Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rx: Books?

When you're feeling bad, do you want a book that matches your black mood or one that, with its grace and lightness, might cheer you up? Do you prefer to escape into a book for several distracting hours or use it as a deliberate guide to the "whys" of it all?

Sometimes, I need beauty. Pure, unadulterated beauty, but usually, I go straight to nature for that. Or to the ice cream in the freezer. Sometimes, though, I need there to be a butt-ugly billboard that I can stare at. It simply says: Life Reeks. Or I need a dip into the blunt words of Ecclesiastes, which--no disrespect--could be that billboard, only thousands of years old: "Senseless! Everything is utterly senseless!"

In fact, I think my pattern might be: I want the visual, tactile, sensory experience of art, nature, and ice cream if I'm looking for the Beauty Cure, and I want the structure, intelligence and intimacy of text when I want the Blunt Truth Cure.

What about you?

BTW, this post has nothing to do with my writing life. I found out my niece has to go back for more cancer treatments after just sixteen weeks in the clear.


  1. If I'm feeling the Worry Version of Feeling Bad, usually I need total brain candy, such as, I dunno, a VH1 Making of Some Airhead Pop Star's Video (though I no longer have cable). You'd think I'd turn to the ineffable beauty, but I can't concentrate enough, when fretting, to truly appreciate it.

    "When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go." -- Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, Ch. 6. That's me.

  2. Oh, how did I miss that quote from Catcher in the Rye? That's perfect.

    You're right, too, in that there's a difference between worrying and stewing and being angry and feeling hopeless and all the other permutations of "Feeling Bad." Maybe the cure for each is different.

  3. For Life Is Annoying and Crappy bad, I turn to mysteries or other books where bad things happen and people are miserable, but then the problem is resolved, at least somewhat, and the ending is hopeful.

    For I'm Worried That My Life Might Be Shattered bad, I need beauty in both nature and books, something to help me hold it together and keep hope alive a bit longer.

    Warm thoughts to your niece. I hope you both find exactly the books you need to keep hope going strong.

  4. Thanks, Laura. You do describe the levels of Bad quite well. And I appreciate the warm thoughts.

  5. I am so terribly sorry to hear about your niece having to go back for more treatment. It's awful, the sort of thing that's worth feeling badly about, which makes it that much harder, I think, to find a better mood and a little hope.

    When life shows me this level of suckiness, I find that I need lots of sleep, my friends, my family, good food, and something to laugh about. If I read, I'll definitely go for something like a magazine or something by someone like Meg Cabot, Anne Lamott, or David Sedaris. Something funny I can relate to. I'm also big on tuning out for a while with a movie. Sometimes my mind needs a break when it's trying to wrap itself around something big.

    Doing something I can feel good about always helps me, too. Cooking or cleaning or writing a letter--something to counteract some of the bad in the world, if that makes any sense.

    Jules, I reread The Catcher in the Rye every couple/few years or so, and I relate to it just as much today as when I first read it. I love that quote.

  6. I hear you, Adrienne. Especially about Anne Lamott. She's the Queen of Blunt Truth With a Big Helping of Funny.

    And cleaning the house does feel like you're scrubbing away at something evil, even if it's just dirt.

  7. So sorry to hear about your niece. That sucks big time. I guess I hadn't ever really thought about coping strategies in terms of books. I find it hard to concentrate on anything when I'm preoccupied with worry or despair. I just read the same sentence over and over again.

    Like Adrienne,I try to keep busy with routine, whether it be cooking or cleaning. Even though I hate cleaning, at least it's something I can control. It's a finite task with a visible result. All the stuff that goes on in my head is much harder to manage.

  8. Oh know. I can picture your neice still from your earlier post. OK, I'm lighting all sorts of candles for her.
    Blunt Truth, but with humour. Plain old bloody blunt truth isn't survivable without humour. Ann Lamott, etc.
    For beauty -- poetry. William Stafford, Mary Oliver. People who appreciate natural beauty.
    Also, sometimes I watch really dumb funny movies for a 2-and-a-half hour break. Which maybe you need??? xxxxLiz

  9. I can't imagine you going for the "bad" ice cream in the freezer though. I couldn't help but notice that you were (I think) the only one who was virtuous when we went out for "Cold Stone" when you ordered some sort of sorbet (and without chunks of deep-fried peanut butter wrapped in sticks of butter or some such :)

    SO sorry to hear about your niece Sara -- many warm thought sent your way and to her. I hope she does well with the treatments.


  10. Okay, I admit: it's frozen yogurt in the freezer, not ice cream. But it IS dark chocolate. And sometimes I put spicy tortilla strips on top of it. Ask Robin.

    You know, I used to be able to do pizza and ice cream together, in college. There was this business that delivered both to your dorm room! But usually, the richness of pizza makes me crave sorbet. Or beer.

    Thanks for the good thoughts, jama, liz, and jim. I'm planning to bid on a few snowflakes this year for Robert's Snow and gift my niece. That won't cure everything, but maybe it'll be one little piece.

  11. I'm so sorry for your niece, Sara! I'm sending good thoughts your way.

    I actually think I don't think this way about books. It's an interesting question. I do avoid books that make me crazy (Dostoevsky is the biggest offender), but otherwise I don't choose books based on mood and find most uplift me even if depressing.

    Food, however, is a different story.

  12. Oh, Sara. That just bites. Here's to some kick-ass strength, will, hope and courage for your niece and family.

    Tearjerker movies are the way to go for me.

  13. I sorry to hear about your niece!

    I don't really care *what* I read when I'm feeling bad, there just has to be a lot of it. I completely bury myself in books - completely - when I need serious cheering up, but it rarely matters to me what the book's tone or story or theme is as long as whatever it is is engaging enough to keep me immersed for a good long time.

  14. My comfort books are books that I've already read, so I get the feeling of reading without having to use my full brainpower to follow the story.

    So sorry to hear about your niece. Hugs to you, and from you to her.

  15. When I'm depressed, I read Calvin and Hobbes after going on a good, long walk. We are surrounded by beautiful countryside and have an entire collection of well-thumbed-over C & H, and they cheer me up almost every time. Or I reread books that I love and find comforting, like Barbara Kingsolver's Bean Trees.

    Good luck to your niece and her parents. I'd like to think that all the good wishes from everyone reading your blog will help heal her.


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