Books against Sadness […and Loss, and Grief]: Personal Book Recommendations

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“I’ve been in an emotionally fragile state for a couple months. I’m looking for some literature that will help me be happy with existing again. What do you recommend?”

Books That Will Help Me Grapple With Existence? [a recent discussion in the “books” section of Reddit.com]

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Last night, I wrote a quick list, answering the above question.

Here are my recommendations [Link]:

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Let’s split this up in… books that deal with dark/depressing themes, but show lots of hope and will be uplifting BY THE END (…but not neccessarily right from the beginning):

  • Gabriel Bà: Daytripper [mortality; life is short]
  • Evan S. Connell: Mrs. Bridge [everyday life is depressing; make your own decisions)
  • Cormac McCarthy: The Road [life can be hell; love prevails]
  • Stewart O’Nan: A Prayer for the Dying [everyone is mortal; you can overcome any loss]
  • Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking [it’s not the end that counts; it’s the memories you make]
  • David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp [everyone’s an island, but the happy, accidental connections between people make life worth living]
  • Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture [you might die tomorrow; strife harder TODAY!!]
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: No Exit [hell is other people; avoid the ones that belittle you]
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley: Lost at Sea [it’s okay to feel adrift once in a while]
  • Rob Sheffield: Love is a Mixe Tape [you will lose love – but you’re stronger than you think!]
  • Gayle Forman: If I stay [even with horrendous loss, there’s lots to live for!]
  • Brad Kessler: Birds in Fall [grief is complex and frightening, but consolation can be found in the weirdest moments]
  • Miriam Toews: Swing Low [if a parent decides to die, it does not mean that he didn’t love you]

I also very, very much would like to recommend the anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. It has a fragile, nervous, deeply unhappy soul-searching main character who has an existential struggle with questions like “Why should I care? What can I do? Who should I fight for?”. The answers are complex, and not sugar-coated at all.

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Then, there’s a second, different category: feel-good books, with lots of joy, energy and a life-affirming atmosphere. If you want to feel… happy, warm and consoled, pick the follwing books:

  • Kyohiko Azuma: Yotsuba&! [everyday life is an adventure]
  • Jiro Taniguchi: A distant Neighborhood [when youth is gone… your sense of wonder should remain!]
  • Tove Janson: A Summer Book [life is like the weather. the harsh moments are as much a part of life as the lush ones.]
  • Harper Lee: To kill a Mockingbird [stand up for your beliefs, and reach out to the people around you]
  • Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen [find your family. they don’t have to be the people you were born with.]
  • Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore [life is rich, magical, paradox, scary and unpredictable. and that’s a good thing!]
  • Joyce Maynard: The Usual Rules [kids are growing. and you are, too.]
  • Kurt Busiek: Superman: Secret Identity [every step of growing up is scary. there’s a fuller picture. don’t get clouded by fear and alienation.]
  • Julie Orringer: The Invisible Bridge [every moment counts. celebrate reality. tell people you love them. make a difference.]

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That’s all for today: a couple of quick book recommendations for anyone who felt sad or needed consolation. Enjoy!

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