Thursday, December 4, 2008

I write, therefore I am ... but who's reading?!

As a writer -- and blogger -- I often find myself wondering just who my readers really are, and where they are, where they come from, what they want, and so forth. There was a time (not so long ago) when people wrote letters, gave feedback, came out and said what they thought of a story or novel. Those days appear to be gone. You can barely wring a comment out of readers even by offering them entry into a competition with a nice prize, in exchange for a paragraph of feedback; and there's something inestimably sad about this.

Which leaves the writer (blogger, journalist, diarist, editors a large, cover artists ... all of us!) wondering just who's reading, what they like (and don't), how much of the subtlety of our writing is "getting through" even to people who purportedly speak English as a first language, how readers are responding to the more experimental factors of the work, and so on.

(Speaking of subtleties in the writing ... I have nothing but admiration for people who can tackle a novel in a different language. After decades of trying to get a grasp on a couple of languages other than English, I'm nowhere near fluent enough to, say, read the Alatriste novels in the original Spanish, much though I'd like to. So if anyone out there is reading this (or my fiction) in English as a second or third language -- my hat's off to you. It's the native English speakers who worry me a little, when they become readers. If they write the way they post to the online forums, how much sense are they making of the written word?! I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. We've all cringed to read the unpunctuated, phonetically spelled, grammar-free comments which are attached to articles in the popular online press! Where did these people learn to read?!)

Most writers are, these days, blundering along in the dark, making best-guesses and hoping to please readers who are becoming increasingly anonymous. The Internet is a marvellous place for chatting. As a novelist, I would have expected acres of feedback on my novels, and I confess, I've been surprised.

Recently, I've become quite interested in adult literacy ... or, more specifically, illiteracy. I'd never realized the extent to which illiteracy is a problem, and I struggle to understand it. How hard can it be to learn to read?

It turns out, 25 million Americans are totally illiterate! And the "most illiterate" places in the States will take you by surprise. Like, Miami, FL, where the rate is at 63% ... and Detroit, MI, with 47% illiteracy...! And for a statistic to knock you senseless, try this: "The NALS found a total of 21-23 percent - or 40-44 million - of the 191 million American adults (defined as age 16 or older) at Level 1, the lowest literacy level."

To folks like you and me, who take reading so much for granted that it's just part of the landscape, it's incomprehensible.

The better question is, what can be done about it?!

Surely, it all starts with a desire to learn to read -- or, read properly. The availability of programs to teach is one thing. The wanting to learn, is something else. When people have no desire to learn, knowledge won't "stick" ... and since these 44 million Americans are adults, who's going to compel them to even open a picture book?

I find it sad. Thoughts, anyone?

Ciao for now,

1 comment:

literacy advocate said...

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