In my last blog, Harry Potter, I talked about two fantasy series I remembered from my teen years: Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. That led me to think about other books I’d read in high school, and while several came to mind, I knew it was nothing close to the number I’d read. And I had no clue as to whether they were assigned reading or choices I had made on my own.
I wasn’t a happy camper when I started high school. Because of the way the school district lines were drawn, I went to a different high school than all my friends from Junior High. In retrospect I’m grateful, but at the time it seemed a huge injustice and I bemoaned the loss of most of my friends. But with time I settled in and made new friends. Two girls in particular, Katie and Sue, became close friends. We were a “bookish” Three Musketeers and ended up graduating first, second and third (me) in our class. – classic birds of a feather and all that!
So, I reached out to both of them to write this, asking what books they remembered reading in our high school English classes. Our discussions ended up falling more in the camp of lamenting the vicissitudes of memory than it did on any particular books we had read!
Katie did remember that in our senior year many of us had already read the assigned books in the curriculum. So, our teacher (one of my favorites of my high school career) created a separate reading list for us. Regrettably, The Lion in Winter (James Goldman) was the only title she could remember. Sue remembered several titles including To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee,) The Odyssey (Homer,) The Diary of Anne Frank (probably Jr. High) and “some Shakespeare.” But like me, she wasn’t sure if they had been assigned readings or something she had read on her own.
I remembered many of these were books as well as other titles such as Moby Dick (Herman Melville,) A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens,) and Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury,) Civilization and its Discontents (Sigmund Freud,) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) and Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes.) And yes, there was Shakespeare. I know Romeo and Juliet was 9th grade and King Lear was my junior year. I remember Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I don’t remember the year. The one book I do remember clearly was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I was deeply affected by it which in retrospect may have been foreshadowing my future career as a psychotherapist.
I know these are only a few of the many books I read during my high school years, but more than I remembered before talking to my friends and taking this trip back into the seemingly murky and nearly vacuous recesses of my high school memoires.
But it wasn’t a totally fruitless expedition. More valuable than the few book titles we recalled was the nugget of memory of the teacher I mentioned earlier who taught senior English. His name was Mr. Patton and he opened a previously veiled door in the room of reading and writing for me, piquing my curiosity and making me think differently about what I was reading and how I wrote about it. As much as I was aware of it then, looking back now his influence feels more significant, leaving me glad to have taken this trip back in time.
Teachers often open doors for us in ways other adults in our lives can’t. Did you have a significant teacher in high school who inspired or encouraged you?