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The notion that books can save lives and heal souls is not new. what a delight to learn that “bibliotherapy,” the psychological benefit that can be derived from reading specific material, is known and recognized phenomenon. The word itself was coined by the Unitarian minister Samuel McCord Crothers in 1916, in an article that he wrote for the Atlantic. In that piece, “Bagster,” the liberal minister turned book doctor, prescribes specific titles for specific moral and mental maladies. The person concerned with imperialism is given an antidote in Plutarch’s Lives, those reeling from the consequences of ethical lapses are bolstered by Trollope, and the person who feels the country was ruined by the last election is prescribed the no longer celebrated works of a Senator Benton, who advises what we worry about now is never what matters ultimate. Similarly, therapist Lori Gottelieb, writing for The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, August 11, 2019, describes the many titles she recommends to her patients for specific issues. For example, she recommends Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects to persons with borderline personality disorder, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking to those dealing with the loss of a spouse. The trend continues even in recent fiction: the country doctor in Diane Setterfield’s popular bestselling novel A Thirteen Tale prescribes a cold dose of Sherlock Holmes tales for a young woman made literally feverish after dwelling too long in a gothic tale of ghosts and missing twins.
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