An article from the New Yorker by Ceridwen Dovey about bibliotherapy, healing through books, something readers have known about for a long time.
“Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect.
“The first use of the term is usually dated to a jaunty 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, ‘A Literary Clinic.’ In it, the author describes stumbling upon a ‘bibliopathic institute’ run by an acquaintance, Bagster, in the basement of his church, from where he dispenses reading recommendations with healing value. ‘Bibliotherapy is…a new science,’ Bagster explains. “A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, and you ought to know what it is. A book may be of the nature of a soothing syrup or it may be of the nature of a mustard plaster.’ … Bagster is finally called away to deal with a patient who has ‘taken an overdose of war literature,’ leaving the author to think about the books that ‘put new life into us and then set the life pulse strong but slow.’
“Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from literature courses run for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia.”
(Illustration by Sarah Mazzetti)