Courtesy of Oliver James
Oliver James has a positive personality and his inability to read doesn’t stop him from pursuing his interests and needs. He manages his mental health by reading books instead of therapy.
Over 8 million adults in the United States are considered functionally illiterate in English.
James, 34, aspires to be a motivational speaker. In a way, he achieves this by sharing his journey with his more than 120,000 followers on his BookTok.
James told NPR’s Leila Fadell, “I’ve always dreamed of being more than I am.
#BookTok is a community for book lovers and creators. This corner of TikTok exploded in popularity at the start of the pandemic, and as of today, it has over 104.4 billion views.
James grew up with a learning disability and behavioral disorder.
“A year ago, when someone asked me, ‘How was school?’
By “thing” I mean that I was restrained and headlocked as a child with special education. He says it was his followers who made him realize that the education system had let him down.
Due to my illiteracy, I was unable to find work to pay for medical care and other expenses. Meanwhile, he relies on his self-help books to manage his PTSD and his OCD.
Financial barriers are not uncommon for many Americans seeking mental health care. According to his 2021 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 50% of her respondents said they were unable to try the treatment they were interested in because of the cost.
James has no plans to go back to school, but is currently focused on reading 100 books in 2023 and may hire a Spanish tutor in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On how James discovered the BookTok community
I actually went to the park to work out and decided to add reading to my workout journey and learned about Booktok, I didn’t know a BookTok was actually anything. I still understand BookTok. So I got more into the fitness industry, pushing my workouts, trying to figure out how to push content as a personal trainer, and pushing myself to be a fitness content creator. I was reading there because it was a struggle. I would add something like, “Hey, I can read.” So I added it to what I was already good at. Then BookTok came along and I was like, “Hey, welcome to BookTok!”
I go on the internet every day and express that reading is something I want to improve on.
About accessibility issues
Reading should be taught in the same way that speaking is taught. I have Google Voice now, so it helps me do voice, text, and certain things like that. But after a while, I learned how to talk on the phone, look at words, learn how to read them, and learn to text those words. So I learned even that. So the world helped me a little bit with the internet. You know, I go grocery shopping. My wife will send me a photo. She can do it so I can go grocery shopping. And she said, here are 5 pics of what you need to pick up. I don’t really need to read anything, I don’t do anything. All you have to do is match the photo with what you have picked up.
I want access to everything I didn’t understand. My financial situation is one of them. These were my strengths, so I only worked as a warehouse or personal trainer. Because I can read, I can actually get a job above my current salary. I didn’t know I could be this person.
on why he wanted to be a better reader
I have dreamed of being more than what I am. I always wanted to be a motivational speaker. And I express these things to people. And people like trees are like, “Oh, I can,” “I can’t,” “I can,” “I can’t.” And I knew what I could do if I could read. And I thought, ‘If I learn how to read, no one will say I can’t be a speaker.
On how reading helped my relationship with my son
We read Percy Jackson’s books together. We read Witch together. He’s 10 years old, so he should fully remember that his world is different than mine. So he takes a reading journey, which he doesn’t fully understand. But he’s very supportive about it. A new space has opened up for us to bond. I had no idea how much my journey would affect him, but now I know it’s not even about reading. rice field. I can actually work on them so he doesn’t end up with the mental issues I have. not.
An audio version of this story was edited by Reena Advani. This digital work was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.