This past weekend, my college classmates gathered at Stanford for our 15th reunion. This has me feeling a little nostalgic and I’ll have a few Back to College entries coming this week. This first one only indirectly relates to college. I want to talk about the most invaluable learning tools I was ever given, a love of books and an intellectual curiosity to match.
I grew up in a house of books. In our den, a large bookcase covered the east wall and my parents’ collection of works ranged from Civil War history on the left to English literature on the right. My Dad had another bookcase in his office and my parents had several piles of books in their bedroom. My sister, brother and I each had bookcases in our rooms too. The books in our house were probably evenly divided between fiction and non-fiction, and covered almost every subject imaginable. At the dinner table, we talked about politics and the books we were all reading.
My interaction with books began with my parents reading to me, primarily my Mom I think. Once I could read I devoured children’s books like The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Wind in the Willows and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler. Before long I was reading more challenging books like Watership Down and that probably led me straight into my brother’s science fiction and fantasy books — J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and others. As a family, we would read from Mark Twain, especially the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and that, along with my own reading, prepared me for literature. I remember Willa Cather’s My Antonia as one of my first books of literature. Before long I was rushing through the Russians. And that’s about where I was when I entered college.
Contrary to the political rhetoric we are hearing way too often these days, the purpose of college is not to create good employees. The purpose of college is to create well-rounded citizens. I looked at college as an intellectual smorgasbord and took courses in a wide variety of subjects. My major, International Relations, was a combination of history, political science and economics, about as broad a liberal arts degree as I could find. I’d rather know a little about a lot of subjects and my course schedule reflected that.
College was just another step in my intellectual growth. A big step, but just a step. My family instilled in me a voracious intellectual curiosity and showed me how I could use books to satisfy that curiosity. College gave me a broader base from which to pursue this love of books and knowledge.