There are some books that are as helpful when you’re sick as a heaping spoonful of chicken noodle soup — and no, they aren't all part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series (yup, remember those?). I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently while recuperating from illness; at the beginning of July, I woke up in the worst pain I’ve ever felt before. After some time in the hospital, the doctors told me that I had ruptured an ovarian cyst, and that it was no biggie (for now, at least) but that I should just take it easy for a bit. And then I burst into tears because it had been a long-ass day and I just wanted a ginger ale, dammit.
So, I’ve been taking it easy! After my hospital stay, I hung at home without cable and with a spotty Internet connection, self-soothing and passing the time with books. Not just any books, though — I went into full on fluff mode, turning to stories as digestible as the Jell-O I binged on. I relied on book versions of reality shows, tight short story collections, true crime tell-alls, and comedians’ surprisingly thoughtful memoirs. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure any of the books below will bring some sunshine into your sick room when you’re under the weather.
Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon
Admittedly, this is not a light read, but the short stories that comprise this collection are short — few are longer than a page. Alternately poignant, hilarious, and spooky, Lennon’s writing will make you well up from both sadness and laughter. All set in an upstate New York town, the stories rely on the nuances of everyday life (how to navigate a room when a long-standing table has been removed, the feeling of not being sure if a dream was just a dream) and are as addictive as the pain meds you’re gulping down.
Waiting to Be Heard by Amanda Knox
Knox rose to fame after being the prime suspect in the murder of her study abroad roommate in Italy. Her memoir of her years spent in an Italian prison is hard to put down; her legal case is botched from the start, and Knox — a little awkward and young for her age — is a totally relatable woman and an engaging storyteller. Waiting to Be Heard is a real-life nightmare, as scary as facing an illness can be.
Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage by The Brown Family
You might know the Brown family — husband Kody and wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — from their TLC reality show, Sister Wives, which follows them (and their combined 17 children) living polygamously in Las Vegas. The show is boring in the way most reality shows are, which is to say that it mostly catches them planning birthdays or discussing money issues, but turns it into something interesting. The same can be said for the book, which gives Kody and each wife the chance to tell his or her own story, and which includes some juicy details about longstanding feuds that are glossed over on the show. The Browns’ lifestyle is as fascinating to learn about as those mysterious symptoms we know you’re checking on WebMD.
Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin
Griffin’s made a living out of making fun of celebrities, but the sharp-tongued comedian reveals her more sensitive side in her memoir. She touches on her past eating disorder, insecurity issues, her failed marriage, and her family (her late brother was a pedophile). There’s plenty of Hollywood gossip to keep you in stitches, though; laughter, after all, is the best medicine.
The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams
Again, not exactly a light read, but Marjorie Williams’s collection of personal essays and political profiles are as engrossing and enjoyable to read as any solid magazine essay (which makes sense, considering Williams was a Vanity Fair contributor). The strongest piece by far is “Hit by Lightning: A Cancer Memoir,” a heartbreaking account of her struggle with cancer (she passed away in 2005), which contains the best piece of advice for anyone living with illness: “lead as normal a life as possible, only with more pancakes.”
My Little Red Book by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
Laid up in bed with cramps? Nalebuff’s collection of first-period anecdotes will remind you that you’re not the only one struggling. All of the stories are short and each is as unique as the woman who tells it; standouts include Judy Blume and Diablo Cody’s personal stories, and the one from a blind woman (“An Invisible Period”) and one from a Holocaust survivor about getting it as she entered a concentration camp (“Germany, 1940”). When Chipotle and Orange Is the New Black isn’t making you feel better, hearing other women’s experiences will.
Hyperbole and a Half by Ali Brosh
The perfect read for sickies in bed is with pictures. Brosh’s popular web comic is just as funny on the page as it is on the screen. Her written insights (on everything from dogs to depression) are beyond hilarious, but her illustrations (crudely drawn but amazingly expressive and done in MS Paint) truly speak for themselves; it’s the perfect compromise for when you want to read but you’re so sick that the brain stuff hurts.