A Customized Answer to "What Shall I Read Next?"

A Novel Approach is a service that offers personal book recommendations

by Cathleen Medwick
woman reading

In quaint headquarters, tucked among the blank towers of midtown Manhattan, the Center for Fiction feels like somewhere you’d be more likely to run into Bartleby the Scrivener than your ­therapist— unless she’s a “bibliotherapist” like Noreen Tomassi, the center’s executive director, who manages its service A Novel Approach.

For $125, Tomassi will handpick 12 books, basing her choices on a 45-minute phone call, an e-mail exchange or, preferably, a face-to-face session with you. Her well-structured interview will explore your reading history and, to a lesser degree, whatever “problem” you may be facing—an affair, a career challenge, a move. Here, one reporter’s experience:

“Like any good counselor, Tomassi is astute and simpatico: During our session, I had no qualms admitting, for example, that I’d never read Dostoevsky. And in this context, discussing my ‘issue’—a desire to get back to writing fiction before I buy the farm—felt less like whining than talking shop.
“A week later, I received my Rx: Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus and nine others, chosen to provide the courage and companionship I’d said I wanted. Will the books help? The therapeutic power of narrative is as old as Aristotle and as up to date as AA, so I think they may.

“So does Tomassi. ‘I’d like to think that the right book at the right time could have a life-changing effect,’ she says, then confides that her most gratifying session was with a young woman attempting to live sober. ‘She was very interested in Hollywood. Do you know how hard it is to find a good novel about Hollywood that doesn’t have a drunk in it?’ The intrepid Tomassi found exactly one.”

Photo courtesy of StockLite/Shutterstock.com

Next: 18 Books You Won't Put Down

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First published in the July/August 2013 issue

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