Jack Knox: Confessions of a full-contact reader (books will be damaged)

I am a full-contact reader.

If I find a book gripping, I will grip it right back, squeezing and bending it until the words cry uncle and run off the page.

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I have broken more spines than a rodeo bull, torn off more jackets than John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Really, you should see what it looks like after I have finished with a page-turner: dog-eared, coffee-stained, unglued. The book is in bad shape, too.

The more I like a book, the worse it is for wear. For example, on my desk at this moment is a copy of M.A.C. Farrant’s One Good Thing — a witty, whimsical, wistful memoir/collection of reflections written in the form of 64 letters to Times Colonist gardening columnist Helen Chesnut — that looks as though it just lost a fight with a cement mixer. Similarly, Susan Lundy’s Home on the Strange appears to have taken a refreshing if unexpected dip in a lake and then been used to flail a rat to death. Librarians weep at the sight of me. Book stores take out restraining orders.

In short, I am the last ­person who should write about the Times Colonist Literacy Society, an organization that depends on readers to keep their books in good condition, then donate them for our annual charity sale. Having me pitch that cause is like having an anti-vaxxer do a promo for Science World.

Except, of course, the pandemic has prevented the Times Colonist from staging a book sale for the past couple of years. That’s bad news for the literacy programs that have come to rely on the money generated by the event. Since the first book sale in 1998, more than $5 million has been distributed to schools and literacy organizations on Vancouver Island. Without the sale, there’s just not as much money to go around, even if the need remains as high.

The good news? Even without a 2020 book sale the Times Colonist Literacy Society still managed to distribute $241,000 to 146 recipients. That was down from close to $300,000 the year before, but given the pandemic-driven disaster we feared, it felt like the Miracle of Dunkirk — though in our case we were rescued not by little boats but by donations from generous TC readers, $15,000 from G0lf For Kids, $30,000 from Russell Books (which bought sight-unseen all the donations to a scaled-down book drive) and $102,000 in Education Ministry matching funds funnelled through Decoda Literacy Solutions.

The success of this year’s campaign will depend on that generosity being repeated. (FYI, donations can be made online at canadahelps.org/en/dn/36542, or by mailing a cheque to the Times Colonist Literacy Society, 201-655 Tyee Rd., Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.)

More good news: It is now the time of year when schools and literacy programs may apply for the next round of grants. A form was just posted at timescolonist.com. Applications will be accepted until the end of November.

It’s amazing how much grant recipients can squeeze out of relatively small amounts of money. I have an enduring memory of interrupting an enthusiastic middle-school teacher as she used materials purchased with book-drive money to work one-on-one with a girl whose reading level had been badly lagging, but who was now rapidly catching up thanks to those daily sessions. Most of the success was due to the dedication of the teacher and the way she had inspired buy-in in the student, but it was gratifying to provide her with the tools she needed to do her job. It was also easy to imagine the rest of that girl’s life had she been left behind.

Instead, the girl had a big stack of books that she was eager to read at home. In my imagination, she is now a full-contact reader.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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