Friday, 14 August 2015

The Novel Cure: an a-z of literary remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

Rating: 2 stars out of 5 (This book was OK, but had major downfalls )

Okay, this wasn't one of the reviews I promised but here it is nevertheless. For those that don't know, the concept behind The Novel Cure is bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy is where you read books relevant to the problems you have in your current life (e.g. anxiety, grieving, divorce etc.). The reason this is beneficial is because you identify with a character/situation, have a release of emotions and from this catharsis, you are able to have more insight into your own issues. I am going to be clear that this review is more critical than normal, because The Novel Cure is non-fiction.

Positives. The book is pretty comprehensive. It is also well laid-out; it is easy on the eye with a minimalist layout and and easy to navigate if you have a clear issue on your mind. At first glance, the concept of bibliotherapy/The Novel Cure seems to be a good one. I am sure I am not the only person who has deliberately picked a book looking for inspiration about what to do.

However, you shouldn't buy this book thinking that it will solve all your problems. Bibliotherapy isn't a magic panacea (and could even give you a bad idea if you are not following the guidance of a professional counsellor). This book relies on you putting the work in to fix your issues and actively engaging with the recommended reading. I have seen some articles where people have said that bibliotherapy has helped them and then said that they read the recommended 1-3 books after several months or even read it over years. I am somewhat sceptical that, in this case, bibliotherapy has helped; to me, it sounds more like the cliché of time passing.

The other doubt that I have is being able to separate "reading" from "reading 'prescribed' books". We already have strong evidence to suggest that reading helps with MH issues, stress and insomnia (example). It's hard to judge scientifically what bibliotherapy adds to this. Not all recommended books end with a positive resolution/advice and sometimes you can see yourself in characters facing different situations (e.g. you may read/emphasise loneliness into a book whose focus is on emigration and find said book helpful).

My final worry is one that is frequently asked in the show Dragon's Den, where entrepreneurs pitch for a large cash investment. Is there any need for the product? A google search along the lines of "Top ten books about..." or even "books on..." will provide you with a long list for free (e.g.).

Back to the specifics of the book. The structure of the book goes issue (e.g. anxiety) and then moves to an explanation of which book to read. I can only hope that what I didn't like is just personal preference. Firstly, the book recommendation regularly contained a summary of the book, with no warning. For me, there is nothing that puts me off reading a book more than already knowing the basic plot (with the exception of films). Secondly, it is mostly only one book which is recommended. Again, if you consider you can use google, then the attractions of this book are limited. If I was going to improve it, I would have the set out the book like:

issue defined as: ...
- book 1 (look out for character x)
- book 2 (look out for situation y)
- book 3 (autobiography/biography of person who had the same issue at one point)....

Some of the issues I found listed seem a bit trivial like 'buying too many books'. Sure, this may not be a bad thing but the problem is this builds up to a big book. This makes it harder to know whether an issue is listed (and where to look for it because some are added to the end of a section). It also doesn't give much advice on the process engaging with the book (e.g. to write a reflective essay on character x and what you can learn from x). At least that way it would have a USP. Overall, if you are considering this book my advice is to have look before you buy and actively ask yourself, "will I follow the lists?"

What is your opinion on bibliotherapy? Is bibliotherapy something you've tried or will look into for instance?

Book facts
Original Publication: 2013
Pages: 464
Publisher: Canongate books
Feels similar to chinese medicine, very minimal with an emphasis on shapes

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  1. This is not a book I would ever read.
    Fixing your issues with bibliotherapy sounds really like a new name for :
    read a book, discover a character and the changes he goes through. Is it something you can understand, empathize with or want to emulate, good for you! If not, finish the book (or not, our choice) and start the next one.
    I enjoy book that describes people who have come to terms with a difficult past (author Delphine de Vigan), who never give up and reach their dream (author Tim Copes, or biography about John James Audubon (author W. Souder) or who create works of great literature despite their demons ( alcohol) (author Olivia Laing). The books I'm referring to are on my blog and if your interested you can see what I like in a book! Great post, makes you think about the question ...."Why do I read?"

    1. Thanks, it made me think about why I read and what I read. I thought it was an interesting concept but I borrowed it from my library because I've just bought most of the books for my MA course. You just pointed out something in your comment too, all of the authors you listed are unknown in the UK. I think there is a danger of recommending the same books over and over again rather than searching for news ones like the ones you've suggested. Letting your reading list grow organically has a lot of merit too it. I will be sure to check them out on your blog :-)

    2. I just discovered Laurent Seksik, French author. I am reading "Le Cas Eduard Einstein" (2013). It is wonderful. I don't see it in English translation yet. I've his other book "The Last Days of Stefan Zweig". Reading it in French...and it is available in English!

    3. Oh I didn't know about The Last Days of Stefan Zweig, I will have to get a copy. Have you finished it yet?

    4. I'm half way through Le Cas Eduard Einstien.., and will start Zweig as soon as I finish. I've never read Zweig so the is smth to do soon also! Too busy reading to write blogposts!


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