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avartan's avatar

What are the best novels to read if one is severely depressed?

Asked by avartan (22points) October 8th, 2009

I am severely depressed and isolated. I need something to read that will make me feel better, not worse. Sometimes things too light make things worse…I don’t want to read some happy go-lucky tale when my reality is so bleak.
That being said, what works of classical literature can help me feel better, or at least understand this chronic darkness i’ve been experiencing for so long?

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25 Answers

thanatos's avatar

Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe is a bleak but ultimately hopeful metaphor for existence.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure what to tell you to read. When I was depressed, I couldn’t read a book, period. I was reading a few magazines, but I had to stop reading one of the magazines (The Sun) because so much of it was about real life, and especially the depressing things that happen in life.

I don’t know if reading anything that described problems people face would be good. I certainly wouldn’t read anything by Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn. Maybe Hemingway? Or other adventure stories—like ones by John le Carré. As to literature—Don Quixote? Gulliver’s Travels? Maybe books in the YA genre? They tend to be more easy to read and more uplifting in the end. Harry Potter, Pullman’s His Dark Materials series or you might find something at Amazon’s Teen Section.

Amazon mentions J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as being about depression. I also found a list of novels about depression. This article about literature about depression mention Graham Greene amongst others. I’m not sure I would read about depressed people, because I think that will make you feel worse, even if it does help you understand your condition better. But if you really want to, that should get you started.

JONESGH's avatar

I’m not sure if this will help you, but when I was depressed a friend gave me the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and it changed my life. You can read about it here.

Haleth's avatar

My favorite novel to read when I’m depressed is Jane Eyre. She goes through so much adversity, but with so much independence and willpower. It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

jqlyn's avatar

Thich Nhat Hanh – The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
Paulo Coehlo – The Alchemist
Tom Robbins – Jitterbug Perfume

Get a massage, that is always my advice for temporary depression, if you can get yourself there.

noodle_poodle's avatar

driving over lemons…is good for motivation…also huckleberry fin and anything by terry pratchet…pratchet always cheers me up

scamp's avatar

To lift you mood and have a couple of laughs, I suggest Bailey White’s Mama makes Up Her Mind It is filled with humorous short stories about a school teacher who lives with and looks after her aged Mother. Her mother is quite a character, and I doubt anyone could read through this biook without getting a case of the giggles. It was helpful to me when I was suffering from severe depression, and it is now my all time favorite book.

jqlyn's avatar

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, you will laugh

dpworkin's avatar

Kafka might be nice. Beckett, Sartre, Kierkegaard, you know, the cheery ones.

drdoombot's avatar

This is a tough question to answer; most great literature puts characters through great adversity, and they don’t always come out of it. I can see how that would be depressing. On the other hand, sometimes reading about the hardships of others makes our lives feel easier. And sometimes, these books make you feel that life is worth living despite the hardships.

In that vein, I would recommend The Grapes of Wrath, A Clockwork Orange, Jane Eyre, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill A Mockingbird and just about any Shakespearean comedy.

Haleth's avatar

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams always make me feel better, too. Both books have a slightly morose/ absurd tone that I just love. Neverwhere has more of an overcoming adversity angle, and HHGTG is more of an absurd adventure where the protagonist is along for the ride. Anyway, you can’t help but cheering up after reading about Marvin the Paranoid Android. (Alan Rickman is hilarious as his voice actor in the movie. I love him saying, “it’s just dreadful.”)

saraaaaaa's avatar

A few that might help of the top of my head…

Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (a beautiful story)
Lord of the rings maybe? Terry Pratchet is good for some deep insights…Depends if you want some form of escapism…maybe something of a frivolous childish nature might help? Such as C.S.Lewis?

If you want it to have a more substantial effect then:
Journey With Maps – Graham Greene

Hope this is some form of help :)

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Dune chronicles
Carlos Castenada
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Poppy Z. Brite

jamiellee's avatar

Try to read Mitch Albom’s work.

saraaaaaa's avatar

@jamiellee Definately! For one more day is an intense yet hopeful book :)

bea2345's avatar

This is a hard one, as I don’t know your tastes. When I am severely depressed, I can’t read and I can spend hours playing dumb games on the computer. To help prevent this from happening, one technique that works for me is ensuring a ready supply of thick novels with lots of plot: Stephen King and Elizabeth George are recent discoveries; and the Barsetshire novels by Anthony Trollope are always favourites; and in my last “low” period, I re-read all of the Harry Potter novels, beginning with the last and working backwards. These days I am relatively cheerful and David Baldacci fills the bill. And of course, there is the evergreen Terry Pratchett.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I like Ian Frazier’s Dating Your Mom, anything by Jean Shepherd, such as Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. Shepherd wrote A Christmas Story.

Also, P. G. Wodehouse always good.

Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.

evegrimm's avatar

When I am feeling very very down, I tend not to read books.

Instead, I try to read things that make me feel happier, like LOLcats and LOLdogs. (Admittedly, many aren’t that funny. But there are often a few gems here and there, and then I start cracking up and can’t stop.)

I know being around dogs makes me happy, too, because dogs rarely/never seem sad. If you have a dog, or have a friend who has a dog, spending time with him/her may help. Or you could try volunteering at your local shelter—they often can use an extra hand for dog walking.

If you’re really set on reading something while down, you might get some schadenfreude from reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. They are definitely NOT happy-go-lucky, and LS has a great, morbid sense of humor. (And since the books are written for children (supposedly), the books aren’t very long = easy to read/devour a few at a time.)

I can’t really recommend any classical literature for you (sorry!), because I rarely read it.

I hope some of this helps anyway!

James17555's avatar

Read “Faust” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! If you interpret it the right way (which isn’t too hard with a bit of common sense) you will see that in this theatre piece, the vision of the world is positive, and the most important aspect is that God (if there were one) would want us to make mistakes in order for us to grow. Very recommendable, and among the highest there is in literature!

MacBean's avatar

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead helped me quite a bit.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@McBean, just that title cracks me up.

SarasWhimsy's avatar

Personally, I can’t do heavy reading like the classics or anything that may “try” to “cheer” me up. But I can read stuff to think about something else for awhile.

Any of the Sweet Potato Queen books are good to get your mind off things. Sophia Kinsella is also light enough. I loved her book The Undomestic Goddess – got me through very hard times.

saraaaaaa's avatar

Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep A Secret is an undiscovered treasure ^^

phassett13's avatar

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao helped me out.

Arp's avatar

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Saved me on numerous occasions :)

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