With Hong Kong's self-imposed lockdown, many people find themselves bombarded with news and information, but mental health experts suggest books can help alleviate the stress
Hong Kong isn't on lockdown but many people are opting to restrict their social activities for fear of contracting the coronavirus, known as COVID1-19. This leaves many with ample time at home and an increase in the demand for home entertainment. While there are streaming services and apps on your phones to keep your busy, nothing beats a good book to mentally escape for a while. We speak to Chrissy Ryan, resident bibliotherapist at Ultimate Library's Barefoot Bookshop in luxury resort Soneva Fushi, to see how book therapy can help those with readers' block in these trying times.
The best moments in reading are when you come across something " a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things " which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone elseAlan Bennett (The History Boys)
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First of all, what is bibliotherapy?
"For me, bibliotherapy is about helping people make the most of the time they dedicate to reading, and encouraging them to develop healthy reading habits. We have a consultation session together, where I get to know them, their reading habits, tastes and a little about their lifestyle," Ryan explains.
"I then use all the information I've learned to help them think about what they want to get out of reading in the future, and put together a list of books that will expand their approach to reading and give them a new appetite for it. It's all about understanding exactly what it is that makes someone enjoy reading and removing the obstacles that prevent them from doing so."
According to Ryan, some professional therapists use bibliotherapy to help people overcome problems and understand their emotions.
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What would a typical session be like?
"I often encounter people who feel that they ought to be reading a certain type of genre, or that everything they read should be educative. In our busy lives, we're simply not going to make time for something we do not enjoy or feel pressured to do. In this instance, I begin with recommending books that they will actively want to read."
"Sometimes, people want to engage more with a specific type of book. For example, it may be that they find they struggle with history books but would love to develop a taste for them. In that instance, I start with understanding what it is they do like reading, and what it is about those books that draws them in. Then I find history books that have some of those qualities they enjoy in other genres, and books in their comfort zone that have something historical about them."
"In both cases, it's about changing people's mindset. Why cannot I learn something from a thriller? Why could not I be entertained by a book about current affairs?"
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And Ryan would know which books to recommend. Her career started when she was a bookseller in London while completing her master's degree in Shakespeare. She then moved into book publishing from there and sold books to bookshops in the UK, before travelling the world selling books while managing the company's export sales. One can say that she lives and breathes books.
Which brings us to many who are finding themselves at home while being on the fence about picking up a book. Hong Kong is a digital city, in between messaging apps and stories to read on social media, is there room for the printed word? If you ask Ryan it's a matter of remembering the last time you read for pleasure.
"There's a wonderful quote from Alan Bennett's play The History Boys that says: 'The best moments in reading are when you come across something " a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things " which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else.'"
The saying "no news is good news" holds true, and with the constant bombardment of global news we are inundated with negative information. For this reason, it's important to pick up a book, now more than ever.
"Reading can be used as an escape during challenging or upsetting times, but it can also make you feel less lonely, or shed light on your situation. Reading is one of the best ways of developing empathy and of feeling understood. My advice is to follow your instinct, and read books that will either help you to contextualise how you feel, relieve the mental pressure of what you are experiencing, or help you understand and process what you are going through."
If someone who needs to keep abreast of the news for work is feeling a bit weighed down by negative information, Ryan suggests starting with a favourite genre. Approaching someone like Ryan who is armed with recommendations and tips for reading habits can help you grow from there.
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Younger kids should also be considered during the self-imposed quarantine. School has been suspended until March 16 in Hong Kong and it's tempting for parents to let their kids watch television or play on their iPads all day.
"Reading aloud is a beautiful and bonding experience between people, young and old, and reading together regularly will not only introduce kids to the power of storytelling, but allow some valuable quality time between parent and child." She said.
A word of advice, is to let kids choose what they want to read to develop a love of books. As Ryan says: "I also would encourage children to read what they want to read. Classics are brilliant " and are classics for a reason " but if you are trying to force your child to read what you want them to read, they will never develop a lasting love of books. Let them choose, and watch their passion for reading grow."
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