July 29, 2019

Can a Book Cure Mental Illness?
The New York Times

In graduate school, I remember my delight at hearing the word bibliotherapy, a term for the psychological benefit patients get from discussing books in a session. I had always found emotional comfort in books; how healing it was to find myself in fictional characters or in a stranger’s memoir, to realize I wasn’t alone in my particular distress or messy situation or fraught emotional makeup. But to know that this was a thing, well, I was practically giddy.

It’s not clear when bibliotherapy first appeared in the psychological literature, but psychologists didn’t invent the concept. Back in the first millennium, the portal to the library of Pharaoh Ramses II bore the inscription “Healing-place of the Soul.” The term itself was coined in 1916 by the minister Samuel Crothers. It seems a no-brainer, though, that therapists, bookish by nature, would adopt it in their practices.

Not only does reading help people to feel less alone, but also patients often find it easier to confront their own difficult experiences or thoughts in the context of a book. “I just got to the part where Olivia says she’s not sure she still loves her husband,” a patient might say of a character in a novel, as a way of working through her own conflicted feelings before she’s ready to face them directly herself.

Against Style Guides — Sort Of

When Lynne Truss wrote, in her best-selling 2003 grammar screed Eats, Shoots & Leaves, of “a world of plummeting punctuation standards,” she was (perhaps unwittingly) joining an ancient tradition. How long, exactly, have shortsighted curmudgeons been bemoaning the poor grammar of the generations that follow theirs? According to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, the answer is, like, forever: “Some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”

The notion of being taught language has always been oxymoronic because language is in a constant state of flux, a restless, malleable, impatient entity that, like the idea of now, can never be fixed in place. Take, for instance, the journey of the semicolon as chronicled in the delightful, enlightening new book by Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity. Invented by the Italian humanist and font pioneer Aldus Manutius in the late-15th century, the semicolon was originally “meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” (hence its design).

Other punctuation marks — such as the “punctus percontativus, or the rhetorical question mark, which was a mirror-image version of the question mark” — turned out to be passing fads, but the semicolon lasted, owing partly to its usefulness and partly to the trends of the day. For much of the early 1800s, usage of the parenthesis and the colon declined drastically. Two grammar guides of the time declared the parenthesis “nearly obsolete,” while another noted, “The COLON is now so seldom used by good writers that rules for its use are unnecessary.” As those marks waned, the semicolon waxed, flourishing to the point of overuse.

Audiobook Sales Jumped 24% in 2018
Publishers Weekly

Publishers’ sales of audiobooks rose 24.5% in 2018 over 2019, reaching $940 million, according to the recent sales survey sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. Unlike past surveys, the 2018 report features publishers’ sales receipts, rather than estimated consumer sales.

The report also confirmed the role sales of digital audio have played in the growth in the format. Over 91% of audiobook sales came from the digital format, the APA said.

The survey found that the most popular audiobook genres in the U.S. last year were general fiction, mysteries/thrillers/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. However, the APA noted, nonfiction audio sales have grown and represented 32.7% of unit sales in 2018, led by general nonfiction, history/biography/memoir, and self-help.