The Help Desk: How to get lit up

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Lately I've been waking around 3 a.m. and sitting up for a few insomniac hours thinking — about failure, regret, what America looks like now that we've ripped her skin off. The usual. My doctor asked me what I read before bed, and apparently books about rape and depression memoirs aren't "soothing" or "calming" enough (?). Got any recommendations that would fit her prescription, without turning my brain into fluff?

Sleepless in Seattle (Sorry)

Dear Sleepless,

Your brain is horny for sadness, or what the veterinarian I buy my spider antidepressants from calls "Praying Mantis Syndrome." The syndrome, a sex-positive cousin of SAD, can manifest in many ways – for instance, it's what prompts me to compulsively buy sexy clothing in a "spiced ham" hue.

I commend you for seeking treatment. Have you heard of Up Lit? It's an entire genre of literature dedicated to people with your affliction. For your first read, I recommend Furiously Happy.

The Seattle Public Library also has a list of Up Lit books that aren't fluff.

(May Baphomet bless Seattle's librarians – they work in a beautiful book terrarium, being paid to do the job I do in a basement for free. From their list, I also recommend Beautiful Ruins.)

Finally, if you're looking for a shorter read before bed, The Guardian's Upside is dedicated to journalism that doesn't make you feel like you are being swallowed whole by a shit snake.