Thursday, March 02, 2006

Book Therapy: Taking Your Place on the Couch

Apparently when I said I’d “post after work and such,” you should have taken “and such”to mean “and after I get home from work, go grocery shopping, make dinner, go to bed, wake up before most civilizations categorize it as morning and take a friend to the airport, and then get some more sleep.”

I didn’t know that “and such” had such a complicated definition either.

Literate souls that you are, you stepped up and presented some really great titles to relieve your blues, many of you citing Austen, Alcott, Irving, Adams, and others for providing you with a pick-me-up when the world has you down. Others wanted the happily ever after (and I’m there with you), and Doug and his wife liked to take a walk with the dark side of life (I like Heart of Darkness too).

In times of pain or unhappiness (or just straight-up PMS, which I swear someone posted as a need-to-read reason, but now I don’t see it, so maybe I’m just imprinting my own reasons on someone’s comment), it appears that we all turn to fiction as opposed to nonfiction books to help us make it through or just to escape a little. Ms. Librarian provided a great link to the definition and practice of Bibliotherapy or “the use of books to help people solve problems. Another, more precise definition is that bibliotherapy is a family of technique for structuring interaction between a facilitator and a participant based on mutual sharing of literature (Pardeck, 1989).

Personally I would much rather pay for more books than a therapist.

As for my own book therapy habits, I’m all about the good book, a glass of wine/tequila/bottle of beer, and a bath full of Lush bubbles. Throw in a good dinner at some point and I’m the most Zen individual you will ever meet. Unlike many of the rest of you, I rarely reread books, however; not even old favorites. This is probably because at any one time I have a stack of new books in my house that I really want to read, and I’m being inundated everyday with even newer titles at the store. On my footstool alone, I currently have Christopher Moore’s newest (A Dirty Job) that I’m savoring oh-so-slowly because I know it will be something like 14 months until I get another, the ARC of T. Jefferson Parker’s Fallen, the ARC of the Crusie/Mayer collaboration Don’t Look Down, Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods in Alabama, and the ARC of Lara Vapnyar’s Memoirs of a Muse. These are just the books waiting for my on my footstool, pick another surface and there will be more. I have an uncontrollable habit of buying all the books I want to read because I’m afraid that I will forget them otherwise. I know that when I’m no longer in the book business, and thus no longer overwhelmed by the new-new-NEW, I will turn to the old favs once again, but until then I’m a slave to the newest and brightest.

Plus I just love discovering new authors and titles, really helps pick up my mood.

The flip side to books that pick up your mood though, are those that leave you depressed or horrified; the books that cause you need therapy. I don’t know how we got on the subject (or even what we were supposed to be doing at the time), but one day the Boss and I started talking about the books that scarred us for life. Those books that we couldn’t/wouldn’t even consider picking up again and to this day still bring about a violent reaction within us.

Mine was Where the Red Fern Grows.

Hers was Old Yeller.

Both were about dogs, both were read at an impressionable age, and both still piss us off. To this day I can—in detail—remember reading about the characters trying to sort out the dog’s intestinal track and try to lay it back into the stomach cavity. And to this day I still gag, get weepy, and need to go hug a puppy. The Boss got a double whammy when after being scarred by Old Yeller, she then had her grandparents sit her down to watch the movie!

Needless to say that neither of us cares to revisit the experiences even though both books are considered classics. Personally, I don’t think you should make a child under the age of ten read anything where the animal dies, especially not in a school setting. There are lots, and lots, and LOTS of really good alternatives that still represent the nature of death.

To this day, if I realize an animal is going to die in a book (especially a dog), and it’s an animal that the author has put some work into getting us attached to, I’ll just stop reading. Put the book down. Take it back. I’m through. I don’t need that kind of emotional manipulation, nor do I need to read about it in graphic detail. A person though? Even if I’m attached to them, as long as I think the death fit with the storyline I’ll keep going. I don’t have a problem with a character dying.

I’m not quite sure what that says about where I rank people in the hierarchy of my worldly importance.

What about you? Most of you have hit the “good” books that get you through the day, but what about the bad? What about the ones that made you throw the book against the wall because you were so mad, or sad, or just plain confused why the hell anyone would go there? Did you go back and finish it later or did you just let it lie? And can a book be good even if it invokes violent hatred?

Consider it group book therapy, and afterwards will all get toasted on some really good wine.


Ms. Librarian said...

I absolutely agree with you about the animal stories. I can't read one to save my soul.

(You know, I, too, remember seeing Old Yeller (the movie). It was on my eleventh birthday, the same day that I came down with the flu -- I wonder if there is a connection ...)

My theory of reading is that I read for escapism, and if there's something there that's just too real, I don't want to read it.

Stacy D. said...

THE RAG AND BONE SHOP by Robert Cormier. It was a masterly piece of writing, which is why it was so disturbing to me. It still gives me the creeps just thinking about it. I can't bring myself to read anything else by Cormier, even though he's an icon in YA literature.

Beth said...

I totally LOVED Where the Red Fern Grows when I read it at age 12. It was when I re-read it as an adult that I couldn't take it.

Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. Hate, hate, HATE BURNING HATRED. It was like 6 million pages, I spent most of my summer reading it, slogging through the politics of India, eschewing other terrific books, and only for it to end WRONG. And not just any kind of wrong, but BORINGLY WRONG.

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaate. I actually threw it against the wall of my bedroom, and the huge thunk scared the mouse out of the wall and it came scurrying out and I shreiked and there is YET ANOTHER reason to hate this book: it incites the vermin. Even though it was mostly well-written, I have an allergic reaction to the name Vikram Seth, and to books set in India.

And, of course, I'm rather famous for my hatred of the last Outlander book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. People love to hate me for hating it, almost as much I hate the book. It's a festivus of hate! I only finished reading it because I'd promised to do so, but I did nothing but hate it on every page. Reading became torture in those weeks. When I finally finished, my first thought upon waking the next morning was "Oh thank god I don't have to read that book anymore." Seriously. And though I love the first 2.5 books in the series, I can't go back and read them. I feel betrayed and bitter about it all.

So yeah -- scarred.

christine fletcher said...

I had a throw-the-book-against-the-wall urge just recently: A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. Enjoyed it all the way through. Wonderful characters. Intriguing action. Fascinating settings. Then I got to the end. It's not that I mind sad, even tragic endings; hell, one of my all time favorites is Anna Karenina. But AK never left me feeling hopeless, the way A Fine Balance did. More than hopeless. Betrayed, somehow. I went all this way with all these characters for THIS?

I usually keep my books; can't bear to part with them. But A Fine Balance is going to the used bookstore, and if they don't want it, I'm donating it to the county library for their annual book sale. I don't want it on my shelf!

Nicole said...

Oh...I HATED Where the Red Fern Grows. Hated hated hated hated it. *shudder*

Eileen said...

I can't bear the hurt animal stories. I cried in King Kong. Over a computer generated made up monkey with relationship issues. The last book I hated was Timothy Findley's The Pilgram. It was the last time I made myself finish a book I didn't enjoy. I figure life's too short.

Ms. Librarian said...

Re: The difference in the taste of a child as opposed to that of an adult.

When, as an adult, I saw that movie about "Babe" (you know, the pig, not the sportswoman), I was appalled at the violence. The pig is threatened with death three times! Not only threatened, but the build-up shows the farmer getting his gun out, polishing it, loading it ... I'll admit there is a happy ending, but geez ...

My 5-year-old friend Matthew loved it.

Of course, the second Babe movie was just surreal.

Bethany K. Warner said...

I have read a lot of Graham Greene even though a lot of his books, especially the later ones, are majorly depressing. I remember with "The Heart of the Matter" I let it sit for days, knowing that the main character was going to do himself in at the end before I could pick it up and read it.

I read a lot of King Arthur stories too even though I know Camelot is never going to succeed.

Also -- ditto on the the "Where the Red Fern Grows."

katee said...

I totally sympathise with the death-of-animal-in-book aversion - I cried and cried when I read Charlotte's Web. So much so that Mum had to pull out her a rainy-day present for me (the only one I remember ever getting). I still think fondly of the green table for my doll house, but I don't recall re-reading the book.

Beth - to get over your aversion to books set in India, read Of Marriagable Age (by Sharon Maas). Totally awesome book, fabulous characters and best of all, an incredibly satisfying ending

lady t said...

I read Black Beauty many times as a kid so I know how you feel about the whole harm to animals thing(there are really cruel acts in that book-one of the parts I remember best was a debate between a horse and a dog about which one had the worse deal-pretty much a draw there between tail bobbing and ear/tail snipping!).

One of the worst books I ever read was The Bridges of Madison County-total crap on every page. To this day,I don't get why folks thought it was so deep and moving(the film adaptation was a vast improvement)-all it moved me to do was to read something else! The only saving grace was that I borrowed it from one of my cousins(who didn't want it back-should've tipped me off right then and there.)

lucy said...

I couldn't make it through The Lovely Bones, even though the rest of the world loved it. When I got to the part about the sister trying to find out who murdered the girl and being in danger too, I just couldn't take it anymore. I mean, I read through the horribly affecting description of how the first girl dies, I couldn't imagine doing it again.