Let’s take a walk through history. It is the third century BC -- the time of the Ancient Greeks -- and you live in the Egyptian city of Thebes, on the East of the River Nile.
You’re a bibliophile, so you wake early and saunter over to your local library. Before you enter, you notice an inscription above the library’s entrance: “a healing place for the soul.” It is at this moment in history, so they say, when the idea that books possess an almost mythical and therapeutic magic begins.
Let’s keep walking. It is now 1919, and you are a soldier returning home to the United Kingdom from the bloody battlefields of the First World War. As a balm for your trauma, a local librarian suggests a course of books, much like a doctor would advocate you take a certain antibiotic to nurse an infection. In this prescription, you are urged to read the novels of Jane Austen, whose worlds are secure, predictable and concerned with the sort of trivialities -- who to go to the ball with, how to plan a party, the seating arrangement at dinner -- that life during war dims. In some way, these imagined lives from long ago begin to soften your daily experience, and to remind you that if there was once a simpler time, then there might yet be another.
You keep walking through the twentieth century, witnessing history zigging and zagging between optimism and despair -- you see the Second World War, the birth of the United Nations, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet all throughout, there is a constant: the role of books as a salve to alleviate the inner and outer turmoil of the human experience. Across hospitals, schools, prisons, psychology practices and aged care homes, books are being adopted as a viable and effective method of healing and understanding.
Now let’s step off the time machine. It’s 2018 and here we are, still in the throes of a rapidly changing world that is, at times, difficult to make sense of. And we still, quite understandably, look to books for therapeutic effect, seeing them as both a refuge from the pace and noise of the world we live in, and as a way to delve deeper into it. To this day, books provide both escape from and a deeper understanding of the world around and beyond us.
And so here is where booksellers come in. It is our duty, as purveyors of books, to illuminate the stories that will both heal and inform. This is why we have decided to launch “Ask Harry,” a new monthly newsletter and bespoke book recommendation service. Each newsletter will be anchored around a different theme, and will consist of a selection of content -- books, podcasts, articles --- devoted to the entertainment and enrichment of the heart, mind and soul. And within the Ask Harry service, you will be able to revel in all of your bookish questions – like I’m feeling hopeless. Can you recommend a book that will renew my sense of promise? or What’s a good book for someone who is grieving? or How do I get my teenager to love books? Just ask we'll get to work.
As booksellers, we are lucky to witness the full range of the human experience. We meet the grandmother pushing ninety, in search of a funny, light-hearted book that will help her son in his recovery from an operation; the parents desperate to share with their children stories that will alleviate the pains and fears of growing up; the best friend on a quest for the perfect tale that will help her friend grieve.
Stories connect us -- and not just to ourselves: they build a sort of umbilical cord to what matters both within and without. While we are over two thousand years away from that library in Thebes, where the healing power of books was first proposed, the inscription rings truer than ever: books live and give life.
That’s it from us. You can expect the first issue of Ask Harry -- on Hope -- on the 16th of May, one week from today. In the meantime, have a look at our brand spanking new blog.
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