What is bibliotherapy?
Bibliotherapy is exactly as it sounds: an individual (not necessarily a practicing doctor) evaluates the state of your psyche through a series of probing questions, and ultimately, writes you a prescription. But rather than offering you an Rx slip, the bibliotherapist’s prescription is for 12 books -- one per month for a full year -- curated specifically to your maladies.
NYC’s resident bibliotherapist, Noreen Tomassi (who doesn’t have a medical degree, but does have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy) serves as executive director at the Center for Fiction on East 47th St. The Center itself -- a gathering-grounds for die-hard lovers of fiction -- offers public speaker series, writing workshops, book groups, and a collection of elegant sky-lit reading rooms. It’s something of a sacred literary alcove, designed to shelter readers and writers from the outside thrum of New York. “How anyone who rides the NYC subway system five days a week manages to stay sane is a mystery,” Tomassi says. “In this beautiful, nasty, vibrant, and difficult city, people need oases for reflection.”
While the concept of literature as therapy dates back as far as Greek Antiquity (the entryways of one of the earliest libraries was inscribed with the words, “the house of healing for the soul”), the term “bibliotherapy” was coined in a 1916 Atlantic Monthly article. Hospital libraries all over the US and the UK began to curate bibliotherapy programs for traumatized veterans and other patients, and in 2007, the London School of Life founded the world’s most popular bibliotherapy platform in its iconic bookstore. At present, there are a number of therapists, social workers, and kind-hearted librarians scattered across New York who offer prescribed reading lists as potential solutions for various ailments -- but Tomassi is the only one with a practice devoted exclusively to the use of literary remedies.