Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour seems like it by rights should be the mascot book for this blog, because in a way, it is a book about the AntiLibrary concept. Louis L’Amour became an author of many fiction stories, mostly Westerns, but this is a memoir of his younger years rambling around the American West in the Depression era, his time on merchant ships in Asia, and in the military in World War 2, all against the background of his love of literature.
It should be a much more intriguing story than it is. After all, the material is all there for a fascinating memoir. While discussing his writing style for fiction at many points throughout the book, he says that historical fact shouldn’t be embellished because the reality is intriguing enough. That’s a fine sentiment, but he was unable to make the facts of his own story come to life. He makes his time at sea, hopping freight trains, and jobbing as interesting as old dishrags. Compare this to George Orwell, who spends several pages of his autobiography The Road to Wigan Pier recounting his time in a run down boarding house in an English coal mining town. Mr. Orwell made everything in his drab surroundings come to life with insights and keen observations, all within the confines of a dirty house in a nondescript city. The mundane becomes fascinating in the hands of a talented writer like George Orwell, but Mr. L’Amour can’t do the same even with the benefit of all his experiences.
Included in the book is a very short chapter about his service in World War II. He says that he never felt he accomplished much for the war effort, so perhaps that’s why the chapter is so short. Or perhaps he didn’t want to make himself sound heroic. But was there not a single interesting thing that happened during this time? Surely he could have related at least something amusing from his time in the service, but alas, he doesn’t bother.
Besides his travels and conversations, his education consisted of reading. Every few pages he cuts off what might be the interesting details of an adventure and talks about how much he loves books, and then tediously lists the titles that he was reading at the time. I say tediously purposely, because the real mark of a man who has educated himself with books isn’t that he has simply read. The man who has truly gained from reading has digested the wisdom he has found and made it his own by combining it with the wisdom of other books as well as his own thoughts and experiences. The insights one might hope for are sadly lacking from a man who brags about reading so much, even while he refuses to boast about the things that might have actually been interesting in his young life. Thus, he manages to be excessively modest and pretentious at the same time.
Education of a Wandering Man has lessons about what not to do for someone who aspires to write a memoir. If people decide to read what you have written about yourself, you may safely assume that they admire you and want to hear about your life and thoughts, so don’t hold back as you tell your story.