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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 15 2011

Bibliotherapy: The Power of Books

By Mark Sisson
110 Comments

We all had our favorite stories as kids – those books we begged our parents to read to us a million times over. As adults now, time might be tight, but delving into a really good book offers the same fulfillment and retreat. Our captivation with stories is, of course, as natural and inborn as our desire for music, our appreciation of art, our enjoyment of play. Little wonder, given they contributed so profoundly to social construction and cohesion for millennia. First, within a rich oral tradition, stories were passed down with great care and even ceremony to impart survival lessons and epic tales that circumscribed a tribe’s history and social mores. Narratives later became integral in spreading and binding together larger civilizations for the sake of formal religion and cultural identification. Stories, throughout human existence, have also been a conduit for the ageless, the universal, and the transcendental. Today, in a professional field dubbed bibliotherapy, mental health experts and educators explore how our natural affinity for stories can support our general well-being and even provide a healing influence for illness and trauma.

The field of bibliotherapy obliges the guidance of professionals, which commonly include trained librarians/teachers, social workers, psychologists or health practitioners. The “developmental level” of bibliotherapy, according to experts at the American Counseling Association, incorporates “[t]he use of literature and facilitative processes by skilled helpers to assist individuals in dealing with life transitions and normal developmental issues.” Clinical applications, on the other hand, involve “skilled mental health or medical practitioners” who utilize literature “in meeting specific therapeutic goals for the purpose of assisting individuals in dealing with severe disorders and traumatic life experiences.” In either case, the given professional assigns or recommends particular texts and refers to or discusses them within the learning, medical, or counseling relationship. (Bibliotherapy also includes writing therapy – more on that next week.) Bibliotherapy as reading therapy encompasses both the use of “didactic” literature like self-help books and the broad category of “imaginative” literature, which can include fiction, poetry, drama, and biographical texts.

Experts agree that, although it is commonly used, the impact and relative effectiveness of bibliotherapy is difficult to quantify. Research has shown mixed results, but outcomes support bibliotherapy as a valuable adjunctive therapy for physical and mental health issues and an option for those who don’t respond to traditional therapeutic methods. Meta-analysis shows that it may be “more effective for certain problem types (assertion training, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction) than for others (weight loss, impulse control, and studying problems).”

Bibliotherapy has played a larger role in professional depression treatment than in many other conditions. Some research suggests that bibliotherapy for depression administered by a family physician may be just as effective as standard anti-depressant prescriptions. The study leaders noted that their findings present an economically efficient alternative for patients who cannot afford ongoing prescription costs (or – my addition – who prefer a treatment that doesn’t include medication). Another study supported the relatively minimal need for follow up care in bibliotherapy applications for mild to moderate depression. Among 84 participants, those who received minimal telephone follow up contact saw essentially the same gains as the group that received more intensive phone-based follow up. Both groups experienced “significant reductions” in their depressive symptoms in comparison with the control group.

In a different objective, bibliotherapy has also been studied and applied to boost “cognitive reserve,” the intellectual “skills and repertoire” that can stave off the cognitive decline inherent to conditions like lead poisoning and multiple sclerosis.

Researchers suspect that at least with didactic literature, individuals must be interested in receiving help for bibliotherapy to be an effective treatment. Imaginative literature, however, is another animal entirely. Although there is little to no hard data for direct comparison, some experts hold (PDF) that imaginative literature displays more consistent success in bibliotherapeutic applications. In the words of Jessamyn West, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” The “emotional impact” of imaginative literature, they say, surpasses the rational examination elicited by most didactic self-help works. Not only does the backdrop of fiction or poetry offer a more nuanced illustration of life experiences, but readers often come to identify with the characters in a deeply resounding way. The emotional experience of following the character’s trials and outcome can crack open readers’ defenses. Within the safe but compelling confines of a book, readers can find themselves and their life’s issues laid bare. The characters’ development, realizations and catharses become seed for their own.

Whether in the depictions of fictional characters or the supportive voice of didactic literature, I venture to say most of us at various times have found ourselves galvanized by our reading material. In those solitary hours absorbed in the folds of printed pages, we envision a different life for ourselves and find inspiration that eludes us in the course of our daily lives. Although a relative few of us may be on the receiving end of professionally guided bibliotherapy, the concept touches anyone who’s ever picked up a book. As many of you mentioned in response to the “Flow” article a couple of weeks ago, reading – particularly fiction or poetry – represents a retreat like no other and a common catalyst for those liberating flow experiences.

Whether it’s divorce, illness, depression, or loss, we all face dark times in our lives. Even during our calmest periods, the heavy questions of life and tragedies of others can weigh upon us. We seek comfort and sense – not necessarily easy answers but encouragement, direction and finally confirmation that others have gone through what we’re thinking and experiencing.

In books, we look for other means of comprehending our problems or the complexities we question in the world. They expand us with their novel perspectives and emotional force. They simultaneously illuminate our individual circumstances and affirm the essential commonalities of humanity. They offer us alternative settings and narratives against which we can observe the substance and delineations of our own identities. Other times books provide a simple but much needed escape. For an hour or so, we can try on the lives of literary figures or poetic voices and leave behind our own burdens and limitations. We inhabit another outlook or existence and return both fortified and fulfilled for the creative venture.

Thanks for stopping by today. Be sure to share your thoughts on bibliotherapy – and the books that have inspired you along the way. Have a great week, everybody!

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110 thoughts on “Bibliotherapy: The Power of Books”

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  1. Great article Mark, Books have always been my getaway! It is always nice to unwind in a good book!

    1. Ditto! Sometimes I just have to make sure I don’t get too lost in an alternate reality, as with everything there is a balance to strive for.

    2. I agree! Great article. I am hoping this leaves out electronic media, though. I think there is something to be said for holding a novel in your hands. Even the smell of books can by therapeutic!

      1. You can still enjoy your paper books while others enjoy electronic variations thereof… No reason to hope against electronic media.

      2. I totally agree! You are so right. I love the smell and texture. I feel the same way about magazines. Reading online or kindle etc. just isn’t the same.

      3. It’s the stories that matter, not the media. Read your Plato. 😉

    3. Reading is one of my favorite “getaways.” I have not read in a while but will be diving in starting tomorrow after reading this post.

      I have several books along the lines of “Whey We Get Fat,” “The New Evolution Diet,” “Cereal Killer,” and more of the same. I will enjoy reading these but also now most definitely plan on buying a fiction book as this article suggests.

      Has anyone here read Harry Potter? I am going to the Harry Potter Park in June. Maybe I should start reading book #1?

      1. Harry Potter is fantastic. Definitely give the first one a shot. I don’t know if you have used book stores around where you live, but the Young Adult section is usually well stocked with copies of the series. Happy reading!

      2. Have you seen the movies yet? I will say, the first book is exactly like the first movie and can feel a little juvenile. But if you power through and keep reading, the rest in the series are fantastic! They are really fun reads, I just finished them last fall. I fully recommend them.

      3. The HP books are fantastic. They are excellent fantasy stories, yes, BUT the author also captures brilliantly what it’s like to be a young person, and it’s incredibly easy to relate to. (esp if you were a bit of an outsider as a child.) Also the stories grow with the character; the first one is quite juvenile, but still enjoyable, and they get more grown up as you go along.

  2. Now I understand why when things were not going well my mother always told me to go read a book, we had plenty to choose from and I do the same to this day. great articles!

  3. I so get lost in books. But when I did suffer ppd really bad, not even a book could tempt me, I couldn’t focus on even the first sentence. But it was reading in the in-between times that helped me get through those serious depression times better.
    But even without books on hand, I drift away into my own little world either recalling the stories I’ve read or making up my own. I really could do without a social life I think lol.

  4. i always feel great in the morning if i read a book before going to sleep. The best and easisest way to go to sleep and sleep quality is somehow different than falling asleep in front of TV. Work..Play…eat..read…sleep..summary of a day.

    1. I agree! At 9pm, everything in the house gets shut off, and I climb into bed and read for at least an hour. I sleep much better after reading, and I wake up feeling much more refreshed.

  5. I ran into someone the other day who commented that she didn’t read book!!! I can’t even fathom life without reading.

    1. I work at a college and unfortunately year this all of the time. The younger generation especially seems to have no desire to pick up a book.

  6. I find myself going back to several series of sci fi books and re-reading the entire series of 3-10 books. What I have surmised after this last round of reading is that they contain elements of hope.

    The characters are up against people/critters/things that mean to destroy them and they find a way to come out on top. It reminds me that I do have the coping and survival skills to get through whatever is going on.

    Having survived two suicide attempts and years of neglect and abuse, books have always been my refuge. I’ve expanded beyond sci fi to self help and coaching. They all provide references to help get through the issues.

    Best of all, they don’t talk back.

    1. Strongly agree with this i have many series of books that i have reread. Hope is a driving factor in all of them. My favorite series right now is by Jim Butcher.. Have any recommendations?

      1. The Codex Alera or Dresden Files? Not going to lie, the Codex series are the only books my fiance and I share a taste for. And we both reread them often 🙂

        1. I’ve been hooked on Dresden, although now that i’m waiting for the new book to come out i might pick up the Codex series.

    2. I think my best example of this is A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle. It was one of the few books I wouldn’t go off to college without, and I read it in its entirety the evening of Sept 11th before I had a hope of getting to sleep. Sometimes you just need a reminder that despite the evil in the world, there is still good and hope as well.

      I also recommend the Fionavar Tapestry series, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Beautifully written, and the only series that has ever topped Lord of the Rings in my personal ranking of great stories.

      (I do love Jim Butcher, as well! Can’t wait for the next one to be out.)

      1. Codex Alera was FABULOUS. I got the first 3 books at Half Price Books. I devoured them and then went and payed full price (this is unheard of for me) to get the remainder of the series! Sooo good!
        I also love all of the books by Tamora Pierce. They’re YA books but still wonderful. My copies of Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen are seriously worse for wear after re-reading them so many times!

    3. Sci-Fi … the classics
      Must read: Asimov’s Foundation series (the recent prequels are ok), and the Lensman series (older, but a classic) from EE Doc Smith, 6 volumes of space-opera at its best. Riverworld from Philip Jose Farmer … aaah … Dune …
      More recent: works by Simmons: Endymion, Ilion (not exact title)
      Better stop here …

    4. The series I’ve had my nose in: The Pegasus Talent and The Tower and the Hive by Anne McCaffery; the Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd; and the whole Dune series.

      I may dive back into Harry Potter, but I read a lot of the fan fiction on a day to day basis. Same with the Stargate SG-1 fan fiction.

    1. Graham, I so agree with you.

      The Alternate world of Harry potter is my favourite getaway. I truly understand now that I self medicate myself with books when I’m stressed. I alternate between all my sci-fi fantasty series. most are young adult, I picked up all these series when I was a young adult not that long ago. (I actually still might be!)

      Anyway, if anyone’s interested, my favourite books to escape in are:

      Harry Potter
      Lord of the Rings including The Hobbit!
      The Pellinor Series: Allison Croggon
      His Dark Materials: Philip Pullman Triology

      Those I re-read frequently. But I love new books, new fiction. Every year when Canada Reads is on with Jian Ghomeshi, I read all those too!!

      1. His Dark Materials is freaking amazing. Gorgeous story. Brings back so much nostalgia. I shall have to re-read…

        1. If you love His Dark Materials, come visit us over at bridgetothestars.net! We’re rereading the books at the moment, so it should make for some interesting discussion…

    2. Just finally started reading the series. What the hell I was waiting for, I’ll never know. At least I don’t have to wait for the next book to come out, I guess. Great way to escape after work.

    1. Seen that funny billboard of “Illiterate? Write for Free Help!”
      (if not, it’s googleable…)

  7. This post is a perfect example of what sets you apart from all the other health gurus out there I could follow. I love this, as a reader and an author and a person who values overall health and well-being…

  8. I love reading too, and am always looking for good books. Any favorites out there I should try?

    1. Anything by Charles Dickens, Bleak House and Little Dorrit are both masterpieces. (Tale of Two Cities, etc.)

    2. What do you like? I have been following some of the lists on goodreads.com lately – 100 books to read before you die, etc.

      My all time favorite book is “The Eight” by Katherine Neville but I like a bit of everything and switch from what I call fun, quick “beach reads” to intense mystery/action and sci-fi with a bit of historical fiction and self-help thrown in.

      Okay, I guess I read anything I can get my hands on. *blush* I just love to read! But the lists on goodreads are a good way to find other books you’ll most likely enjoy based on what you already know you do.

  9. In my early years, reading was a way to escape the negativity around me. Books offered a glimpse into a world that I could only dream about–adventure, happiness, security, romance, and fast friendships…I could go on. Now that I am older, finding time to just kick back with a book is more of a challenge, but I do it anyway. Being able to read is truly one of life’s great gifts, and it would be a shame to neglect it. Thanks for the great post, Mark!

  10. I forgot to post the books that I have enjoyed through the years: Where the Red Fern Grows (couldn’t tear that out of my hands when I was a kid); any book by Jean Auel (incidentally, she writes stories about paleolithic people, with incredible detail and imagination); Dean Koontz and James Patterson have some really great suspenseful tales; Philippa Gregory–“Elizabeth”–for anyone interested in medieval times this book is really detailed. There are just so many more (I am a voracious reader), that space will not allow me to post them. Escapism can be a good thing.

  11. LOVE THIS!!! I am an academic librarian and was a public librarian in the past (very much a bibliotherapist in that position)
    Books – get lost in them, get in the flow,

  12. There is nothing like a good book to take your mind to far away lands, go on adventures, and to sooth the soul.

    I use to only read factual books pretty much my whole life, until a few years ago I started to read fiction like crazy and I haven’t put these types of books down ever since.

  13. FYI I haven’t read a book by Malcolm Gladwell that i didn’t like. For you non-fiction lovers out there.

  14. This is wonderful. I (Scandinavian psychology student and amateur writer) am struggling with chronic fatigue as a complication of mononucleosis and last night I had a dream that essentially said “you’re done with psychotherapy on this one, it’s time to find an alternative take”. All day I’ve been wondering what road to take from here. And, as called for, suddenly it just pops up in my inbox…

    1. Will,

      My wife has CFS and Fibro. Had Mono in HS. I’d like to converse on this.

      1. These conditions are difficult, especially since disappointly few physicians are taking them seriously (at least those that I’ve met). I would indeed like to converse on this! However, I’m new here and I’m not sure I’ve figured out how this place works…

  15. I am a writer and editor (taking a break from editing an e-book to read this) and reading is definitely balm for the soul.

    My kids are big readers, thank goodness, and definitely don’t fall into the group who would never pick up a book, and one of our favorite ways to play, is to all sit, or lie, together, reading our books. Calms us all down and strengthens our bonds. 🙂

  16. YES! Always knew reading was healthy…I would be interested to see if there were any studies done as to whether the quality/difficulty of the literature mattered at all. Very interesting. Some reading can be easy, whereas other books can really make you work hard to get through them.

  17. I LOVE books, can’t go to sleep without reading for at least 15 minutes and I’m proud I’ve given my children the same gift.
    Here are some current top picks to enjoy and take you away from life a little.
    “The Tiger’s Wife” – Tea Obreht this is new and FANTASTIC, author is named one of the 10 40 under 40 to watch
    “The Hunger Games” Suzanne Collins – this is found in the young adult’s section, Crossfitters will love this one
    “Let the Great World Spin”, Collum McCann vignettes about New Yorkers and how their lives intertwine
    Anything by Jodi Piccoult if you want easy reading and thought-provoking
    AND, OF COURSE! (Seriously) “The Primal Blueprint” I’ve read this through and refer to it nightly to keep me inspired and on track
    ENJOY!

  18. I joined a book club to force myself to read more fiction. Generally I will choose reading for information, left to my own devices.

    So now I read one book a month and discussing it at book club allows me to get much more out of the book than I would otherwise. Love book club, highly recommend it although I understand book clubs can vary widely. I got lucky since mine suits me fine.

  19. Two books that really moved me as an adolescent were “Go Ask Alice” (author anonymous, and “Someone Like You” by Sarah Dessen. Especially good for female teens to put things in a bit of a perspective among the crazy society today. I would also to suggest it to parents of teens who need a refresher course on what some kids go through today and that what their kids are doing probably isn’t so bad…

  20. i so often wish i could be me x2 – the 2nd me would exist exclusively to curl up and read book after book – whatever and where ever my 2me’s interests took reading-me –

    as it is – with a 3 year old, a small commercial greenhouse and having to bathe every other day, i’m “booked” (and not with books…)

  21. I have always wanted to try bibliotherapy. I once read Alain de Buttons after coming across the School of Life when looking for more information on Alain de Botton’s after reading his Consolations of Philosophy (very entertaining).

    http://www.theschooloflife.com/

    I enjoy reading well written but contemporary books on Philosophy (I recommend A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine). I then pick up the primary sources the author references and read those as well (e.g. in this case, the writings of Seneca).

    I still read some fiction, but not much. I have given up on business literature (too formulaic, too contradictory, and often too self-aggrandizing). Most of what I read is philosophy, history, historical biography, fitness/paleo, math, physics, or technical.

  22. Tolkien discussed the power of a secondary world created through literature (especially fantasy). He believed that an adventure into a secondary world, helped a person come back to our world refreshed.

    Perhaps he should have called his Essay on Fairy Stories”, “Essay on Bibliotheropy”. Loved the article today.

  23. Three recommendations:

    Betty Smith’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

    Conrad Richter’s THE TREES; THE FIELDS, and THE TOWN (a trilogy)

    Clarence Day’s LIFE WITH FATHER and LIFE WITH MOTHER

    Travel to other times and places. It makes a good change.

  24. “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Every time I’ve been depressed, this great novel has lifted my spririts. I didn’t know that was called “bibliotherapy”. Primal-friendly, too – works on answering the question of the meaning of life by exploring the essence of human nature. Though the protagonists didn’t go to bed early, as a rule.

    1. I have read a gazillion books in my 59 years: Atlas Shrugged stands there in a special place. This is a book like no other.

  25. Like primal for the body, books are good for confidence and skills for the spirit and the mind. Nothing like the Bible for the spirit and a good diy book for the mind.

  26. This is such a great article!! Just proves that Mark rules! There is so much more to health than we even think about usually!

    As an educator, mother and blogger…I truly believe that reading (and writing too) have so so many health and learning benefits along all lines of our lives!!

    I love to read at night when the kids are in bed and the house is quiet. Its the perfect way to escape the day and relax.

    Harry Potter, Twilight (yes I am that nerd TwiMOM!), Hunger Games, etc….I love getting lost in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fiction…:)

  27. I second The Hunger Games. I’m partial to sci-fi and fantasy myself, often from the YA section. Philip Pullman, Dianna Wynne Jones, Terry Prachett, Patricia C. Wrede, Octavia Butler, these and many others have my heart. The *one* good thing about my terrbily long (90-minutes EACH way) commute is that, being in NYC,I don’t drive – so that’s three hours of reading-time a day if I opt not to nap instead!

  28. I have always use reading of fiction as an escape from my problems. I thought I was the only one.

  29. A Song of Fire and Ice, anyone? If nothing else, it will keep you occupied for quite a long time.

    1. Yes! Can’t wait for the next one. It’s being turned into an HBO series apparently…

      1. So I hear! I’m pretty excited about the new book/HBO series combo in the (hopefully) near future.

  30. The Time Traveler’s Wife
    Anything by Scott Russell Sanders — especially Hunting for Hope
    Mary Doria Russell The Sparrow

  31. Wow Mark, you hit it out the park again! Another thoughtful, intelligent, informative post. I’d never heard of bibliotherapy before – what a fascinating idea.
    My earliest memory is of my mum teaching me to read – I’ve been a voracious reader ever since.
    Really interesting how many comments refer to reading as self medication or temporary escapism. I’ve never been one for comfort eating but I do comfort read for sure! The awful news from Japan, a nasty cold and stress has driven me to re-read the complete Sherlock Holmes… Tolkien, Austen, Georgette Heyer, JK Rowlings, CS Lewis etc etc – that’s my comfort food.
    Great post!

  32. Mark,

    Since you’re into ancient methodology, you should read “The Hero with a Thousance Faces” by Joseph Campbell. It explains how ancient peoples viewed myths and used the power of myth.

  33. I love reading – almost anything – science, science fiction – fantasy – history.recent fantastic book is Wolf Hall – I can’t wait for the sequel. Sure for some of us reading is as major a drive as food and sleep – my brother and I will both give up food and sleep to read, my husband reads when he ‘has time’ !

  34. For all of you fantasy enthusiasts out there, I suggest you check out Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series. While being seriously meaty with 10+ novels in the series, the depth, scale, and intricacy of the stories are such that it makes Harry Potter look like a series of preschool coloring books.

    For some raw, powerful poetry, I suggest chewing on some Charles Bukowski.

    And finally, I’m obliged to suggest ‘Inifinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace, as it is my all-time favorite. For seriously committed readers only, the novel weighs in at over 1000 pages (almost 100 of which are footnotes!)and I can best describe it as stylistically brilliant, philosophically inspiring, and very witty. Of course, thats just scratching the surface.

  35. Hooray for a post about reading!! I love to read! Every time I read a book, it is the “greatest one I ever read.” I would much rather read than watch TV or movies. As far as getting lost in a good story, John Grisham and Jeffrey Deaver bring it every time. I also enjoy reading travel memoirs because I wish I could travel more: ‘Eat, Pray, Love;’ ‘Adventure Divas;’ ‘Holy Cow;’ ‘Confessions of a Female Nomad;’ and so on…

  36. As a teacher, my students are always shocked when I confess that I didn’t read my first book until I was a sophomore in college. I was quick witted and either sat next to a pretty girl or prvide a reflective answer to teacher questions that took the answer from details in the book to life applications (read: I am a masterful BSer).

    Since that first book (Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact), I have been catching up at a ridiculous pace sometimes to my wife’s chagrin caused by the late night glow of my electronic reader. I recall that when I finished that first book I had one of those, I have been missing out something awesome. I am about 50/50 fiction and nonfiction.

    Life changers: Point of Impact and the Bob Lee Swagger follow-on books (hooked on reading for fun), Tao of Pooh (optimisma and probably my first anit-CW read), Ender’s Game (while in the Marines), 7 Habits (inner victories), Harry Potter (got hooked with my students) Super Rich (practical spirituality)….

  37. Thanks for this wonderful post. I’m a librarian and a practicing bibliotherapist with my own company as well — I enjoyed the way you’ve laid out this article so clearly. You are right that there is a difference between ‘clinical’ bibliotherapy practiced by mental health professionals which uses self-help literature, and that of ‘developmental’ or ‘creative’ bibliotherapy which depends on the use of imaginative literature (which is what I practice). I look forward to your article on writing as part of bibliotherapy as well! Thanks for shining a light on this wonderfully accessible health-promoting activity.

  38. Hmm, I do love fiction, but for some reason, I tend to read almost always non–and by choice. Two nights ago I was reading in bed with tea, my PJ’s on and had just applied an awesome moisturizer—it was such a relaxing moment and I reflected upon it. Talk about simple pleasures! Yes, I do believe reading can be therapeutic. I actually think other storytelling–such as in good films–can be, as well.

  39. What a thoughtful post. I can say this was a powerful tool for me when making dietary changes. When I was struggling with sugar withdrawls books like “Sugar Blues” really got me through. I dug in medical journals to answer my “why” questions about dietary response in autism and trying to understand how the GI and immune systems work. I guess that’s bibliotherapy.

  40. I love this article, Mark!

    Reading truly is the balm of life.

    And if you have never read Slaughterhouse Five, you have not truly lived!

  41. “Only Forward” by Michael Marshall Smith is the best book ever written. It has a genre all of its own: slipstream. 🙂

    I love reading, but I haven’t done much lately. I’ve dabbled a bit in “An Empire Unacquainted With Defeat” by Glen Cook, author of “The Black Company” series (which are freakin’ awesome if you love gritty fantasy).

  42. I’m reading Harry Potter right now, in French. I’ve tried on and off to learn a foreign language. And since I’ve started reading (and watching heroes in French too….) my comprehension has surpassed the level it was in High School

    next I plan to read LOTR, another classic I’m told

    1. I read HP in French too! It was right at my skill level. I found LOTR too hard though, good luck with it! (I can barely read it in English! :D)

  43. I really loved reading this post and all the comments. I took me a long time to enjoy reading. I was only recently diagnosed with a learning disability so now I know why I struggled with reading for so long. Now books are like magnets to me! It’s kind of makes me laugh thinking I just started a new business…in the book industry!

  44. I love reading. I even went so far as to take a MA in comparative literature.
    But – all books are not created equal. I am sure, that if you were, say, depressed and read a book like ‘No country for old men’ or ‘The Road’ my Cormac Mccarthy, it wouldn’t exactly help.
    My curiosity was peaked: Is bibliotherapy just ‘go read a book you like’, or does the doctor/therapist recommend specifik books that address the issues someone i struggling with?

    1. Ulla – a bibliotherapist will discuss the issues a person is facing and try to match specific books to that issue. A therapist would probably choose non-fiction, self-help to be read & discussed with them; a ‘creative bibliotherapist’ like myself would select novels/poetry/short stories in a style and/or genre you like that also deal with your issue in some way.

  45. By the way: My favorite to relax is Jane Austen. Pretty darn good books. Also, of course, Harry Potter.

  46. Our whole family read the Harry Potter series and rereads, and rereads! Our 11 year old LOVES to read and while I know that’s unusual today, especially for a boy, there are some really great kids series out there.

    For me, I always come back to Jane Austen and Maeve Binchy and Tom Clancy. I’m all over the place! Thanks much Mark!

  47. Hi Mark,

    Nice article again. I definitely need to balance my intake of non fiction up with more fiction. It is all good though, I have learned so much about health through books and now…through the web!

    Cheers Anthony

  48. What a great article! Really inspiring.

    I love my fiction and do really enjoy Tolkien and Harry Potter, as others do. For fantasy lovers looking for humour (or humor if you prefer!) the Terry Pratchett books are well worth trying- very funny. Also, I would really recommend Tad Williams books- he is a great storyteller and they are thoroughly absorbing!

  49. There is nothing like the weight of a book in hand, the feel of the pages between fingertips, the smell of the paper and the places that book takes you while you relax on the couch.

    I have watched empires crumble, wandered through lush green jungles, survived a plane crash in the middle of no where, swam to the depths of the ocean, found the meaning of life, feasted with vampires, hid from Soviet soldiers and explored all corners of Xanth several times over. No where else, can you find the time to do all of this except between the pages of a book.

    Excellent article Mark, books have been my therapy since I first started reading the printed word.

  50. Reading is so good for the spirit and the soul! So many great books and authors have already been mentioned but wanted to add current favorite fiction author to the mix – Haruki Murakami. He is an Japanese author that weaves fantasy and surrealism into everyday life – he is a very gifted storyteller!

    Some of my favorites of his are: Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore, and A Wild Sheep Chase.

  51. Great post, Mark.

    Some of my favorites:
    Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard.
    The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen.
    Walden, Henry David Thoreau.
    The Animal Dialogues, Craig Childs.
    The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
    Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safron-Foer.

  52. I always have a book on CD in the car. It helps keep me from road rage, stress and aggravation that can come with a long commute.

    I don’t always have time to actually “read” like I’d like to so it’s a nice substitute. I do love those days curled up on the couch with a good book, though.

    Real Food Mama, I’m a huge fan of all those, too! Just finishing up Mockingjay this week. 😀

  53. This is why I love this website: great articles and great commenters!
    I am a voracious reader and have recently started reading some graphic novels. I used to be opposed to reading books with pictures. Now I am digging it!
    On a side note; I love books so much, I have a stack of three books tattooed on my back.
    Also: I think I just figured out what I want to be “when I grow up”–a bibliotherapist! (Is there such a thing?)

    1. >> I have a stack of three books tattooed on my back <<

      That has got to be the BEST tattoo ever!

    2. Have you read Diana Gabaldon’s graphic novels? I loved her “typical” books. 😀 I imagine the graphic novels are also amazing!

  54. The Power of Now changed my life! I was brought out of a fog of thinking. This book actually allows you to be more in touch with your instincts, and therefore more primal. Thanks Mark!

  55. In my next life I think I may come back as a book. I’m not sure what genre yet. My favorite book is “The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho. I just recently discovered this at a used book sale at my local library. I read it in about half a day and I read snippets of it every day since.

  56. This is awesome!
    I have always been a bookworm. These days I ride public transit so I usually have at least 30min/day to read. (awesome!) I’m getting tons of ideas from other people’s favorites! I mostly like sci fi & fantasy, that stuff with the “hope” element, nothing too dark or heavy. I’m reading the Foundation series right now – can’t believe I never read it before!!! having just re-read I, Robot and Dune. Planning to tackle the rest of the Dune series as well. Love Anne McCaffrey, Harry Potter, and quirky little mysteries like those by Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and of course Arthur Conan Doyle. 😉
    A word in favor of the e-reader. I too love a paper book, and usually have one or two in my bag. However, the e-reader is the salvation of a quick reader on a long trip – even paperbacks get heavy and bulky, but with my e-reader I carried over 40 books on a recent flight. In addition, because I am cheap, I discovered a whole world of books out of copyright, available free, that I never knew about. Bonus.

  57. I’ve just noticed this myself. Self-help books and motivational books just don’t help as much as a really good novel.
    I just finished rereading DragonSong and DragonSinger and they really make me feel a lot better.

  58. A.E. Houseman’s poem “Terrence, this is Stupid Stuff” has to do with precisely this topic: the therapeutic effects of poetry, specifically, and literature in general.

  59. A few years ago you wouldn’t catch me raeding a book. Sure I bought them, but usually only did it to have them (books). It wasn’t until I started reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad” that I actually became immersed in books. I guess that book really set me off and got me involved more with reading. Since then I’ve probably read and bought nearly 100+ books. I have a small library in my apartment and I don’t have enough room for all my books. I read everynight and it’s not uncommon to see a stack of books on my nightstand. I agree books are definitely awesome. There are plenty of times I’d rather just stay home and read because I get lost in those books. It’s quite inspirational to read, least for me. I rarely read fictional books, I mostly like reading biographies and inspirational books (like Think and Grow Rich, 4 hour work week, etc). I’m also an avid fan of WWII era books. I’m a “Creatively inclined” person, and love the idea of sharing stories, fictional or not. So to me reading is wonderful.

  60. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, awesome read and great help 🙂

  61. For an escape from the light-weight fast-food diet of trash literature today, which seems to suck in many even of those who have realized the value of quality stuff in your stomach – maybe the brain comes next – I recommend the following:

    -Shogun by James Clavell. This is the novel that made Medieval Japan (samurai, katanas, seppuku, geishas, kimonos, the architecture) popular in the West. It is also a mini series in twelve episodes, which you can download. James Clavell wrote about people’s personalities like no one else.

    -Tai-Pan, also by James Clavell. About Dirk Struan in Hong Kong in the 19th century, leading the most powerful trading house in Asia. Again, an exciting read and great depth in personalities.

    -A Princess of Mars by Edgar Burroughs. This short novel from 1912, and the novels that came after in the same series, is what a great deal of sci-fi thereafter is based on: Superman, Star Wars, Stargate, etc. His language is often very beautiful, and when you read it, you realize what you have been missing if you’ve only been reading today’s trumped-up trash literature.

    -Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsen. Written in 1917, which gave him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920 – that was before it was politicized and handed out to leftist weirdos. Growth of the Soil is about a farmer in Norway. He walks into the wilderness with his tools and builds a house for himself out of nothing, and then raises a family there. Anyone who has gone primal should read it. You may think it sounds boring, but the story is fantastic, and the lessons are of a kind all children should learn – without making the book lecturing.

    -Call of the Wild, by Jack London. Naturally. The lessons of the wild, and of life, told through the eyes of a sled dog in Alaska. One of the books that you have to read.

  62. “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? …we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

  63. Reading fiction books has always been difficult for me. I’ve always been drawn to non-fiction books they help me feel productive. This post makes me realize I need to give fiction a fair chance.

    Does anyone have any good suggestions for a good fiction book anyone would love?