The great Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once told my mother that the most important thing that ever happened to him happened when he was a little boy.

He learned to read.

Yup, that resonated with me.

October 16 is Blog Action Day, and the theme for this year is human rights. You may not know this, but Article 26 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights is all about literacy. It reads, in part:

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

 

Literacy is personal for me. Not just because I’m a reader, and a blogger, and I make my living in large part by being able to put words on a page. It’s also personal because I grew up in places where large swaths of the population couldn’t read. In the U.S. today, 32 million people (or 14 percent of the total population) can’t read.

Reading is fundamental.

Podcasts, audio books, video, and even turn-by-turn navigation, can all help bridge the gap. But they won’t help translate the fine print on a pill bottle, the directions for a recipe, the steps for installing a car seat, or the upload instructions for a new mobile app. Or the joy of serendipitous discovery in clicking around the Web.

If you’ve ever spent time in a country with a different alphabet, then you might have a small inkling of what it’s like to be at a loss around words.

Most of the time, most of us take literacy for granted. But it’s a human right, along with life, liberty, and equal protection under the law. And maybe, once in a while, we need to be reminded of how lucky we are to enjoy this right.

Photo by Pink Sherbet (Flickr).