Can Reading Improve Your Health? (Spoiler Alert: Yes)
If you’re suffering from anxiety, sleepless nights or even writer’s block, the cure may be as simple as reaching for the tablet or book beside your bed. Thanks to bibliotherapy, the practice of reading fiction for therapeutic benefits, it turns out you can download or pick up a literary cure for almost any malady. And you don’t even need to scour the self-help section.
“Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm,” according to a fascinating article in The New Yorker on the concept of bibliotherapy. “Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”
For those of us who love curling up with a good read (the number of bookworms is growing!), the therapeutic benefits of a solid page-turner aren’t exactly breaking news. But the mechanism behind how bibliotherapy works is much more of a revelation.
In a recent NPR interview, bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin shared the philosophy. “Books, we believe, can help you in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a sense of company or solace that you’re not the only one who’s been in this situation or mental state, and sometimes books cure just through the rhythm of their prose,” Elderkin explains.
Elderkin and fellow bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud coauthored The Novel Cure, which reads like an encyclopedia of ailments (everything from apathy to zestlessness) and offers up titles you should read to remedy them. If you’re intrigued by the method and want to know more, check out the remedies section for a glimpse of what they recommend. For a personalized suggestion, simply tweet at them for your own virtual prescription.
Here are three of our own recommendations to get you started.
Best Book to Read for Anxiety
1. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson ($17): Anxiety and depression probably don’t sound like material for a funny book, but trust us — Lawson will have you laughing out loud. In this hilarious yet poignant collection of personal essays, Lawson combats the stigma that surrounds mental illness by opening up about how it affects her life and her outlook on the world. If you’re a fan of Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy this read.
Best Book to Read for Lovesickness
2. Fates and Furries by Lauren Groff ($17): Relationships are complicated, and Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage is no exception. First told from the husband’s point of view, and then from the wife’s, the complexity of the relationship unfolds from both sides. Filled with deceit and shocking secrets, this novel is a satisfying portrayal of the inner workings of a relationship.
Best Book to Read When Dealing With Family Drama
3. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy ($16): Whether you’d describe your relationship with your family as close, distant, dysfunctional or somewhere in between, odds are you’ll identify with the Turner family. When the matriarch decides to move out of the family home in Detroit, her thirteen children need to figure out what to do with the house they grew up in. As you’d probably guess, family secrets suddenly come to light in the process.
Would you give bibliotherapy a try? If you have any book recommendations, let us know in the comments below!