Here’s a test. Ask a sailor—from senior officer to junior enlisted—to name three books on the current Navy reading list. How many will get even one? My guess is most won’t be able to name a single book. This was the case when I asked officers and enlisted (all 04 and below) from various commands. The informal, admittedly incomplete survey could be interpreted a few different ways. It could be that our reading program is a secret to many sailors. Or, more likely and more disconcerting, perhaps we do not value a culture of professional reading, whether a book title appears on the Navy’s list or that of The New York Times.
Readers in today’s Navy probably fall into one of two categories. The first I call tacticians. These sailors strive to earn their warfare qualifications early in their careers, maintain proficiency in their primary designator, and read very little outside of their working day. In a 20-year career, out of necessity they end up cracking some books at graduate or postgraduate school. They do what’s asked of them and do it well, but they do not seek professional development in reading something that is not directly related to their job. Certainly not fiction. These are the majority.