Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Read for your Life: Gold's prescription

Well, it's been a long and unintentional blog break! I've been so busy with life and with reading that I didn't realize how long it had been since I last added something here. Whoops. Oh well, I've spent so much time reading that now I have lots of goodies to share with you. I've been especially busy reading a lot of non-fiction, some of it for fun and some of it work related. Here's one that is kind of both -- it's about reading, but more than that, it's about the importance of reading fiction and literature to find our way through this life. It was fantastic.

Read for your life: literature as a life support system / Joseph Gold
Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001.
380 p.

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.

10 comments:

  1. So glad you discovered the joy of reading this book. I read it when it first came out in 1990 and loved it. I underlined things that were important to me as I knew I would never let go of this book. It's time for a reread on my part. Thank you for telling people about this wonderful book.

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  2. Welcome back! Missed you!

    This book sounds awesome, but my library doesn't have it. :/ I might just have to ILL it though!

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  3. This sounds great - but I just looked it up on amazon and it's not available here in the UK. Boo hoo! I'll have to try to mooch for it.

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  4. I love books about how books fit into our lives, and one that extols fiction sounds superb. This one is going on my TBR right away!

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  5. This sounds FABULOUS!

    As an English teacher students are constantly asking "why do we have to read this" I think this book will help me formulate an intelligent answer that hopefully they can understand. And if not....I will still enjoy reading it.

    Thank you for introducing me to a great resource.

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  6. I want this book. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. It's on the wish list.

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  7. Sandra - glad to hear you loved it like I did. I have tons of quotes copied out and lots of notes; I really need my own copy!

    Eva - aw, thanks! It is a Canadian book so maybe not as accessible for you. Hope you can find it via ILL - it is fantastic.

    litlove - I hope you'll be able to mooch it. I'd love for everyone to be able to read it.

    Jeane - I was amazed at how his writing style is so simple and yet the ideas are profound. It all seems obvious but needs to be stated in such a reasoned manner to make us realize it.

    Molly - I think that this would be a great way to come up with convincing reasons to explain why reading fiction is vital when you're teaching. So hard to convince teenagers of anything anyhow - maybe this would give you another approach to try!

    Petunia - ditto to what I've said before: I hope you can find a copy because it is an amazing book.

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  8. The book sounds really enjoyable. I've heard lots of people saying that literature doesn't make you a better person, that its point is not to teach or improve people, but I think the situation is more complicated than that. Surely it changes you to have done all that reading, and surely some of the changes are good ones? This book would be an interesting way to think through these questions.

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  9. Dorothy - yes, he does talk about reading as a habit that changes your ways of thinking & perceiving, and also of opening your mind to so many other ways of being. Basically opening up your awareness of the human condition, not as a prescriptive duty but as a regular side effect of literary life.

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