Reading for a better life

Reading for pleasure has always held a central place in my life, but I’ve long realized that it’s not so for everyone. In spite of the evidence however, reading does seem to be alive and well, at least in wonky Washington D.C. People packed the various tents at the National Book Festival this weekend, listening to authors read from their works and checking out resources to encourage reading, especially for kids.

According to the National Education Association, children who read regularly at home are more successful in school. Parents who want to give their kids that head start were out in full force at the festival, taking advantage of booths sponsored by PBS, Scholastic and other purveyors of kid fare.

Scholastic’s slogan for its global literacy campaign is “Read Every Day, Lead a Better Life,” a simple but profoundly true statement. Their research shows that kids who grow up in homes where there are lots of books tend to stay in school longer than children who don’t have that advantage. Plus, the more you read, the better reader you become, which has important implications for us as a society.

Proliteracy.org cites statistics that 43% of the people with the lowest literacy live in poverty. Low literacy also leads to increased health care costs, including a 50% increase in risk for hospitalization. Low literacy reduces our national productivity, and leads to lower civic engagement. While adult literacy programs are very important and effective, getting young children hooked on reading is really the key to turning those statistics around.

Every state was represented at the festival, promoting humanities and literacy, touting notable books about their states, and celebrating famous authors who hail from their states. Programs like “One Maryland, One Book 2012”, a statewide community reading program, were also on display.

When I visited, Sandra Cisneros was reading from her book in the Literature tent, while Douglas Brinkley was discussing his new biography of Walter Conkrite in another. Meanwhile, people were waiting in line outside the huge Barnes and Noble tent, just to get in so that they could buy books!

The great thing about reading is that it offers such a world of possibilities. We can learn about the lives of actual people, we can read fantasies about worlds that don’t exist, we can experience the rhythms of poetry, or we can enjoy the exploits of superheroes. There truly is something for everyone inside the cover of a book.

For me, reading is a distraction from stress, a journey into other lives, a source of ideas, and at times, pure joy. I read every day, and I think I have a better life because of it.

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