I don’t know about you, but a rousing memoir/manifesto of overcoming personal demons always makes me feel a renewed sense of spirit and a rush of that optimistic can-do attitude, you know, So what if people don’t understand my anxiety. One day I’ll win a Pulitzer Prize! Or at least a Pushcart! I especially dig coming-of-age stories about writers (like me) who deal with mental illness (like me) and stories that come in book and movie form just take the cake. The list below includes some fact, some fiction, and a lot of inspirational characters who get their shit together (for the most part) and make me feel like someday I will too. (The books and movies have the same title, unless otherwise noted).
Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates
This story is about a completely badass 1950s girl gang that stands up for young women in some pretty unconventional ways. A couple of them end up in a correctional facility, and they learn to balance their feminist vigilante urges with responsibility and uh…obeying the law. (I would read the book first—the movie wasn’t quite what I expected because they left a lot out and changed the time period to what was modern-day 1996. Fall in love with the characters in the book, and then watch Angelina Jolie play a lovable rebel.)
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted records her stay in McLean Mental Hospital (known for treating famous writers) and how she made a living out of “boyfriends and literature.” I drew little hearts all over the margins of my copy because so much of this book resonated with me. Again, Angelina Jolie plays a lovable rebel.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and Sylvia
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is something like an autobiographical novel about dealing with depression and suicide attempts in the midst of a burgeoning writing career. The movie Sylvia is more about Plath as an adult and her relationship with Ted Hughes. This one isn’t quite as much of a feel-good life changer, but it is says a lot about women writers and the struggles that come with the writing life.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
This one is a feel-good story of personal success: a 15 year old boy reluctantly checks himself into a mental hospital because of suicidal thoughts and must first get over the stigma of mental illness before finding his path to recovery. There is young love, peer pressure, and (in the movie version) Zach Galifianakis.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and Adaptation
The first time I saw Adaptation it absolutely blew my mind. It’s a dead-on, agonizing depiction of writer’s block (and anxiety), it’s hilarious, and it gets all deconstructive and postmodern with the plot twists. Charles Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) struggles with writing the film adaptation of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) and competition with his twin brother (also Nicholas Cage). I have not read The Orchid Thief, but it is a memoir from a journalist’s point of view about the trial of a man who gets arrested for poaching rare orchids, and the journalist’s search for passion in her life. Bonus second movie: part of Adaptation takes place on the set of Being John Malkovich, which is also a wild ride of a movie.