With town literally coming to life all around us (if you consider the sound of buzz saws and leafblowers, beeping trucks, and the shouts of PSE&G workers from the treetops “life”), it makes me want to go outside (avec earplugs), find a good bench (I’m partial to the ones by Borough Hall; that lovely stone path makes me feel like I’m in a Parisian garden), and just read. Now, I don’t need the rapid approach of spring to put me in the mood to flip the pages—I am in a perpetual state of bookishness, regardless of season. I very simply like to be around books all of the time (and there is a room in my house to prove it), whether they are my favorites (A Secret History by Donna Tartt; Naked by David Sedaris; Lamb by Christopher Moore; Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë), or those still waiting to be devoured (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman; The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer). I can’t remember the exact moment when I learned to read—when the jumble of letters on the page finally made sense, made words—but I do remember those books that transported me to another time and place entirely (A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, The Lord of the Flies), and nurtured a love of reading in me that is so strong that even when I am cross-eyed with fatigue at the end of a long day of blogging and mom-ing, I want nothing more than to open my book du jour and read myself into a blissful sleep.
My fabulous sister-in-law, Christina, has much the same history with books and reading as I do, which is part of the reason why she decided to become a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers in Mercer County (LVMC). Her main motivation, however, was something I found shocking: Approximately 41 million people in the United States lack the literacy skills required to fill out an application, understand a prescription label, or read a story to their kids. And, the New Jersey literacy rates are on par with the national averages, as 40% of New Jersey’s adults lack the literacy skills required by our state’s labor market. Mercer County itself has a growing population of adults whose ability to read and write English is below the sixth-grade level, and that’s where LVMC comes in: With more than 200 dedicated tutors like Christina working with 465 active students, progress is being made. Helping literacy students (which, according to LVMC, starts with “listening, speaking, reading, and writing”) can open up an entirely new world for a person. Some students are native English speakers who need help reading and writing; many students, as in the case of Christina’s, learn English as their second language, so it’s a different process involving new vocabulary and pronunciation. Sadly, there are never enough tutors to help all of those who want and need to learn. The waiting list rarely dips below 125 people who request tutoring assistance, and sometimes it can take months or up to a year to locate a match.
Which is why it is therefore imperative that tomorrow, March 19, and Saturday, March 20 we head over to Barnes & Noble at the Princeton Marketfair (3535 Route 1, Princeton; 609-897-9250) for the LVMC Book Fair. There will be an event with Chris Donnelly, author of Baseball’s Greatest Series, and a wish list display so you can help fill the LVMC tutor library and they, in turn, can assist more Mercer County residents. And print out the special voucher attached here (barnes and noble(3).jpg; good at any B&N store) so that when you purchase a book on either Friday or Saturday, a percentage of the net sales will be donated to the LVMC. I’d say it’s a win-win for everybody: You get a great book to tuck into, and someone gets the chance to learn how to read.
So, whether you want to become a literacy tutor yourself (the Spring 2010 LVMC Tutor Training Course begins in April; check out princetonol.com/groups/lvamc or call 609.587.6027 to learn more), or you just want to find that next great—or perhaps life-changing—read and give a little bit back in the process, head to Barnes & Noble tomorrow. You’ll find me under the fake trees in the children’s section curled up with my latest tome (to wit, Generation A by Douglas Coupland). —JH