At the end of September, Taylor Sperry wrote at Moby Lives about a strange case from Italy in which a judge sentenced a man who had solicited sex from a 15-year-old girl to buy the girl a bunch of feminist books. (The man was also given a prison sentence.) I haven’t written about it before because I’m still not sure what I think about the judge’s decision.
I kind of agree with Adriana Cavarero, who Sperry quotes in the blog post, that the guilty man should have been the one to read the books “on top of his two year prison sentence.” Sperry goes on to say that judges in the US and Canada have been adding required reading to prison sentences. (Read Husna Haq’s article in The Christian Science Monitor for more on this.)
In the past I’ve been intrigued by bibliotherapy, which involves mental health professionals recommending books to their clients. To a certain extent, I buy into this idea. There’s a critical difference between bibliotherapy and biblioprudence. I wonder how effective either of these might be. Every 18 months or so I see bookish folk on the internet gleefully forwarding a report of a new study from researchers who found that reading books made people more tolerant of other groups or less likely to be bullies or similar. These studies are usually about children, not convicted criminals or people in therapy. How much can a book change an adult, even if they are willing? (Nota bena: I’m a librarian, not a criminologist, psychologist, social worker, etc.) Clients of bibliotherapists are open to change—criminals, not so much. And yet, I want to believe in the transformative power of books.