COLUMN: Cure for what ails you

Flu and cold season is upon us. Time to stock up on Kleenex and vitamin C, oil of oregano or hot lemon or whatever your cure —and books.

Flu and cold season is upon us. Time to stock up on Kleenex and vitamin C, oil of oregano or hot lemon or whatever your cure —and books. But not just any books: books to cure whatever ails you!

The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin is a self-proclaimed “medical handbook with a difference.” This compendium of biblio-cures doesn’t discriminate between the physical and emotional: whether you have a broken heart or a broken leg, there’s a book for that.

From sections on Abandonment (Plainsong, by Kent Haruf) to Zestlessness (Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow), The Novel Cure explains the logic behind every literary prescription.

For flu, the explanation for prescribing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is specific to Christie herself: “something that no medical doctor or scientific researcher has yet studied, or even noticed, is the following strange coincidence: the moment a flu patient begins to read an Agatha Christie novel marks the commencement of their recovery,” suggesting that “our innate curiosity to find out whodunit is stronger than the urge to wallow in our fluey misery.”

Alphabetically arranged, ailments such as Constipation (Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts) share a page with Control Freak, Being a (The Way of all Flesh, by Samuel Butler).

There’s Cold, Common, which comes with a Ten Best Novels For When You’ve Got a Cold list (from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd to Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier).

There are 10 best lists for those afflicted with Flying, Fear of, or for Carsickness (“if you suffer from carsickness, hop out and take the train instead” the authors tell you. This makes sense for the many of us who tend to feel car sick when we are reading).

Take a dose of The Fit by Philip Hensher for Hiccups, or Downriver by Iain Sinclair for Hemorrhoids. It’s simply a matter of “take two books and call me in the morning”— or not, if the cure is successful. And if it’s not, you still had a great excuse to settle in for a good read.

That this book has now been published is a bit of a disappointment for me, but only because I wish I’d written it. We all have our comfort books — those books we’ve loved and go back to whenever life gets tough (and indeed, the authors suggest this cure, as well).

My comfort book has always been Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, a book I’ve read on the plane more than once when travelling to funerals. In fact, all of Salinger’s stories have comforted me at one time or another.

But how brilliant to write a book of literary prescriptions! Who knew that, rather than going out and making life’s irrevocable mistakes, I could simply have followed the prescribed novels for Love, Looking For, or Love, Falling Head Over Heels In or Love, Falling Out Of or that oh-so -painful condition Love, Unrequited?

Every cold and flu season I have a sheepish tendency to start with the naturopathic stuff and then slide into pharmaceuticals, yet as my father always said “if you treat a cold it’ll be gone in seven days, but if you don’t it’ll take a week.” Might as well read The Devil Wears Prada while it runs its course.

As for those emotional maladies, I’ve been known to treat Demons, Facing Your with (ironically) a good shot of Scotch, or Knackered, Being with a hot bath.

But now, I have a Novel Cure. And it’s sure to keep me in the pink — or at least provide diversion — no matter what ails me.

— Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library.

Check This Out runs every other week. For  information visit