Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Education of a Storyteller

Louis L'Amour dropped out of public school at the tenth grade, but that was not the end of his education. He jumped from one job to another in the years to come, always in the company of books. His voracious appetite for reading took him through Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and countless other classics, where he gathered critical mass for his reactor of fiction-writing creativity.

Daniel Boorstin once mentioned to L'Amour that he was researching a book on the great explorers of human history, and the celebrated writer of Western novels immediately gave him a rundown of the leading editions of Marco Polo's Travels. "Then I had the pleasure of seeing his ample, well-thumbed collection of Maco Poliana neatly shelved on the walls of his study," Boorstin recalled.

L'Amour's study had 16-foot-high ceilings, stacked high with books on custom-made shelves. "The bookshelves that Louis designed were much like the man himself. Each tall row of shelves made a kind of book-covered door that could be swung open to reveal another sixteen-foot set of book-covered shelves fixed to the wall behind. Louis was a modest man, slow to reveal what he actually knew" (Education of a Wandering Man, vi).

If you've read a L'Amour story, you know that's true: He makes no great show of knowledge about the geography, climate, flora and fauna of the desert Southwest; but you also realize the story is being told by a man who knows what he's talking about. Some of that familiarity was formed on his annual camping trips in the desert. Far more grew out of what Boorstin called L'Amour's "spectacularly serendipitous" reading habits.

Another year is about to begin. What are you reading now? What books are close at hand for the spare moments to come? Remember, the education of a storyteller never ends.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Editorial Director of Discipleship Resources & Curriculum for Warner Press, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

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