Novel therapy

One of my favorite bloggers, The Passive Voice, reposted a piece about novel therapy:

British libraries offer full bibliotherapy services, including recommendations and exhaustive reading lists based on condition, to anyone, at every library in the U.K., at no cost.


Experts say books featuring characters or people that share a patient’s struggles can be an incredibly important piece of a larger treatment plan designed to give patients something a pill can’t always offer: Hope.


Bibliotherapy likely first came to the U.S. from Britain after World War I, English bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud said, when it was found that Jane Austen novels helped calm soldiers afflicted with PTSD (then called “shellshock”). Then, as now, the main premise of bibliotherapy is pretty simple: Personal transformation through reading.The Beekeeper's Apprentice US Cover

I am occasionally told by readers how incredibly helpful one or another of my books has been in getting them through a tough spot, either through distraction (Beekeeper’s Apprentice seems to be a popular read-aloud for long hours by a hospital bed) or through inspiration (the reader who wrote to say she’d been clean and sober for two years after reading the passage in Monstrous Regiment where Russell smashes the hypodermic needle.)  Such letters always leave me feeling very small and humble, that a collection of my words could serve such a function more profound than entertainment.

Do read the rest of this post, in the Deseret News, here.


  1. Ashley W on June 6, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I had a conversation about this with friends recently. Beekeeper’s Apprentice is definitely at the top of my list of comfort books. It most recently got me through a big house move.

  2. susanna on June 6, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    10 years ago whilst my husband was in the hospital and since his death, Mary Russell has been my boon companion. When I’m really feeling low though, the Lucia books by E.F. Benson just take me away and make me laugh. She and Miss Mapp got up to all sorts! Reading what you love, or something that takes you outside yourself and to another world helps no end, that and the Marx Brothers.

  3. Jill on June 6, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    I always escaped into books as a child, I still do at the age of nearly 55, but just for the fun of it now. As a child the world of fiction took me to places far away from the reality which I had no power over, no voice. My favourite books involved horses,dogs, adventures and copious amounts of lemonade. I fell into the world of Sherlock Holmes sort of by accident, the title of Hound of The Baskervilles caught my eye in the village library and that was me, off and running over the moors, finally catching up with the great detective, who heard my voice, listened to it and promised to make sure no harm would come to me. My army of imaginary protectors also included Black Beauty, Lorna Doone, Dr Who, Champion The Wonder Horse, Lassie, and pretty much every horse in the village I survived in. When I first encountered Miss Russell I was considerably older, a mother, wife, owned by my 3rd dog and recovering from eye cancer treatment. This allowed me access to large print books and free talking books at my local library, and there was God Of The Hive, in large print right in my line of slightly wobbly vision. I picked it up to read the cover and there was the name of Sherlock Holmes. I borrowed it and got stuck in, for about 10 minutes. If I’m reading a series I want to read in the correct order, but not many of your books were available anymore. I had no choice, I bought book one and, with my magnifier got reading again. I felt I could empathise with Miss Russell right from the start, I even had the same dress sense, sort of, mine being jeans, jumper and wellington boots. I didn’t like ‘home’, went hungry most of the time and escaped to the outdoors, stomping through fields and woods with a book and grumbling tummy. I then had to find the others in the series, thank goodness for the internet! I bought most which were ex library from your side of the pond and large print! Bliss, no more magnifier. Now I Kindle with text-to-speech when my eyes get sore. If I could I’d have my own library, floor to ceiling wall to wall, just so I could smell the paper books! Being able to empathise with a fictional character is pretty amazing. Miss Russell is also one of my clan of friends, she has encouraged me to read a diversity of more books, taught me things and even allowed her husband to come with us. Sadly our libraries here in the UK are slowly being closed down, spending cuts apparently. False economy I call it. Thank you for telling Ms Russell’s tales, I hope there are many more to come although the title of the latest one, yet to purchase, doesn’t bode well!

    • Laurie King on June 6, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Thanks for this, Jill, it’s lovely to know that things on both sides of the Atlantic are much the same when it comes to diving into books! (Sorry about your libraries, ours are suffering too, alas.)

    • Peta Bracken on June 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Jill, if you have or can get a tablet and you have a library card your library might like
      Mine have Ebooks to borrow, I live in Hampshire and my library is slowly getting all th
      Russell and Holmes books and like Kindle etc you can pick the type size. The app that
      Let’s you borrow books is Overdrive. Hope this helps

  4. Erin on June 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I think I reread Beekeeper’s Apprentice every quarter during exams for my last two years of college. I’m not sure if it was just relaxing to read something I already knew or if It was a comfort to see Russell stressing through exams too.

  5. Lacey Hood on June 13, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Have you by any chance read ‘A Study in Sable’ just out from Mercedes Lackey? If so, what do you think of her take on Sherlock Holmes?

    • Laurie King on June 13, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      No, I haven’t seen that–however, I read very few Sherlockian pastiches, since my poor brain can only hold so many versions of Holmes before it starts getting confused about whether a plot situation or character belongs to Conan Doyle, or me, or….

  6. Pam O. on July 1, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I am overjoyed to find that I am not alone in rereading (and rereading yet again) the Mary Russell series. No one I know will admit to reading the same book more than twice, and many don’t understand why anyone would read the same book again! They don’t know what pleasure they’ve missed. Thank you Laurie King.

Leave a Comment