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Letter: Read — you’ll be richer for it

Books are portals into worlds of discovery.
Books are portals into worlds of discovery.

 

In “Mister God, This is Anna,” Fynn writes: “After the evening meal I always read to Anna books on all manner of subjects from poetry to astronomy. After a year of reading she ended up with three favourite books. The first was a large picture-book with nothing in it but photographs of snowflakes and frost patterns. The second book was Cruden’s ‘Complete Concordance,’ and the third, of all strange books to choose was Manning’s ‘Geometry of Four Dimensions.’ She devoured them utterly and out of their digestion she produced her own philosophy.”

These selections do seem strange for a five year old, but they reflect the curiosity, imagination and questions of children. One of the ways to enrich the lives of children is to introduce them to books. Books are like the rabbit hole that took Alice into a land of wonder and delight. Books reveal to us the whole breadth and depth of human experience. So many are deprived of the gift that you “open and open again.”

Certain books speak to us in a profound way, push our boundaries and awaken in us an awareness of other realities.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada gets a “C” and ranks eighth out of 14 countries on the percentage of adults scoring low on literacy rate tests. Four out of 10 Canadian adults have literacy skills too low to be fully competent in most jobs in our modern economy. Newfoundland and Labrador ranks last among the provinces in this evaluation.

While there is not a clear distinction between literacy and non-literacy, there is a continuum. One measurement has five levels, with No. 3 equaling a high school diploma. As literacy affects different parts of our lives, we may do well in one area and poorly in another. ABC LifeLiteracy identifies the following areas of literacy: life, family, financial, workplace, health, civic and digital.

Education is widely recognized as a human right. A central component is literacy. UNESCO has been in the forefront of global literacy since 1946. It chose Sept. 8 as International Literacy Day. Globally, at least 775 million youth and adults, two-thirds of whom are women, cannot read and write. Universal literacy was one of the eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015, and it is included in the extended version for 2030.

While reading is required for earning a living and just coping, it can also enrich our lives. Certain books speak to us in a profound way, push our boundaries and awaken in us an awareness of other realities. I find that reading novels, short stories, essays, poetry, plays, journals, biographies and the like helps define me.

Sadly, it seems that many of us who can read do not access such literature. How many of us have read “The Illiad,” “The Aeneid,” “The Confessions,” “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Divine Comedy,” “Paradise Lost,” “The Pilgrim's Progress,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “War and Peace” and other classics of the West and other cultures? I sometimes wonder if it would make any difference to how they see the world and themselves if all politicians were required to read the tragedies of Shakespeare.

“Lit Up” is an account by David Denby of sitting in on 10th grade literature classes in three high schools in the U.S.A. observing teachers challenging, encouraging and enticing bored, self-centred, distracted and often lazy teens to read and discuss some of the classics, to get them out of themselves and into the lives of others. The teachers had to deal with resistance to reading books, economic and social conditions, and a preoccupation with our digital world. While it is unlikely that they will become lovers of books, the students were at least introduced to this form of reading, and a few took to it.

What impressed Denby was the dedication, and the enthusiasm, patience and perseverance of the teachers. Teaching another to read is akin to a mission.

 

Everett Hobbs

Conception Bay South

 

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