Thursday, May 28, 2009

America Has a Reading Problem

The first time I had exposure to illiteracy in America was 20 years ago in drug treatment. At that time, part of recovery was group therapy in which members took turns reading from Alcoholics Anonymous’ “Big Book”. As we passed the book it became obvious that over half of the 20-25 participants could only read at the barest of minimums. I clearly remember those of us who could read helping those who couldn’t sound out words.

I learned the scene playing out in drug treatment was far from unusual. These statistics from the National Right to Read Foundation paint a grim picture:
• 42 million American adults cannot read at all; another 50 million read at the level of a fourth or fifth grader.
• The number of functionally illiterate adults increases by 2.25 million every year.
• 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.

Being unable to read or being functionally illiterate leads to a host of other problems and as research by the National Institute for Literacy illustrates:
• 70% of prisoners in both the federal and state systems are classified as illiterate.
• 85% of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
• 43% of those who literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.

As an author such staggering statistics cannot be ignored. For that reason when Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) contacted me about promoting the importance of literacy I was more than happy to oblige. Leslie Clay, Director of Community Development says, “We are very proud of the fact that more than 7,000 adults learned to read at LIFT this year. When you factor in children whose parents learned how to read to them through our Family Literacy program, the number of lives LIFT touched is closer to 10,000. It is both an amazing and sad fact that 49% of Dallas county cannot read better than a 4th grader and Texas now holds the distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with regards to the number of high school dropouts.”

The miserable statistics in Texas mirror what is occurring in the rest of the country. I plan to get involved as a volunteer helping others to read and promoting programs such as those sponsored by LIFT and other such organizations. I encourage you to become active in literacy organizations in your own area and help eradicate America’s tragic reading problem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Next Wave In Publishing?

ABC News did a story on Wednesday about a very different kind of book. On Thursday, May 21st The Obama Time Capsule will be released, recounting President Obama’s historic campaign and election with one distinct difference – each book is personalized with the buyer’s photographs and text. No two copies of the coffee table book will be alike because each copy is printed one at a time, after the book is ordered.

What the book does is weave together the story and photographs of the Obama campaign with those of the buyer/author. Publishing insiders believe such books herald the new wave of publishing, in which books are personalized to the unique end user.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alcoholism Too Ordinary?

Recently I found a blog post regarding “The Saving Grace of Sobriety” that I’d written in April. The upshot was the alcoholism portrayed in Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace was nothing out of the ordinary and the Pierson’s apparently, didn’t suffer enough.

The novel was inspired by a true story which includes the alcoholism of blood relatives such as Kay and Paul’s and the four generations that scar the family’s past and present. If four generations of broken lives isn’t enough suffering, what is? We’ve buried one sibling and our parents would tell you there is no anguish comparable to the grief of losing a child.

We’re in the midst of an intervention with another blood relative and again, unless you’ve lived it, most people have no idea of the trauma involved in attempting to save a loved one from them, because we know we might fail. Unless the person has hit bottom enough times and decides their life is worth living, beyond an intervention there is not much else we can do. We can’t stop that family member from ultimate destruction if that’s the path they choose.

But in writing a book outside of a memoir an author has to make decisions about what details to include and what details to leave out (unless you’re Jonathan Frey and your travails of drug treatment are certainly interesting, but they’re also completely false). In Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, the focus was on keeping those details that were important to story being told, while also moving the narrative forward.

So reading that the Pierson’s family history of alcoholism is too ordinary is almost laughable. No one ever looks at drug treatment and says, “Now there’s something I haven’t tried”. For both Kay and Paul the road leading to a drug treatment program is one of few remaining options. True, it’s family driven and not as dramatic as being forced into treatment by the state, but drug treatment means things have reached a breaking point.

The opinions of this particular blogger are, like anything, as relevant as their experience. Another person (in this case a book reviewer) found the alcoholism addiction sub-plot too gruesome and depressing. Opinions at opposite ends of the spectrum but one thing I can tell you - no one goes into drug treatment because they want to. They go to try and save what’s left of their lives, and if that’s boring or too gruesome, so be it.