The Gift of Reading
In my December blog, I detailed five simple strategies that research shows tackles loneliness – with the most effective being: doing activities that engage one or dedicate time to work, study or hobbies.
What the specific activity is, is very much a point of personal choice – or, as therapists are fond of saying, is ‘person-centred’.
However, one activity that should not be overlooked is reading. The book ‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman recommends reading “something that gives you pleasure (not ‘serious’ reading)”. The value of reading books is also highlighted in ‘The little book of Lykke’ by Meik Wiking (‘Lykke’ is the Danish word for ‘Happiness’). Here the value of establishing mini-libraries is described – where, using a take-one-leave-one principal, books can be kept in a coffee-shop or somewhere for neighbours to use, like in the stairway of a block of flats (in the UK, health and safety rules may prohibit this!).
On Christmas day, Radio 4 had a ‘People fixing the world’ podcast titled ‘The Little Libraries Bringing Books into People’s Homes’. A scheme running in Brighton involved a collection of books for children, basically in a box on a pole near a bus stop, which has been a great success. Reindeer-herders in Siberia have adopted book-sharing habits and similar schemes are apparently popular in Sudan.
Iceland has a lovely tradition regarding books – that of Jolabokaflod, or, as it would be written in Iceland ‘Jólabókaflóð’ (pronounced ‘yo-la-bok-a-flot’). In Iceland, the Christmas season starts with a delivery to every household of the ‘Bokatindindi’ (‘Book news’) – a catalogue of every new book published in the country. Books are then bought for loved ones, wrapped up, and given to be read on Christmas Eve. It’s perhaps no surprise that Iceland has more writers, more books published and more books read per capita than anywhere else in the world.
In the UK, where screen-time and use of social media continue to be of concern, Jolabokaflod offers us a charming tradition of gift giving, which would certainly be good for the mental health of all of us, and aid overall happiness. ‘The gifts of reading’ by the way is the title of a lovely book on the gift of book-giving by Robert Macfarlane.