November 3, 2016
Open your mind, child, let me have a look, for I am The Bibliotherapist, and I know what you need… a colorful book about potty training
by Chad Felix
While there are still some doubts about whether or not reading a book automatically makes you a better person, there’s very little contention over the idea that dipping into a good novel can help to make a bad day a little better.
Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, self-described “bibliotherapists,” have turned this very obvious thing into a career — one that in 2014 produced The Novel Cure, a book (and also a website) of ailments and corresponding “prescriptions” for the novel-reading set, and now the new The Story Cure (2016), which is, well, the same exact idea, but for kids.
Inspired by Alain de Botton’s well-branded, much less insipid School of Life, the duo has been practicing the art of bibliotherapy since meeting as literature students at Cambridge University around twenty years ago, the Telegraph’s Jonny Cooper explains.
“We would recommend books when one of us was down in the dumps or needed a kick up the backside” recalls Elderkin. “The idea was that the book would shed light on the situation….
“The book has to sweep somebody up, transport them, in order for its cure to work,” says Elderkin. “There are studies that suggest when one is transported, one is more suggestible and open to learning experiences. It seems that the more you relate to the character in a story and the more you are taken up by the story, the more likely you are to have your behaviour changed in the immediate aftermath.”
But what exactly is bibliotherapy? And do you need a degree to become a bibliotherapist? Well, it’s not much, really, and no, you don’t. Bibliotherapy is, basically, knowing books, new and old, and then pairing that knowledge with an understanding of the kinds of things that give people grief: the death of a loved one, the death of god, lice, feeling like you don’t belong, potty training, depression, etc.
On the other hand, if you prefer, bibliotherapy may be everything: it’s the act of sharing a bit of humanity that’s comforted you (a book) with a bit of humanity that you know (a person) who is dealing with a bit of humanity that is not cool (Twitter harassment, random bouts of nausea, American Politics 2016, being made to feel stupid when faced with simple tasks).
If you ask me, it’s a take on the very job (and joy!) of being an empathic, supportive human being stuck on an increasingly hot, increasingly fascistic planet, not to mention the specialty of booksellers and librarians. But does it need to be associated with a name and an industry besides bookseller and librarian? Probably not. (Also, music works too.)
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.