At the risk of sounding like a hermitic librarian, books are such great friends. They keep you company. They entertain. They impart wisdom. Most importantly, they don’t judge. Just as we are told to choose our friends wisely, we are smart to curate our own Book Pharmacy — an arsenal of words to reach for when times get weird. These are some titles, new and old, I currently have on hand. Much like with actual drugs, you may use them as prescribed or dabble recreationally…
“Of course I have problems. I also don’t have time.”
I get it. You barely have time to read this right now. Look no further than Brave Enough, a wee but mighty compilation of quotes and thoughts from Cheryl Strayed’s beloved books and advice columns. Turning to a random page will elevate your spirits in about three seconds.
“I don’t know what I want.”
Hark! The new novel Chemistry features a protagonist who doesn’t know what she wants, either. Wry, witty and wise, our nameless narrator is three years deep into graduate school, but is starting to doubt chemistry is the calling she once thought it was. On top of that, there is a lingering proposal from her boyfriend, with whom she can’t fathom building a life before she’s made one of her own. The New York Times Book Review sung its praises, and compared Wang’s voice to Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing, each fantastic in their own right. A smart, literary solution to both escape and explore one’s own indecision.
“The endless scrolling of our modern lives has exhausted my eyeballs and rendered me a shell of my former self.”
First things first: STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN. Now pick up a book — preferably not an e-book, but an actual printed apparatus that will give your eyes a break. A good choice might be the new novel, Touch, a satire about our love/hate relationship with technology and what might happen if we all put down our phones and connected… as people. An excellent beach or vacation read — fast-paced and comical, but still smart as hell.
I’m sorry to hear that. Run, don’t walk, to read Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken. If you’re unacquainted with (or intimidated by) Buddhism, don’t let that turn you off. This book is like a best friend with the wisdom of a therapist and the patience of Job, all rolled into one. One favorite piece of wisdom: “You can do any number of things with this day. You can wallow in heartbreak. You can treat yourself with a modicum of kindness. You can connect wholeheartedly with others. There are many things you can do. Please cherish your life.”
“I’m getting married.”
Congratulations! How are you feeling? Happy? Anxious? Cold-footed? Elated? Stressed? Wherever you fall on the emotional spectrum leading up to the blessed event, you’ll find sane solace in How to Be Married. Newlywed Jo Piazza spent a year traversing the globe, speaking to people in twenty countries on five continents — including matrilineal tribeswomen, French ladies who lunch, Orthodox Jewish moms, Swedish stay-at-home dads, polygamous warriors, and Dutch prostitutes — about their secrets for being (and staying) married. Come for the anecdotes, stay for the wisdom.
“Everyone else is getting married.”
Practically every weekend. Every time you open up social media, there’s another slew of photos with yet another dedicated hashtag… Whatever your personal feelings on the state of the modern wedding, the essay collection Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give is a delightful antidote to all those actual toasts you’re hearing. Based on the Modern Love column of the same title, this essay collection is an honest exploration of Calhoun’s own marriage, and the obstacles involved. For the single, you’ll find plenty here to make you thankful you’re unattached. For the betrothed, you’ll find solace, laced with comfort and hope.
“I need hope.”
Times be troubled. Thankfully, Hope in the Dark offers some much-needed perspective, and a reminder of how activism has led to change throughout dark times in the past five decades. In this collection of essays, Rebecca Solnit makes a compelling argument as to why hope, that seemingly elusive thing, is actually quite sensible, and just the thing to grant us the strength to soldier on in periods of uncertainty.
“My family is crazy.”
If you look up “family” in the dictionary, one of the synonyms is “crazy.” I kid! But you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t share your concerns. Chief among them is talented Alison Bechdel, author and illustrator of the tragicomic Fun Home, With a family funeral home, sexual angst, plenty of secrets coming to light, and yes, a family of colorful characters, this graphic memoir has something for everyone: drama, darkness, humor, and redemption.
“Um, I’m a human being. I have a lot of problems, and they’re changing all the time.”
Oh, personhood. Could anything be more beautiful? Could anything be harder? How to Be a Person in the World is about, well, that. Heather Havrilesky, otherwise known as Ask Polly, dishes up no-bullshit advice on a whole host of topics, from friendship to work stress to self-doubt to dating to addiction to adultery to you-name-it-and-it’s-probably-here. It’s kind of like the literary equivalent of Advil. Use it for all kinds of stuff, and chances are, it will help.
“I made a mistake.”
Is there such a thing as a mistake? In What I Know For Sure, queen of all things Oprah Winfrey discusses her own missteps (as well as tragedies, victories, and advice gleaned throughout her life). Wise, warm, and insightful, this book has the capacity to make you feel better about whatever is going on, in any category of your life. Oprah practically owns the universe — I mean, her network is called OWN — and she’s messed up plenty. We’re all going to be just fine.