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Louis L’Amour on Reading

6/6/2005:

Louis L’Amour is perhaps North Dakota’s most famous author. In his memoirs, he reflected on his early education, gained in large part from books he checked out of the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown. Here’s what he wrote in “Education of a Wandering Man,”

Chapter 1:

Often I hear people say they do not have time to read. That’s absolute nonsense. In the one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, appyling for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains, and planes. If one really wants to learn, one has to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or learning something that can be with you your life long?

Byron's Don Juan I read on an Arab dhow sailing north from Aden up the Red Sea to Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal. Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson I read while broke and on the beach in San Pedro. In Singapore, I came upon a copy of The Annals and Antiquities of Rajahstan by James Tod. It was in the library of a sort of YMCA for seamen, the name of which I've forgotten but which any British sailor of the time would remember, for the British had established them in many ports, for sailors ashore...

A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination. My life may not be great to others, but to me it has been one of steady progression, never dull, often exciting, often hungry, tired, and lonely, but always learning. Somewhere back down the years I decided, or my nature decided for me, that I would be a teller of stories. Decisions had to be made and there was nobody but me to make them. My course altered a number of times but never deviated from the destination I had decided upon. Whether this was altogether a matter of choice I do not know. Perhaps my early reading and the storytelling at home had preconditioned me for the role I adopted.

Somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with learning, and it became a lifelong romance. Early on I discovered it was fun to follow along the byways of history to find those treasures that await any searcher. It may be that all later decisions followed naturally from that first one. One thing has always been true: That book or that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend...

No man or woman has a greater appreciation for schools than I, although few have spent less time in them. No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.

If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.

No one can "get" an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.

Those were the words of Louis L’Amour from his memoirs, “Education of a Wandering Man,” finished shortly before his death in June 1988.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm