I used to have an ennui-filled teenager in my life. “I’m bored,” she would whine. “Read a book.” I would invariably respond, understanding instinctively something that Tyee-contributor Shannon Rupp knows for sure: there are ills in this world that can only be cured by one thing. You guessed it: books. From The Tyee:
Lest you dismiss bibliotherapy as another form of New Age Wingnuttery or a gag along the lines of wine therapy, retail therapy, and chocolate therapy, there’s some evidence for its health benefits. Legitimate researchers have found that having a regular date with literature can lift your mood, reduce your stress, and help stave off ailments like dementia.
Though it sounds like something that might have been conceived last week in a hot tub in California, Bibliotherapy has been around for quite some time.
The term bibliotherapy made an appearance in print as early as 1916, in an Atlantic magazine article, “A Literary Clinic” penned by Samuel Crothers, a Unitarian minister in Cambridge. He was writing about a fellow minister’s foray into a form of psychotherapy he had invented: a kind of positive thinking that mined books for upbeat ideas his parishioners might cling to.
“From my point of view, a book is a literary prescription put up for the benefit of someone who needs it,” he quotes his buddy Bagster saying. “The true function of a literary critic is not to pass judgment on the book, but to diagnose the condition of the person who has to read it.”
Doesn’t he sound like a pill? That straight-from-the-pulpit tone is echoed over and over again in much of what is written about bibliotherapeutics. Instead of celebrating the joy of art, proponents tend to obsess on the need for self-improvement. A Mother Jones article about reading cures from 2005 talks about how to organize a book group focused on “moral fiction” with what must be the most painfully depressing booklist I’ve ever seen. All the characters live in poverty, or endure prejudice, or both.
But never mind all of that: as long-time readers have always known, books a good for you in a very core way.
“In short,” writes Rupp, “a book a day keeps the Prozac away.” And if it doesn’t knock the ennui right out of you, you’re doing it wrong.
The full piece is here.
— Linda L. Richards