Things haven’t been going so well. Maybe you need to change direction. But how? The answer may be as close as your local library for some Shelf Help.
It’s not a typo: shelf help (as opposed to self help) is a play on bibliotherapy, the use of books to cure what ails you. A bibliotherapist might assign Affliction by Russell Banks for problems with addiction, One Thing I Know for Sure by Wally Lamb for mental health issues, or for someone who just needs to lighten up, novels by Carl Hiaasen, Peter Mayle, or Terry Fallis (whose hilarious book Best Laid Plans was my own antidote to politically-inspired depression during the last election).
Lately, bibliotherapy seems to be coming up everywhere. It’s featured in the June issue of En Route magazine, and it’s been discussed on CBC radio. But it’s been around for a while: an American physician noted in 1812 that certain novels could cure melancholy; during the First World War, reading was assigned to soldiers suffering from shell shock.
There are plenty of standard self-help books for what ails you: Fear and Other Uninvited Guests by Harriet Lerner (152.46 LER) or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson (158.1 CAR) might help clear a psychological hump or two. For those intimidated by a heady tome, there’s Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies, (616.852 ELL). But what if you’d rather not come at the problem quite so directly?
I asked my co-workers what books they’d recommend as bibliotherapy that also happen to be good, engaging reads. Here’s what they had to say:
Eva recommends Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman, an author who overcame culture shock, as a means to transcend communication problems. For eating issues she suggests The Dieter by Susan Sussman, an antidote to society’s “thin is beautiful” expectations.
Sara suggests One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni for inspiration to overcome challenges and find out what really matters. In this novel, a group of unique individuals trapped in a basement after an earthquake ride out fear and dwindling resources by telling tales of their lives.
Margaret suggested The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, about an arranged marriage and everything that comes after, as an antidote for isolation and xenophobia. A friend suggests The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews to put things in perspective when you feel your life’s spinning out of control.
Not enough time to read, you say? There are books for that, too, such as Steven Covey’s First Things First (158.1 COV), or Organized Simplicity: a Clutter-free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider (648.8), or even You’ve Got to Read This Book by Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield (LP 27.8 CAN), chock full of inspiring stories about people whose lives have been changed by inspiring stories.
The library has a couple of books on the topic of bibliotherapy, such as Reading to Heal by Jacqueline Stanley (616.89166 STA) and Read Two Books and Let’s Talk Next Week by Janice Maidman Joshua (27.6 JOS), about using bibliotherapy in clinical practice (so you can be one step ahead of your analyst).
My go-to book in a tough time has always been Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. As Franny works her way through a spiritual crisis in the midst of her bemused, amusing family, I’m reminded that it’s okay not to have all the answers.
What? A librarian who doesn’t have all the answers? Guess I’ll see you in the Shelf Help section.
Anne DeGrace’s column is featured every second Friday