Los­ing the plot? Ditch the phone and grab a clas­sic

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - KERRY PAR­NELL TWIT­TER.COM/KER­RY­PAR­NELL

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.

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