The winter blues are real, and whether you find yourself heavily debilitated or just mildly affected, it’s time to turn to some trusted remedies to shake off the gloom. If no day is complete without reading a few pages, and the cold and dark weather makes it hard to find the energy to leave the house or be even remotely active, this list is what you need.
While all of these voices and experiences may be different, they all ultimately teach us the same invaluable lesson: how to make the very best lemonade out of the lemons life throws at us. So pick up a book, feel better, and don’t forget to tell us the titles to your special remedies for feeling warm and fuzzy!
If you want to dive into somebody else’s story to forget your own for a little while (and maybe feel a little better about it), check out the FICTION section.
If stories are OK, but they just don’t cut it for your aching soul, seek the wisdom of tortured POETS who came before you.
If you’d like your comfort served with a helpful side of practical tips and coping mechanisms, you’re looking for MEMOIRS & PERSONAL ESSAYS.
Are you an all-of-the-above kind of person? Scroll to the bottom of the page to find what you never knew you needed!
Fantasy novels author Philip Pullman once said, “After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” It took the brilliant pen of Nora Ephron to combine two of these precious gifts: Heartburn, first published in 1983, is still very relevant today. It is the semi-autobiographical tale of Ephron’s second marriage. It was a horrible yet hilarious failure, and Ephron recounts its demise with the light tone and heavy heart of the writer who’s trying to process her missteps and shortcomings. Heroine Rachel Samstat is lovable, relatable, and, just like her creator, full of wit and good sense. This might be the most comforting book ever written, especially if you read it while enjoying the recipes Ephron worked in the story, using Rachel’s job as a cookery writer as an excuse.
“In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue. […] The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you’re feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re blue is that there isn’t anyone around to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it’s almost always at the wrong time.”
There are very few things in life more comforting than mashed potatoes. One of them is the right story at the right time, and if what you’re looking for is a quick escape from the everyday struggles that seem to have become unbearable then I strongly suggest you take a look at It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini, 2007). Promising teenager Craig Gilner has been admitted to an excellent school and seems on the way to become a successful young man. Appearances can be deceiving though, because Craig is neither eating nor sleeping properly, and one night after a near suicide attempt he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. Based on Vizzini’s stay in a psych ward, this book tells the story of Craig’s experience in the hospital, and brilliantly illustrates how he found his way to peace of mind. It is a touching yet funny reminder that with the proper support network, whose shape varies from person to person, we can all overcome our difficulties.
Pat and Tiffany’s story in The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick, 2008) is similar in substance though quite different in its unfolding, and so more appealing to readers who feel they have outgrown YA fiction. Unlike Craig they’re adults, but these two characters are no better equipped to handle life and its complications. The book follows the pair as they attempt to navigate through dysfunctional family relations, not-so-white lies, football games, dance recitals, and as they look—and fight hard for—a second chance at life.
A fresh start is exactly what the four main characters in A Long Way Down (Nick Hornby, 2005) are looking for—despite themselves and the personal tragedies that brought them all separately to a popular suicide spot on New Year’s Eve night. As they gather on a rooftop and debate who has it worse, life keeps running its course and takes them to unexpected places, as they slowly (and very awkwardly) turn into the most unusual support group ever. Because sometimes the one thing you really need is not a meaningful reason to stay, but simply something as trivial as someone to complain to.
As intriguing as these novels may sound, sometimes all we need is an old papery friend to go back to. For me, that book is Harry Potter. On one hand, the universe and characters are so familiar to me that I can simply pick up any book of the saga, open it at a random page, and crawl into its pages and feel at home. On the other hand, author JK Rowling has always been very open about her personal battle with depression, going as far as to point it out as the inspiration behind dementors. Her struggle becomes apparent through the voices of her characters, as do her reminders to never give up hope and fighting.
Don’t feel like reading? Worry not! You can also watch the movie version of all of these but Heartburn on Netflix.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that many writers found themselves suffering from depression, and this is perhaps even more apparent in authors who composed poetry. For some, writing constituted a cathartic process through which they could analyse and overcome their difficulties; for others it was merely a matter of sharing their story hoping they’d meet a kindred spirit.
Whatever the reason, the results are instrumental in making us feel less alone. When it comes to struggling, poets not only know what they’re talking about, they also know how to say it beautifully. Works like Sylvia Plath’s or Emily Dickinson’s have a tragic quality that’s difficult to explain and describe, not to mention to understand. But poetry shouldn’t always come with an explanation, for understanding is not the point—feeling is.
At the same time, if you’re feeling dramatic enough by yourself, you don’t have to set verses aside altogether: Poetry by a suicidal author can still be hilarious and uplifting.If you don’t believe this, let Dorothy Parker prove you wrong. A lady of many talents, she wrote fiction, poems, and critical essays. The Portable Dorothy Parker (as revised and edited by Marion Meade, 1976) offers something for every taste, from Parker’s most famous short stories to selected poems—all doused in copious wit. Her poems especially manage to capture perfectly the spirit of the sharp-tongued author: a voice capable of great sadness, but also of great sass.
Whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, the Internet has room for everybody. Though an approach like “the more, the merrier” isn’t always ideal, sometimes it is. Mental illnesses (like all illnesses) are tough to live with, and help and advice are always welcomed, which the internet provides. What each person experiences is unique, so the more voices that join the conversation, the more inclusive and helpful the conversation will become—and we can all profit from that.
The past few years have seen a rise in the publication of memoirs, with personalities like Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler joining the ranks of successful women who recounted their stories for our benefit. While Poehler’s memoir Yes Please (2014) is certainly incredibly honest and inspiring (as well as hilarious—though we had no doubts about that), it is also worth remembering those who lived and struggled away from the spotlight. Tiny Beautiful Things (2012) is a collection of letters written by advice columnist and novelist Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym Sugar. Just like Strayed’s part-memoir-part-novel Wild (2012), it’s a powerful book that isn’t afraid to get real with its readers: in spite of her name Sugar never sweetens the pill, and offers a healthy dose of truth, together with heart-warming encouragement—as well as anecdotes from her quite adventurous life.
Writers like Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosh started out as bloggers, but their message travelled far and fast, until it became a book. Reasons for that include the relatability of the struggles narrated, which are much closer to our own than those of A-listers’, but also the pure entertainment those stories provide. As Lawson herself brilliantly put it, these are funny books about horrible things.
[divider]Honourable Mention: Anything by Kurt Vonnegut[/divider]
If you’re not familiar with Vonnegut and his works, all you need to know is that at some point in his life he wrote this: “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone’.” Vonnegut’s works exist in a delicate limbo between utter hopelessness and a resilient faith in humanity. He wrote novels, short stories, essays, and gave speeches. Pick up something, anything that sparks your interest, and let Vonnegut’s wit and wisdom soothe your soul.