Saturday, January 16, 2010

Five best books about hypochondria

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. His first book, the memoir In the Dark Room, won the 2006 Irish Book Award for nonfiction. The U.K. editor of Cabinet, a quarterly of art and culture based in New York, Dillon is a research fellow at the University of Kent. His new book, The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives, is due out in February.

At the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about hypochondria. One title on the list:
The Letters of Samuel Beckett
Cambridge, 2009

Samuel Beckett's oeuvre—the fiction even more than the plays—is full of metaphysically inclined malingerers. His protagonists heft their bodies about like so much excess baggage; they long to be shot of the physical world, but life is tenacious and hangs around. Editors Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck have so far produced only the first volume of Beckett's letters (1929-40), but they suggest that his own ailments were a nagging source of inspiration as well as anxiety. Neck cysts, headaches, pruritis, his "bitch of a heart" and a hammer toe: All of it seemed to presage the inevitability of death while adding to his present misery and lassitude. Like many a hypochondriac, he seems to have left propriety behind and relished the realm of too-much-information; from Germany in 1937 he wrote to a friend: "the anus is better, it was really awful for fully 10 days in Berlin—consternating."
Read about another book on Dillon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue