The Gift of Reading

November 5, 2008 Updated: November 5, 2008

The Gift of ReadingAt the beginning of 2008, I wrote about my goals for the year. One involved my desire to volunteer to help people learn to read.

My reasoning for setting this goal related to the fact that reading is one of the most precious joys in my life. As a youth, I immersed myself in the science fiction novels of Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert and they helped me to know what it meant to be A Stranger in a Strange Land and to explore the world of Dune. I went back in time to live in the Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. Stephen King scared the hell out of me with books like The Shining and The Dead Zone, not because the supernatural happenings were so horrific (which they were) but because he could take ordinary people, turn their worlds upside down and bring us along to experience it firsthand.

Then there were the books that touched the core of our humanity: The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, the short stories of Raymond Carver, The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger, For One More Day by Mitch Albom and the list goes on.

For many years of my life, as a child and in adulthood, I didn’t relate well to people. I’m one of those people that, in my unflinching honesty, say things that get me into trouble. I always felt safe with books because I could never say the wrong thing. They always accepted me, and they never judged me. They taught me, entertained me, and like best friends, were always there for me. To this day, they still are.

One of the biggest regrets and ironies in my life is that due to being a writer, I don’t have as much time to indulge in reading for pleasure now. That and being a full-time husband and dad and working as a college counselor have exacted their toll on my reading list. But I savor the love of the written word like my wife’s warm embrace in the middle of a crisp winter night. And reading will always be important to me, so much so that I want to help others experience what I cherish.

A few weeks ago, I started tutoring a man through a literacy program in California. Steve (not his real name) has a dream. He wants to go to culinary school and own a restaurant one day. In order to do that, he needs to learn how to read. There’s a lot of shame for him in admitting that he doesn’t know how to do something that for most people comes as easy as brushing their teeth.

It took a lot of courage for him to reach out. He’s motivated and driven to learn, and I have no doubt that he’ll succeed. It’s a privilege for me to be there with him on his journey. And if one day, he can experience just a glimmer of the joy that I get from being transported to a different world through the magic of books, I will feel that I’ve made a difference in the world.

Ray Wong lives in California with his wife and child in California. Any questions or comments please contact Ray at: mywordplay@yahoo.com