11 October 2011

Hitchens recommends books to a young, bright girl

Christopher Hitchens recently attended the Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, Texas. Over at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne has uploaded videos of Hitchens receiving the Richard Dawkins Award for promoting freethought and atheism, and holding forth on Rick Perry and Mormonism.

A highlight of the event was Hitchens taking the time to have a one-on-one chat with 8-year-old Mason Crumpacker. During the Q&A session Mason had asked Hitchens what books he thought she should read in order to become a freethinker like him. Hitchens graciously offered to see Mason afterwards to give her his recommendations.

Coyne has a post on the exchange between Hitchens and Mason written by Mason’s mum Anne, who accompanied her daughter. It was a beautiful moment, when one of the most keen and erudite minds alive today passed on a precious fragment of his mental library to a young, precocious girl who hoped to follow in his footsteps. A dying man planted seeds of knowledge and wisdom in the mind of a potential successor.

Mason wrote a lovely thank you letter to Hitchens:

Dear Mr. Hitchens,

Thank you for your kindness to me and all of the wonderful books you recommended to help me think for myself. Thank you also for taking my question very seriously. When I was talking to you I felt important because you treated me like a grown up. I feel very fortunate to have met you. I think more children should read books. I also think that all adults should be honest to children like you to me. For the rest of my life I will remember and cherish our meeting and will try to continue to ask questions.


P.S. I would like to start with “The Myths” by Robert Graves.

Anne Crumpacker captures that fateful meeting between Hitchens and Mason with heartbreaking poignancy:

I’m not a professional writer, just a mom, but if I get to make only one comment it would be this: There isn’t a magic reading list. Never was. Never will be. The reason what transpired that night was memorable was the wondrous Socratic feel of the exchange. Here was a man, a great thinker of our time who has spent his life developing and honing his intellect, challenging the next generation to pick up the mantle. What all these books have in common is they demand us to question, search and engage. They don’t preach, patronize or indoctrinate. They are a joyful expression of the whole of the human experience. The very best examples of a life fully lived.

We are about to lose a giant among us, but we, as atheists know there can be no greater Valhalla then to join the great conversation of the philosophers. We can honor Christopher Hitchens’ life by teaching our children his best virtues: to study broadly, to laugh heartily, to fight ardently, and to question relentlessly. Books are timeless companions and friends. Mason will surely spend her life in the company of illustrious authors gone before. Naturally, she was introduced to many of them that night by a kind man, with flashing eyes, sitting at a table who is about to join their company.


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