Struggling readers are helped by writers who also had to struggle with words

Feb. 15, 2014 @ 11:39 PM

Orange County is blessed, they say, with many great writers who call our area home. Of course, many moved here from some other place. Daniel Wallace, for instance, grew up in Alabama, where he set his first novel, “Big Fish.”
Then there are others who grew up with us and then moved someplace else, like Jay Leutze, who now lives in Avery County. It is the scene of his compelling and highly praised “Stand Up this Mountain,” a non-fiction account of a long, complicated, and successful effort to save a treasured mountainside from a quarrying operation.
Of the few well-known authors who have spent their lives here, Sarah Dessen, may be the most successful. This New York Times Best Selling author has eleven published novels to her credit, including her most recent, “The Moon and More.”
Some of our neighbors still remember when Dessen was a student at Chapel Hill High or when she was waiting tables at local restaurant. Even those who predicted her success might be taken aback by a recent New York Times reviewer’s description of her as “a seasoned young adult author.”
“Isn’t she too young to be seasoned?” they might ask.
But seasoned she is, aiming her books at unseasoned teens and writing about similar unseasoned teens as they move from childhood through the challenging years of adolescence. In “The Moon and More,” the lead character is Emaline, who works for her family’s house rental business at a North Carolina beach town. Emaline loses both her longtime local boyfriend and her new found summer love. There is heartbreak involved, but the reader and Emaline come to believe that it is all for the good.
Daniel Wallace and Jay Leutze will join Dessen and David Hartman, former host of “Good Morning America” on the evening of Tuesday, February 25 at Top of the Hill on Franklin Street for a conversation at “Writers for Readers.” The event will raise funds to support the efforts of the Orange County Literacy Council to teach adults.
Low literacy skills make it difficult to find and keep jobs, to follow doctors’ instructions, or to help with their children’s’ schoolwork.
Why are these successful and busy authors helping to support struggling readers? One answer is that writers know that without readers there would be nobody able to buy their books.
But that is not the real reason. Just as adults learning to read have to struggle to learn, authors often have to struggle through dark times of writers’ block and unsatisfactory drafts. They know what it is like to fail with one writing effort and then to come back and try again.
Sometimes, there are many painful failures on the way to a finished book. 
In a recent blog, Dessen described her recent unsuccessful effort to write a new book and the agony of giving up a long-term project, thinking, “I gave it everything I had, and it wasn’t enough.” 
Adults learning to read have to deal with similar tough times.
"I'm thrilled to be part of such a great event to support one of Chapel Hill's best organizations,” Dessen said. “Reading is power. And we should all have a chance to experience that."

Maybe it will help them to know that Dessen, Wallace, and Leutze are on their side, each of them knowing what is like to struggle through failure to success.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Viewers with access to UNC-TV’s digital channel UNC-MX can preview the program on the preceding Friday at 9 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch. Martin’s regular weekly column appears on The Herald-Sun’s editorial page on Wednesdays and on line at http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/opinioncolumnists/martin.