Friday, November 22, 2013

Tolstoy Therapy: A Fiction Prescription by Lucy Horner


Lucy Horner is a fellow Blogger. I have been known to comment at her site, Therapy Through Tolstoy and she has commented here. I purchased this book on Amazon. 

Those who are familiar with Lucy Horner’s Blog, Therapy Through Tolstoy know that the a major theme of her site is exploring ways in which reading fiction can enhance one’s well being. In Tolstoy Therapy: A Fiction Prescription she lays out her philosophy in detail. As the author points out, this approach at self - help, known as Bibliotherapy, goes back to the ancient Greeks.

Horner tells her own story and explains how reading has helped her deal with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Next she provides real life examples of folks who have dealt with life’s problems through reading. Later, she explains and recommends how numerous works might be helpful when dealing with various personal issues. A plethora of books are explored. Many of the titles are literary classics including works of poetry, but a fair amount of popular literature is also included. Titles range from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, to The Bible, to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. The reasoning here is not just that “life affirming stories will make you feel good”.  Horner talks about how books can provide relatable characters that are also wrestling with common issues, how books can provide inspiration, how books can provide a moral compass, to name just a few benefits covered. There is even a nod to the fact that some works that are generally negative in their outlook, might, in some cases be of help to some. Finally tips on becoming a more dedicated reader are provided.  

Lest anyone is thinking that the author goes too far, Horner emphasizes over and over again that reading is no substitute for professional therapy and medication. It is instead a way for people to find solace and guidance in dealing with life’s problems, both big and small.

This is an engaging, short book. Horner coherently takes us touring through various works and explains how they might be of help in life. She evens sites scientific studies that support her position. Her writing style is warm and personal but also precise and easy to understand. There is much food for thought here as well as more then a few surprises. If anything I hungered for more detail and thought that some of these concepts can be further developed. Perhaps there will be future books!

In a passage that helps to sum up the author’s train of thought, Horner writes,

I currently make time for reading every day, and choose books that positively affect my mental health. Because of literature, I’ve come to understand not only myself better, but also my past experiences. Reading is one of the best ways to find reassurance or to relate to another, particularly when a book is well chosen.

Personally I read for many reasons. A kind of self - improvement is but one of them. Previously, I never thought of reading as a way to directly deal with life’s problems. Nor had I ever heard of Bibliotherapy. However this work, as well as some of the posts over at Therapy Through Tolstoy , does lead me think. Without a doubt reading has at times helped me deal with life including my own shortcomings.  I certainly have derived strength in difficult times as a result of fiction that I have read. My take is that reading in order to deal with life’s struggles is one dimension of many that makes reading worthwhile. Thus, this short book is an intriguing exploration of that dimension. In the future I will be surely more cognizant of reading’s potential in these respects. Of course, I cannot fail to mention that this work is also a very entertaining and fun read for bookish folks such as myself!

34 comments:

James said...

This sounds like an entertaining and helpful book. I have found reading some works of philosophy helpful, but this book seems to go a bit farther. I also find reading and thinking about specific character's lives (eg. Edmond Dantes or Jean Valjean or Pierre Bezukov) can be rewarding.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - Yes, for me it is the characters that are the most inspirational too.

So many books, so little time said...

I have never heard of her but do like to read, positivity type books, every now and again. Just for a wee change. I will need to look her up, thanks.

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Sharon Henning said...

I also enjoy Therapy Through Tolstoy. I don't know from personal experience whether reading works as a therapy but I do know my life is the richer and better for reading the good literature I've enjoyed.

Guy Savage said...

I've been bibliotherapying myself for years and didn't know it!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - I will actually admit that over optimistic works encouraging people to only think positively actually have little appeal to me. This book was actually different. More of a possible way to deal with issues through books but not ridiculously optimistic.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I would say that as reading broadens our minds and spirits, it may simultaneously hep help us deal with life's difficulties.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy - Your comment made me chuckle. There are a few obscure names for some things that many of us commonly do.

Lindsay said...

This sounds wonderful Brian, thank you for introducing me to it. I certainly have found solace and strength many times from relatable situations in the fiction I read, and it can be such a comfort to find you're not alone with something, and to read how a character deals with a matter. It's great to hear that this writer has shared the idea like this.

Suko said...

I had not heard of bibliotherapy either. This book does sound like it could be helpful and entertaining.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lindsy - When I really think about it, I too have found much help in stories that I have read. At the risk of sounding a bit superficial, having grown up with television and movies, some of my strongest experiences have also been from the screen.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Though many of us had not been familiar with Bibliotherapy before, I found this Wikipedia article on it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliotherapy



Naida said...

This does sound like a great book. I hadn't heard of the term Bibliotherapy before, but it's funny because reading does comfort me at times and can move and inspire me as well. It's a "feel good" kind of thing and a way to kind of relax at the end of a long day.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - It seems that this message really resonate among those of us who love books. For me at least, one of the benefits is recalling certain literary characters in difficult situations.

Andrew Blackman said...

I've read that blog a few times, and the book sounds interesting. Personally I've rarely found that feel-good books make me feel good. The ones that do it for me are the books about characters in real difficulty, books which some people find depressing but which, for me, give a sense of communion. I don't even need to see the character overcome the difficulty and achieve resolution. Sometimes there is no solution, and life progresses in a circular rather than linear way. For me the main quality of fiction, and the thing that makes it speak to me, is that it has to feel true. Absolutely honest in a way that goes beyond facts and approaches something deeper about what it means to be human. If a book does that, then I think reading it has enhanced my life.

For that reason I'm a little wary of the term bibliotherapy because to me it suggests a kind of quick fix - read a book, get a solution to your problem, and feel better. For me, reading is about understanding the world, and sometimes that makes you feel worse, sometimes it makes you feel better. In the long run it is beneficial, but it can lead to pain or even contribute to depression in the short term. Maybe I'm not understanding the term fully, though - I should probably check out the book.

Suko said...

Brian, thanks for the link to bibliotherapy, which also mentions writing therapy. I'm reminded of this quotation from Nancy Mair: I will write myself into well-being.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Andrew - Hopefully I have not oversimplified this work too much. Lucy does delve into these more complex situations and stories that are not just feel good. At one point Cormac McCarthy's The Road is even recommended!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Yes, there is the writing angle too. Though the book does not delve into this too much, it seems like it opens up an entire new spectrum on the topic.

Tracy Terry said...

Sounds fascinating and something I'd certainly like to read. Fingers crossed my library is able to get hold of a copy of this.

In the meantime thanks for the link to Lucy's site.

JaneGS said...

I've visited Lucy's blog too, but never realized she had a book that laid out her philosophy...must get this!

I agree with the premise wholeheartedly, and believe that what I read has shaped who I am, and it continues to do so.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - For those of us who really are into reading, it seems so natural that reading really has the influence as you allude to. I find that sometimes non readers, or even more casual readers sometimes just do not understand.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I believe that it is available for both download in the US and the UK. The Amazon price is exceedingly reasonable.

Harvee said...

What an intriguing idea - therapy through reading, though those of us who read knew it unconsciously all along. I like the word bibliotherapy! By the way I saw a movie on TV based on the life of the older Tolstoy, during which time his wife and his followers fought over the copyright of his books. After Tolstoy's death, the courts awarded the copyright of all his works to his wife, which probably means that his descendants are still reaping the benefits of that great mind!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - It is a great idea and as Lucy points out it is actually a very old one.

I must confess that I never actually read Tolstoy. I really need to soon.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Writing is therapy for the soul and so is reading. I find both rewarding - there was a time a couple of years ago when other things took over my life and made me really cranky and depressed and I realized one of the reasons for feeling like that was because I had no time for reading anymore.
I think there is a certain danger in expecting to find answers in literature but if we keep an open mind and not lose the contact with reality it can lead to some interesting discoveries.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia - I totally agree. I would be so lost and depressed if somehow I could not read.

I also agree that looking too hard for answers in books could be a mistake. Personally I just love to explore ideas and concepts with the intention of not taking anything too seriously. In pursuing this course if I come across a really enlightening or useful idea I am pleasantly surprised.

Caroline said...

I'm familiar with bibliotherapy and think it's a very valid approach. Basically I fell any therapy that's helping is valid. :)
I think I've visited her blog once and will do so again.
This certainyl sounds like a book I'd like.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I agree that bibliotherapy is certainly a worthwhile endeavor! When I think about, to some extent I have been practicing it for years and never realized it.

bookaroundthecorner said...

I'd never heard of bibliotherapy although I can imagine it.
Like Andrew, I think books help understanding the world and in particular the human mind. This way they help us cope with our lives.
I find solace in books for different reasons. Sometimes I'm looking for oblivion, to be transported in another world that will erase mine for a while. Sometimes I'm just happy to know I'm not alone with some thoughts, that they're "natural", that someone, even fictional has experienced them before me. Sometimes it's just a relief to find a writer who's put my inarticulate thoughts in words.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Emma - i agree that books really do help in multiple, sometimes contradictory ways. Some do inspire me while sometimes it is comforting to know that someone else has experienced similar bad feelings. I find that music has a similar effect upon me.

Maria Behar said...

This is a great idea, and I've heard of it before. I think I own a book titled "Reading To Heal", but I don't remember the author's name. It's somewhere in my vast library...lol. Of course, self-help books have been around for years, but reading fiction in order to deal with life's problems is not, I think, that well-known.

I've just looked up "Tolstoy Therapy" on Amazon, and alas! It's a Kindle edition..... Well, I'm very disappointed, because I just don't like reading ebooks. I wonder if Ms. Horner might be persuaded to publish her book in printed format as well. I'd really like to add it to my collection!

When I read the Harry Potter series, I really found it inspiring how Harry somehow rose above and triumphed over all the abuse he received, first from his own family -- his aunt, uncle, and cousin, and then from that despicable teacher, Snape. And then, in book 5, he was picked on by a VERY cruel teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment. Harry is definitely an inspiration to kids (and grownups) who are singled out for bullying or similar abuse. You GO, Harry!!!!! Our hero never gave up, never allowed himself to sink into a pit of self-pity. Instead, he persevered against all odds, and finally defeated a formidable foe, one whose power in the use of black magic was legendary. So it was another case of David defeating the giant Goliath. And David, too, was made fun of by his brothers, as I recall.

So, yes, fiction can indeed help us to deal with real-life problems, if chosen judiciously. (Even if it's used only for the purpose escaping from either a boring, or a horrible reality.) Even popular fiction can help! Thank you, J.K. Rowling!! : )

Maria Behar said...

Suko said: Brian, thanks for the link to bibliotherapy, which also mentions writing therapy. I'm reminded of this quotation from Nancy Mair: I will write myself into well-being.


Suko, I LOVE this quote!! I'm going to look up Nancy Mair's work myself!!

Rachel Bradford said...

Thanks for bringing this interesting blog to my attention Brian. I'll have to watch it!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel - Lucy;s blog is indeed worth following!