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Sad, mad, glad, and beyond: What to read in any mood

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Chuck Leddy
July 7, 2008

1001 Books for Every Mood
By Hallie Ephron
Adams Media, 400 pp., $14.95

"There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away," wrote the reclusive Amherst poet Emily Dickinson, a bookworm on intimate terms with moodiness. Books, if they are any good, can take us places, can change our lives, and can certainly alter our moods with fewer side effects than mind-altering drugs. Boston Globe book columnist Hallie Ephron's new book, a terrific reference guide for the mood-altering substances known as stories, offers a literary prescription for whatever ails you.

Ephron's book is organized into dozens of moods, and she offers several books to fit each of those moods. For every book, Ephron offers a capsule description and rates the book on its literary merit, level of reading difficulty, and other criteria. "Think of it as mood therapy in a book," writes Ephron, "and your personal guide to the outstanding, funny, sad, thrilling, inspiring, mind-bending . . . books of our times."

If, for example, you're in the mood for a good laugh, Ephron offers 10 books from Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop" (a satirical skewering of British tabloid journalism) to Erma Bombeck's "If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?" (Ephron describes Bombeck as "the doyenne of the wisecrack in gentler times"). In recommending David Sedaris's "Naked," Ephron summarizes it as "[a]utobiographical essays by a hapless narrator . . . Sedaris's tales of growing up in a dysfunctional (to put it mildly) family, hitchhiking trips, and deadly jobs are wickedly funny."

Taking the opposite tack, if you're in the mood for a good cry, Ephron offers 17 books from the obvious, such as Toni Morrison's "Beloved" ("It's one of those books that burrows its way in and takes up residence in a dark place in your soul," explains Ephron), to the surprising, such as Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" ("Each chapter," writes Ephron, "tells the tragedy of another tribe, from the Long Walk of the Navahos, to the Cheyenne Exodus, to the massacre of the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee").

Several of the moods Ephron describes are quirky. She offers, for example, six great books for those in a mood "to go over the edge." Among these books about temporarily losing your mind are Susanna Kaysen's unforgettable "Girl, Interrupted," a memoir set in Belmont's McLean Hospital: "With humor and irony, Kaysen tells of two years she spent there," writes Ephron, "This is a moving, angry, coming-of-age story[.]" Another "over the edge" recommendation is Jay McInerney's classic "Bright Lights, Big City," whose Manhattan protagonist gets dumped by his model wife, "loses his job, buys a ferret, tries to kill himself, and takes a limo ride with a cocaine magnate." If these books don't make you feel better about your situation, nothing will.

Those in a mood for thrills are offered eight spine-tinglers, including Peter Benchley's "Jaws" and Thomas Harris's "The Silence of the Lambs," the novel that made Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter a household name. Ephron mixes in nonfiction books too, recommending Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster" for literary thrill seekers.

Whether you're in the mood for love, mystery, adventure, or inspiration, Ephron has a book for you. "1,001 Books For Every Mood" might best be described as a reference guide to great reading that acts as a best friend or a friendly, phenomenally well-read librarian who's there to point you in the right direction for reading pleasure. If, as Emily Dickinson wrote, books are like sailing ships, then Ephron offers one that will transport you to wherever you'd like to go.

Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester.

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