I’ve often held with the idea that books and writing can help in many therapeutic ways, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am referring to one of the services offered by the School of Life that involves therapy aimed towards your reading habits and booklists. I am a latecomer to joy over The School of Life, because I’ve spent more time reading Alain deBotton’s books than I have looking up the author online. If you read bookish blogs, chances are you’re already familiar with how delightful the concept of bibliotherapy is.
Either in-person at the London store or by phone or VOIP for a long-distance consultation. You get a forty-minute discussion regarding your reading lifestyle. You can cover barriers to enjoying fiction, curiosity about subjects or genres, or simply discuss the books you like. You get after your bibliotherapy session a reading list.
This is something I would love to do, if I hadn’t already got to-read piles of books to the ceiling. I feel like I’m in a pretty rich and rewarding place, with regards to my own work and leisure bibliographies. But I’ve known a lot of people who have a great need for bibliotherapy. Friends who are so weighed down with guilt over half-read books and gifts from friends that have never been opened. Others feel at once fed up with the genres they usually read, but also incapable of breaching the mysteries of alternative options. One friend cannot tolerate the thought of reading a used book, refuses to shop online or pay full retail price.
Though these may seem somewhat basic problems, and the information is out there to resolve some of them in minutes with the help of book reviews and other resources, there can be a lot of anxiety and shame involved in these barriers to reading. I’ve seen them sometimes resolved through ebooks, magazines, fanfiction, and even humble blogs. A lot of severe bibliographical problems can be caught up as much of our literature is with sense of self, shame, and pride. It is quite similar and at times tied in to the shame associated with illiteracy or educational difficulties.
Having a bibliotherapist available somewhere, anywhere in the world, even for a price, is to me a very valuable thing. I can only hope that bibliotherapy becomes more common, more accessible. Being able to break down barriers to reading and learning the skills that you need to find the books that resonate with and enrich your life is something more valuable than an educational lifetime of disconnected English and literacy classes.
The term ‘bibliotherapy’ isn’t entirely new; see Tea and empathy | Society | The Guardian (guardian.co.uk) for a short article on how books and discussions of books have and are being used to benefit individuals and communities. I myself loved reading Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (review here) in which an amnesiac character recovers memories through his bibliography.