September 7 has been designated as International Literacy Day. Normally I don’t commemorate these invented occasions, unless Hallmark has a card I can send. However, since we’re all in the business of writing I thought I’d share a few things.
Most high school graduates in the United States currently read at a sixth-grade level. This probably explains why those of us who write at a tenth-grade level don’t sell too many books, unless they’re illustrated. I also learned that many schools no longer teach cursive writing. Why teach a kid to write when they have two perfectly good thumbs to text with?
Spelling and grammar have apparently gone the way of the full-service gas station as well, judging by some of the e-mails I receive. All of us are old enough to remember when “spell check” meant consulting the dictionary or thesaurus. I still do, just to remember what it was like. Research consisted of looking something up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I will admit to using Wikipedia and I visit web sites when I need specific details, but I keep a library of printed material that serves the same purpose.
Speaking of spelling, acronyms appear to have become the new shorthand. I’m not sure if these were born of speed, limited text space or sheer laziness, but I ran across a list of the most popular. They range from the innocuous (LOL, ROFL, LMAO, Thx, Plz) to the terse (wtf, gth, noydb, gfy), with a detour into mindless (btw, fyi, tmi, idk, hmu). Give yourself a point for each one you guess correctly. They’ve even spawned some new words – dunno (don’t know), lemme (let me), noob (newbie), 2nte (tonight) 2moro (tomorrow) and L8r (later).
Sales of video games and other visual entertainment (such as DVDs and movies-on-demand) continue to outpace book sales. Why read something, where you have to concentrate on what’s being described, when you can lie back and watch it with no thought process involved? Just let it wash over you without using your gray matter.
Many states have instituted proficiency minimums before someone can graduate high school or go to college. This is a good thing but many of these tests focus on science, math and technology to give the students a competitive edge. All well and good but in most states, English and fine arts are not on the list, and that’s sad.
I became an avid reader while growing up and I haven’t limited my choices to books. I read a print newspaper every day, and I don’t mind waiting at the Doctor’s office if there are a few good magazines around. I credit my parents with this, especially my father, who was a professional educator. The words “book report” didn’t elicit a groan from me like it did my classmates, as long as the story was interesting. It also opened a whole new universe for me, for which I’m grateful.
Although I enjoy watching movies and TV, there is still nothing as satisfying as reading a well written story and using my imagination to fill in the blanks. I enjoy visualizing the scenes and the action, and casting the characters to my liking. Physical descriptions are great, but allow me the pleasure of picturing my favorite actor or actress in the written roles. It’s better than seeing someone else’s concept.
Several years ago I participated in a nationwide program sponsored by Wal-Mart to promote literacy. The local event was done in conjunction with Project Read and the library system. Participating authors were given the opportunity to appear at Wal-Mart stores, read from one of our books, answer questions and hopefully sell a copy or two. It didn’t really come off as planned, and the following week I figured out why. This is the e-mail I received from someone at Wal-Mart headquarters:
“Thank you for participating in literay day!”
So much for the sixth-grade reading level.
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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from mystery/thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. His website is www.timsmithauthor.com.