Lionel Shriver's 6 favorite books

The Week's Editorial Staff

The author of We Need to Talk About Kevin and So Much for That recommends stories about coping with illness

Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks (Rodale, $26). With great candor, Tim Parks shares his experience with prostate pain whose cause no professional can diagnose. Incredibly, his doctor still wants to operate. Fearful of incontinence and impotence, the author instead finds relief in meditation. This one's beautifully written and smart. Parks isn't the wheatgrass type.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Picador, $14). The Australian narrator puts up an infuriating old friend, who's undergoing quack treatments for cancer. Garner grasps that illness confers power on the afflicted. Whether or not the friend is destined to die, by the end you're ready to kill her.

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The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso (Picador, $14). At 21, Manguso was stricken with a rare autoimmune disease, whose treatment entailed the replacement of all her blood — an ordeal she underwent 50 times. A sharp, vivid, sometimes funny memoir.

Have the Men Had Enough? by Margaret Forster (Vintage $14). A family grows exasperated with a live-in grandmother's worsening dementia. Yet this selfless woman would be horrified to realize she's become a burden. Should they put Grandma in a home? This is a subject most novelists would cross the street to avoid, but it's one that's bullying into many lives these days, like it or not.

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Everyman by Philip Roth (Vintage, $14). This elegant novel about an ailing, elderly man shimmers with the mysteries and regrets of a whole life. After the usual broken marriage and difficulties with grown kids, the protagonist's central failed relationship is with his own body. Unexpectedly moving, Everyman is about a treachery that awaits us all. Spouses may stay true, but bodies are universally faithless.

The Christmas Tree by Jennifer Johnston (Headline, $16). An exquisitely slight 1981 novel that lingers in the mind decades later. A terminally ill woman faces an early demise with frank acerbity, illustrating the advantage of lethal disease over abruptly getting run over by a bus: the opportunity to reflect and tie up little loose ends.

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Lionel Shriver's 11th novel, The New Republic, will be published March 27 by Harper.

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