7 Books to Generate Sad Serotonin
Emily Austin, author of “Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead,” recommends books that will make you feel happy to be sad
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It is not hard to get a laugh at a funeral. Despite being painfully introverted and clinically anxious, I once confidently gave a eulogy containing jokes because I know humor is sharpest in sad settings. Another time, at a wake for someone I loved, I witnessed an unwitting kid learn the casket that he had been nonchalantly leaning on contained a body, and I cannot recall a time I laughed harder. Colors are intensified when they contrast; blue is sharpest next to orange. That same sort of marvel is true for happiness and sadness.
As the title hints, my debut novel, Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead, centers around death. It is about a morbidly anxious young woman who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church, where she hides her atheist lesbian identity, and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s death. Despite being about mortality and depression, my honest hope for it is that it will be responsible for creating some serotonin.
The seven books listed below are for people who feel like crying but are having trouble determining whether the cathartic release they seek should involve tears of laughter or sadness. These books will break your heart and have you in stitches. You will feel like you would sitting in the audience of a depressed comedian whose poignant wit will have you cackling, blubbering, and feeling alive.
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
This is a collection of essays written by Twitter’s favorite sad girl. The essays are about sex, death, substance abuse, and the trauma of existing. The writing is of course sad, but it also made me laugh out loud in public. I am normally very quiet.
Fleabag: The Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
This book is the companion to the award-winning TV series about a dry-witted woman, known only as Fleabag, as she navigates her life in London while trying to cope with tragedy. The Scriptures contain the scripts and commentary for this hilarious and heartbreaking series and are what I would put my hand on if, by some terrible series of events, I were ever sworn into government.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
I doubt it is surprising to learn that a story about a queer taxidermist, who is grieving the suicide of her father, whose mother makes sexual art with dead animals, and who is in a tough love triangle, will destroy and delight you.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor is a gut-wrenching character who, despite the title of her story, is actually not doing that great. She has no friends, no ambition, scars on her face, no filter, bad social skills, a humdrum existence, a drinking problem, a story that will punch you in the gut, and yet—she is so funny.
Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin
This is a novel about Mona, a 23-year-old woman who cleans houses. She dates a middle-aged man with substance abuse problems who she calls Mr. Disgusting. I burst out in laughter and I burst out in tears while reading this.
Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin
This sequel to Pretend I’m Dead follows Mona at 26. She is cleaning houses, having affairs, grappling with trauma, still making us sad, and still tickling us pink. This novel, like the one before, manages to touch on heavy topics while also being laugh out loud funny.
Sad Jane by Lucie Britsch
Janet wants to be happy, but she is comfortably dejected. She wears all black, listens to the Smiths, and hates her boyfriend. This is a story about a holiday season that she spends trying a new pill that promises happiness. This is a wise, sad, and funny story about depression. If anyone gets sad serotonin, it’s Janet.