Sunday, 30 March 2014

Solve Your Problems With Sherlock Holmes (And Overcome Workaholism with Watson)

My Penguin English Library edition of "The
Five Orange Pips and Other Cases"
The BBC Sherlock Holmes series has been a big thing in my house. Our sheepdogs are compared - and contrasted - with Sherlock and Mycroft, and the end of Series 2 cliffhanger provided lots of ground for healthy debate.

I knew that I'd love the Arthur Conan Doyle original stories, and The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases has been one of my best literary purchases of the year. The writing is top-quality, the plots tend to be impeccable, and the art of deduction has given me so much to apply to my own life and problem solving.

The Adventure of the Devil's Foot

My favourite story from my Penguin English Library edition of The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases must be "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot".

It's 1897. Sherlock's nerves have had too much and his doctor has told him he's in desperate need of a time out. So, Holmes and Watson head for Cornwall for the former's health, but, as can be imagined, they run into a crime before too long.

Mr. Mortimer Tregennis, a local gentleman, and Mr. Roundhay, the local vicar, come to Holmes to report that Tregennis’s two brothers have gone insane, and his sister has died. Tregennis had gone to visit them in their village (Tredannick Wollas), played whist with them, and then left. When he came back in the morning, he found them still sitting in their places at the table, the brothers, George and Owen, laughing and singing, and the sister, Brenda, dead. Over to you, Sherlock Holmes.

Solve your own problems with Sherlock

Reading - and watching - Sherlock Holmes's adventures has ended up being more than just relaxing. Seeing the famous detective at work has helped me approach some tricky situations in my own life in a much more precise and mindful way than I normally would, and seeing Watson's own pitfalls in my own thinking has stopped me once or twice (for reading on the side, try Maria Konnikova's Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes).

The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact -- of absolute undeniable fact -- from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Then, having established ourselves upon this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.
― Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze 
I knew that seclusion and solitude were very necessary for my friend in those hours of intense mental concentration during which he weighed every particle of evidence, constructed alternative theories, balanced one against the other, and made up his mind as to which points were essential and which immaterial.
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Recover from workaholism with Watson's help

In "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", we realise that Sherlock isn't superhuman. He's very intelligent, but he can't keep up his extraordinary high level of thinking all the time. Exhausted, he's forced to get some rest in the countryside "if he wished to avert an absolute breakdown". 

Reading and walking dictate his routine, and in a way it's a success.

The glamour and mystery of the place, with its sinister atmosphere of forgotten nations, appealed to the imagination of my friend, and he spent much of his time in long walks and solitary meditations upon the moor. The ancient Cornish language had also arrested his attention, and he had, I remember, conceived the idea that it was akin to the Chaldean [...]
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
Poldhu Bay, close to where Holmes and Watson recuperate in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot". Image source.

Holmes is very much human, after all. It becomes Watson's mission to nurse him back to health once more, and at the first signs of a case, he is forced to hold up a 'warning finger'. Couldn't we all do with our own Watson?

"I held up a warning finger" - Watson acting against Sherlock Holmes's workaholic tendencies. 

Also, Sherlock Holmes can teach us to never stop learning

“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow

The LitTherapy Project: Thank You For All the Support!

My LitTherapy crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo has come to an end, and I'm very grateful to the supporters, link-sharers and contributors! As I opted for flexible funding, I aimed high and was able to keep for the project any amount I made.

The money that I've raised is so useful for the site's development, as are all the connections that I've made during the campaign. I've got in touch with so many great people, and I'm so excited to work on building a community around the site with you all.

I'm currently working on:

  • Content for each book listed on the site
  • A bibliotherapy forum
  • A bibliotherapy blog for the website, on which bloggers on readers would be invited to contribute content
  • Thinking through social features and a ranking system.

If you're a blogger

You're invited to contribute short summaries of your favourite books, ideally focused on bibliotherapy and with a mention of who you'd recommend the book for. This would be followed by your name and a link to your blog, to help you gain exposure for your writing.

You're also invited to be listed as a contributor on the About Us page which is in progress! On this page you could list your blog, a few favourite posts, and a bit about you and your favourite books.

If you're a reader

I'd also love for you to write summaries of your favourite books!

Other roles

There will also be Librarian roles - one for each genre - which will involve expanding the books listed on the site, alongside Site and Community Manager roles.

Interested in getting involved, or have any ideas for the site? Send an email to!

And, once again, thank you so much for all of your support!

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Book for Life: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Penguin edition of Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Behind all seen things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal or a window opening on something other than itself. ” Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry some years ago, but I'd never looked into the author's life or other works. This recently changed, however, thanks to the wonderful intertextuality of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. After Wind, Sand and Stars was shared between friends in the novel, I visited my local bookshop to pick up the copy that I hoped was still on the classics shelf.

Thankfully it was, alongside two copies of Tartt's The Secret History that I'd been unable to get in Waterstones (all hail independent bookshops). The bookshop owner, who I know well, told me that he always has a copy of Wind, Sand and Stars in stock, and was surprised that I hadn't read it before.

Wind, Sand and Stars: a guide to life and deathWind, Sand and Stars is a remarkable non-fiction tale of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's life as a pilot, featuring encounters with nomadic Arabs and the 1936 crash in the Libyan Desert that he miraculously survived. Perhaps this near-miss is why Saint-Exupéry writes about life and death with such skill and insight; a talent that reminds me of León Felipe's poetry from around the same time.

“The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when the night has fallen, I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.”

Saint-Exupéry's narrative of searching for missing co-pilots (and being lost himself) was quite sad to read considering the present backdrop of flight MH370, especially as, judging by news headlines, it seems to have come to a sombre close this afternoon.

Also unfortunately fitting is Saint-Exupéry's cause of death at the controls of his plane in 1944, something that I only learned about upon picking up this book.

I think that there are many other elements of life that Wind, Sand and Stars could apply to, not just those related to air travel. In The Goldfinch, protagonist Theo Decker reads the autobiographical narrative during a time of closure on the bus from Los Angeles to return home. I also read it while travelling, foremost on a trip to London last Wednesday that required more than a little courage.

Have you read Wind, Sand and Stars? I'll choose it as my bibliotherapy recommendation for this month, particularly suited for anyone with changes going on who could do with stepping back to see the bigger picture. It's an incredible book that demands much more than one reading.

“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's life and death
An introduction to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his autobiographical Wind, Sand and Stars

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Year Abroad in Books (Alongside Homesickness and Coming Home)

Some of you may know that from August 2013 I was in Spain, working in Barcelona for the year abroad of my degree.

Well, time has flown by and I'm now back in England, surrounded by the familiar comforts of home. Am I happy to be back? I can't lie. I'm so, so glad to be back. Living in Barcelona was great, but I was definitely ready to come home.

Now that life is pretty much to normal, I think a quick overview of my time in Barcelona is due.

Why don't I tell you about my year abroad through the books I read?

La Setmana del Llibre en Català
La Setmana del Llibre en Català, September 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

I read The Cuckoo's Calling on the journey over to Barcelona and when I was settling in, and it was the perfect choice. Reading about a character coming to terms with his own life really got me thinking about my own, and it was easily one of my favourite reads of 2013. There's something very fitting about reading a detective novel when you're solving problems and dealing with change in your own life.

The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment - Isabel Losada

Thanks to Angeliki's consistently brilliant recommendations, I came across The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment. Documenting the author's journey of self-discovery, the memoir was a welcome retreat from the anxiety of setting up bank accounts and struggling to get the ever elusive NIE - an identity number for foreigners - in my hands.

Sant Jeroni peak, Montserrat, September 2013

NW - Zadie Smith

NW was an extremely slow read for me, and a potentially risky one considering my English home isn't far from the English capital. However, homesickness wasn't yet due for me, and I was inspired by the themes of education and reinvention that Zadie Smith so cleverly weaves together.

The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe

A real testament to the power of books, I can't recommend The End of Your Life Book Club enough. It reminded me why I should be working on my bibliotherapy projects, and provided me with the inspiration to do something meaningful with my life (or at least give it a shot).

The Gifts of Imperfection - Brené Brown

I can be so afraid of failing and making a fool of myself that I shelter myself from anything remotely scary and challenging. If you can relate to this, you really need to discover Brené Brown. Check out Daring Greatly and her teachings on the power of vulnerability right now!

La Diada, or The National Day of Catalonia, and 'The Catalan Way' September 2013. Photo credit: Chris Jones.

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer

Winner of the Costa Prize for the best first novel, The Shock of the Fall was a firm reminder of the potential of fiction to help us come to terms with our own mental health and that of others.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - Maria Semple

I read this in December, when homesickness was just starting to kick in. If you've read Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, you'd probably agree that this was the perfect antidote. Uplifting, inspirational and extremely funny, this was the ideal book to read!

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland - Sarah Moss

Names for the Sea tells the experience of another British woman abroad, in my favourite country in the world: Iceland. What better book to read when I was feeling like an out-of-place foreigner?

Two Lucys at the CosmoCaixa Science Museum, February 2014

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

I loved Bernadette, and I absolutely adored The Rosie Project. My main advice for anyone living abroad? Read feel-good novels. They're the ultimate first aid for homesickness! Also, the protagonist of The Rosie Project, Don, can't but help inspire you to get out your comfort zone and open your mind as he does.

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

Just incredible. I needed a story of beauty, courage and growing up to get me through the last stages of my time abroad, and I couldn't have chosen a better book.

The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry

As the second part of Stephen Fry's autobiography that focuses on his years as a student (and his brief spell in prison before that), I listened to this coming-of-age tale as an audiobook and loved it. It was the perfect end to my year abroad, and Fry (with his ever so recognisable voice) was the perfect companion on my trip to visit my sister in Andorra.

Casa Sayrach, Barcelona
Casa Sayrach, just around the corner from my Barcelona flat in the Eixample region. March 2014

Now that I'm in England, I'm so eager to get back into a reading and blogging routine. What more can I say? It's good to be back!