Tuesday, October 23, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: We've been talking about the unexpected delights books have given us, the worlds opened and explored through the printed page. As readers, we take the accessibility of this world for granted--for most of us our slogan is "Too many books, not enough time."

But what if those worlds lay behind a closed door, and no one gave us the key?

What if you not only couldn't read a book, but couldn't read signs, fill out forms, or decipher labels in the supermarket? Life for those who can't read is more than limited--it may seem impossible to navigate.

Weekend before last, I was honored to participate in a fundraiser for adult literacy, the Buns and Roses Romance Tea, the proceeds of which benefit the Richardson Adult Literacy Center and the literacy programs of the Richardson Public Library.  (The "buns", by the way, are scones. But as most of the attending authors write romance, feel free to interpret more liberally.)

This wasn't the first time over the years that I've been involved in literacy fundraisers, but this event struck a particular chord.  This was my hometown library, the library where as a child I made weekly trips with my grandmother and was allowed to check out as many books as I could carry. Without those books, my life would be unimaginably different.

The speakers, especially keynote speaker Sarah MacLean, told moving stories about what the written word meant to them. We wore hats, drank tea, and bought books. (Here I am with the lovely ladies of a book club who bought my table.) And at the end of the day, we raised a good deal of money which I hope will open a door or two for someone else.

The grand raffle prize was a week in a fabulous sounding Scottish cottage called Corrydon Lodge. I didn't win. I have high hopes for next year. It sleeps ten, so all my best friends better raise their hands now.



  1. Those who labor to unlock the mysteries of the written word . . . either to adults through literacy programs or to children in classrooms around the world or to anyone else in any other setting . . . bring a gift of incalculable worth to those with whom they seek to share the marvels of reading. I simply cannot imagine a world in which I could not read a book . . . .

  2. Last year I did a benefit for Raising a Reader -- a nonprofit group with a goal of bringing books into homes and helping parents read to their children. "Raising A Reader’s vision is that one day all children will enter kindergarten in love with the printed page and ready to learn to read." It's so simple and elegant. http://www.raisingareader.org

  3. So your book club ladies wear hats and enjoy high tea and mine - well, they were high but they weren't drinking tea! But the love of books is the same. What a great program. And raising a reader sounds terrific..must check that out.

  4. Deborah,
    Raising hand whether I count or not for the cottage!

    I have always said (to myself) that if I ever won the lottery, part of my winnings would go to improving literacy. I can't imagine my life without reading and books. It would be so much less than it is. I was so lucky that I learned to read at age 3 and that my mother has always been a big reader and that was passed on to my sister and myself. In fact, I have a very clear memory of the first day of kindergarten where the mothers all attended. The teacher held up a sign saying "It is normal that your children will be nervous about coming to school." and since I could read it (even though the idea of the sign was that only the adults would understand it), I felt that I had passage into a special world where being able to read would always give me an advantage. Reading is a great gift and it should be available for everyone.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  5. For so many illiterate adults, English is a second language. I think a fairly high number of the people served by this program are immigrants. Unless they learn to read, they can't get good jobs, help their children with schoolwork, pass a driving test... so the Richardson Adult Literacy Center teaches adults to read, write, and speak English, and it's all volunteer. Avon Books was one of the sponsors of the fundraiser.

  6. I hope I get to go again next year, whether as an author or a guest. Either way you can buy raffle tickets, and I really want to win that week at Corrydon Lodge:-)

  7. I did a fundraiser once for the Book Em Foundation,in New Hampshire, which raises money to improve literacy in prisons - because, not surprisingly, there is a high correlation between illiteracy and crime. (As in, no other options...)

    Great Work Debs, great cause

  8. What a great event! I've always appreciated that so many of the mystery cons sponsor an auction to raise funds for local literacy programs, whether for kids or adults. There is no community that doesn't have a need.

  9. It is not only literacy programmes that help but volunteers for the blind community. For several years I read for the Talking Newspapers on a voluntary basis. Someone edited the local weekly newspaper and we volunteered to read on a five-weekly rota system. It was amazing how many grammatical mistakes there are in a newspaper once you read an article out loud!

  10. Such a worthy cause! (And with buns too!)

    I can imagine many things, but I can't imagine what it would be like to be illiterate. What saddens me are the kids who go through school and can still barely read--I don't understand how that can be. Are our schools that bad? Are these kids being misdiagnosed, their needs neglected?

  11. One of my passions is literacy on all levels -- like many of you, I was an early and avid reader, although in my house, chores came before books.
    I am so happy to hear of these wonderful organizations, and look forward to supporting their efforts.

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    And this is just lovely..xo

  14. Debs– such a great thing to do! I love that you volunteered for a wonderful literacy program. Not many things could be better than literacy.

    Literacy is, for many, attainable, while for others - when literacy is seen as the ability to read the printed word – it isn't. As Sally said, there are other ways of being literate. One of those ways is by listening. Until very recently I had to rely on Talking Books for the Blind and Physically Disabled for almost all of my reading. I still rely on them for more than half, because I cannot hold a book open long enough to read more than a few seconds, and a bookstand does not always work the way you think it might. The availability of good screen readers, however, has made many books and newspapers available.

    Commercially recorded audiobooks are wonderful but very expensive. I buy as many as I can afford. I encourage all authors, when you have a choice, to please make your books available to Talking Books. It is a great service, but sometimes they need a little help in finding the popular award-winning books such as those by authors here on Jungle Red Writers.

    There is an added benefit to having your books recorded for the Blind and Physically Disabled, as it often helps writers in promoting their books. People with disabilities buy books for friends and family. We also talk them up and sometimes review them. It's another avenue for you that might not pay off immediately, but at the very least you will know you are doing something worthwhile.

    It's vitally important for people to realize that, while recorded books are available, not all are available. In fact, most are not. Talking Books, one of the best programs for supplying accessible books to people with disabilities, only records and makes available the most popular and usually award-winning books, those with major reviews in major newspapers. I recently worked with Zoë Sharp to promote her books to Talking Books for the Blind and Physically Disabled. It took a very long time but was well worth it. Zoë and her assistant devoted many hours to this project and made it possible for Talking Books to use her commercially-produced CDs, so these recordings are top-notch.

    Debs, as I write I await the arrival on two of your books on recorded CDs that my library is sending me. Very excited that I will soon get to read NOW MAY YOU WEEP and WATER LIKE A STONE. They have been on my TBR list for a long time!

  15. Boone has a wonderful literacy program, and one I've been proud to have been a part of, off and on, since we moved here. One of the gentlemen, whom I will call Bob, I worked with had been a police officer for 19 years - nearing retirement. A new chief of police came in and he let Bob go. Bob could read, but slowly, and comprehension was a problem and therefore took him a longer time to do his reports than his new boss thought appropriate. Sadly, there are many of these types of stories and each one breaks my heart. My maternal grandparents were both illiterate and would wait in the evenings for one of their children to come by and read the newspaper to them. This is a topic close to my heart.

  16. How wonderful you are involved in this fundraiser.

    Reine, glad to see you can also get recorded books via the library. Thanks for telling us about Talking Books too; I had never heard of it. Incidentally, audiobooks are how I discovered both Deb Crombie and Louise Penny: I needed stuff to listen to, and stumbled across them. Now, I am avid fan of both writers. (To clarify, I do not have a disability, but like to listen while cooking or driving.)

    If you like P.D. James and Jane Austin, James' latest book, Death Comes to Pemberly, was a sheer delight. It takes off from Pride and Prejudice with a well-done murder mystery. To make it utter perfection, it was read by Roslyn Landor, my favorite reader/performer of audio books.

  17. Hi Kaye– so sorry to hear about "Bob." Nineteen years sounds awfully close to the 20-year retirement age norm. This happens to many people with disabilities. The person is often grateful to have the job and puts up with a lot of discrimination, while working longer hours for lower than average pay of coworkers. After years of putting extra effort and time into doing the job as well as, or better than, others the disability often becomes an excuse to let go – close to retirement time and earned benefits.

  18. Thanks for pointing this out, Reine, about audiobooks, and their importance.

    One of my book clubs has two blind members. One is nearly 60, and she's been blind since age 9 (and has made a career of writing about disabilities). The other is in her late 70's and her macular degeneration did not start until 15 or so years ago.

    When we choose our next books we always check the library first, to see if they also have audiobooks available so Joy and Deborah can also read the selection and discuss it.

  19. When I lived in a different city, I was a Literacy Volunteer, in their English As a Second Language program. Some of my fellow volunteers had temporarily lived outside of the US (when a spouse had a long-term overseas assignment) and had personally experienced what it is like to be illiterate. They decided to get involved in literacy programs when they returned to the US.

    My student was from South America. She and her husband went from being small business owners in their native country, to having to do menial work in the US because they did not know the language. When I started tutoring her, she chose as her first goal learning the alphabet in English, so that she could spell her name for the pharmacist when picking up her blood pressure medication.

    When I moved to the city where I live now, I could not find a similar volunteer program. However,while at the library I found out about volunteering for Talking Books. As Reine said, only the most popular books are available as Talking Books. Some of the books that my branch recorded had been specially requested by people served by the program. It takes a really long time to make a book available, though, because the readers are volunteers and usually are not able to volunteer more than one hour a week (and it would be a strain to read continuously for a couple of hours at a stretch). And of course, the tapes must be reviewed by someone who checks for mispronunciations, throat clearing, etc (that was what I did), and then the reader must redo any sections that were not right the first time around. I felt sorry for anyone who had a burning desire to hear any books that had to be recorded to order. The wait is so much quicker for someone who reserves an "ordinary" book from the library.

    You can see that there are so many, many important reasons to support literacy programs.

  20. Is it too late to raise my hand? That would be the greatest vacation, ever!

  21. Hand up high to join you in the cottage, Debs, even though I'm coming in late today. (I'm in a maze of events myself right now and flitting about as if fleeing a hive of bees.)

    Literacy KC has a big event showcasing new readers and a connected fundraiser, both in connection with The Writers Place in Kansas City. I always love to work with those. I think most writers do.

    The writer who works hardest for literacy, I think, is the amazing Julie Garwood, multi-NYT bestseller, absolute doll, and a woman who couldn't read until she was twelve years old. To hear her tell her story is absolute inspiration.

    Off to bed because I've got another out-of-town event tomorrow (my birthday), so I'll probably only get to visit late again. I miss you all at times like these when I can't start my day with the Reds and their backbloggers. xoxo