takes us through the surreal experience of Another Bullshit Night being turned into a film. Robert De Niro plays his father and Julianne Moore plays his mother. De Niro meets Flynn’s father, studying him for character traits. In the most heartbreaking sections, Flynn relives his mother’s suicide as it’s filmed. As Flynn writes: “How often are you offered the chance for a complete reenactment of the day of the disaster?”

By Nick Flynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For Nick Flynn, that game we all play-the who-would-play-you-in-the-movie-of-your-life game-has been resolved. The Reenactments chronicles the surreal experience of being on set during the making of the film Being Flynn, from his best-selling memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and watching the central events of his life reenacted: his father's long run of homelessness and his mother's suicide. Flynn tells the story of Robert De Niro's first meeting with his real father in Boston and of watching Julianne Moore attempt to throw herself into the sea. The result is a mesmerizingly sharp-edged and kaleidoscopic literary tour de force as…


Book cover of A Death in the Family

Nicholas Montemarano Author Of If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir

From my list on grief: literary companions after loss.

Who am I?

My most recent book, If There Are Any Heavens, tells the story of my mother’s death from COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic in America. As I wrote this book, I returned to some of the most powerful books I had read about grief. Because my book is a memoir in verse, I found myself reading mostly memoirs and poetry. My previous books are all fiction—three novels and a short story collection. No matter the book or genre, I’m attuned to the sonic qualities of the writing. My favorite writing, the kind I aspire to, strives for the emotional immediacy of music.

Nicholas' book list on grief: literary companions after loss

Nicholas Montemarano Why did Nicholas love this book?

James Agee might be one of the most underappreciated American writers of the 20th century and one of its great stylists. I splurged for a first-edition hardcover of this novel: its pages smell like 1957, the year it was published, two years after Agee died suddenly at 45. It won the Pulitzer Prize. Its famous prologue, “Knoxville: Summer 1915,” is a masterpiece. This autobiographical novel, largely based on the death of Agee’s father in 1915, tells the story of a boy’s father killed in a car accident. It is an alternately quiet and lyrical work that is as much about love as loss.

By James Agee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Death in the Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic American novel, re-published for the 100th anniversary of James Agee's birth

Published in 1957, two years after its author's death at the age of forty-five, A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is killed in a car accident-a tragedy that destroys not only a life, but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family. A novel of great courage, lyric force, and powerful…


Book cover of Tell Me

Christina Strigas Author Of Love & Vodka

From my list on poetry that speak to the soul.

Who am I?

I’ve written five poetry books and I am presently working on my sixth. My poems are also confessional and narrative styles. I have also written two novels and enjoy writing fiction and poetry. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have. They have saved my life on many occasions. 

Christina's book list on poetry that speak to the soul

Christina Strigas Why did Christina love this book?

I recently discovered Kim Addonizio and wanted to include her to share with you a modern poet I am recently obsessed with. I am also reading her book of memoirs at the moment and I am loving her raw style. I was going to put Bukowski in my five picks but I wanted to make it about women. Hench here is a modern poet who comes close to that raw and in-your-face poetry. Confessional poetry, like Plath and Sexton’s, has been my favorite genre, but Addonizio gives it a raw twist with a shot of vodka. I love how Addonizio’s poems slap you in the face with truth. Her poems teach me how to be comfortable sharing my own stories with strangers. Her poems teach me it’s okay to lie about it too. A place where reality and fantasy merge. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to…

By Kim Addonizio,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Poems of loneliness and late nights, liquor and loss.


Book cover of Selected Poems of Anne Sexton

Christina Strigas Author Of Love & Vodka

From my list on poetry that speak to the soul.

Who am I?

I’ve written five poetry books and I am presently working on my sixth. My poems are also confessional and narrative styles. I have also written two novels and enjoy writing fiction and poetry. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have. They have saved my life on many occasions. 

Christina's book list on poetry that speak to the soul

Christina Strigas Why did Christina love this book?

I’ve been fascinated by poetry ever since I picked up this book for seven dollars at the second-hand bookstore near my university at the age of nineteen. Anne Sexton’s Selected Poems taught me how to write confessional poetry. They taught me how to write narrative poetry. They taught me to not be afraid to speak my truth, no matter how ugly.

I love how Anne Sexton writes about marriage, affairs, love, loss, family, and relationships with depth into herself and her psyche. Her poems in this collection encompass all her most remarkable work from her array of poetry books. Here you have all the classic poems as well as some obscure ones. Her famous, "Black Art" and the classic lines, "A woman who writes feels too much." As well, "For My Lover, Returning to His Wife," and the last two lines, "As for me, I am a watercolor. I wash…

By Anne Sexton, Diane Wood Middlebrook (editor), Diana George (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Selected Poems of Anne Sexton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anne Sexton's language was simple, domestic; her imagery arresting; her subject matter urgent, shocking and exciting. She wrote about mental breakdown, sex, addiction, abortion - the other side of ordinary life. 'Madness' and its cultural meanings were central to her art as to her life; yet it is a bright, lucid and sane voice that resonates. Sexton's poems are accessible, moving and intensely honest. Her poems are brought together here in a diverse and powerful anthology spanning fifteen years of uninhibited writing.


Book cover of The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Daniel Damiano Author Of The Woman in the Sun Hat

From my list on character and personal journeys.

Who am I?

While The Woman in the Sun Hat is my debut novel, as a seasoned playwright, I have often gravitated to character studies in a variety of genres, usually blending comedy with pathos. What was exciting for me in writing a novel was that I could really explore an even more nuanced arc of the central character. I am a Brooklyn, NY-based Playwright, Novelist, Screenwriter, Actor, and Poet. Recent publications include my play Day of the Dog (Broadway Play Publishing) and my debut poetry collection 104 Days of the Pandemic (fandango 4 Art House). My latest novel is Graphic Nature, due out later in 2022.

Daniel's book list on character and personal journeys

Daniel Damiano Why did Daniel love this book?

While, yes, this is not a novel, there is a true character journey in reading the complete works of Ms. Sexton in sequence; a sort of poetic analysis the likes of which I have not read to such a soul-baring degree, as she depicts her thoughts and struggles with marriage, relationships, motherhood, her own parents and various other facets of her life. To me, Ms. Sexton is very much the symbol of what became the confessional poetry movement. The eloquence and depth of her writing, especially in poems like " The Double Image", "Flee on Your Donkey" and " For My Lover Returning to His Wife", are remarkable.

By Anne Sexton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton comprises the poet's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years.

From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women.

"Women poets in particular owe a debt to Anne Sexton, who broke new ground, shattered taboos, and endured a barrage of attacks along the way because of the flamboyance of her subject matter...Sexton has earned her place in the canon."—from the Foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin


Book cover of Memoirs

Brian Castro Author Of The Garden Book

From my list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre.

Who am I?

I am an aficionado of lost objects, lost time, afterlives; of writing which never “fitted” its era. Examples would be that of John Aubrey, Herman Melville, Fernando Pessoa, Djuna Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Ralph Ellison… the list goes on. I look for writing that has stood the test of time, not celebrated for the fame and bling of the moment. I look for the futile products of those who possessed genius, but who never earned enough readers until decades or centuries later, once they were released from the prison-house of genre. I look for the posthumous brilliance of language; the phosphoric glow of its offerings and of the buried treasures found therein.

Brian's book list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre

Brian Castro Why did Brian love this book?

Lowell began this memoir in a mental hospital. He was told it may help him recover from a manic-depressive condition. But he never finished it. He sold the manuscript to Harvard University and there it mouldered away for forty years until editors Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc resurrected it. Lowell had never meant it to be published. Yet, in this manuscript we discover the bones of his famous poetic work Life Studies, which virtually turned him into one of the greatest of Confessional poets. The manuscript that fell between the cracks demonstrates what a great prose writer Lowell was, and how the language of his poetry was already embedded in these prose descriptions. 

By Robert Lowell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A complete collection of Robert Lowell’s autobiographical prose, from unpublished writings about his youth to reflections on the triumphs and confusions of his adult life.

Robert Lowell's Memoirs is an unprecedented literary discovery: the manuscript of Lowell’s lyrical evocation of his childhood, which was written in the 1950s and has remained unpublished until now. Meticulously edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc, it serves as a precursor or companion to his groundbreaking book of poems Life Studies, which signaled a radically new prose-inflected direction in his work, and indeed in American poetry.

Memoirs also includes intense depictions of Lowell’s…


Book cover of Odes

Ellis Elliott Author Of A Break in the Field

From my list on poetry to feed your distracted self.

Who am I?

I have been a dance teacher all of my adult life, and a poetry and word-lover even longer. I love the economy of language, immediacy, and the promise of surprise in poetry. In middle age, I returned to writing just as my body began its slow rebellion, with the added shifts of remarriage and step-parenting a severely disabled son. I went back to grad school and wrote my first book, drawing on the experience of confronting change, just as these recommended poets have done. Each of these poets has a very different story, but what they have in common outweighs their differences, and because of that we are able to see ourselves in their writing.

Ellis' book list on poetry to feed your distracted self

Ellis Elliott Why did Ellis love this book?

This book embraces both the conventional and the campy. Odes is unafraid to take an unflinching look at an aging female body, and when I say “unflinching”, I mean poems like, "Ode to the Hymen" or "Blow Job Ode".

She also addresses conventional subjects in her poems, such as her sister, buttermilk, and the wind. Odes definitely pushes boundaries, but does so with consummate skill, so that you feel both highly literary and a little dirty at the same time.

She doesn’t just talk about obvious body parts, either. In "Ode to Wattles", she writes, “…I love to be a little/disgusting, to go as far as I can/into the thrilling unloveliness/of an elder woman’s aging.” 

 

By Sharon Olds,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • An intimate collection of poems that “picks up where Stag’s Leap left off, which is to say that it contains some of the best and most ingenious poems of her career.” —The New York Times

Opening with the powerful and tender “Ode to the Hymen,” Sharon Olds addresses and embodies, in this age-old poetic form, many aspects of love and gender and sexual politics in a collection that is centered on the body and its structures and pleasures. The poems extend parts of her narrative as a daughter, mother, wife, lover, friend, and poet of conscience…


Book cover of Bright Dead Things: Poems

Ellis Elliott Author Of A Break in the Field

From my list on poetry to feed your distracted self.

Who am I?

I have been a dance teacher all of my adult life, and a poetry and word-lover even longer. I love the economy of language, immediacy, and the promise of surprise in poetry. In middle age, I returned to writing just as my body began its slow rebellion, with the added shifts of remarriage and step-parenting a severely disabled son. I went back to grad school and wrote my first book, drawing on the experience of confronting change, just as these recommended poets have done. Each of these poets has a very different story, but what they have in common outweighs their differences, and because of that we are able to see ourselves in their writing.

Ellis' book list on poetry to feed your distracted self

Ellis Elliott Why did Ellis love this book?

I love the gorgeous, lyrical language Limón uses to sort out loss, own her power, and the power of the “huge beating genius machine” of the heart.

Limón uses imagery so visceral I can touch it, and examines the light and dark of womanhood when she declares, “…the largeness of me, the hot/gore of my want and wants, wants to disarm/the fixedness of this”. I like that what she writes is understandable, but never easy. Limón currently serves as our nation’s Poet Laureate.  

By Ada Limon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bright Dead Things examines the chaos that is life, the dangerous thrill of living in a world you know you have to leave one day, and the search to find something that is ultimately "disorderly, and marvelous, and ours." A book of bravado and introspection, of 21st century feminist swagger and harrowing terror and loss, this fourth collection considers how we build our identities out of place and human contact--tracing in intimate detail the various ways the speaker's sense of self both shifts and perseveres as she moves from New York City to rural Kentucky, loses a dear parent, ages…


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