A Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies

I first heard about Bibliotherapy a few months back in an article that showed up on my Facebook news feed.  According to the article, Bibliotherapy is the practice of soothing emotional, mental, and possibly physical (?) ailments through books.  Bibliotherapists (yes, it’s a real job), listen to their patients’ problems then prescribe certain books – nonfiction or fiction, which they feel will help them cope better with what they’re going through.  According to bibliotherapists, literature and words have the power to alleviate mental and emotional distress by transporting people to other worlds or distracting them from what’s weighing them down. Bibliotherapists believe that readers can also seek comfort from specific situations in certain novels, such as from dialogues/quotes, and/or from different characters they can relate to.

A Novel Cure by bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin is a book that provides “An A–Z of Literary Remedies.”  It lists ailments (mental, emotional, and physical); a short definition; and a title of a book or two  to alleviate the said ailment.  Other than the ailments/cure list, there are also top 10 lists interspersed throughout the book on what to read during certain periods of one’s life or when finding oneself in certain situations.

A Novel Cure has been published in numerous languages, with additional ailments/cures uniquely found in particular cultures/societies.  It is not the type of book you read in one sitting.  It’s best used as sort of reference manual when you find yourself in a certain situation or mood, when you want to know what books have certain themes, or when you don’t know what to read next despite your ever-growing “to-be-read” list.

The listed ailments range from the serious, such as “abandonment,” “loss of faith,” and “loneliness”; strange, such as “egg on your tie” or “lack of seduction skills”; to the downright absurd, such as “determinedly chasing after a woman even when she’s a nun.”  Here are some ailments that stood out on my initial perusal of the book:

Irritability – Where someone is being irritable, you can be sure there’s another unexpressed emotion lurking, ice-berg like, beneath the surface…

Recommended book:  The Blackwater Lightship – Colm Toibin

Coward, being a – It’s impossible to live a good life and be a coward.  How can you aspire to do the right things by others – or even by yourself, if your first impulse when things get sticky is to run off and hide your knocking knees….?

Recommended books:  To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee / Gunnar’s Daughter – Sigrid Undset

Cancer, caring for someone with – When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, and you suddenly find yourself in the role of the carer, it can be a tremendously difficult time…

Recommended books:  The Spare Room – Helen Garner / The Sickness – Alberto Barrera Tyszka / A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Bed, inability to get out of – Perhaps you have a headache or a hangover…

Recommended books:  Bed – David Whitehouse

Flatulence – If you have a tendency to suffer from excessive gas, leading to belching or flatulence, – or heaven help us, both – you will no doubt feel a feel a great sense of camaraderie and solidarity with the highly educated but seriously slobbish thirty-year-old Ignatius J. Riley…

Recommended book:  A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

An example of a top 10 list for different times of life:

Top Ten Best Novels for Fifty-Somethings:

  1. Disgrace – JM Coetzee
  2. Spending – Mary Gordon
  3. The Diaries of Jane Somers – Doris Lessing
  4. The Invisible Bridge – Julie Oringer
  5. The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney
  6. The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
  7. The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
  8. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler
  9. Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates
  10. White Lightening – Justin Cartwright

Top Ten Audio books for Road Rage:

  1. Crash – JG Ballard
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
  3. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  4. Hopscotch – Julio Cortazar
  5. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving – Jonathan Evison
  6. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  7. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
  8. Anywhere but Here – Mona Simpson
  9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
  10. The Miracle at Speedy Motors – Alexander McCall Smith

I don’t know how effective these cures are, but it’s fun reading through the different maladies one can feel and the books that can possibly cure them.  So, do you have a complaint/ailment/situation you want solved by a good book?  Let me know and perhaps A Novel Cure has the perfect remedy for you!


A Novel Cure:  An A-Z of Literary Remedies (2013) – Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

Canongate; 459 pages

5 thoughts on “A Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies

  1. I have this book, too, and I do find it entertaining to flip through. Every time I do, I think I should try a few of them, but I have yet to actually do it. Have you?
    I’m thinking I might as well try reading through the books to read in your 40s. I have 8 more years to get through 10 books – I should be able to do that.

    • I haven’t tried their recommendations yet….I just got the book in the mail today. I do find the ‘ailments’ for some of the books I’ve read interesting.

      A funny thing though, earlier in the day, before I got the book, I remembered that I had started, but stopped reading Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami. I thought to myself, ‘maybe I should read it again.’

      When I was flipping thru A Novel Cure, I looked up ‘unemployment’ because starting Jan 1, 2016 I will be officially, maybe temporarily unemployed, and lo and behold, it suggestef I read Wind-up Bird Chronicles!

      Sorry for the long post, I just thought it was pretty cool! 😛

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