I am the kind of reader who wears their literary emotions on their sleeve, so whenever I read something particularly sad, sappy, or frightening, I can't help to feel the same way long after I finish the book. That's why I've started to readjust my weekly TBR list to include books that have helped me calm my anxiety, because anything that can help me cope in today's world is something I'm willing to try.
Reading has always been a solace for me, ever since I was a little girl in a crowded house whose only peace and quiet was under the covers with a flashlight and a library book. Throughout my life, I've relied on reading to calm and soothe me when I'm stressed, to entertain and challenge me when I'm bored, to motivate and inspire me when I need it most. Lately, I've been relying on books as part of a self-care routine that keeps me going in the age of Donald Trump, because when you suffer from chronic anxiety, you're willing to try anything to make it feel better, especially now.
Luckily for me, books help. A lot.
When it comes to choosing a book that I know will help calm my nerves and get my anxiety under control, I like to chose something I've already read, something predictable and reliable that won't surprise or disappoint me. I count on books to make me laugh, to take me out of my reality and into another one, to inspire me to keep my head up, and to leave me feeling like, yes, someone else feels this same way too.
Not every book can live up to those expectations, but these nine books that have helped me calm my anxiety certainly do.
1. 'Let's Pretend This Never Happened' by Jenny Lawson
Ever since the first time I cracked open Jenny Lawson's hilarious and all-to-relatable memoir, I've found myself returning to its familiar comfort when I feel anxious and just need a good laugh. Let's Pretend This Never Happened chronicles the strange, eccentric, and often hysterical life of its author who doesn't shy away from sharing all the juicy (and shameful) details. A wonderful read that always reminds me to look for the humor in life, Lawson's memoir can always make me smile, even when I feel at my most anxious.
2. 'Letters to a Young Poet' by R.M. Rilke
I may not be a poet, but reading Rainer Maria Rilke's advice to one has a way of soothing my soul. A beautiful collection of letters about poetry, art, creativity, hope, love, humanity, and so much more, Letters to a Young Poet is always a helpful and calming perspective changer, especially when I feel the anxiety creeping up around me. When I don't know what to do, Rilke always knows what to say.
3. 'God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater' by Kurt Vonnegut
If I'm being honest, just about any Kurt Vonnegut book helps calm my anxiety. He's one of my favorite authors, and his dark humor and critical prose always has a way of calming my nerves. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is, in my opinion, one of his funniest works, and its topics of greed, privilege, and hypocrisy are perfectly relatable today. They're just twisted enough to make me think, Huh, maybe this isn't the end of the world after all.
4. 'Interpreter of Maladies' by Jhumpa Lahiri
I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection when I was in high school, and since then, I've revisited it time and time again. Whether I'm feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, The Interpreter of Maladies always has just the right story to give me what I need, but more often than not I find myself returning to "Sexy." Not the most uplifting story, Lahiri's description of Boston's Mapparium, a favorite place of mine to visit in real life, always brings me to a moment of clarity and calm.
5. 'Hope in the Dark' by Rebecca Solnit
This short but powerful book has become something of a security blanket for me now. Whenever I'm feeling anxious, which most of the times is brought on by one political story or another, I reach of Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark and reread the lines — okay, the pages — I've highlighted as a reminder that there is a light at the end of this very long tunnel.
6. 'As You Like It' by William Shakespeare
They say laughter is the best medicine, and when it comes to my anxiety, that can be pretty true. That's why I keep a copy of Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It by my bed. Before I go to sleep, when I can't sleep, I flip through the laugh-out-loud scenes and rejoice in the fact that incredible literature exists.
7. 'Bluets' by Maggie Nelson
Before there was her incredible genre-bending novel The Argonauts, there was Maggie Nelson's lyrical and powerful poetry collection, Bluets. A slim book I found wandering around a local bookstore on a rainy afternoon, this meditation on the color blue is so much more than color. It's love and loss, pain and strength, hope and limitations, and it's one of my favorite reads when I'm feeling, well, blue.
8. 'Akata Witch' by Nnedi Okorafor
What better way to relieve your anxiety than by running off to a fantasy world, even only for a few hours? That is exactly what I do when I reach for Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch, an incredible YA fantasy that has been called "the Nigerian Harry Potter." A fantastical story about an outcast girl, a magical school, and a world that is nothing like what it seems, this young adult novel is just the medicine I need to sooth my bookish soul.
9. 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion
When I'm feeling my most anxious or depressed, sometimes I just need someone to say, "You are not alone." That's exactly what Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking does when I read it. Her emotionally raw and personally profound book is like a familiar friend I can commiserate and be comforted by no matter what. All I have to do is open a book.