Columns > Published on September 26th, 2014

6 Novels That Will Destroy Your Good Mood

photo © sylvain.collet via Flickr

There are times when life is so full of joy. Everything is going your way, you wake up in the morning with a ton of energy and can’t wait to take on the world, the weather is mild, and the bartender puts an extra cherry in your Old Fashioned! Isn’t it just the best?

Of course these times in our lives are wonderful, but how long do you really want them to last? If you are currently stuck in a never ending happiness bubble and find yourself missing those sad, somber days of the past, I’ve got some book recommendations for you! After a couple of chapters of these misery grenades, you'll forget why you were in such a good mood in the first place.

1. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Have you ever had your best friend and person with whom you spend all of your time suddenly plucked out of your life? That happens in the first chapter of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Yes, that soon. We hit rock bottom and somehow continue to spiral downward. McCullers wrote this book when she was 23, and while that is outrageously impressive, I do not envy the profound sadness that was likely hanging inside of her that allowed for such literary genius. Get ready to reach into the souls of the most sorrowful characters put to page. Believe me, they’ll stick with you for a long time. One day you’ll be ambling about, taking in the sunshine and laughing with a good friend, and John Singer will pop into your mind, causing you to trip over your anguish.

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2. Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

There is nothing as sweet as young love, right? No. Wrong. Young love can lead to tragedy and heartbreak just as quickly as its passion ignites. Without giving too much away, Maroh’s graphic novel is much darker than the film version, and it will leave you feeling less than optimistic about actually ending up with someone who is “meant for you.” Even if you do find one another, something will eventually tear you apart. Throw in your love chips now and just invest in a body pillow.

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3. Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

It doesn’t matter how social you are today, if you make people laugh, or if something great happens to you: when you get into bed tonight, open Stay Up With Me, and read the first story. A black hole of loneliness will expand and swallow you whole, as if all of those good things never happened. This collection explores humanity’s desperation, denial, and faulty logic so deeply that you’ll need substantial time to break out of your sadness funk before returning to earth. Barbash writes about everyday people experiencing things so depressing you’ll wish they weren’t as commonplace as they actually are. The prose is simple, stark, and all the more crushing for it.

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4. The Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia

The title is already devastating with its 1990-1990 life span. The thought of a hamster’s short life has already ruined my mood. Don’t get me wrong—at first, you’ll laugh at this little book. You’ll think the philosophical hamster musings are a real riot. Read to the end, though, and tell me you don’t start to contemplate the meaning of “all this.” That glimmer of hope in your eyes? It’s about to be extinguished by Edward the hamster.

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5. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

I read this book when I was in the fourth grade, and distinctly remember tears draining from my eyes while reading the final pages. There are so many awful things that happen to the book’s protagonist, 12-year-old Karana, and though I didn’t identify with most of them at the time (the death of her Father and brother, hunting and surviving in the wild) I did connect with the feeling of isolation Karana experiences while living alone on the island. My connection was rooted in a more emotional isolation, one of not being understood by anyone, not even myself. I was almost 12 when I read Island of the Blue Dolphins and felt ashamed of my comfortable life in suburban New Jersey. I would never make a house out of whale bones or befriend a feral animal. I should’ve been thankful, but instead I was torn up when she was rescued and taken off the island, with nothing but the horror of normalcy awaiting her.

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6. Anything by Sylvia Plath

Plain and simple: I like to read a Plath poem every day just to remind myself that everything will not be okay.

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I hope I’ve given you some good day-ruining suggestions! In all seriousness, though, the books on this list are all fantastic in their own despairing ways, and while they might tug at your heartstrings, they’ll also enrich your literary life. Get to reading!
What are some books that just completely, utterly, and totally bring your mood down?


About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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