Top Ten Tuesday: Books After Death

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

Today’s topic was:

December 20: Books I Hope Santa Brings This Year

But rather than make another wish list (which could get very long!) I decided to do my own thing with a totally random idea I had one day. These are all books featuring either a dead protagonist, significant numbers of dead characters, an afterlife, and/or a personification of death. Yes, maybe the idea is a bit morbid, but I decided to go with it!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – This was probably one of the weirder books I’ve ever read! In 1862, President Lincoln’s son, Willie died at the age of eleven. Newspapers reported that the president was grief stricken, returning to his son’s tomb several times to hold his body. That much is true. But in the book, Willie is in a sort of midpoint between life and death, amidst a number of other ghosts, each with their own arguments, regrets, penances, and gripes. None are able to give up their earthly lives completely. Will Willie Lincoln join them, or move on to whatever comes next? And will his father be able to put his grief aside and do what needs to be done?

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – I actually didn’t like this book as much as a lot of other people seemed to. That said, I think if it had had less advance hype I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Fourteen year old Susie is raped and murdered by her neighbor on her way home from school one day. From heaven, she watches over her grieving family and friends, the detective trying to solve her murder, and her murderer, himself. One thing I liked about this book was everyone getting their own version of heaven. Susie’s is sort of an idealized high school with none of the bad stuff!

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb – Helen died 130 years ago, but isn’t able to enter heaven because she carried guilt with her at death. She attaches herself to human hosts to sustain her spirit. Her most recent host is a high school English teacher. Sitting through his classes one day, she realizes that one of his students, is a spirit also. But James doesn’t attach to a host the way she does. He actually possess the body of one of the teacher’s students. He shows Helen how to inhabit a body too, and Helen and James fall in love. But they must reckon with their own lives and pasts, as well as those of their host bodies. Billy and Jenny. This has a sequel, Under the Light, which I haven’t read yet. I’ll have to reread this one before I can read that one though.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- Technically, the main character of this book, Bod, is alive. But everyone else is dead! Bod was raised in a graveyard by ghosts (and a werewolf a vampire, and various other supernatural beings) following the murder of his family. It’s one of my favorite books by Gaiman (who I tend to have mixed reactions to) because as weird as it is, it also has a lot of heart. It was inspired by The Jungle Book, and it’s sort of a weird twist on the idea.

Passage by Connie Willis – I’m going to try to write about this without spoilers! It’s about a psychologist who volunteers for a project that simulates NDEs (Near Death Experiences). Her NDE has a sense of deja vu to it, and each time she goes under, she has a sense that something terrible is coming. And that’s about as much as I can say without spoilers! Mostly this book is filed under the heading “weird” in my brain.

The Returned by Jason Mott – Harold and Lucille’s son, Jacob, died in 1966. Many years later, he shows up on their doorstep, the same age he was when he died. He’s not the only one. All over the world people are coming back from the dead, unchanged. This was made into a TV series called Resurrection, because there was a series called The Returned, with a very similar premise that came out near the same time.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl – A year ago, Beatrice’s boyfriend died and she left her boarding school and friends in the shadow of that tragedy. When they reunite, Beatrice and her friends get into a car accident. Fortunately no one is hurt. Or so they think. When they get home, a stranger arrives at the door and tells them they died in the crash. Only one survived. Now they’re in Neverworld Wake, sort of a halfway station, where they have to decide who the survivor of the crash was. Until there is a unanimous decision, they will be trapped, reliving the day of the accident again and again. The friend group soon realizes that their possible redemption lies with the truth about what happened to Beatrice’s boyfriend a year earlier. I really liked this one.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion –  R is a zombie. He and his friend M spend most of their time shuffling around and eating brains. But when R eats a brain, he gets a bit of that person’s memory. So when he eats the brain of zombie-killer Perry, he sees Perry’s memories of his beloved Julie. For some inexplicable reason, R doesn’t want to eat Julie. He cares for her… This is sort of a zombie version of Romeo and Juliet that wasn’t bad, but I didn’t read any of the rest of the series.

Remember Me by Christopher Pike – Shari wakes up in bed with no memory of going to sleep. The last thing she remembers is being out with friends. When she leaves her room her family ignores her. Then, there’s a phone call from the hospital. No one will tell Shari what happened, so she goes with her family, and sees herself in the morgue. Even though her death is ruled a suicide, Shari knows she was murdered. She investigates her murder, visiting her friends in their dreams, while also facing a threat known as the Shadow. This is the start of a trilogy. I read it a million years ago, but I only remember reading the first book.

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan – Bibi Chen plans to lead a group of twelve friends from China to Myanmar. Unfortunately, she dies before that can happen. The group decides to go on the trip anyway though, and Bibi tags along in spirit form. Then, the group disappears. I think Amy Tan’s fans are probably split on this book, since it’s a departure from her usual work. But really liked it. I found it weird and funny.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This one is narrated by Death himself. It’s set in Nazi Germany, and is actually about a foster child names Liesel Meminger, who along with her foster father, saves/steals books from neighbors, graveyards and book burnings. She shares them with her neighbors and the Jewish man who lives hidden in her basement. Death (the narrator) distances himself from humanity for the sake of his own sanity, but Leisel breaks through his defenses, without even knowing it. I could go on about the narrative perspective in this, and whether the main character duties fall on Leisel, Death, or both. But it’s definitely a unique, haunting look life and death, in all their forms.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt – I read this years ago, and I think I liked it, but I don’t remember it too well. It’s about a girl who charms Death with her storytelling abilities. He agrees to spare her from…well, death…. if she can find true love in the next 24 hours. It’s sort of a gothic fairytale, and now that I’m writing about it, I’m thinking about rereading it…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Book Titles

For The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 24: Top Ten Unique Book Titles: For this one I decided to go with titles that stood out and were very appropriate for the story they told. Oh, and actually there are only 9 this time!

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_1. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver– I liked that this almost seemed like a phone message or a note. It’s a conversation that happens many times in the book. But it’s not enough, and it’s not the conversation that needs to happen. We’re ultimately left wondering if things would have been different if that needed conversation had happened.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The title here comes from a framed nursery rhyme in the bedrooms of the eight guests of Mr. Owen, on a remote island off the coast of England. As the guests start to die off, we’re left wondering whodunit, and making guesses by process of elimination. It’s only when there are no suspects left that the true killer is revealed.

 

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– This book about the experience of Ifemelu, a Nigerian, who moves to the US to study. The title refers to a word that is used in Nigeria, meaning someone who pretends to have been Americanized or has been Americanized. It’s a word that deals with American identity from the outside; what a foreign culture perceives “Americanization” to be.  And the novel itself deals with Ifemelu’s discovery of what it means to be a person of color in the United States, and how race goes from something that wasn’t on her radar in Nigeria, to being a construct that she has to navigate on a constant basis.

51e1m-kbfkl-_ac_us218_4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan– Goon squads were originally groups of thugs would beat up workers who tried to unionize. Later the word “goon” came to refer to any violent thug. This novel is really interconnected short stories that shift back and forth in time from the 1960s to the near future, as the characters are sent in different directions by life. So what is the “goon” here? Time? Life? Yes, to both I think.  The characters in the book that find happiness, do so in ways that were unintended, and the happiness is usually limited; an illustration of the goonish nature of things.

5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance live in their family’s house with their uncle Julian, following the murder of their entire family, for which Constance was acquitted six years earlier. They’re the beginning of a local legend; the mysterious, slightly witchy sisters living forever in their “castle”. The secret they keep is about the true nature of the Blackwood family’s murder.

 

6. Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan– This book deals with a group of American tourists travelling from China to Myanmar. The story is told by the tour guide, Bibi Chen, who dies before the trip takes place and watches over the group as they travel. They’re kidnapped by the Karen people who believe that a teenage member of the tour group is their savior. The book is as absurd as the actions of the title suggests. It deals with the notion that well intentioned deeds can be so misguided that they might cause harm and vice versa.

41oieugca5l-_ac_us218_7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– This title also comes from a nursery rhyme.  We’re told that the narrator’s grandmother recited it to him. “One flew East, One flew West, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” The novel is set in a mental hospital in the early 1960’s; a time  when the Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, and changes were being made to the practice of psychiatry and psychology. There was a movement toward less institutional facilities, but the characters in the book are in a very traditional hospital. The “one” in the title who “flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is the one that doesn’t do pick a clear direction like the other two. The suggestion that the patients at the hospital are those who flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and were called crazy for not conforming.

51sb1fc4xl-_ac_us218_8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer- This published in 2005. In some ways the US was still recovering from the horrors of 9/11. The nine year old protagonist, who lost his father in the World Trade Center, uses the words “extremely” and “incredibly” quite a bit in his narration. The words can certainly be seen as a witness’ description of the attacks, but the absence of a loved one to whom you felt close is also “loud”.

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– This title references a line in the book, but as a phrases it pretty much sums up the themes of the the book (which begins a trilogy). The main character, Gemma Doyle is a Victorian girl sent to boarding school, where she happens upon a secret society. Her daily life is structured and dictated but the secret society offers her power that Victorian England doesn’t. That power has the potential to be both great and terrible depending on who is using it and for what purpose.