By Greg Markley
Why must reading books be a chore? Variety and a steady gait can make it fun, not futile.
In 2017, one of my Christmas presents was the bestseller “Grant,” about the brilliant Union general and problematic 18th president Ulysses S. Grant. I haven’t read Ron Chernow’s book yet, as the 1,000 plus pages are daunting. For a change, I asked last year for a novel called “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens.
“Crawdads” is a surprising national sensation. It has been on The New York Times bestseller list for over a year. It features a recluse named “Marsh Girl” and a twisting murder case on the North Carolina coast. A few days after receiving “Crawdads” I had a pitfall: A neighborhood dog ate my Christmas book.
Thankfully, the dog did not eat the hardcover book. The canine did gnaw on the cover, making it not worth saving. So I will read that fiction book after I complete the current non-fiction one in my rotation. By late February it will be “Crawdads” for me. This is an example of how reality such as a hungry hound can hasten changes to one’s reading schedule.
“I didn’t care for most of the books I was being asked to read in school,” recalls James Patterson, a top American novelist. “I started reading like crazy right after high school when I got a job in a mental hospital. I was working my way through college, and I did a lot of night shifts, and there was nothing to do. So I read like crazy, serious stuff, all the Classics.”
In 2019, I ended up reading 10 books. That was an unusually low amount for me per year. But I had family matters in 2019 that lead me to take four trips to New England, and book reading was often far from my mind. I continued though, to read a bunch of magazines and newspapers. As I am inclined to do, I mixed business and pleasure in my choices. I read autobiographies “Make Your Bed,” “Hillbilly Elegy,” and “Born a Crime,” the latter by Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
I reread the novels “The Spy who Came in From the Cold” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” after many years. Also, I read the fiction offering “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” In non-fiction, I read “When the Center Holds,” “The Briefing” and “The Point of It All,” by late essayist Charles Krauthammer. I acquitted myself as more than a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they did not read a book in whole or in part in 2019. That means not one printed book, nada electronic book and not even a book in audio form, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
I stressed in this space before that viewing, listening to, or best of all, reading from a variety of viewpoints and ideologies will make you a better citizen and an effective advocate for your side. To that end, I subscribe to two traditional conservative publications: National Review and Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition. On the Left side, I read The New York Times, especially because of its long-form journalism—the stories are not USA Today miniatures but often many pages long, allowing for more facts and analysis. The small, 4-page Hightower Lowdowner spotlights campaign finance scandals and corruption among the privileged class.
Living relatively close to Atlanta, Birmingham etc., Lee Countians get many chances to attend book signings. (When the two new bookstores get settled in, we can expect more signings.) In 2008, I went with a friend to The Carter Center to get the former president’s latest book signed, “A Remarkable Mother.” It was a splendid day for me because I was an archives intern there and took advantage of a tour of his private office at the center. He was on his way back from the Middle East so was not present to host the three interns who went.
Miss Lillian, as she was affectionately called, spent eight years as the dorm mother for students of a particularly unruly fraternity. It was Kappa Alpha, and they were students at Auburn University. I had hoped to see more than the four pages that mentioned Auburn, but with a small 208-page book, cuts definitely had to be executed. At the book signing, here was this 83-year old man, who has just made the long trip back from the Middle East. The ex-president whisked away so many books past him, signing them all, that I was stunned. He greeted us with a strong “War Eagle.”
As I presaged in the introduction, I plan to read “Where the Crawdads Sing” in February. One of the merits of this book is a survey confirmed that respondents who read “Crawdads” come from across the political spectrum, with 55% identifying as progressive, 30% as conservative and 15% as centrists. “Crawdads” appeals to a wide spectrum of American readers. And apparently dogs love it, too.
Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.