Why pop a daily Prozac when you could derive similar benefits from a select list of page-turners?
The Daily Mail is reporting that Britain's Department of Health has given its support to Reading Well Books on Prescription, a list of novels that may serve as alternative mood boosters.
The list consists of benign, universally uplifting fiction such as Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden and Cider with Rosie, written by Laurie Lee in 1959. None are obviously self-help themed.
"It is hoped those with 'mild to moderate' mental health conditions will try out the idea before turning to prescription drugs – many of which can have unpleasant side effects," according to the article.
The list was compiled by the Reading Agency, a British charity that promotes reading, with suggestions submitted by book groups that focus on depression.
Come May, the list will appear on a leaflet distributed by general practitioners, who can "prescribe" a book just as they would, say, Xanax. Nonetheless, the program is intended as an adjunct, not a replacement for traditional treatment.
Local libraries across Britain will be on board with the program as far as carrying the featured books and forming reading groups. In this way, Reading Well Books on Prescription will help libraries as well as individuals.
On its website, the Reading Agency states: "The scheme aims to bring reading's healing benefits to the six million people with anxiety and depression. There is growing evidence showing that self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions get better. Reading Well Books on Prescription will enable GPs and mental health professionals to prescribe patients cognitive behavioural therapy through a visit to the library."
It also cites a statistic that reading can improve mental well-being and reduce stress by up to 67 per cent.
Of course, this may not be the case among those who read Clive Barker or Dean Koontz.
Which raises the question of how some books made the cut and other widely known novels are notably absent. Yes, Trouble on the Heath will help with the LOLs, but is it really any worthier than Bridget Jones's Diary?
It's likely that the list will expand over time, especially if the program is successful. Because it's entirely possible that obsessive-compulsive readers could quickly plow through the 30 or so books and then what? Books can be addictive, too.