DEAR ABBY: I wrote your mother back in 1985, asking her to encourage my eighth-grade students to establish the wonderful habit of reading. My letter was published in The Portland Oregonian.
I still teach eighth-graders, but now I do it in California. It has been 23 years since your mother wrote my students about the importance of reading.
Today we have computers, text messaging and cell phones. It's a different world now, but reading is still important. Would you write a couple of paragraphs about the joys of reading in your column? Your advice will be heeded by my students and many other students in the country who read your column. Kids relate to celebrities, and you are definitely famous. Thank you for your help. -- RAY SMYTHE, PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.
DEAR RAY AND DEAR STUDENTS: I'm glad to oblige. For anyone who doesn't already know, books are magic! Crack open a book and you will be instantly transported into the past, propelled into the future or, if you choose, escape into a world of fantasy. The options are endless.
But while history, science fiction, mysteries and romance provide a wealth of diversion, reading provides far more than just an escape. The greatest ideas of our most gifted thinkers lie between the covers of books waiting for you to discover them. And don't be put off if the books are labeled "classics." That word means only that they have been enjoyed by every single generation who has read them.
Reading is also a vital skill. Perusing a newspaper or doing research online, in addition to expanding your mind, can also be your transport to a successful future. And there is no more effective way to learn to write than by reading.
P.S. If this skill does not come easily for you, remember that libraries offer classes in literacy. There is no shame in needing extra help in learning to read, regardless of your age. The only shame is in not admitting it so you can get the help you need.