Of the current contenders in this season's bout for the presidency, Paul Simon has certainly enjoyed a reputation as the group's intellectual. A journalist at 19, with 11 books to his credit and a professorial pair of horn-rimmed glasses (not to mention the bow tie), the thoughtful, well-read Simon seems to live up to his ``man of letters'' image. But what is the scope and range of his scholarly pursuits? A recent phone conversation with his wife, Jeanne, revealed that Mr. Simon's intellectual appetite is almost exclusively literary, focusing on the subject closest to his heart: politics.
Simon is a voracious reader, but his reading list is composed largely of books on history or economics. ``He never reads anything for pleasure,'' Mrs. Simon says, ``and he never reads fiction. Although he probably would read a book on economics for pleasure.''
She makes a quick jaunt to the bedroom of the couple's Washington, D.C., home to survey Simon's regular night-stand stack of books. It currently includes Jonathan Kozol's ``Rachel and Her Children'' - on homeless families in America - and ``Hidden History,'' by Daniel J. Boorstin.
Mrs. Simon also mentions the autobiography of former House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Will Durant's ``History of Civilization,'' and ``anything by Abe Lincoln'' as favorites of her husband.
On the wall over the senator's formidable pile of books hangs the apartment's sole painting, which depicts a German castle. It was given to Simon after US Army service in Germany. Framed autographs of former presidents grace most of the home's other walls.
``I'm afraid we're not really patrons of the arts,'' Jeanne Simon says frankly, recalling only one painting in the family's Illinois house: a sunset scene painted by a local artist.
But she does mention two Illinois museums near their home that the couple likes to visit. When in New York, she adds, the American Museum of Folk Art is a favorite.
Of all the arts, Simon enjoys music most, his wife says.
``Paul's a frustrated piano player,'' she explains. ``He loves to bang away [on the grand piano in their Illinois home] - the same way he types.'' While he prefers to listen to piano music, Mrs. Simon can't name a composer whose works her husband particularly favors. ``He loves Chopin because he was Polish,'' she notes. ``And he was thrilled with [Vladimir] Horowitz in Moscow. But I think it was the man more than the music.''
A Simon White House would bring no revival of Jack Kennedy's famous Camelot. The Simons have no friends who are artists or performers, preferring ``men and women of letters.'' Instead of gala events featuring visiting entertainers, Mrs. Simon envisions small White House dinners in which the guests are writers and historians and the main event of the evening is conversation.
``He wants to be part of the learning process,'' Mrs. Simon says of her husband. ``Paul always prefers to talk rather than to sit and observe.''