We continue our Read Forever guest author series today with an insightful essay from respected journalist and bestselling author Tom Brokaw. When we asked Brokaw why he’ll read forever, his response focused on the importance that a strong sense of family, community, faith and education played in his upbringing, and how reading was fundamental to the development of his journalistic instincts. And you may be surprised by the books that made Brokaw’s ‘read forever’ list.
Why I Read by Tom Brokaw
I grew up on the Great Plains, in small towns surrounded by vast swaths of the American prairie that were settled by Scandinavian and northern European immigrants who brought with them a strong sense of family, community, faith and education.
So much of their education came from books they brought from their native lands or books that told them about their new home. As a result, reading was a fixed and important part of their culture and it was passed along from generation to generation.
I was introduced to the joys of reading early by my bookish mother who in turn was raised by a father who so believed in reading that he suggested we keep a set of encyclopedias in the bathroom to absorb while engaged in other activities!
As we lived along the Missouri river I was particularly taken, from an early age on, with the adventures of Tom Sawyer and anything by Mark Twain. His waterway was the Mississippi but the sense of adventure was the same. Conrad is my idea of the ultimate adventurer of the mind.
As a ten year old I was a paper boy and I suppose that in some ways that led me to journalism for I voraciously consumed the contents of the newspapers before delivering them and they in turn led me to books on current affairs.
By the time I was in junior high and high school America was in the middle of a Great Novel boom – with Salinger, Mailer, Jones, Updike, Styron, Cheever, Baldwin and others of their generation building on the tradition of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Lewis.
It was a glorious time, and I inhaled all they published.
Later, in the Sixties I was riveted by the works of Hunter Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, Larry McMurtry and Joan Didion, Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison, the great work from Vietnam, particularly Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Jim Webb’s fine post-war work.
As a political correspondent I have an enduring admiration for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate oeuvre, which changed political coverage forever.
We live in a changing world. The digital mega-explosion is all around us, in the way we communicate, do business, get information and, yes, even read books.
But that is a form. Reading is about content and the lessons thereof.
On long trips I often carry a slim collection of Chekov stories or something from the great explorers of the early 20th century. They remind me of the timelessness of literature.
I’ve just finished reading another biography of Lincoln in paper and print form. I am reading again from a long list of World War II history books, preparing essays for the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London.
They enrich me every time I open the covers of these great works.
If I were in a position to read only one book, forever?
Very hard. All Quiet on the Western Front? A contender. Anything by Twain? Of course. Herodotus? Magical, the original journalist. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich? A history for the ages.
Harper Lee gave us the great 20th century novel on race, morality and justice with To Kill a Mockingbird. It will never go out of favor.
However, as a product of small town America I think one classic has faded from view and needs to be revived: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.
And if that doesn’t catch your fancy, I know a book about World War II, something to do with a great generation.
Tom Brokaw, one of the most trusted and respected figures in broadcast journalism, is an author and special correspondent for NBC News. Hired by NBC News in 1966 he anchored the “Today” show and was the anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” for 21 years. He has received numerous honors, has an impressive series of additional “firsts” and became a bestselling author with the publication of The Greatest Generation. His new book, The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise will be published by Random House on November 1, 2011.
Author photo credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBCU Photo Bank
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