Reading as Rx

The latest issue of ReadyMade features a piece called “Required Reading,” which highlights a London institution called The School of Life, where “bibliotherapists” prescribe books to their “patients.” Give your bibliotherapist a list of your reading preferences and some life goals, and you’ll get your own personalized reading list. Hot, right?

Unfortunately for the broke-asses of the world, bibliotherapy—like most legitimate forms of therapy—doesn’t come cheap. For a remote session, it’s £40 (about $62 US), and you get 40 minutes to talk life, the universe and everything via phone or Skype with your bookish shrink. I’m intrigued by the concept, but sort of irritated by the price. After all, you can get book recommendations from everyone and their dog for free, including some quality recs from the bookish types at both the library and your local bookstore, for the mere price of a conversation.

So while I commend The School of Life for doing this kind of work (and particularly for their ingenius way of parting the rich from their riches), I figured I could offer a one-off service similar to theirs for absolutely free. Thus I present to you the

Laura Roberts Rx Reading List, the Cure For What Ails Ya

(Provided that “what ails ya” is mostly existential angst and not anything requiring professional medical help, of course.)

  1. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen: Duh, you knew this one was going to top the list. While it likely won’t cure you (and has even been known to increase one’s dissatisfaction with the state of the world), it’ll certainly shake you loose of the average everyday existence you’ve been digging through. That ain’t ordinary eternal machinery, like the grinding of the stars, my friend. It’s pain, and it’s time to face it. Try religion, try sex, try the therapeutic (or insane) musings of your best friend, try living in a treehouse in the dead of a Montreal winter. Try fireworks. Try painting a model with nail polish. Try everything. Try nothing. Try this.
  2. 101 Things To Do Before You Die by Richard Horne: Okay, so you’re more of a To-Do List type? But you’re also a bit lazy and want someone to make a Bucket List for you? Solution: buy this book. It’s got a page for each item you must complete before your death, a handy checklist in the back, and even a pocket list to keep yourself up to date at all times. Seems to me they must have an iPhone app for this by now, but the only one I found was both unaffiliated with this book and poorly rated, so let’s just leave it alone and give you the website for recent updates.
  3. The Playwright’s Guidebook by Stuart Spencer: This is for all your writers out there. Yes, I know, it’s about playwriting specifically. But don’t scratch it off your list if you write short stories or even poems. It’s essential reading for all writers looking to build dramatic stories, because it discusses Aristotle’s Poetics in a modern way. (If you don’t know wtf the Poetics are, and you’ve been through any type of creative courses in your life, then god help you, cus your teachers have all had their heads up their asses.) Plus, Spencer is incredibly well-read and peppers his pointers with references to well-known works you should have already read, thereby suggesting in a very subtle way that if you haven’t, you should, forthwith. Seriously, dudes, it’s a creative writing degree in a book, probably the only practical book I’ve saved from my own days as a university writing student, which I reference whenever I find myself in a jam, and it’s totally worth the $16 to get a copy. (Actually, there’s one for only $8.49 at Amazon if you hurry.) All the rest are, as they say in Philosophy circles, mere footnotes to Plato (who was Aristotle’s teacher).
  4. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse: I’m not one to quote the Bible, and while I’ve done my time studying its ins and outs like a good little Catholic girl, the whole concept of a Judeo-Christian god who’s both parent and punisher of so-called moral wrongs has never done much for me. Buddhism, on the other hand, with its acceptance of duality, the concepts of good and evil as two sides of the same coin, of circles of repeated patterns, and a complex understanding of the ebb and flow of the world we know and experience, well, that’s another kettle of fish. Personally, I think Western ways of thinking are deeply flawed, particularly when it comes to the belief that all forward motion necessarily equals progress. Nuh-uh, man. It’s a ladder; you go up, you go down, you rest on a rung, you throw the ladder away completely… you pick it back up again. Anyway, if you want a brief intro to the ideas and life of the Buddha, read a Westerner’s take on it in Siddhartha.
  5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, travel, food. Anyone who doesn’t see that this is pretty much the ideal life has clearly lost the plot, is off the rails, is in need of this book—and possibly a slap upside the head. Tony has recently penned a sequel, called Medium Raw, which I haven’t yet read, but like all sequels… how good could it be? (Okay, knowing Tony, it probably kicks ass. But still: you’ve gotta read the original first.) Anyone who is currently writing about food and cooking owes Bourdain a debt of gratitude for busting down the doors to the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the Central Intelligence Agency) and shining a flashlight on their methods and practices. He’s shown us what it really looks like in the kitchens of high and low restaurants throughout the U.S. and around the world, and he’s given us the straight dope on why you should never order fish on Monday, much less hit up a bargain sushi place. Read this book and you’ll find out how to cook and eat like a pro, what to avoid in restaurants and how to cook it at home. You’ll also get a shit ton of insane stories about the lives of pro chefs from all over the place, and you’ll probably want to join up. There are worse things in life than owning your own flexible boning knife.
  6. Naked Montreal by Laura Roberts: C’mon, this was a gimmie, people! Once again, you should pre-order your copy of my book (personally inscribed by the author, with or without smeary lipstick kiss as you prefer!), because: a) it will make you appear sexy to your friends and lovers, b) it will make you appear jaded and hipsterly on public transport, c) it will cause your co-workers to re-evaluate their previous impressions of you and put you into the hot, steamy and potentially-dateworthy category. SHAZAM! Here’s the link to press to buy (the Paypal button is a bit of a scroll down, but it’s there, I swear).

Now get out there and start reading your way to a better life!

Oh, and if you do happen to have the scratch for a full-on bibliotherapy session of your own, you can set up an appointment by emailing Do tell what you’ve learned, if you’re the oversharing type; I’d love to hear the juicy details!