I wrote a bit last week about find this book--I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier--when I was shelf-surfing through the C's looking for some Stephen Crane titles. As I said last week, the Cranes had sort of elbowed Cormier back behind them. An annoying little brother? But when I found Cheese, I took a quick Memory Journey back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when I used that book with my students--and recommended it to young readers all the time.
My own copy is heavily underlined, lightly annotated, beginning with the recto page inside the front cover where I've drawn a circle around this: So begins the odyssey of a boy on a quest .... I've drawn a second circle around odyssey--I had taught that Homeric classic to English I students at Western Reserve Academy for a couple of years (1979-1981).
As I look at my markings in the book, I see that I have a set of informal levels of importance, ranging from a squiggly line down the margin (sort of important), to an underlining (important), to underlining cum asterisk(s) (very important), to circling or boxing a sentence or passage (mega-important).
And I've written a few things. On p. 14, for example, our narrator (a troubled young teen) mentions a girl he loves--Amy Hertz. And I (clever, clever I!) have written Hertz = heart (in German). At the top of p. 37 I have written: Almost a Skylla-Kharybdis episode. On p. 50, next to the narrator's I have lost all track of time, I have written irony.
And here's a weird one. The narrator is describing a group of teenagers in a little restaurant. In the margin, I have written cf Travis McGee. This, I realize after a moment's puzzlement, is an allusion to a writing assignment I used to give my frosh. I gave them a snotty passage from a Travis McGee novel (Bright Orange for the Shroud by John D. MacDonald), a negative passage about teenagers, and had them write a reaction. (See image for the passage.)
My copy of Cheese has other Odyssey allusions marked--and all kinds of other things. As I look over the book, I am reminded how seriously I took every text I taught--how very much I wanted my students to see connections among the things they read. Not a bad goal, really.
Robert Cormier died 2 November 2000 (Link to New York Times obituary). I just looked at my journal entry for that day ... I drove to Chicago that day. I went to Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, where I was looking for the grave of William H. Chaney, the man who scholars believe was the father of Jack London. There had been some talk about exhuming the body, doing a DNA test ... but when I got there, I discovered his grave was long gone (he'd been destitute and his friends paid only for a temporary burial--later, his body was moved to an unmarked site). On November 2, 2000, I also had a meal with former Harmon Middle School students Janet Nabring and Cathy Nasato, both living in Chicago; both had acted in plays I'd directed, too. And now, of course, I wonder: Did they read I Am the Cheese?
BTW--Here's a link to a little piece I wrote about Chaney and his burial.