A Book that was Published Posthumously: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

August 9, 2021 | Christie

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It is pretty common to have works completed by an editor, researcher, or another writer following the death of an author. The book could be:

  • a recently discovered manuscript once believed to be lost
  • a collection of rough drafts, notes
  • letters or diary/journal entries
  • a fully completed work that was unable to find a publishing house willing to purchase, edit, and distribute the manuscript when the author was alive

Publishing a book posthumously can either unfortunately backfire, or prove to be a huge hit. Here are staff and customer recommendations of some of the best books published after the author was laid to rest. 

We'll be having a TPL Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion for "a book that was published posthumously" and "a book written before the author turned 21" on Wednesday, October 27 at 4pm. You can register now to receive an email reminder, or tune in on the day of. You can also watch the online replay if you miss the live event.


My recommendations

Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Her dream was to be a writer and publish stories about her time in the Secret Annex. Her father, Otto Frank, ensured that her wish was fulfilled following her tragic death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in 1945. For two years, as they hid in the Secret Annex in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Anne's diary entries became part of her daily routine. Not only did she write candidly about her experience living among her family, the Van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer within the confines of the Annex, she also created several fictional characters to whom she wrote letters to, the most recognizable being "Pop" and "Kitty". A book that had quite the impact on my life since I first read it as a child, it remains one of my most recommended reads to family, friends, and library customers alike. I was humbled to have been able to visit Anne Frank House in 2019 during a trip to Amsterdam, and be able to walk through the Secret Annex. Seeing the room, and the small desk within it, where Anne had sat to write her diary entries was quite emotional to many of us visitors that day. 

The Anne Frank House has an in-depth history of the Secret Annex, as well as the backstory of the diary and its publication on their website.



The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien's publisher requested a sequel following the success of The Hobbit. However, The Silmarillion's early drafts were deemed too obscure and too "Celtic" for the publisher's liking so Tolkien began work on The Lord of The Rings instead. His son, Christopher Tolkien, with the assistance of author Guy Gavriel Kay, edited and posthumously published The Silmarillion to mixed reviews and less success than The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings trilogy. It lacked the straightforward quest, and was found to be overly complex and confusing. While many had believe this falls as a prequel to both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien had originally intended for the manuscript to be read as a mythology of the fantasy world he had created, penned by many hands within the world, and edited by one of the fictional characters (such as Bilbo Baggins). For those who enjoy fantasy, and Tolkien's most popular works, the Silmarillion is a brilliant companion and resource of the history and the worlds of Middle Earth. 


Staff Recommendations

Suite francaise

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Published 60 years after the author’s death, this unfinished work consists of two draft novellas out of a planned five; followed by the handwritten notes outlining a third novella, and personal correspondence from the author. Her last letter is written to her husband as she is being taken to a concentration camp. Desperate letters from her husband follow, as he tries to find out where she was taken and how to save her. His letters stop when he is arrested. They were both killed at Auschwitz.

Both novellas recount the human worries and experiences of various characters separated by class as they struggle to survive in a France ravaged by war and uncertainty. The book’s impact comes from both the context in which it was written and the content. The fictional stories were written as Nazis occupied France during WWII. The personal correspondence relives the desperation and increasing worry about the author’s fate.

– Antonia, Planning Specialist


One Drum

One drum : Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet by Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955 – March 10, 2017)

Richard Wagamese never got to finish this work based on the Anishnaabe Grandfather Teachings, but this work, like all of his writing, is truly a gift. Wagamese always made the most thoughtful observations of the world, and managed to convey the most complex and difficult feelings with exactly the right words. This last, unfinished work is all about healing. Forward written by Drew Hayden Taylor.

– Sephora, Senior Branch Head/Senior Department Head



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

It is nearing the end of WWII yet the British Channel Islands are still occupied by German troops. A book club is started on the spot when friends are caught breaking curfew. Sadly, Mary Ann Shaffer passed away after a battle with cancer before finishing the book. Her niece, writer Annie Barrows, finished it for her. This wonderful book has inspired many readers to the Channel Islands.

Other 2021 TPL Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book by two or more people.

– Debra, Librarian



Maurice by E.M. Forster

Maurice Hall is a young man who grows up confident in his privileged status and well aware of his role in society. Modest and generally conformist, he nevertheless finds himself increasingly attracted to his own sex. Through Clive, whom he encounters at Cambridge, and through Alec, the gamekeeper on Clive's country estate, Maurice gradually experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening. A tale of passion, bravery and defiance, this intensely personal novel was completed in 1914 but remained unpublished until after Forster's death in 1970. Compellingly honest and beautifully written, it offers a powerful condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society, and is at once a moving love story and an intimate tale of one man's erotic and political self-discovery.

– Jennifer, Public Service Assistant


Silent wife

The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison

Published after Harrison's death in 2013, this dark book chronicles the marriage of Chicago couple Jodi and Todd. Todd is a serial philanderer. Jodi is silently accepting of this, because of everything else Todd has to offer...until one relationship tips her over the edge....

(This book will be discussed by the Novel Novels Book Club on August 18.)

– Vivien, Senior Branch Head



The Castle by Franz Kafka

Unfinished at the time of his death, published posthumously. The mysterious story of K who tries to gain access to the Castle.

– Margaux, Librarian

When Breathe

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The author of this memoir, a young neurosurgeon, started writing this book soon after he was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal cancer. He speaks about what makes life worth living, along with recounting his journey from a young medical student who saw patients, to becoming a patient himself. It's exceedingly heartbreaking. After I read this book, I noticed that many authors are actually trained doctors! Did you know that Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame completed medical school?

Other 2021 TPL Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about growing older
  • a book about someone unlike yourself
  • a book about STEM

– Nalini, Senior Branch Head


One of our own

One of Our Own by Jane Haddam

The final book in Jane Haddam's long-running Gregor Demarkian mystery series was published after the author's death. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and began writing what would be her final book.

Her final book became Gregor Demarkian's last case. Demarkian is a retired FBI profiler who works as a police consultant. Although a brilliant detective, he finds it challenging to spend so much of his life around horrifying crimes and terrible people. In this book, Haddam gives Demarkian a satisfying exit strategy. As a long-time fan of the series, I am sad that there will be no more visits to Cavanaugh Street but so relieved that Haddam had a chance to conclude the series on her own terms.

Her son wrote a lovely piece about her final illness for CrimeReads: My Mother, The Mystery Writer

Other 2021 TPL Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A book about growing older

– Margaret, Librarian


Northanger  Persuasion

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen. I spent the first half of 2021 reading Austen’s books as part of a Zoom book club and was surprised to learn that both of these were published after her death! Northanger Abbey is both a coming-of-age story for its naïve heroine Catherine and a clever satire of the gothic romance novels popular at the time (such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho). Persuasion is the more mature novel, with a story about regret and second chances that features a swoon worthy letter! I enjoyed both books but for completely different reasons.

Other 2021 TPL Reading Challenge categories for Persuasion:

  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book about growing older

– Chelsea, Librarian


I'll be gone

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

I am not normally a true crime reader, but I made an exception for Michelle McNamara's examination of Golden State Killer. McNamara does an excellent job of exploring the fact of the case and also gives insight into online communities of amateur investigators she collaborated with. After McNamara's death in 2016, her husband (actor Patton Oswalt) and her collaborators worked to finish the book and have it published. Interestingly, the Golden State Killer was identified and arrested just months after the release of I'll Be Gone in the Dark in 2018.

Other 2021 TPL Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book of narrative non-fiction
  • A book about love

– Myrna, Librarian



A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

It is one of the best written books I've ever read, and one of my favourite books of all time. As the manuscript was rejected multiple times, the author kept working on it and editing it. The result is a total perfection, in my humble opinion. The book was published posthumously as a result of the author's mother's efforts, as John Kennedy Toole never succeeded in finding a publisher interested in his work prior to his death. A hymn of New Orleans of the bygone era, its citizens, their lives, their unique language and history.

– Anna, Librarian


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the recommendations from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2021 discussion group


There are dozens more in the Facebook thread. You do not need a Facebook account to read the thread.



We'll be having a TPL Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion for "a book that was published posthumously" and "a book written before the author turned 21" on Wednesday, October 27 at 4pm. You can register now to receive an email reminder, or tune in on the day of. You can also watch the online replay if you miss the live event.


What would you recommend for "a book that was published posthumously"? Share in the comments below!