10 February 2013


A couple of days ago, one of my friends posted this link on Facebook: "You don't need pills for depression - you need books, says British agency". To save you the hassle of reading the article, it says - well, it says just what's in the title. Apparently this organization in the UK called "The Reading Agency" is working on getting books prescribed to patients with depression; and what's really cool about it is that they have the backing of the Department of Health and a few other high-up official bodies with clout. They've compiled a list of "mood-boosting" books, and it will be made into a pamphlet and handed out by doctors to their depressed patients. Whoot! I wish I lived in the UK - bibliotherapy, that's my kind of antidepressant prescription.

Now, of course, I've been self-medicating with bibliotherapy all my life. Okay, all my life since I was six and first picked up Der kleine Lord (aka Little Lord Fauntleroy), and puzzled out the first line, "Cedric himself knew nothing whatever about it". I haven't looked back since. But, really, even before that epic moment, I lived in stories. Stories that were read to me, stories that were told to me. (None that I watched, at that point, because we didn't have a TV, let alone go to the movies - we were kind of old-fashioned that way.) In fact, quite likely the reason I picked up Little Lord Fauntleroy and taught myself to read was that there were never enough people around who were willing to read to me, so I had to become self-sufficient (on the same principle, I got my driver's license as soon as I possibly could, because I was tired of being dependent on other people to drive me around).

In case you missed my point, I love books. I adore books. I - well, no, I wouldn't go so far as to say I worship books. One does not worship the air one breathes, or the food one lives on. Truly, I don't think I could live without books. Then again - it's not actually the books I love. Yes, I do love the physical objects, too - I enjoy handling them, fixing them, sorting them, looking at them nicely arranged on the shelves; I could be quite happy working in a book bindery or the processing department of a library (where they put the call number stickers on the spine, and the clear sticky foil around the dust covers). But what I really love is what's in books. I love Story; I live in Story.

And Story comes in many forms. Books are just one of them. See, I'm fully aware that book nerds like myself aren't actually terribly common. Oh, there's plenty of us, alright - you should see the crowds I have to elbow my way through to get to the book tables at the annual library discard sale. But compared to the crowds at, say, a ballgame, or the opening of the latest blockbuster movie, well...

But that's just it: the latest blockbuster movie. Movies are Story. TV shows are Story. Most computer games are Story. Even ballgames, or the Olympics, are Story - "...and Schlipfengrimmler passed the ball to Schustermeier, and he hit the most amazing strike of his career, and - GOOOAAAL!!" It gets told, and re-told, over and over. Blockbuster movies are blockbusters because so many people love them. In fact, I don't know anyone, not one single person, who does not like Story in one form or another.

Now, much as I love and thoroughly, wholeheartedly, approve of the bibliotherapy the Brits are prescribing to their depressed patients, I would love even more to see that idea expanded. Not everyone loves reading, and (though this might sound sacrilegious to my fellow book nerds, librarians and literacy teachers) I don't think everyone needs to, either. But I think much, much more could be done with Story. Everyone needs Story. I believe everyone enjoys Story, so everyone could benefit from Story.

I'm not sure what to call it - Storyotherapy? Narratotherapy? Oh, I know - the Latin word for story is fabula. Fabulatherapy. Fabulous!

Now wouldn't it be great if, next time you go to the doctor because you're feeling lousy, the doc would pull out his prescription pad, and started asking: "Now, what's your favourite form of stories? You like movies? Hmm, let's see, where is my list of the most uplifting, serotonin-boosting films of all times? Ah, here we are. Take two, and call me in the morning!" I'm sure that studies would prove that there are zero side effects, and that Fabulatherapy is the most cost-effective and best-tolerated treatment they could prescribe.

But until that happy day arrives, we can always continue to self-medicate. Story is all around - pick your favourite kind, and get lost in another world. It works.

Life, the Universe, and Fabulatherapy. Fabulous, isn't it?


  1. Yes, absolutely fabulous.

  2. "Fabulatherapy" - I LOVE that! I think one of the greatest tragedies of this day is that so many people don't realize their need for story. Stories in general, but also A Story, a story they can live as well as observe. Maybe, instead of asking people what they do for a job when we first meet, we should start asking each other "What's your Story?".

    I have a list of books I read when I need to fight discouragement, and a list of books that, however good they might be, I don't ever read during those times.

    Anne of Green Gables is head of the first list. Anna Karenina tops the second.

    1. Hah, no kidding. I've never read Anna Karenina at all, for that reason.

      The books we love, that encourage us, are very individual. What's "uplifting" for one person might well be depressing for another. One of the books on the Reading Agency's list is by Mark Haddon - if it's anything like his "Incidence of the Dog in the Nighttime", for me that's not uplifting, it's disturbing.

      The top of my list is (no surprise) Jane Austen, and anything by Georgette Heyer.