(CNN)Clients who seek solace by pouring their hearts out in Alison Kerr Courtney’s office don’t get rewarded with a Xanax or Prozac prescription. Instead, they walk away with a reading list.
The founder of BiblioRemedy isn’t a licensed therapist, nor is she currently an English teacher, although she did work as one for 10 years in France, and has spent years shelving books at the library and in bookstores.
Courtney is a kind of book whisperer.
For as long as she can remember she’s had a knack for matching people with books that fit with their intellectual interests. But some clients want more when they make an appointment with her at her office in Lexington, Kentucky.
Research on this topic, she said, is only the “tip of the proverbial iceberg.” There is still so much more to learn about what fiction can do for us. She does caution that more lab work needs to be done to see if the empathy someone has for a character extends to others beyond the book. “Because people are feeling something as they read, doesn’t always lead to more positive relationships with someone,” she said.
Oatley believes reading can help our emotional development in large part because humans are highly social creatures.
You can be as smart as Sherlock, but to get along well in this life, you really do need to understand people emotionally. And you can’t be as emotionally unavailable as Mr. Darcy throughout much of “Pride and Prejudice.” You have to learn the lesson Jane Austen is trying to teach with that book, Oatley said: To love people, you really have to know them. Perhaps you can do that best by living by the book.
“People say you only get one life,” Oatley said. “But I say read fiction and you can live many lives in one.”