The Pharmacopeia

I've mentioned it before: while I may not subscribe to the notion that reading is good for you on some moral/ethical plane, or that it will make you a better person, I certainly believe that sometimes books will cure what ails you, particularly in matters of the heart, mind and spirit (those are three different things, right?). I have asked before for people's ideas on what books fixes what ailment, and you can find many brilliant ideas here, but for what it's worth, I am starting a whole freaking pharmacopeia, if only so I have somewhere to turn when things aren't quite right.

Some of these are for kids, some not. And yes, I implore you all to add your ideas in the comments. We're saving the world here, people. Healing the sick and all.

It probably doesn't need to be detailed here, but the instructions are: to be read at bedtime, or in severe cases, to stay home and take as needed.

For despair: Moby-Dick. Really.

For stress, particularly induced by bed bugs: Patrick O'Brian, Desolation Island

For anxiety: Jane Austen, Emma and/or Persuasion

For fever: A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, Rich Men, Single Women Pamela Beck, Heather Thomas (you know it's going to be shameless when there are two authors)

For anomie: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

For Fears at Bedtime: Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lundgren

For loneliness: My Best Friend Mary Ann Rodman (4 to 8); Harriet the Spy (8 to 14 or whenever); The Catcher in the Rye (14 and up) (yes, I'm old-fashioned)

For loneliness (adult type): Lunch Poems and/or Meditations in an Emergency Frank O'Hara

For homesickness: Adopted Jane (kids), A House for Mr. Biswas (adults)

For dread: The Stand Stephen King (just go with it, is what I'm saying, it works!)

For Postpartum Depression: any Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker written before 2000, or try The Godwulf Manuscript, his first)

For boredom (kids version): Little House in the Big Woods; Becoming Naomi Leon Pam Munoz Ryan

For boredom (adult division): any and all the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian

For alienation (kids division): Emily the Strange Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner; for really little kids, The Snowy Day Ezra Jack Keats

For alienation (adult division): Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

To stop smoking: Deborah Eisenberg "Days" in Under the 82nd Airborne

For bullying (kids division): Blubber Judy Blume

For abiding sorrow: The Old Curiosity Shop Charles Dickens

All right, that's as far as I can get. But I know you have more! Especially for kids, right? Come on, give up your cherished secret succor in the comments. It's for the greater good.

9 thoughts on “The Pharmacopeia

  1. Okay, please explain the Moby Dick/despair connection! I’ve not read it, though it’s on the short list of classics I want to get to soon. But what with all the gory whale-flensing scenes, I thought of it as interesting and rich, but not necessarily anti-despair.
    I have one muddled suggestion. I have been reading a lot about Samuel Pepys recently–dipping into his diary and now a great biography by Claire Tomalin, and I find both an excellent remedy for … hmm. Lack of engagement with the world… which is probably just a long way of saying “alienation.”
    My remedies must be appropriate to the season as well though–like the “beach reading” concept, I have fall reading, winter reading, etc… Pepys is definitely not summer reading for me; I am not capable until fall.


  2. OK, I prescribe Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher for general sadness, melancholy, feelings of hard-done-by-ness and lack of confidence in girls ages 7-11. Or so. Some of the Frances Hodgson Burnett will work here too, particularly Secret Garden. Also From Anna by Jean Little.
    For the same feelings in adult women (accompanied by a desire not to read anything too challenging) I prescribe the first three #1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith.
    Typing out all those author names made me wonder – what is with the three name authors??? Are not two names good enough for most people? Would people start taking me more seriously if I tacked another last name onto my own? I wonder what I should choose….


  3. For loneliness: Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. Works for kids AND for adults. For alienation, kids division: The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson. And I second Understood Betsy for sadness, as well as for anxiety. For social anxiety in adults, I prescribe Mapp and Lucia, by E.F. Benson. Actually, E.F. Benson is kind of a cure-all. Do those count?


  4. Oh, my goodness, I love this. I wish you’d provide a real pdf file with a link, ultimately, so that we could print it out and laminate! šŸ™‚
    Also, I marvel at how many Patrick O’Brian novels you have on here. In another life, before I had children, I helped to edit/compile a compendium for the O’Brian books. It was written by Dean King, a good friend of mine from college and another O’Brian fanatic.


  5. So many excellent suggestions! Thank you all.
    And now, the Moby-Dick connection. See, for despair the best choice is escape (I believe). As the man says:
    “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
    It’s such a crazy book, so other, so transporting, that basically I, too, account it high time to get to sea. It’s this (and Patrick O’Brian will take you there, too).


  6. Oh I second “Days”! Though I think it’s also good for general self-esteem and depression and, well, just about everything. I love the part where she realizes that the opinion of the guy on the track at the gym doesn’t have to matter to her. It’s so hard-won and tiny and yet momentous. Just the way things are in real life.


  7. I love this idea and wish there were more comments! Think I’ll have to sit down with a paper and pen to figure out my prescriptions… I can offer Technicians of the Sacred (poetry anthology) For alienation (adult). Just had a curious hankering for and read some vintage Robert B. Parker Spenser novels and they did cheer me up.


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