I had never even heard the term “bibliotherapy” until I went to library school, but as soon as it was explained to me, I knew that I’d been practicing it all my life. The idea is that a reader uses books to heal pain in her life or to cope with painful or stressful situations. There is the type of bibliotherapy in which the reader studies nonfiction books that instruct him about medical conditions or psychological issues, and I have done that at times, of course. My first response to any situation is to find a book about it. But that is not the sort of bibliotherapy that I practice most.
We have moved a lot in our lives—nineteen times for me, as a matter of fact. David and I moved about every five years in the first twenty years of our marriage, and one move could involve a couple of living spaces, such as from temporary to permanent as our previous house sold. I don’t need to tell you that there was a lot of stress involved. One of my first actions when we arrived in a new town was to find the local library and get a card. Once, we lived in a bed and breakfast for a couple of months, and the owner was nice enough to let me use her card until we had a permanent address. Fortunately, I raised a reader, so my son was happy to scoop up an armload of new titles, too.
For a long time, the genre that got me through the greatest stress was cozy mysteries. I worked my way through books that have become good friends, such as Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Lord Peter Wimsey” series, Ellis Peters’ “Brother Cadfael” series, and random Miss Marples, by Agatha Christie, and Agatha Raisins, by M.C. Beaton. It wasn’t until later that I discovered Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth. A dishy detective, like Lord Peter or Hamish, is always a plus. Brother Cadfael does not fall into this category, but when I told a friend in Georgia about this series, she called me a week later and said, “Thanks a lot for telling me about Brother Cadfael. I haven’t washed a dish or vacuumed a floor in a week. I just keep driving to the library for the next one.” What’s great about cozy mysteries is that you come to care a lot about the characters and their town/village/monastery, there is a puzzle to solve that will require a good bit of your concentration, and all of the problems they have can be solved righteously in less than 300 pages. This takes your attention away from your real-life, interminable problems that don’t have such neat solutions.
Furthermore, a series is a comfortable, old friend. Next time you want to see them, there they are, just as you left them. No awkward breaking of the ice, no wondering how they feel about certain subjects. Just jump in and have new adventures together, and they’ll still be there when you leave. So reassuring. And as long as the author is alive—and sometimes even if they’re not— you’ll know there is always a potential for more books!
Just recently, life got tough for me. Finances are always nerve-wracking when one spouse is a realtor and has intermittent income, and the other is a librarian and is therefore paid much less than she deserves. As a result of all sorts of bureaucratic snafus, a nice check that David was supposed to get did not arrive. Also, a much-loved colleague resigned last week, citing some nonsense about staying home with her baby. When weekend came and I dutifully turned to the next advance reader copy by a fine author whose work I was going to review, I just couldn’t read it. She’s a great author, and I won’t mention the book, because I will get back to it, but I needed bibliotherapy. So I picked up the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series, a prequel to her “Mortal Instruments” series that I had read last year. It was new, but familiar, and I dove right in and have loved it from the start. Not only are the stories packed with adventure, but nobody does heroes with Witty Banter like Cassie Clare. And what is a hero—be he ever so handsome—if he cannot keep up a running stream of Witty Banter?
Fantasy has been my bibliotherapeutic genre of choice for the past few years. I select young adult and children’s books for a living, so many of my new favorite authors are YA authors. From a foundation of reading The Lord of the Rings as a teen—over and over—I’ve gone on to love Megan Whalen Turner’s “The Queen’s Thief” series, Melina Marchetta’s “Lumatere Chronicles,” Kristen Cashore’s “Graceling” series, N.D. Wilson’s “100 Cupboards” series, and—dare I say it?—Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Saga.” I can see that I am going to love the series following Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, even though there has only been one book in each series so far. In grown-up books, Jasper Fforde has been a favorite for a long time with his “Thursday Next” series, and I loved his Shades of Grey (no, not that one). If only he would write a sequel! For a fun romp, Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series is hilarious.
But enough about me. I’m sure you’ve been thinking of all of the series and books that have come to your rescue in hard times. What has helped you to escape, laugh, or be comforted?
And now I really must go. I’m on page 203 of Cassie Clare’s Clockwork Angel, and I need to how Tessa Gray will survive a soiree full of vampires and live to be Will’s One True Love.