Read for your life: literature as a life support system / Joseph Gold
Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001.
This book is a classic in the field of bibliotherapy. It is also a wonderful read in itself. Dr. Gold is a therapist who was first an English professor, so his expertise both in counselling and in literature is inspiringly thorough. Here he discusses what reading fiction can do for individuals, both in a general, developmental way, and in the context of specific wellness issues such as depression or issues stemming from childhood trauma.
But the joy of reading this one, for me, was just in its love for the power of literature. Gold reaffirms all the things that constant readers like us believe about the value of reading and of reading fiction in particular. For librarians who are interested in Reader's Advisory, it is essential reading -- and there is a wonderful (though long) readers' questionnaire at the end which could assist in developing similar tools; it discusses preferences according to mood, thematic interest, setting, etc. But besides the useful elements, there is also great enjoyment in his thoughtful statements about literary life.
Here's a quote about habitual reading:
Reading fiction is good for you, and important and necessary to you. Go ahead and do it. It is not a fringe activity or "merely" entertaining; it is profoundly useful as part of normal development in a civilized, literate community. ... Reading is not necessary for our survival, if by survival we mean eating and staying warm. It is necessary to our larger survival, however, to an enriched, aware life in which we exercise some measure of control over our well-being, our creativity and our connection to everything around us.
And then there are a few statements that I loved, as they reflect the experience of blogging about books, in my opinion:
The act of reading is essentially private, but the consequence of reading is a shared experience, first with the writer, often with some other reader of the same book. ... Reading can be like calling someone to the window to share a scene that is important to the viewer. Through the window of story we can look out together on a world of experience that would otherwise be invisible to the other, retained in a private past.
There's not a lot I can say about this book without quoting it in its entirety. I loved it -- the principles he bases his practice on, his literary suggestions, his absolute belief in the primacy of fiction in creating a civilized, self-aware world, his obvious love for literature, and many more elements of the book all appealed to me. In fact, this is a book I am going to have to buy for my own use; I've already renewed it to the limit from my library! I've read it twice and have made notes, and have also searched out his second book, written much more recently, called The Story Species. That one seems to be more about the historical significance of storytelling in human history - still intriguing.
So, if you have any interest at all in how literature can improve and comfort and expand our lives, this comes highly recommended. Full of ideas on the uses of literature, this is a great resource for both people in the fields of librarianship or bibliotherapy, but is also a wonderful read for anyone with a passion for the primacy of reading (and specifically, of fiction) in our everyday lives.