Reading: the only paracetamol for heartaches

Reading: the only paracetamol for heartaches

Byron Abad explores why reading is the perfect antidote for broken-heartedness

The vocabulary of love is a minefield of confusion and riddles. Heck, even the word ‘love’ is loaded in itself. It remains certain, however, that love or what you love is simply what you adore. It can take on multiple forms, but the word pretty much describes an affection that is profound and emotional. If we say that we have fallen “in love”, it tends to point towards the romantic kind of love.

But of course! If one can fall “in love”, then surely, one can also fall “out of love”?

Being in love is easy. It feels like a puff of mellow bubbles of tenderness scented with notes of rose and sandalwood. It’s like the coming of a delicate spring. Right? No? Well, what we can (universally) agree on, is that falling out of love or dealing with the heartache that comes with it is, with a capital N, never as easy.

Watching a film is one example of a band-aid. Love (or the lack of it) is in the air for British Film Institute Southbank. Their ‘Love season’ is in its pursuit of films “to fall in love with”, and films “to break your heart”. We are incredibly lucky that the BFI is practically on UCL’s doorstep. So if you want a quick fix, then by all means, take a scenic jaunt to Southbank.

But what you want is a lasting antacid for heartburn, I hear?

Fear not. Remedial reading will fix you up in no time.

Literature allows us to be fully immersed in the vigour and passion of other people’s narratives and their love stories. The best tales often possess a timeless beauty and a message that will forever remain topical. We are told by F. Scott Fitzgerald that in literature “your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. It ultimately provides a way for us to comprehend and hence cope with our heartaches. This is comforting in that what seems to torment us the most is that which connects us with everyone.

Reading conveys a moral, which will always resonate with our own heartbreaks regardless of the time it was written in. The Mirror posed the literary rhetorical question last week: “Your missus has left you and you don’t know where to turn, do you go down the pub with your mates or do you read 13th-century Persian poetry?”

Chris Martin, the lead-vocalist of Coldplay, would rather read Persian poetry. In the light of his recent break up with Gwyneth Paltrow, he chooses Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī’s poem The Guest House as his literary salve of choice when he is feeling “down and confused”. Despite the disparity in time, Martin is very much able to find solace in Rūmī’s poem.

I also asked a few fellow book nerds what they personally think is the best bookish balm for heartaches.

For Calvin Law, a first-year English Literature undergraduate, L.P. Hartley’s The Hireling is his analgesic: ‘[it is] a brilliant heartache book because it renders so vividly the problems so many of us feel in matters of the heart and expressing them, while maintaining it in a stylized and specific enough setting to not hit too close to home’.

Others felt little need to justify their choice (a testament to how effective of a cure reading really is). Kerry Shanahan, also a first-year undergraduate, who is quite partial to the Anna and Vronsky love narrative in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, saying nothing more than: “I love it”.

We all have our own personal favourites. But if you can’t find the right poem or collection, there’s always The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. It’s an encyclopaedic account of different ailments. You just have to look under L for love and decide which one from the list you are suffering from, may it be “doomed”  or “unrequited” love.

If you are looking for a similar read to The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies, but a lot more specific to love, then you are better off reading Ovid’s Remedia Amoris. It’s a hoot-of-a-read-814-line poem that offers different strategies to overcome heartaches. He cited travelling, teetotalism (sobriety or complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages), bucolic pursuits and ironically, to refrain from love poets. I thoroughly disagree with the last advice and you should too because love poetry is life. 

So yes, reading is remedial. I promise you, books will treat you better than your ex. Never mind your ex or whoever it is who has broken your heart.

Featured image credit: Byron Abad


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