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Books about death: they're made of dead trees!

We had 14 people at our September meeting and recommended many books to each other. When folks had comments on a book, I tried to include those, but some books were mentioned only in passing, with no commentary. Links go directly to the author or book website where possible and to amazon.com otherwise.

Happy reading!

Books about death: they're made of dead trees!

  • Alison’s Gift, Pat Hogan. The story of the death of Alison Sanders, daughter of Crossings founder Elizabeth Knox, and how it helped spark radical changes in how Americans approach care of the dead.
  • The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford. First published in 1963 (an updated version, The American Way of Death Revisited, was published in 1998), Mitford’s book was the first book-length exposé of the American funeral industry and related industries. Cut from the same consumer awareness cloth as Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, Mitford focuses on keeping costs and “frippery” down for the average funeral consumer and has little patience for grief rituals. But there’s no better peek at the excesses of funeral and disposition salesmanship. American Way of Death is funny, relentless, and depressingly relevant, more than 50 years later.
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande. Medical perspective on end-of-life decision-making and how western medicine unnecessarily prolongs life. Not a ton of new material for folks involved in the conscious dying movement, but he writes with authority.
  • Being with Dying, Joan Halifax. One Buddhist’s perspective on death and dying.
  • The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe. A son and his dying mother form a book club together.
  • Find the Good, Heather Lende. A book by a newspaper obituary writer.
  • Forever Ours, Janis Amatuzio. Former Anoka County coroner writing about spirit communication from the afterlife.
  • A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, Gail Rubin. Planning help for death rituals. “Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead.”
  • The Grace in Dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh
  • The Grace of Ordinary Days, Kay Saunders and Bernie Saunders. A photo/poetry exploration of death
  • Healing Into Life and Death; Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying; and Unattended Sorrow, Stephen Levine. Levine is a poet and prolific author; some describe reading his books as being a transcendental experience in itself.
  • How We Die, Sherwin Nuland
  • Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Katy Butler. Explores how medical technology artificially prolongs the quantity of life at the expense of quality of life.
  • Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully, Nancy Manahan & Becky Bohan. This book by MTN’s own Nancy and Becky chronicles the conscious dying process of their sister-in-law, Diane Manahan, and the family-directed death care that followed. Many present cite this book as an inspiration for their own journey into this work.
  • Living into Dying, Nancy Jewel Poer
  • Laughing in a Waterfall, Marianne Dietzl. Another book by an MTN founder, Marianne’s book about her daughter’s life and death–and her own in relation–has also inspired many of us to reconsider where we stand in relation to death.
  • No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, Thich Nhat Hanh. Recommended for anyone working with a dying person who’s struggling to move beyond fear of death.
  • The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd. Contains a home vigil scene.
  • The Shrouding Woman, Loretta Ellsworth. A middle-grade book about a pre-Civil War family in the business of shrouding, preparing the community’s dead for burial.
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty. A first-hand look at life behind the scenes of the American cremation trade. Doughty writes with a style that is fast-paced and witty while still being emotionally affecting. She never mocks the dead but encourages readers to confront our fear and denial around death. And be sure to check out Doughty’s always informative and hilarious “Ask a Mortician” videos (also on YouTube).
  • Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime, Scott Simon. Stories about his mother’s death & the conversations they had leading up to it.
  • We Know How This Ends: Living while Dying, Bruce Kramer & Kathy Wurzer. After Kramer was diagnosed with ALS, he chose to document his dying process and the insights and experiences he had along the way.
  • The Wind Blows, the Ice Breaks, Ted Bowman and Elizabeth Bourque Johnson, editors. Poems of loss and renewal by Minnesota poets.

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