Jean Perdu's emergency literary pharmacy: from Adams to von Arnim
Because books are the best medicine.
From his restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu, the central character of Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop, runs a book apothecary to cure what ails the souls of his customers. We all know that books are often the best medicine and now we have definitive, almost-scientific proof. Below we have a medicine list that will prescribe you the perfect book to fix the most morose of maladies.
Fast-acting medicines for minds and hearts affected by minor or moderate emotional turmoil.
To be taken in easily digestible doses (between 5 and 50 pages) unless otherwise indicated, if possible with warm feet and/or with a cat on your lap.
Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts
Effective in large doses for treating pathological optimism or a sense of humour failure. Ideal for sauna-goers with exhibitionist tendencies.
Side effects: An aversion to owning things; and a potentially chronic tendency to wear a dressing gown all day.
Barbery, Muriel: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
An effective cure in large doses for ‘if-such-and-such-happens’-ism. Recommended for unacknowledged geniuses, lovers of intellectual films, and people who hate bus drivers.
de Cervantes, Miguel: Don Quixote
To be taken when your ideals clash with reality.
Side effects: Anxiety about modern technology and about the destructive effects of machines, which we fight as though they were windmills.
Forster, E. M.: The Machine Stops (a short story first published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review, 1909)
Handle with care! Highly effective antidote to Internet technocracy and blind faith in iPhones. Also cures an addiction to Facebook and dependency on The Matrix.
Directions for use: Small doses only for members of the Pirate Party and web activists!
Gary, Romain: Promise at Dawn, trans. John Markham Beach
For a better understanding of motherly love, and protection against nostalgia for one’s childhood.
Side effects: Daydreaming; lovesickness.
Gerlach, Gunter: Frauen von Brücken werfen [Throwing Women off Bridges – unpublished in English]
For authors with writer’s block, and people who think that murders are an overrated feature of crime novels.
Side effects: A loss of your sense of reality; a broadening of the mind.
Hesse, Hermann: Stages. Poem, in The Glass Bead Game, trans. Richard and Clara Winston
Cures grief, and inspires you to trust.
Kafka, Franz: Investigations of a Dog, in The Great Wall of China. Stories and Reflections, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir
A remedy for the odd sensation of being generally misunderstood.
Side effects: Pessimism; a longing to stroke a cat.
Kästner, Erich: Doctor Erich Kästners Lyrische Hausapotheke. Gedichte [Dr Erich Kästner’s Lyrical Medicine Chest – unpublished in English.] Atrium, Basel 1936
Lindgren, Astrid: Pippi Longstocking
Effective against acquired (rather than innate) pessimism, and a fear of miracles.
Side effects: Diminished numeracy skills; singing in the shower.
Martin, George R. R.: A Game of Thrones - The first in a series of five novels
Helps one to kick a TV habit and to cope with lovesickness, the hassles of daily life and tedious dreams.
Side effects: Insomnia; unsettling dreams.
Melville, Hermann: Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale
Side effects: A fear of water.
Millet, Catherine: The Sexual Life of Catherine M, trans. Adriana Hunter
Helps you answer the great question of whether you jumped into a relationship too quickly. NB: Things could always be worse.
Musil, Robert: The Man Without Qualities, trans. Sophie Wilkins & Burton Pike
A book for men who’ve forgotten what they wanted from life. A remedy for aimlessness.
Side effects: The effects are gradual: after two years, your life will have changed forever. The main risks are that you will alienate all your friends, develop a predisposition to social satire, and suffer from recurring dreams.
Nin, Anaïs: Delta of Venus
Will cure listlessness and restore sensuality within days of your starting treatment.
Orwell, George: Nineteen Eighty-Four
Reduces gullibility and apathy. Old home-remedy for chronic optimism, but past its sell-by date.
Pearce, Philippa: Tom’s Midnight Garden
Effective for those who are unhappy in love. (PS: Sufferers from this particular illness may read anything, as long as there is no mention of love, e.g. splatter fiction, thrillers and steampunk novels.)
For the world-weary and the dangerously naïve. Mind-warping stuff, even for novices.
Pullmann, Philip: His Dark Materials trilogy
For those who occasionally hear imaginary voices, and believe they have an animal soulmate.
Ringelnatz, Joachim: Kindergebetchen [Little Bedtime Prayers - unpublished in English.]
For agnostics who for once are moved to prayer.
Side effects: Flashbacks to evenings when you were small.
Saramago, José: Blindness, trans. Giovanni Pontiero
b Helps you to tackle overwork, to prioritise and to see your purpose in life.
Stoker, Bram: Dracula
Recommended for those susceptible to boring dreams and those who sit, paralysed, by the phone (‘Will he ever ring?’).
Surre-Garcia, Alem and Françoise Meyruels: The Ritual of the Ashes. An Occitan invocation from the dead to the living. The original was published as Lo libre dels rituals, 2002.
Helps in cases of recurring grief for a loved one, and as a secular graveside incantation to be said by people who do not believe in prayer.
Toes, Jac: De vrije man [The Free Man – unpublished in English]
For tango dancers between milongas, and for men who are too scared to love.
Side effects: Makes you look again at your relationship.
Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
To overcome adult worries and rediscover the child within
von Arnim, Elizabeth: The Enchanted April
For indecision and for trusting one’s friends.
Side effects: Falling in love with Italy; a yearning for the South; a heightened sense of justice.