Hey, readers! Sam here from Blue House Books, here to talk about something that I think a lot of us can relate to. Let me start with a story of a recent customer interaction at Blue House Books. I asked a woman if she needed any recommendations as she was browsing the shelves, and at first she said no, but I could tell she was eager to find something and wasn’t having any luck on her own, so a short time later I asked again.
“Well,” she said shyly, “I’m kind of into weird stuff, like books about murder.”
“Say less!” I responded, as I suggested an assortment of thrillers, horror novels, and true crime books. As she was checking out, I could tell she had an air of embarrassment about her as she purchased her two new thrillers.
“My husband thinks it’s so weird that I’m into these kinds of books and T.V. shows,” she said by way of explanation. I was shocked! She seemed to have no idea that thrillers are our leading fiction category and horror is steadily growing at Blue House Books. I assured her that there was nothing weird at all about her tastes, she simply wanted stories that would keep her captivated and perhaps something that gave her a look into the human mind.
This was not the first time a customer thought their interests in books about serial killers or other crimes was abnormal, and every time I assure people that they are not alone in their preferences, and there’s nothing weird about it.
This got me thinking of a research project I did in grad school about bibliotherapy, the act of using books as a tool to get someone to open up about their own experiences or exploring their curiosities by projecting them onto a fictional character.
My project focused on children and teens, but it absolutely applies to people of all ages. While we’re not discussing every book with a trained psychologist, I think there is a more casual side of bibliotherapy that we use every day when we’re reading for pleasure. Without realizing we’re doing it, we use books as a way to work through our own emotions and explore curiosities that we may not be able to explore in real life. When was the last time a book made you cry or laugh out loud? Surely you have read a book in which you deeply related to a character, truly cared about the choices they made, and were anxious to learn the outcome. And even though you may think it’s embarrassing or others may think it weird, I bet a lot of you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer, whether real or fictional, and learn what goes on inside their head.
In my opinion, books truly are a form of therapy. Even if you can’t directly relate to a dragon rider in a fantasy land, or a character going through trauma you never experienced, the choices a character makes or reading about their feelings stirs something inside us and prompts us to analyze our own actions and emotions. I find that avid readers are often empathetic and caring individuals, and that’s because we read about different experiences and travel with a variety of characters through their personal journeys.
A perfect example of this is one of my favorite novels, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. This novel with a dual timeline follows Vanessa as she deals with the traumas of her past. As a 15-year-old high school student, Vanessa is manipulated into a relationship with her 40-year-old English teacher. The book follows the predatory relationship in the early 2000’s, and jumps ahead to look at how it shaped Vanessa, now in her 30’s, and how she handles the shock of a public accusation against the man she thinks she loves. This book is–as the title suggests–dark. I do always warn customers when I recommend this book, but I still think it is a fascinating look at humanity and an important story to read. While I have personally never experienced such an inappropriate relationship, I’m well aware that this story is someone else’s reality, and by reading it, I have become more sympathetic toward victims of childhood trauma and gained a perspective into two minds I may never meet in real life.
For a book as dark and emotional as My Dark Vanessa, you’ll need a dark and broody drink to go with it. I recommend the Port Roast from Kenosha Brewing Company. This coffee-flavored porter is the perfect companion, and based on the ratings from Untappd, a beer-rating website and app, it’s a huge hit at the local brewery! If you’re not a beer drinker, you should definitely go with IBU Sumatra from East View Coffee in their new tasting room in Downtown Kenosha, then take a bag home to enjoy!
So, the next time your partner, friend, or family member gives you any slack for the types of stories you read or the amount of time you spend with your nose in a book, you tell them “Leave me alone, I’m in therapy!”