Reading the Seasons
114 pages

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114 pages

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It's an old cliché that books 'transport you'; but as any avid reader will tell you, there's far more to them than that. Alongside comfort and retreat, books offer insight into ourselves and others; they tell us how the world is, was or might be; they are windows into other worlds, whose meanings resonate through the ages. It's this multiplicity that is at the heart of bibliotherapy, the ancient practice of reading for therapeutic effect.
Reading the Seasons charts the evolution of a friendship through candid letters between bibliotherapists Germaine Leece and Sonya Tsakalakis. Ignited by a shared love of reading, of finding a book for every occasion, every emotion - both for themselves and for their clients - their conversations soon confront life's ups and downs. The authors they reach for range from Stephen King to Javier Marias, Helen Garner to Maggie O'Farrell, as they reflect upon loss, change, parenting, careers, simple pleasures, travel, successes, fears and uncertainty.
Reading the Seasons not only offers an entryway to new titles but affirms the power of books to console, heal and hold us together as friends and as individuals.



Publié par
Date de parution 30 mars 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781760761868
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1168€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


In memory of my father, Paul Joff , who showed me the love of a reading life. For Stuart and our children, Lily, Edward and Louis, who have taught me that the answers are not in the books but within ourselves.
For my parents, Anastasia and Yianni, for unwittingly giving me the hunger for books, and my darling children, Dana and Samuel.
The Bookshelf
Texts Index
If you had to describe yourself using a quote from a book, what would it be? asked my husband, Stuart, as we sat in a cafe recently.
I paused, but he continued: I would either be It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how , from The Cat in the Hat , or a line about Ratty and Mole messing about in boats from The Wind in the Willows .
I found that quote later: Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. He was right, those quotes fit him. They fit him as the nineteen-year-old he was when we met and they fit him as the forty-five-year-old man he is now.
Surprised by how quickly he answered, I was concerned by how impossible a question it suddenly seemed to me. It felt unanswerable, which left me curious; if reading is such a big part of my identity, how could I not find a quote that fits?
Back home, I realised that I cannot pin myself to just one quote, as I have found fragments of myself in so many books and characters. Different selves have expanded and contracted, demanding more or less attention over time. My bookshelves symbolise quests of self-discovery rather than self-recognition, and I am scattered throughout.
The only constant throughout it all has been my love of reading. As one character says to another in Ali Smith s Autumn :

Always be reading something, he said. Even when we re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.
A constant what? Elizabeth said.
A constant constancy, Daniel said.
This constant constancy has created an intense lifelong relationship with books. For a time, reading became my Achilles heel; it has been both a blessing and a curse, a strength and a weakness, my light and my shadow.
Reading protected me in childhood and adolescence, while simultaneously allowing me to explore the complexity of the adult world and the human condition. It prepared me for romance, intimacy, parenthood, mid life - all the existential questions - yet I began to start using these stories as how-to manuals, so I would know how to be in those relationships with myself and others. It sheltered me from grief and gave me words for feelings I couldn t articulate, yet it also became a proxy for feeling my own emotions. A way to believe I was processing more difficult feelings without having to experience them; instead keeping them neatly understood and contained in my head. I used books as my wise elders and guides to living, mistakenly believing they were my oracle and contained all the answers I would need to get me through; a way of feeling in control.
The love of reading also led me into two different careers that seemed unrelated but ultimately became the perfect bedfellows for bibliotherapy. While I studied psychology and sociology in my undergraduate degree, a passion for books saw me desperate to become a fiction editor. Frustrating years followed, working in different roles for different publishers. After my first child was born, I began writing book reviews and profiling authors, actors and artists for a variety of publications. I was becoming more interested in real people s stories rather than fictional ones and, after my third child started preschool, I went back to study and became a psychotherapist. I started working at a counselling centre that offered long-term therapy and finally felt I had found my passion. I fretted that I had lost a decade in the wrong career and wasted precious time in the right one until I read about bibliotherapy.
The Collins Dictionary defines bibliotherapy as the use of reading as therapy . Suddenly I could make meaning of my two divergent careers. In 2016, when The School of Life opened its Sydney doors and offered bibliotherapy as a service - among its other classes and workshops dedicated to developing emotional intelligence - I leaped at the opportunity to become their resident bibliotherapist. This role allowed me to give people space to have a conversation that reflected on their relationship with reading and how it could nurture and sustain their lives. No two people read the same way, just as no two lives are experienced the same way, and recognising the individual meaning books represent creates a more personal connection to literature.
My own relationship with reading allowed me to recognise the patterns of losing myself and trying to locate myself in another s words. It also gave me the space to notice this tendency and have the awareness to read differently. In the words of poet JV Cunningham, books enable us to see how we could think and feel otherwise than as we do . Yet, it wasn t the books alone - to paraphrase psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, it is difficult to surprise yourself in your own mind - it was also the multitudes of conversations about reading that have been flowing between myself and Sonya for the past four years. Thinking about why I was reading and what I was taking from the stories, discussing it with Sonya, who was also considering why she was reading and the effect it had, created novel reflections and deeper self-awareness.
Sonya, a bibliotherapist working with The School of Life in Melbourne, contacted me by email to introduce herself soon after I began my bibliotherapy practice. Books became the foundation for a deeply enriching friendship; examining our life experiences and those of our clients through the lens of literature started an intimate and trusting friendship that continues to grow.
Having only met twice, ours is also a story that celebrates the power of letter writing. Despite using email to communicate, I still label these exchanges as letters. When I write to Sonya, I am as focused as I am when reading. I create the time and space in my mind to pause, think and compose. When receiving emails from her, I wait to open them until I again have the time and space to absorb myself in her words. There is a contemplation involved that creates a stillness and reflection in my day or week that would otherwise not exist. As our friendship deepened, so did my thoughts and musings about the books I was reading.
This form of communication also created a space for me to become more personal and honest. Like books, letters are written and read in isolation. There is time to digest and reflect, as they are not responded to instantly, unlike in a conversation. Also similar to reading, letter writing happens privately, in silence. The silence this friendship created allowed me to finally, properly hear myself.
It s a similar process to the way we both practice bibliotherapy, and I hope that by peeling back the covers on the books that have spoken to us and our clients over the changing seasons of a year, you are also inspired to reflect upon how stories nurture, challenge and shape you on your own journey. To help with this, we have added notes in the margins of our letters to continue the conversation with you, our reader. The clients I have mentioned throughout my letters are compilations of people I have worked with; however, their struggles, experiences and reactions to reading are real. The books are real, too.
Another week, another cafe and again Stuart asked if I had found my quote. I realised that I finally had. Reflecting on my reading life, my work with bibliotherapy and psychotherapy clients, and my ongoing conversations with Sonya led me to a new understanding about the freedom that comes when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason . John Keats wrote this to explain his concept of negative capability in a letter to his brothers in 1817, and it sums up my understanding about life now. There is no certainty, and no book will ever provide the answers, yet how hopeful to be in a world of mysteries and doubts with authors whose work explores the questions that create endless curiosity and learning. The poet Mark Strand once said in an interview, I don t think it s human, you know, to be that competent at life. That attitude is far from poetry. And perhaps that is the closest I will ever get to an answer about looking for certainty within the pages of books.

In one of her letters, Germaine asked me what I was reading when I was fifteen. I responded, but it wasn t easy to immediately traipse back to that time and recall the books to which I gravitated. Finally, I was able to conjure a response, a truthful one, but there was an omission - the book I went back to time and time again was the dictionary. I loved reading the dictionary! Every night I would learn five new words and ecstatically write them in a notebook. And I would make every attempt to use them whenever I could. I remember an essay returned by my high school English teacher with the comment in red, occasionally, use a simple word!
Words for me conveyed such power, magic and possibility. The sound of them, the length, the mystery they embraced. I could say mellifluous , parsimonious or vituperative and imagine thoughts that would take me beyond the reality of my world. They felt safe to me, besides offering untold, private exhilaration. In Oscar Wilde s The Picture of Dorian Gray this is beautifully envisaged: they seemed to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words

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