The Maple Ridge Library is scheduled to open on Aug. 4. (The News files)

Our View: Literacy a gateway to the wider worlds

Reading books can make your life better, in ways you can measure, in ways you can’t

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadow’s virtual family literacy celebrations are underway this week, running from Jan. 27 to 30.

The events, organized by the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Katzie Community Literacy Society, Family Education & Support Centre, and of course the Maple Ridge Public Library, are aimed at raising awareness of a serious issue.

More than half a million British Columbians have challenges with literacy, with a significant number having difficulty with daily tasks like filling out forms or reading instructions.

Literacy smooths our way through these daily tasks, it opens up new employment possibilities, and it’s a key to education.

Those are good and practical reasons for all of us to value adult literacy, to encourage kids to read and write, and to lobby our political leaders for more resources.

We need to stop people from falling through the cracks, especially early on. We need solid adult literacy programs that are easy to access. We need a comprehensive literacy strategy for the province.

We certainly need steady and reliable funding for libraries, which provide the bulk of books for those with smaller paycheques. Maybe remind your local council of this?

A literate society is one of the cornerstones of a prosperous society, one in which people can find and keep good jobs.

That should be reason enough to promote literacy. But, there are reasons that are just important, although less easily quantified.

How many of you reading this now felt like a book saved you from going stir crazy at some point during the pandemic?

If we couldn’t go out and see our friends, at least we could sink into a fat novel.

There’s a book out there not just for every person, but for every time in that person’s life.

Sometimes you sit down in a comfy chair and pick up a literary classic, determined to finish off some literary classic like Moby Dick or In Search of Lost Time, or A Tale of Two Cities.

Then there are times when we’re saved by pure escapist reading – when all you want is a farmboy with a magic sword and quest, or a seemingly mismatched couple who could never, not in a million years, fall for one another, or a little old lady in an English village mulling over the question of who poisoned the vicar.

If you’ve ever heard some books derided as escapism, then this was the year for us all to speak up and say “Yes, I needed escape quite badly, actually!”

Books allow us to broaden our horizons without ever leaving the confines of our homes. It’s difficult to measure the impact books have on our well-being, but we know it’s real, the same way we know that family and friends and pets and a supportive community make us feel better, healthier, more whole.

Literacy is the foundation of an economy, yes, but it’s also the foundation of citizenship – in the broadest sense of the term.

Fiction and non-fiction allow us to learn about people outside of our own lives, to empathize with others, to experience fear and pain and loss at a safe remove, but to keep those lessons.

A society without literacy is poorer than one with a rich legacy of reading, and it’s not something you can measure simply in dollars and cents.

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