If you’re reading this without the right glasses on please let me clarify – cathartic, NOT catheter, so if you’re expecting some fascinating insight into the literary world of all things urinary please know that disappointment will follow.
As many of you are aware I am a librarian and not only do I have access to some fabulous books but I spend huge amounts of time doing nothing but talking books to teenagers and staff. I was telling a friend of mine a story:
New 14-year-old arrives at school, very pretty with a surly, apathetic St Trinian’s attitude. Doesn’t want to read, hates reading, I already know how to read so what’s the point Miss, blah, blah, blah… Well, after engaging her in a verbal headlock she left with a book, albeit grumbling and adamant she wasn’t going to read it, but she was holding the book! Yay me! [boxing ring victory punch]
Two weeks later – that’s right, not later that day, not the next day or the week after, but the two whole weeks later – she returned with the book. It hadn’t been ripped or recovered with mouldy sandwich. I caught her eye as she stood in the queue and there was a definite gleam there. She was sucking in her lips and jiggling. To me it really looked like she just wanted to throw the book down and get away as fast as those jiggly legs could take her. But no. When it was her turn she held out the book and…smiled. Grinned.
‘I’ve come to return my book.’
‘And…’ a mixture of confusion, hopefulness and trepidation in my voice, ‘what did you think about it!’
‘Yeah, I really liked it.’
We librarians are taught not to faint at the first signs of joy (like doctors and blood), so I kept my cool and immediately launched into strike two.
‘Would you like to read the one that comes immediately after that?’
My joy faltered but I rallied the positive vibes. ‘Well, let’s go and find another.’ Before I could ask her what she enjoyed most about the book she was beaming again.
‘No need. My mum’s already bought me the next in the series.’
Yes, yes, yes!!! I asked her what her mum had said when she’d seen her reading the book: ‘She couldn’t believe it but she was dead chuffed. I didn’t ask her to buy me the book, she just went ahead and did it.’ Then came the my-work-here-is-done moment. ‘Miss, thank you so much for making me take the book out and read it.’
As you know we can’t make them read the books, but if we can just get them to dip a toe into the right volume then maybe they’ll jump. This young girl’s mother is so pleased to see her daughter with a book in her hands that they’re a constant presence in the local bookshop, which means she rarely comes into the library. I know mum’ll have a kindle-shining moment in the not too distant future and that’ll mean bye-bye St Trinian’s convert but it really doesn’t matter because I have seen this girl and her friends talking excitedly about new releases, seen them ogling the ‘coming soon’ board and seen them reading.
Get rid of school libraries and librarians? Pfft! The knock on effects of that one book will reach far.
That, Dear Readers, was my big moment of 2013. Don’t you just love them?
So where is the cathartic factor? Well, actually I haven’t got there yet, although it refers back to this girl and her friends. I like to ask the kids what they enjoyed most about the book they read. Many of the boys will speak about it clinically while the girls tend to speak emotively. Shall I explain? Boys will tend to say things like: I liked the adventure; the way he describes the zombies; that bit where the dragon…; all the jokes; the pictures…
Whereas girls: it made me sad; it made me laugh; I thought it was funny; it made me cry; how scary it was…; the pace just kept me glued.
I’m not saying it’s true in all cases but one thing that has cropped up more and more, especially with teen girls, is that they love a good cry or a good laugh – excesive emotion. A Child Called It has been on the ‘must read’ list for a while now and I have requests for books like Room, Ugly, My Left Foot, Angela’s Ashes, etc. In fact we’ll be receiving a nice little parcel of Jodi Picoults next week.
But why do we women like weepies? Personally, I adore them…romances with heart-rending conflicts really hit my buttons and I give you the likes of Beautiful Disaster, Crossfire, Find you In The dark, Hopeless and good ol’ FSOG as some of last year’s faves. So, crying and that ‘bluesy’ feeling – when you’re in public a few tears will invoke empathy and you will receive hugs and sympathetic murmurs galore. But in private? Well, if you are truly grief-stricken then it does have a weird way of releasing emotion that might otherwise effervesce inside of you and erupt at the most god-awful moment. But to voluntarily sit down, grab a box of tissues and put on Titanic or Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You, or pull out Hopeless seems a trifle bizarre. Is it a practise thing? Do we need to learn how to expel these emotions? Or is it the act of expulsion that’s important, like the whistle blowing on a pressure cooker. Remember reading about hysteria in the 1800s? In those days a bit of gentle manipulation in the right area by a competent doctor (I kid you not) would remove the excessive emotions caused by overactive hormones; in fact, I recommend you watch the film Hysteria – spinsters, this is your cue to send another posthumous Thank You to Mr Granville for such a marvellous invention. But that’s not quite it either. There is one widely discussed argument that a good cry makes us feel better because it helps us re-evaluate the important things in life; makes us realise how lucky we are. Hmmm, nope. Not buying that one either because I don’t finish a book like Hopeless and think ‘Oh, my life is so much better’.
Personally, I believe a good ol’ cry links directly to the emotional centre that makes me feel good. The good feelings you get with first dates, first kisses, romantic evenings (& nights) with your guy (or gal), whizzing round a rollercoaster (without the sick feeling), watching your kids go crazy happy…see where I’m going with this? Instant emotional highs (which look like lows because of all the crying).
So cathartic? Yes. Enervating? Yes. Elevating? Definitely. Will guys ever get it? Unlikely. But then, they are from Mars…shame it’s not the chocolate manufacturer. And that’s a whole other post waiting to be written.