Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fiction as medicine: reading is good for what ails you

Mary Cassatt
I applaud the approach to wellness taken in The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies. British authors Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin call their work "bibliotherapy."
I've been self-medicating with books my entire life, so I know where they're coming from. A novel is my tonic of choice, whether it's digging further into the oeuvre of a favorite author like Robertson Davies, Iris Murdoch, Sylvia Townsend Warner, or Alice Munro; gravitating for a pick-me-up to the reliably warped, witty, & wise humor of Fay Weldon, Lorrie Moore, or Muriel Spark; escaping my troubles with a mystery by Ruth Rendell (a.k.a. Barbara Vine) or Dorothy Sayers; or bathing my synapses with some perfectly pitched prose by a literary great like William Trevor, Dickens, or Proust. High art or low, n'importe quoi. Even comic books will do in a pinch.
See what you think of their recommendations, and let us know. And we may perchance have a title you're interested in, at a fat discount! Here is one of their remedies, as featured in The Independent.
Ailment: Internet addiction
Cure: Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys
What have we become? A race that sits, gazing in silent rapture, at our devices and monitors, lost to a netherworld of dubious reality. Sometimes it can seem that this non-physical realm which we call 'the internet' is more compelling than the physical world around us. Our cure for this most deplorable of modern ailments is an unapologetically big and densely written tome called Wolf Solent.
Written in 1929 by the admirably eccentric John Cowper Powys and set in the West Country made famous by Thomas Hardy some 50 years before, it opens as its eponymous hero – an unprepossessing 35-year-old with "globlinish" features – flees the dull teaching job in London to which he's been chained for 10 years.
As the countryside becomes more and more lush outside his train window, and the smell of green shoots and muddy ditches reaches his nostrils, he starts to feel alive again. And once fully ensconced back in his childhood territory of Dorset, Wolf's full, sensuous self returns.
He promptly falls in love with two women at once, the bookish Christie and the "maddeningly desirable" Gerda who can whistle like a blackbird. And, senses bristling and thoughts of sex never far away, he experiences an "intoxicating enlargement of personality" that is as irresistible to us as it is to him.
Get off your chair. Fling open the nearest window. Plunge your head into the air and breathe deep of whatever elements of nature are out there – the smells, the sounds, the sights. Then unplug your modem, chuck your devices into the nearest skip and run – barefoot – to the hills.

1 comment:

  1. These women are awesome. They are part of the School of Life, a school dedicated to teaching people how to live through arts and culture. Philosopher Alain de Botton is also a major contributor to the school. I believe Daedalus was selling some of de Botton's books at one point, and recently I saw his book "Religion for Atheists" at the Columbia bookstore.