What not to read
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Posted on 22nd November 2010
Recently there was an article in the Guardian about reading your way out of depression. One of the commentators said that initially they had only being able to think of what not to read and I was exactly the same. Admittedly depressive illness tends to come about after one has experienced a certain amount of what a friend of mine (who is a mental health professional) describes as “shit life syndrome” so it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that Hemingway gave someone the horrors or Flaubert the freaks (though having read Flaubert's "A Sentimental Education", that one is up for debate). However I think the books that got you there in the first place are definitely worth a dis-honourable mention.
Personally, I’d like to place the blame for a nasty bout of young adult clinical depression on the modernism section of the ‘A’ level literature syllabus c. 1988-1990 but I don’t think InjuryLawyers4you take personal injury cases that are based on having to read and write about Thomas Hardy’s Darkling Thrush, The Wasteland or the arch villain of the piece that is The Bell Jar. Giving that book to an unhappy 17 year old to pour over in great detail is a little like giving a blow torch, a gallon of petrol, some matches, some lovely dry wood and a handbook called “Burning Things is Great” to a thousand people and expecting none of them to set fire to anything. Or anyone.
I think we may have established a line of causation here and while I accept that Sylvia Plath was not, in and of herself the happiest camper in the tent, my own rather too fervent identification with Esther's misery certainly was no bloody use at persuading me to remove my adolescent head from the dark smelly place where I’d shoved it, though arguably that would required 2 strong men, a crowbar and 4 stone of warm butter. Likewise, the central themes of Yeats Second Coming, i.e. it’s all going to heck in a handcart and you have zero chance of redemption wasn’t a lot of help either. Providing the tinder for the bonfire of youthful existential despair doesn’t seem like a good way to set them up for the rest of their lives to me somehow…but I’m more inclined to think that it gave me the language to articulate the unhappiness but at the time I had no avenue to express it. Ergo psychic pain.
And to demonstrate my latterly discovered ability to express my emotions in a full and emotionally mature way, I would just like to say, for the record, that that Gerard Manley Hopkins is a right ****.