Reading the Seasons celebrates the power of books and reading

  • Reading the Seasons: Books Holding Life and Friendship Together, by Germaine Leece and Sonya Tsakalak. Thames & Hudson, $32.99.

The term "bibliotherapy" was first used in August 1916 by Samuel Crothers in an August Atlantic Monthly article, although reading for therapeutic relief is almost as old as reading itself.

Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from helping young readers to appreciate books, to literature courses run for prison inmates, to reading circles for elderly people suffering dementia.

The British National Health Service now even has a 'books on prescription' service, while "Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria" is a free, "facilitated self-reflective approach", using stories and poems through podcasts, "to give everyone access to literature's healing power".

Reading the Seasons celebrates the power of books and reading through letters between two Australian bibliotherapists, Sydney based Germaine Leece, and Melbourne based Sonya Tsakalakis, both associated with The School Of Life organisation.

They hope to reflect "how stories nurture, challenge and shape". Their interaction, through their correspondence over a year, reflects their love of books originating from their previous careers as publisher and librarian respectively. We also learn about their home life, families, fears and achievements.

Their reading is wide, from Stephen King, who provides "insight into the emotional fallout from trauma", to Javier Marias, who reveals the need, in "a psychologically intricate way", for "a private and secret life", as indeed both reveal in their letters.

They also provide notes, in smaller type in the margins, on books that reflect the points they are raising. Thus, Germaine, sitting alone as a "listen-thief" in a cafe, leads to citing Rachel Cusk's books and Cusk's phrase, "the plotlessness of life", whereby "examining our inner journey give us shape and meaning". A section on mother-daughter relationships references a sidebar on Pavlos Matesi's The Daughter (2002).

Gerrmaine reads Jeanette Winterson's Christmas Days (2016) in the lead-up to Christmas, reminding her of "the importance of tradition and ritual" and that "fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination."

Author and title indices confirm the wide authorial coverage, which includes Dante, Robert Dessaix, Helen Garner, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, Naguib Mahfouz and Sun Mi-Hwang. Thematic listings, under headers such as ageing, families, friendship and grief, provide listings of relevant authors and books.

The long letter format of Reading Seasons makes this an ideal book to pick up for bibliotherapic browsing in troubled times.

This story Reading for therapy in these troubled times first appeared on The Canberra Times.