Monday, January 19, 2015

BBC initiates new bibliotherapy column

from Hephzibah Anderson and the BBC: Can you read yourself happy?

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary first acknowledged bibliotherapy in 1941, defining the term as “the employment of books and the reading of them in the treatment of nervous diseases”, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first popped up in print in 1920, in Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop.

Set in a world still reeling from World War One, the novel pairs a screwball rom-com involving a young adman and the heiress to a prune empire, with a German plot to blow up the US president. It’s a period piece, really, but its backdrop – a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn called Parnassus at Home – remains a bibliophile’s paradise, fragrant with the scent of “mellowed paper and leather” and tobacco from the pipe that its owner, Mr Mifflin, puffs away on day and night.

Mifflin is not just a bookseller, though, he’s a “practitioner of bibliotherapy”. As he explains it, “My pleasure is to prescribe books for such patients as drop in here and are willing to tell me their symptoms... There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.”

(Perhaps being of Morley ancestry has something to do with my ongoing bibliotherapeutic fervor)