Bibliography of Obscure Sorrows: The therapeutic benefits of books
June 9, 2015 12:59 PM   Subscribe

"Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. ... Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from literature courses run for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia. Sometimes it can simply mean one-on-one or group sessions for “lapsed” readers who want to find their way back to an enjoyment of books. [Ella] Berthoud and her longtime friend and fellow bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin mostly practice “affective” bibliotherapy, advocating the restorative power of reading fiction."

Ceridwen Dovey, writing for The New Yorker, reflects on her own experience with Elderkin and Berthoud's version of bibliotherapy:
I worked my way through the books on the list over the next couple of years, at my own pace—interspersed with my own “discoveries”—and while I am fortunate enough to have my ability to withstand terrible grief untested, thus far, some of the insights I gleaned from these books helped me through something entirely different, when, over several months, I endured acute physical pain. The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind.
Previously and (from me) previously.
posted by MonkeyToes (4 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I was also tickled by this, from Dovey:
Berthoud and Elderkin are also the authors of “The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies,” which is written in the style of a medical dictionary and matches ailments (“failure, feeling like a”) with suggested reading cures (“The History of Mr. Polly,” by H. G. Wells). First released in the U.K. in 2013, it is now being published in eighteen countries, and, in an interesting twist, the contract allows for a local editor and reading specialist to adapt up to twenty-five per cent of the ailments and reading recommendations to fit each particular country’s readership and include more native writers. The new, adapted ailments are culturally revealing. In the Dutch edition, one of the adapted ailments is “having too high an opinion of your own child”; in the Indian edition, “public urination” and “cricket, obsession with” are included; the Italians introduced “impotence,” “fear of motorways,” and “desire to embalm”; and the Germans added “hating the world” and “hating parties.”
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:26 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have just discovered my new career. Also, a way to write off my significant book habit. Yay!
posted by dejah420 at 6:38 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now I will always consider how books I'm reading could best be prescribed.
posted by congen at 8:08 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of disappointed this thread isn't filled with ailments and book prescriptions. Here, I'll start:

Disillusionment, political: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.
posted by congen at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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