About Alison Fraser
My name is Alison Fraser. I started this business because books have had a profound impact on my life. As well as providing me with a career, books have encouraged me; books have informed me; books have delighted me and soothed me, and the words of many wise people have spoken directly to me through the medium of a book. I recently reread my grandfather’s memoir, and hearing his voice speak to me twenty years after his death was extremely moving.
With over fifteen years of experience as a book editor, I also have graduate qualifications in Australian Literature from the University of Sydney and post-graduate qualifications in editing and publishing from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Prior to starting my own business, I worked for Reader’s Digest Australia. My most recent position, as a senior editor in the Reading Series department, involved producing a series of international fiction. Seven volumes, each comprising four condensed titles, were selected, condensed and compiled into books, then sent to customers each year.
Our department also produced an amazing narrative nonfiction series. I worked as an editor on this series for over five years, and my role included condensing nonfiction and fiction titles. It was extremely rewarding to be part of an international department with a strong tradition of editorial excellence.
My experiences have given me a well-honed ability to assess the elements that lead to successful publication, especially in relation to commercial fiction and narrative nonfiction. I have strong expertise at detecting errors in continuity, and an advanced understanding of book structure: skills developed through the process of book condensation.
About book therapy
Book therapy—also known as bibliotherapy—is based on the idea that books have the capacity to improve an individual’s wellbeing.
I first came across the term bibliotherapy in 2015, in relation to The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, a book that offers works of literary fiction as remedies for various ailments. As a book editor and lifelong bibliophile with an interest in therapy, I was immediately drawn to this concept. As a reflected, however, I wondered whether there might not be a wider application between books and therapy, especially as my experiences had shown me the therapeutic nature of so many different types of books.
I think one of the reasons that narratives, both fiction and non-fiction, can be therapeutic, is because they take a life, or events from a life, and shape them. This contextualisation allows individual events, even those that involve great suffering, to be seen from a larger perspective. Through the whole—biography, for example—we see adversity, but also love, successes, challenges, mistakes, as all part of the fabric of life, as part of a narrative of worth. This can lead a reader to see the traumatic or mundane parts of their life as one small part of a greater narrative.
Memoirs on a particular aspect of a life can provide a sense of rapport and hopefulness on the part of the person reading them. Memoirs about eating disorders or colon cancer or raising a child with autism can assist an individual to feel less alone, and to possibly learn skills from another person who has lived through a comparable experience.
Non-fiction books about mental health can be extremely useful for individuals who can’t afford to see a decent psychologist or therapist, or who have other reasons not to pursue that option. Reading about therapeutic practices and performing exercises within the security of your own home—or bedroom—can be very appealing, and experts have written excellent books on subjects such as depression and anxiety. Many are works that therapists read to assist their clients; others are specifically designed to suit a more general reader.
There are times when you need a break from your current situation or state of mind, and the immersive experience of reading can be an ideal diversion. A couple of hours in an alternate reality can feel like a short holiday from your problems. People are often attracted to popular fiction and genre fiction when they are looking for an escape from reality because these genres have a predictable narrative and a set of tropes that is familiar and comprehensible—and far less chaotic than reality. The reader has the illusion of being inside a life where the reasoning and motivations of characters make sense; mundane realities are glossed over, and there is a satisfying conclusion.
Literary fiction often explores aspects of the human condition, and can offer insights into the deep psychological dramas of life. This can assist us to more fully understand various facets of the experience of being human; it can also expand our sense of perspective, both our perception of our own lives and our understanding of the lives of others.
To read a book is to directly share an experience with another person—the author. Books are therapy because they provide connection. Since the sixteenth century individuals have used books as a vehicle for communicating ideas and insights to a larger audience. Improving our understanding of ourselves and others and gaining new perspectives on reality are all ways that enrich and improve our lives. (Or to escape from them temporarily.) For all the above reasons, I would strongly argue that books are a form of therapy.
NB: I have used the term ‘book therapy’ rather than ‘bibliotherapy’ both to differentiate it from a term that focuses on literary fiction and because it is a straightforward, easy-to-understand phrase.