The Healing Power of Books by Jodi-Beth Hazel
In the past few months, I have experienced a lot of change and trauma, but in the midst of these experiences, one thing has remained constant— books. I have always seen books as powerful tools for escape, change, learning, and building community. Every time I enter a new season of life, I am reminded of just how powerful they are.
My first reaction when I don’t understand something or am trying to process new information and emotions is to look for a book. I am a real-life Hermione Granger— “When in doubt, go to the library.” I always trust that there will be a book out there to help me because, like my mother says often, “there is nothing new under the sun.” With that in mind, I believe that somebody else must have gone through or seen something similar and written about it so I search for a book to fit my needs.
During my current trials and tribulations, I have been struggling to find the book that I can get through and focus on for long periods of time. I keep trying titles and putting them down because regardless of what is happening in my life, I am a reader. I always aim to be busy reading and recommending books, or I don’t feel complete, but sometimes my brain just needs an escape. Depression and anxiety are crippling emotions that often need serious treatment, but I know myself well enough to know that this is just a battle with overwhelming circumstances and when I get through this series of serious life changes, I will be okay.
Once I finally came to terms with the fact that reading and learning was not in the cards for this season, I also realized that a new book was not the answer; what I needed was an old friend. So, in an effort to turn my brain off and just breathe, I began listening to what is now becoming my go-to series when nothing in my reading life seems to be working. I opened Audible, took a deep breath, and transported myself to Privet Drive during my morning commute. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone read by Jim Dale felt like a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea on a cold, rainy day. The level of comfort that washed over me in that moment cannot be accurately described. It is like seeing old friends after a long time apart, it’s the smell of the ocean breeze during summer vacation, it’s true peace. I am so thankful that J.K. Rowling put her ideas into these wonderful books for me to go back to time and time again.
I didn’t come to love Harry Potter as a child, I read it when I was in my twenties. It began as simple curiosity about this craze that had so many children reading. I wasn’t a teacher then. I didn’t have any children of my own. I was just the curious reader that I have always been, but I am so glad to be a part of the Potter universe because spending time with Harry, Ron, and Hermione is just what the doctor ordered. I am really enjoying what the familiarity of the story is providing for me and am forever grateful for its healing power. The Harry Potter saga is like Phoenix tears for my broken spirit; it is a salve for my wounded soul.
I have also had the privilege of finding out which books have given other people in my life the gift of healing. In the past couple of months, I have had more books recommended or gifted to me with what I believe are only the best of intentions; however, I can’t read some of them right now. I will eventually read them all because that is just who I am, but I also know that certain titles may do more harm than good at this moment. This knowledge is a vital part of my reading life and identity. I must know the power of books to heal, but I must recognize that some may not provide what I seek in this moment. So, even in the middle of this time of change, I can still make a reading plan that works for me. The only plan that doesn’t work is not reading at all.
This process and epiphany made me think about how we talk to students about books and what parts of the conversations are great, but also what might be missing. Even though this has been a difficult time in my life that I wouldn’t unload on eighth graders, I really wish that I had my own students so that we might continue to discuss the magic of books when we make them an integral part of our lives. I would share with them how valuable it is to discuss books and how grateful I am for every recommendation. I would show them that I appreciate my friends’ willingness to share such a vulnerable part of themselves with me. I would talk to them about the privilege of rereading a book from a different place in life and with different lessons under our belts. I would share that, for me, the Harry Potter series is the manifestation of Dumbledore’s famous line, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Most importantly, I would work my hardest to ensure that every student would eventually find their healing book, so that they will know where to turn one day when life happens to knock them down.
Jodi-Beth Hazel has been an English Language Arts and Reading teacher for 14 years in districts across the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas. She currently is an ELAR Specialist servicing secondary educators throughout the area. She’s a Harry Potter fan, a card-carrying member of the Backstreet Army, an avid reader, and a fan of all passionate educators and authors. You can connect with her on Twitter: @jodi_hazel where she is always willing to talk books.