________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002

cover Read for your Life: Literature as a Life Support System.

Joseph Gold.
Toronto, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001.
380 pp., pbk., $20.00.
ISBN 1-55041-625-1.

Subject Headings:
Books and reading.


Review by Lorraine Douglas.

**** /4


The act of reading, and especially of reading narrative fiction, does two things for the reader which are crucial to personal development. The first is the activation of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and the temporal lobes where some of the major language control centers are located. These sites are connected to many others to form a web activity that creates thought. The second important function of reading literature is to assist in building personal identity in narrative form.

This new edition of Dr. Joseph Gold's testament to the power of reading is a welcome guide to uses of literature. Dr. Gold is a therapist as well as a university educator with a long and distinguished career in Canada and the United States. The first edition of his book appeared in 1990 before the incredible pressure of computerization and its effects on thinking. In his new preface, the author writes about the alarming changes in world economic and political practices in the last decade and the fact that more than ever we need to read literature. Dr. Gold points out that the act of reading narrative frees us and allows us to reassemble memory, thought and feeling to understand text. The result of this is increased personal control and self-knowledge both essential in today's world but also in the development of the narrative of our own lives.

     Our life stories are marked by unforeseen events, and literature is a healing strategy which can help recovery. A recent example of this is the "Read for Your Life" project initiated by Carmen Diana Dearden in northern Venezuela after the massive mudslides of December 1999. Deardon named her project (in Spanish) after Dr. Gold's book and used bags of books with the victims of the disaster. Katherine Paterson donated her prize money from the IBBY Hans Christian Andersen Award to the project, and the adults in the reading circles shared books and their personal responses. This active program assisted the victims of the disaster in finding what they needed in the situation in picture books, novels like Bridge to Terabithia and humourous books. This is exactly what Dr. Gold cites that people will find the books that they need in their situation.

     Dr. Gold's book is a call both for action and recognition. First of all, he advocates that reading is an act of choosing life itself. It gives us a way to life not just by decoding the symbols of writing but by helping us create coping skills and by connecting us to the world. The second is for the recognition of reading as an essential act for it makes us stronger individuals and thus strengthens our communities and the world. Reading is paradoxically a personal act and a global activity.

     Read for Your Life helps readers learn how to read for the greatest personal pleasure and growth. Dr. Gold explains how the educational system "ruins" people as it takes away our emotional response to literature and replaces it with critical thinking devoid of feeling. Although this book is not an anthology of literature, Gold includes many examples drawn from literature which he has used with patients to help them gain insight into their past memories and inner lives. Dr. Gold provides anecdotes about patients as well as excerpts from numerous books which will help people in various life stages and transitions. The book includes sections on reading for children, teens, seniors, minorities, and women readers as well as bibliotherapy suggestions for aging, separation, divorce, bereavement, etc. A new audience interested in personal growth will welcome this reissue of Gold's work. The reader survey in the appendix is an interesting self-assessment tool for determining our responses to literature. Here, we can widen our thoughts on books by reflecting on a series of questions. Another reader survey can help us clarify our reading tastes and interests. This attractive and very readable new edition is highly recommended for public and school libraries as well as for professional reading for educators, librarians and therapists.

Highly Recommended.

Lorraine Douglas is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Winnipeg Public Library system.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364