Reading, reading, over the bounding main

You might think the most unlikely place for education is on an expensive cruise ship, where the passengers are mostly elderly, wealthy, and taking it easy after retirement. If you think so, you are wrong.

I have just returned from seventh cruise to different parts of the world as so-called enrichment lecturer, and once again I am impressed by how much he rich wish to be enriched. They are curious about a wide variety of subjects, and that is why the enrichment lecturer may be a writer, a marine biologist, a historian, a political scientist, a nuclear physicist, or no telling what else, though the passengers on the cruise can tell after a little listening.

And there is more than a little listening. The enrichment lecturer gives about two lectures a week, with time afterward for questions. And he (or she) usually sits at one of the larger tables in the dining room, with a chance for more discussion. There are also chance meetings on the deck to pick the brains of the lecturer. So the chances are good.

Indeed the enrichment lecturer's brains are picked almost as much as the calves' brains or other food at the sumptuous meals. To put it another way, minds are broadened almost as much as stomachs.

But education on a cruise ship goes far beyond listening to a writer such as Allen Drury or Irving Stone, to a political pundit of the stature of William Buckley, or to a reviver of the good old days like silent screen star Colleen Moore, with a showing of clips from some of her films, followed by comments about early Hollywood.

What has impressed me is how much the passengers read, and what they read. Uninterrupted by the telephone and undiverted by television, they have time on their hands and usually a book in them. Sometimes they choose lightweight (in more ways than one) paperbacks, but more often they dig into books the size of Michener's "Centennial" or Herman Wouk's "War and Remembrance," books they hadn't time to read from cover to distant cover at home.

Some bring books aboard and pass them around to newly made friends. Others borrow books from the ship's library. Usually there is no librarian, but passengers browse until they find the book, or the kind of book, they are after.

I have seen passengers asleep in their deck chair, lulled to somnolence by the gentle motion of the ship, with a book on their lap. But if I saw them another day, and napping again, I would notice that the bookmark had moved half an inch or more, usually more.

My wife, who accompanies me on these cruises, has read more books on this past cruise, around South America, than she would read in a year or two at home. They were good books, too, both fiction and nonfiction. Working on my lectures, writing every day, and worrying about the work piling up at home, I was envious. But I was also glad she was reading and learning.

As the cruise continues, so does the education, not only from lectures but from classes in such fields as arts and crafts, music, and dancing, as well as shore excursions.

Active travelers, I have discovered, have active minds. I must bestir myself to keep up with them.

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