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Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

Because this is one of the best posts ever about aliteracy, and by an amazing friend of mine, we are re-running it today for Reluctant Readers week
This post originally appeared on TLT on December 20, 2012

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” –From Wonder by RJ Palacio

 Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

I spent Friday, December 14, 2012, with all 757 students of my school in our first annual Polar Express day in the library. This is what I posted as my Facebook status after hearing the gut-wrenching news of the Connecticutshootings:

In light of the horrific events in CT today, I am reluctant to share this post. But I want you all to know that in an elementary school in Mesquite, TX, there was JOY today. We had 38 classes listen to The Polar Express and served 807 cups of hot chocolate. Smiles, joy, and gratitude swirled around my heart today, and I don’t feel guilty for these blessings. My fellow educators & parents, we must continue to teach and love our children with passion & joy & energy. When we live in fear, evil wins. Don’t let evil win.

One of my best days as an educator is juxtaposed with one of the worst days in our nation’s recent history. That incongruity does not go unnoticed.  


As an elementary school librarian, I cannot wrap my brain around this inexplicable tragedy. As a mother, I cannot fathom the grief and loss of these parents. Like so many of us, I feel powerless. I just want to DO something for our hurting world. In the face of horrific tragedies, I try not to ask “why?”  I don’t think we are capable of truly understanding such an evil act. Instead, I try to ask “HOW?” How can I be a better person in my little corner of the universe? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? How can I be a light in the darkness?

 Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)
Amianne Bailey is a School Librarian
This is her Red Reading Chair

While countless people take to Twitter and fire off on Facebook, admonishing our country’s gun laws, mental health system, and absence of God in our public schools as reasons for the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I cringe. I cringe at our knee-jerk quickness to cast blame. I shudder at our self-righteous reaction to always look for a reason. Why can’t we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and reach out to one another with love? Why can’t we step into the shoes of these grieving, hurting families and understand that they do not need reasons right now; they need our prayers; they need our compassion; they need our support.

The events of 2012 made me keenly aware of our society’s lack of compassion. From the Chic-Fil-A debacle to the embittered election, it seems that everyone wants to scream their opinion without giving much thought to how it will fall on the hearts of others. And it hasn’t even been ONE WEEK since the horrific killings in Connecticut, and people are already blasting theories and accusations via social media. The great irony is that in a world more connected than ever through the power of technology, we are truly disconnected from the hearts of humanity.

As a librarian, I can’t help but wonder–if we were a nation of readers, would our actions and our reactions be a bit kinder—a bit gentler?  Rather than condemn would we comfort? Rather than hurl opinions would we try to heal the hurt? Rather than spew hatred would we extend a hand in hope?

Honestly, my book-loving mind can’t help but connect our society’s lack of empathy to the fact that we are an alliterate nation. So many people can read, but they simply choose not to. Before you blow me off as some smug librarian, let me state my case. Like any librarian worth her weight in books, I have evidence to support my opinion.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Not Illiteracy, but Aliteracy
I recently read several articles that cite studies to support that “reading fiction improves understanding of others,” (The Guardian). An article in Forbes also points to a study that shows “reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions” (Forbes). In “The Importance of Reading for All of Us”, Anna Leahy states, “When we read about fictional characters, we become better at understanding real people and real situations” (HuffPost). So reading not only benefits our brains, it is also good for our hearts.
aliteracy – when a person has the skills necessary for reading, but chooses not to

Over the years, I have read the works of JimTrelease, Kelly Gallagher, and Stephen Layne concerning the problem of aliteracy in our nation, and I can’t help but wonder if our lack of empathy is tied to our lack of a reading habit?

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

Some of you might view this as hypocritical because I am just another voice entering the fray. I am not trying to blame our lack of reading culture for this senseless act. I am not naïve enough to suggest that reading more books would have prevented this tragedy from happening. I am not searching for a reason; I am offering an important observation–reading fiction makes us more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others. And I think we can all agree that our world needs kinder, more compassionate people in it. Even though it might sound trite, I think reading fiction can help us become a more empathetic, caring nation– to see past ourselves and into the hearts of others.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
Joyce Carol Oates

With the new year approaching, let’s all make a pledge to turn off our computers and tvs and read more fiction. What can that hurt? I am a firm believer that there is a book out there for every person. If you dislike reading, it’s because you haven’t found the right book. And as a self-proclaimed book-pusher, I want to make a recommendation—Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s truly a book for every age and gender, and it would be PERFECT to read aloud to your children at bedtime. (The importance of the bedtime reading ritual is another post for another day.) This book can teach us all so much about what it truly means to consider things from someone else’s point of view; what it means to “be kinder than necessary.”

 Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

Yes, I am suggesting that books can change us. Why do you think Hitler burned books? Why do you think the Taliban fought to the death to prevent books from falling into the hands of the citizens of Afghanistan? It’s because books have the power to soften hearts, to open minds, to silence judgment. They have the power to increase empathy for our fellow human beings. And I think that our world could use more softened hearts and open minds and less judgment and blame.

62114 wonder Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer Jerome Adler

Here we are, a nation that enjoys the freedom to read and has access to books in every city, yet so many choose not to take advantage of this life-changing gift. That’s another irony that I can’t ignore.

As a life-long reader, I turn to books for escape. I turn to books for comfort. I turn to books to connect with the human race. If there ever was a time for Americans to turn to books, it is now.
“We read to know that we are not alone.”
Amianne suggests Wonder as a good place to start reading and working on developing empathy.  What other titles would you recommend? Leave us a note in the comments.
Read more from Amianne Bailey:
You can also read my thoughts on last week’s events and mental health:
Read YA author Sean Beaudoin’s post about Newtown at Salon.com:
Also, please read these amazong posts from YA author Robison Wells who talks about his struggles with mental health issues:
While I don’t think there is any immediate answer to the problem, and no one single cause, I like Amianne’s answer . . . let’s read more.  Let’s step into the shoes of another person through the pages of a book and learn to open our hearts.  Let’s choose kindness.

Comments

  1. Russ says:

    I love this and couldn't agree more. Palacio's WONDER changed my heart, and its beauty and profound meaning should be required reading for humanity.

  2. Kym says:

    I live in CT, in fact I live close enough to Newtown that many of my college friends grew up there, and a coworker works there part time. I don't have the words to express how much I agree with everything that you just said. I'm so glad you put all of these thoughts into sentences for me. Thank you!

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