Finally someone has published THE book anyone like me, who has been following the whole notion of bibliotherapy since the word first entered common parlance, will descend on like a thing posessesed, The Novel Cure - An A - Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthould and Susan Elderkin and published by Canongate.
And no, I still haven't figured out why the title on the spine would appear to be upside down, I expect it will come to me eventually. The book has emanted from the School of Life of which I had heard of but knew not a great deal about, but know a lot more since perusing the website.
Back in the olden days we tried to do something along bibliotherapy lines in a GP surgery in which I worked. Not self-help books for patients (that would probably have needed an ethics committee, a paper, evidence-based evaluation, all enough to spoil it) but with the medical students (ripe for experimentation) who came on placement. Novels were a brilliant way to help young students straight out of school gain a safe third-hand understanding of some of the big emotional events they would surely have to face, especially when life may not have strewn many, if any of them in their path to date. We built up a good library of books and suggestions and the next step would have been to hold held regular book groups to discuss them, everyone involved was as keen as mustard especially the students. For a while it didn't really feel like work, in fact it felt like an invaluable contribution to equipping the doctors of the future with compassion and awareness about things like domestic violence, drug use, loss and bereavement, child abuse and so much more, but then my manager got wind of it and put a stop to it. Apparently being that helpful to GPs and medical students wasn't in my remit, and it wasn't long before the whole health visitor/GP working partnership was fractured by government and NHS managers, and health visitor practice attachment became a relic of the past. In six months of bank health visiting last summer in a different area, I didn't see or speak to a GP once and I realised that communication (there at least) had become almost non-existent...and then we wonder why bad things happen.
What I think about all that is another whole story I'd best not start on, but what I think about bibliotherapy, and have always known it can achieve, is perfectly rendered by this amazing book, and I suspect it is one that many a reader, and me especially, will want to own and keep to hand for every eventuality....maybe even refer to this excerpt, except this is help I don't need, too far gone along the marginalia route me...
reverence of books, excessive
'...get over it. Books exist to impart their worlds to you, not as beautiful objects to save for some other day. We implore you to fold, crack and scribble on your books whenever the desire takes you...'
It gets better and I love it because it feels like an endorsement...
'Underline the good bits, exclaim 'YES!' and 'NO!' in the margins...draw pictures, jot down phone numbers ...make journal entries... scribble down ideas for a novel of your own...stick postcards and pressed flowers between the pages.'
The theory is that..
'When you next open the book you'll be able to find what made you think, laugh and cry the first time round...'
Books about books are always a treat, I have a shelf full of them, but The Novel Cure is different, much more than that and I can see how useful it will be. It's a sort of readerly vade mecum with answers and suggestions for everything. Those who might consider themselves reasonably well-read would probably still struggle to quickly think of books to aid with humourlessness, or falling out with your best friend, or feeling like a failure, or loss of faith, or economic depression, or inability to cope, failing to sieze the day, or when suffering from constipation...or worse.
Or think of strategies for coping with a variety of reading ailments...
Too many children requiring attention, or being a compulsive book buyer, or being put off by hype, or being unsure of your reading identity.
Or come up with a list of ten novels for when you've got a cold, or to drown out snoring, or to make you laugh, to read in a hammock, to read in hospital or to cure wanderlust, to cheer you up or to read when very blue, but it's all here.
Each book suggested, and there are gazillions of them, has a great write-up consisting of a resume before highlighting exactly why and how this book will sort you out. Sometimes there is no solution, it's often about gaining a new perspective, or feeling reassured that you are not alone, or just being temporarily transported from whatever the problem is into another galaxy for a bit of literary fun before you have to beam yourself back.
'You may not be able to see a gap in the clouds, but the knowledge that you're not the first to lose your way beneath them will keep you going as you wait for them to pass.'
I suspect the wide margins are there for a very good reason and I've started writing in my copy already, because we will all have books that we would want to add to a list, like the ten best novels for duvet days, or to lower your blood pressure, or for when you are locked out (presumably this would involve heading to your nearest bookshop, or camping out at the library) Meanwhile I am paying particular attention to the ten best novels for fifty-somethings before its too late, I don't have long to read seven of these...
White Lightning ~ Justin Cartwright
Disgrace ~ J.M.Coetzee
Spending ~ Mary Gordon
The Diaries of Jane Somers ~ Doris Lessing
The Invisible Bridge ~ Julie Orringer
The Tenderness of Wolves ~ Stef Penney
The Satanic Verses ~ Salman Rushdie
The Stone Diaries ~ Carol Shields
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant ~ Anne Tyler
Young Hearts Crying ~ Richard Ford
Incidentally for those thinking about joining in with our year-long read of A Suitable Boy here is the cure for 'tome, put off by,'
'Cut it up..'