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A Case for Bibliotherapy

Writing in the New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey says that maybe instead of going to a therapist, you should get a library card. [1] Dovey was sent to a “bibliotherapist” — someone who recommends a personalized course of reading to help one deal with one’s problems and challenges — and came away surprised by how much it helped. Excerpts:

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.

More, about the people who run the London-based bibliotherapy clinic:

They kept recommending novels to each other, and to friends and family, for many years, and, in 2007, when philosopher and fellow Cambridge classmate Alain de Botton was thinking about starting the School of Life, they pitched to him the idea of running a bibliotherapy clinic. “As far as we knew, nobody was doing it in that form at the time,” Berthoud said. “Bibliotherapy, if it existed at all, tended to be based within a more medical context, with an emphasis on self-help books. But we were dedicated to fiction as the ultimate cure because it gives readers a transformational experience.”

Berthoud and Elderkin trace the method of bibliotherapy all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, “who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’ ” The practice came into its own at the end of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud began using literature during psychoanalysis sessions. After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning home from the front were often prescribed a course of reading. “Librarians in the States were given training on how to give books to WWI vets, and there’s a nice story about Jane Austen’s novels being used for bibliotherapeutic purposes at the same time in the U.K.,” Elderkin says. Later in the century, bibliotherapy was used in varying ways in hospitals and libraries, and has more recently been taken up by psychologists, social and aged-care workers, and doctors as a viable mode of therapy.

There is now a network of bibliotherapists selected and trained by Berthoud and Elderkin, and affiliated with the School of Life, working around the world, from New York to Melbourne. The most common ailments people tend to bring to them are the life-juncture transitions, Berthoud says: being stuck in a rut in your career, feeling depressed in your relationship, or suffering bereavement. The bibliotherapists see a lot of retirees, too, who know that they have twenty years of reading ahead of them but perhaps have only previously read crime thrillers, and want to find something new to sustain them. Many seek help adjusting to becoming a parent. “I had a client in New York, a man who was having his first child, and was worried about being responsible for another tiny being,” Berthoud says. “I recommended ‘Room Temperature,’ by Nicholson Baker, which is about a man feeding his baby a bottle and having these meditative thoughts about being a father. And of course ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ because Atticus Finch is the ideal father in literature.”

How does this work? Believe it or not, there is a neuroscientific rationale for bibliotherapy:

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.

Other studies published in 2006 and 2009 showed something similar—that people who read a lot of fiction tend to be better at empathizing with others (even after the researchers had accounted for the potential bias that people with greater empathetic tendencies may prefer to read novels). And, in 2013, an influential study published in Science found that reading literary fiction (rather than popular fiction or literary nonfiction) improved participants’ results on tests that measured social perception and empathy, which are crucial to “theory of mind”: the ability to guess with accuracy what another human being might be thinking or feeling, a skill humans only start to develop around the age of four.

Of course you should read the whole thing [1] — and you should read more, period.

Those who have read my book How Dante Can Save Your Life [2] will know how profoundly bibliotherapy involving the Divine Comedy helped me. I even cite some of the same neuroscience in the book, because it helped me to understand why Dante’s poetry, and his storytelling, incarnated the lessons I was learning from my therapist and my priest at a deeper level than normal. I felt that I had inhabited the lessons, not just held them in my mind as propositions. And that made a huge difference.

Because it is so comprehensive, I believe that the Commedia is a fantastic general-purpose medicine for one’s maladies. It deals with many particular conditions, especially core ones, like love, justice, desire, and the sources of the self. In fact, I cannot think of a single book I’ve ever read that affected me so deeply, and shone a searchlight so piercingly into the dark places of my heart. The Commedia helps you to diagnose where you have gone wrong in your own path through life by training you to discern your own disordered love, and it also offers you a general technique for re-ordering your loves and making progress out of the “dark wood,” whatever sins brought you there.

Dovey says in her piece that one of the greatest challenges facing bibliotherapists is that there are so many books to choose from, but so few that ordinary readers ever hear about. So, here in this thread, I want to ask you readers to prescribe works of fiction as cures for particular conditions. Don’t simply say, “Read [name] and you’ll get a lot of insight about life.” Name the psychological or spiritual malady and explain why a particular novel might be a cure for it. If it worked for you in the past, tell that story. Give readers who might be suffering from something you’ve dealt with before a reason to read a book that helped you.

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31 Comments To "A Case for Bibliotherapy"

#1 Comment By Jill A. On June 10, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

Two of the books I go back to over and over are “Little Women”, by Louisa May Alcott and “The Plague”, by Albert Camus. They are two of my favorite comfort books, though I had never really thought to consider why.

I think it is because in both of them terrible things happen, normal things but terrible. Death, poverty, crime, heartache, disease. Yet all of these are considered a normal part of life, things to be endured and lived through and dealt with, not ignored or as something extraordinary.

When I’m overwhelmed with self pity and sadness, there is hope in both. That yes, life holds tragedy, but you keep going and life also holds joy. A normal life has both and you learn to handle that.

#2 Comment By Sam M On June 10, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

Reading older books is a great way to cure yourself of cultural triumphalism AND cultural defeatism. Think you have it great/terrible? Ha! The world has seen worse/better than you and your like. By a long shot.

For my money, The Magnificent Ambersons is a brilliant way to dive into such things. The best I have read. Yeah, kids these days and their technological change, disregard for traditional mating rituals, and lack of respect of important cultural institutions!

Ha! We went from the world of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to the world of Mad Men is, like 35 seconds. Whole cities were wiped clean off the ap and rebuilt. Yeah, you have the Internet. Blah blah. The Ambersons drove a horse and buggy. By the time they stopped, the world had cars AND FLYING MACHINES.

At least you have a local preservation society. back then, they actively tried to bury anything older than five years. With prejudice.

I like Tarkington quite a lot better than, say, Fitzgerald.

Also, Rod needs to read A Canticle for Leibowitz. Because it will change your life. I know that’s against the rules. But truth has its own rules.

#3 Comment By SLW On June 10, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

Is there a spiritual malady defined as “you had a kid really young and you don’t know what you’re doing but you desperately want to be a good mother”? If so, I recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read it while I was pregnant and I felt like it helped me realize that not only sometimes the best you can do is the best you can do, but sometimes that’s OK too. For mothers and daughters.

#4 Comment By Jeff On June 10, 2015 @ 6:26 pm

I read Middlemarch when I was 22, had just given up on ever becoming a novelist, and, living by myself in a foreign country, felt completely directionless.

It is an incredibly profound look at, among other things, intellectual ambition outside of the grand stages of the world and helped me to think through what a passionate, engaged intellectual life might consist of outside of becoming a famous writer.

#5 Comment By Elisabeth On June 10, 2015 @ 8:44 pm

4 books by Brenda Jagger,probably can be purchased used:
1. A Winter’s Child -story of coming of age quickly, for anyone who had to grow up fast, this helped me with childhood issues of feeling somehow older than those around me, really empathy-inducing plot,also male character who feels responsible for his entire family, trapped by their emotional hold on him
2. Days of Grace – Some similarities to #1, what is the trade-off in an intimate relationship, helped me realize there are both rational and emotional responses at work
3. Distant Choices -great stepsister story for anyone with siblings,step or otherwise, helped me to understand the rebel/perfect child dichotomy, also for anyone with a really distant father
4. A Song Twice Over – great story of sacrifices made for family members and husbands,main protagonist faces huge disappointment after sacrificing everything, something similar happened to me
All 4 will also give insight into some motherhood issues

#6 Comment By larry ellis On June 10, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

I don’t know if this qualifies as therapy. Wasn’t really sick before, but the Cormac McCarthy Border Trilogy did something for my senses. I was drawn into that world so deeply that I began to see this one more fully.

#7 Comment By Aaron On June 10, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

Although a short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Tolstoy) helped me to maintain my composure during my father’s recent passing from brain cancer. I wish I could have read the story to him or imparted the meaning to him but his altered state of mind following radiation made it impossible. Nonetheless, the evolution of Ivan from great fear of his illness and imminent death to one of acceptance and peace helped me to maintain perspective while carrying for my father. “He sought his former accustom fear of death and did not find it. Where is it? What death? There was no fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light”

#8 Comment By Elle On June 10, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

My mother gave me My Antonia by Willa Cather when I was about 12. I read it, kinda liked it. Reading it again last year, as an adult turning 40 was life-changing – the book so completely captures that melancholy realization of how important the people that shaped you are, and how time goes by and how easily we let important things slip by us.

#9 Comment By ADL On June 10, 2015 @ 10:45 pm

During one particularly nasty phase O’ Life, I finally read The Count of Monte Cristo. It had everything: terrible injustice I could relate to, followed by resurrection, living la vida doce, repaying good deeds– and revenge.

During another funk I discovered Charles Bukowski. Wouldn’t recommend reading him if you’re already depressed.

#10 Comment By Turmarion On June 10, 2015 @ 10:56 pm

Sam M: Also, Rod needs to read A Canticle for Leibowitz. Because it will change your life. I know that’s against the rules.

It did change my life. I read it in ’82, and it was the first step down a path that led ultimately to entering the Catholic Church in ’90. Besides that, it’s one of the greatest–if not the greatest–science fiction novels (hell, one of the best novels, period) of all time.

#11 Comment By Mark Hamann On June 10, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. First, the title character is a person wracked by guilt for one mistake. And he is the only one wracked by guilt for making an split second immoral decision that all his colleagues willingly took to save themselves in a moment of danger. He keeps fleeing his error deeper and deeper into the Asian jungle since his error was a high profile one. Certainly, I never did anything as bad as Jim, but I still have less ability to let go of even minor past errors than most people. Past decisions don’t have to ruin your life. And you don’t even have to flee from them if you know how to own them and learn from them. So Lord Jim is a book that helped me put personal failure into perspective. You are also getting everything second hand through Charlie Marlow, so you’re seeing not just Jim’s perspective (as deduced by Marlow, presumably accurately) but the perspective of multiple people on Jim’s character.

Second, as much therapy as one gets from reading, one gets more from writing–journaling, specifically. Long slow books like Lord Jim put me in a mood to write into my journal and think about my life with my own inner Charlie Marlow.

#12 Comment By Turmarion On June 10, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

[3]; the series is [4].

#13 Comment By Wes Anderson On June 10, 2015 @ 11:32 pm

One thing many Literature teachers forget to make clear is that the authors, especially the great ones, are primarily in the teaching and philosophizing business. Had I known this in my youth, I would have been most receptive; however, I unfortunately moved on thinking the only thing missed was a contrived story…alas, there were bigger fish to fry in the much more serious non-fiction world.

I have only begun to receive the wisdom found in this world and am much the happier and healthier soul due to it.

George Eliot, just tonight, has artfully brought it home to me my feelings towards my wife’s special kind of wisdom:

“An accomplished woman almost always knows more than we men, though her knowledge is of a different sort. I am sure you could teach me a thousand things – as an exquisite bird could teach a bear if there were any common language between them. Happily, there is a common language between women and men, and so bears can get taught.”

Jane Austen, just a couple months ago taught me I was not alone in this sentiment:

“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”

#14 Comment By Darth Thulhu On June 10, 2015 @ 11:59 pm

Amplifying Jill A.’s point about reading harsh events helping with the endurance of harsh events, I will always recommend Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman as a great work of wonder and horror to anyone having just experienced a living horror.

There is demigod rape and serial killing and wanton cruelty and undeserved suffering and outright cosmic-scale insanity. Malefactors often escape any justice in this world, or only get partial justice after multiple millennia. Divinity can be cold and terrifyingly alien in its remoteness, or it can be fiery and vengeful in all-too-intense passion and emotionality. Simple, fair answers are never easily available or purchasable; they always have to be fought for and worked toward, and sometimes simply cannot be achieved regardless of cost.

And in the end, awaiting everyone, there is only Death … thankfully, She is a decent sort.

As bibliotherapy, all of this takes place in the domains of Dream, ruler of Stories, one of the six cosmic siblings of Death. All of it shows the Story influencing and changing the Storyteller, and shows the consequences of embracing an unwise narrative.

It didn’t magically make my horror not happen. Nor did it magically make the consequences of that horror less traumatic. But it helped put that horror in context, and helped explore the contours of the possible consequences of different reactions to that horror.

It didn’t come anywhere close to Saving me or Healing me … but it did help me avoid doing many different kinds of real harm to myself, which is certainly more than grace enough.

P.S. I will heartily endorse the value of A Canticle for Leibowitz, as well. Fully up there with Tolkien and Lewis in world-building and seamlessly weaving in the larger themes.

#15 Comment By Matthias On June 11, 2015 @ 12:20 am

Ben-Hur , helped settle me in my early spiritual journey because it not only affirmed questioning ones faith is a new thing, but goes the route to show that ultimately one cannot repay Christ but merely accept his salvation. Also, that while your passions might bring traction they ultimately dead end if fueled by wrath, lust, greed or selfishness.

The Chronciles of Narnia have always been a good way to dowse my cyncism. Yeah the world is a screwed up place and yes, we are going to fail. But there is always, potiential , change and hope.

Ive also found in my younger days, that the works of Lewis Carroll were a great way to burn off the intelectual fury one gets when surrounded by those who operate in nonsensical or close minded ways (i remember especially ‘Through the Looking Glass’, with the overarching question ‘Did the Red King dream of Alice , or Alice of him?’ –which i always wondered if it was question of intellectual existance).

Babette’s Feast is always a good one (though honestly i remember more from the excelent film, though theyre very close to begin with), bringing up the questions of peity and indulgance, mercy sacrifice and finding a humble balance betweeb it all (and by george, is it also a foodie book).

Gone in the Wind is another i finished recently, that i still ponder. Its a wonderful work of fiction on many levels, but i think works best as a sort of character or cultural study. It plants the characters as well developed but somewhat stereotypical characters in a (at least to a southener) very familiar setting, and then proceeds to tear the whole thing down and bleed white and black into grey. As a southerner i think, i understand the difference between seeing history and events as black and white and start seeing everything for its humanity. For example, culture and even the film, paint the prewar south as this racist and fantastical world. But even in the book, we see the south’s impassioned but stubborn spirit against sense (our celtic blood i guess) , but now we see the passion. There is an excelent scene in post war Atlanta where Scarlett is acosted by a carpet bagger’s wife who makes very rude and racist comments abound Hank (Scarlett’s black coachman) finally having his freedom, but least they wont mingle with whites, and makes comments about his apperance without having the courtesy to even address the man standing in front of her. Scarlett is furious, because she knows Hank is human and has feelings, and one doesnt talk to people in that fashion (yet we make notice as readers she doesnt, in her own mind see them as equals, nor does she extend this to white criminals working in horrid conditions in her mill). My point being, it purposely tears these characters apart via history and lets one examine their good and bad choices in pressibbc situations.

Im sure i could think of more, but im off to bed.

#16 Comment By Carl Eric Scott On June 11, 2015 @ 12:26 am

Cool post.

1) Jane Austen for times when you’re feeling slack, and perhaps inadequately considerate of others. Emma tops the list for this purpose, but any of her novels will do. Persuasion is probably the best overall. All help you think about how to foster good social life, and all prod useful thinking about matters of romance. She’ll tighten-up your language, if nothing else.

2) Herodotus (I know, not fiction, but chock-full of stories) for when you’re feeling too sentimental, too luxurious, too focused on the petty, etc.

3) Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man might be a good one for when you’re feeling burned, done injustice to, tricked, betrayed by a whole system of belief. Some harrowing imitations of mental breakdown within–which might be good therapy for some, or not. There’s a weird way in which Ellison drags you through extremely harrowing stuff but in a healing, ultimately life-affirming way. Memorable symbolic images and characters throughout.

4) Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins is the prescription for when you’re getting too serious or angry about politics.

5) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s November 1916 is the prescription for when you’re not being serious enough about it. There’s something special and immensely healing about all his books–currently enjoying the wonderful Apricot Jam stories. November 1916 also might help those who either need good models of manly actions, of necessary optimism in the face of social collapse, or who have suffered from participation in military combat.

#17 Comment By The Man Who Was . . . On June 11, 2015 @ 1:40 am

I actually see bibliotherapy as a threat to real reading: treating books as a sort of second-rate prozac. If you’re reading classic books for utilitarian reasons, you’re missing the point.

Of course, reading the classics is healing, and it will give you a lot of practical, this worldly wisdom as well, but those are by-products of the real reason for reading: to improve your soul.

#18 Comment By Charles Cosimano On June 11, 2015 @ 3:11 am

In the darkest moment of my life, when all had failed and only the effort of the woman who would become my wife kept me from shooting myself, I found solace in two books, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Conrad’s The Secret Agent which concludes:

“And the incorruptible Professor walked, too, averting his eyes from the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future. He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable–and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regerneration of the world. Nobody looked at thim. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men.”

Then I sat down to write Psionic Psupervillain.

#19 Comment By SLW On June 11, 2015 @ 5:33 am

Oh, I just thought of another! I read Slaughterhouse-Five when I was a teen and enjoyed it, but then I read it again after having cancer (and I would guess some mild PTSD) and it was a revelation. If you’ve been through a life threatening trauma, I highly recommend it.

#20 Comment By Grumpy Realist On June 11, 2015 @ 5:40 am

Another vote for Canticle for Liebowitz. Truly a mind-blowing book.

Two books I return to over and over again: Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, both by Annie Dillard. She somehow “resets” everything in my mind.

#21 Comment By Jim On June 11, 2015 @ 7:52 am

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry helped me to see the importance of place and relationship. I can’t think of a particular malady that it could soothe except the one that is prevalent in many lives…the belief that one needs to be somewhere else and someone else to become themselves.

I think it would be a wonderful read after one has finished this book…”The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.”

#22 Comment By Surly On June 11, 2015 @ 9:19 am

“The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx, helped me see how I could repair my own life and create a family even if I hadn’t had great role models in my own life.

“The Boys in the Boat”, by Daniel James Brown. Sometimes you just want to lose yourself in a story and not think about the world while you are in the world created by the author. This book isn’t fiction–it’s an account of the 1936 Olympic crew team who won the gold medal in Berlin. The seemingly ordinary young men, some of whom endured conditions of grinding poverty and neglect, came together to form this incredible team that achieved an Olympic gold medal. It’s inspiring and hopeful and so, so different from literary fiction where people are sad and messed up. It’s also a good reminder that messed up families have always been with us.

#23 Comment By NChase On June 11, 2015 @ 10:24 am

As a questioning teenager, trying to decide on what path to seek out after high school, I read the largely forgotten best seller “Kings Row” by Henry Bellamann (1940). A true “American Gothic”, it was a precursor to “Peyton Place” (and far superior as literature; the entire first chapter of “Peyton Place” was virtually plagiarized from Kings Row, a fact that shocked me when I finally read that 1950s potboiler.)

Set in late 19th Century rural Missouri, “Kings Row” deals with “exposing hypocrisy and small-town secrets…with themes of mental illness, incest, homosexuality, suicide, gender equality in relationships, and sadistic vengeance” as Wikipedia sums it up, themes that still resonate today. But what struck me most was that I recognized myself, for the first time, in fictional characters. I was never much on “young adult” literature. I found it shallow and limited, particularly that of the “Outsiders” variety, so popular with my peers. But Bellamnn’s artistry in describing his teen age characters struggling with adult desires and ambitions really helped me to put my own struggle for self-actualization into context.

There’s a fine movie version of “Kings Row”, produced in 1940. It necessarily tamps down much of the more salacious content but it beautifully captures the dark, Gothic tone of the novel. It stars Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan in one of her best performances. Reagan often referred to it as his favorite among his own films.

#24 Comment By Kris D On June 11, 2015 @ 11:33 am

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It’s a science fiction/fantasy novel where a band of people have left earth to settle another world. They use technology to assume the trappings of the Hindu pantheon. One of the becomes the Buddhu to challenge them. Zelazny often used religion/mythology in his writing. It introduced me to other religions & ways of thinking, & illusion vs. reality. Favorite line, “What man who has lived for more than a score of years desires justice, warrior? For my part, I find mercy infinitely more attractive. Give me a forgiving deity any day.”

#25 Comment By Everhopeful On June 11, 2015 @ 11:50 am

Since there are a lot of professor/grad student types who read Rod, maybe the following will be helpful for someone:

Doctoral students in the humanities have to read the most God-awful dreck. Expository, argumentative prose was killing me, and what saved my sanity was poetry. I reread all of Shakespeare’s plays, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Jorge Luis Borges. Verbal beauty, words and phrases and sentence that didn’t have to mean, but could simply be, were a balm to my soul.

Now I have to write scholarly expository prose, but I try to make it as clear and beautiful as possible. I don’t have the creativity, talent, and discipline to write the sort of thing I most enjoy (novels and poetry), and my job requires writing stuff few people like to read. But it pays the bills.

#26 Comment By Liam On June 11, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

Well, in my difficult middle school years, I thrived on discovering Emily Dickinson (“Emile Dickens”, to quote Sophie Zawistowska…). In high school, Flannery O’Connor became bewitching and I’ve never lost my fondness for all of her writings (the correspondence very much included), and I also devoured Thomas Mann. I did the reverse of most folks, and started with The Magic Mountain and found Buddenbrooks afterwards, then the short stories and Doctor Faustus. In an utterly different vein, I utterly loved Manzoni’s The Betrothed, which I think Rob would greatly enjoy. remember that Verdi wrote his setting of the Requiem Mass for Manzoni, who occupies a place in Italian literature like Flaubert does in French.

Oh, and Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy – that’s a must-read, Rod, if you’ve never read it.

I haven’t read much fiction in the past 20 years (I devour so much non-fiction). I was glad to finally read The Purgatorio last year – it was the one part of the Divine Comedy I had skipped in high school – and I see that it’s really the finest part of the work, but not something readily appreciated until mid-life.

#27 Comment By Joan On June 11, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

Can an entire genre be recommended? I have loved science fiction from an early age and it vaccinated me against the future shock that seemed to torment some of my peers. I believe it was Bruce Sterling who said “Sometimes you need the whole science fiction tool kit just to make sense of the present.”

#28 Comment By Alex Wainer On June 11, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

No recommendations, but a question: C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism discusses two ways of reading a book: to “use” a book, i.e., to read it for thrills, prurient attractions, passing the time, or as a critic seeking faulty ideas, etc., or to “receive” the book’s content, to be open to the author’s meaning, to submit to whatever art is there. Obviously, the bibliotherapists would seek the latter approach to reading, but could this be interpreted as a utilitarian mode of reading?–“eat your literature, it’s good for you!”

#29 Comment By Rob R On June 12, 2015 @ 12:12 am

Recently, I read _Requiem for a Dream_, by Hubert Selby, Jr., a book about the difference between real hope and the evil spell of dreams. All of the characters are ruined by the latter. I saw in that book the source of my own despair, and thus also a possible way out.

#30 Comment By Brock Fowler On June 16, 2015 @ 8:54 am

Among my favorite books are the novels of Fr. Owen Francis Dudley: a VERY popular author at the time, but who has gone down the memory hole since the changes after Vatican II.

#31 Comment By Natalie R. On June 23, 2015 @ 4:57 pm

Bibliotherapy is a great idea and I loved the author’s “How Dante Can Save Your Life.” Dante’s sinuous terza rima should be a reminder that poetry is a special form of literature that should earn particular respect. I regret that the author of “The New Yorker” piece did not include the emotionally salvific benefits of reading poetry–or learning to read poetry if you cannot already do so.