Thursday, March 27, 2014

Literacy Depends Wholly on Access - Not to Education, but to Books

I'm an author, and so, naturally, I want to see more people reading books - the paper kind - and I definitely want to see the bookstore industry (especially Indie bookstores) and the publishing industry flourishing. It's how I want to make a living - writing books - and my career goals are definitely dependent on the success of those industries.

But I also think that, as much as I love technology and as much as I do spend a lot of time on my computer on the Internet, paper books, bookstores, and libraries are incredibly important - especially as the world's economy expands and contracts - kind of like a slinky (remember those?). If we put all of our proverbial eggs in the basket that is dependent on our ability to generate some power to make those eggs work, we might be in a really bad place in ten or fifteen years.

We might not.

But we might.

I strongly, very strongly encourage everyone to build a library at home, because books don't need batteries to work. Not ever.

We live in a world of decreasing knowledge. The Maine DOE recently published its most recent standardized test results. Just over half the seventh grade students tested (54%) were proficient in reading. Fifty-four percent. That means four out of ten kids in our public schools are NOT proficient in reading. The United States spends more money on education than any other country in the world. You would think that we would have the best literacy rates. A Wikipedia article (to which I will not link, because the information is inaccurate) states that the US has a 99% literacy rate, which can't be true, because according to this Huffingpost article, 32 million adult Americans can not read. That would make our literacy rate a bit lower than the 99% of Americans older than 15 cited by the Wikipedia article.

The answer, unfortunately, is nothing that the schools are doing. Teaching more sight words at earlier ages is not going to improve reading (and in fact, even with all of the huge changes in education over the last decade, according to the above referenced Huffington Post article, literacy rates have not improved). More reading drills and rote exercises are not going to get kids to pick up a book. I spoke with a man, a local small business owner, in fact, who admitted that he didn't read. Not that he couldn't, but that he had not picked up a book in more than a decade.




I can't imagine a life that doesn't include reading - for pleasure and information. I'm currently reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver and No Time to Lose: A Live in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses by Peter Piot. No one told me to read these books. I'm not getting paid or graded to read them. I'm reading them, because I like reading. But, also because, through reading, I am both entertained, and enlightened. The latter of the two books I am currently enjoying is a very valuable book, because knowing more about infectious diseases (and especially those who study them) can be very useful. At very least, I can have some pretty interesting conversations ;).

What will improve reading and improve our country's overall literacy is access to books - lots of books on many different topics, and that means we need MORE bookstores (and libraries) - places where people can go and get lost in the words, discover new worlds, learn, explore, and dream.

Thankfully, there are some people who can actually do something about it who agree. James Patterson is quoted as saying “I’m rich; I don’t need to sell more books. But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go into bookstores more.” And to ensure that kids have those bookstores, he's donating grant funds (a million dollars, in fact) to several Indie bookstores across the country.

This is such an exciting project - for me - as a bibliophile and an author.

We need books, because in our world of decreasing knowledge, in a world where we just don't know how to do things like our ancestors did, and in a world where we are going to need that knowledge so that our children and their children can have it, the only way to recapture it is to read about it in books.

Bravo to you, Mr. Patterson! May your generosity be rewarded many times over!


  1. Oooh I LOVED Prodigal Summer. :-D

    1. So far, I'm really liking it. I've been a Kingsolver fan for years, though, and I love her writing style.

  2. I'm an elementary librarian, so I hear you:) Give me a paper book any day. I have a pretty extensive library at home of how to books, poetry, etc... read on!

  3. I LOVE It's a Book by Lane Smith!!! The youtube trailer is up....