Tuesday, July 24, 2007
John D. MacDonald
Today would have been John D. MacDonald's birthday. He's most famous for his Travis McGee novels, stories that feature the beach bum detective who lives on a houseboat, called the Busted Flush, that he won in a poker game. McGee's friend, Meyer, was an internationally-known and respected economist, the educated intellectual of the pair. Meyer's boats were jammed full of books and treatises, and not just on his field.
I'm lucky enough to own two copies of a short essay called Reading For Survival that John D. MacDonald wrote in 1986 for the Library of Congress' Center for the Book. It was published in 1987, after MacDonald's death, in a limited edition of 5,000 copies.
Reading for Survival is a twenty-two page conversation between McGee and Meyer about the importance of reading in man's survival. Meyer points out that man's history made it important for him to listen and use his memory, until printing, books and libraries made it no longer important for men to need memory because books contained that memory, the record of mankind.
He asks what should people be doing with that unused capacity. He said there are pitfalls for nonreaders in today's world, that they will fall for any fad or belief. The solution to empty places in heads is "Education, literacy, reading, thinking, and remembering."
Meyer (and MacDonald) says, "The man who can read and remember and ponder the big realities is a man keyed to survival of the species. These big realities are the history of nations, cultures, religions, politics, and the total history of man-from biology to technology. He does not have to read everything. That's an asinine concept. He should have access to everything, but have enough education to differentiate between slanted tracts and balanced studies, between hysterical preachings and carefully researched data."
John D. MacDonald's writings are still relevant today. In that short essay, his two characters discuss Creationism, Shiites and Sunnis, terrorism, global warming, and other topics that are just as timely now as they were twenty years ago. And, MacDonald's solution for survival? An educated person who reads.
Thank you, John D. MacDonald.