The Novel Cure

From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You

Ella Berthoud - Author

Susan Elderkin - Author

Hardcover | $26.95 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781594205163 | 432 pages | 26 Sep 2013 | The Penguin Press | 6.37 x 9.56in | 18 - AND UP
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The Guardian (UK)
"An exuberant pageant of literary fiction and a celebration of the possibilities of the novel."

A novel is a story transmitted from the novelist to the reader. It offers distraction, entertainment, and an opportunity to unwind or focus. But it can also be something more powerful—a way to learn about how to live. Read at the right moment in your life, a novel can—quite literally—change it.
The Novel Cure is a reminder of that power. To create this apothecary, the authors have trawled two thousand years of literature for novels that effectively promote happiness, health, and sanity, written by brilliant minds who knew what it meant to be human and wrote their life lessons into their fiction. Structured like a reference book, readers simply look up their ailment, be it agoraphobia, boredom, or a midlife crisis, and are given a novel to read as the antidote. Bibliotherapy does not discriminate between pains of the body and pains of the head (or heart). Aware that you’ve been cowardly? Pick up To Kill a Mockingbird for an injection of courage. Experiencing a sudden, acute fear of death? Read One Hundred Years of Solitude for some perspective on the larger cycle of life. Nervous about throwing a dinner party? Ali Smith’s There but for The will convince you that yours could never go that wrong. Whatever your condition, the prescription is simple: a novel (or two), to be read at regular intervals and in nice long chunks until you finish. Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will offer solace, showing that you’re not the first to experience these emotions. The Novel Cure is also peppered with useful lists and sidebars recommending the best novels to read when you’re stuck in traffic or can’t fall asleep, the most important novels to read during every decade of life, and many more.
Brilliant in concept and deeply satisfying in execution, The Novel Cure belongs on everyone’s bookshelf and in every medicine cabinet. It will make even the most well-read fiction aficionado pick up a novel he’s never heard of, and see familiar ones with new eyes. Mostly, it will reaffirm literature’s ability to distract and transport, to resonate and reassure, to change the way we see the world and our place in it.

The Economist
"Astute and often amusing . . . a charming addition to any library. Time spent leafing through its pages is inspiring - even therapeutic."



To live with anxiety is to live with a leech that saps you of your energy, confidence, and chutzpah. A constant feeling of unease or fearfulness—as opposed to the sense of frustration that characterizes stress (see: Stress)—anxiety is both a response to external circumstances and an approach to life. While the external circumstances cannot be controlled, the internal response can. Laughter, or a big intake of oxygen (the former lead­ing to the latter), usually relieves systems at least temporarily, as well as of­fering an encouragement to relax. The cause of the anxiety, however, determines whether laughter or breathing and relaxing is the appropriate cure. Luckily, our cure offers all three.

Of the fourteen causes of anxiety that we have identified,* the first chapter of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James can be expected to amelio­rate ten. Opening as it does with a description of the civilized and serene institution of afternoon tea in an English country garden—complete with “mellow” late afternoon light, long shadows, tea cups held “for a long time close to [the] chin,” rugs, cushions, and books strewn on the lawn in the shade of the trees—its indirect invitation to slow down and have a cup your­self (helpful for causes 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, and certain elements of 13) is re­enforced by James’s unhurried, elegant prose, a balm for anxiety arising from all of the preceding causes, and also serves to begin the complete eradication of anxiety arising from cause number 8.

To say that James’s prose spreads itself thickly, like butter, is not intended to suggest turgidness, but rather creaminess—and let us make that salted but­ter. For the pleasures of both prose and afternoon tea are made complete by James’s dialogue, which contains both frankness and sharpness of wit (a cura­tive for causes 1 through 4, and also excellent for cause 7). For the banter between the three men—the elderly chair-bound American banker Mr. Touchett, his “ugly, sickly” but charming son Ralph, and the “noticeably handsome” Lord Warburton with his quintessentially English face—is al­ways aiming to trigger a chuckle, and the characters are not afraid of teasing (note Lord Warburton’s markedly un-English reference to Mr. Touchett’s wealth). Freed of the chains of propriety and form that had been shackling dialogue on similar lawns three quarters of a century earlier, it is the sort of conversation that puts you at your ease (again, addressing causes 1 through 4 and 7, while also ameliorating causes 6 and 9 through 12).

Once the little party is joined by Ralph’s American cousin Isabel Archer, recently “taken on” by Mrs. Touchett, the conversation loses some of its ease, but gains in spirit—for Isabel, at this stage in her life, has a lightness, a boldness, and a confidence both in herself and in others that cannot fail to rub off on the reader. Those suffering anxiety from cause 9 will find her presence in the story especially curative.

* (1) Trauma, including abuse, or death of a loved one; (2) relationship problems, either at home or work; (3) work/school; (4) finances; (5) natural disaster; (6) lack of oxygen at high altitude; (7) tak­ing life too seriously; (8) gnawing feeling that you should have read more of the classics; (9) nega­tive self-talk; (10) poor health/hypochondria; (11) taking too many drugs; (12) being late/too busy; (13) inadequate food, water, heat, or comfort; (14) threat of attack by wild animal/person.

Indeed, we recommend this novel for all sufferers of anxiety except those made anxious by causes 5 and 14 (for the latter, in particular, a novel of any sort is unhelpful, except perhaps to use as a weapon), though readers suffer­ing anxiety from causes 1 and 2 should be warned that the ending may back­fire and prompt their symptoms to get worse. In which case, they should immediately turn back to the beginning for another dose of afternoon tea.

See also: Angst, existential • Panic attack • Turmoil

The Guardian (UK)
"An exuberant pageant of literary fiction and a celebration of the possibilities of the novel." --Guardian (UK)

The Economist
"Astute and often amusing . . . a charming addition to any library. Time spent leafing through its pages is inspiring - even therapeutic."

Publishers Weekly
"A delightful reference guide… [Berthoud and Elderkin] tackle serious and not-so-serious ailments with equal verve… elegant prose and discussions that span the history of 2,000 years of literature will surely make readers seek out these books. Taking two novellas and calling the bibliotherapists in the morning sounds welcome indeed."

"A fine remedy for bibliophiles."

Vogue (UK)
Brilliant . . . A perfect gift

Library Journal
"This appealing and helpful read is guaranteed to double the length of a to-read list and become a go-to reference for those unsure of their reading identities or who are overwhelmed by the sheer number of books in the world.

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