On the solace to be found within literature

Our thoughts are with those who are suffering at this time.

Book coasters is not the venue for suggestions concerning methods of directly helping those affected, although they are many, and Googleable. Instead I’d like to use the skills we have, as librarians, to provide such solace as we can.

One of the earliest genres in Western literature is the consolatio, literally, books for those who mourn. In the Middle Ages it was the most popular, secular, genre, a role romance novels fulfil today. Our most popular romance novel today is Pride and Prejudice (well, Fifty Shades of Grey, by sales). In the Middle Ages, the book that held the same position, for centuries, was The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.

This book is a prison diary. Boethius was a senator in the Gothic kingdom which followed the fall of the Roman Empire. He was betrayed, and wrote his book while awaiting execution. It was so influential that many Christian ideas can be traced to Boethius’s influence on Aquinas.

The book deals with many of the themes popular in consolatio. How do we deal with the inevitability of death? Why does evil exist? Why do evil people prosper? How can we know that we are virtuous? How can we face terrible suffering? His answers are too complex to summarise in a blog post, but free versions of his writing are downloadable in ebook and audiobook.

Different people find different consolatio effective. In past reviews I’ve written about how much I valued Neil Gaiman’s Make good art speech, and John Green’s rumination on the role of parents after the death of children in The Fault in Our Stars. If you have a title you’ve found particularly consoling, please share it in the comments..