Another View: In the world, but not entirely of it

By: Linda Frederick Yaffe
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What would life be like if you could not read? In novelist Penelope Lively's “How It All Began,” the character Charlotte teaches adult learners who are just beginning to read.

Sometimes, Charlotte tries to see the words in the way that the members of the class must see them - black marks: shapes, lines, a baffling code that has to be cracked. She compares the mysterious eloquence of a page of Arabic or Japanese, to which one is blind. The members of her class move around shut off from the cacophony of advertising, the instruction of road signs, the information of newspaper headlines. They are in the world, but not entirely of it. Their inability to read is crippling.

For those with low reading skills, the world is a small, scarier place. Lack of reading skills can be dangerous: If, for example, you cannot understand your new prescription's written warnings. Your work day is filled with terror as you make excuses to keep your supervisor and workmates from learning your embarrassing secret: You never really learned to read.

Shockingly, one in five Americans – Americans whose first language is English – cannot read. Twenty-three percent of adult Californians – whose first language is English – have such poor skills they cannot complete a simple one-page job application. You can help by being aware of this all-too-common problem. People who cannot read, their families, our communities and our nation suffer from the lack of meaningful work and low self-esteem caused by poor reading skills. Nationally, billions of dollars are lost each year from the unemployment, crime, public assistance and lost tax revenue due to lack of reading skills.

Reading shapes our lives, all day, every day, with words that inform, advance and delight us.

Tell a friend: Reading matters. Confidential, one-on-one free reading help is available throughout Placer County from Placer Adult Literacy Service: (530) 886-4530 or (530) 320-3267. And tell them that volunteers are always welcome. You can also help by joining the Literacy Support Council of Placer County: become a reading booster who organizes and speaks out for literacy. LSC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a United Way Partner. Give through United Way at your workplace, CA Capitol Region LSC ID#3061, or donate directly to the Literacy Support Council of Placer County, PO Box 5291, Auburn, CA 95604. Email us at