Reader’s advisory questions, basically finding a book for a person to read that matches their interests, can be one of the more difficult questions we try to answer here at the library. Everyone has different tastes so matching a person to a specific book can definitely be tricky, especially when you don’t know them well. One of the go-to methods I’ve found that gets results is asking a person what they have enjoyed reading recently. This came to mind as I looked back at the last three books I have read and realized they all had a variant of death or dying in the title. Yes gentle reader, I would make for one morbid Reader’s Advisory patron. But the thing is, all three books are excellent and well worth your attention despite the deadly titles. Read on to decide for yourself.
To Die in Spring: A Novel by Ralf Rothmann
Admittedly the set up for this book does not sound cheery: A son’s creative retelling of his father’s experiences after being drafted by the German army as a teenager in the final months of World War II. While the circumstances are indeed bleak, the author takes great pains to emphasize both the humanity of many of the people his father encounters and the cycles of the natural world that are all-around despite the devastation. The end result is a feeling of the primacy of nature and its ability to endure over horrific ideologies and the desire for extinction. The author’s sparse but incredibly moving prose conveys this feeling throughout without a word wasted. This is an excellent and strangely hopeful novel.
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
The title of this book should clue you in to the author’s attitude when it comes to discussing the dreaded topic of death: straight and to the point. This slim volume records Taylor’s thoughts and feelings in the last months of her life before dying of brain cancer in 2016. She remains clear eyed throughout whether discussing how to face the inevitability of death, pain and the possibility of suicide, or her understandable feelings of grief and anger. The last two thirds of the book are meditations on her childhood, family, career, and the odd role that chance plays in how you develop, make choices and ultimately expire. This work is a refreshingly straightforward and honest approach to an often avoided topic.
Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy
If you aren’t familiar with this classic, well classic to those who have spent some time in the Dairy State, it is high time to take a look. The concept for this work of local history seems innocent enough: A combination of historical photographs and newspaper articles depicting rural Wisconsin, Black River Falls for the most part, from the 1880s to the 1910s. But, oh my, the results are eerie, disturbing, and impossible to look away from. Strange tales of madness, murder and supernatural sightings are told in brief, matter of fact newspaper articles. When combined with the large detailed photographs of individuals and landscapes, the effect is both mesmerizing and very unsettling. Think of it as Twin Peaks without the huge trees.
So if you can overcome your fear of death, well in a book title at least, and choose one of these titles you will be pleasantly surprised. Don’t fear the reaper, man.