The Help Desk: Books for the seasonally affected

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,

I'm really struggling right now. What book have you read that made you feel most hopeful about humanity?

Diane, Leschi

Dear Diane,

I'm sorry to hear that. Many of my human friends struggle. Some have been struggling for exactly the last three years; some struggle every winter. Like you, many have turned to me for help. At first, I tried making them Cactus Patch dolls to encourage them to be less needy, as my own mother did for me as a child. From this I learned that not everyone's face is as heavily calloused as my own, and that even people who brag about how much they "love nature" are not as grateful as they should be when receiving such a present.

You're wise to ask for a book. Unfortunately, I can't point to one book that makes me feel hopeful about humanity. The act of reading makes me feel hope. Within books you find more imagination, emotion and vulnerability than people are conventionally allowed to express in our daily lives. Even if many books fail at being a complete triumph, all books are an intense labor of love. That should make you feel hopeful.

But if cactus hugs and basement philosophizing don't make you feel any better, try these books: