Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mind and body

A good book could lift sagging spirits

A good book is like good medicine.

This is the message that comes to us from assorted British health professionals, and was reiterated recently by the U.K.'s leading librarians.

Why take a pill when you can pop open a metaphor? Why sit in line at your doctor's office when you can be soothed by an uplifting story?

In the wake of a study showing that "self-help reading can help people with common mental health conditions," the Society of Chief Librarians and the nonprofit Reading Agency came up with a list of 27 books to make you feel better (

"It is hoped those with 'mild to moderate' mental health conditions will try out the idea before turning to prescription drugs — many of which can have unpleasant side effects," the Daily Mail writes.

Most of the books on the list, however, are not "self-help" books at all, but works of fiction, history and memoir that have strong literary qualities and that are especially hopeful in their portrayal of the human condition.

There is, for example, Bill Bryson's travelogue through the U.K., Notes From a Small Island, Armistead Maupin's collection of novels, Tales of the City, and Salman Rushdie's children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories. And there's E.H. Gombrich's wonderful 1935 book A Little History of the World, which retells the story of several millennia of the human experience. The Austrian art historian began the book as a series of letters to his granddaughter explaining his work. It's a book that's approachable, illuminating and, yes, comforting.

Going back in history, Gombrich writes, to the time of "grandfather's grandfather's grandfather," is like falling into a bottomless well. "So let's light a scrap of paper, and drop it down into that well. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it burns it will light up the sides of the well. Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper. We use it to light up the past."

Like many other books on the Brits' feel-good list, Gombrich makes great use of metaphor and simile to take us to a simpler place — his tone throughout the book is explicitly that of an elder speaking to a young person.

But just about any excellent work of narrative art can transport us away from tedium and sorrow, as Annie Murphy Paul wrote in the New York Times last year. She described how scientific researchers, using brain scans, have documented the power of evocative descriptions and vivid metaphors on the mind.

"Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life," Paul wrote.

A good book could lift sagging spirits 03/08/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 2:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Entrance lanes close on eastbound I-4 in Plant City following semi crash


    An eastbound entrance lane to Interstate 4 is blocked Tuesday morning following a semi crash, according to broadcast reports.

  2. Gov. Rick Scott could soon be the all-time king of line-item veto


    2016: $256,144,027

    2015: $461,387,164

    2014: $68,850,121

    2013: $367,950,394

    2012: $142,752,177

    2011: $615,347,550

    Only once has Scott used the line-item veto sparingly. That was in 2014, the year he ran for re-election, when he removed a paltry $69 million from the budget.

    Gov. Rick Scott waves a veto pen at The Villages in 2011.
  3. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon


    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

    Jose De Leon follows through in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on May 29, 2017.
  4. Resignation of communications director Dubke could signal more changes within White House staff


    WASHINGTON — Mike Dubke has resigned as White House communications director, a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday, in the first of what could be a series of changes to President Trump's senior staff amid the growing Russia scandal.

    President Donald Trump speaks at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 29, 2017, during a Memorial Day ceremony. [Associated Press]
  5. Trump pays somber tribute to fallen troops on Memorial Day


    ARLINGTON, Va. — President Donald Trump expressed the nation's "boundless" gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice paid by Americans defending the United States, dedicating his first Memorial Day address as commander in chief to a top Cabinet secretary and two other families who lost loved ones.

    Brittany Jacobs, left, watches as her 6-year-old son Christian Jacobs meets President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 29, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Jacobs father, Marine Sgt. Christopher Jacobs, was killed in 2011. [Associated Press]