Therapy books (like therapy animals)

Noted via Twitter today, this post at Salon: the therapeutic value of the mystery novel. The author of the post doesn’t actually talk much about why she finds mystery novels therapeutic; most of the post is spent recommending some recently released books. I also find mystery novels therapeutic at times — often, when I visited my parents during my dad’s illness, I’d pick up one of the mysteries they always had around the house rather than doing my academic reading. That’s how I discovered Tana French, for example — I remember seeing In the Woods sitting on their kitchen counter.

I like to read mysteries for therapy for the same reason I like watching Law & Order episodes, even ones I’ve seen before: I love procedurals. I think it’s a side effect of being a structure geek. (These days, I usually see about a half hour of Law & Order at the gym, two or three times a week, and that keeps my addiction manageable.)

What do you read therapeutically? Do you go back to favorite books, or do you get more therapeutic benefit out of finding new books in a favorite genre?


  1. I love mysteries too, and particularly historical mysteries (not surprisingly), but my very favorite therapy books, which I return to time and again, are the Lucia books by E.F. Benson. They never fail me. I think I can quote whole swathes by heart.

  2. Mysteries, definitely. There’s just enough structure inherent in the form to satisfy a need for comforting familiarity. Someone will get murdered. The murder will be solved. Justice will — probably — be done.

    I can’t get into Law & Order though!

  3. Mysteries are absolutely the best therapy. I go through all my Sayers every year or two, and my once-massive Christie collection is now culled down to the very best ones. I’m a chronic re-reader anyhow (sometimes getting into a new book takes too much brainpower, and I can’t guarantee I’ll like it), and something about the orderly formula of a mystery novel is perfect for when I’m especially low on energy.

  4. Lisa — not a Law & Order fan? Tragic! It’s kind of like a TV security blanket for me. If I’m stuck somewhere with cable but no books, at least I know there will be L&O to entertain if all else fails. I’m not sympathetic to the show’s politics — it’s often pretty conservative — but I find the structure comforting, since it’s always the same.

  5. sophia_helix — I haven’t read Christie since I was a kid, but I went through Sayers a year or two ago (for the first time!). I think Heyer is becoming my comfort re-read. I was just thinking about picking up COTILLION the other day.

  6. My comfort books are Pride and Prejudice and I Capture the Castle. The latter especially I can go back to again and again, maybe because the England in the book correlates to the England in my mind.

    And yes, L&O is totally reassuring in its structure, I occasionally put it on as background tv when I’m home alone for its familiar presence.

  7. I need to actually read I Capture the Castle — I’ve only seen the film, which I did enjoy despite the distracting presence of Marc Blucas.

    I think L&O is reassuring for many reasons, but some of the main ones include: 1) Jerry Orbach’s one-liner before the credits and 2) Sam Waterston’s voice and eyebrows.

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