A love of literacy can be the key to success and happiness

December 23, 2016

I am a great believer in the transformative power of reading. There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship with a person’s happiness and success.

In particular, research has indicated clearly the dangers of poor literacy and the benefits of improving it for the individual, the community, the workforce and the nation.

Moreover, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reading for pleasure has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of a child. Improvements in literacy – at any point in life – can have a profound effect on an individual. As Franz Kafka says: “A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

But books need champions, especially in this era of fast-consumption television and distracting computer games.

And one very special champion is the legendary soprano Miss Renee Fleming, who was honoured by The New York Public Library as a “Library Lion” for her passionate love of books. The Library Lion is an annual award given during a gala in celebration of “exceptional men and women” in the arts and general culture.

Miss Fleming has written her own book: The Inner Voice, which was published in 2004. It is a frank account of growing up, learning her craft, and life as a world-class opera singer. The book was greeted with enthusiasm. She was lauded not just for her frankness in revealing just what it takes to make a star (“Not just natural talent and hard work, but tenacity, resilience, and luck”) but also the beguiling way in which it was written.

She has been featured in promotional campaigns for the Association of American Publishers (Get Caught Reading), and the Magazine Publishers of America’s READ poster campaign for the American Library Association. In that, she was depicted as Dvorak’s Rusalka (The Little Mermaid). She has also applauded the work of Literacy Partners in New York.

Miss Fleming has explained her passion for books: “Reading was a lifeline to me in childhood. Because I was innately timid, the world of books enabled me to dream and imagine the outside world, and what my life might hold. When I was in third grade, a librarian put CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in my hand and changed my young life. I then read in the dark, on long car trips, in class — whenever I could.”

This a feeling I know very well. The most inspirational gifts I receive are usually books. The joy of sharing favourite titles with friends, and allowing each other the mental space to turn over the first page is very rewarding as very often, a good book can change one’s life in an unexpected way.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation