Who wants to read a sad book—isn’t there enough misery in real life? That’s the position a friend of mine takes whenever I try to recommend another melancholy new novel or downbeat memoir. (I really should know better by now.) Point taken. I appreciate a cheerful, humorous read as much as the next person, and often that’s just what the book doctor ordered. But sometimes a book that looks squarely at sadness offers readers a kind of balm. We’re not alone in going through grief and loss, and here’s how someone else faced it—someone better than most of us at expressing the experience in words.

That’s how I felt while reading the new book by Sloane Crosley, who appears on the cover of our Feb. 15 issue in an illustrated portrait by artist Reiko Lauper. Crosley is known for slyly comedic essays in collections like I Was Told There’d Be Cake (2008) and Look Alive Out There (2018), and for her trenchant novels The Clasp (2015) and Cult Classic (2022). Her latest, Grief Is for People (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb. 27), is something quite different: the account of losing a close friend and former boss to suicide. That death was immediately preceded by a robbery—her apartment was broken into and some jewelry of sentimental value was stolen—and this unlikely pair of events allows Crosley to explore the nature of loss and the often strange ways that we humans react to it. Our starred review calls it a “marvelously tender memoir”; be sure to read Marion Winik’s recent interview with Crosley.

Though their styles are entirely different, it’s hard to read Grief Is for People and not think of Joan Didion’s now-classic 2005 book about grief, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she calmly analyzes her own state of mind after the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and during the concurrent illness of their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne. Didion’s 2011 book, Blue Nights, considers her own mortality in the wake of Quintana Roo’s death not long after. Neither book is easy to read, but at the right moment in the right hands, they are true gifts.

“Not for everyone,” warns our reviewer of Blake Butler’s Molly (Archway Editions/powerHouse, 2023), “but it could mean the world to those facing similar shocks and losses.” The author’s wife, poet Molly Brodak, died by suicide in 2020 at the age of 39; Butler was left with his own stunned grief but also the revelation, found in Brodak’s journals, of her infidelity. (Brodak herself had written a memoir, Bandit, about her bank-robbing father.) Through the book’s “sprawling, philosophical interior monologue,” Butler processes these developments and seeks an understanding of a complicated life.

One book I know better than to press on my self-protective friend is Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave (2013). The Sri Lankan author lost her husband, children, and parents in the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and in this raw book she explores her wild, unhinged grief. The author examines the painful subject in pared-down (yes, Didion-esque) prose; our reviewer found reading the starred book “almost as cathartic as writing it must have been.” And isn’t catharsis what the best art can offer us?

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.