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Friday, July 31, 2015

Some Literary Prescriptions for Your Ailments

I recently finished reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, a novel originally written in German and published in 2013.  The protagonist, Jean Perdu, is a pharmacie littéraire who recommends books “to treat all the emotions for which no other remedy exists.”

It occurred to me that I already had a book on my shelves which was written to prescribe specific fiction for life’s ailments.  This book, also published in 2013, is entitled The Novel Cure:  An A-Z of Literary Remedies and was written by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. 

I did a comparison of prescriptions: 

The Little Paris Bookshop recommends Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for “pathological optimism or a sense of humour failure” or “sauna-goers with exhibitionist tendencies.”  The Novel Cure recommends the same book for those who are unable to find a cup of tea “Because your need cannot be greater than Arthur Dent’s after one particularly trying Thursday” (363).

Don Quixote is recommended “when your ideals clash with reality” (The Little Paris Bookshop) and for lethargy (The Novel Cure).

The Novel Cure prescribes Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to those suffering from obsession whereas The Little Paris Bookshop recommends that novel for vegetarians.

George Orwell’s 1984 may help those who are consumed by hatred of any type (The Novel Cure) or those who are prone to gullibility or apathy (The Little Paris Bookshop).

The Novel Cure considers Bram Stoker’s Dracula one of the best novels for those over one hundred years of age, while The Little Paris Bookshop advises it “for those susceptible to boring dreams and those who sit, paralysed , by the phone (‘Will he ever ring?’).

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy can help “those who occasionally hear imaginary voices and believe they have an animal soul mate” (The Little Paris Bookshop); The Novel Cure states, “One of the best . . . antiloneliness vaccines is Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, as well as the other two novels that make up the His Dark Materials trilogy” (223).

The Novel Cure recommends José Saramago’s Blindness for people who suffer from a fear of commitment while The Little Paris Bookshop suggests it “helps you to tackle overwork, to prioritise, and to see your purpose in life.”

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer can help one “overcome adult worries and rediscover the child within” (The Little Paris Bookshop) and his The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the best novels for after a nightmare (The Novel Cure).

Elizabeth van Arnim’s The Enchanted April is prescribed “for indecision and for trusting one’s friends” (The Little Paris Bookshop).  The Novel Cure advises it for certain kinds of marriages:  “If . . . you find that marriage sometimes involves a struggle to maintain your sense of self in the face of constant compromise, if your marriage is stuck in a rut, or if the passing of the years has somehow pushed you and your spouse apart rather than bring you closer, take a burst of luminous inspiration from The Enchanted April by Elizabeth van Arnim” (240 – 241).

Franz Kafka may provide “a remedy for the odd sensation of being generally misunderstood” (The Little Paris Bookshop) or help those having an identity crisis (The Novel Cure).

I guess Jean Perdu, the literary apothecary, is correct when he says that books are like medicine:  “’There are books that are suitable for a million people, others only for a hundred.  There are even medicines – sorry, books – that were written for one person only.’”