While I am most definitely not an expert of grieving, it is something that I’m currently experiencing (sidenote: you can read about my experience here if you’d like). Grief doesn’t go away quickly or easily and, for me, impacts most areas of your life. Now, I’ve always been a bookworm and can usually be found reading something but after losing my dad, pretty much all of that took a nosedive. Books didn’t interest me, I wasn’t in the mood to hear about someone else’s story and didn’t want to run the risk of reading something that would make me feel worse. I also found that I didn’t necessarily want something to just distract me completely (although that can be nice). Losing someone so important means that they’re constantly on your mind and it felt wrong for me to try and ignore that. What I did want was something that went hand in hand with what I was experiencing and offered an outlook that wasn’t as terrifying or heartbreaking as I felt. As the weeks went by, I began to want a bit of normality back and it was back to reading once again.
Working in a bookshop as well as being a book blogger means that there’s no shortage of amazing recommendations should you want them, so I began to ask around for things that might help me make some sense of what I was feeling or even things to just make me smile. Here are a little selection of those books, plus a few recommendations of my own (and why I think they’re useful) if you find yourself in the same position.
Books to Understand Grief:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Blurb: As a child, Helen MacDonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals. H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.
This book was recommended to me on Twitter and I was so glad for it. The second chapter (entitled Lost) was so relatable, particularly when I was in the peak grief period. It summed up my feelings exactly – about how your whole family are feeling the exact same agony, yet you feel so alone. This book made me feel slightly less so, just knowing that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Blurb: Once upon a time there was a crow who wanted nothing more than to care for a pair of motherless children… 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 and threatens to stay until they no longer need him.
This book took some getting used to for me, particularly when I wasn’t very focused but it has a nice message about family and how it can continue even though it feels like a piece is missing.
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
Blurb: In April 1956, C. S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four brief, intensely happy years, Davidman died of cancer and Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. To defend himself against the loss of belief in God, Lewis wrote this journal, an eloquent statement of rediscovered faith. In it he freely confesses his doubts, his rage, and his awareness of human frailty. In it he finds, once again, the way back to life.
This book does contain some chat about religion and faith which isn’t something I usually like but it can be glossed over if you’re the same. Similarly to H is for Hawk, I found Lewis’ description of the feeling of grief extremely relatable, especially the part where it really does feel as though you’re somehow separated from the rest of the world. It was both heartbreaking to hear of Lewis’ grief but more so heartwarming to see how you can somewhat come out the other side – not unchanged but still putting one foot in front of the other, getting back to a new kind of normal.
Books to Bring a Smile:
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Blurb: The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse are four friends who share a deep, unshakable bond. Through a series of brief but profound conversations, Mackesy teases universal truths and rich wisdom from the mouths of his characters, celebrating warmth and empathy in all its myriad forms. Exploring kindness through exquisite, sensitive artwork and delicate calligraphy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a moving study in friendship.
[no official blurb, so the above is taken from Waterstones]
If you’re in need of something life and love affirming, you really can’t go wrong with this book. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gives a gentle reminder that you are loved, there are people who look out for you and that to love and be loved is the true meaning of life. This one got me through the first Christmas without my dad as I could open it up to any page and be soothed by the words.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Blurb: Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
While this might seem like an odd choice, there’s method to my madness. This was the first book I picked up while grieving and couldn’t help but feel comforted by the wonderful community spirit (no pun intended!) of the graveyard and just how homely it felt. I really loved the idea that there’s something beyond the death bit and that it’s possible to live on in some way that isn’t awful.
The 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Blurb: No official blurb for this one, but it’s summed up so well by a quote from the Daily Telegraph.
“Some Minipirates find a baby bear with blue fur inside a walnut shell floating on the ocean towards a giant whirlpool. They rescue him and teach him about knots and waves, and that a good white lie is often considerably more exciting than the truth. Then, when he outgrows their ship to such an extent that he is in danger of sinking it, they abandon him on an island with a bottle of seaweed juice and a loaf of seaweed bread. Thus Bluebear comes to the end of his first life and embarks on his second. By the end of the book, he has expended exactly half of his 27 lives.”
This book was recommended to me by a colleague with the hope that it would do something to make me smile. Full of adorable blue bears and tiny pirates, this definitely lightened my spirits, even if for a moment and is a nice way to lose yourself in something so cheerful.
Honourable mentions have to go to the recommendations that I received from you lovely lot on Twitter. I didn’t end up picking these up myself as it wasn’t quite what I was after, but may benefit someone else.
- The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw
- Ink by Amanda Sun
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine Engle
- How to Make Friends With the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow
- Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton
- Owen and the Soldier by Lisa Thompson
- A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd
- The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
- The Sad Book by Michael Rosen
- Grief Works by Julia Samuels
- Option B by Sherry Sandberg
My love goes out to you if you’re experiencing grief in any capacity right now and I hope that, if you feel the inclination to pick up a book, one of these recommendations might serve you well. I’ll try to add to this list if I find anything else that’s relevant.
Is there anything that you’d add to this list? I’d love to know!