Take two books….

by Jessica

I ran across this article in Salon (which also has a good continuation of the why men don’t read story—see Stacey’s post) in which the author lauds the therapeutic value of the mystery novel, and goes on to recommend several that she promises to have salutary effects. I’ve always been partial to the notion that a book can be the cure for what ails you (or at the very least, provide an excellent distraction). Years ago, a good friend assembled her own book-based survival guide to break-ups; I can’t recall the precise titles, but I remember that it was a blend of commiseration, distraction, and gritty nonfiction–designed to make her unhappiness pale by comparison. Fortunately, I’ve no present need of such heavy duty meds, but when I’m feeling weary of negotiating contracts or listening to the latest Cassandra prophesying doom for the written word, I reach for a work that reminds me of the joy inherent in a great book. I’ve not quite come up with my own diagnosis-driven reading list, but it seems there are those who have: indeed, there is a whole discipline called “Bibliotherapy,” dedicated to the idea that reading carefully selected books can promote physical and psychological healing—have a look at this Guardian article. Interestingly, the books that the bibliotherapists prescribe are not self-help books per se, but serious novels. For a marvelous hybrid of literature and pop psych, check out Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life.

So my question is this: What books do you use to self-medicate? Won’t you kindly share your prescriptions?

11 Responses to Take two books….

  1. Michelle says:

    When I've had a stressful day or want to celebrate some little victory, I head straight to Regency England and get "lost in Austen." I've read the books so many times that a chapter or two will tide me over. Thank you, Dr. Jane! This therapy is enhanced with a nice cup of tea, btw.

  2. Sangu says:

    Mmm, I have to say that when I need a bit of self-medication, I read something light, funny and absorbing, like Georgette Heyer or Eva Ibbotson's 'The Secret Countess'. My favourite 'relaxing' book is Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel's Chosen', because it has a gorgeous massage scene that always makes me feel instantly relaxed.

  3. David Jarrett says:

    Without a doubt, Richard Adams' "Watership Down" is the one that never fails to lift my spirits.

  4. M Clement Hall says:

    I'm not a poet, and couldn't write poetry to save my life, but when "blue" or "up-tight" an anthology of the long established works (ones that make sense not just sounds) can be mentally relaxing.

  5. Elspeth Antonelli says:

    Anything by P.G Wodehouse lifts my spirits, but my favourites will always be the "Jeeves and Wooster" tales.

  6. Clix says:

    The whole Bloody Jack series ALWAYS makes me smile.

  7. Amy B. says:

    My go-to book in times of distress, despair, or blah-dom is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. It's short without making me feel cheated, complex in a deceptively simple way, and honestly, the first time I read it, I was shocked that someone had put together a book that seemed tailor-made for me. Even though the series continues and gets better, Thief is the one always on hand in case of emotional emergencies.

  8. Liesl says:


    Maybe my heart never matured past fourteen, but I adore that book. It's short, sweet, light and charming. Life can be heavy sometimes and that book lifts me right up.

  9. MaryWitzl says:

    Most of Robert B Parker's detective stories are surefire ways to cheer me up. I recommend A S Byatt's 'Possession' for anyone needing a cure for a broken heart.

  10. Rissa Watkins says:

    After losing a baby I went into a depression. Books definitely were my therapy. I discovered the urban fantasy genre and would read to escape the pain in my life.

    Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris and Mary Janice Davidson were my therapists. I read everything they wrote and when I raised my head after a while, I realized the pain had grown bearable.

    I still love the genre.

  11. Laura says:

    This post is amazing. I actually wrote a short story essay regarding this very topic years ago when I came home from NYC after trying to dry out from my wild ways. Stuck in a transient hotel, while I looked for a job with little or no money-I turn to 1)romance novels-good ones though with some heft, or chick lit. Susan Isaacs is the best and they are long enough to keep you from using other meds to distract you…2) john sanford Lucas Davenport series, 3) good legal fiction; 4) James Frey-a Million little pieces because no matter how addictive I consider my personality at certain points in my life, his is worse.5) catcher in the rye; 6)Jane Austen

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