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Bibliotherapy as Self Care

Category: Way of Living – Literacy

Date: April 27, 2021

Stephanie Affinito, a literacy teacher educator, joined us for a Wellness conversation about reading as a method of self care. She defined bibliotherapy, illuminated self care, outlined the benefits of reading, provided tips on how to start over our reading life, and gifted us many nourishing book recommendations.

What is Bibliotherapy?

From Merriam Webster, the formal definition of bibliotherapy is: the use of reading materials to help in solving personal problems. While this sounds like it refers exclusively to self-help books, bibliotherapy is more about intentionally cultivating a rich reading life, filled with any genre or topic that is pleasurable to read, because it improves your overall quality of life.  

Stephanie defined bibliotherapy as taking care of yourself through reading; selecting books that help you grow through whatever you’re going through. Curate your reading life by purposely selecting books that address your interests and needs, mindfully choosing books that are good for you.

Select books that can help you lead a better life even after you close them.

What is Self Care?

A way of understanding self care is by contrasting it to something we often associate it with, but is wholly different: self indulgence. Indulgence often follows periods of self-deprivation or restraint – after you follow an eating plan, you have a decadent dinner. Another example would be sticking to a budget, and then making an expensive purchase. These indulgences feel great in the moment, but they are not beneficial long-term choices. They do not bring you closer to the person you want to be.

Instead, self care nourishes you. It fuels you, positively affecting your social-emotional well-being, helping you to realize the best version of yourself. Prioritizing sleep, getting sufficient sunlight, exercising regularly, engaging in a creative hobby are all important forms of self care.

Reading is an effective, efficient, and gratifying form of self care.

Benefits of Reading

Research has shown that reading has myriad physical and cognitive benefits. Reading slows down our heartbeat, relaxes our muscles, and slows our breathing. We experience a sense of calm while reading. Self-reported stress sharply decreases. Because of these positive effects on our bodies, reading can lengthen life span up to two years.

Cognitively, reading enables us to obtain greater knowledge. It expands our vocabulary and sharpens our memory, helping to prevent the cognitive decline that can accompany age.

How to Start Over with Books

In order to start over with books, you need to change your habits. If you’re not reading as much as you would like, start to view reading as a priority. Find or make time to read books that truly matter to you – as little as ten minutes a day will do the trick. Also, always have a book visible because if you can see it, you have a tangible reminder to read it.  Be aware of how you use your space and where you spend your time, and place it somewhere you will see it: the sink, dishwasher, dresser, etc. If you read on your phone, move your kindle or library app to the homescreen, so that each time you unlock your phone, you’ll receive the implicit reminder that reading is something you want to prioritize.

Next, pay attention to your reading heart. Notice which books you are drawn to, the ones that call to you. Consider which books make you feel good. Be mindful of how your reading choices impact your emotional well-being and how you want to develop as a person.

Finally, community is instrumental to our well-being. Cultivate a reading community by sharing what you have read with others. When you share your reading life, you build connection and community, which we are all especially hungry for now, particularly after the past year. Start a reading notebook where you log the books you have read and record your thinking about certain passages, so you will be able to share with friends, family, or colleagues. Share through a medium that feels right to you; you can pick up the phone and call a friend or create a social media post and tag others. By becoming a part of a community in which you regularly talk about books, you have a built-in impetus to read, because the social aspect provides connection, accountability, and fuel to sustain your reading lifestyle.

How to Find Books That Interest You

To find books of interest, you can search for particular topics or genres on Google, reference sites with curated book lists (e.g. library lists), reference sites dedicated to readers (e.g. Goodreads), and use social media. Social media can point you in the direction of some great books, suited to your particular taste. #IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) on Twitter is a friendly resource for finding books.

Stephanie’s Recommendations!

Antidotes to Anxiety:

  • Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben
  • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  • Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman
  • Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Fuel for Anti-Racism Work:

  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph
  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper
  • My Name Is Not Refugee by Kate Milner
  • My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero
  • Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
  • Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Invitations to Escape:

  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Sustenance for Creativity:

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Craft a Life You Love by Amy Tangerine
  • Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis 
  • Little Brown by Marla Frazee
  • Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved by Jenny Han
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? By Kobi Yamada
  • What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

4 Reading Insights to Remember 

  1. Books are patient. 

Whether you are a lifelong reader or a newly-voracious reader, books will wait, without judgment or shame. Whenever you appear, they are ready for you.

  1. Select books that will help you grow through what you go through.
  1. Remain an open reader. Lessons may come from books that you don’t expect.
  1. All reading is good reading, as long as you enjoy it.

Stephanie is the author of two education books titled Literacy Coaching: Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology and Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. You can find her online at stephanieaffinito.com and on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.

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