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Books To Be Depressed With

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on January 28, 2016
This article was updated on February 2, 2017

It is that wonderful time of the year when everyone gets a bit glum. I don’t know if it is the weather, I don’t know if it is the holiday season passing us by but I do know that I am depressed. You could try reading some upbeat stories to get yourself out of your funk. You could listen to peppy music and dance the blues away. Or you can do what I like to do.

Wallow in it.

There was a study recently that showed listening to sad music when you are sad actually helps you recover from depression more quickly as you have your feelings validated instead of being told to put on a mask of happiness and soldier on. I suspect that the same is true for books. Not to mention that you probably wouldn't want to spoil your good mood by reading one of these books otherwise.

To that end, here are the best books to read when you are miserable for no reason and it just isn’t going to get better.

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A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

You know that one character that you really like? The one that is a little bright spark of joy every time you read about them? Just wait until you see what this man does to them. A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons; every single book grinds the human spirit away a little more. There have been promises of a new book that are dashed at every turn. There have been joking hints that the last book will just be descriptions of scenery after all life is wiped out within the world of Westeros by its cruel creator. These books are perfect to read when you are too depressed to leave the house because frankly you don’t want to be hauling these massive tomes around with you. The long complex narrative is the perfect thing to keep your brain ticking over and the crushing misery that befalls the characters might make you feel a little better by comparison no matter what your woes are.

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The Cthulhu Mythos by H.P.Lovecraft

On the days when you wake up and feel like the universe doesn’t just not care about you but actively hates you, when you feel that all life is meaningless on the grand scale of things, here come these old horror books from the 20s to tell you that those feelings are the truth. The universe is populated by beings of such power and alien intellect that you are nothing to them but insects unworthy of even hatred and even if you were to fall down and worship them then your greatest offerings would be as nothing. The Call of Cthulhu and its associated stories are not about scary monsters that are going to gobble you up, they are about existential horror, the kind of thing that Albert Camus was only barely starting to touch on in his rants against humanity. Lovecraft is there for you when you think the world doesn’t care to pat you gently on the shoulder and say, “Hey, neither does the universe.”

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Do you ever feel like everything we do is just to distract us from the creeping inevitability of our death? So does Aldous Huxley and he has written a whole false utopia where civilisation is built around keeping its inhabitants entertained, distracted and pliant. It even has varying levels of entertainment on a caste system based on intelligence for those readers who look down their noses and the uneducated. Don’t worry middle classes, we have a better sort of entertainment for you. Look down your nose at the lower classes who just like to watch sports and feel better about yourself. You are too intelligent to be content in the hamster wheel of civilisation? Don’t worry we have a place for you too, having the full breadth of your talents exploited for the rest of your lives to keep society functioning.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It almost seemed too obvious to put this book on the list. It is a book that is explicitly about depression, more specifically a narrative told about a young girl experiencing depression for the first time, the horrible detachment from the rest of the world when this metaphorical bell jar descends over her and the lasting dread of never knowing when it will strike again. Combined with the age of the protagonist you could argue that this is simply a coming of age story with a more uphill battle than most but if you have never read it and you are feeling gloomy it is going to resonate for you just as well as American Psycho resonates with psychopaths.

If any of you survive the prescribed reading then come back next time for something a little more upbeat, I am sure that when spring comes I will want to do something other than lounge around feeling sorry for myself.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More