10th October 2020
Review by Shivani Sahaya
I am no stranger to Jen Campbell’s work; I’ve been following her for years now, so having the opportunity to review her event is particularly special for me, and this article is very close to my heart. But for the sake of this review I will pretend to be a book-lover who has never heard of Jen (paradoxical as these two things may sound), and will address my readers from the standpoint of a mere spectator.
I have happened to stumble upon the author’s Twitter handle whilst browsing through the Durham Book Festival website; and as I see the word ‘bibliotherapy’ appear on my screen, I briefly think about the therapizing influence that books almost always possess, and I am left with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Jen’s introduction of herself both reassures and intrigues me at the same time: her 10 years of bookselling experience make me itch to read her recommendations to other people as I am a bit late to this party and hence unable to ask for an overly-specific book recommendation myself. Her interest in the history of fairytales and the representation of disability and disfigurement instantly captures my attention as these are both objectively unique, meaningful, and telling topics of discussion. And so I dive right into the content.
The range of requests for book recommendations is absolutely incredible, each request either arouses feelings of curiosity about new or unfrequented parts of the literary world or evokes feelings of nostalgia about a forgotten book in a dusty corner of my bookshelf. Perhaps even an entire genre is mentioned that I may have left behind in my childhood and not thought to revisit until this moment in time.
“I’m looking for a pre-Victorian historical crime novel, but also some fantastical poetry!”
“I’d love to read a cosy autumnal mystery, ideally with female friendship/sisterhood.”
“I’d really love something grimdark that will grab me by the collar and leave me quaking!”
“I’d like a book that’s like a warm safe hug for when you are feeling under the weather.”
For each request, whether it asks for a particular style or pace of writing or an idiosyncrasy in a piece, Jen finds a perfect fit, as if by magic. She recommends books by a host of authors ranging from Judith Kerr to Kirsty Logan (another personal favourite of mine).
As the author herself puts it, bibliotherapy is “like dating, but with books. And that sounds better than dating, actually.” Despite being held online, this event is enchanting and powerful, and I would recommend it to anyone who shares a special bond with books and fancies sitting down with a cup of tea to connect (or re-connect) with words and literature.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.