Gail Godwin

Nonfiction by Gail Godwin

Getting to Know Death Getting to Know Death
A Meditation

Published 2024


Read an Excerpt

"Getting to Know Death could just as easily be called Getting to Know Life. As a meditation, it is both unsentimental and full of wonder. As a piece of writing, it stands beside the best of Godwin's fiction. Extraordinary." —Ann Patchett

From New York Times-bestselling, three-time National Book Award finalist Gail Godwin, a consideration of what makes for a life well lived-for readers of Oliver Sacks's Gratitude and Deborah Levy's Cost of Living.

I can't see a way out of this.
Things will not necessarily get better.
This is my life, but I may not get to do what I want in it.

Ingmar Bergman once said that an artist should always have one work between himself and death. When renowned author Gail Godwin tripped and broke her neck while watering the dogwood tree in her garden at age eighty-five, a lifetime of writing and publishing behind her and a half-finished novel in tow, Bergman's idea quickly unfurled in front of her, forcing her to confront a creative life interrupted. In Getting to Know Death, Godwin shares what spoke to her while in a desperate place. Remembering those she has loved and survived, including a brother and father lost to suicide, and finding meaning in the encounters she has with other patients as she heals, she takes stock of a life toward the end of its long graceful arc, finding her path through the words she has written and the people she has loved.

At once beautiful, biting, precise, poetic, and propulsive, Getting to Know Death is her own reckoning with the meaning of a life, the forms of passion that guide it, and how the stories we hold can shape our memories and preserve our selves as we write our own endings.


Getting to Know Death could just as easily be called Getting to Know Life. As a meditation, it is both unsentimental and full of wonder. As a piece of writing, it stands beside the best of Godwin's fiction. Extraordinary.” —Ann Patchett

“Old friends now, Gail Godwin and I met as students in Kurt Vonnegut's writing class. With insightful reflection, as she prepares herself for the inevitable, Gail has recalled the loved ones she's lost-in the same crystalline prose that distinguishes her fiction. This book makes me remember the loved ones I've lost, in all the good ways. I wrote Gail that I especially loved the part about the man who thought she was a nun. He just mistook her dedication to writing for a different kind of devotion-one that also requires sacrifice.” —John Irving

“A powerful and poetic reflection on death, dying, and what constitutes a good life . . . Throughout, [Godwin's] tone is curious and vaguely wonderstruck, resulting in an account that's full of insight and free of platitude. This is a gift.” —Publishers Weekly

“Godwin makes for good company, and the text sparkles with flashes of insight and humor. A tart, mordantly witty glimpse at losses past, as well as those to come.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Godwin's latest book explores two great themes, love and loss. She writes about her extraordinary friend Pat and her many family members, including her partner, who have died. And she writes with courage and honesty about her own suffering at 86. Moving through life's journey, I look for role models for how to best live in each life stage. Godwin is now a role model for me.” —Mary Pipher

“Like everything the marvelous Gail Godwin writes, her meditation on mortality is vigorous, erudite, sharply witty, and deeply pleasurable. Getting to Know Death is brimming with life.” —Hilma Wolitzer

Getting to Know Death may be the most uplifting, riveting book about 'death' you'll ever read-probably because it's actually about life, work, friendships, and love. Beautifully written, it also provides, directly and indirectly, insights about aging that can help us all live better now and through old age.” —Louise Aronson, Pulitzer finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Elderhood

Getting to Know Death is full of grace and humor, memories of friends and people Godwin has outlived . . . If Godwin felt any despair during her recovery it was displaced by her endless curiosity . . . Her creative mind still skips and leaps, pirouetting from present to past, from people and books that have influenced her to the novel she's in the process of writing.” —California Review of Books

Bloomsbury | Hardcover| 192 pages