Sunday, January 06, 2008

McCullough on Reading

When I went over to WNYC's site to find the audio file of Caleb Crain's interview with Brian Lehrer (mentioned in my last post) I noticed the interview which immediately preceded Crain's. That was David McCullough, discussing the importance of reading and education; the mp3 file is here.

McCullough speaks in his typical style about the importance of the book: "I believe in the book. I believe that books as tangible, physical objects provide something that nothing else can or will, in that they can be carried with us, they can be picked up later on, taken down from the shelf, read ten years later. They become part of the furnishings of our lives, literally. And the quality of what we read, and particularly the quality of what our children and grandchildren read is of the utmost importance."

He brought up a close friend of his, the writer Paul Horgan, who he called "the most cultivated, the most deeply, widely read man I ever knew. And he used to say, when he saw people, when he'd greet friends, instead of saying 'How are you?' he'd say 'What are you reading?' Now he wasn't asking that in order to test you, he was asking that to get going on a subject of mutual enthusiasm, to get going on something that he might learn from. I think that that's a very healthy way to ... 'What are you reading?' We are what we're reading right now as much as we were what we were reading when we're in grade school or high school. It's a lifelong thing, that's the big part of it. And it isn't just to get into college now, it's to continue to grow and have curiosity and a love of literature for the rest of your life."

Asked about reading on electronic devices or on the web, McCullough commented "What we stand to lose are those writers, those thinkers, who are speaking to the essentials of the human spirit, the essentials of the human heart. And if that goes, what kind of a civilization will we have?"

At the conclusion of the interview, Lehrer asked McCullough "What are you reading?" The response: Lanston Hughes' autobiography.

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