Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top Ten Books About Tough Topics

I'm not usually a big meme participant, but occasionally I find the Top Ten Tuesday meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, to be irresistible.  Today's theme is difficult topics, and "issue" books are some of my favorites.  The problem is honestly limiting my numbers to ten.  So what I'm actually going to do is post my top ten issues and a book (or in the first five cases a fiction and non-fiction book) that represent best reads in that topic.  In no particular order of importance or interest:

1) School Violence

Fiction: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
A mother deals with the aftermath of her son's killing spree at his high school and the ramifications for her and her family.

Non-fiction: Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings by Jonathan Fast
An examination of various cases of school shootings from the first recorded incidents through Columbine.

2) Death and Grief

Two teenagers with cancer meet at a support group, fall in love, and teach each other valuable life lessons.  Wow that sounds cheesey. It's not, trust me.

Non-fiction: Blue Nights and (not pictured) The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Start with The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir of the year Didion loses her husband and deals with major health issues threatening her daughter's life and then read Blue Nights, where Didion writes about her daughter's death.  Both are beautifully written.

3) Kidnapping/Domestic Trafficking

Shockingly relevant to ongoing current events, Room is the story of a woman who is kidnapped as a young adult and held for years.  The story is narrated by her five year old son, fathered by her captor.

Real stories of young women who are bought and sold and held against their will or forced into prostitution as told by Rachel Lloyd, whose life work is helping these women escape and restore their lives.

4) Depression

An allegorical work of literary fiction in which an actual black dog represents the depression experienced by both Winston Churchill and his temporary secretary.

There are so many good memoirs and works of non-fiction on depression but Les Murray's is one of my favorites because it also includes the poetry that he wrote during a debilitating bout of depression that I find to be particularly meaningful and relevant to my own experiences.

5) Religious Abuse/Sexual Abuse in the Church

A sister attempts to restore the reputation of her disgraced brother, a Catholic priest who has been accused of sexual abuse.

Non-fiction: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
A history of the Mormon faith, combined with an expose of the abuses of the modern FLDS.

6) Global Oppression of Women

Journalists Kristoff and WuDunn tackle the biggest issues facing women on a global level, such as: trafficking, rape as an instrument of war, AIDS proliferation, and female genital mutilation.

7) Repressed Memory

The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham
An expert in psychology, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, examines the way our memory works and the phenomenon of false memories and how they have resulted in allegations of abuse.

8) False Convictions

Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How To Make It Right by Barry Scheck, Jim Dwyer, and Peter Neufield
A description of the Innocence Project, a non-profit that is using advances in DNA testing to overturn the convictions of criminals who were wrongly convicted using poor evidence, and stories of the men and women whose lives have been changed.  It also addresses the challenges faced by those who are wrongly convicted, spend years in prison, and are then released.

9) Poverty

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Journalist Katherine Boo spends three years living among the people who live in a Mumbai slum and describes the devastating poverty and daily life challenges faced by the people who live there.

And finally, a very important issue that is on all of our minds, and about which we all need to be familiar:

10) The Zombie Apocalypse

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
It was really hard for me to narrow down just one zombie book to recommend, but in the end I had to go with Max Brooks because I feel like he is the definitive author of the zombie genre and World War Z is a must-read if you're at all concerned about the zombie apocalypse, WHICH YOU SHOULD BE.


  1. Love your list - especially the inclusion of the zombie apocalypse at the end! Thanks for sharing!

    If you'd like, you can check out my list here.

  2. Amazing list, I missed this topic, will go check out responses now. I have read a few and agree. I'm adding the Myth one to my Wishlist, that sounds amazing.

    1. If you wind up reading it, let me know! I'd love to hear what you think!

  3. Thanks for this excellent list. A perfect addition to this list would be Journey (If Where You're Going Isn't Home) by Max Zimmer. A coming of age fiction story of teenage boy in Mormon America in the late 50's, early 60's. The main character has a passion and a talent for jazz music and this conflicts with the teachings of the Mormon church and strict religious family expectations. The book highlights difficult issues surrounding race and religion in an honest tone without ever being preachy. A beautifully written story and the first of a very promising trilogy.

    1. I'm adding this to my list! I recently heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air and the book sounds fascinating.

  4. This is a really fantastic list! I've read (and loved!) about half, but now I have quite a few to add to my list. The Myth of Repressed Memory sounds so fascinating, I've never heard of it. I just picked up a used copy of The Year of Magical Thinking that I'm waiting for the right moment to read.

    1. It's definitely one you want to read at the right time. I had to listen to it slowly because it is so intensely sad, but beautiful.