Strength in Words

I came across an article last week that got me thinking about reading. The article was featured in an online publication called the DorsetECHO, named after the county in South […]

March 27, 2017 // Tara May // No Comments // Posted in Reading

I came across an article last week that got me thinking about reading. The article was featured in an online publication called the DorsetECHO, named after the county in South West England. The headline read “BBC journalist Kate [Adie] pays tribute to the bravery of adults learning to read”. It’s really no surprise that this article caught my attention; for those of you who know me, you’ll be familiar with my motto that reading is my one addiction (besides Mexican food). I love reading, always have, and it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like not to be able to do it.

Reading the article really made me think about how most of us who can read take the ability for granted. For example, I can’t remember actually learning how to read. It was just something I always knew how to do. I’m sure that’s not true—I didn’t come out of the womb with a Stephen King novel clutched in my tiny fingers—but it’s how I remember it. Reading was always part of my life. Not only was it part of my life, it was a great source of enjoyment, entertainment, escape, and something I always looked forward to—something I craved, even.

The first books I remember reading were my mother’s Louis L’amore Westerns. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old at the time, but I inhaled those old westerns like they were the best Sunday morning cartoons a kid could ask for. And, in a way, they were. They told stories about lands I’d never been to, animals I’d never seen, people I could hardly imagine.

The second books I remember reading were my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest condensed books. Most people laugh when I tell them this today, but I spent hours pouring over those stories. The edges of the pages were coated with gold, and they had a delicious musty smell. I loved them dearly.

After that, I moved on to other books, other authors: R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice and Stephen King. My affinity for reading was sealed the day I cracked that first old Western in my mother’s bedroom.

But I take these memories for granted. Because I didn’t always know how to read. I learned along the way. Someone taught me how. I don’t know what my life would be like today had I never been taught—or never been able to learn—how to read. I still read for entertainment, enjoyment, escape. I read for inspiration and motivation. I read for a simple, deeply ingrained love of the beauty of written words. But I also read to gain information, follow instructions, stay informed. I read to communicate, educate, and understand. Reading taught me how to speak better, write better, and communicate better.

The article in the DorsetECHO explained that the BBC Journalist, Kate Adie, had recently become the new patron of Read Easy, a program that teaches adults how to read, and which has been steadily gaining success since it started two and a half years ago. Ms. Adie is quoted as saying that she supports the program’s efforts because, “The business of words is central to our communication.”

Imagine not being able to read. Imagine if no one had ever taught you, or you’d never been able to learn. Imagine how hard it would be, as the years went by, to believe that you ever could learn. I started imagining what it would be like, and it was terrifying. Forget curling up in my mother’s bed with old Westerns as a kid. I wouldn’t have been able to read instructions written on classroom blackboards, homework assignments, text books. Later, I wouldn’t be able to understand street signs, a newspaper, the schedule at the airport; the text neatly lined up on web sites; job application, or jury duty summons. How different life would be. I imagine that I would always feel lost, helpless, frustrated, depended upon others. Disconnected and alienated.

That’s why I was so inspired by the Read Easy program. Most of us who can read probably assume that all adults can. But these were people who went 30, 40, 50 years without knowing how to read. I can only imagine how scary it would be to go through so much of your life not being able to read, and the strength and courage it would take to overcome that fear and take the necessary action to learn how.

Ms. Adie recently presented certificates to graduates of the program, acknowledging their bravery. She said, “There are so many things that reading encompasses – the whole of human life put into words.” For me, her statement sums up everything I feel about the simple beauty of written words, and the success of the Easy Read program is a perfect example of the strength and courage we are capable of, even when it comes to something as taken for granted as reading.

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