This week I am in a high school English class where I’m surrounded by To Kill a Mockingbird, college pennants, and the promise of the great unknown. Even over two decades since taking an English class, I feel the magic.
See, I’ve never been the literary type. Yes, I read and yes, I appreciate most some classics but English class was never a strength. If I didn’t like a book we were reading, I totally shut down. Sorry Steinbeck, but I could never get The Red Pony.
The Ox-Bow Incident? As slow as molasses and why would I want to read a cowboy book anyway? Do I look like a cowgirl?
Maybe I didn’t like reading with the class. Maybe reading in a chair with three dozen other living, breathing humans did not hold a candle to my preferred reading situation at the time: in my room and dressed in my pajamas. I loved reading in that musty, bile green psuedo-rocking chair in my room next to the windoe, devouring every Sweet Valley High novel I could find and its related junior high titles than I care to admit.
Maybe I didn’t get the appeal with some genres. I couldn’t identify with themes, which were usually too sophisticated for a young teen, or with the people.
I was neither black nor white, definitely not European and definitely not the type of Asian who Americans in the 1980’s could recognize. My parents were immigrants who had limited knowledge of this country’s bestsellers and classic reads.
If I had read a book about Hee Haw and the rise of country music in the 80s, surely I would have rocked that unit. Admittedly, I could have tried harder as well but when you’re a teenager of the MTV-music-video generation, adults were in charge of me… until I didn’t like it and then I’d take it to the streets.
And by “streets”, I mean my journal.
I did, however, fall in love with the Bard himself in seventh grade and decades later I wonder why. I couldn’t believe we were reading A Midnight Summer’s Dream. We were still kids and we were actually reading Shakespeare?
I remember being enamored of the language, of strange words and even stranger spellings, the endless footnotes from the publisher. I needed so much help just to decipher a sonnet but I didn’t care. This was romantic. This was poetry.
This was Shakespeare.
I went on to struggle with other novels and the conundrums that are associated with proper grammar and correct spelling. I later learned to embrace all of latter through creative writing. Words came easily when they didn’t have to be spoken. Not all of my writing was stellar but consistent enough that I still remember the praise from my junior high English teacher.
I read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman in high school and again, I was swallowed wholly and without hesitation in the language. This was not my mother’s romantic comedy. No, this was real love. This was violence, passion, betrayal, murder, suicide. Okay, the latter two were not romantic but it was Shakespeare and in my fourteen year old eyes, he could do no wrong.
And though this isn’t MY classroom, I still feel the magic. This elation from discovering the writing legends that are John Green and Scott Westerfeld, from sharing the anxiety of college applications, and from celebrating their light bulb moments, their good grades and their good-enough grades, and their college acceptance news.
I have started to read a novel in the morning, read through my lunch break, and even stayed twenty minutes after my job was finished so I could finish the story. I have begged the school librarian for one more night with a book, despite me not actually working at the school site. Just today, I shared my excitement for the Uglies series with a junior who was trading in the first in the series for the next two. I feel very fortunate to be a part of all of this. May I share in this wonder this magic continue for students to come.