On May's bookshelf

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 11 May 2021

You're questioning your life. You don't know how to mend a broken heart. You are facing a prolonged illness. You give up halfway through every book you read. You have nightmares. You feel as though nobody likes you. You're a shopaholic.

If you're struggling with these issues or others, then this month's book recommendation is for you.

A few weeks ago, we discussed the history and prevalence of bibliotherapy. This month's book - Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin's The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies (2013) - is the work of two of the world's most prominent bibliotherapists.

Having comprised a list of physical, emotional, social and societal ills, the authors aim to offer a cure in the form of a novel to help ease the pain.

The authors do not distinguish between types of pain, include both minor and major "ailments," and believe that "what you read at the right moment can change your life." They associate their work with a noble tradition and argue that those who love reading have been using books as salves for centuries, whether consciously or unconsciously.

They champion the restorative power of reading but don't dwell on what precise factor each reader may find restorative. Perhaps it is the rhythm of the prose, change in perspective, identification with a particular character or charms of the story?

The authors do not claim complete cure in all circumstances. Some of the ailments included are rather heavy and all anyone can hope for is solace.

They do not, for example, suggest that a book might soothe cancer. Instead, they suggest 10 diverting novellas for anyone facing the nightmare of treatment or waiting in the doctor's office.

They don't suggest that chronic pain can be combated with the written word, although it might help. Instead they offer escapist novels that allow some departure from present misery.

The work has now been published in 18 countries. In an interesting departure from other works, the authors' contract allows a local editor and reading specialist to adapt up to 25 percent of the ailments and reading recommendations to include more native writers and fit each country's readership.

This has produced interesting results. In the Dutch edition, one of the ailments is "having too high an opinion of your own child." Indians, apparently, struggle with cricket obsession and public urination. Germans battle "hating the world" and "hating parties." Italians might face impotence, fear of motorways and the desire to embalm.

None were in any way stranger than the English proclivity for "murderous thoughts" or "fear of sci-fi."

So, if you're facing a sticky situation or even a more paradigm-shifting occurrence, head to the literary pharmacy where - even if you're not entirely fixed - at least you'll be entertained.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@brightentestprep.edu.hk

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