The other day, I came across a piece in The New Yorker, “Can Reading Make You Happier?”
The article is all about bibliotherapy, which it defines as “the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect.” The author described her own experience with a bibliotherapist and I was hooked. I posted on Facebook that I wanted to see one ― what could be better than lying on a couch talking about books?! ― or maybe even be one.
My Facebook friend, Rachel Stevenson, immediately replied, “I think as a librarian I can claim to be a bibliotherapist. I can give you a book recommendation for any mood you have.”
I knew there was a blog post in there, and I was over the moon that she could actually be my own personal bibliotherapist!
Because Rachel gave such amazing answers to the questions I sent her, I’m going to post our Q&A in two parts. Today is all about Rachel.
To give you a little background, Rachel is a public librarian in northwest Pennsylvania. Her love of reading comes from her aunt who has bought her a book for every birthday. Books have been a major part of her life, inspiring her to study abroad in Wales, travel to Massachusetts to do a research project on the Salem Witch Trials, and introduce herself to other people she finds reading ― which often leads to great friendships. That’s how we virtually met.
The day after my post about the article, Rachel posted this note on my Facebook wall: “Okay, so you’ve inspired me. You have a voice and write a blog and I want to do that too. For now I’ll focus on books and you gave me the inspiration for my blog title. Here is the first post. I hope you like it.”
Do I like it? I LOVE IT. And guess what she named it? The Bibliotherapist Is In. Is that not perfect?! Check it out because once you’ve read her recommendations here, I’m sure you’ll want to make regular appointments with her.
How did the idea of a bibliotherapist resonate with you?
My aunt, who is also my godmother, got me into reading at a very young age, so books have always been my friends. As I grew up they remained my friends and I realized that they could change my mood. Even though it was over 20 years ago I still vividly remember finishing Of Mice and Men in third period study hall in ninth grade and I couldn’t stop crying over Lenny’s death. It affected me so much. It was as if Lenny was one of my friends and he had died and I would never see him again. That’s when I realized the true power of books. If I want to cry, I read Of Mice and Men and bawl every time. It’s not a little cry. It is true, heaving, heavy crying.
Why did you decide to start your blog?
Even before I was a librarian I did a lot of reading. I am positive I buy more books than I can ever possibly read. I find as a librarian I am constantly suggesting things even if my patrons don’t always ask, but I definitely read things to fit my mood and I figure other people do as well. So I thought if I started a blog to share my love of books maybe other people would want to read and feel the way I do.
What are the most popular suggestions you get asked for, as a librarian?
Right now everyone is looking for the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Everyone really seems to love the thriller and want more of that. I often suggest Eileen Cook’s With Malice, which I believe captures that Gone Girl suspense and surprise that everyone is looking to read. I’ve been a fan of hers since I read Unpredictable, which is one of my favorites and one I read again and again, so I’m happy that not only I, but publications are also calling With Malice the next big summer thriller.
What are some of your personal go-to books when you need a lift?
If I need to see that the bookish girl gets the guy ― because I’m 36 and single and sometimes it’s hard to think that this bookish introvert will ever find the right man ― I read Alison Lane’s The Rake and the Wallflower. There’s something about going back to Regency times where people are mostly polite and civil to each other and the bluestocking does get the earl that I find nice. People tell me they never read fiction or that they never read the same book twice and I immediately feel sad for them. I go back to certain books again and again depending on my mood and I think fiction can offer so much in the way we relate to people and feel about things. I’ve also read the same book every March since I was 12. My aunt gave me the book A Break with Charity by Ann Rinaldi and it is one of my favorite books. It’s about the Salem Witch Trials and has me still to this day reading everything I can about them. It’s a story about a young girl who gets caught up in the trials and what she makes of all of it. She is not one of the accusing girls, but just one of the townspeople.
Is there a book you’ve read that you would really consider life-changing for you?
When I was 28 I read Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer. It totally changed my life. It’s about loving a person and accepting their faults as part of who they are, which I think is a great message. It inspired me to quit my job, break up with my cheating boyfriend, and make some huge life changes that eventually lead me to where I am now. I’m very happy.
Who are your literary crushes?
Well, Jonathan, the main character’s love interest in A Break With Charity, was my first literary crush. Greg from Beth Elliot’s In All Honour was my last. This is another Regency-set book. I really love the Regency era, starting with Jane Austen in high school and then moving on to Regencies when I was an academic librarian and a fellow librarian introduced me to them. To me, Greg is the perfect man and I have told Beth this. She told me he was based on her son and I was so sad to learn he was married, but happy that he is happily married and has a good life because Greg in the story deserves that. This is a sweet Regency that has some really funny parts to it that always make me laugh, but there’s some scary stuff too. I don’t want to give too much away, but you should read it.