5 Books for When You’re Laid Up

For anyone who’s been bedbound due to injury or malady, there’s a silver lining to your pain and suffering: books. Just think of it. All that time you’d usually spend working or folding laundry, or shuttling your kids around, you could spend reading books instead. Over the past couple years, I’ve been (un)lucky enough to have had a few golden weeks of quality time with my bedside stack. But be forewarned, I tend to veer dark. For me, post-surgery or mid-illness is not the time for beach reads or inspirational books, and certainly not books about healing. Nope. When I’m down and out, I like to get philosophical, to read about the fragility of the human body, the tenuousness of this mortal coil, and the strange and fleeting luck of being alive.

So without further ado, here are my top five recommendations:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

My favorite line from The Goldfinch (and one of my favorite morbid passages of all time) is:

Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil . . . It was better to never have been born—never to have wanted anything, never to have hoped for anything.

Yummy! Homeopathic-style literary salve such as this forces you to face the terrifying reality of your existence—what better way to feel better than to read about the same, only worse?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This is for when you want to take a pill, take a nap, and then spend the next eight straight hours being swept along in a beautiful and grotesque whirlwind. Yanagihara’s juicy tome compels you to ask some really hard questions, like How can people be so cruel? and why even bother when there is so much suffering? and what if happily-ever-after is insufficient?

But hey, it’ll take your mind off those itchy stitches.

Carrie by Stephen King

As demonstrated by his vast literary empire, Stephen King rules the macabre. Admittedly, most of his books are way too scary for me, but Carrie—his 1974 breakout hit, now considered a classic—is scary-lite and very smart, making it the perfect bedbound read. You get the thrill of carnage without having to think too hard about it. Turns out that buckets of blood, Evangelicalism, and the prom from hell go great with chicken noodle soup and ginger ale.

Being Dead by Jim Crace

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. It’s the story of two deaths from many angles. There are the moments that led up to the couples’ demise—their courtship and their life together—the biological and chemical processes of dying, what happens when the crabs and seagulls come. It puts life in perspective: the salad days followed by the time when things you thought deeply significant come to seem trite, and then you feel disappointed and tired, and then you die, and then bugs eat you. The end!

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Short and brilliant. Barnes ingeniously mixes dramatized history and memoir; the latter focuses on his late wife and his being a widower. Barnes’ website describes it best: “This is a book of intense honesty and insight; it is at once a celebration of love and a profound examination of sorrow.” It is absolutely heart-crushing—it’ll make you glad you survived your ordeal so that you can hold your loved ones close.

Whatever depths you choose to plumb while on the mend, we here at Girl Friday wish you a swift recovery and the best of health in the future.