Can books be a cure for the common cold?
Can a novel help us navigate a midlife crisis?
Can reading be a remedy for a broken heart?
These are just some of the questions that bibliotherapy claims to be able to answer. Whatever your ailment may be, there’s a novel – or two – that will supposedly provide temporary relief of your symptoms.
The first instance of bibliotherapy was recorded in an Atlantic Monthly article published in 1916. The author writes about bumping into an old friend, Bagster, who has set up the Bibliopathic Institute. Bagster welcomes clients into his office in the basement of his church, and prescribes books to heal a variety of ailments.
In the article, Bagster says:
“Bibliotherapy is such a new science that it is no wonder that there are many erroneous opinions as to the actual effect which any particular book may have. …
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.”
This episode of Life & Faith explores the therapeutic and perhaps even salvific qualities of books, in response to the “Bibliotherapy” theme of the 2016 Sydney Writers’ Festival.