Making Up for Lost Time: the Rewards of Reading at Last

At the age of 64, a Vermont farmer takes on the demanding task of learning his letters and discovers the new world found in books

Writer Richard Wolkomir ventures out from his Vermont study and into his nearby village community center, chronicling his hours as a volunteer reading tutor to illiterate adults. Under the watchful eye of teacher Sherry Olson, of Central Vermont Adult Basic Education, he works with 64-year-old Ken Adams, a farmer who left school at 16, unable to read and convinced he never would.

As the weeks and months pass, Wolkomir documents the slow, difficult and ultimately liberating process of learning to read. Along the way, he explores the range, and larger implications, of illiteracy. About 40 million U.S. adults read minimally. Another 25-28 percent read and write only slightly better: that means about half of all U.S. adults read haltingly.

Eventually, Ken progresses from his starting point (he knew only the alphabet and a handful of words) to take on picture books, recipes and newspapers. At the story's close, we find him reading to his fellow tutees his new friends a group of poems he has written.

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