by Richard Davies
Feeling sad? There is a treatment with a long history where it's believed that you can read yourself happy. The official definition of "Bibliotherapy" is the use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders.
Now, I'm no doctor so I will stay away from the medical side of this subject. But I will add it's no accident that libraries are found in hospitals and prisons. You don't need a clinical study to know the healing power of books. I wish to offer common sense advice about how reading can cheer you up when things look grim.
Tip 1 - Read before bedtime.
Set aside 30 minutes purely for reading a book at the end of the day and turn this into a daily routine. Don't play with your cellphone at this time - reading texts, replying to emails or looking at cats on the Internet will not bring prolonged relaxation or provide the true escapism that a book can offer. A good book can be hard to put down so it's possible that 30 minutes can turn into 60, but that's not a problem. You might have had a bad day but at least try and end it on a calm, positive note.
Tip 2 - Read to someone else.
Reading doesn't have to be a solitary experience. The kids, your grandchildren, your partner, anyone. It's also therapeutic for the other person to listen. Some elementary schools welcome parents for 1-1 reading sessions with pupils. Some libraries want volunteers for reading sessions. Same goes for old peoples' homes. Also a natural consequence of reading to someone else is discussion about the book afterwards. Shared experiences are good experiences.
Tip 3 - Consider non-fiction where ordinary people do extraordinary things.
Learning about how other people have suffered, survived and blossomed is inspiring and sometimes humbling. Examples include Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby (that book made me so happy), Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (his misfortunes never seem to end), In The Heart of The Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (worse things happen at sea), and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (I'm never going mountain climbing). There are so many more. Discovering other peoples' problems can sometimes put your issues into perspective.
Tip 4 - Throw something funny, or perhaps satirical, into your reading selection.
Writing humor is not easy and few people can do it well. David Sedaris can do it - he made me snort out loud in a packed train carriage with one particular story about his family in North Carolina. John Kennedy Toole did it in A Confederacy of Dunces. Tom Sharpe did it in Wilt and Porterhouse Blue. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman did it in Good Omens. Douglas Adams, Calvin Trillin, James Thurber, Kingsley Amis, Garrison Keillor... the list goes on and on.
Tip 5 - Fill an empty house or a lonely apartment with the sounds of audio books.
Don't listen with headphones. Play the audio book through speakers and select books read by some of the great narrators. When you listen to a story told Richard Burton, Ben Kingsley, or James Earl Jones then an extra shared dimension is brought to the experience.
Tip 6 - Fed up with the same old same old? Try books about fresh starts or journeys, or both.
I have not read it but a lot of women swear by Cheryl Strayed's Wild memoir where she embarks on a three-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a rough period in her life. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee is another fine example of an inspiring journey. The epic journeys of Bruce Chatwin and Patrick Leigh Fermor blow my mind.
Tip 7 - Suffering from boredom? Select a book where excitement is built in.
It doesn't have to a spy thriller although I recommend John le Carre. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is one of the most exciting books I have ever read. By the middle of the book, every chapter was culminating in a horse race where I had no clue whether Seabiscuit would win. I had never heard of Seabiscuit so I knew nothing of this horse's legacy. Every race was thrilling and I don't even like horse racing.
Tip 8 - Feeling burnt out by modern life? Slow things down with a classic from another era.
Almost any book where the narrative features moving down a river is conducted at a different pace - The Wind in the Willows, Three Men in a Boat, Huckleberry Finn - and that steady pace seeps into a reader's soul.
Tip 9 - Embark on a reading quest if you feel your life lacks direction.
A quest can vary from a straight-forward challenge to read a certain number of books in a year to finally reading something you have always meant to read - you know, that dusty copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment that you bought in 2002. You could embark on a literary pilgrimage - Anne of Green Gables fans have to visit Prince Edward Island. You could also arrange your next vacation around visits to amazing bookshops - aka bookstore tourism.
Tip 10 - If you are a committed fan of a particular genre, try something completely different.
Walk across to a section of the bookstore that you have never visited and select something unlikely. You like romance, try a business memoir. You like thrillers, try PG Wodehouse. A change is as a good as a rest sometimes. Your selection might turn out to be awful but at least you will now definitely know it's not for you.