Saturday, 22 February 2014

Introducing... LitTherapy! Because Bibliotherapy Should be Free.

I've mentioned over the last few months that I've been working on a bibliotherapy recommendation site, and I've decided it's time to share with you the site in its early stages!

Although the name might change to something more original in future, for now it's, which I'm hoping to shape into a useful bibliotherapy resource that we can all contribute to and make use of.

At the root of this project is my belief that bibliotherapy isn't something we should pay for. Some people may find it useful to pay for bibliotherapy sessions, but I think that sharing our knowledge and experience has just as much potential.

After all, if you think of all the books that we've read, and all the books that other booklovers have read, there's a pretty impressive combined knowledge to harness. Bibliotherapists have a tricky job of finding the one book to suit someone's character, feelings and situation perfectly, but with a bit of sharing I think there's much more chance of success.

For now, the site is in its basic stages. There are different categories of feelings, situations and problems, and I've started adding books between them. At the time of posting, there are 218 books, 174 authors and 58 categories, but this is growing every time I have a spare five minutes.

Also, in the next few days some changes should be implemented on the author pages (including alphabetical order by surname), search functions for the site, and individual book pages where content can be added.

I've also decided to jump in the deep end and launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (probably starting tomorrow). If the campaign is successful, I'll be able to work on adding the following features:

  • A subcategory function to increase the chance of a user finding an appropriate book in each category. For instance, subcategories within 'depression' would include mood-boosting books and books with characters to relate to: two very different types!
  • The capacity to add books to a personal bibliotherapy plan in a user area, ready to implement for whatever problem or feeling you're facing
  • A way to vote up or down books
  • The possibility to submit new books to categories
  • The option to comment on books and share your own experiences (encouraging users to speak out about mental health in particular)
  • A way to recommend particular books to other users, making use of our own reading knowledge and experiences.

I hope the crowdfunding is successful, and if it is I'll definitely be getting in touch with people to see if they'd like to get involved. This might include maintaining the site, adding content and making it as useful a resource as possible. I don't want it to be a one person mission by any means, but rather a collective resource created by readers for readers.

When I've launched the campaign, hopefully tomorrow (early next week at latest), I'll post on the blog again. If you think LitTherapy has potential, it would be great if you could retweet or mention it on your social media! But I'll outline little ways to help in my next post.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Beauty of Music, Art & Life

The Goldfinch by Tartt: classical music, art and beauty
The Goldfinch: a novel of great art and beauty
For some reason, over the last few months I'd been thinking of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt as a book quite like The Luminaries, although after finishing both I've realised that it must just be because they're long and were released around the same time.

The Goldfinch is really quite superb, and I can't say I got at all bored by it, despite it being 771 pages long as hardback. The novel covers enormous ground, with protagonist Theo Decker a young boy in New York City who miraculously survives an accident that throws him out all comfort zones and head first into the art underworld.

Determined to avoid orphanhood at the hands of the state, Theo goes from the homes of friends to new cities and even to acquaintances made under the most unusual of circumstances.

It's a story of growing up, led by the differentiation between right and wrong, but to me it was primarily a tale of beauty. I'll mention now that I googled the theme of beauty while reading the book, and Belleza's wonderful post came up - I'd recommend you give it a read!

The beauty of art, music and life in The Goldfinch


Art carries the novel from the very start right up until its conclusion. The title of the novel comes from Carel Fabritius's 1654 painting of the same name, and Theo Decker is surrounded by this painting and other masterpieces as he suffers his childhood trauma.

The Goldfinch is a novel of beauty preserved, destroyed, and often not quite regained (it's interesting to consider Hobie, a character that alone makes the book a must-read, in light of this) and it was a pleasure to enjoy the world created by Tartt.

Classical music

As well as art there's the centrality of music, a theme that surrounds probably my favourite character of the book, Pippa. A redheaded, quirky girl of around Theo's age who reminded me of myself at times, Pippa is shaped by an interesting dualism that pulls her close to, yet impossibly apart from, Theo.

While Theo falls into drugs, drinking and unimaginable lows, Pippa uses the classical music of Arvo Pärt, Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina and others to bring her back into the present and out of her head. I'd recommend giving Spiegel im Spiegel by Pärt a listen, particularly if you're in need of quietening your thoughts.

Other readers may see her using music as an escape, but to me it seemed like the reverse. Floating through life with the PTSD that both she and Theo face, music was what I felt defined her and made her seem real. I've written a lot about my own Post Traumatic Stress, and the coping mechanisms in this book were both fascinating and very much real.

Beauty of love and life

Theo destroys himself while Pippa seeks beauty, yet these roles reverse at times throughout the novel. Pippa and Theo seem closest when music is between them, and I lost count of the times Pippa scrolls through Theo's iPod (often commenting on the lack of the music she finds most beautiful).

*Possible spoilers!*
I felt that Theo and Pippa simply had to be together (I'm sure I'm not alone on this), yet both author and protagonist eventually convince us that this can never be the case. Their relationship is perfect yet impossible, and creating this with words is probably what I'd most like to applaud Donna Tartt for.

An emphasis on beauty runs throughout the novel, even when - or especially when - it seems to be absent. Tartt lapses into almost excessive philosophising towards the novel's end, but her exploration of beauty is the main reason why I'd love for you all to give the novel a go too.

I could write for hours on The Goldfinch, and I imagine that universities are already adding this to their literature modules, for good reason. However, I hope readers will be able to pick it up and not have the experience tainted by academia. It's a novel of such complexity and beauty, and sometimes it's better just to keep such a novel hidden inside rather than analysing and picking it all apart.

Over and over I played her favorite Arvo Pärt, as a way of being with her; and she only had to mention a recently read novel for me to grab it up hungrily, to be inside her thoughts, a kind of telepathy. (p463)

Just to let you know, I'll be posting tomorrow about my new bibliotherapy site, so keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: A Feel-Good Book to Get Your Life Back on Track

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion for depression
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: a proper
feel-good novel that makes for a great
bibliotherapy recommendation! Image source.
It would be fair to say I've been going through some transitions lately, and reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion provided me with just the bibliotherapy I needed to feel better about myself and get my life back in order.

The company I'm working for here in Barcelona has been going through some financial issues, and I was asked to stay and work remotely for less money and hours or to find a new placement. My Erasmus programme dictated that I had five days to start a new placement, and despite getting an interview sorted the same day I heard the news (by some strange feat), it was too short-notice to get everything in place.

So as of Monday, I have less money but more time to explore Barcelona and focus on my other projects. The advantages are pretty handy, to be honest, but I've chosen to leave Barcelona earlier than expected, probably around the middle of next month. I'm sure I'll have some fun before then, though.

As a result of these changes, my routine had sort of gone to pieces at the end of last week. Well, there wasn't anything subtle about it: I was watching too many Desperate Housewives re-runs, staying in my pyjamas and not really achieving much (compared to my usually high standards, at least). I'm one of those people who need a routine, and The Rosie Project came along at just the right time.

How The Rosie Project helped me get my life back on track

Here's a summary from Goodreads of The Rosie Project:

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. [...] In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

Aspergers is very much in my Mum's side of the family - I'll leave it at that. Reading about Don's routines got me thinking about how much I need stability in my own life, and this helped me plan out my days now that my work has changed. Don does take this to an extreme, which we should avoid, and I don't think I'll be adapting his meal plan any time soon.

The Rosie Project has also encouraged me to get outside every day, no matter how much I don't want to, because if a character like Don can do it, then so can I. Now I think about it, this very much links back to my last post, in which I outline how we can replicate the actions of a character we admire after reading a book.

If you're in need of some feel-good bibliotherapy, give it a go

  • Books including positive transformations of characters always get me thinking about my own life and self-improvement, and The Rosie Project was no exception.
  • The ending is really uplifting (seriously happy-ending stuff that got me grinning from ear-to-ear), so it's definitely a great bibliotherapy recommendation for depression and low-mood.
  • The plot distracted me from my spiralling worries, so I'd definitely recommend it if you're facing anxiety too at the moment.
  • If you liked The Silver Linings Playbook I think you'll enjoy The Rosie Project. I was also reminded of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, although this may have been purely because both novels made me feel really positive, relaxed and good about myself.

Have you read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion? It would be great to know what you think of it, or if you're now adding it to your reading list!

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: Deserving of the Man Booker, Not My Book of the Year

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Goodreads summary of The Luminaries.

The Luminaries praise and criticism
The Luminaries: a great achievement but not
quite my book of the year. Image source.
Some time ago, I read a superb article by Eleanor Catton in The Guardian. She wrote about New Zealand and the differences between North and South Island, and I tried my hardest to absorb the writing and the awe-inspiring scenery she described. There would absolutely be no skim reading here, I thought.

This article was the primary reason why I wanted to read The Luminaries. I wasn't particularly interested in reading it just to say I've read the Man Booker winner - an eight-hundred page one at that - and tick it off my reading list, but rather I wanted to see what Catton was capable of.

I was given the hefty hardback edition of The Luminaries for Christmas, and in a few days I had got through a considerable chunk of the book. I was enjoying it, despite the slow start that other reviewers have touched upon, but as the book progressed I realised I wasn't going to give it five stars.

Why The Luminaries deserves the Man Booker

  • The Luminaries is a remarkable story of society and its intertwining classes, cultures and collective and individual aspirations. Memorable characters include Emery Staines and the Maori character Te Rau Tauwhare, who weaves through the lives of characters and draws them towards reflection.
  • Catton's writing gave me an authentic impression of the era, and you can tell she's spent a good deal of time researching and emulating Victorian writers.
  • I've never read anything like it before, and I wouldn't dream of calling the novel unoriginal. If anything, I'd perhaps compare it to Patrick Hamilton's Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, with an echo of Dickens's Great Expectations and some Wilkie Collins.

Why it's not going to be my book of the year

  • I wanted to know more about the characters, particularly Walter Moody (the protagonist who brings the reader into Hokitika). As the characters came close to showing their true selves, they seemed to flee just as quickly.
  • When I finish a favourite book, I want to savour the hopes and dreams of characters I relate to or aspire to be like. Even years after first reading them, I'll be imagining the sublime landscapes or well-written scenes of great novels. My favourite books forge memories that warm my heart and bring me right back into the story. Why did The Luminaries not leave me with fond memories? Why didn't it strike a chord with me?
  • This may be due to my own insufficiencies, but I didn't completely understand the astrological framing device or what it added to the story. Should I revisit the novel and pay more attention to this, perhaps?

While The Luminaries is an incredible feat, and Catton is wonderfully suited to being at the forefront of female writing, it wasn't perfect. It could have been a five-star read, but there was nothing that I particularly loved about it or found exceptional. I'm very excited about what Catton will go on to write, and I'm keen to read her first novel. This just wasn't the one for me.

Have you read The Luminaries? Did you find it flawless or, like me, did you find it slightly lacking? Would you recommend that I read it again?

Relaxing with The Luminaries and wine
Reading The Luminaries with some wine - why not?