I finished James W. Pennebaker’s book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. This is the book on which Louise DeSalvo (Writing as a Way of Healing) draws much of the suggestions she makes in her book so I was enthusiastic about reading this book. I was not at all disappointed and much of what I found interesting can be found in my other blog.
On a more personal note, I don’t know that I necessarily learned much from reading this book. I knew most of this from my own experience. I have used writing so often to work my way through understanding things that I frankly consider it a cliché when I hear myself encourage someone else to journal. I enjoyed reading how Pennebaker’s personal experiences helped him come up with ideas for his research. It was fun for me to see how creative the act of research can be. Life hands you a question and now you have to find a way to answer it by creating a test that will produce a reasonable answer while being as balanced and thorough as possible.
On a purely academic level, this is a good book. Not quite as dry as some academic books can be. Not nearly as dry, in fact, as it could have been. It is remarkable that Pennebaker was able to lay aside his academic voice and make this information so inviting.
With that said, for the average person, DeSalvo’s book is perhaps more accessible and easier to read than Pennebaker’s. However, depending on the reader’s reason for wanting to learn more about the subject of writing as a means of healing, I would still recommend Pennebaker’s book. Perhaps I would recommend it for the person who is academically inclined anyway, who is not convinced that writing matters, or to the individual who has been writing and doesn’t see that it makes a difference. Both books are excellent resources. Pennebaker’s, however, is more provocative in my mind and the one to which I would turn for encouragement while DeSalvo’s is more practical. Me? I get off on both so I love them both and I think most people would enjoy both but would probably prefer one more clearly than the other. It all depends on what your questions are: “Why write?” or “How write?” Neither focuses only on How over Why but Pennebaker does fall more on the Why side of things while DeSalvo more on the How.
So what is the question that would motivate you to read either of these books? Let that be the pivot of choice.