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Christmas book flood (also known as Jolabokaflod) refers to the annual release of new books in Iceland in November. Every year since 1944, newly published books are listed in Bokatidindi, a catalogue distributed to all households for free.
This has given rise to the tradition of giving books as presents to friends and family on Christmas Eve, and then spending the rest of the day with a book and hot chocolate.
This Icelandic tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading is so admirable. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that’s why majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.
Of course we don’t have to wait until Christmas Eve to read books. Nor should reading be a holiday indulgence. For there is actually a huge evidence base around the value of reading to support health and well-being.
In the UK, there is a scheme endorsed by health professionals and supported by public libraries that allows people to visit their local library and take a book out for free. ‘Reading Well’ has two strands: ‘Books on Prescription’ and ‘Mood-boosting Books’.
A large number of self-help books have been published, and many of them are indeed available on the ‘Reading Well’ scheme. These books use therapeutic techniques and can help those with psychological or emotional difficulties.
The ‘Overcoming’ series contains over 30 titles that cover a range of psychological difficulties (including but not restricted to mental health problems) that are amenable to a CBT approach. A list of these and other self-help books can be found on the Overcoming website.
Self-help books can be very useful as a first step, while waiting for therapy, or as an adjunct to therapy. Although they’re lacking the therapeutic relationship with the therapist, they are excellent in that they provide psychoeducation and support for self-care (both essential steps in the journey towards recovery). Like therapy, they encourage us to pay close attention to our internal world; they can also empower us to take further steps to improve our mental health and well-being.
The therapeutic benefits of reading extend well beyond the self-help books. Bibliotherapy (sometimes also known as ‘reading therapy’) refers to the use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders.
When applied in a therapeutic context, it can make use of both fictional and non-fictional books. According to research evidence, bibliotherapy can help sufferers with a wide range of mental difficulties, including depression, anxiety, self-harming and alcohol dependence.
At the same time, reading has a number of other benefits, such as improved cognitive (concentration, attention, memory and analytical thinking skills) and literary skills (vocabulary expansion, spelling and better writing skills). It can also provide knowledge, entertainment and relaxation.
So, if you are yet to buy presents for your loved ones, why not follow the Icelandic example and give them a book for Christmas?
Dr Alex Chatziagorakis is a London-based consultant psychiatrist and a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
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