A book for every ill
Ella Berthoud first began thinking about Bibliotherapy as a way of dealing with life's issues while studying English Literature at Cambridge, when she and Susan Elderkin began practicing on fellow students. Now practices bibliotherapy around the world, adding her unique therapy to festivals, reading weekends in the countryside, and in the Caribbean. Here, she explains her methods and offers a prescription or two for BookBrunch readers...Bibliotherapy is the art of prescribing fiction for dealing with life's ailments. As a Bibliotherapist, I believe that you are always better equipped for what life throws at you if you have a novel in your hand. Whether it is leaving home, getting married, going to a new country, getting divorced, becoming a parent, bereavement, or simply living in the 21st century, a great work of literature will always help you to get through any situation.
I delve into your reading history, likes and dislikes, and I find out about any reading 'ailments' that you might have (for instance: too little time to read, being too distracted by the web to read a book, can't get lost in a book as you once did as a child, or you and your partner read totally different books and can't share them). I also discover what is making you tick at the moment, what issues you may currently have in your life, what directions you want to go in in your reading. I then 'prescribe' you a collection of books to read that, as a collection of novels, will take a holistic approach to helping you through your current life issues, or simply expanding your reading horizons.
Some people come to me because they are stuck in a reading rut, and want to go in new directions with their reading. Others simply want advice about how to get more out of their reading, and how to fit it into their schedules. I talk to them about reading notebooks, reading with other people, and finding new ways of reading (audiobooks, reading aloud, reading in new places). Some examples of life issues and books prescribed are below.
Having a baby To make you laugh out loud to the point of wetting yourself in public, read From Here to Maternity by Mel Giedroyc. This is Mel's fictionalised description of her descent into motherhood - from glamorous TV personality, into strange hormonal host to the unknown being within. If you enjoy this (I literally cried laughing) you could later read Going Gaga which is about the next stage (toddler groups, nannies, complicated husbands and so on), and is equally brilliant. For men, Nicholson Baker's Room Temperature is a lovely meditation on new fatherhood while a father holds his baby and feeds her milk.
Grief /Bereavement Maggie O'Farrell's After You'd Gone, in which heroine Alice Raikes suffers from a terrible, unexplained hurt. Deeply felt but very secret pain is the attribute that unites all of the characters, even Alice's barely glimpsed father-in-law, whose absence turns out to be a pivotal element in the story. It's a painful but cathartic read for someone wondering where all the love goes when the loved one dies. Questions such as this, and more about the grieving process, are explored in CS Lewis's extraordinary but little known A Grief Observed. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor until he met a young American woman, Joy Davidson. They fell in love quickly, and enjoyed a happy marriage of only a few years before Joy died of cancer. Devastated, Lewis worked through his grief in this book and describes with great feeling the many aspects of loss. Along the same lines, someone in this situation might find Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking helpful. It describes the death of her husband and illness of her daughter, and how she copes with it with the 'magical thinking' that allows her to believe at once in the reality of death, and the belief that her husband will come back and put his clean shirts and socks on at any minute. It is widely described as one of the most helpful books about bereavement around, partly because Joan Didion is so factual and, in a way, emotionally removed from her subject.
Redundancy Bartleby the Scrivener by Hermann Melville sums up the horror and pointlessness of work, while offering you an extreme way out. Also Alain de Boton's the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which examines attitudes to work throughout history as well as exploring the myriad diverse working worlds of the 21st century - so you can have some choices to consider for a change in career Betty Macdonald's Anybody Can Do Anything in which the hilarious and redoubtable optimist leaves her difficult husband on a remote chicken farm at Chimacum on the Washington State Olympic Pensinsula, to move home to her family in Seattle. She weathers the depresson with her lively extended family, particularly her sassy sister Mary Bard. Betty is inspiring and life-affirming, always able to see the positive side of life even in dire circumstances.
More about bibliotherapy here ellaberthoud.com
Ella Berthoud will be in residence at Voewood festival over the August Bank Holiday, doing bibliotherapy sessions for all interested parties. Visit www.voewoodfestival.com to book tickets.