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Posts Tagged ‘literacy’

Great books are hard to find on today’s shelves

In Business, Children and Family, Economy, Education, Entertainment, Literature, Local News, Opinion, Senior Lifestyle, sociology, Technology on March 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

"Flights of Fiction" is an anthology of stories set in southwest Ohio by local authors from the Western Ohio Writers Association. It will hit shelves in mid-April 2013 and features local talent and production.

“Flights of Fiction” is an anthology by local authors will hit shelves in mid-April 2013.

Books are incredible things. They can make you laugh and cry. They can whisk you off to faraway places with strange sounding names and introduce you to characters and worlds that only exist in the mind’s eye.

This month, Disney released the film version of Oz, The Great and Powerful, a prequel story to the more familiar tale of Dorothy Gale’s trip down the Yellow Brick Road. Author L. Frank Baum wrote his 14 originally published Oz books between 1900 and 1920 and each one carried us over the rainbow to a world of magic and adventure.

Of course, it was movie magic that brought the Land of Oz to life on more than one occasion. Even with all of the high-tech special effects and brilliant colors, nothing can replace the written versions of these timeless classics.

Books have a way of exciting the mind and launching the imagination of children and adults alike. Sadly, instead of giving us amazing tales of adventure, modern publishing has turned its attention more towards anything that fits a hot-selling genre rather than keeping an eye out for the next Sherlock Holmes.

When Baum and his contemporaries like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were writing their books, publishers were looking for great writing and engaging stories. Of course they wanted to make money, but they were less likely to sacrifice quality in favor of selling solely for the lowest common denominator. They knew that the best way to grow revenue was to publish a great book.

It seems that today’s publishers are looking, not so much for good literature, but sole marketability. Publishing companies are focusing on the bottom line with through a bit of astigmatism.

People often forget that the business of publishing fiction is part of the entertainment industry and is driven by the buying public. As major publishers shrink in size and revenue, they continue to blame the Internet and self-publishing authors rather than looking in a mirror to realize they’ve done this to themselves.

Occasionally, a publisher will take a chance on a unique story which then turns into a runaway success. The best examples are more recent series books like Harry Potter, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. But once those titles charge up the audience, the publishers start releasing knock-offs or genre-trapped titles based on similar characters and situations to pacify the desire for more of the same.

The problem comes when that’s all they put out, rather than trying to take advantage of a good book-buying market and release something different. All they’re publishing for is cash flow at that point, landing much better manuscripts in the trash bin.

Sadly, there’s really no way to change this trend as long as the public continues to follow hype instead of looking for quality. Until consumers demand better material to read, the status quo will remain low cost, high volume, all buildup and no substance.

So if readers don’t find what they want at the big-box bookstores, they should turn their attention to local authors. After all, everyone talks about buying local and here’s just another way to do that. Thanks to high-quality electronic and self-publishing options, some great local authors are making their work available on a regular basis.

A few minutes in a neighborhood bookstore, even used book shops like Xenia’s, “Blue Jacket Books,” on S. Detroit St., can turn up a treasure trove of locally produced work. From memoires to science fiction local authors have some great work out there to satisfy the hunger of the voracious reader.

Like with larger outlets, local authors can spin some stinkers too, but they often cost less and, even if the book isn’t that great, you’ve helped support the community. Local authors work and live in your community and often hold signings and attend area writing groups. Keep your eyes open. There might just be another L. Frank Baum out there somewhere, yet undiscovered by the big guys. So go hit the local bookstore and remember reading is fundamental.


If Illiteracy Is the Disease, Then Literacy Is the Cure

In Economy, Education, Health, Media, Opinion, Politics on March 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Michael Martin and Gery L. Deer give a public reading of their writing during a Western Ohio Writers Association event, promoting literacy through creative prose.

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines 

Most Americans probably take for granted the ability to read and understand the words on this page. As a writer, I depend on the ability of the media-consuming public for my livelihood. But according to the National Adult Literacy Survey more than 42 million of my fellow Americans will never be able to enjoy (or detest) what I write because they can’t read.

Back in college, I took a job with the school newspaper as a staff writer where I learned a great deal about journalism and the power of the written word. One of the best lessons came from our staff advisor who once said, “No matter what your career or life path, your communications skills, reading and writing, will be your most valuable asset.” She couldn’t have been more correct.

I spent several years in the engineering fields for which I earned my degree, but ultimately I found my place as a full-time business writer, editor and columnist. Unfortunately, I found my calling far later in life than I’d have liked to due to an undiagnosed learning disability that seriously impacted my reading speed and comprehension.

Thousands of Ohio school children with learning disorders that affect their reading and writing skills continue to slip through the proverbial cracks every year, for a multitude of reasons I’ll reserve comment on for another time.

Suffice to say, it’s our own fault, and by “our” I mean the taxpaying public that does far more to insist on a fancier football stadium than to demand instructional accountability and better support for these kids.

Yes, there are laws in place and special education professionals to help identify and establish individualized educational plans for them, but, somehow, that never seems enough. Far too many still grow up unable to interpret the instructions on a can of soup.

Growing up, a person with illiteracy will adopt various coping skills needed to get by, but are never able to fully realize their potential. Illiterate adults have more difficulty finding jobs, developing business relationships or even doing household chores like paying bills.

Many politicians believe that illiteracy is one of those liberal issues, best left to bleeding hearts. In fact, such a staggeringly high number of illiterate citizens can be phenomenally detrimental to productive nation with a stable economy.

As the economy crawls to recovery, illiteracy will continue to keep some people on the unemployment lines, thus, adding one more contributing factor to suffocating fiscal growth. Adults struggling with illiteracy earn, on average, less than $250 per week, work less than 20 weeks per year and are at least ten times more likely to live below the poverty line.

How do we solve the problem? That’s a good question, with no easy solution. It often boils down to manpower and, dare I say it, money. If we think of illiteracy as the disease, then, surely, literacy should be the cure. So the best first step is to seek out help. Whether a child or an adult with a reading problem, there is help available, but sometimes you may have to get things started.

If you believe your child is struggling, meet with his or her teacher as soon as you believe there might be a problem. With tighter budgets, class sizes are increasing and sometimes being pro-active is the best way to get individualized help from an overwhelmed, underpaid faculty. You can also find tutors at local colleges and civic centers.

The same goes for adults as well. Community and career centers, local libraries and even senior citizen organizations are now offering adult literacy classes, either free or at a minimal cost.

And schools can help too by reinforcing the importance in the curriculum of the Three R’s –Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – with sharp emphasis on the first R, which will make the other two far easier to learn.

And, while technological education is important, particularly in today’s world, it might be time to cut back on the advanced computing classes and focus more thoroughly on reading skills. After all, knowing how to click a mouse is pointless if you can’t read what’s on the computer screen.


Independent columnist Gery L. Deer is the founder and director of the Western Ohio Writers Association. More at http://www.westernohiowriters.org.