Wednesday, October 24, 2012
One Book That Greeted Me
When I started teaching at the Aurora Middle School in the fall of 1966, the district was on a split schedule. Because the new high school building was not yet ready (and would not be for about six weeks), the high school students occupied "our" building till noon, and when they left for the day, the middle schoolers arrived. When the high school eventually moved, they took with them most things of value (I'm grousing now), and my classroom, Room 116, had very little that I could use.
A set of grammar books. A set of ancient literature anthologies that the high school apparently no longer wanted (more about them tomorrow). A set of readers whose title, until just the other day, I could not remember for love nor money.
I wanted to remember those readers. They had saved me, over and over and over, throughout that first year. Whenever I couldn't think of what to do in class that day, out would come those old readers, and we would read something together. And talk about it. Usually I hadn't read the piece ahead of time, so it was a process of discovery for all of us. If the story or poem was bad, I would say, This is bad, isn't it? Let's talk about why it's bad, okay? And the day would pass. And when the buses pulled away, I would exhale with relief. Survived another one! That first year, I really was moving day to day, class to class. Trying not to implode. Trying to figure out this profession before it destroyed me.
When I was working on my teaching memoir--Schoolboy: A Memoir (available on Kindle: link)--I tried everything I could to try to come up with the name of that reader. I wanted to talk about it a bit in the book--talk about how it saved me. How I used some of the pieces in it for years afterwards.
But no. A lacuna in my brain. Deleted file. Erased. Whatever metaphor you want to use for I can't remember the name of the damn book!
And then ... 17 October 2012 ... along came a word-of-the-day on one of my calendars: grimalkin. A weird word for the common cat--often an older female cat. I posted the word on Facebook and noted that I'd first learned that word in an old radio-play adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a play that had appeared in the old reader Doorways to Discovery.
Yes, I'd remembered the name of that book. But only because, completely by chance, that same play had appeared, as well, in the final literature anthology I'd used in my middle school career: Scott Foresman's Explorations in Literature. I remembered that grimalkin was in that play, remembered grimalkin was in that book--so I checked it. (Yep, it's there.) And also there--in a footnote--the intelligence that the play had come from Doorways to Discovery, published by Ginn.
I quickly got onto ABE.com (Advanced Book Exchange--a great used-book site) and found several copies for sale (nothing above $10--don't they know the treasure of that book!). I ordered a couple of different editions--and one came yesterday. And when I peeled the packaging away, there it was, a copy of that book that had been waiting for me in Room 116 in September 1966, the book that I'd pulled out whenever I was in trouble, which was often.
link.) I had no way of knowing in the fall of 1966 what Jack London would mean to me.
And whoever thought that an old "reader," a book that was lying around in Room 116 nearly fifty years ago would have any significance at all for me. But, of course, I've learned over the years: All books are doorways to discovery. All you have to do is open those doors. Take a step.