The best tragedy books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about tragedy and why they recommend each book.

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Slow Dance

By Bonnie S. Klein,

Book cover of Slow Dance: A Story of Stroke, Love and Disability

This memoir touched on all the feelings and struggles young stroke survivors experience and how love made the journey endurable. I related to much of her story, but I was more thankful than her. She writes about the inaccessibility of structures, and the ignorance society has about the disabled. All of this is true, but I was so grateful to be alive and free from being locked in; inaccessibility issues had no place in my memoir.

Slow Dance

By Bonnie S. Klein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A story of stroke, love and disability.

From the Hardcover edition.

Who am I?

The five recommended nonfiction books on my list profoundly affected my life in my time of need. I struggled when a minor accident led to a brainstem stroke and being locked in at 45. How would I find happiness now? How can I go on? These five books gave me the strength to work hard, accept what couldn’t be improved, and be grateful for each day of good health. I hope the recommended books will help you prepare for the day your life will change...and it will.


I wrote...

Locked In Locked Out: Surviving a Brainstem Stroke

By Shawn Jennings,

Book cover of Locked In Locked Out: Surviving a Brainstem Stroke

What is my book about?

After Dr. Shawn Jennings, a busy family physician suffered a brainstem stroke on May 13, 1999, he woke from a coma locked inside his body, aware and alert but unable to communicate or move. Once he regained limited movement in his left arm, he began typing his story, using one hand and much patience. 

With unexpected humour and tender honesty, Shawn shares his experiences in his struggle for recovery and acceptance of his life after the stroke. He affirms that life is still worth it even without achieving a full recovery.

The Girl Who Lived

By Susan Berg,

Book cover of The Girl Who Lived

In another story that combined the two elements of memoir/non-fiction, Berg’s turmoil began because of the adventure. The sole survivor of a family tragedy, in which she performed heroically trying to seek help, she was stricken with survivor’s guilt as well as enormous personal loss. The first part of her story conveys the physical adventure of saving her own life. The second part conveys with devastating honesty the mental adventure of surviving all the self-torture and heart-rending loss that entailed. This book also manages to negotiate the line between fiction and non-fiction with delicacy and strength.

The Girl Who Lived

By Susan Berg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Girl Who Lived is the true story of Susan Berg, the sole survivor of a boating accident that claimed the lives of her parents and brother, and what it took for her to love life again.At fifteen, Susan was on a boat trip with her parents and brother when their vessel began to sink. Desperate to find help, she swam ahead, struggling through darkness and rough sea. After nearly four hours, Susan, exhausted and barely able to walk, finally made it ashore. Her family did not.
Wracked by survivor guilt, Susan began to rebel against the world. Looking for…

Who am I?

Elizabeth Flann is a history and literature major who worked for over twenty years in the publishing industry in England and Australia before moving into teaching literature, scriptwriting and editing to postgraduate students at Deakin University, Melbourne. She is a co-author of The Australian Editing Handbook and was awarded a PhD in 2001 for her thesis entitled Celluloid Dreaming: Cultural Myths and Landscape in Australian Film. Now retired, she is able to give full rein to her true love—writing fiction. Her first novel, Beware of Dogs, was awarded the Harper Collins Banjo Prize for a Fiction Manuscript. She now lives in a peaceful rural setting in Victoria, Australia, close to extended family and nature.


I wrote...

Beware of Dogs

By Elizabeth Flann,

Book cover of Beware of Dogs

What is my book about?

"Not much daylight left now," begins the field diary of Alix Verhoeven, whose acceptance of an offer to spend Easter on a remote island has turned into a terrifying ordeal. Hiding in a tiny cave, she carefully rations her diminishing supplies, while desperately trying to escape the men hunting her. By day disciplined and living by the strict rules necessary for survival, at night she finds herself haunted by questions about her life that she has never wanted to face. And time is running out.

Writing this book was very much influenced by the adventure books I have been reading since I was eight years old. It was equally as much based on the reading and research I've done about the ways humans manage to survive against the odds.

King Lear

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of King Lear

When I first sat down to write a novel about three sisters, step one was to reread King Lear which is about exactly that. The three sisters in Lear are quite different from mine. Among other things, they like each other much less. But for that delicate sisterly balance between so-glad-I-have-you-to-share-the-burdens-of-an-aging-parent and I-might-actually-have-to-kill-you, nothing beats King Lear.

King Lear

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......

Who am I?

I like books about big families, especially unusual ones, but I have only one sister and only one child, so when I set out to write about these families, I read about them first. We place so much importance on how kids are raised, what kind of childhood and home life and family they have growing up, what gifts and what challenges they’re bestowed by genetics, history, identity, society, circumstance. Siblings usually share all or at least most of these markers and yet turn into often wildly different adults. It’s also true that all those fine sibling balances – love/hate, adored/annoyed, admired/appalled, alike/different – are great fun to read and write.


I wrote...

One Two Three

By Laurie Frankel,

Book cover of One Two Three

What is my book about?

From a New York Times bestselling author comes a timely, topical novel about love and family that will make you laugh and cry...and laugh again. How do you let go of the past when the past won't let go of you?

Everyone knows everyone in the tiny town of Bourne. But the Mitchell sisters are especially beloved, and not just because they’re teenage triplets. Mirabel is the smartest person anyone has ever met, and no one is fooled by her wheelchair or her Voice app into thinking otherwise. Monday is the town’s purveyor of books now that the library’s closed—tell her the book you think you want, and she’ll pull the one you actually do from the microwave or her underwear drawer. Mab’s job is hardest of all: get good grades, get into college, get out of Bourne.

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of Macbeth

Ah, Macbeth—as anyone who knows my books will be aware, Shakespeare has had a powerful influence on my writing. While it might not be fair to include a play here, I think this one deserves a place of honor on this list. My favorite Shakespearean work is Hamlet, but over the years, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the Scottish play. Macbeth, as a character, is fascinating. The descent into madness brought on by pure ambition is jarring, but the character who is most interesting is actually Lady Macbeth. There is no Macbeth without the machinations and manipulation of his queen, who in the end, comes to the startling reality that she has created a monster.

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The authoritative edition of Macbeth from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James's belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.

In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate,…

Who am I?

My passions for strong, dynamic characters in novels are threefold: as a teacher, an author, and a reader. The most important interest in character development came as a reader. I was drawn to characters who seemed to leap off the page and remind me of real people. As a teacher, there's no greater satisfaction than discussing a fictional character with your students as if they were a historical figure. And as an author, I'm so much more interested in who my characters are than in what they do. Their choices should always evolve out of their personalities. If you really want to stay in a reader’s mind, have a character they're willing to fight for.


I wrote...

Murder in the Painted Lady

By M.L. Hamilton,

Book cover of Murder in the Painted Lady

What is my book about?

Peyton and Marco have solved more cases than many senior members of the San Francisco PD, but this case (the death of a high-end real estate agent) is proving more difficult than the others. With no evidence, no suspects, and no motive, Peyton fears they won't get a break in the case before the killer strikes again. In the multi-million dollar San Francisco real estate market, realtors are literally dying for a sale.

Hester

By Margaret Oliphant,

Book cover of Hester

If you think all 19th century novels are either romances or tragedies like Tess of the D’Ubervilles this novel will surprise you. Published in 1883 the novel reflects the English banking crises of the 1850’s, life in a provincial town, and the many ways in which money, whether a man or a woman possesses it, greed for it, the thrill of speculating, and the ability to use it to control others shapes the characters of the strong and the flawed. Hester has to grow and to find her own path against the restrictions of women’s choices and bias against their intellectual power and a family secret that everyone except she knows.

Hester

By Margaret Oliphant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Margaret Oliphant is one of the great Victorian novelists and "Hester" is a masterpiece of psychological realism published in 1883. 
In exploring the difficulty of understanding human nature, it is also a compulsive story of financial and sexual risk-taking that inevitably results in a searing climax.

"Hester" tells the story of the ageing but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine's favourite, spells disaster for all concerned.

Catherine Vernon, jilted in her youth, has risen to power in a man's world as head of the family bank. She thinks…

Who am I?

Some years ago, I believed that after I had read the “famous” 19th-century novelists Jane Austen at the beginning of the century, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens more or less in the middle, and Henry James, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton at the end, I had “done” the century and was disappointed that there was no more of worth to entertain me. Wrong, of course. Maria Edgeworth (Anglo-Irish) was a revelation; Catherine Maria Sedgewick (American) opened my eyes to New England; Margaret Oliphant (Scottish) combined the “weird,” spiritual, and a ruthless realism about family dysfunction. So I'm still reading. The 19th-century novels of Great Britain and America are an avocation and a passion.


I wrote...

Mina: A Novel

By Jonatha Ceely,

Book cover of Mina: A Novel

What is my book about?

In the musty attic of an upstate New York house, a woman finds a clasped box, hidden away for over a century. Inside, wrapped in cambric and tied with a green ribbon, is an old manuscript written by a girl dreaming of a better life, fighting for survival, and coming of age in a time of chaos and danger. This wondrously told tale is a stirring adventure set in nineteenth-century England, a novel of rich history and vibrant imagination.

The sights and sounds of nineteenth-century England come vividly to life in Jonatha Ceely’s magnificent novel, a tale that explores the intricate relationship forged by two people in hiding. Moving and unforgettable, Mina is historical fiction at its finest—a novel that makes you think, feel, and marvel…until the last satisfying page is turned.


I Don't Know How She Does It

By Allison Pearson,

Book cover of I Don't Know How She Does It: A Comedy about Failure, a Tragedy about Success

I definitely preferred the book to the movie. Lots more character and lots more humour. This book kept me company during the dark hours of midnight breastfeeding and became my literary best friend during that time.

I Don't Know How She Does It

By Allison Pearson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Don't Know How She Does It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

The prequel to How Hard Can It Be?

Meet Kate Reddy, fund manager and mother of two. Always time-poor, Kate counts seconds like other women count calories. Factor in a manipulative nanny, an Australian boss who looks at Kate's breasts as if they're on special offer, a long-suffering husband, her quietly aghast in-laws, two needy children and an email lover, and you have a woman juggling so many balls that some day something's going to hit the ground.

In an uproariously funny and achingly sad novel, Allison Pearson brilliantly dramatises the dilemma of working motherhood at the…


Who am I?

When I first became a mother, life as I knew it disappeared. I REALLY struggled with new motherhood, and funny, relatable books about parenthood showed me I wasn’t alone. Early motherhood inspired me to write the Bad Mother’s Diary – mainly because I wanted to cheer myself up and turn difficulty into comedy. I loved writing the Bad Mother’s series and am so honoured by all the emails and Facebook comments I receive begging for more books. Thank you readers!


I wrote...

The Bad Mother's Diary

By Suzy K. Quinn,

Book cover of The Bad Mother's Diary

What is my book about?

Juliette wants a happy family. But Daisy’s dad just walked out. Can she find love with a baby in tow?

By the time I got knocked up, I thought I’d be married and living happily ever after. But Daisy is already three months old and Nick has only just proposed. And I’m not all that sure I should have said yes. Nick isn’t behaving like a responsible husband to be. Instead, he’s bar-hopping while I stay home with the baby. With a wedding fast approaching, I have to decide whether to stay with the father of my child or try a new relationship with my childhood sweetheart. But how can consider seeing handsome, successful Alex Dalton, when my bathroom is full of suppositories and stretch mark cream?

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Book cover of Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

A powerful parent dies and each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways -- and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all. This is an “everything” book. It took over my life. It overwhelmed my brain and mind. The utterly believable characters so generously intermingled and interwoven, familial and dynamic in their pushing and pulling, loving and hating - ignited by a precipitating event so abrupt yet simple, with consequences that spin out of control. Reading this tale, you feel as if you are drowning in a fever dream - Joyce Carol Oates once again as she has since Them (1969), offering innumerable reasons for wonderment.

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The bonds of family are tested in the wake of a profound tragedy, providing a look at the darker side of our society by one of our most enduringly popular and important writers


Night Sleep Death The Stars is a gripping examination of contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways, and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all.

Stark and penetrating, Joyce Carol Oates's latest novel is a vivid exploration of race, psychological trauma, class warfare, grief, and eventual…


Who am I?

I have been a biographer going on five decades now -- from William Carlos Williams to Man Ray to Thomas Edison to Henry Ford to Martha Graham. I am above all else a student of the human condition as well as a devotee of narrative at its most burnished - the kind of narrative that imposes its voice upon me at the end of a long day of quotidian interaction when all I want to do is get into bed and “pick up where I left off”. Biography is, indeed, storytelling - but it is restrained, or perhaps I should say tamed, by factual fidelity, a point of pride with me as a conscientious practitioner of the craft. 


I wrote...

Man Ray: American Artist

By Neil Baldwin,

Book cover of Man Ray: American Artist

What is my book about?

The quintessential dada/surrealist figure of the 1920s arts worlds in NYC, Paris, and Hollywood, Man Ray (born in Brooklyn (yes, that’s right!), 1890; died in Paris,1976) appealed to me because his first invention was his own persona, the entree to his life’s work in photography, painting, film, sculpture, essays, assemblage, etc.

From outset to conclusion, his story is one odd, quirky, unexpected episode after another, strung together with anecdotal fibs, romanticised relationships, and obfuscating quotes with questionable provenance. I was willingly trapped by Man Ray and I want the reader to be as well.

Book cover of What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir

Unorthodox ways of living and loving appeal to me… in literature and in life. When I found Abigail Thomas in the year following my husband’s death, I felt I’d found a new friend. Thomas’s husband’s brain damage following an accident must have been a nightmare. Living for years with his rage and cognitive lapses must have taken every bit of her courage and resilience. When he died, Thomas was forced, as I was, to pick up and carry on with her life. Is there to be pleasure again? Or has this lifetime’s allotment of joy been used up? These were questions she and I shared. Thomas begins to find her way back via the little joys found with dogs, friends, and cooking (to name a few). Her humor and quirkiness blended with honesty helped me lift myself off the couch, and slowly, gently move forward into my new life.

What Comes Next and How to Like It

By Abigail Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Comes Next and How to Like It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestseller from the beloved author of A Three Dog Life-an exhilarating, superbly written memoir on friendship, family, creativity, tragedy, and the richness of life: "If you only read one book this year, make it this one" (Ann Patchett).

In her bestselling memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas wrote about the devastating loss of her husband. In What Comes Next and How to Like It, "a keenly observed memoir...Thomas writes of the changes aging brings us all and of coping through love: of family, dogs, a well-turned phrase. She is superb company" (People).

Thomas was startled…

Who am I?

My mom handed me one of those little girl diaries with a lock and key when I was in third grade. I wrote my heart into those diaries until I needed more space and shifted to regular-sized notebooks. Writing is my way to know myself and make sense of my life. The journal I kept in the last months of my husband’s life helped me reassemble the trauma-blurred memories of his dying, and then, it supported my emotional rebirth during the year of intense grieving. It is with surprise and delight that I hear from readers who say I articulate their innermost emotions related to love and loss.


I wrote...

Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

By Joan D. Heiman,

Book cover of Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

What is my book about?

A woman’s adventures, struggles, and abiding love for a most unorthodox man throughout a 37-year partnership. An idealist, romantic, and eccentric astrologer-poet, Heiman’s husband believed there were places in the world, where each of us is most likely to unfold and best nurture our souls. The book follows Joan and Philip in their search for their place on the planet, journeying from dream to dream, country to country, and finally to the untimely and heartbreaking death of this wonderfully impossible and beloved man.

Despite his tragic end, Philip was too loveably quirky for the book to be heavy or depressing. Heiman shares her story with pathos and humor, as well as offering reflections on the complex nature of loving, dying, grieving, and healing.

Radical Survivor

By Nancy Saltzman,

Book cover of Radical Survivor: One Woman's Path Through Life, Love, and Uncharted Tragedy

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has suffered multiple losses of loved ones, whether it be a spouse, family member, or friend. Nancy Saltzman's story will enter into your soul and give you the strength of a woman who lost her husband and two children in a plane crash. She shares her story of love, loss, and rebuilding of a future as a radical survivor of cancer and loss of her family. Her spirit and desire to live life to the fullest are prominent in her story.

Radical Survivor

By Nancy Saltzman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Radical Survivor" chronicles elementary school principal Nancy Saltzman's extraordinary saga as a two-time cancer survivor who lost her entire family in a small plane crash. Told with honesty, insight and laugh out loud flashes of humor, Radical Survivor traverses the full spectrum of human emotions. Several aspects of this book make it unique among memories. *The book is enriched by letters to the author interwoven with narrative throughout the book. Most of the notes were received after the death of her family, but some are mementos from her husband and entries from her son's journals. *The author has experienced an…

Who am I?

Rachel is a heart-minded professional specializing in current and relevant approaches in support of individuals and workplaces following a loss or trauma. She is a best-selling author, seasoned keynote speaker, and business consultant. She began her career serving in management of Fortune 500 companies, overcoming her own adversity following the sudden death of her husband while raising a 2-year-old. She was immediately confronted with the see-saw created when personal and professional trajectories collide, giving her the opportunity to provide invaluable insights about loss. Her books include best-selling Living with Loss One Day at a Time, Finding Peace, and Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared.


I wrote...

Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to Do with Your and a Loved One's Personal Possessions

By Rachel Blythe Kodanaz,

Book cover of Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to Do with Your and a Loved One's Personal Possessions

What is my book about?

Personal possessions tell a beautiful story of a person’s life regardless of age. But when we find that we have accumulated too much or a loved one passes, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with all of these belongings. Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time provides tools for how to thin, repurpose, and redistribute these possessions in a way that can capture and cherish our memories and those of our loved ones so they continue to be with us today and for future generations.

Drowning Ruth

By Christina Schwarz,

Book cover of Drowning Ruth

Christian Schwarz deftly creates a rising tension between two sisters who are torn apart by secrets. Ruth gradually pieces together memories from her childhood, bringing the story to a climax when her secrets are revealed and the consequences come to pass. This story was one I read and studied multiple times during my journey to publication.

Drowning Ruth

By Christina Schwarz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'POWERFUL . . . SUSPENSEFUL . . . RICHLY TEXTURED . . . [A] CHILLING, PRECOCIOUSLY GOOD START TO A BRIGHT NEW NOVELIST'S CAREER'
New York Times

'[A] gripping psychological thriller . . . In the winter of 1919, a young mother named Mathilda Neumann drowns beneath the ice of a rural Wisconsin lake. The shock of her death dramatically changes the lives of her daughter, troubled sister, and husband . . . The narrative gradually and tantalizingly reveals the dark family secrets and the unsettling discoveries that lead to the truth of what actually happened the night of the…


Who am I?

I am a novelist who loves stories that express deep emotions and life-changing experiences, suspenseful stories that explore how humankind responds to tragedy, to heartache, and to joy, so that is what I write. My stories don’t come from me; they come through me. I often listen to scene-setting music full blast over and over again as scenes form in my head and the words pour onto the page. I don’t write my stories in order. I usually know the beginning and end, but I write whatever scene I “see” and then arrange them in the right order when I’m done. 


I wrote...

Turning in Circles

By Michelle Buckman,

Book cover of Turning in Circles

What is my book about?

Savannah and Charleston, two sisters living in a small Southern town, have always been close. They've shared everything with one another...until Dillon, the bad boy in school who sets his sights on Charleston. As Charleston is drawn down his dark, destructive path, Savannah panics, knowing her sister is destined for disaster.

She turns to her lifelong best friend, Ellerbe, for help, but their relationship has shifted. The connection they've shared is taking a turn toward something more, something deeper, and Savannah isn't sure she's ready for a romance while trying to save her sister. As Savannah's foundation begins to crumble, every decision becomes an unchangeable step toward an outcome that could have tragic repercussions for Charleston.

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