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The Gift of Reading

By Lisabet Sarai

The other day I went to a big city hospital for an evaluation. It was a huge, crowded place, busy enough to be rather confusing. Everywhere on the walls were signs, telling patients where to go, what procedures to follow, which windows were to be used for submitting prescriptions, which ones for picking up XRays, which for making same-day versus future appointments, and so on.

I managed to accomplish my objectives without too much of a problem. As I sat waiting for my turn to speak to the doctor, though, gazing at all the signs, I suddenly realized how much harder the entire process would have been if I had been unable to read.

My parents taught me to read when I was five. I haven't stopped since. I generally read several books a week for entertainment. That doesn't include the newspapers, technical documents, research papers and professional journals I read—nor all the websites and blogs. I tend to take reading skill for granted. But my experience at the hospital reminded me that not everyone is fortunate enough to be literate.

The recent film “The Reader” vividly depicts the limitations imposed by illiteracy. Kate Winslet plays a woman in her thirties who somehow never learned to read. She seduces a younger man by asking him to read aloud—never revealing the true reason that she needs his services. Her shame causes her to ultimately push him away, though he loves her deeply. Being illiterate makes her life difficult and ultimately results in her being sent to prison for crimes that she did not commit. Ultimately she teaches herself to read while she is imprisoned, providing a ray of hope in what is otherwise a rather dark movie.

Lately my charity efforts have been focused on disasters. But I've been thinking that I'd like to start supporting literacy projects. I'd be happy if anyone who reads this can recommend effective, well-run organizations that promote reading and enhanced literacy. Google turns up a bunch of them, but I don't have any way to evaluate their efficacy.

Meanwhile, I'm newly grateful that my parents helped me to acquire my lifelong love of reading. As I get older and I can do less physically, I reassure myself with the notion that when I'm really ancient, I'll finally get the chance to tackle all those books that I haven't gotten to yet. This may be naive, but I find the thought extremely comforting.

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