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04 June 2024

The Reading Doctor: Healing

Kia ora, I’m Sophie – a writer, copy-editor, and lifelong reader. I’m here as a guest reading doctor because I learned firsthand about how books facilitate healing when I suffered a concussion in 2017 that left me unable to work, drive, go outside, or do pretty much anything. Except read. As I sat in a dimly lit, quiet room, waiting to get better, books quite literally healed my brain.

Whether you’re healing from illness, injury, loss, or heartache, books can be a much-needed balm. The titles in this list are full of heart, adventure, intellectual depth, and big laughs – all of which create ideal conditions for the mind and body to heal themselves.

Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly

I wish I had something cool, like double joints or purple eyes. I feel as if the pathways in other people's brains are like well-maintained Department of Conservation hiking trails, while mine are modelled on the dodgiest slides at Waiwera Thermal Resort after it was shut down.

In Greta and Valdin, we follow the titular brother and sister as they navigate the intricate paths of modern romance as well as weather the storms of their eccentric Māori–Russian–Catalonian family. This book had me laughing out loud and turning the pages slowly so it wouldn’t end.

Greek Lessons by Han Kang

If snow is the silence that falls from the sky, perhaps rain is an endless sentence.

This short, masterful novel explores the poignant bond between a teacher losing his sight and a pupil losing her voice. Greek Lessons is a departure from Kang’s horror-tinged works and instead explores the realities of acquired disabilities with grace and vulnerability.

This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace

All that lonesome time on the trail was everything a lifetime could throw at me – heartbreak, defeat, exhaustion, injury, failure, but it was also renewal, disbelief, and beauty beyond imagining.

This Much Country is a memoir of heartbreak, thousand-mile races, the endless Alaskan wilderness, and many, many dogs – from one of only a handful of women to have completed both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. For you dog-people out there, this is a must-read.

by Andrew Sean Greer

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

Arthur Less is one of the most endearing literary characters I’ve ever read. This book is a light-hearted delight and still manages to thoughtfully examine themes of love, healing, LGBTQ+ identity, and travel.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

By the time the shade had reached the river, Augustus would have mellowed with the evening and been ready for some intelligent conversation, which usually involved talking to himself.

Set in the big open landscapes between Texas and Montana in the American West, Lonesome Dove is rich with humour, grit, and insight. The protagonist Gus McCrae leaps off the page and made me grateful for the heft of the book, so I could draw out my time with him.

The Day the Whale Came by Lynne Cox

Sometimes, he said, the important things take time, sometimes they don't just happen all at once, sometimes answers come out of time and struggle, and learning. Sometimes you just have to try again in a different way.

This unassuming little book is the extraordinary true story of how one of the world’s most accomplished long-distance open-water swimmers encountered a lost baby whale off the coast of California and decided to help in any way she could. Lynne Cox also wrote Swimming to Antarctica, an inspiring memoir about her life as a swimmer.

The Covenant of Water
by Abraham Verghese

Fiction is the great lie that tells the truth about how the world lives.

This epic family saga set in early-twentieth-century Kerala, India is a moving tribute to progress in medicine and to human understanding. Verghese explores themes of caste, colonisation, social justice, and healing.

Now it’s your turn – if you have questions about books or how reading can help you navigate tricky times in your own life, email us at, and the reading doctor will dedicate a post to your question.