To Read is to Live

To bring awareness to the importance of reading and writing, Grammarly, an online automated proofreading service, has initiated their Promote Literacy Program. Bloggers, like us at 5Writers, are partnering with them to bring attention to their efforts, and by sharing this post with you, Grammarly will donate to a literacy charity. For more information about the program, please read the Grammarly Blog. Here are our thoughts on reading…

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

Brad – Getting a hold of “new” or seasoned writers and helping them sharpen and enhance their craft is a great thing. You’re helping an artist realize his or her vision when you provide feedback and/or recommend books that will expose them to different ways of telling a story, developing character, or messing with sentence structure. And even better thrill is promoting literacy in younger individuals, perhaps ones who have no sense of what they want to do with their lives or even if they would consider becoming a writer. When you turn people on to reading, you open worlds for them, and, under the best circumstances, you inspire them to think differently (more broadly) about their own worlds and what they can do in that world. You’re teaching them ideas and encouraging them to find ways to express their own ideas. Ultimately, this is the best prize, for the world is a better place when different people contribute their point of view to society, for who knows from where the next genius idea will come? If we don’t encourage literacy, we might lose a few (or several) great ones.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” – J.K. Rowling

Jennie – Growing up an avid reader, it’s hard for me to imagine what a life without literacy would mean. The Giving Tree taught me how to live selflessly. Sideways Stories From Wayward School taught me how to have a sense of humor about life. Jurassic Park taught me how to rethink what our responsibilities are as people in this world. Stephen King taught me to face my fears head-on, while Jane Austen taught me how to love. These are all essential lessons that have made me the complete human being I am today. Without them, I can’t imagine what kind of hopelessness would consume my daily existence. Giving the gift of literacy to a child is giving the gift of life.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Darlene – I can hardly remember a time of not reading. From the moment Sister Albina taught us the alphabet in kindergarten to the adventures of Ann, David and Zip in first grade (Public School kids had Dick, Jane and Spot! I confess; I was quite jealous!), to Black Beauty and beyond, reading took me out of my ordinary world to other places. Other than traveling the globe, a book is the best way to learn about other cultures, history and all the possibilities the future may contain, but there’s another practical lesson to be learned—that of writing. When you read, you internalize the rhythm and structure of language. Young students may not be able to diagram a sentence or even name the parts of speech, but they will get the feel of the sentence, the music of it. With metaphor and simile, a child begins to grasp abstract concepts and make leaps in connecting often unrelated concepts. Now, not every child will have an interest in writing fiction, poetry or plays, but most will have to write an essay at some point in their academic careers, and as he or she enters the workforce being able to communicate clearly, concisely without spelling and grammatical errors is a valuable asset. It all starts within the pages of a book.

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” – Carl Sagan

Ron – I already live in world where reading and writing don’t exist; I teach history in the most urban high school within a 120 mile radius of where I live. My classrooms are packed with teenagers facing every obstacle imaginable: high poverty, high crime, ridiculous teen pregnancy rates, obscene numbers of single parent households/no parent households/grandparent households/”other” households, and a skyrocketing surge of immigrants and refugees for whom English is at once a source of anxiety and opportunity. In short, I live in a world where reading and writing fall way behind in the pecking order of priorities. And I see the ramifications. Entering my second decade of teaching here, I have seen scores of students enter my freshman, sophomore, junior, and even senior-level classes with little to no ability to read. I know literally thousands of young adults who never read at an appropriate grade level and, as a result, will never read for pleasure. They’ll never know the joy of walking the halls of Hogwarts or sailing the world’s oceans in search of treasure or white whales or Amelia Earhart. They’ll never feel the stirrings of emotion incumbent in the lives of Malcolm X or Joan of Arc, and they’ll never chuckle at the insults of Shakespeare or the satire of Dave Barry. And, sadly, I’ve seen more than a handful (a handful too many) put in the ground way too soon simply because they failed to understand how reading and writing could liberate them to a life of greater choices. Why is literacy important? Literacy is LIFE. Literacy tells us who we are and where we have been. It seeds our dreams and fuels our ability to pursue them. It is empowerment and engagement, it is duty and honor and freedom and responsibility. Reading is second only to writing as the most important of human endeavors. It connects us as humans, bonds us as friends to people we’ve never met, nor will ever be able to meet, and surrounds us with the idea that we are never alone, that we can and will survive, and, like others before us, that we will thrive. Writing is hope, reading is glory. Together they elevate us more than a generation of wars or a millennium of conquest ever could.

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” – Annie Proulx

Linda – My father is bilingual. So bilingual, that as a child that he did not realize Spanish and English were two different languages until he started school. This severely impacted his ability to learn to read. In his frustration, he quit speaking aloud and refused to write although he continued his battle to learn to separate the languages and read in English. Before the year was over, he realized that the teachers and other students thought his lack of interaction – both verbal and written – was because he was stupid. Meanwhile, pretty much on his own he had decoded the letters, the sounds and patterns of the black lines on the papers. In effect, teaching himself to read gave him the confidence to know that he was smart and a desire to prove it. He worked exceptionally hard to learn the difference in the languages, to read and write with fluency in both languages and to speak English without any hint of an accent. He went on to become the first college graduate in his family, earned a Masters from George Washington and became a Marine aviator – all accomplishments that required a great deal of reading and writing. All avenues out of the limited and prejudiced world he faced in Southern California in the 1950s.  

Because of his background, he refused to speak Spanish to us when we were growing up. Sadly, my siblings and I are not bilingual. I did the normal route of trying to learn the language in school, but discovered that although I could learn the vocabulary and basic grammar, I was unable to understand the spoken language – especially at the rapid rate most Latinos speak. My grandparents not only spoke very broken English, they lived on the other side of the country. Phone conversations were difficult. So I began to practice my Middle School level Spanish by writing to my grandparents.  Although my ability to read and write never progressed beyond a rudimentary level, my grandparents were grateful for my efforts.  Exchanging letters became my source of connection to them and to a tiny piece of my heritage. I soon began to collect books – mostly children’s books and a few books of poetry – in Spanish. And one of the most poignant moments of my life was reading a passage of scripture in Spanish at the funeral of a very dear friend.

I certainly am not trying to compare my experience with the very real and very major consequences of illiteracy – things like quality of life, the ability to get and hold employment, the opportunity to explore new worlds. But it has given me a slightly better understanding of the frustrations and limitations illiteracy brings. Since this was a skill I developed as a young adult, I understand better the sense of accomplishment and sheer joy of being able to decipher the words on the page. The ability to read and write opened a path to a part of myself I would never have had a chance to experience.  It enabled me to know family who would otherwise have been inaccessible. It created a path of connection and communication to others – the most basic need we have as social creatures.

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