Last updated on March 11th, 2018
Arbenita Mikushnica is a psychology graduate living in London, working as a healthcare assistant at a psychiatric hospital. Her work includes the recently published essay “How Reading Saved Me,” – a revealing and inspiring piece on the power of reading – and her thought-provoking essay “Novels, Adaptations, and Cinema—Are They Successful?” As Arbenita writes, “My eagerness to blog derived immensely from my desire to put my love for books and the importance of mental health into words.”
Growing up I felt like my whole life had already been planned out for me. My family members (extended included) were very outgoing and sure of what it was they wanted to achieve. They had a very objective, linear way of thinking. I feel like reading (Jacqueline Wilson books in particular) really helped me escape from all of that as a kid. It was one of the only aspects of my life that I felt I had complete control over.
Studying English Literature at school definitely made me realize the varied opinions that can be formed when people from different walks of life read the same novel. Discussing books in class really opened up my eyes to the different possibilities a novel has to offer; just how differently merely one description of a character or a setting can be interpreted. Even reading the same book at different points in my life gave me an insight into the pivotal role the reader plays in the outcome of the novel; the myriad of ways it can impact you depending on where you are in your life. I didn’t enjoy reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower as much when I was fourteen simply because I didn’t have the same level of maturity/understanding as I did when I turned twenty, for example.
Whenever I felt like my surroundings became too much, I would immerse myself in a book and block everything else out. Despite being lost and having many things I wasn’t sure about, my love for reading was never one of them. It was the one thing I could always rely on in times of distress.
Both of these books address (albeit in very different contexts) what it’s like to be an introvert; Perks is a novel written in a series of letters about a high school freshman’s struggles of being a wallflower, whilst Susan Cain’s Quiet empowers introverts through pointing out both the advantages and challenges one goes through in their daily life. I think it goes without saying that these books will appeal to any individual who prefers listening to speaking, or a quiet night in to a wild night out. The latter book especially, not only furthered my understanding of my personality type, but also made me realize that it’s not something I have to justify, despite the extroverted personality type that is idealized in the world we live in today. “At school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.” Never has a sentence in a novel resonated with me so much. Susan Cain’s style of writing is just something else!
After having graduated in psychology, working at a psychiatric hospital definitely gave me more of an insight into the effects of schizophrenia (amongst many other mental illnesses) on an individual’s daily life. However, as much as I can say I have witnessed what it’s like up close, never have I truly been able to discover their train of thought. Challenger Deep is definitely a novel that put things into perspective for me. Venturing to the deepest point on Earth with Caden Bosch both in his actual life and his pirate ship is truly an experience I will never forget. It is through this journey that you realize the delusions, episodes and struggles a schizophrenic undergoes in their daily life. I’ve found that many books I’ve read on mental illness in the past sugar coat what it’s like to suffer from emotional dysregulation but in this novel, Neal Shusterman makes sure to tell Caleb’s story as it is.
In my opinion, it’s not so much that the movies themselves aren’t great or that the film industry is lacking in something in particular. But after having read the novel, it is virtually impossible to satisfy every single reader’s expectations of the movie, considering each individual has imagined each character/setting to be different. I definitely think that, in that sense, adapting novels is unworkable.
One of the most crucial aspects of psychotherapy is that the underlying emotions and unconscious conflicts that the client feels towards a significant person in their lives emerge in the therapy relationship itself. The thoughts/emotions the client develops towards their therapist is referred to as transference; it is just as common to form these transference relationships with people in your daily life (and, in my opinion, with people you come across in novels). Many times, especially as a kid, I have found myself forming this kind of relationship with characters from different novels I’ve read. This definitely shaped the way I felt about the character, depending on which significant person in my life I related them to. I remember shortly after my grandfather had passed away, I had started reading a novel of which included a character that possessed so many similar characteristics to him that it was like having him around again. It was just what I needed. I essentially felt in control of how much time I had left with him – to this day, the longest time it’s ever taken me to finish a novel. Many times after that, I’ve been able to revisit the novel and connect with him again. That’s the most beautiful thing about it!
Having been a refugee myself, I’ve spent most of my life reading war novels which, although proved to be distressing at times, has definitely also inspired me to be ambitious and courageous. Goodbye Sarajevo is a prime example of a novel that has had and continues to have a huge impact on me to this day. Although I tend to dislike clichés (and this novel is certainly very far from one), because I could relate to it so much, I really needed this novel to have a happy ending, and that it did.
(For those interested, here’s a list of some of the war novels that really helped me: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angels Anglada, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and of course, Goodbye Sarajevo by Atka Reid & Hana Schofield.)
I am currently reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, which is an absolutely incredible book. Blunt, hilarious, witty and to the point. I’ve never read a book quite like it. Most books you read when you’re older are really dense and complex – sometimes it’s nice to sit back and remind yourself what it’s like to think like a fourteen year-old again.
I‘ve thought about writing my own novel for quite some time now. It’s a huge commitment to make but it’s definitely something I’ve added to my bucket list. I think if I were to go ahead with it, it would definitely address mental health issues in one way or another. I’m passionate about both writing and mental health so it would be a great way to combine the two.
The evolution of technology has undoubtedly led to a replacement of books by kindles, iPads, laptops, apps, social networking sites etc. as a form of entertainment. I feel like as the generations go by, it’s only going to get progressively worse. I really don’t think any means of entertainment can truly replace the knowledge, perspective and culture (amongst many other things) gained when reading a book. I’ve come across many people who have claimed that they’ve given it a go, but they simply just don’t enjoy reading. But in my opinion, they just haven’t found a genre, writing style or an author they’ve fallen in love with yet. So that would definitely be my advice – make the effort to actually discover the kind of books that you love, despite the temptation to watch the movie adaptation online.