|Education of a Wandering Man: a Memoir / Louis L'Amour
NY: Bantam, 1990, c1989.
Something you might not know about me is that I love reading Westerns. Mostly the newer, modernized Westerns but I do have an abiding fondness for Louis L'Amour. My dad had many of his books in the house when I was growing up, and I started reading them young, enjoying quite a bit about them. Reading them as an adult does change the perspective a bit, but I still like his writing style and his constant refrain of the importance of reading, books, and education.
I picked up this memoir of sorts a while back, and found it illuminating. There is so much that L'Amour did in his own life which colours his writing. From boxing to freight train hopping, to ranch sitting, travelling the world as a working sailor, a stint in the US army, and more -- so much going on in his life, alongside his writing. By the time he died, with his own ranch, his personal library was 10,000+ volumes large. This book looks at his life story through the lens of education; what he thinks education really is, and how to obtain it.
He started his writing career with adventure stories, and then when the public appetite for those was dropping, he switched to Westerns, and hit it big with Hondo. He liked to tell stories of men who had character, were adventurous and usually some kind of loner, with places also important in these stories -- you feel like you got to know the landscape in his books.
This memoir talks about his growing up -- his family, and why he set out on his own quite young, and the thirst for new things that drove him. He shares stories of his experiences as a sailor or as a cattle wrangler or a boxer, all of which sound like something in one of his novels. And he talks about life once he'd settled down a bit later on, with a wife and family of his own. It was compelling reading.
The one quibble I had was that it was a little bit repetitive. It could probably have been edited down a bit, as some of the same refrains appear in a few different spots throughout the book. But if you know someone interested in Westerns, in L'Amour himself, or in lives that incorporate the unexpected -- with a side of book love -- then this one is a good choice. It's an older book but quite common to find second hand. I found it really interesting putting together his life stories with some of the elements of his novels, and seeing his own voice and character in this book and how it shows up in his fiction. Fascinating!
Some quotes to end with:
“Books are precious things, but more than that, they are the strong backbone of civilization. They are the thread upon which it all hangs, and they can save us when all else is lost.”
“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.”