By GREG MARKLEY
I remember reading Alice Walker’s “Possessing the Secret of Joy” (about female genital mutilation) in 1994, riding a city train in the former East Berlin. I also recall eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous in Times Square in 1991 when finishing John Irving’s witty classic, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”
Here’s my point: Sidelined for an elbow injury since 2019, New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard took on reading with a relish. He started a book club which quickly became popular with several of his teammates, fans and bibliophiles around the world. His nickname is Thor for his height (6’6), wavy blond hair and muscular figure.
“I got drafted out of high school in 2010, so I didn’t go to college,” he told The New York Times. “For me, reading is a way to continue my education,” added Syndergaard, a native of Mansfield, Texas, with a Danish heritage. “I want to have an exponential growth mind-set,” the 29-year-old said. In a January tweet, he posted: “Hobbies include ice baths, being shirtless … and reading. Now starting #NoahsBookClub. Dropping first book on Feb. 1st. Let’s Read.”
Just like me, as shown above, Syndergaard enjoys reading in a large variety of places. He tweets photos of himself reading in assorted locations, from the 15-acre gathering place Sheep Meadow in Central Park to baseball dugouts throughout the city, state and country.
Why do some children develop a lifelong love of reading? What causes others to trade reading for TV or take up a book sometimes, but not to finish it? Common reasons people don’t care to read are: Their mind wanders in the wrong direction, making understanding the content tougher; they want the information right away, like they receive from TV; and they don’t know the intellectual value of reading, its ability to provide information.
“That why (the purpose of reading) is consequential — leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes — as well as difficult to fully explain,” Joe Pinsker wrote in The Atlantic (Sept. 9, 2019). “But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”
A New Yorker magazine cartoon by Jack Ziegler shows a TV huckster saying, “That’s right. All the Friedrich Nietzsche you’ll ever need. And it’s all yours for the amazingly low, low price of only $9.95!” The gag-line is: “Pandering to intellectuals.” It’s not only intellectuals who read a lot, but serious thinkers by nature love reading as both avocation and vocation.
The reading public varies depending on a definition of “reading.” In 2017, about 53 percent of adults read at least one book for school or work in the past 12 months, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). I am skeptical: Seeing someone reading a printed or digital book, say at an airport, is unusual. I recently saw a middle-aged woman and a college-age one, perhaps her daughter, reading paperbacks. I said: “God bless them!”
More accurate to me was NEA’s survey in 2012 finding that 23% of U.S. adults were “light” readers (1-5 titles a year), 10% were “moderate” (six-11 titles), 13 % were “frequent” (12-49 titles) and 5 were “avid” (50 books or more). Needed: A study of how many magazines an individual reads, and how many articles they claim to have read.
Son of a prominent Seattle lawyer, a 20-year-old student named William Henry Gates III, dropped out of Harvard University in 1975. Joining with fellow student Paul Allen, Bill Gates started a computer software company that led to both becoming billionaires. Gates said, “If things hadn’t worked out, I could always go back to school. I was officially on leave.” Now the fourth richest man in the world, Gates plainly made the right choice to leave university when he did.
Gates did not forget about the power of books. He reads around 50 books a year. He considers reading “the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.” His friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett graduated from the University of Nebraska and Columbia (NY) Business School. His suggestion: “Read 500 pages … every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
If untapped, you will forget your reading skills. Then, your way back to being a happy, substantial reader will be tough and may not happen. So take the example of New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, don’t let a serious injury or even a pandemic stand within you and your goals. You don’t have to be a hammer-wielding God linked to lightning and thunder. But emulate Thor in your determination to widen and improve your reading.
Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years. firstname.lastname@example.org.