Reading List: Authors Who Died in 2017

December 31, 2017 Long Read
charles i. letbetter

When authors die they leave behind a piece of themselves in each book, making them immortal.

This is the time of year when we see the Internet is filled with a lot of lists, most of which are rather useless. Do we really benefit from re-hashing the year’s top ten disappointments or worst makeup trends? No, not in the least. They’re easy page fodder prepared in advance so that editors can take the week off.

I don’t really get time off. The kids are out of school for two weeks, though. I spend most my time breaking up fights and telling them to clean their rooms, neither of which, like end-of-year lists, does any good.

So, in a deep desire to do something of value, I’ve created a different kind of list, one which deserves to be bookmarked because it is too long for you to remember everything on it. This is a list of books written by authors who left us in 2017. Some are names, or at least book titles, you’ll recognize, but most are probably new to the majority of people, which is rather sad.

This is a heavily curated list, mostly out of necessity. Had I included every person who passed who ever wrote a book, this list would be about three times longer than it already is. As it is, I left off most non-English texts, specifically religious titles, strictly academic textbooks, those whose work was not collected outside periodicals, and those who made a career of being intentionally offensive.

That’s not to say there aren’t some challenging authors on this list. Some have had portions of their work criticized for being less than ethical, inaccurate, or inflammatory. I considered those criticisms in light of the full body of work and was careful with the titles chosen. One title in particular should be read with a healthy amount of skepticism, but I firmly believe such critical reading is helpful in maintaining our comprehensive skills.

What I ended up with is a list of books that should last through a fair portion of the year. Not that you shouldn’t read new books as well, but to the degree that many of these titles have been overlooked or outside one’s normally preferred genres they are worth adding to your list. We’ve even provided links for purchasing each.

As sad as we are to lose any good writers, we do their memories well by continuing to read their books and passing them on to future generations.


Paul Goble, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. One of the things that made Goble unique was that, having been born in England, when he moved to the U.S. he adopted his new home in the most native way possible, living with native peoples in the Great Plains. As a result, his children’s books reflect the lives and legends of those people in a way that is true to their storytelling tradition. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses was the Caldecott winner 1979 and a beautiful book to read and share. Goble died of Parkinson’s Disease 5 January.

Ricardo Piglia, The Absent City, While Piglia did not write in English, he is generally recognized as the most important Argentine writer of the last decade and it would be unthinkable to leave him off this list. The Absent City was translated by Duke University Press and does a good job of keeping Piglia’s original tone. While the setting is that of a detective novel, what resonates in this moment is how it comments on totalitarian regimes, the kind established through the populist movements we’re currently seeing around the world. Piglia died of  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 6 January.

Nate Henthoff, The Day They Came To Arrest The Book. Strong free-speech advocate Nate Henthoff wrote for every major US publication across his long career, but one of his most important works may be this fictional account of an all-too-common issue: censorship. The topic remains as timely now as ever. Nate died of natural causes 7 January.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. When this book first hit shelves in 1971, it flopped. Then came an interview on the Dick Cavett Show and suddenly the book was a best-seller for 55 weeks. If you’re only familiar with the movie, know that Blatty hated the ending. You may also want to know that many of Blatty’s other works were comedies. Take another look. Blatty died of multiple myeloma on January 12, 2017

Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy. Why would a book first published in 1948 be important? Mine Boy  was the first book to shed light on the horrors of Apartheid. Abrahams was born in South Africa and raised under the horrible conditions there. He moved to Jamaica as an adult and did his writing from there, but his words resonated straight back to the land of his birth. Sadly, Abrahams was murdered in Jamaica, 18 January.

Emma Tennant, Two Women of London: The Strange Case of Ms. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde, Who wouldn’t want eternal beauty? That’s the underlying motivation behind this retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Tennant was a British post-modern writer with feminist twist and this story is probably one of her best. Every single mom can relate.  Tennant died on 21 January 2017, in a London hospital, from posterior cortical atrophy, a form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Douglas Reeman, The Blackwood Saga. When it comes to war novels, we like to see some authenticity on the pages, evidence that the author knows their topic. Remman gives us just that over this five-book series that spans 150 years of British maritime history. A twice-wounded WWII vet of the British navy, his knowledge of the Royal Marines is solid and his descriptions put the reader right in the emotion of the action. Reenab died 23 January.

Harry Matthews, Tlooth. Matthews himself was an interesting character. He was the first American recognized  for membership in the French literary society known as the Oulipo. He may or may not have been a spy for the CIA. He could go off on strange tangents not explained until a hundred or so pages later. Tlooth is an equally interesting, and sometimes puzzling story that is a good introduction to his work. Matthews died of natural causes 25 January.


William Melvin Kelly, A Different Drummer. You need to read this book. Sure, white folks liked to think that racism was behind us, but this year has proven how wrong that view was. A Different Drummer brings us back to the base issues of the Civil Rights movement. Framed around a compelling story of growing up in the Deep South, Kelly’s narrative is a much-needed punch to the gut. Kelly died of complications from Kidney failure, 1 February.

Richard B. Wright, Clara Callan. Wright is known for creating believable characters but it’s not known whether the Canadian author actually intended to write a significantly feminist novel. The book that follows the lives of two sisters has won numerous awards and even caused some of Wright’s previous works to be reprinted. This is a solid story with plenty of meat between the lines. Wright died from a stroke 7 February.

David Seals, The Powwow Highway. I’m a sucker for a good story that portrays native North American peoples accurately and this one is a classic. Award-winning author David Seals deftly avoids stereotypes and delivers a story with depth and emotion that makes this a novel worth reading more than once. Seals died 12 February.

Nancy Willard, A Visit To William Blake’s Inn. Nancy Willard gives us a chance to break away from the heavy topics with her 1982 Newberry Medal winner. This is one of those collections that one delights holding in their hands while reading to wide-eyed little ones awestruck by Willard's amazing characters. Think family heirloom. Willard died 19 February.

Frank Delaney, Ireland. NY Time best seller from the prolific Irish author NPR once referred to as “the most eloquent man in the world.” This very hefty book brings the oral history of Ireland, its legends and tall tales, to life. While this isn’t a quick read and a bit graphic in places, it’s well worth the time. Delaney died 21 February in Connecticut.

Jay Cronley, Quick Change, This one is a bit personal. Jay Cronley was a long-time Tulsa Tribune and later Tulsa World columnist. He was bright, sarcastic, and seemed to delight in taking aim at sacred cows, something Oklahoma grows by the dozens. He picked on anyone who crossed him and seemed to favor the company of his dogs more than people. I can relate. That same wit and humor is present in the book that was made into a 1990 movie with Bill Murray, Geena Davis. As usual, the book is much better. The world is sadder without Jay. He died 26 February of natural causes.

Nicholas Mosley, Natalie Natalia. Ready to have your morals and ethics questioned? This book may just do that. Baron Mosley was of British peerage and, yes, a member of the House of Lords for a while. His father was imprisoned for fascist activities which seemed to set Nicholas off in a slightly different direction, but kept alive his sense of questioning, This story still reads as though it were stripped from the headlines, demonstrating how well Mosley understood human nature. Mosley died 28 February


Paula Fox, The Slave Dancer. On one hand, this book deserves to be on this list because it was the 1974 Newberry Medal winner. That should be enough, shouldn’t it? Oh, but wait until you hear the author’s story.  Rejected by her own mother, who would have killed the child, Fox was raised by a preacher in upstate New York. She grew up and had her own daughter, whom she put up for adoption. This daughter, Linda Carroll, gave birth to musician Courtney Love. Yeah, THAT Courtney Love. That means Frances Bean Cobain is Fox's great-granddaughter. Interested now? Ms. Fox died 1 March.

Bonnie Burnard, The Good House. Canadian writer Bonnie Burnard was primarily known for short stories. When she did take on long form, though, she did so with an amazing story that covers 50 years of a family’s history. There’s nothing about this book that is over-the-top. Instead, it’s a story that’s relatable because it could just as easily have happened in any small town to any seemingly normal family. You can understand. Burnard died 4 March.

Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County. Sure, you saw the movie. Maybe your book club discussed the book. Now that the hype has all passed, though, go back and really read it again. Linger on Waller’s word choice. Pick up on the parallels between the novel and his personal life. They’re there, you know. This Indiana University alumnus made sizeable donations to his alma mater thanks to this book.Does it still resonate? Can you relate? Waller died March 10 from multiple myeloma.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Encyclopedia of An Ordinary Life. I did not handle this death well. Seeing her name again still causes a knot in the pit of my stomach. I saw her TED talks. I’ve read her children’s books. I felt like I knew her in that way we all feel like we know someone we’ve never met. Then, being the inventive person she was, Amy announced she had ovarian cancer in a New York Times piece fashioned as a dating profile for her husband. She died 11 days later on 13 March. This may be the most creative and inspiring autobiography you’ll ever read. Just maybe keep a box of tissue handy.

John Wheatcroft, Catherine, Her Book. This entry comes with a caveat: if you’ve not read Wuthering Heights, you’re going to be totally lost. Wheatcraft takes us through the romance of that book’s two main characters from the woman’s perspective in a way that gives one a whole new perspective. Wheatcroft was a prolific writer, poet, and teacher, who served on Pulitzer committee for Poetry in 1996, He was also the first director of Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry. Wheatcroft died 14 March.

Christina Vella, Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba. It’s not often a work of historical fact reads like a novel, but that’s exactly what Vella pulls off in this amazing tale of a 19th century woman whose life continues to impact both Paris and New Orleans today. A writer of European history, Vella’s first book received the most critical acclaim and was nominated for a Pulitzer. You’ll forget this is not a novel. Vella died 22 March.

Donald R. Burgett, Seven Roads to Hell. One of only 12 of the 200 D-Day paratroopers to survive to the end of WWII, Burgett was the very definition of a war hero. There’s a lot of fiction surrounding what happened in the latter days of that war, but Burgett was there and sets the record straight. While he penned several accounts of the action he saw, this book specifically details the Battle of the Bulge and the seemingly impossible conditions troops encountered. Burgett died 23 March.

Elizabeth Wagele, The Enneagram of Parenting. For anyone who doesn’t understand their children, read this book. Wagele made the subject of Enneagram (the nine personality types) relatable to non-scientific readers primarily through the use of her cleverly drawn cartoons and a vocabulary that avoids clinical jargon. Even if your child is already grown with children of their own, you’ll probably find this book quite helpful.  Wagele died 27 March.

charles i. letbetter


Patricia McKissack, Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. Read the stories in this book aloud, right at dusk, in that moment before day becomes night, and see if your listeners, even the adults, aren’t watching the shadows with extra caution. A frequent winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, this Tennessee writer used stories out of African-American history told by her mother and grandmother with chilling effect. These stories need to be read to someone, though. Don’t keep them to yourself. McKissack died 7 April.

Blossom Elfman, The Girls Of Huntington House. The question of whether creative parents raise creative children comes to bear as this winner of the ALA award for Best Young Adult Novel in 1972 was also the mother of composer Danny Elfman. Elfman’s stories come from her experience teaching English in, of all places, a home for teen moms. One might see a connection between the humor in her prose and the whimsical tones of her son’s compositions. Or maybe that’s just me. Ms. Elfman died 10 April.

Marlys Millhiser, The Mirror. Imagine being pregnant and waking up to find you’re still a virgin. Worse yet, imagine you’re a virgin in 1900 and wake up in the present, pregnant. This book has time travel, gender issues, and a good horror plot all rolled into one. The mystery author of the Charlie Green series had the ability to use words in a way that would raise goosebumps and make you leave a light on at night. She died 20 April.

William Hjortsberg, Falling Angel. While Hjortsberg penned his fair share of novels, it is this one, his first, that won him the most acclaim. This is a sell-your-soul-to-the-devil tale with its far share of horror fashioned as a detective novel. The concept works surprisingly well. The book became the 1987 film “Angel Heart” with Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, and Lisa Bonet but the best thrills were left on the printed page  Hjortsberg died. 22 April.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of the “must haves” on any literary bookshelf, this book raised awareness for Eastern thought more than any other. I had lost my copy midst all the moving around I’ve done and upon hearing of Pirsig’s death immediately went and purchased another copy. With all the concern society has for living a better life, Pirsig nailed the solution a half-century ago. Re-reading it now brings home just how accurate he was. Road trip, anyone? Pirsig died 24 April.


John Schultz, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Revised Edition. While Schultz’s greater contribution may be as the originator of the Story Workshop, his account of the 1972 Democratic Convention, and the trial of The Chicago Seven that followed, is important given the nature of current political events. Schultz’s talent as an investigative reporter through the entire ordeal and its aftermath should be required reading for anyone politically involved in today’s messed up situation. Schultz died 6 May.

Jean Fritz, Homesick: My Own Story. Every once in a while one stumbles upon a piece of children’s lit that is so compelling one wishes there were a more adult version. This is one of those stories. Born to missionaries and raised in China until age 12, Fritz’s autobiographical work won multiple awards, including runner-up for Newberry Award in 1972. It’s been almost 100 years since the events detailed in that book actually took place and the comparison between China then and China now is worth noting. Fritz died 14 May.

Ann Birstein, American Children. What was it like growing up in Hell’s Kitchen when it was its most hellish? Ann Birstein knew because she did it and those experiences flow heavily through this coming-of-age story that still resonates. I almost didn’t list it because finding copies isn’t easy. While it can be had through Amazon, one might do well to check used book stores first. If obtaining a copy is a bit challenging, know that the effort is worth the reading. Birstein died after a long illness on 24 May.

Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke. This book has been called a classic and was on the NY Times list of Best Books of 2007 in addition to being a winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2007. That alone earns it a place on this list. Perhaps more compelling, though, is the manner in which Johnson approaches the difficult and often emotional topic of the Vietnam War. Divergent story lines bring together conflicting perspectives that leave us rethinking our attitudes about that conflict. Johnson died of liver cancer on 24 May.


Charles Simmons, Powdered Eggs. This winner of the William Faulkner Foundation Award in 1960 is not for the faint of heart. One initial reviewer labeled the book as “more outrageous than Catcher in the Rye.” The basic premise is one with which a lot of writers can identify: a wanna-be reporter frustrated by the menial tasks he’s assigned. Many of us have been there. This was 1960, though, and that whole sexual revolution thing was just getting a good start. So … Simmons was also a long-time editor of the New York Times Book Review. He died 1 June.

Helen Dunmore, Zennor in Darkness. This is another of those hard-to-find titles as well as a first novel that did exceedingly better than anything that followed. Zennor in Darkness was the 1994 McKitterick Prize winner among other things; a compelling story set in WWII using D.H. Lawrence as the main character. Dunmore was both a novelist and poet won several awards over her too-short career. She died of cancer 5 June.

Irene Brown, Enigma Variations: a Memoir of Love and War. How has this book not been made into a movie? This is real life. Brown was a WWII codebreaker. Her husband also worked in the Secret Air Service. Neither could talk about their work at the time, even to each other. Then, in 1944, he went missing along with his entire regiment, creating one of the greatest mysteries and losses of the entire war. This is her account of everything, a love story, a war story, a woman’s story, all wrapped in one. Brown lived to the ripe old age of 98, dying on 7 June.

John Dalmas, The Puppet Master. A Sci Fi writer known mostly for his series, this is a stand-alone novel that is a bit chilling given the current political climate. One can read an AI villain into this story if they wish, or a sinister bioengineering scientist, depending on one’s perspective. Dalmas cleverly takes the noir genre and sets it in the future, creating an uncomfortable situation where one constantly is surprised. Dalmas died 15 June.

Diana Vacallo, A Bridge Of Leaves. This is another hard-to-find book that never should have gone out of print. Vacallo was a Fulbright Scholar who wrote frequently of growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Pennsylvania. This is one of those stories, centering around the passage of childhood to adult and all the people who influenced that journey. Vacallo died 17 June.

Janet Lunn, The Root Cellar. While Lunn was a naturalized Canadian citizen, she was born in the US and carried with her many stores involving US history. This one is no different, taking her heroine back from 1980 to 1860, smack in the middle of the Civil War, via a root cellar, which is as much a metaphor as an actual place. The award-winning book is typical of Lunn’s style and a good introduction to her children’s literature.  Lunn died 26 June in Ontario.

Michael Bond, Paddington Bear. A beloved writer whose career spanned 59 years. Who hasn’t at least heard of the Paddington Bear series, if not read all 35 books? Even if you’ve grown old and grey, these are still wonderful bedtime reading. Bond created a literary phenomenon that will doubtlessly live well into the future. Few authors are so mourned outside the literary world as Bond was and sales of the books and merchandise spiked hard through the summer, corresponding with the release of the movie, Paddington Bear 2. The author may be gone, but many generations yet to come will remember the lovable character he left us.  Bond died 27 June.

Rae Desmond Jones, The Lemon Tree. Primarily a poet, the novel gives him a chance to release long paragraphs of angst that seem to have built up from the limitations of his poetry. The story is compelling and different if for no other reason than we really don’t get too many books about growing up in Australia. His prose is descriptive and imaginative, the vocabulary of a poet in long form. US readers not familiar with his work are missing out.  Jones died 27 June.

Miriam Marx, Love Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to His Daughter Miriam. Yes, the daughter of the comedian, and one of his long-time writers, wrote a book that is a must not only for Marx Brothers fans but for anyone who has a challenging relationship with their father. These are his letters to her, his advice and admonition, as she was growing up during the time when the Marx Brothers were at the height of their fame. This is an incredibly intimate behind-the-scenes look at a comedian whose work still stands apart from anyone else in the industry. Miriam died at 91 on 29 June.

William Sanders, The Next Victim. This is another author to whom I have a personal connection, though I’m not entirely comfortable admitting that. This writer of alternative history, who lived in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, never failed to make me laugh. He was a fantastic storyteller, one of the few who could match my Uncle Windjammer Buck when it came to creating stories of questionable reality. Could anything he said be taken all that seriously? Yet, he is a somewhat-controversial choice in that Sanders could be accused of being anti-Muslim in later years, though he denied such. I’m including him based on my memory of him and this book that is the first of his Taggart Roper series. Sanders died 27 June.

charles i. letbetter


Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese? While his children’s ValueTales series was more prolific, it was Who Moved My Cheese? that first got my real attention in 1998. The timing was just right and the book became a near-instant best-seller. The book works because he utilizes an elementary metaphor broken down to a level that’s easy to digest without a lot of technical jargon. Dr. Johnson has been accused, whether justly or not, of feeding the “get rich through positive thinking” movement seen in “motivational speakers” such as Tony Robbins. The book is definitely worth reading. Whether one finds it genuinely helpful is a personal matter. Dr. Johnson died 3 July.

Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. If you ever considered biographies boring, you need to read this book. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this incredible work, Silverman has a way of searing this story into your conscious. Sure, you know Cotton Mather as one of America’s earliest leaders, but Silverman paints him not so much as an immigrant fleeing Europe and more as the base form around which being American is defined. Silverman died of lung cancer on 7 July.

Thomas Fleming, When This Cruel War Is Over. Somewhere in this book is a romance but for those of us living in the Midwest, this is also a tale of how we almost blew the Civil War. What may be even more disturbing is recognizing that many of the sentiments expressed in this historically accurate novel still exist among many Indiana and Kentucky residents today. Fleming was first and foremost a historian with as many non-fiction titles to his name as there were works of fiction. He uses actual letters from Abraham Lincoln and others in suspenseful manner to create a story that, if nothing else, sheds light on our troublesome past. Fleming died 23 July.

Robin Gardiner, Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank? I’m not one to give much for conspiracy theories, but Gardiner put his entire life into the notion that it wasn’t the Titanic but a damaged Olympic that sank. Moreover, he claims that the White Star line that owned both ships perpetrated the sinking on purpose for the insurance money. Gardiner’s account is so detailed that he may just change your mind, though I don’t think the official history is changing any time soon. Gardiner died of stomach cancer on 23 July.

H. A. Hargreaves, North by 2000+. Canadian short-story fiction came to life in Hargreaves’ work. He had a way of working with speculative science fiction that defined the genre. These short stories were a best seller when they were first printed in 1975 but were reprinted with five additional stories not found in the first edition.This anthology is a must for any sci-fi fan. Hargreaves died 27 July.


Mark Merlis, Man About Town. This award-winning LGBT writer took on gay themes in his novels when it wasn’t yet popular to do so. More than just chasing stereotypes or trying to disprove them, Merlis gives us an intimate glimpse into the world of a middle-aged gay man and the real-world challenges of that reality. His story is compelling and relatable, sympathetic but not to the point of inviting undue pity. Merlis died 15 August from ALS.

Brian Aldiss, Greybeard. How does one select a single title from a writer with over 80 published works to his name, not including all the short stories? Aldiss was a science fiction powerhouse heavily influenced by H. G. Wells. Where he takes this story, though, is a bit frightening. He imagines a world where all men have become sterile. Reproduction is no longer possible. For some, that might seem ideal but Aldiss understands human nature far too well to make this a painless read. What’s even more astonishing is that he wrote this in 1964. The whole story feels astonishingly real. Aldiss died 19 August, the day after his 92nd birthday.

Susan Vreeland, The Passion of Artemisia. There aren’t many authors who can take on art history and turn it into a compelling story but Vreeland does just that. Transporting us back to the 17th century and the post-Renaissance art world in Italy, Vreeland recreates the life story of an amazing female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi. While male-dominated history writers focused on male artists, Artemisia was as popular, if not more so, than any of “the guys” and didn’t have to die before her work became profitable. This is more than an art story, but a story of a strong woman succeeding in a male-dominated world. Vreeland died 23 August.


Kate Millett, Sexual Politics. Anything you know about second-wave feminism probably had its roots somewhere in this book or others from this writer. The current #MeToo movement certainly would not exist without this book. Based on her doctoral dissertation, which caused an incredible stir in `970, Millett provides the evidence that skewers the male patriarchy of the literary world and everything around it. Here is where hard core feminism begins; the book is considered a Bible for many. Millett died 6 September.

J. P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man. Considered by many to be a modern classic, The Ginger Man was originally banned for obscenity in the US when it was first published in 1955. Donleavy had to go to France to find a publisher willing to take on the wild and raucous story he had created. Donleavy shatters any delicate sensibilities with a tale that, at times, seems irresponsible by contemporary standards but at the same time accurately portrays a rebellious young man at the very beginning of the sexual revolution. You need to read this just to see what all the hullabaloo was about. Donleavy died 11 September.

Kit Reed, The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book Of Stories. If short stories are your thing, you’ll fall in love with this book, assuming you don’t already have it in your collection. There are a number of reasons to love this collection of short stories but where the collection takes on added meaning is in Reed’s ability to write in a transgendered fashion impactful for those growing up in a world where gender and sexuality are more fluid than older stories address. Ms. Reed was a fantastic storyteller and each tale is a new delight unto itself. She died 24 September.

Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 And 1804. There is not a lot of native peoples’ literature written by native writers. Even fewer among the Tlingit people of Alaska. Nora Dauenhauer was one of the best and most prolific. Native North American peoples have a long history of being mistreated, primarily by European invaders. The Tlingit, however, had to deal with an enemy other tribes never saw: Russians. This story doesn’t have a happy ending but is important for us to realize why these native peoples need our protection now. Dauenhauer died 25 September.

old man talking


Nora Johnson, The World Of Henry Orient.  Johnson’s first novel, written in 1957, was made into a movie starring Peter Sellers and Angela Lansbury in 1964. What a way to start! The book has endured over the years, still a favorite of young girls, especially. For Johnson, though, this was just the beginning. It was her article for The Atlantic, “Sex and the College Girl,” that really set tongues to wagging. She continued writing her entire life, most often in shorter forms. Still, this first novel is a delightfully fascinating read. Johnson died 5 October in Dallas.

Joan Blos, A Gathering of Days won both the U.S. National Book Award for Children’s Books as well as the Newbery Medal in 1979 because Blos’ writing style is as relatable for adult readers as it is for the young tweens to whom it was directed. Anything from Joan Blos serves as a good example of why adults should be active readers of children’s literature. This is a well-crafted and beautifully written story that doesn’t bog itself down in vain attempts to be overly smart or misuse impressive vocabularies. The prolific children’s author died 12 October.

Erwin Moser, The Crow in the Snow And Other Bedtime Stories. If you have little ones, especially grandchildren, you’ll want to keep this book handy. Translated from Moser’s native German, these tales make wonderful bedtime reading because the one-page stories are concise, open a child’s imagination, and fuel their dreams with the author’s beautiful artwork. While copies can be obtained through Amazon, one might also consider checking at used bookstores as well. Moser died 12 October.

Julian May, The Many Colored Land (from the Saga of Pliocene Exile series). Prolific Sci-Fi writer Julian May published under several pseudonyms so as to not become bogged down in any one style. A lifelong fan of science fiction, though, she was most at home with this more than any other genre. The Saga of Pliocene Exile is one of her most popular series and one that sets up a number of ethical questions as both society and humanity itself continues to evolve. May died 17 October.

Donald Bain, Coffee, Tea, or Me? Talk about under appreciated. You don’t know his name because he ghost wrote his best-known books, including the Murder She Wrote series as Jessica Fletcher. Overall, he penned 115 titles over 40 years but very few of them contain his real name. Bain had an incredible way of understanding a woman’s perspective on things, ar at least, what he assumed was a woman’s perspective. He created a number of stereotypes around flying and the jet-setting lifestyle of the early 1960s, not to mention a few misconceptions regarding police work. Still, everything remains a delightful read. Now you know who was behind it all. Bain died 21 October.

Jane Juska, A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Here’s a retirement goal for you: Juska was a retired English teacher, 67-years-old, when she explored sex as a senior by putting a literary personal ad in the New York Review of Books. Nothing that followed was expected or what we might consider “normal.” The book became an award-winning play starring Sharon Gless. More importantly, it raises awareness of the fact that just as old men remain randy and promiscuous, so, too, do older women maintain the capacity for a very active sex life. Juska died 24 October.


Nancy Friday, My Secret Garden. Friday went where no woman before her had dared to go: women’s sexual fantasies. Not without controversy, though. Because she solicited stories from women, the content was considered “unscientific” and some accused her of making up the whole thing. Still, the book broke ground that opened doors for millions of women to talk about their sexual fantasies, scientific or not. The book has been reprinted several times and still enjoys a large audience, selling several thousand new copies a year. Friday died 5 November.

Jill Barklem, Brambly Hedge series. A classically trained illustrator, Barklem’s husband encouraged her to turn her drawings into books. She first through his idea was incredulous. When she relented, though, she discovered that both adults and children could appreciate the diversity of her talent. There are eight books total, in addition to other titles, all of which are equally beautiful. Barklem died 15 November after a long illness.

Anne Bushnell, aka Sara Craven, The Innocent’s Shameful Secret. I’ll admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of romance novels, but they remain the most commercially lucrative genre in all of bookselling. Bushnell wrote over 80 romance novels as Sara Craven covering the entire spectrum of the genre. The Innocent’s Shameful Secret is one of her last books, published earlier this year. Bushnell died 15 November.

John Gordon, The Giant Under The Snow. Before there was Harry Potter, there was John Gordon’s The Giant Under The Snow. In fact, I wouldn’t be the first person to suspect that J. K. Rowling was almost certainly influenced in some way by Gordon’s book. Supernatural fiction focused on three teen heroes set in the English region known as The Fens? Nah, there couldn’t be any relation there at all (he said with sarcasm dripping from his lips). First published in 1968, Gordon’s tale of magic and suspense, good versus evil, is every bit as compelling as the crew from Hogwarts. Gordon died 20 November.


William H. Gass, The Tunnel. While he was generally more of a philosopher and critic than a writer, when he did write he tended to win awards. The Tunnel won the American Book Award in 1996, which I’m sure was a relief considering it took Gass 26 years to write it. This is a deep, thoughtful, and introspective read that one isn’t going to fly through in one setting. Gass raises all the major philosophical questions about life, ethics, and society but in a fashion that doesn’t feel as though one is reading through a lecture they might have slept through in college. This is genuinely a phenomenal book. Gass died 6 December.

Kathleen Karr, The Boxer. Here’s another topic I don’t typically give a lot of my time: sports. Too often the stories either gloss over the athlete’s fault or swings too far the other way in romanticizing their shortcomings. Karr finds a delicate balance in this tale of a young man who struggled between supporting his family and his desire to escape poverty. The Boxer won the Golden Kite Award for best fiction in 2000. Karr died 6 December.

Clifford Irving, The Hoax. Most writers are known for the books they penned. Irving is known for the one he didn’t. Namely, an autobiography of Howard Hughes in 1972. Irving went to prison for the con job and then wrote The Hoax about the whole affair, which later became a movie starring Richard Gere. He really did write over 20 other novels, but no one seems to care about those. Even his obituaries headlined the hoax while ignoring everything else he actually wrote. In fact, most of his other books are out of print and completely unavailable. The caper was something he was never able to escape, despite several attempts. Irving died 19 December.

Sue Grafton, Y is for Yesterday. The year ends with the death of one of the U.S.’s most beloved mystery writers. Since 1982, Sue Grafton has carried along the tale of Kinsey Millhone as he worked his way through the alphabet solving one mystery after another. This past week, Grafton died on 28 December after a two-year battle with cancer. Y is for Yesterday is her last book. Even though Z is for Zero was scheduled for release next year, Grafton was insistent that none of her work be ghost written, even by her own daughter. So, the alphabet, and the year, ends here.


Every year there are hundreds of thousands of new books published, each struggling to find its audience and hopefully create even a modest payday for its author. Most authors never see much profit and end up dying in relative obscurity. As much as we all enjoy new books, there’s something to be said for going back and re-examining the works of those who left us. I hope you’ll find at least a few from this list to your liking.

Read well.

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