Open University History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) Seminar

'Reading and Wellbeing'

The remainder of these seminars have been postponed due to the evolving public health challenge caused by COVID-19
HOBAR have begun a weekly blog series reflecting on the seminar series during COVID-19.

Bibliotherapy is now a thriving discipline, both in the publishing world and as a form of clinical practice. Books such as Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin’s The Novel Cure (2013) and its sequel for children, The Story Cure (2016), have been bestsellers in multiple markets. Charities like The Reading Agency have championed participation in reading groups as powerful way of combatting loneliness and social isolation. In the fields of medicine and social care, meanwhile, bibliotherapy has also become increasingly prominent. In Britain, the Reading Agency’s ‘Reading Well: Books on Prescription’ programme has grown from a small pilot scheme to a nationwide programme operating in over 100 locations. A recent report by the think-tank Demos, entitled A Society of Readers, has seized upon the evidence of clinical success emerging out of these studies to argue that reading has the potential to combat social isolation and exclusion, as well as specific mental health conditions such as depression and dementia. Increasingly, educational institutions are supporting bibliotherapy programmes in an instrumentalised way to improve student wellbeing, retention and attainment. Meanwhile, the sub-genre of literature on reading for wellbeing continues to grow, generating revenue for publishing firms and retailers.

This 2019–20 HOBAR seminar series, ‘Reading and Wellbeing,’ asks what this ‘bibliotherapeutic moment’ means for contemporary reading culture and the book-trade. It will also trace the historical roots of the idea that reading and mental health are intimately connected. Drawing together a diverse range of speakers from Psychology, the Medical Humanities, Media and Publishing Studies, and literary history, as well practitioners in the field of bibliotherapy, the series will examine the various ways in which reading and wellbeing are connected, from the bibliotherapeutic principle that reading can contribute to healing to its corollary, the idea that reading might even be bad for one’s health.



Dr Edmund G. C. King, Lecturer in English, The Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945 (RED), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University, Email:, Twitter @dmndkng

Dr Shafquat Towheed, Director of the Reading Experience Database and Senior Lecturer in English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University, Email:, Twitter @Shaf_Towheed

Book History at The Open University.