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Literacy through Mills & Boon

I take my literacy for granted.

I was sitting at the Weymouth Library to use the free wi-fi (since my B&B didn’t have it) when I realized the two adult women opposite me at a table were working through a book together. One was the tutor, the other was learning to read.

On this trip, I’ve built my travels around books, authors, and literature. From Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy to Jane Austen to William Shakespeare to Tracy Chevalier, I’ve visited literary sites in London, Oxford, Bath, Lyme Regis, Dorchester, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

I benefited from my mother’s prenatal care, my parents’ DNA, my grandparents’ German-American culture valuing education, my mother’s reading to us, a literary environment in our house, my good eyesight, normal learning abilities, and my schools and teachers (particularly Miss Guthrie in the 3rd and 4th grades).

Carrying the Sheikh's HeirAnd here at the Weymouth Library was an adult woman who was just getting started on her journey to literacy.

The tutor was very patient, going through a couple of different books. One seemed perhaps a romance novel (judging from their discussion of a woman having an affair with a married man). Could it have been a Mills & Boon romance? The M&B publisher is criticized for its low-brow and formulaic books. Feminists say their novels are just rape fantasies, full of mysogynistic hate speech, allowing if not promoting poor sexual health, and responsible for many readers’ failed relationships. Should they be kept away from beginning adult readers, or do they somehow (like the TV program EastEnders perhaps) reflect the worries and real lives of semi-literate and illiterate women?

And might that have been me in different circumstances sitting with a tutor in a seaside library? Had I lived in a different part of the world with different parents–in a different school system and living a different life altogether–might that have been me limping through a Mills & Boon with a tutor? And happy for it?

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