Chapter 27 – Healing Reading

I came across a BBC news article taking about books and how reading them can help people. Not just the self-help books but all books, fiction maybe even more than fact. The article called it bibliotherapy.

Apparently the concept of bibliotherapy isn’t that new (other articles about it were from around ten years ago) but I hadn’t heard about it before. The question of the article was can you read yourself happy. My answer is yes but then I started thinking about why. Reading can offer is a lot of things, why not happiness and help?

I’ve read (or browsed) a few books that can be labeled as self-help, although most of those were for school. They were more guiding than helping in my opinion but they had some good points. Then again, those points reminded me a lot of horoscopes and the like. You know, writing something that’s so vague and generic that anyone can feel it’s about them if they want to.

The Stacks by Roman Boed
Library, a place for healing? (Picture by Roman Boed)

With fiction, you’re not being told to do anything. You’re not getting advice. You’re not trying to actively help yourself. Maybe that’s their power? You’re just getting immersed in the story’s world and following the characters. The emotions and epiphanies you might get come from the story, and then they might have an impact on you. The problem with self-help books can be that you’re trying too hard to change something and be happy that you might block out all the advice, while a fiction book has a bigger chance of catching you off guard and making you think about something in a new way.

I’m not sure how effective a therapy built on books would be, because assigning a book to read transforms it from simple entertainment into a conscious attempt at improving yourself. That sort of takes away the off guard aspect.

I do believe that reading can be therapeutic however. Reading about people in situations similar to your own can be soothing, give strength or make you see you’re not the only one who has gone through something like it. Sometimes you don’t even know that a book you pick up has themes from your life. Even if you don’t link the book to your own life, you can find an opinion or an attitude you want to express – or never want to express again. I’m sure we can all name books where a character did something nice you’d want to do as well and where a character was being so annoying you’d just want to punch them and hope you never run into a person like that in real life.

To get back to the idea of reading being able to heal you, I don’t think it’s wrong at all. Maybe a good novel won’t fix your broken leg but an uplifting story can get you up and going. It’s like music or movies or art or anything else that creates an emotional connection with you and inspires you.

What books, fiction or nonfiction, have made a helping impact on you? Are self-help books really helpful? Do you think bibliotherapy will become popular or will people just read on their own like they’ve done until now?

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