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While I count down the days until I find out if UW wants me to stay in Portland or move north, here’s what I can recall of my high school reading lists:

Freshman Year

Teacher: the man built like a floppy daddy-long-legs, who covered the classroom walls with pictures of Germany and van Gogh’s sunflowers, who loved Cancer Ward and Ken Kesey, who made us learn – and I mean really learn – vocabulary. Fifteen words a week? Twenty? Spoiler: he makes a reappearance junior year, and doubles the number of vocab words per week. I might mix up books between these two years.

Cold Sassy Tree. Why? It was decent but not all that great. I think ALL the freshmen had to read this, not just our lucky ducky honors English class. I can’t imagine Mr. S picking this one on his own.

The Chosen.
Perhaps the foundation for all my ability to discuss themes in literature. I went on to read every single book I could find by Chaim Potok, and Bronwen and I have to been known to converse about becoming “the Chaim Potok of Orthodoxy.” Mean, of course, Christian and not Jewish Orthodox.

A Tale of Two Cities. Ah, the French Revolution! Bastille Day! It is a far, far greater thing…

My mind is a complete blank on what the hell else we read that year. I think that was the year I did my big paper on Pride & Prejudice.

Sophomore Year

Teacher: one of the best teachers I’ve met. We read a huge variety of books, we tore them apart and put them back together, we did creative writing and real analytical writing. I could argue with him fiercely about a point I was trying to make in a paper. He had us organize a Heroes’ Banquet at one student’s house at which we, I kid you not, dressed up like real or fictional people who we thought of as heroes, and performed elaborate skits about our characters. My God, we got SO into that. I was Don Quixote. I have a group picture from the occasion.

The Odyssey. I am forever grateful for this because I certainly wouldn’t pick it up on my own but it turns out that it makes for great discussion (was Odysseus really a hero? Or just a big jerk?) Plus, now my ears are attuned to mentions of wine dark seas and such, and it even made Joyce’s Ulysses bearable.

Lord of the Flies. I blame this book for several years of disliking the color pink. Enough said.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I was always a sucker for Arthurian legend stuff – plus I believe I recall being in a play of the same story in middle school.

Cat’s Eye (or was this senior year?) Either way, it got me reading Margaret Atwood.

The Great Gatsby
. I’ve been meaning to reread this for ages – it seemed so perfect at the time. But I can’t read any other Fitzgerald because the man only has one story to tell. I tried, believe me.

Junior Year: Mr. S makes a reappearance, with increased vocabulary. I perfect the art of “using the word in a sentence” by creating the most elaborate & unlikely sentences possible with the help of a dictionary of names. I’ve never looked back.

As I Lay Dying. And we all felt like the title was referring to US.

The Grapes of Wrath
. Eh. Give me Travels for Charlie any time.

My Antonia. SORRY! Geez. I just remember stuff about fields and maybe a boarding house? And how to pronounce Antonia. I have neutral feelings towards Willa Cather, but then this is the only book of hers that I’ve read. I SUPPOSE I should read more, but with the reading lists you bloggers are throwing at me these days? No time!

Senior Year: Sweet Ms. A who always had a pencil in her hair and let us read contemporary literature and died a couple years ago of some unsuspected brain thing, leaving behind twins in grade school. It’s so cheesy & trite but I wish I could send her a thank you for her part in turning me into someone with a BA in English.

The Kitchen God’s Wife. Excellent tear-jerker.

A Prayer for Owen Meany. Okay, picture a classroom full of seniors who’ve been given time to read. Picture dorky 17 year old Jessmonster with Owen Meany in hand. Now, I’m known for the way I crack up while reading and startle other people in the room. Owen Meany practically had me in tears. I think there were points where the whole class stopped reading to watch me read. And the ones who weren’t as far along as I was were wondering what on earth would happen next. I happened to finish the book in class, and that definitely drew some attention, although I wasn’t laughing by that point.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles. For such a depressing, fatalistic story, we managed to get a lot of good laughs out of it. Crumby, anyone?

I know there are more and it’s driving me up the wall that I can’t remember them. You see, is why I obsessively note down all the books I read these days. Records, people, records.

May 2006

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