Gateway to ideas; 4; Books That Formed My Opinions
Two ideas. Two ideas. A new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program. Books that formed my opinions is moderated by Ralph Backlund managing editor of Horizon magazine. To discuss the books that that have formed their opinions today we our guests are the honorable John Lindsay a member of the House of Representatives from New York City and Leoni Del well-known author and critic whose biography of Henry James has received both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. The straight bell is a professor of English at New York University and is also the author of not only books about him he James but a literary biography and a psychological novel. Well as a writer I suppose Mr. Dell you'd be awfully happy to have your books form the opinions of a
congressman wouldn't you. I guess a plane that delayed. I did like it I don't know how Henry James could do that. Well perhaps not Henry James but certainly would agree that books could certainly we all know the books and it can change the world. Obvious example comes to mind as is if capital from the 19th century is to be the world to be different David hadn't written. So that if you change the mind of only a congressman of the man in the street or farmer's opinion you've done something rather important. Since we have a congressman with us we might ask him which books have had some effect on his opinions starting start out very early Mr. Lindsey. Oh I don't know I suppose that the books that I'd love the most as a youngster were Mark Twain's Oz books you know about those remember the book Oh I think we all know about the problem. Adventure stories such as the boy allies which is which were gun and
blood and guts books about World War 1. Various Western books. Well no no you like those what to do for the wave about what you're thinking of the way you thought. I mean does a book like that form someone's mind. Well I think they do I think that they form impressions and I found a young boy's mind I think young boys tend to be dreamers more than the adult world think they are. These make very firm impressions and I can't remember I can't remember even what the books were that made me want to go out West as I did. You mentioned Western books that you read as a boy suppose they did because after all they are full of glorious Westerns Jory read all read all kinds of adventure stories of cowboys and Indians as a kid. They make definite impressions in your mind. Do you think the books we read first Mr. Odell early in life are the most influential or. I think they are in a kind of mysterious way you know they they they give us they set us an ideal of achievement or power drive to power a wad to make us want to
be this that or the other thing as the congressman said. And thats days that sticks and even though its sometimes forgotten or submerged in the past in all kinds of atmospheres remain with us. Out of all those books I was thinking of my early reading of Longfellow's Hiawatha one sort of sense of waterfalls and open spaces and tepees and so on and these kind of obsessive rhythm of that poem. Do you think that Hiawatha probably created for you your image whatever it is of the American Indian. I certainly do. Probably a wrong way probably. Well beyond that of course it's a common place used to be in American politics that for successful men presidents to mention the books that influence them as children. Like it was a classic example. But I wonder whether it was because in those days one of the books was so much less accessible in the eye now and you read the same book over and over. That's true. If it happened to be Pilgrim's Progress You probably read it many times. Nowadays the books
and small children that we have books flung at them from the time they're able to look at them. When I grew up in a small Western town there wasn't a library so I read everything I could lay my hands on and read it over again again and again. Yes. What do you think this means the books have less influence on young people. They only had one when people of our generation or earlier generations were growing up. Perhaps when one has access to so much as an embarrassment of riches a kind one takes them for granted you know that nostalgia and longing that you have to get in the West for far things in remote places. I mean for the East for the big cities for culture and all that sort of thing when you're no little town. It's. It isn't there it's somewhere else it was in the books he wrote about some of you growing up in the West felt nostalgia a longing to go to Mr. Lindsey going to go west. Boy it worked every way than when I was in high school later on. I think the adventure book that made the deepest impression on me when in high school years
was John Buchan's Prester John. Every president John knowing that I have a book just just shook me to foundation it was the spookiest book I've ever read at that age and mysterious wonderfully remote but the deepest part of Africa and weird goings on and it was a conflict of a guy who was trying to survive under these circumstances and they were the bad guys and the good guys. And it was it had it had a touch of history and a little bit of the problem of colonialism. But I wasn't sure I recognize it fully at the time as a high school kid but it was very exciting and then that led me to read The 39 Steps and so on. One thing led to another. He was a marvelous storyteller. She's a great storyteller really was and beyond that he had as you said something more than mere story books. He had good historical sense yes. Read President Johnson I read it later on. Yes I was trying to persuade my oldest
daughter to read it and so I was flicking through it and the next thing I knew I was at it again. Well I think that's a good sign of a book that stands up because written until quite a while ago. What about books that actually though shape your career. I mean have you become a critic and a biographer missed a deal because of any book that you read. Any one book. Anyone Well any five or six thousand five hundred. I know that to be very hard to trace. I think it began in high school where there were a few books you know Dickens Tennyson In other words a high school you discover what books can do for you which are what. Yes things like that a lot of the Victorians were around to see. We see we already Victorian I was living very near Victoria here even though I was only a boy. I mean because you have been much nearer than that. Well we all of you I grew up during the first voice which was which of the joiner was still hanging on. Also of course Victorian literature was much more available to us even 20 years ago until you
were 25. It was being read in a way that The Today was a pity I think. What about you Mr. Lindsey. What was the question again is whether or not any book really shaped your career as it is I don't mean your mind but your career Yeah. Well I think that I'm not sure that I would have gone to law school if it had not been for gas and drink and Barnes Yankee from Olympus was the name I was a book about Oliver Wendell Holmes. They said he was a young guy and then he went along and became famous jurist and Boston as well as teacher and then he eventually went on the Supreme Court. The book was very readable it had made a big impact on me I read it I did it right at the end of college or during the war forgotten. And that made a large impact. I am not sure I would have gone to law school but for that special book. Was it because he himself was such an impressive and towering figure. Interesting yes and more than that enormously human. No honestly human
if anybody had doubts about his own qualifications to go to law school or eventually be a lawyer. That book would settle it because Holmes had a great sense of the ridiculous and wonderful humor and he hated stuffed shirts. First of all human being. Yeah. And so immediately I got a different impression of what lawyers could be or could not be from the very early impression I had from watching the weskit the gentlemen around New York. Well I think that both will tell me more of the books and then too annoying can some bigger bones other books she has of interest and feeling almost well some respect almost a poetic feeling for the law and I'm sure I know it's in that book I'm sure that came across too. Yes did come across because there's a good deal of Holmes's writings but if you ever read Holmes his opinions at any length understand me this is a very readable commonsense guy. There was no baloney about it. He wrote exactly what what people could understand. This is how he wrote and the points that he made were
quite solid and when he was confused about an issue. So this is too complicated for us to fuss with at the moment maybe time will give us some light where we don't have it now. So what if you hadn't read the letters but have come across his own books books of his writings you would also felt the same way about. Probably but no kid was thinking about going to law school goes to pull out the Supreme Court reports and he just reads the opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States in his spare time doesn't know where to find them. Well that made you a lawyer what turned you into storm politics. If anybody did was I just inevitable. Oh I don't know I think that it came along I read a lot of history and recent years I've read more and more history and a lot's of biography. During the war I started turning more to history and biography. I don't think we all think else. During the war. Well I mean don't you think people read more history and biography. And so
the fiction today. Yes since the war since the war. Yes I think so I think it began about that time. It's gotten so that you read I read good novels that come out I read them very fast zoom through them and then they were kind of forgotten along I love some of these what was it seven days in May for example and quite recent one and it's been a bestseller a mystery or adventure story it's been a bestseller. This biochemist bio came out of who came in from the cold and from the cold you know you can read that on an airplane ride between here and Chicago without any trouble at all. And you and give you a very chilling right to his great music and it's wonderful and so relaxing and you look forward to climbing into bed at 11:00 12:00 at night if you've got two chapters left you really got time to look forward to. But then it's forgotten and you don't come on if you have two chapters left of the book and going to sleep. Oh yeah sure and then you then you wait through it but I don't think that that's I don't think at least to me a book like that doesn't make this sinking impression that. I've been reading biography of John Adams recently Jacobean pageant the
story of James the first beautifully written book and some of these other biographies of historical books seem to make a deeper dent on me at the moment. Why I don't know. Well I think there are many reasons of what I one of them might be the kind of novels we read now and I think there are novels that can make an impression on you almost as deep Don't you think so. Oh yes. For example but I don't know about the recent novels. No I don't think so either. But I mean anybody who's ever read War and Peace for instance. Yes. Has got something or I would not have you know kind of entertain me get a little I mean try thinking as I listen to the congressman but they have what book would I name that would be comparable to Yankee from Memphis and the only one that seems to me to fit is of all things James Joyce's Ulysses. You see that came out when I was an undergraduate I think that would be the book. Well now can you tell us the nature of the importance for you why that. Well when I came out it was a book no one understood it and it was banned at the time. I got somebody smuggled a copy and we look at it what did you think of it. Value with your doctor about it
was all mysterious and so on. And here it was as I had as big as a telephone book and I didn't see why it should be banned I started reading parts of it I. Some parts I understood some parts I didn't but I was fascinated by the way in which he was conveying the inner workings of the mind. And I think that's the book that set me off to wanting to go to Paris Joyce was living there he was the center of this the 1920s. And so I determined to get over to Paris and be a student over there and hang around these literary circles and hope to meet Joyce. I did. And so that this Hemingway's new book you know the movie feast describes Of course a little earlier I got there at the tail end of it. But I did get to the tail end of that period in Paris and that was really what started me focused be on contemporary literature and then the predecessors James being one of them. And so that's that's how I had you read James before you read Ulysses. Yes. No I read Ulysses first and I actually came to my
professor saying I wanted to write a dissertation on him and he laughed and said Well isn't this kind of you a nobody we haven't even read this book. You want to write a dissertation on why don't you write about some of the previous essays of joys. And I so I did. I ultimately wrote a dissertation on modern psychological fiction which became my book. And Joyce was just a chapter in it. That's how that's how it started. At one point a gorilla mystery. Did you did you discover Henry James. Just have to read to you just you just have to read yes. Yes because that was before before what we call the James revival began well long before us so that in a way we can thank James Joyce and for the discovery of Henry James. My discovery and well through you know many of us have discovered and thank you. I am in Paris of course and that was where I was right there when read sheet and Proust was just dead. It was very much alive and I really was exposed to a lot of contemporary French literature.
Those late 20s. Those are the good years just before the Depression. So none of the Fitzgerald was there that I was Miss I myself must share and I saw I think even that Fitzgerald must've been exciting years for they were very excited when I hear both of you whose careers are in somewhat different worlds Mr. Lindsey's and in government politics law. You know Mr. Dell's only academic and literary world. We know that there are books that are directly germane to whatever you do know that are important but you get pleasure in the kind of reading which has nothing to do with politics or with them. What do you look for the kind of read. Well I look for all kinds of things I look for I do get pleasure out of out of all readings a dull reading matter whether it's associated with the law of politics or science or what it is. I look for. I look for relaxation and I look for education and I look to see parallels in history and with people
and I also you know the old story that he who does not understand and take lessons from history is condemned to repeat it. I always see whether or not the mistakes that I make today or others make today have been made before and why. And I like the history of people I like. I like their humanness. Can you think of a recent book which laid bare some mistakes of history you don't tend to repeat. Well that's a hard one. Recently I've been on an English history kick more than anything else. It seems to me fairly clear that if if James the First had not taken better care of his eldest son instead of letting him die at a fairly young age in those days it was easy to let kids die one thing led to another.
CHARLES The first would have been King would have been executed in the Cromwellian revolution would have been if you would have made some difference this is a matter of fact was a point that a good many have of the government or they might think about the problem of their succession. Yeah so that would it just immediately comes to mind a little bit here. I've been interested to see some of the quirks of fate I've been reading a biography of John Adams. Some of the little twists of fate that took place in those days that made all the difference in the world. No doubt about it. Very substantial difference. Just one just one decision on the part of John Adams would have prevented him from being second stage very easily done he could have gone either way you know. What was the point in his life. Well that was really when he was brought up was he was first in France for many many years at the court of Louis the fourteenth and fifteenth fifties which is 50 to 60 68 and
then. Then he went to England and funnily enough he thought that he really campaigned to get the job as a bass to the Court of St. James he was terribly jealous. Franklin was the hero of Europe and struck struck Adams as being a lazy fellow too and a bit of a lightweight for a special favorite with the women from Paris. You'll recall and it's jealousy really drove him into the business of going to England. Except he figured that would destroy any career he might have United States he'd been away ten years separated from his wife during that period too because of the hazards of crossing the ocean. And yet if he had and if his personal urges had not driven him into the court of St. James he never would have emerged as president United States later on. This is a clear case like large today where absence made the heart grow fonder and become embroiled in some of the growingly antagonistic politics of the new country back home.
It would have been as fortunate as we better off to stay abroad. It also causes image library is building up. Took a long time to be reflected back here in those days and it does now. That question of historical probability of course that's what fascinated Tolstoy remember. Yes should Napoleon have crossed a very senior Not so on is this one of the reasons we all read history because it's the one question about history and many asking its most fascinating because history is what makes it happen and why does it happen. What little I was going say we mentioned earlier that that people are reading more biographies more nonfiction today I think the reason is that we're reading for information for whatever reason we get more information anybody ever has before we don't know what to do with the blood. But maybe that just increases the appetite. I think people read less for style today for the style of the individual and the individual way of saying things that right. Well I'm sure that I suppose that's the that's the inevitable result of reading for information what you want is the facts you get out of it not you know it's sad and I suppose too it's the influence of
so many journalistic media which I have to tell the story fast and tell at its simplest way. He says some books you can read you have to read it really again and again do you comment do you find that you have to read Dickens over and over again in order to really relax about it. No because I grew up with him. I find it I've read Pickwick Papers I think are parts of it maybe a half a dozen times and I always feel as I'm reading it all over again. Well that's because each time you know I mean it I feel so fresh thinking fresh Yeah it's good it's good. You don't get that feeling and I always find something funny and new and it almost every time. Well I think that's a test of the good writers the test of a classic is a minute that comes back to suddenly or four whole generations can come back to a book and see something new in it. That's why that's why a book like that last I think I'm never quite sure whether my memory is going completely to pieces. For this I have no I did not make sufficient imprint at the time. Well the fact is that when people had fewer books and had to read them over and over again they'd probably got a little more out of
them as a book was worth getting anything out of than we do today who have shelves full of books and always plan to go back and read one of these again and then don't do it because there's a new pile on the desk and the language of those books put put its stamp on their minds too they remembered yess. So that's why that's why the Bible is so important. My childhood well was I courses. Probably if we're talking about books that had influence on people's head more than any other. Not only on the thinking but on their style but that's why I think they were less concerned with style than more concerned with information which is unfortunate but unfortunately as to reading history of course people read it because they also want to find some clues as. To present and would like to understand history I'm sure this is one of the reasons why. The one volume kind of station of toime Beatles study of history is so popular because it seemed to provide an answer wouldn't you think. But it's all all it all that you've always had that kind of book. Think of the popularity of
Wells's outline of his exactly what spring that came out when I was at college. I read that I remember yes or spank to Same time same period didn't seem to give me an answer to the problems of history. No I was young then and I didn't think I was looking for answers I was just reading history. Well I was thinking about experience in this collection and that many other people to read one of these books because you hope it will supply answers to hard questions and for a while it does. But then you read somebody else who comes along to refute it or with another scheme and you see that you are wrong to accept an easy answer to the problem of history. It's harder than you think but here's another answer. This just leads you right down the path of the next thing you know you've been reading history for the last. 10 or 15 years I have. Course there's also there are other kinds of history this literary history I read a great deal of that and the history of science now which is as I think a fascinating new field. I regret to say I read very little of that. Perhaps I should read more.
Well we know them and we know we've been on this for a long time that books can have varying degrees of influence on our opinions and thoughts. Sometimes they can change your life they can mold your life your attitudes. What recent books have you read in any field which seem to you to have something new to say whether changed your mind about something Mr. Ebell. I suppose that if you're reading Henry James I mean a lot of you come across. No I don't know I've reviewed a number of books this winter but I'm not sure that any of them have changed my mind I found them very interesting I've just written a review of the memoirs of Lady Ottilie Morrell it's full of all sorts of interesting pictures of the of the Edwardian the Edwardian period change of view of the audience. Nope it really made it much richer. There's a new biography of. That was the seventh to which was supposed to change or not change have you become firm of you I think really had already and which it has.
This book I want to read very much my wife told me not to get it because she's going to give it to me for some kind of anniversary present of some kind. I'm looking forward to reading this. Well it's a very it's a very solid portrait of 7th although it's not as lively as one might like. Probably because I've been to many levels I think in too many documents and burned that's sometimes a good thing you know in biography you know it's a heresy for me to say so. I've read 12000 James letters I wish some of them to burn. I mean they're offensive or boring to too many of them just just plain to many. Yes and also I suppose anybody who's written he wrote many more than 12000 letters in his life no one could write 12000 important letters. Well that's right a lot of them are just wonderful ways of saying thank you for dinner. You had fun I'm sure with the Boswell letters as all put together by what's his name in New Haven. Yeah and I've been reading you know the various volumes Yes yeah of course. So there you've got the history of the whole period. This is good stuff this is very good reading. Yes. Of course when you read Love Letters we're not really reading books that were
composed of such nor intended to be read. This is sort of peeking behind the curtains at the inside of a man's mind isn't it. Yes it's sort of listening in on a conversation you weren't supposed to hear I suppose but the truth is that these people did express themselves in a characteristic way. So their greatest letters are literature I think. Why did I end up they end up belonging to literature. And probably one of the reasons is that they're written about people who are sensitive to style this is one reason perhaps why a lot of the future and I be so avidly read as a lot of that well will there be any letters in the future. Well there just be tape recordings or recorded telephone conversations. I don't know but you can answer questions that you've been investigating let us Mr. Dell as did everyone in those days save a copy of the letter you know about as well as a letter he received. No I mean if they're owed him money or long had they didn't keep copies. No but often they made fair copies didn't they after they had drafted a letter. Not when you're writing 12000 letters. I suppose you don't. So in other words you get both ends of a correspondence if you're lucky to put them together and many
cases you want to get one into the close of course. But today with the typewriter and the carbon there's a reason why if we think we get a lot of writers we can provide a future biographers with all the raw material they need. Well that means you're always writing for the record. Right away it's going to be bad like it's going to be pompous and there's a rule in the House of Representatives it goes as follows Thou shall not demagogue by colleagues you know ever only the never going to vote was yeah that's right. So soon as you start writing letters with 12 copies and all the rest of it it's like a government letter that they write within the government establishment with 12 copies. They say absolutely nothing. Well perhaps one of the established rules and a lot of the records should really be destroyed right in disappearing ink that would make a lot of politicians feel more comfortable because we don't have an 18th Century Link has disappeared been a lot of it anyway we can with other divisions we can in the 18th century wrote on rag paper it's all very well preserved much better than the paper of our time are probably crumpled it does well in the meantime we hope to
have plenty of paper on which to print and publish more books which will. We can all read and have our opinions formed by. I'd like to thank both of you for coming here today and I think we should all be grateful not only to you but to the books that formed your opinions. You have been listening to gateway to ideas a new series of programs in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading today's program. Books that formed my opinions as presented Leon Adele Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner for his biography of Henry James and author of literary biography and the psychological novel and Representative John Lindsay. Congressman from New York City the moderator was Routh Backlund managing editor of Horizon magazine to extend the dimensions of today's program for you a list of the books mentioned in the discussion as well as others relevant to the subject has been prepared. You can obtain a copy from your local
library or by writing to the Post Office Box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York. And please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope right to box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York gateway to ideas is produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation programs are prepared by the National Book Committee and the American Library Association in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters technical production by Riverside radio WRVO in New York City. This is the national educational radio network.
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