Oliver James understands the power of words. His inability to read and write held him back from success for years.
In 2020, James decided to take control of his destiny and started to teach himself how to read.
Then, in 2022, he started a TikTok account to document his reading journey. Along the way, James has inspired millions with his honesty and transparency about his success and struggles. His videos often feature him reading aloud from the latest book off his list must-read list.
He reached his 2023 goal of 100 books, covering everything from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” to his last book of the year, Louis Sachar’s “Holes,” which he completed on New Year’s Eve.
@oliverspeaks1 I read 100 books and one year with the help of social media. Let’s go read. #booktok #books #100books â¬ original sound – Oliver James
James shared on his videos that he used audiobooks to follow along to help him with word recognition when he struggled with more challenging books.
Letter by letter, word by word, James’ dedication led him to speak out about literacy’s importance to a broad audience. That advocacy led to a podium in Washington, D.C., in October 2023 to read an acceptance speech for the Barbara Bush National Literacy Honors Award.
We were proud to honor Oliver James with the Barbara Bush National Literacy Honors Award in October, and we’re thankful for his commitment to shining a light on literacy. Read more in this wonderful piece by @people:https://t.co/l2XnV7A6oB
— Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy (@BarbaraBushFdn) December 4, 2023
James talked about his anxiety leading up to the event with People magazine, mainly about reading his speech from a teleprompter.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But knowing that I was about to do something in front of all those people that I wasn’t very good at was an exciting type of nervous that I’ll never forget.”
That nervousness was nothing new to James, who bared it all when he revealed his illiteracy to the world.
James, who grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, explained how he worked to get expelled because of how he was treated at school. He noted that reading was never a priority in his life.
@oliverspeaks1 Part 1 of the story of why I can’t read. #icantread #learningtoread â¬ original sound – Oliver James
James served time in prison for a while, and after he got out when he was 26, he continued to struggle with keeping work because of his functional illiteracy, which the GenTwenty website defines as “an inadequate level of reading and writing skills to manage the business of daily life.”
Eventually, James knew he had to tackle the challenge of reading to fulfill his potential. He was fully supported by his partner, Anne Halkias, who didn’t know he couldn’t read until 2022.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, James said that now one of his favorite things to do is read bedtime stories to his 1-year-old son. He also hopes that as he continues improving his reading and writing, he can grow his motivational speaking career to encourage others to pursue their dreams, no matter the obstacles.
“It feels like I found my purpose,” he said in the interview. “I’m finally contributing to the world.”
Man who taught himself to read finished 100 books in 2023 originally appeared on Simplemost.com, helping make the most out of life.