Shelf Help

From the experiences of two practising book doctors, comes this delightful handbook that offers a novel remedy for every pain you could ever imagine

Published: 06th September 2014 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2014 12:26 PM   |  A+A-

It is a truth universally acknowledged that stories have the power to transform people. Books shield us from despair; offer wisdom, delight, and, at times, a much-needed escape from reality. American poet Muriel Rukeyser put it well, “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

As bibliotherapists, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (one is a painter, the other a novelist) channel the power of literature through book therapy. Last September, they decided to document their remedies in “a medical handbook with a difference”—The Novel Cure.

To spread the cheer among local bibliophiles, Roli Books released the Indian edition this August. “The UK publishers Canongate realised this book could be adapted across borders and offered us the rights to the Indian edition,” says Priya Kapoor, Roli’s editorial director. The Indian edition has been adapted by writer-journalist Indrajit Hazra who brings to the apothecary’s table ailments and cures that are unique to our society.

“The Indian ailments and cures are specific to us. For instance, the book addresses the difficulty of being or having a mother-in-law, dealing with life in cities or in a joint family,” says Hazra. “It took me 6 to 7 months as I had to read books I had only heard about and re-read the ones I had read. I have not recommended any book here that I’ve not read or which is not available in translation.”

Book.jpgNo distinction is made between emotional and physical pain in the book, which offers remedies for a variety of conditions from a broken heart to a broken leg to broken china, or getting over shyness, grumpiness, hiccups, to dealing with a wardrobe crisis or even divorce. The ailments are arranged alphabetically and interspersed with advice for certain reading-related disorders. Keep a journal to keep track of what you read if you suffer from reading-related amnesia; or if children take up all your time, designate a reading hour; and in case you are overwhelmed by the number of books in the world, seek bibliotherapy.

It also features several ten-best-books lists for every decade of life (teens, twenties, thirties….) and situations you may find yourself in (heartbroken, in a hospital, on a train). Written with humour and compassion, the book makes for an engaging read. Each entry defines and details that particular condition (say vanity) and the remedial novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray) explaining just how it would help the reader get better.

What makes the Indian edition richer still is the access it provides to book cures of both Indian and foreign origins. So Ismat Chugtai’s ‘Lihaf’ (The Quilt) is just as good a remedy for homophobia as EM Forster’s Maurice and nothing highlights the dangers of being in denial better than Munshi Premchand’s ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ (The Chess Players).

If The Novel Cure sets you off on a book-buying spree, see the entry on being broke (and hope you’ve already bought Martin Amis’ Money). In case of a reading frenzy, see the cure on reading ailment: tendency to live to read. This is not a book to be devoured in one go, but to be savoured over time as and when you need some hand-holding to find your way through the vast thickets of literature. Happy Reading.


Being a mother-in-law

Read: Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope

Ladies, please pause to consider. If you are a mother-in-law, do you at least attempt to defy the cliché?* Are you loving and supportive of your son- or daughter-in-law?† Have you accepted them, gracefully, as they are?‡ Do you endeavour to see things from their point of view,§ even taking their side against your own offspring’s,§§ knowing that in the end this will strengthen their marriage and, indirectly, help your precious child?

Of the three mothers-in-law (MILs) featured in Joanna Trollope’s rigorous exploration of intergenerational in-law relationships, it’s Rachel—the mother of three grownup, married sons, and MIL to Sigrid, Petra and Charlotte—who has the longest list of destructive behaviours to her credit. An energetic, efficient, protective ‘tiger’ mother when her sons were growing up, she has become a forceful, interfering, invasive, controlling old cow now that they’re putting their own partners first. Charlotte’s mother, Marnie, appears on the surface to be benign— she’s generous, and wants to help out the couple financially. But they soon realise there’s a fine line between support and suffocation.

If you have brought up your sons never to oppose your wishes; if you phone them repeatedly; if you insist that family gatherings are at your own house, and when they’re not, you arrive with the food; if you interrupt their intimate conversations with offers of homemade cake; if you research potential house purchases on their behalf without their consent; if you expect your daughters-in-law to stay with your sons out of gratitude for the way you raised them and reject them when they don’t; if you can’t allow your daughters-in-law to keep their postnatal depression a secret, when neither they nor your son want you to know about it; and if your response to a daughter-in-law’s announcement of her pregnancy is: ‘You’ve only been married ten minutes. Couldn’t you have waited?’; if you know that you have committed one or more of these MIL sins, then we’d like you, please, to read this novel.

Then re-create yourself as a second mother to your extra children. It is Sigrid’s mother who provides a role model for this. She insists, calmly, that you can only let your adult children go, successfully, if you have interesting, absorbing work—or some other creative outlet—of your own, plus a strong enough relationship with your own partner, if you have one. Only then will you not go begging your children for the time and attention they should be giving their own families. Be loving, supportive, generous, understanding, kind and fun. But don’t have time to interfere.

see also: being a control freak

Printed with permission from Roli Books


* No-one is good enough for your child, of course, but it’s still a cliché.

† However little you actually like them.

‡ Though you would not have chosen them yourself.

§ Albeit mistaken.

§§ Even though your darling is always in the right.


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