Out of the Depths
“I think reading a novel is almost next best to having something to do.”
—Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897)
I’m 43 years old, divorced for seven years (no children), and I just broke up with my boyfriend. I have a pinched nerve in my back and sciatica on my left side. Frankly, I’m not sleeping well, and my doctor says I’m depressed. I’m tired of adult-ed classes, Netflix, Maha Yoga, move-on.org and meddling relatives who tell me I should settle down or just settle. I teach high school math and am being offered a one-year sabbatical. Should I take it? If so, what books should I take? —Sarah L., Encino
Too bad about the husband, the boyfriend, the relatives, the sleep problems and—what else did you mention?—oh yes, your aching back. We’re beginning to see a pattern here: Woe is me! No wonder you’re depressed. You need to get out of town...and we don’t mean Long Beach. Get off your yoga mat, and do something exciting. Here’s one literary option:
Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
A thrilling adventure memoir about Baroness Karen Blixen (Dinesen’s real name), who took an 18-year “sabbatical” in the African wilds. “If I know a song of Africa—I thought—of the giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, the ploughs in the fields…” She’s a female Hemingway without the swagger.
If you do decide to stick close to home, these books can help you achieve the right attitude:
The Portable Dorothy Parker
A collection of verse, stories and essays from one of the Algonquin Round Table’s most quotable members. Her acerbic looks at love are must-reads—think humorous prose with a bite. Witness this take on insomnia from her piece “The Little Hours”: “I really can’t be expected to drop everything and start counting sheep at my age. I hate sheep...It amounts to a phobia, the way I hate them. I can tell the minute there’s one in the room. They needn’t think I am going to lie here in the dark and count their unpleasant little faces for them. No, sir, I’m not their scorekeeper. Let them count themselves.”
Crash Diet: Stories, by Jill McCorkle
Readable, funny stories about women with dead-end jobs, dead-end husbands and dead-end lives. The heroines are cash-strapped, lonely and abandoned, resolving their predicaments with the-hell-with-you bravado. “Kenneth left me on a Monday morning before I’d even had the chance to mousse my hair...”
The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Nancy Milford
Thomas Hardy once said America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the verse of Millay, the first woman to win a Pulitzer for poetry. The rebellious poet of the Jazz Age flaunted her married and unmarried lovers of both sexes, smoked, drank in public and wrote openly about sex, love and rock ’n’ roll: “My candle burns at both ends / It will not last the night / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends / It gives a lovely light!”
A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
Ms. Woolf famously argued that if Shakespeare had a sister who was as talented as he, no one would have ever heard of her. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself or ended her days in some lonely cottage...half-witch, half-wizard, feared and mocked at.” She’s all about nurturing an independent woman’s mind. And you can’t do that on a mat, jammed next to the blond starlet with the hot pink Sigg bottle at Maha Yoga.
Ellen Gilchrist: Collected Stories
An absorbing display of verbal mastery—original, quirky stories about offbeat gals getting on with their lives. Read “Revenge” and “Drunk with Love.” Black comedy and blue women.
Have a question? You can reach Mack and Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org.