Broken brain. You know it. Trauma. Stress. Upheaval. Downheaval. Poor diet. No sleep. Powerlessness. Suffering.
After a certain age, you hit periods of great difficulty in your life: elderly parents, teenage children, health issues, the endless feeling you are an ATM. I have experienced it all.
I’ve tried everything I’ve ever heard of to cure my broken brain: drugs, sleep, drugged sleep, long, island vacations, exercise, sex, pouting and of course, shopping like a Santa Monica housewife.
My behavior continued until my mind began to quiet. In grief terms, that’s years. It’s different for everyone, I’m told. In all aspects. I also got tired of hemorrhaging money for therapists and trainers and MasterCard bills and yogis. I mean, I needed food.
As I worked these problems over, my brain finally coughed up the memory of a lovely older man, a florist from my youth, who used to say ‘Dahlin’, cure for a depression is a good long book. Other books cure being lovesick or being extra nervous about something.” In my mind today, that man was a character out of Winesburg, Ohio.
But think of the wisdom of it: A long book lets you spend a lot of time away from your troubles, testing the oft-quoted “time heals.” A long book usually provides a bunch of characters whose troubles are much worse than yours are. Most triumph at the end, as will you.
Below are my favorite long books, books I started in one frame of mind and ended in another. I hope it works for you as it has worked for me:
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UNDERWORLD BY DON DE LILLO
This 800+ page novel begins in 1951 and rambles brilliantly through the second half of the 20th Century. Some characters such as Sammy Jr and Dean are real, others are not, but all are haunting. The image of the war planes – hundreds upon hundreds – grounded out and fanned over the Mojave will stick with you for years. I consider a “cool” reader that knows this work and Infinite Jest.
INFINITE JEST BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE is huge, hilarious, heartbreaking, part philosophy part language so dazing you need to wear your shades. A new biopic in 2015 may get more people to tumble back into this world. I hope so. I will never forget one character’s passionate soliloquy to the one-hitter. Something bends your mind on virtually every page.
Politically incorrect, GONE WITH THE WIND BY MARGARET MITCHELL is still a hell of a great big great read and this edition includes Pat Conroy’s magnificent Preface. Scarlett is an incredibly modern woman. You can almost see her in a Valentino gown at an Atlanta deb party giving her rich lawyer husband hell. This book is an artifact of a world long gone though if you travel down South, you see vestiges of the culture everywhere.
HILARY MANTEL’S WOLF HALL and BRINGING UP THE BODIES are historical narratives that show Thomas Cromwell’s rise in Henry the VIII’s court. These books recreate Henry VIIIs world in a way no writing before has captured. The third installment is due out this year. This is true immersion in history in the most entertaining of ways.
As collars got pointy again and pads slid back onto shoulders, the 1980s rose it’s ugly head in fashion. Wall Street has learned little from those dark days of wild money. TOM WOLFE got it so right in BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, you’ll laugh until you’re pajama bottoms fall off. You’ll also learn in this book about the women of New York who make their living being skinny: You just can’t see much other use for them.