Sunday, April 24, 2011

Required Reading

Random thoughts while waiting for May 15th to come around . . .

One of the characters in my forthcoming Applewood makes an observation which, coincidentally enough, is also something I've wondered long and hard about. He puts it thusly:

The purpose of junior high is to prepare you to die.

The evidence he proffers for that theory isn't the hellish junior high experience he and his friends are going through (and whoever thought it was a good idea to put all of those hormones and angst into one building hopefully died a horrible death) nor is it their own personal trials and tribulations. What he uses to buttress his theory is the required reading he and his friends have had shoved down their throats the past few years, which coincidentally, were the same books shoved down my throat when I was their age.

Among the books the characters have been forced to read are Death be not Proud ("Kid gets brain cancer and dies."), Lord of the Flies ("Plane crash. Adults die. Cannibalism. Just like our school."), Go Ask Alice, and On the Beach ("They all began to laugh, because On the Beach was the granddaddy of them all. In that book, everybody in the world dies. Eventually.")

Of course it doesn't end there. There was A Separate Peace and The Outsiders and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and more. I remember another Death be not Proud teenager-gets-cancer-and-dies book being synopsized in the reading magazine we all got. And of course, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year, all the classes came together in the cafetorium for a ritualized viewing of Brian's Song.

You couldn't make it up.

So like I said, I've done a lot of wondering about that over the years, and I gotta figure part of it is simply payback on the part of teachers and school authorities for having to deal with eleven- to thirteen-year-old kids in their native habitat. And if the kids are going to make their lives miserable (and they do), then the teachers will have the last laugh, reminding kids every day that their time will come, and sometimes, sooner than you think . . .

Throw in frog dissection ("Extra points to keep the heart beating!") and getting bare-ass naked in front of other people for the first time and I tell ya, it's no wonder I recall junior high with such fondness.

I do recognize that much of the above is indeed classic literature. Just question if it may be . . . a bit much. It certainly left an impression upon me, though in my case, some of it may have just been the zeitgeist of the time. As my own seventh-grade career was winding down, Seasons in the Sun hit the number one spot, and by the time I put my pen down for the last time that year, it had been overtaken by Billy Don't be a Hero.

So not that long ago, I wasn't surprised to see my eighth-grade nephew writing a paper on A Separate Peace. Another nephew, when asked what book they had him reading, alerted me there had been a new book added to the pantheon of classic dead-kid literature they make you read.

He was reading Into the Wild.


Aaron Polson said...


Now I know why junior high sucked the big one. Looking forward to May, Brendan.

Brendan said...

And why you're teaching high school!

You're a good man, Aaron Polson. As always, thanks.