Losing the plot? Ditch the phone and grab a classic
Feeling stressed? You need a good Trollope.
Trust me, it will help. As the coronavirus began picking up, I realised endlessly scrolling through my phone was increasing my anxiety and, as an avid reader, decided I needed a really good, long book to literally take my mind off things.
Something I could get properly stuck into that would force me to concentrate, so I had no brain space to think about anything else.
At first, I thought I’d return to Charles Dickens, but then I hit on the ideal — the Victorian novels of Anthony Trollope, famous for his Barchester Chronicles.
There are six books in the Barchester series and I’m halfway through.
Sometimes written off as a poor man’s Dickens, Trollope is perfect for my needs.
His long, florid novels meticulously describe the minutiae of polite society, so you can get completely lost in his world.
He creates unforgettable characters such as the obsequious Mr Slope, rambles on, goes off on tangents and regularly bursts into the narrative with cross author comments. He’ll do things like reveal the ending halfway through, saying he doesn’t approve of page-turners.
He’s hilarious, he’s perfect, he’s the man for our times.
Interestingly, in World War II there was a boom in people reading Trollope for similar reasons, and a “Pick Up A Trollope” campaign has just launched in the UK, spearheaded by ex-British PM John Major, also vice-chair of the Trollope Society.
And it turns out I had accidentally hit on something — Trollope and other classics are good for your mental health, so much so that bibliotherapy is an actual thing and I had been subconsciously self-administering.
According to a study by the Liverpool Health Inequalities Research Institute, reading classics like Dickens’ Great Expectations allows people suffering from depression to discover new emotions and experiences and rediscover forgotten ones. It helps us question life and make sense of things.
Poetry has also been proven to reduce the symptoms of people with PTSD and researchers from the University of Alabama found people suffering from depression given bibliotherapy had less chance of relapsing than those prescribed medication.
So, you could say, a good book really does stop you losing the plot.
There are bibliotherapists who can offer you prescriptions. Bijal Shah is a former investment banker turned therapist who runs sessions at booktherapy.io and says literature connects us to others. “Books help us connect the dots in our own stories and ultimately hold mirrors up so that we can truly see ourselves and be understood.
“Fiction allows us to use our imagination and access aspects of our unconscious that we would never be able to tap into otherwise,” she says.
“It can sometimes be more powerful than psychotherapy.”
For me, it’s simply comforting. I feel calm if I have a good book to read and another waiting. But be warned — it has to be good — as a bad book will do quite the opposite. There’s nothing more infuriating than reading something that has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, and no one needs anything that raises your temperature right now.
Still, if you get stuck with a really crap paperback, I could think of another — novel — use for the sheets.
Good books are good for mental health.