Bibliotherapy: “the prescribing of fiction for life’s ailments”. For each person at each point in life, there is a book that, when read, can cure. I obsess over the question “What on Earth should I read next?!” and find tremendous comfort in this thing Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin call The Novel Cure. Their book indexes ailments from “abandonment” to “zestlessness”. It includes antidotes cures for the “flu” and “obesity”, for “dinner parties, fear of” and “superhero, wishing you were a”, all found through fiction. They cover also Reading Ailments, such as “skim, tendancy to” and “shame, reading-associated”.
And if that lovely tome weren’t enough, I had the special pleasure of a one-on-one session with Susan to talk books and life. [Thanks Foyles!].
Walking down Charing Cross, I wondered – what was my “ailment”? None came to mind. I pictured the conversation: “So what seems to be the problem?” “Well. To be honest I’m quite thirsty. And I forgot my camera.” Switching bags before heading out, I had left my water bottle and all three of my cameras at home. Bad blogger award.
But I didn’t need to waste my precious fifteen minutes on water. Stepping through Foyles’ front door I met Andy, the events manager, who, because it’s such a hot day, handed me a water bottle. Ailment cured before the session even began, and Le Petit Prince, with its section on appreciating the quenching of thirst, stayed off my list.
I was the first appointment of the day. “Hello, are you my patient?” asked the lab coat-ed, stethescope-d, and fabulous orange dress-wearing Susan. I had never been so excited for a doctors’ appointment. This totally beat appendicitis.
We talked books, and I mentioned that I was suffering the over-excitement of having finished my literature degree – the terrifying freedom of being without a reading list for the first time in ten years. Susan and Ella met at Cambridge, so understood the post-grad syndrome. We talked about my literary faves, and my current situation of spanning two homes. Here’s what she prescribed.
Ailment: Just graduated, and wants to get her head around contemporary fiction – where to start!?
1. On Beauty by Zadie Smith – because it’s set in Boston.
-> Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
-> Jonathan Franzen.
2. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard.
3. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – for if you’re missing Jane Austen.
4. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – ref. Fitzgerald.
5. The Group by Mary McCarthy – for starting out post-uni.
6. Chasing the Rat by Al Alvarez, & Touching the Void (climbing books)
Before I left Foyles, Novel Cure and On Beauty in hand, my second bashful ailment – being camera-less – was also cured. We were invited into the front window for a picture on Susan’s iPhone. Giddiness forever captured, serendipitously matching the orange display.
For us bookworms, the world of fiction can be a daunting place. We get wrapped up in what we should be reading because it’s famous or new or classic or whatever. But really, books are like friends. When you find the right one, the one that seems to get you, the one that helps you grow and understand, life simply glows, like the brilliant orange of The Novel Cure‘s endpaper.