Good Literature as Therapy, part 2

A fascinating guardian article from 3 years ago (see below for link) says books are good therapy, especially books read and discussed together with others in book clubs and lit circles.  Sharing books with others in local book clubs, according to the The Reader’s Organisation, significantly “improves self-confidence and self-esteem, builds social networks, widens horizons and gives people a sense of belonging, preserving the mental and physical health of those who are well and building mental resilience.”

I think even online reading groups are terrific for this, internet forums, FB groups, your local ladies’ Bible study group online…. anything that has you engaging in thoughts not entirely your own, which also includes just reading good books written by others.

Salley Vickers points out that while actual groups you meet with face to face help, you can still gain immense mental health benefits from reading good books in isolation:

“Chronic loneliness and isolation are now prevailing social problems, but it is not necessary to be part of a group reading project for a book to have a role in ameliorating this social malaise. ”

Reading fiction at home by yourself also provides friendships and relationships that many don’t have in real life, and this, too, is a healthy remedy for social isolation.

Books have been our closest and dearest friends for many of us. Several years ago as a new friend and I became closer and shared our back stories, which included severe abuse for both of us, she asked me if I had been a voracious reading in childhood.  Of course, I had been, as had she.  She said she had once come across research showing that one of the common factors in children who survived traumatic childhood in severely, harshly, dysfunctional families is that they read a lot. The idea seemed to be that all that reading gave them healthy escapes into worlds where abuse was not the norm, where they had friends and even alternate families where healthy relationships were modeled and affirming friendships, albeit with fictional characters, were formed.  It was better than nothing, and definitely better than the real world for abused children.

When I think about this and also consider how little people read anymore, it makes me sad. Literature ought to be the birthright of every child on earth, but increasingly, we have tossed it aside for games on electronic devices and 140 character mediums and pictures on social media, posting for likes, nothing deeper than a hairs’ breadth.  In Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, the U.S. has established a Handicapper General, whose job it is to ensure egalitarianism for all.  Those of superior intellect are required to wear devices that interrupt and distract their thought processes with discordant noises, jangling bells, sirens, and occasional canon blasts.  Had he but waited, he could have had us all handicapping ourselves through the distractions of social media and computer games.

Meanwhile, our libraries are getting rid of the best that literature has to offer humanity and replacing them with computer banks and message fiction which has a shelf-life of months rather than centuries.  Believing in the power of timeless literature is considered snobbish, elitist, but it’s actually the opposite.

TRO’s organizer, Jane Davis, explains:

“When I first read Jonathan Rose’s book, I was moved to discover that there was a tradition of personal engagement with books among the working class. The Northampton cowman and the Manchester factory girl were like people in my own family history. And they had their minds broken open to the beauty and grandeur of the universe – by poetry! And I was profoundly moved by what we have lost – the overwhelming sense, in the book, of a grander world which we can get to – a world of powerful ideas, tremendous vocabulary, social visions, ideals, personal knowledge – through books. And I realised that what we had unwittingly and organically invented in TRO was part of this tradition, even though we didn’t know it. It’s a powerful thing that demands attention. We need genuine education that is personal, creative, demanding and filled, as literature is, with useful equipment for the inner life. I think Rose’s book helped me understand that humans have a natural desire for big learning. And that we’re not, as a society, meeting that need.”
“You don’t need to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”  Ray Bradbury

We’re failing our children and ourselves. Make a difference. Read more good books.  Find others to read with or discuss books with.  Read to the children in your life. Bring in some children and read to them.

You owe it to yourself.


Part I

Guardian article

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