I was a small child when I learned how to read. I couldn’t understand much of what I was reading at first; but an astute teacher gave me the opportunity to develop my skills using a special reading program. I read and answered questions about what I was reading. When I got it wrong I could just do it again and again until I got it right. As I answered more of the comprehension questions correctly, my confidence grew, and I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I was hooked. Reading became my passion and I much preferred to read instead of watching television. I did watch television, but I read much, much more. I even volunteered in the school libraries in junior high and high school just to have access to books.
When I was ten my parents gave me a set of Reader’s Digest books written for young readers. It was a Christmas present. I was thrilled when I opened that box. I didn’t know it yet but those books were to open the door to many adventures. They were abridged versions of many classics that I would later find on my high school reading list. I managed to read a number of them in their unabridged versions, too.
I had been given a treasure. Through those books I learned about the world in a way that I could not have done in any other way at that age and in my family’s circumstances. In my mind I could be any one of the many characters in those books. I imagined myself as a French man who, along with a partner, developed a vaccine to prevent rabies or a Polish scientist who, with her husband, discovered a radioactive substance that now helps to diagnose illness. I sailed on the high seas around the tip of South America, and explored the jungles of the Amazon. I took a dog sled trip across the Arctic, and another time pirates kidnapped me. I sewed sheets for soldiers during the Civil War while I waited for my father to come home from battle. My family was shipwrecked and learned how to use the remains of our capsized ship to make a home for us and to thrive on the island where we had washed up. I got so involved in the stories that I was oblivious to the passage of time.
Books helped me to escape bad times and allowed my mind and heart to take a break from sad times. They also helped me to develop my sense of fairness, of morals and ethics and my awareness that all humans have certain basic rights that we must all respect if we are to live healthy and productive lives–lives that have meaning for ourselves and others. Books helped me to see what motivates people to think and act in different ways in different circumstances. This was important because some of the main people in my life were not role models I could look to for guidance and a pattern to emulate.
Books of many different kinds have provided the information I needed to be successful in many areas of my life. This is true for everyone I know and for many people I don’t know personally but admire.
I worry that too many children and adults in our world do not have any reading skills, or enough reading skills, to succeed in life because they do not have enough access to teachers and books. Books. Books. Books. With books people can figure out how to read, with even a little help and encouragement, if they want to. With a stick and some sand or dirt people can teach others to read. But to a person learning to read, having a book to hold and study when she/he wants, and being able to understand even a little of what the words say, may provide a huge incentive to develop this most crucial, life-changing skill of reading. I believe spreading the skill of reading around the globe could mean the end of war.
Imagine what it would be like if we could have a world-wide day of reading where billions of people spent the day reading. No fighting, just reading. Communities could have silent read-ins. Areas could be set aside for people to read aloud from their favorite authors or books. People could enter contests to write books and plays and poetry and stories that would be read on the Great Reading Day. Gifts of books would be exchanged between families and friends in honor of this wonderful event. People would work together throughout communities to prepare for the day. Afterwards a special feast would be celebrated. Special music would be written and performed in honor of the celebration. It would be so successful that people who didn’t know how to read would demand to learn so they could participate in the next year’s Great Reading Day.
As more people around the world learned to read the demand for books would grow and more people would to write books and other forms of reading material. There would be a growing demand for places to store and retrieve books; so communities would start to set aside more money and build libraries. People would demand more quality schools and the money would have to come from taxes; so the budget for wars would have to be greatly reduced.
To make it easier for people all over the world to gain access to the information they need to understand each other and the projects we all work on, books, journals, magazines, papers, etc. would be made available online so that people could read from the original sources. Government documents would be available to citizens so they could learn what our governments were doing on our behalf. People around the world would come to understand that we all have more in common than we have been taught to believe, and there would be a global push to create a world that is truly worthy of us.
A pipe dream some might say. But I’d rather believe in this possibility than the ones that our leaders constantly put before us.
Books. Books. Books.