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I recently read a couple of books back-to-back that had unexpected resonance. I didn’t choose them deliberately-both came at random from friends and gradually worked their way to the top of the precarious stack on my bedside table. One was Life Is So Good by George Dawson, the centenarian who finally learned to read and write when he was 98 years old. The other was The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, a contemporary German novelist.The Dawson book is what you’d expect-a century of prevailing against daily prejudice in the American South and finding the good in life and people. It’s a sweet, heartening story. The passage that stopped me cold was the one in which the author described traveling to Ohio back in the 1930s, finding for the first time in his life a cafe where Negroes were welcome to sit right up front, and leaving in shame because he could not read the menu.The Reader is trickier. You don’t catch on until you’re deeply into the book that the woman the story focuses on is illiterate; she has kept her secret well and at great cost. In fact, she allows herself to be convicted as a Nazi war criminal rather than reveal that she can’t read or write. Again, there’s a deep sense of shame that shakes up the value hierarchy of people like me for whom reading is second nature.I’m a reading slut, I confess it. I’ll read anything at any time. Trashy murder mysteries, cereal box ingredients, three newspapers a day, self-help nonsense, best-sellers, all kinds of magazines, even good literature too. Some of my reading is about gaining information or forming new ideas, but a lot of it is simply reflexive, like scratching. I can’t even venture to guess what proportion of my waking hours are spent with written words making their way from the page or screen through my optic nerves to some obscure file cabinet or rubbish bin in my brain. It’s a constant process, an addiction that I take totally for granted. Bet you do, too, given the business you’re in. Here we are consuming words like gluttons, making more words as fast as we can, scheming to get the maximum number of readers to buy and consume our words-not necessarily giving a lot of thought to those who simply can’t.And the number who can’t is staggering. Visiting one of the 1,320,000 literacy Websites on the Internet, I learned that something like 44 million adults in this country can’t write a check, decipher a food label, or read a bedtime story to their kids, much less avail themselves of the good books we spend our days creating.So what does this have to do with PMA, as a publishers’ organization? A little or a lot, depending on how you feel about it. Is this an issue that we should be addressing? If so, how? Share your thoughts. E-mail me (LindaL@interweave.com) or the PMA office. We’ll bring your input to the next board meeting. If it’s your wish, we’ll make something good happen.

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