The book written 132 years ago that will cure your anxiety

A new book points to reading (and one book in particular) as the ultimate cure for anxiety, loneliness and fear.
woman reading on the couch (Photo Masterfile)

The cure for all that ails you psychologically and emotionally may be bibliotherapy. Don’t worry if you have no idea exactly what that term means or entails. At bottom, it’s simply an official-seeming way of expressing the very old idea that reading is good for you.

A good book doesn’t just offer aesthetic delight and intellectual stimulation. It can also make you feel better, heal your heart, open your mind and stimulate personal transformation. If you don’t buy any of that then it may be because you’ve never had the pleasure of discovering a great novel.

Authors Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin are so convinced of the healing powers of literature that in 2008 they began offering classes in Bibliotherapy at the School of Life in London, England. Recently they wrote a reference book of sorts to extend their reach. The Novel Cure offers something like a prescription for all the emotional and psychological ills that plague contemporary culture.

For example if you’re plagued by anxiety, the authors suggest you read Henry James’s Portrait of A Lady.

If you’re tetchy enough to wonder why you ought to, the twosome playfully break it down for you in a recent article for The Daily Beast.

“Of the 14 causes of anxiety that we have identified, the first chapter of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James can be expected to ameliorate 10,” they share.


Those 14 causes include everything from the serious: “Trauma, including abuse, or death of a loved one; relationship problems, either at home or work,” to the ridiculous, “...gnawing feeling that you should have read more of the classics” and, “...threat of attack by wild animal/person”.

James’s iconic classic will ease an addled and anxious mind by causing it to slow down and drink in James’s famously languorous/ponderous prose, they proclaim. It will also, on occasion, make you laugh, which is known to soothe a distressed mind.

Does The Novel Cure work? You'll have to try it to find out. And unlike other interventions, there are no painful side effects. And if the idea of finding the time to read a 600-plus page novel stresses you out even more, then you may want to put your agita in perspective. You’re not being asked to write it for pity’s sake, only to find a few minutes a day to read it.


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