How to Make the Best of the Worst of Times

The Great Books Guide to Friendship and Love, Marriage and Money

You need advice. To whom should you turn? The coworker you suspect ate the icing off the communal cake? Your neighbor, who just suffered a painful breakup and now is planning a trek through Afghanistan? Your mother, who will call you every day to make sure that you’ve followed her advice?

You’re in trouble, so maybe you’re not thinking rationally. The last person you want to talk to is someone who is busy screwing up his own life. The second to last person you want to talk to is someone whose life is annoyingly perfect.

No. If you want advice, turn to the greatest minds who ever lived and wrote.

Charming boyfriend who won’t commit? Any of the Austen books will do, but check out Sense and Sensibility first. Who doesn’t know Marianne was wasting her time, waiting for Willoughby? Basically, she, and you, need to move on.

Financial difficulties? Trollope, in The Way We Live Now detailed the 2008 financial crisis, including a certain Augustus Melmotte, who operated a Ponzi scheme that took down all his investors. Short answer: Don’t bet the farm. When the financial rewards seem too good to be true…well, you know.

Wedding day worries? Henry James, in Portrait of a Lady, describes, in creepy detail, Isabel’s marriage to Gilbert, and her inability to attach herself to the two guys who love her. Don’t pull an Isabel.

Legal issues? Dickens in Bleak House writes of the forty year lawsuit, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. [Very] long story short: when the lawsuit is finally settled, there’s no money left. Spoiler alert: only the lawyers benefit. Something to think about, when you’re in the middle of a messy divorce and you refuse to give up the ottoman you’ve always loathed.

Unfaithful spouse? Euripides tells the terrifying story of Medea, who leaves the cheating husband alive, so that he can suffer the death of his adorable young fiancée, her father, and, oh yes, the two sons he had with Medea. Better to kill him than kill them.

Problems with road rage? Oedipus, in Oedipus Rex, won’t give way when an old man insists on getting ahead of him at a crossroads. They both lose their temper, and Oedipus kills the guy, who happens to be his father…and then he marries his mother…and then he puts his eyes out…which means that he won’t be pushing people out of the way anymore.

When to retire? Daniel Defoe [Robinson Crusoe]

How to handle a difficult subordinate? Daphne du Maurier [Rebecca]

The list goes on. So..what’s your problem? Great books have the answers.