Thursday, October 17, 2013
ADVENTURES IN READING (1958-1959): PART III
Last time I gave you a few lists--songs, TV show, movies--that were popular in 1958 when I began ninth grade at Hiram High School. I also reminded you that we had a new teacher that year--Mrs. Ruth Browning, a young teacher (a graduate of Hiram College) whose ... attributes ... particularly interested many of the young men in her classes.
I was pretty much afraid of her. She was no-nonsense most of the time, so, as I've written elsewhere, she shocked me that fall when she allowed one of my classmates (who?) to listen to the World Series (Yanks v. Braves) on his transistor radio (with earplug) and announce any changes in score. That impressed me. Mrs. Browning likes baseball! Thing are getting better and better!
We did a lot of things in her classes--grammar exercises, book reports (oral and written), speeches, essays--and she was the first teacher I'd had who taught us prosody. We learned all about iambs and trochees and dimeter and trimeter and the like. For some reason, a lot of that stuck with me through the years, and I still find uses for it (example: the doggerel I write and post on Facebook).
We also had a literature book (duh), Adventures in Reading (1958), a copy of which I went to some lengths to acquire a few years ago for another project I was working on. As I paged through it, I was surprised to see how ... contemporary ... it is in some ways. There are all sorts of illustrations (see examples below): photographs, line drawings. The editors (more about them in a bit) have also made an effort, it seems, to include pieces from both genders--definitely not a given in the 1950s. To be honest, I've not heard of all of those writers, but there are some important names, too: Dorothy Canfield, Selma Lagerlöf (who won a Nobel Prize), Jessamyn West, Willa Cather, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Amy Lowell. Amelia Earhart has a piece. Still, the contents are dominated by white men, many of them dead. So ... multicultural? Not yet. Not in 1958.
There is also a surprising mixture of genres. Many literature anthologies favored fiction and poetry and drama. But this one includes a heavy dose of non-fiction, a genre that only recently has begun to slug its way into the curriculum.
As I page through Adventures in Reading this morning, I see all sorts of things that resonate. Some are pieces I remember reading in 1958-1959 (not a lot--I confess--perhaps because I, uh, didn't read all those assignments?); some are pieces I taught during my own 45-year career; some I came across elsewhere--or are poems I have, for one reason or another, memorized. And some are things I hated then and hate now. Or hated then and love now.
A few quick examples before I consign this to the evanescence of cyberspace. I taught O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" quite often--and here it is, early in the book, with numerous glosses on words not too many ninth graders know--then or now: undeleterious, Philoprogenitiveness, bas-relief, and the like. The little biography of Wm. Sidney Porter (O. Henry) does neglect to mention his three years in prison for embezzlement!
I remember only one thing about Robert W. Krepps' story "Pride of Seven": It was the first time I learned that pride meant a group of lions. Not long afterward (editing!) comes "The Lady or the Tiger?" And I also remember reading Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace" for the first time here. There's a selection from Lassie Come-Home, which I do not remember, even though the TV show Lassie had been a favorite of mine.
There are some sports stories. I don't recall that Mrs. Browning assigned any of them--or that I read any of them. As I look at them today, I whiff no familiar aroma, see no friendly glimmer. I do remember Heywood Broun's "The Fifty-first Dragon," though.
In one of the poetry sections appears Masefield's "Sea Fever," which I remember and which I recently memorized. And there's a song from Love's Labour's Lost that I have no memory of ("When Icicles Hang by the Wall"). But Emerson's "The Snow-Storm" is there (thank God--Whittier's Snow-Bound is not!). On Poe's "Raven" some assiduous student from long ago has written: "alliteration, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme." This is a poem I memorized only about ten years ago. A poem by Longfellow I don't recognize ("A Dutch Picture"), but not far on is "Jesse James," which I surely read ... but Memory says "No."
There's a section of doggerel, too (Don Marquis, Burges Johnson), including some limericks (I knew some that were not in the book).
Then Dickinson and Millay arrive--"The Mountains Grow Unnoticed" and "I Took My Power in My Hand" for the former, "Winter Night" and "The Fawn" for the latter. Frost's "Sand Dunes" and "AT Woodward's Gardens" are unexpected--no "The Road Not Taken"?
One nonfiction section focuses on flight--Earhart, Lindbergh, rocketry. But there are some examples of memoir, too, including an excerpt from Jesse Stuart's The Thread That Runs So True, a standard work of the day (I remember my mother teaching the entire book to her classes). And here comes a piece on George Washington Carver, also a standard during our days of discomfort about race--days long behind us, right? And there are some other math-science kinds of pieces, too.
Next come some play scripts of various sorts--nothing that has endured, though. "The Valiant" by Holworthy Hall & Robert Middlemass; Horton Foote's "The Dancers" (a TV script--Foote, of course,, has endured).
Next: some translations from The Odyssey, a work I taught in its entirety when I taught ninth grade years later (1979-1981). Here, we have the Herbert Bates translation, and we get Lotus-Eaters, Cyclops, Circe's Warnings, the meeting of Odysseus and Telemachus, and, of course, the slaughter at the end.
At the end of the anthology--the work that zapped my grade during the marking period we (i.e., the others in the class) read it: Great Expectations (abridged!). As I've written elsewhere, I just could not read it (Pip! No way!). I disgraced myself on the reading quizzes, sat mute during class discussions, blushed profoundly when Mrs. Browning called on me anyway, forcing me to say "I don't know" or to fabricate some foolishness that she recognized before four phony phonemes had reached her ears. Oh well, I read the book in college and loved it--and have read it several times since + all of Dickens' other novels. So maybe Mrs. Browning would forgive me now?
One more thing. One of the editors of the anthology is Evan Lodge, a name unknown to me then. But he taught at Kent State University, where I actually took a little seminar from him about teaching English in the secondary school. He invited the (small) class out to his home in Hudson (on Prospect Street), where he showed us how he collected duck eggs from the marge of his pond. And where he told us that he made a lot of money on Adventures in Reading. He said he told publisher Harcourt Brace to give him just $10,000 a year so that his taxes wouldn't skyrocket. And he was still getting that amount every year (the rest held for later) twenty years after the original publication in 1958.
Do the math!