International Literacy Day

Literacy Day

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.
– Kofi Annan

Happy International Literacy Day, fellow readers, writers, and thinkers! Created by UNESCO and first celebrated in 1966, International Literacy Day aims to promote adult learning, specifically through the power of literature (duh). This day also draws attention to those that are without any literacy skills. Over 775 million adults worldwide do not know how to read, with two-thirds of that number being women. Nearly 60 percent of individuals living in sub-Saharan Africa are not able to read, and lack access to proper education overall. What International Literacy Day seeks to do is not to stack books onto people (see what I did there?), but to promote a more literate society as well as equal access to education to both children and adults, boys and girls and men and women alike.

In general, literacy is a crucial skill to possess – this year the theme of the day is sustainable development, meaning that literacy is a primary pillar for understanding the world around us and achieving the ability to make economic, political, and developmental decisions on both a personal and societal level.

Fortunately for me, my parents constantly emphasized reading when I was growing up. Every night before I could read, my dad would sit with me on my Beauty and the Beast bed comforter and read a book to me, and once I could read, he would sit with me while I read to him. It is an activity that I continuously indulge in to this day – not the reading to my dad, but just reading in general. I have hundreds upon hundreds of books that span every genre, both fiction and nonfiction, from Jane Austen to Chuck Palahniuk.

Because reading and writing have been two passions of mine for years, I want to take a moment to point out why we all should turn to books a little more. Or newspapers, or even your Kindle. But something more than the daily Facebook updates, tweets, or the back of your morning cereal box. For one, reading provides a great deal of mental stimulation. Now while I’m sure there are plenty of other ways you can think to stimulate yourself or someone else, for that matter, all the orgasms in the world are not going to prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia as much as a good book can. As cheesy as it sounds, our brain is a muscle, and it is up to us to exercise it. Not only that, but reading has been shown to reduce stress, primarily because fiction tends to take us away from our own reality, where we can visit the estate of the mysterious Jay Gatsby, feel the angst of Holden Caulfield, or understand the insecurities of Anna Karenina. Reading also improves our memory as well as our analytical thinking skills. And for the more touchy-feely people out there like myself, finding a book (or books) we love can actually make us more empathetic. Just another excuse for me to get swept up in imaginary relationships.

To celebrate this day, I am continuing my read of Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. Published in 1922 as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel, the story details the life of socialite Anthony Patch and is rumored to be based on Fitzgerald’s own relationship with his wife Zelda. From what I can tell so far, the writing is not only incredibly beautiful – for example:

There were opera cloaks stitched of myriad, many-colored silks and furs; there were jewels dripping from arms and throats of ear-tips of white and rose; there were innumerable broad shimmers down the middles of innumerable silk hats; there were shoes of gold and bronze and red and shining black; there were the high-piled, tight-packed coiffures of many women and the slick, watered hair of well-kept men – most of all there was the ebbing, flowing, chattering, chuckling, foaming, slow-rolling wave effect of this cheerful sea of people as tonight it poured its glittering torrent into the artificial lake of laughter.

But the story, while written nearly a century ago, is incredibly relatable. While I am by no means a millionaire living the high life in New York, I do appreciate Fitzgerald’s recurring theme of such an extenuated admiration for the past that the present is lost and forgotten. After all, you are reading a blog written by a woman that knows all things nostalgic. The character of Anthony Patch is far more than money and decadence, but his story is an evolutionary one of love and tragedy and what realizations you reach when all you have left in life is to wait. Wait for absolution, for a change, for a woman, for an inheritance, for anything to give that “present” meaning again.

This novel has not only transported me to a different place and time, but it also helps to know that no matter where people are placed in society, we all endure similar emotions and similar fates.

And while I do realize that this post has rapidly fallen to a pseudo-review of The Beautiful and Damned, my overarching point is how beneficial literacy skills are. And while we do have one day a year dedicated to the promotion of such skills, we should remember that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. I mean, you are already one of the most privileged individuals in the world if you have the ability to not only read this, but access this blog. Just as I am one of the most privileged individuals for being able to compose this. And maybe what we can take away from this day – and hopefully every day hereafter – is a greater appreciation for our abilities, our education, and what we can do to help others gain the same opportunities we have been able to partake in for years.

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