By JOHN Y. COLE
Louis L’ Amour (1908-1988), one of the most prolific and best-selling authors of all time, was recently honored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress as its inaugural “Champion of the Book”—a designation reserved for those who have made an important contribution to the world of books.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington made the presentation to L’Amour’s widow, Kathy, and their children, Beau and Angelique, at a March 18 evening program that celebrated the centennial of L’Amour’s birth and his continuing legacy. Dell Publishing Group, L’Amour’s publisher for more than 50 years, co-sponsored the event in cooperation with the Center for the Book.
“Louis L’Amour could not help sharing his love of books and reading,” said Billington. “Those who met him eventually realized that he was a one-man ‘center for the book.’ If you visit the Louis L’Amour conference room at Random House, you will see quotations about the importance of books and reading attractively painted on the room’s walls—all are words and thoughts that Louis put into the mouths of his characters. Now that’s lasting influence!”
The Librarian also quoted former Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin, who wrote the introduction to L’Amour’s memoir, “Education of a Wandering Man,” the author’s final work before his death in 1988.
Boorstin wrote, “This book tells a surprising tale of the reading of the beloved best-selling writer Louis L’Amour. For his shaping wandering years were years of reading. When he left school in the tenth grade he began an earnest self-education stirred by a passion for books. These early working and wandering years, which took him around the world, were filled with days and nights of reading.”
In 1983, Boorstin, who founded the Center for the Book in 1977, recruited L’Amour for the center’s national advisory board. He subsequently asked L’Amour to “represent authors and reading” on a 21-person committee, which the Library developed to make recommendations about the future of books and reading. In “Books in our Future” (1987), a Center for the Book volume based on the committee’s study, L’Amour addressed the challenge of interpreting what we read. He wrote, “the greatest problem of our day is how do we find time to think? We are so busy gathering information and reading and learning that we have too little time to think about what we have learned.”
Billington presented Kathy L’Amour with a gift from the Library’s Daniel J. Boorstin papers: copies of four personal letters and one political cartoon that her husband had sent to the former Librarian of Congress in the mid-1980s.
An ex-boxer, merchant seaman, cattle-skinner and occasional silver miner, L’Amour was born in Jamestown, N.D., in 1908. He is the only American-born novelist to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. L’Amour’s prolific body of work includes 90 novels; 29 short-story collections; two works of non-fiction; a volume of poetry and a memoir. More than 300 million copies of his books are in print worldwide.
Irwyn Applebaum, president and publisher of the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, pointed out that “in many families there is now a fourth generation of readers enjoying Louis L’Amour’s more than 120 books, all which remain in print.” According to Applebaum, the Center for the Book’s honor is “a most appropriate and fitting tribute to Louis’ remarkable ability to make the American adventure come alive on the page.” Applebaum announced Bantam’s plans to celebrate L’Amour’s 100th birthday with a special centennial offer: a complimentary copy of “Education of a Wandering Man” to any free lending library in the United States.