Forget mindfulness meditation and long sessions on a soft couch. It’s all about the Brontes, Rowlings and Carlos Ruiz Zafons of the world.
As you can tell, I will read anything. I’m not a literature snob – I’m the opposite. So long as it involves real paper, between two covers (I’m not down with this e-book business), preferably fiction, I will read it.
That’s why I was so relieved when I read reading (yes, reading about reading) acts as a form of therapy. You can, in fact, be ‘prescribed a course’ of reading, in order to help manage anxiety, depression, post-traumatic-stress-disorder and grief.
Count me in.
There is a name for it, it’s called bibliotherapy. It uses literature to aid in healing (what a beautiful thought) and prescribes books that might be helpful to someone facing a particular problem or in a certain state of mind. For example, reading about a character who is in a similar situation – maybe grieving, anxious, lost or hurt – can help you realise your own circumstances for what they are; clear your thoughts; and reaffirm your place in the world.
Mia Freedman and Rebecca Sparrow discuss the book Freedman is currently reading. Post continues below video.
Like many good things, it started with the Greeks, who described a library in Thebes as a ‘healing place for the soul’. This same phrase could be uttered upon the opening of any book because, as author Ceridwen Dovey wrote in a column for the New Yorker, reading acts as a welcome attention-retainer in today’s utterly information-saturated world.
“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.”
Key word of Dovey’s phrase? ‘Fiction’… (Please note, this is not about self-help books…)
While books that examine the human psych and discuss methods for dealing with abuse, loss and mental health can certainly help guide, direct and heal individuals facing difficult life hurdles, I have always found myself unable to stay concentrated, and losing interest (in the workings of my own mind) about five pages in.
I’m all about escapism. I read to build, discover and live within an entirely new, different, fictional world. Maybe that means I’m running away from my problems, or have one foot constantly out of reality…. but bibliotherapists still count it as ‘therapy’, and that’s good enough for me.
“Fiction, with its vast array of human experience, is a resource we would be foolish to ignore when we are struggling in our lives,” bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin wrote in The Guardian. “Whatever we’re going through, someone in the pages of a novel has been there, too.”
Exactly. I don’t need to understand my own mind, just that of characters like Lisbeth Salander or Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
The benefits of fiction are double fold. The escapism forces you to relax, transporting you outside of your own head and thoughts. While the characters, who are brought to life within the mind’s eye, can help you re-evaluate or confirm your own approach to a problem, circumstance or situation… or (if you’re anything like me) just to life in general.
The Jane Eyre’s and Anna Karenina’s of literature can help inspire in matters of love, strength and self-understanding.
The Hermione Grangers and Katniss Everdeens of modern fiction can help readers find confidence in the place of intelligent, powerful and complex women in society.
While novels such as Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Ceders can help slow life down, put things in perspective and establish direction.
Finally, there’s a reason for being anti-social… Being a book worm has never been so advantageous – it’s all about transcendence.