Can books cure people of their ailments? This is what bibliotherapy promises but James McWilliams is skeptical. In the essay Books Should Send Us Into Therapy: On The Paradox of Bibliotherapy, McWilliams analyses the pros and cons of bibliotherapy.
The essay is an interesting read and you learn facts such as the word bibliotherapy having been coined in 1916. Many books that have potential restorative abilities are mentioned. No discussion about bibliotherapy is complete without mentioning The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, a book where a specific novel is cited as a remedy for a specific ailment.
The problem is prescription is not so easy. Will a book carry the same meaning for multiple readers? Of course not. Another problem is a book can awaken sentiments in the reader. Things that were otherwise hidden wake up and arrive at the fore. Until you read Dostoevsky, you do not know what you will feel when you read about the murder. You can not be prepared for it. It’s not self-help. Some books tear you, remake you and fashion life-changing decisions.
They make you sick and only then can you heal.