The Help Desk: Reading out of heartbreak

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 just got dumped. I need some inspiration — what’s the greatest love story you’ve ever read? One friend gave me a book of Leonard Cohen poems and I almost killed myself.

Heath, Wallingford

Dear Heath,

I'm honored that you are turning to me for advice – and your timing is impeccable. Over Christmas I was sharply criticized for gifting my teenage sister a copy of the mortician's bible, Corpse Makeup for Beginners, because I thought her face could use some humanizing. This has caused many to question whether I am indeed an empathetic human being qualified to dole out free advice, or whether I am simply a lipsticked Chupacabra who enjoys fucking with strangers and attends family gatherings for the free taquitos.

I am eager to redeem myself.

First off: Why are you torturing yourself with love stories? Your heart and liver are allowed to wallow at a time like this; it is your brain's job to try and distract your other squishy human organs – all of which I can name because I am definitely human – from grieving too hard.

Here is what you need to read: Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People, followed by Voltaire's Candide. Good Country People illustrates how flawed our judgment can be when it comes to evaluating other people and their motivations, and Candide is a good antidote to all your friends who will tell you, post breakup, bullshit like "there's a perfect someone out there waiting for you" and "everything happens for a reason."

I'm sorry you were dumped. Whenever I have been dumped by my human boyfriends, or when my mailman asks to be reassigned because he finds my weekly orders of goat's blood and human magazines to be excessive, I remind myself that I wouldn't want to be around anyone who doesn't think I'm tops, and I move on. I encourage you to do the same.