Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin

Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin
The Novel Cure

“Something that no medical doctor or scientific researcher has yet studied, or even noticed, is the following strange coincidence: the moment a flu patient begins to read an Agatha Christie novel marks the commencement of their recovery.” So contend the authors of The Novel Cure. Their tongue-in-cheek scholarship surfaces throughout the book in statements like “Studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more useful than the ones you make up.”

Matching your reading material to your mood is nothing new. But Berthoud and Elderkin prescribe specific books as a tonic for physical complaints as well. Their handy guide is arranged alphabetically by malady, such as “High blood pressure” and “Rails, going off the,” with suggested literary remedies for each. “We urge sufferers to make full and imaginative use of fiction as an accompaniment to medical treatment.”

The authors champion some of my favorite storytellers—Patrick Dennis, Anita Loos, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yasunari Kawabata—which merely proves their good taste. They also recommend books that have never even crossed my radar: A Kestrel for a Knave, The Towers of Trebizond, and the intriguingly named This Book Will Save Your Life. And who knew there was a subsection of literature helpful for “Nose, hating your”? (Talking like Yoda, they are.)

I am a strong believer in the healing power of narration, having once survived a grim three-month-long illness by listening to Frank McCourt read Angela’s Ashes—beyond wonderful—and immersing myself in Dickens. These beloved writers didn’t just distract and entertain me during a time of suffering. They brought me closer to the core of being human, and reminded me why I cared about being alive in the first place. A world that can produce Frank McCourt is a world I want to belong to.

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