The Novel Cure: Books are Better than Pills

Need a cure for the infections of modern life? There’s a Novel Cure for that! Here's your prescription – one book for each day of the week

Modern life can be difficult. We get it. Much as we love a good story book, real life is not a fairy tale. You’re not going to be given a beautiful castle to sit in all day, read, have a cup of tea and dance with a bunch of magical friends – this isn’t the library scene from Beauty and The Beast. You’re not Belle. Living everyday can be tiring: sometimes you get stuck in traffic, or feel deflated, or can’t get to sleep. But guess what? There’s a book for that: The Novel Cure.

Similar to a medical handbook, it recommends a novel (instead of a pill) to help ease each pain and daily problem you might experience. Better than a flu shot, authors Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin have curated a portable pharmacy to help you cure yourself from all your infections and ailments: depression, apathy, tiredness, a stubbed toe, a Netflix addiction… whatever is bothering you, they’ve got a book to make you feel better.  A beautiful reminder of the transformative power of a good novel.

Below is one full week of cures, 7 books for 7 everyday ailments as recommended by Ella Berthoud and Susan Eldurkin in The Novel Cure.





novel cure

THE DISEASE: Apathy; lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern

THE NOVEL CURE: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Wake up friend  the postman might always ring twice but you only live once! That’s reason enough not to linger in a state of apathy. Still, if you’re struggling, Berthoud and Elderkin say this literary classic is the book for you: “the novel is written with such rattling exuberance that it’s impossible to read without becoming physically buzzed. By the end, you’ll be up and about with a bounce in your step, throwing caution to the wind in your determination to have a hand in fate, setting you on a more spontaneous and proactive – if slightly reckless – new tack.”

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THE DISEASE: Being Broke; the state of having little or no money

THE NOVEL CURE: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So you’re broke. Nobody likes being broke. But remember, money isn’t everything and it certainly won’t buy you happiness. You’ll feel much better after reading the cautionary tale of too much money and too little substance: “Gatsby is one of literature’s most powerful dreamers (hence the ‘great’), and his passion and longing for Daisy is as gorgeous to behold as the little green light at the end of her dock. But the fact is, having more money than we need to cover the essentials in life (food, clothes, shelter and, of course, books) causes more problems than it solves. Not only does it fail to bring Gatsby lasting happiness with Daisy, but the making of it causes him to abandon and defile his true self.” – more money than sense indeed according to Berthoud and Elderkin.

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THE DISEASE: High Blood Pressure; a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.

THE NOVEL CURE: The Waves by Virginia Woolf

“Known to reduce anxiety, reading is a great habit to acquire if you’ve got high blood pressure; especially if you do it with a small furry animal curled up on your knee. Be careful what you choose though, something too racy, or nail-biting, and you’ll be pumping the blood even harder than before.” – We couldn’t agree more. The recommendation of The Waves is indeed the perfect book to slow yourself down. In this book Woolf indulges in a slow pace, multiple narrators and a sophisticated (almost postmodern) play with structure, leaving you to relax much like if you were floating on an ocean of calm.

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THE DISEASE: Insomnia; habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep

THE NOVEL CURE: The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe

The cure for this one is to understand why you can’t get to sleep and tackle it head on. If you’re not sleeping there’s something in your life that you’re probably not fully ‘awake’ to. (But if it’s too much coffee we have an article for that too). Berthoud and Elderkin recommend you read The House of Sleep, just don’t start reading it at bedtime: “Jonathan Coe’s novel The House of Sleep is an invaluable tool for exploring your sleeplessness but it should not be read at night unless you are prepared to accept that you will be up until dawn – despite its title, the novel is far from peaceful in its contents. Pick it up during the day when you are wide awake and prepared for a thorough analysis of why the hell you can’t get to sleep.”

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THE DISEASE: Low Self-Esteem; a general feeling of insignificance or a lack of importance

THE NOVEL CURE: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The second Mrs de Winter has youth, love, power and a prestigious household to run but she lacks the self-esteem and confidence to tackle any of it with joy. Every aspect of life fills her with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. She even considers throwing herself out of her bedroom window. Berthoud and Elderkin advise that if you suffer from low self-esteem then this is the book for you: “anyone with the same tendency to cripple themselves with self-criticism will blush in guilty recognition on reading this novel, and swear to put an end to such self-destructive behaviour once and for all.” Keep those windows closed. You got this.

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THE DISEASE: Obesity; the state of being grossly fat or overweight

THE NOVEL CURE: The number 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Obesity is as much in your head as it is on your waistline. Fat is a feminist issue (there’s another great book) and actually only 1 out of 17 healthy weight women consider themselves slim. That’s a social problem more than a nutritional issue. But if you are indeed obese and feel it as an ailment, don’t be discouraged. The Novel Cure prescribes that you read about the adventures of number 1 Lady detective, “Precious Ramotswe will show you how to be bold and break the rules, to carry your weight with dignity and aplomb, and win the heart of a good man (if you want one) just by being your witty and wise, abundant self.”

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THE DISEASE: Zestlessness; the state of lacking great enthusiasm and energy

THE NOVEL CURE: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Exhausted? Feeling less zesty than one of those cheap supermarket plastic lemons filled with fake citrus juice? Losing that fresh passion for life and the belief in endless possibility can ruin a perfectly good life. When you need a reminder that life moves on and you better be ready to move with it, preferably with hope in your heart and a spring in your step, read Ragtime and be transported. Berthoud and Elderkin suggest you, “be in a place where change is a given, and feel the zest stood back in.”

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