Linking Life and Literature; A Novel a Week Keeps You at a Mental Peak, Claims Prof Phil Davis, of Liverpool University, and He's Got a New Course of Treatment to Prove It
Byline: Peter Elson reports
WITH evangelical zeal, Prof Phil Davis feels he must send his followers out in the darkest cultural blackspots of town and country. Of which, let's face it, there are many to choose from.
"We want missionaries of literature to spread reading throughout the North West," he booms so loudly that the tea cups rattle in Liverpool Cotton Exchange's cafeteria and several nearby customers' mobile phone calls are severed.
"We want to be a city and county of reading, as well as a capital of culture," he expounds, warming to his theme.
"This is the right time for our ambition to make this is a city of reading. We want to create a core of enthusiastic readers who are unafraid of reading anything with anybody anywhere.
He believes reading is good for us. So good, in fact, it can help ameliorate our problems because the great writers have wrestled with these fundamental matters before us.
Their imaginations can illuminate the human condition and, if not directly guide us through the mire, then at least aid our understanding of the difficulties surrounding us.
To this end he is directing a new Liverpool University two-year, part-time MA course in reading practice, starting this September, which investigates the role of literature in bibliotherapy and health.
"Good novels and perceptive poetry are far better than self-help books, or taking pills to make you feel better, for that matter. Poetry is far better than Prozac," says Prof Davis.
"I'd sooner go for literature than self-help books. It's good to open yourself up emotionally but literature is more than simply defining problems and looking at a limited prescriptive help."
In the novels of Dickens, Lawrence or Tolstoy or the poetry of Shakespeare and Yeats readers are exposed to struggling lives and can find personal connections, rather than have them imposed.
"Instructions about 'moving on and cheering up' are not always the right things to do. This can make you disloyal to your own experiences. People are under too much pressure to 'grow up and find a new place'. It's an outrageous imposition," declares Prof Davis.
"The subject of literature is not meant to be academic, it's about the lives, troubles, possibilities, hopes and stories of human beings.
"It's the worst kind of inverted snobbery to say that people should only be given popular books, when they want to be stretched and can have a go at the best."
Having proved through scientific measurement that reading Shakespeare can excite the brain, he is keen to promote the idea of the power of literature. …