Jim Serger, Jr. has been compared to the “Energizer Bunny,” and we can see why. He not only decided to bike from Carmel, Indiana to Orlando, Florida with his friend Scott Golden, but he was determined that his 1,033-mile ride would make a difference for causes important in his life. The four nonprofits he donated to—the International Reading Association, The Prospect House, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation—all had personal connections for Serger. He loves to read, but the story of his bibliophilia is the product of his characteristic dynamism as well. Serger was a reluctant reader in school and admits to avoiding reading books for the 20 years after he graduated from college. Reading Today interviewed Serger about how he picked up reading again and why sharing the value of literacy is such a significant part of his life.
Reading Today: Thank you for your generosity to the International Reading Association! How did you hear about us?
Jim Serger, Jr.: I heard about International Reading Association through of course, reading a book on why to read. The book is called Read for Your Life by Pat Williams with Peggy Matthews Rose [HCI]. In this piece both authors talk about groups who promote the benefits of reading, and of course, yours was in there. Upon finishing the book I looked up your site and was really moved as to what your emphasis was—READING—and how to educate others on the importance of receiving that message.
RT: You say that reading "changed you." How so?
JS: I had not read a single book in 20 years. In February of 2010 I met an author/teacher who challenged everyone to read 15 minutes a day. That equates to 5,475 minutes in a year or 91.25 hours in a year. “Think of all the books you can read,” he said. We all have the time—just take 15 minutes out of your day, and watch the magic take over. I said I would give it a try. In the one year since I met the author I read 71 books. Then in 2011 I read 63 books, and so far this year I have read 43 books. I track from February to February. Reading has given me a new outlook on life—I am challenged daily by my reading. Now I read one hour a day, sometimes reading two books in one week. I find myself focusing on what is important, TV has gone to the wayside, and I am doing better in Jeopardy—I can't give that up. I go to bed earlier and I get up earlier. My family is now huge readers—my wife and I picked it up at the same time—and now our eight-year-old sees us and has been engaged from the word “go.” I speak clearer, I talk slower, I am a better writer, I can explain information to others better, and my confidence level has risen. I wrote my first book with my dad in 2011, called Go the Distance [Advantage Media Group]. I have always been outgoing, always willing to take a chance—but through reading they are now calculated risks—risks worth perusing and benefiting me and others. I go to church more. I read the Bible. I have spoken with old high school and college friends, fraternity brothers, and old navy friends. I have seen a difference in my physical abilities as well—I worked out all the time in college and in the Navy—today over the last 24 months I have been on a regular routine—reading gave me structure, gave me meaning as to what is important and what is not.
RT: Which genres do you like to read?
JS: I read self-help books. I enjoy the Bible, business, motivational, sports, biography, and memoirs. I had not read the Bible in over 25 years since leaving McNicholas High School in Cincinnati—I just thought there was one version and one version only. Through reading I found out there are thousands of versions, from Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Leadership. Now I can narrow down which type I would like to read. It is fun and challenging, and I can learn more easily.
RT: Do you like to read books just the "old-fashioned way" in paper, or do you also like to read books on devices like Kindles and SmartPhones and listen to recorded books?
JS: I enjoy reading the old-fashioned hard copies of the book. When I started reading I just read the book from start to finish, but as I continued on reading I started to highlight and take notes in the book, which I dog-ear for reference. I also enjoy looking in my office at the stack of books I finished—it is a symbol of my efforts to read. Reading did not come easy to me, so to look at my efforts is rewarding. I have a 25-minute drive to work, and I started listening to books on CD. That is 50 minutes a day and 4.16 hours a week I can listen to books as well. I have heard all the songs over and over, plus with an eight-year-old who loves Radio Disney, I still can catch up on the popular music. I have not listened to audio books through smart phone or shuffle, but I would be willing to give it a try.
RT: Can you offer any advice to people who were "reluctant readers" in school and are starting to read again as adults?
JS: When I was a reluctant reader, I would rather watch a movie, sports game, TV show, or whatever else to take up my time. I hated to read—reading is what doctors do, lawyers do, and of course teachers tell you that you have to do. Basically I was fighting the cause, I was the rebel. “Reading, who has time for that?” Boy, I sure was wrong. I missed out for 20 years. If I started 20 years ago, today I could say I have read 1,400 books instead of almost 200. Better late than never! The best advice is this: give up one thing you can live with out in your daily routine and fill it in with 15 minutes of reading—not one hour, just 15 minutes. Give it 30 days, and 15 minutes will be 20, 25, 30 minutes. Soon, after 60 days, it will be 60 minutes or even 90. Stay on course—everything takes 30 days to become routine, and it works.
RT: IRA's Annual Convention theme is "Celebrating Teachers Making a Difference." Did any of your school teachers make a difference in your life? If so, how?
JS: Teachers are the reason I can read. We see the sign "If you can read this, thank a teacher." It is so true. I was fortunate to have excellent teachers through grade school and high school, two of which stand out: Mr. Pierson and Mrs. Horning. Each one of them made a difference in my life. As a matter of fact I am still in contact with them today. They brought out the best in me, and also were not afraid to challenge me. They new when I was giving it my all or when they needed to add a spark or two. Today I have another great teacher whom I learn a ton from through his actions and through his writing: Pat Williams, SR VP of the Orlando Magic, author of 75 books, motivational teacher, and father of 19 children (14 adopted). I have only met him two times, but he teaches people through his writing, through his actions, and through his commitment to educating people on the benefits of reading. Teachers never stop—even at 75 years old, they still continue to make a difference year in and year out. Another great teacher I had passed away a few years ago—Mr. Fanning. He was my dad's teacher as well as mine. He was a people person, a down-to-earth type teacher, not too hard and not too easy, but one that brought the best out of each student and understood each student is different than the other. He worked with the gifted and the ones who needed more efforts. He was very even-keeled, and up to his passing he was touching people’s lives. That is the difference teachers make—they never give up touching peoples hearts and of course minds.
RT: You say your second-grade daughter is an avid reader. How have the adults in her life—you, her teachers, librarians—helped her?
JS: The biggest reason my daughter is an avid reader is because she makes a choice at eight years old to read books. But why does she make the choice? Because she sees mom and dad are enjoying reading and her teachers love reading. Monkey see, monkey do. It all started with her in kindergarten. Her teacher said, “read to your kids every single day.” Today Maggie is in second grade, and she has an excellent system to follow, which is set up by the school and followed by her teacher Miss Nevogt. Miss Nevogt shares the program of what is called the daily five. All children do five work stations: Read to self, read to another student, listen to reading, work on writing, and word work. Miss Nevogt also reads aloud to the students for 20 minutes a day, but it is not just reading it is engaging the students. In that 20 minutes the children ask questions, understand the meaning of the book and the story line. So this exercise is not teacher to student—it is student to teacher, and teacher back to student. BOTH are tied up in the exercise, and it is fun for the students and the teacher to engage this atmosphere daily.
RT: Do you have any advice for parents trying to get their children to read more often?
JS: Reading: if you do it, they will do it. If you don't, they won't. School and home are two different things—like peanut butter and jelly—separate they are no good on a sandwich, together it is the best thing in the world (to me). So we have to do the same at home as they would in school, fuse the two and become one, make home like school, make reading a part of home life as it is in their daily activity in school, allow children to read what they want to read as long as they are reading. Trucks, lizards, homes, countries, Presidents, fossils, dinosaurs, snakes, birds, Dr. Seuss, poems, plays, etc....Let them pick the subject matter and watch them soar. Read along side with them, help them understand the content, but also encourage them to read in their rooms, on their own. Unplugging the TV is so easy, just set up a time to do homework, and reading is right there with it. 15 minutes of that is it on reading, then 15 minutes turns into 45. Make it fun, ask questions when they are done. Ask who the author was, look them up on the computer, look up the publishing company, look up where the author lives. Engage them to look beyond the book, look at 365 degrees of the book, what it is made of, is it recycled material, who took the pictures, who edited the book, where are the books made? Look far down the road, be creative and your child will be creative. Teachers are always searching for new material to keep kids eyes and brains focused. We as parents can do the same. Read the book, and then go outside. Take what they read and put it in motion—play time can still be learning time. Children still need to be children, so make reading FUN.
RT: Any plans for future long rides?
JS: Riding a bicycle down to Florida from Indiana was an experience beyond anything I could describe to anyone. It took me places I have never seen, down roads and towns I never thought existed. I learned first hand on what it means to be out among mother nature—the hillsides, the farms, the small towns we read about, the countryside, the lay of the land. It was so much fun. As far as future rides, yes there is a vision. But it is about giving back that made this ride so special. Giving back to others and putting myself second are what I learned about this adventure. This is like anything else we do, something has to give in order for us to get the results we want. With picking up a book and starting, something else has to be put down. I logged 1,400 miles for training, in that time I had to put other interests to the back burner. I had to focus on the task at hand. Reading a book is like the bicycle journey, we can be taken anywhere, any time to any place. We just have to pick up the book and read to get there.
RT: Wouldn't it be great if you could read while biking?
JS: It would be wonderful if we could read while biking. It would be wonderful if we could read while driving a car and while running a marathon. READING is so much fun; I only wish I had taken it up years ago. I saw it as a burden, instead of a need. I need reading, like a doctor needs to scrub his hands. I need reading in my life, like a dog needs to be walked. Thankfully, with today's technology we are able to read or listen to books anywhere at any given time—SmartPhones, iPad, shuffle, CD, Kindle, Nook, and good old fashion hard copies. As far as reading while riding a bicycle, I don't think technology can catch up with that, but if we listen [to a recorded book] with one bud in and the other out for safety, we can still listen to a book and exercise at the same time.
Read more about Serger on his website at http://jimserger.com/.
The International Reading Association is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization, and your contribution will help us in our goal to promote reading and literacy for all. Any gift, regardless of the amount, is greatly appreciated. Please mail contributions made out to “IRA” to: International Reading Association, PO Box 8139, Newark, DE 19714-8139.