Yesterday, I wrote about Doorways to Discovery, a Ginn reader I found in my classroom back in 1966 and employed whenever I ran out of other ideas--which was pretty often.
But there was another set of old books there, too--some literature anthologies that the high school had left behind when they moved up to their new building in October. Prose and Poetry for Appreciation (5th edition, 1955). I think it's a book for 9th graders. The volumes were all scruffy and banged-about, but they contained some pretty good pieces that I used with my students quite a bit--that first year and other years, too. When I retired in 1997, I took one with me and recently paged through it.
I also noticed that someone had written little thematic reminders by some of the pieces that the high school classes must have read. For example, this little poem by Ethel Jacobson ("Atomic Courtesy") appears:
To smash the simple atom
All mankind was intent.
Now any day
The atom may
Return the compliment.
In the margin someone wrote: The atom might smash mankind. True enough.
And the narrator says, in the story's final sentence: I walked over, grabbed a corner of the blanket, and pulled. There, beneath me in a row, were two young girls in evening dress, and three young men in tuxedos--and every body was minus the head.
Two things shock me now: (1) that a story like this would be in a school anthology (can you imagine the uproar nowadays!); (2) that for several years I routinely had my seventh graders read this story. I was not equipped with an abundance of judgment early in my career--maybe not later on, either. But I did stop using this story after a bit ... don't remember why. I like to think--I prefer to think--that I was maturing.
The Table of Contents offers a strange mix of the famous (Shakespeare), the unknown (to me ... Theodore J. Waldeck?), the famous-but-I-didn't-know-it-at-the-time (Selma Lagerlöf, a Nobel Prize-winner), the-people-who-would-later-mean-something-to-me (Vachel Lindsay, S. I. Hayakawa, Jack London--an excerpt from Irving Stone's biographical novel about London is here: Sailor on Horseback), and people-whose-works-I-would-teach-until-my-very-last-day (Edgar Poe, Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Emily Dickinson).
And those old standards that I'd read in high school, too--"Leiningen Versus the Ants" and "The Most Dangerous Game." I would guess that most people in my generation read those two tales in high school.
Let's let the Bard have the final word. In Julius Caesar, someone--I like to think it's our Sex-Kitten Guy--has drawn a rectangle in blue ink around these words spoken by Brutus (4.3):
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
May we all float on the flood tide of life; may we all avoid the shallows for as long as fortune allows!