A Book About Someone Who is Not Alive: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2022

October 27, 2022 | M. Elwood

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TPL Reading Challenge 2022

I love categories with lots of possible interpretations. What do the words "someone" and "alive" even mean? You can read a biography or a novel about a historical figure but I can see other possibilities too.  Some zombie fiction would fit into this category. What about something metaphorical? A book about a person who reinvents themselves might work. Does it have to be a person or can it be a book about a thing or a piece of equipment? Martha Wells wrote a series of books about a sentient robot in The Murderbot Diaries. Perhaps Murderbot isn't technically "alive" but as the narrator of the books, they feel like "someone".  Would that count? I think so but use your own judgment. 

These are my choices for a book about someone who is not alive. 

Dead romantics

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Florence grew up in a family of funeral directors. She and her father shared an ability to communicate with the dead. Now an author, Ashley is struggling with writer's block and turns to her editor for help. The problem is that he is dead and she's falling in love with him. 

Other categories:

  • A book about family
  • A book published this year

Rebecca daphne du maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

A young woman marries a wealthy widower and moves into his beautiful estate. Although the new Mrs de Winter narrates the book, the main focus of the book is definitely Rebecca. Rebecca was the first Mrs de Winter who died a year earlier. The unnamed narrator struggles to cope in a household where she is constantly compared to and overshadowed by her husband's first wife.

Empire of pain

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

How about a book about a corporation? I may be stretching the category a bit too far but in the United States, where Purdue Pharma was located, corporations are considered juridical persons. This is a fascinating book about a corporation held legally responsible for the opioid crisis, while the humans making the decisions escaped with their wealth intact. 

Other categories:

  • A book about family
  • A book written by a journalist

Staff Recommendations

Christie affair

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

It's a fictionalized story based on an actual event that took place early in Agatha Christie's career. It alternates between tender and shocking; weaving together the lives of returnees from the Great War, the girls they left behind and the 'upper crust' of society as it was then. A page-turner, much like Agatha's own novels!

– Susan, Driver/Public Service Assistant

Dancing at the pity party

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

I've thought about the small pieces of advice this book gave me long after reading it:

1) "focus on the dash" (Rhonda 1961-2009)

2) grief can last a long time and it's up to us to not make folks dealing with grief feel uncomfortable for whatever form their grief takes

The illustrations are beautiful and relatable and fun (yes, I acknowledge that may be a bit ghoulish). Feder also has a rhyming children's book that should be read by everyone called, "Bodies Are Cool".

Other categories:

  • A book about time
  • A book about family
  • A book about mental health
  • A book about art
  • A book about solitude
  • A book about an issue that is important to you

– Reagan, Librarian 

Dictionary of lost words

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

A fictionalized story based on the creation of the first Oxford Dictionary with a focus on the women, their stories and words.

Other categories:

  • A book about time
  • A book about family
  • A book about mental health
  • A book about a library worker

– Lisa, Director, Collections and Membership Services

Empress of the night

Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak

This novel follows the rise to power of the feared and revered Catherine the Great of Russia. It traces her path from a teenage princess of a relatively unknown impoverished noble family to one of the most formidable rulers of Russia. An inspiring story of overcoming the odds, but also a cautionary tale showing how winning the relentless struggle for power comes with a hefty price. 

– Anna, Librarian

The gown

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson

In 1947 when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip married, London was still recovering from WWII.  Although the Queen Mother, and princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are featured in the novel, it also tells the stories of the common women working behind the scenes to create the dress Elizabeth would wear. The novel describes their grim everyday lives and how the creation of the wedding gown brightened their days.

Other categories:

  • A book about family
  • A book about a city

– Despina, Branch Head

Lincoln in the bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

President Abraham Lincoln visits the cemetery to mourn his lost son. Interred along with his 11-year-old son Willie are many men, each with their own gentlemanly life story. They discuss their quandaries and memories while they wait. Winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. 

Other categories:

  • A book about family

– Linda, Librarian

Only sisters

Only Sisters by Lilian Nattel 

A Toronto-based story about two sisters and their relationship in life and the afterlife. A sister's promise, a mom's love and reconnecting with your chosen family.

Other categories:

  • A book about time
  • A book about family
  • A book about mental health
  • A book by an author from Toronto
  • A book you read just because
  • A book published this year

– Lisa, Director, Collections and Membership Services

Paris wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This is a story of Ernest Hemingway but from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley. With her voice, we are given a glimpse of the Lost Generation in Paris and meet characters such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Gerald & Sara Murphy. A gripping tale of love and betrayal.

Hemingway once wrote of his first wife: "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her".

– Jennifer, Public Service Assistant

Other einstein

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

This is a historical fiction about Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric. It is an intriguing account of how they first met, as Mileva was the only female in the physics class at Zurich Polytechnic at the time – in the late 1800s. Some facts are unproven so keep in mind that this is fiction, but it was interesting to note the struggle of females in education back then, and being torn between homecare and personal goals. It also paints a very interesting perspective of Albert Einstein, which is a different viewpoint from popular notions of him.

– Catherine, Librarian

The personal librarian

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan's personal librarian. The Personal Librarian tells the story of this extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit. It also shares the lengths she must go to for the protection of her family and her legacy to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

Other categories:

  • A book about a library worker

– Jo-Ann, Public Service Assistant

Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "un personnage qui n'est plus en vie" - there's a mix of books, eBooks and digital audiobooks to try!

Do you have a recommendation for "a book about someone who is not alive”? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.