South Korea Mattis North Korea

North Korean soldiers, left, look at the South side while then-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo visit the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

In Louisiana, where rates of illiteracy exceed the national average, we have much work to do in expanding the state’s community of readers.

That involves a number of challenges, including an assumption that reading books is merely a pastime — and something that real men aren’t supposed to embrace.

Given that reality, we’re impressed that two national figures — one man from the world of sports, the other from the military — have recently used their prominent platforms to discuss reading as an essential part of a good life.

Letters: Get yourself a New Orleans library card

Fay Vincent, former commissioner of major league baseball, wrote a moving oped in The Wall Street Journal announcing that he’s suffering from potentially fatal health problems. In whatever time he has left, Vincent told readers, he plans to make room for reading.

“As I try to live while confronting an incurable illness, I remember how much I enjoyed the youthful process of learning,” Vincent wrote. “Thus I now read and learn from every book possible. ... It is my brain that still defines me. When I am thinking, I am living. I must fuel the brain by reading. It is that alone that separates me from the cancer that attacks my bone marrow and spills out too many white blood cells.”

Obviously, Vincent sees reading as a vital form of engagement, not an afterthought.

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In another way, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis also discusses reading in the context of life and death. Mattis, whose career in the Marines included leading battles in Iraq, stresses the importance of reading in his new memoir, “Call Sign Chaos.” Learning the history recorded in books, says Mattis, can help leaders avoid often disastrous mistakes. “The problem with being too busy to read,” writes Mattis, “is that you learn by experience ... the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young (warriors). Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

We hope those words from Vincent and Mattis about the practical benefits of reading find an audience in Louisiana and across the country. The message of Vincent and Mattis is something our literacy-challenged culture really needs to hear.