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How Reading Could Save Us All

Tuesday, February 19 was my day of rest this winter.

I’d been flat out since mid-December, working on project after project on top of project. There were also all the usual day-to-day responsibilities, and the holidays, too! I pushed myself to the limit for two and a half months in terms of physically having enough hours in the days to complete everything on my to do list. Even Family Day was spent juggling work, kids, house, and life.

So on that Tuesday after the holiday, I made time for myself. And to revive my spirit, I read. One book, cover to cover. I used to do that weekly, sometimes daily, when I was younger. But the past decade, with buying a house, moving across the country, getting married, and having three kids within two years, there wasn’t much time for reading for myself anymore. I’m lucky if I manage a few novels a year.

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to read, though, and not just for myself. I realized that our children were not used to seeing their parents reading for our own enjoyment. If we want to raise readers, not only do we need to read with them, but also read in front of them.

We’ve always read bedtime stories as a family. Each night we gather between the beds in the boys’ room and listen to stories, lately transitioning from Robert Munsch and Oliver Jeffers storybooks to short novels with illustrations. The oldest is starting to read more on her own, searching out reality-based storylines compared to the dragon tales that her brothers want to hear over and over again. I’ve felt an upcoming shift in our evening routine, but now I’m motivated to make sure it doesn’t change.

On the Wednesday after my day of indulgent reading, I listened to author Meghan Cox Gurdon on CBC’s Maritime Noon. Impeccable timing for me. Her latest work is titled The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. She advocates reading aloud in small groups for all ages, but made a particularly salient point about why families should continue the practice of bedtime stories read aloud into the teen years. It is making a standing appointment with your children to connect. She shared that nightly reading with her teen daughters sometimes shifts focus, with the girls using the time to share their worries and their questions about other aspects of life. Conversations Gurdon doesn’t know would happen without that dedicated time infused with an element of reflection and connection.

Later that same night, a friend shared a link online that led me to an article that named this perfectly: bibliotherapy. The term was new, and yet immediately familiar. The idea that reading – whether it be poetry and song lyrics or novels into which we escape only to discover ourselves – is a form of therapy and can be used as a tool alongside others to combat all forms of challenges, from mental health to poverty to regional decline. The practice of doing this together can create relationships and responses that can shift individual and collective consciousness.

The article is by Dr. Julie Sutherland, the International Ambassador for the ReLit Bibliotherapy Foundation and a one-time Crandall professor. She was sharing some of her experiences in practicing bibliotherapy in my home community in Cape Breton, helping residents embrace “the power of great literature to positively affect the human spirit.” Reading her article, with Gurdon’s words still resonating in my head, I found myself imaging what wonderful changes we all could bring to our lives with a daily session of reading aloud with each other.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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