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A SLUG WITH VISIONS OF HUMANITY

Dear Ella and Suse,

I've had an issue swelling for the last nine years or so, and it seems to be coming to a climax. I used to live amid a good deal of strife and was resilient, inspired, productive, mature, intelligent, funny, and interesting. The last few years, however, things have been calm and good: I have love, a few good friends, enough money, space--but I can't seem to find the will to do anything I enjoy. I'm a skilled artist (and writer, I've been told), but I can't bring myself to draw or write. I'm in love with and attracted to my wonderful long-time boyfriend and never feel like having sex. I don't read anymore. I rarely leave the house except to go to work. I  feel vulnerable, self-conscious, cranky, ugly, and boring. I don't call my friends because I don't want to subject them to me. I usually have a
headache. I spend most of my time looking at art, watching films (good ones, at least), and feeling guilty. To be fair, I do still have moments of fun and glory, and I'm never hopeless (I always think tomorrow will be different), but I inevitably sink back into the muck. I'm a 30-year-old woman. Jitterbug Perfume is my favorite book. Any suggestions?

Thank you!

A Slug with Visions of Humanity
Dear Slug,
We feel you need something of a catalyst, a rocket under your deckchair, a book to blast you into action and energy. There are two approaches to this - the shocking-you-into-embracing-your-talents approach, and the inspiring-you-to-re-invigorate-yourself approach. For shock, we give you Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior. This book will horrify you with its depiction of two young people sliding ever more into the mire, because they try to hold on to their dreams of painting and creating a happy life for themselves with a cafe to run, decorated with their own art, but go about achieving them in the wrong way - by selling heroine. This novel is so depressing that you will literally kick yourself into grabbing your paintbrush or pen, and making it happen, now. As an aside to this, I would also add that if you haven't discovered Keri Hulme yet, do so now - her interractive art books are really inspiring, especially if you have had a hiatus of non-creativity). Requiem is a painful, but purgative read. Then take the secondary approach to your cure, which is the inspirational one. We love it that Jitterbug Perfume is your favourite book, and that is one that we would reccommend to you- take a leaf out of Priscilla's life, and follow your passion! However, as you have already discovered Robbins, we urge you instead to read Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. This is a book of poems, a novel of an unusual format, that will remind you to live your life to the max. If Archy the Cockroach can head-butt the keys of a type-writer in order to get his thoughts out, you too must crash through the pain barrier to get yourself out there again. Shed that cockrach carapace, and open your windows again - your friends have been missing you!
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior
Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis

RESTLESS AND FLAT

Dear Ella & Sure,

Almost at the end of my studies, I went last year on a program to study abroad during a year. I spent my time through parties, meeting people from all over the world and travelling abroad, but most of it I met a girl I was deeply in love with. Our relationship finally ended because we both had to go back in our country.

Back home for a year now, it took me a really long time to heal and get over the depressing feeling of both missing the girl I loved and being back to normal life.

I know I'll have the opportunity to travel again, but I can't get over the feeling of sadness I got since I'm back.

I'm not sure if it's because I'll soon leave student life to work (as a professor) or because  I miss the life I had abroad.

Maybe you'll have something for me to read ?

Thanks for listening.
Restless and Flat

(btw, english isn't my native language, I'm sorry if I made some mistakes)
Dear Restless and Flat,
The sense of returning from adventure to normal life can indeed be one of dull grey normality, and if you have had a romantic liaison that has had a forced ending, it will be all the more painful. For this ailment, take an instant dose of Jamrach’s Menagerie, preferably in one gulp. (Actually if you commute to work, it will keep you entranced for days and have you eager to get back on the bus to carry on the story…). This novel is in a way a cure for Wanderlust, but it is also a great temporary substitute for travel, as the young hero, Jaffy, spends several months at sea having the kind of adventures we all dream of, encountering storms, unknown creatures, near death and love. It’s a story of high drama, but written with wisdom and sensitivity that helps to question our urge for travel, and our feelings on return - you can mull with Jaffy over his own transformative experiences, and ponder your next move in his company. We hope that you will feel more inspired about your life as a professor, which perhaps you will be able to combine with travel in a safer fashion than Jaffy manages to…
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

MAD SCIENTIST

Dear Ella and Suse,

I am a postgraduate student nearing the end of my PhD (or rather, near the end of having any money to do it, but without an end in sight). In addition to not having an income and having a very daunting body of scientific work to write I am terrified about my future. Science is notorious for having very few opportunities to overwork as an underpaid lab rat, but the pressure to work in a field that I have so heavily invested my time and money seems to come from so many angles. Some people think that I must have no time to read, and that I must devote all of my waking hours to this project, but the problem is that the more time I devote to this, the more waking hours I actually have and I fear the insomnia and stress is driving me insane. The other day I discovered that I had left the oven on for two days after cooking a meal. Is there something I can read to calm my mind about my future and help me focus on finishing this beast in my present?
Sincerely,
Mad scientist
Dear Mad Scientist,
Though we fully sympathise with your ailment, having been there ourselves in some respects, we urge you to remember that this time will pass - it is a short lived agony. Your best companion and friend is The Man who Planted Trees. This short, beautiful fable, that comes with calming woodcuts, will send a message of optimism and gentle reassurance. Take a deep breath, lie back and go on a journey with the man who decides to repopulate his land with the forests that have disappeared, acorn by acorn. By the time you reach the end of the tale, your own green shoots of optimism will be peeking out from under your workload.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Man who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

ADULT ACNE

Dear Ella and Suse,

I have been suffering from adult acne for the past nine months as a result of stress and over worrying. Although I am taking medication, I noticed that my acne got so much better as i was reading Harry Potter since the story was highly entertaining and really got me involved in the events. I do not particularly love fantasy fiction, but I wish you would recommend me something that would distract me from stressing over my acne all the time, like an good thriller or any exciting page turner.

Thanks in advance.
Dear Acne-sufferer,
We are delighted to hear that you have found that your acne improved while you read Harry Potter, proving that, as with all medicines, bibliotherapy is most successful on those who really believe in it. As you are a lover of fantasy and perhaps young adult fiction, and need something gripping, we would like to give you the Cherub series of novels by Robert Muchamore. These excellent thrillers describe the transition of one boy from difficult trouble maker into a spy for MI5 - a plot-line that isn’t new to the realms of YA fiction, but one that is very modern, brilliantly told, and absolutely glues you to your seat. Even better, there are 15 in the series, and they get better and better. The positive by-product of these books is that they will incite you to take your body more seriously - and get as fit as you can- while our hero undergoes a series of gruelling physical tests. Though we don’t expect you to toughen up as extremely as he does, you may find yourself encouraged to get into the fresh air, swim and run, all of which might well also help with your self-image.
Yours, Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Cherub Series by Robert Muchamore - start with The Recruit

DEPRESSED AND UNABLE TO READ

Clinical depression. Fear of rejection and loneliness.Suicide: these four things have been bugging me for the last year. I've discovered that I can barely make it through a book anymore.
Dear depressed and unable to read -
Go easy on yourself. Listen to audio-books, if you are finding it hard to actually read. Discover the joys of children’s books in adulthood - start with A Wrinkle in Time, read by Hope Davis, which not only is gripping and inquisitive into the nature of science and the universe, but also has a strong message of listening to the voice of reason and love within - that is of loving yourself, as much as anything. The strong heroine in this book begins by thinking that she is not capable of much, since her father has disappeared, her little brother is differently able and everyone thinks he is an idiot, and she herself seems to be lacking in any talent. She does, however, do great things. If you enjoy this, return to or discover The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, both of which contain great wisdom, disguised in a magical and friendly narrative.
Yours,
Ella and suse
We prescribe - AUDIO BOOKS- 
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine de l'Engle, read by Hope Davis

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

I am writing you because it seems as though I am suffering from the Dark Night of the Soul. I feel as though my spirit is broken and I feel emotionally disconnected from things as the days wear on. What books do you recommend for that ailment?
Yours, 
Benighted
Dear Benighted,
We fear you may well have depression, in which case we urge you to seek medical help. However, we do have some excellent books up our sleeve which can help. One of our favourites is Milan Kundera’s the Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is a book with many layers, with great extremes of happiness and sadness, but is one which many people who have experienced severe darkness, have found much solace in, recognising their own feelings within the experiences of Tomas and Tereza. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is similarly one where you will recognise your feelings, and it is a surprisingly funny book. In The Novel Cure we have an entry on depression which mentions a handful of books- have a look. But also read “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig, his own non fiction exploration of depression, which really does give you positive thoughts about existence. If you would rather stick entirely to fiction, read Matt Haig’s The Humans, which embeds many of the nuggets of wisdom found in Reasons to Stay Alive, in a highly readable, uplifting, and wise novel.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
The Humans by Matt Haig

NOMADIC FLANEUR

Dearest ella and suse,

I love what you do. my question is...I am a nomadic flâneur who roams around the world looking for a hOMe which suits my heart frequency, and even though every place feels like home, no place can ever be one.

I do, however, feel the need to settle somewhere and expand my roots, my relationships, my career. yet no place feels quite right and I can't find within me the strength to build those foundations anywhere.
Is there a cure for this soul ailment?
Dear Flaneur,
We love your nomadic complexity, and understand your need to put roots down at last. You need to remember of course, that home can be anywhere, and while we are in danger of prescribing Tove Janson’s Moomin books too frequently, we urge you to remember Snufkin. If you don’t know him yet, seek him out. Meanwhile, settle down for a longer read with A House for Mister Biswas, possibly Naipaul’s greatest book. In this vivid, teeming, tropical novel, Biswas struggles with his own need to put down roots and make a name for himself, as well as a place for himself, in the world. Go with him into various jobs, relationships and abodes of one sort or another, in his case all in Trinidad, but applicable to any nomadic wanderer to wherever they find themselves in the world. As he matures, you will see how Biswas does indeed forge his identity, and find a place to grow his own way of life.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - Comet in Moominland by Tove Janson
A House for Mister Biswas by V S Naipaul

TO BE, OR NOT TO BE, ORDINARY

Hello!

I am living in a developing country as a volunteer worker working in disability. I am here with my partner and our 18 month old son.

I have the strongest desire to continue in this field (working internationally/in developing countries - with disabilities, especially deafness) but feel like this might be a one-hit wonder for me.

I am scared that after this assignment is done, we will return home to Australia and I will feel stuck in mundaneness again. I want to live a life less ordinary, so to speak.

I am hopeful that you might be able to prescribe something that will either:

1- inspire me to keep doing what I want to do
2- fall in love with the ordinariness of life

Thank you for your time. I am sure you are inundated with ailments!

Jen
Dear Jen,

We applaud your desire to live an extaordinary life – that is something that is easy to start off with but hard to cling on to as we get older. If you have held on to it long enough to have an 18-month child in tow – congratulations, we think you might be in for the long haul. Our suggestion for you is a children's book – children's literature specialising as it does in maintaining the dreams of the young, after all – Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotsen. It's about a young orphan, Maia, who is sent with her governness to live with a family in the Amazon rainforest. She falls in love with the rainforest, its extraordinary animals and birds and plants, and the native people who live in tune with their environment – unlike the Carters, her hosts, who do their best to keep the dreaded insects at bay and import all their food in tins from England. And unlike Clovis, another English boy she meets on the boat out, who finds himself constantly homesick. When England calls, see whether you side with those characters who yearn to go back to their original home – or with Maia and her governess, who realise they have found a new way to live, a richness that they never had before.

We reckon you'll have the answer you seek by the end of the book.

Yours,
Ella and Suse
 
We prescribe - Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotsen

UNREQUITED LOVE

Dear Ella and Suse,

I am in love with a girl who has a boyfriend and who doesn't see me as more than a very good friend. I really like her and I don't know what else to do. I've told her about the way I feel. I know I should walk away but I can't seem to do that. It seems like I am always pursuing doomed relationships as this is not the first time this has happened.

Secondly, I seem stuck in a career rut. I feel like i should be doing more with my life and career but I never have the energy to pursue my action plans.
Dear Unrequited,

The answer to the first problem will almost certainly be sorted by the solving the second. Why would anyone want to jump into a boat with someone who doesn't have the will to make it go – or an idea of where it might be nice to take it? 

We suggest you read a wonderful novel called Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines – it's the book that the film Kes was based on. It's about a boy from a run-down mining community with nothing going for him at all – until he finds a wild kestrel, and keeps him as a pet. Suddenly Kes has something to feel passionate about – and a beautiful, strong, fierce role model (the kestrel itself) of how to be in the world – proudly and absolutely yourself.

Your instinct to 'do more' with your career/life (and it's not necessarily in work that we find our passions – maybe it's an activity that you do once work is done) is telling you the right thing. Listen to it, and go from there. The girl may sit up and take notice once she sees what you're really made of – and if she doesn't, your new passion will no doubt lead you to the girl who does.

Yours,
Ella & Suse
 
We prescribe - Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

CAN’T MOVE ON

Dear Ella and Suse,

Can't get over ex boyfriend, obsessed with him. (no stalking or anything like that though) just comparing everyone to him and looking for him knowing that it's a bad idea. I feel like i can't move on, paralyzed and tired by our 10-year story. trapped by our story.
Dear Trapped for 10 years,

There's a character in The Towers of Trezibond by Rose Macauley who your story brings to mind. She has for many years been the lover of a married man, which holds her back from living to the full in various ways. The novel begins with the wonderful line, "'Take my camel, dear...'" – and an adventure with her mad aunt across Turkey with said camel during which the heroine has a chance to draw breath and see life outside of her 'story'.

It often helps to see someone else in the same predicament – things look clearer from the outside, and it seems more obvious what should be done. And, who knows - maybe it will inspire you to take yourself away from your ex physically, to another place, for a while – because there are alternative futures out there, with other men in them, and other interests other than men, and sooner or later one of them will capture your attention instead... 

Yours,
Ella & Suse
 
We prescribe - The Towers of Trezibond by Rose Macauley

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A - Z
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A SLUG WITH VISIONS OF HUMANITYABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP ENDED, LEAVING SCARSADULT ACNEAFRAID OF FAILUREALCOHOLIC DAUGHTERALONE ON A WIDE, WIDE SEAAlways wanted to be a writerANOREXICANXIOUS ABOUT SINGLE FRIENDAT A FORK IN THE ROADAVID READER, LACKING BOOKBEREFT OF A CATBORED IN ALABAMABOTHERED AND BEWILDEREDBRAIN SHRINKING MOMMABROKENBROKEN HEARTBROKEN HEARTED - TORN BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE BEST FRIENDSBROKEN UP WITH GIRLFRIEND; FEELING BURNT OUTCAN’T MOVE ONCANDIDA REVOLTAIRECan’t afford to go on holidayCAST ASIDECHEATEDCHRONIC PAINCOLD HANDS AND FEETCONCERNED ABOUT DAUGHTERCONFLICTED PARTNERSCRAVING FOOD CULTURECYNICAL STEPSONDAILY ABUSEDARK NIGHT OF THE SOULDEPRESSED AND UNABLE TO READDEPRESSED DURING CHRISTMAS, AND LONELY NOWDESPERATELY WANTON GIRLDIRECTIONLESSEASILY BORED WITH NOVELSEMOTIONALLY SABOTAGED BY MY MOTHEREMOTIONS IN EXTREMEEVER THE FRIEND AND NOT THE PARTNEREXTREME ANGER AND FRUSTRATIONFADING AWAYFALLEN OUT WITH MY FRIENDSFALLING IN LOVE WAY TOO FASTFAZED AND CONFLICTEDFEAR OF CONFRONTATIONFEAR OF GETTING OLDFERTILITY PROBLEMSFOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)FORGING A BRIGHT NEW FUTUREFRIEND WHO HAS LOST A CHILD LATE IN PREGNANCYFRIENDS DAUGHTER LOST TO SUICIDEFrightened of lifeGAPING HOLEGetting over a break-upGIRL OF UNCERTAINTY, BOUND BY RULESGIRL WHO DOESN’T FIT INGRIPPED BY LOSSGUILTY FRIENDHOPELESSNESSHOUSE AND LIBRARY DESTROYED BY FIREI love music more than booksI no longer commute – and therefore I no longer readI PEEK AT THE END OF NOVELS BECAUSE I WORRY THE CHARACTER MIGHT NOT MAKE ITI wish I were famousIN MOURNING OVER LITERARY DEATHSINABILITY TO SIT STILL AND ANXIETYINCONSISTENT AND NON-STUDIOUS- BUT AMBITIOUS NONETHELESSINDECISIVEINSECUREINTERESTED IN EVERYTHING BUT ACHIEVING NOTHINGINVISIBLE WOMANITALIAN NOVEL CURESJILTED AND UNSUREJOB IN LIBRARY UNDER THREATKICKED IN THE HEADLEADENLIVING ON THE MARGINSLONE RANGERLONELY AND DEJECTEDLONELY IN LOVELONELY IN MONOTONOUS JOB, LOSING SANITYLOOKING FOR A SENSE OF PURPOSELOOKING FORWARDSLOSS OF A SISTERLOSTLOW WATTAGELOW-ENERGY PESSIMISMMAD SCIENTISTMARRIED TO A MAN, ATTRACTED TO WOMENMISSED THE BOATMISSING MY MOTHER-IN-LAWMUM GOING BACK TO WORKNEED TO LET GONEW CITY, NEW LIFE -BOOKS FOR 12 YEAR OLD BOY?NEW FRIENDSHIP WITH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORNIGHTMARISH COLLEAGUENOMADIC FLANEURPOST NATAL DEPRESSIONPREGNANT AND ALONE