Lucy Clarke took a course to re-learn the benefitsofbooks and how to use them

If you look at any of the photos of me and my two children soon after their births, there is bound to be a book in the background. Next to me on the bed at UCH, on top of a pile of nappies at home – I even detoured from my route to hospital, after my contractions had started, to buy a novel.

Like lots of my friends, I found being at home with a newborn the perfect excuse for reading, and extendedmany a night feed into the early hours just so that I could finish the next chapter or find out how a particular thread of a story resolved.

But not for long. Sleep deprivation and general distractionsoon left me half-heartedly flicking through magazines and catalogues. Or simply staring at a blank wall.

To be honest, books have never really regained their central place in life again. I read, but sporadically and not with the same compulsion as before. I’ve also talked to many friends who, like me, feel uneasy about how we want books to be a central part of our children’s lives, but know that they’re crammed into the late night edges of our own day.

So I was intrigued to see the School of Life offering a session on Bibliotherapy for Parents, which promised to explore books that can guide us through the complex path of parenthood, and help establish new reading habits. The “ailment” this therapy was looking to cure was summarised as being “sleep-deprived, morally challenged, and creatively compromised”.

Our bibliotherapist, Ella Berthould, led a session that was both reflective and practical. On the reflective side, she got us thinking about which books are important to us and why, what we can get out of reading, and the role it can play in shaping our and our children’s lives.

More practically, we discussed questions around our own reading habits as well as those of our children (is it OK to read abridged versions of the classics to younger children or should they wait until they can read the real thing? And how far should we force children to read our own childhood favourites at all? What books might kickstart a reluctant seven-year-old, or satisfy a six year old who reads voraciously? What role do audiobooks play? How’s it best to read to siblings of different ages? Etc, etc, etc…) I came away with a full “prescription” of relevant and potentially helpful books.

For me, the session did much more than just reconfirm that reading is somehow important or even exciting. It also developed a sense of how books can, and should, be really vital to family life.

There are novels that give an interesting perspective of parenting, short stories that will challenge our engrained views of family life, and other fiction that gets us grappling with (or sometimes laughing at) the emotional and moral issues involved in being a parent. Not to mention books of creative non-fiction that we can actively use to rekindle flagging spirits or reboot creativity.

As for practical ways of giving books a chance to start achieving all of this, Ella had some great, but simple, strategies for weaving reading into the fabric of everyday life. These include:

•Reading time: it sounds horribly Victorian, but try allocating an hour or so a week for the family to sit down together and read (or for younger ones, look at) books. It’s a great way of letting children see grown-ups enjoying books, not to mention actually getting a chance to sit down and read.

•Audiobooks: a brilliant way of reading when you don’t have time to.

•Reading aloud: not just to your children, but to your partner as well. A Little Aloud (ed. Angela Macmillan) is a good place to start.

•Keep a reading notebook: possibly the most obvious but most helpful idea – write down the date you start and finish each book, where you read it and a few comments.

The bibliotherapy session I went to was a group one, but you can book individual sessions with Ella or another of the School of Life’s bibliotherapists.

The School of Life itself is based in Bloomsbury and runs a wide-ranging programme offering a chance to think about how we live, whether analytically, reparatively or simply with curiosity and from a different angle, and to reflect on how we might live better.

I recommend bibliotherapy highly -whether you want to kick start your reading, know the kind of books you like but want some suggestions for more titles you might enjoy, or have a particular issue or situation that you’d like to explore through books. Try it!

You can contact Ella at ella@ellaberthoud.com. For more on the School of Life see www.Schooloflife.com.