Have you ever HATED a book? You know from past posts that I have.
But the first book I can remember ever truly feeling mad about came much earlier in life.
Thanks to an October birthday and my elementary school’s rules for kindergarten enrollment, I was one of the youngest members of my class throughout my education. As a result, I was always among the smallest in stature, but my personality was pretty large. I was a pure extrovert.
When eighth grade started, I was twelve years old.
I got straight As and liked school. I had braces and a perm (in my defense, most of the girls did). I was getting ready to try out for junior varsity cheerleading, and was about two years into being en pointe at my ballet studio. I was thrilled to take Spanish class and so disappointed when the teacher turned out to be a bust. I liked boys and thought passing notes between classes was the best thing ever, but I got nervous when the objects of my affection liked me back.
In just about every way, I was still just a kid.
Then came eighth grade English class and our teacher, Mr. B. Before him, I had never been the target of a teacher’s negative attention. Well, except for talking out turn sometimes–I had a big mouth and a lot of energy. My teachers seemed to know that they could count on me to answer lots of questions and participate in class discussions. If anything, I was a bit of a goody two shoes.
But Mr. B. seemed to want to tear me down from day one.
One weekend, my picture was on the cover of a section of our local newspaper. I had danced a tarantella at a local Italian festival recently and after the performance, the photographer staged a pic of me feeding a slice of pizza (!!) to a guy dressed in an Italian costume (??).
That Monday, Mr. B brought the newspaper to class, held it up and used it to illustrate one of that week’s vocabulary words: tawdry.
I probably cried. If I had not been such an obedient kid (generally), I suspect I would have run from the room. I couldn’t understand why I was getting off to such a bad start with a teacher who seemed to like everyone but me.
When Mr. B. announced that we’d all be doing book reports to present the class, thus giving us a taste of more classics than we could possibly read as individuals, I thought “great, no problem.” I was always a big reader. My parents used to send me to my room for behavioral infractions like talking back. My smart mouth couldn’t not say “good, I’LL READ!” Sending me to my room was no punishment at all.
But then he assigned me my book.
When I heard Kon-Tiki was about a man sailing across the ocean on a raft, I was undaunted. After all, I loved the ocean.
Eighth grade logic, you guys.
First I had to find the book. Keep in mind that this was pre-Amazon and pre-Barnes & Noble. Mom and I tried book stores and libraries without success at first, finally locating a hardcover version of book through a friend of a friend (I think). It was a massive tome and I had to use a cloth cover while reading it. Or rather snoozing on it.
Kon-Tiki is, to this day, the most boring book I have ever pretended to read. I apologize to the late Thor Heyerdahl. He doesn’t and didn’t need my support. Other people apparently loved his damn book because it sold out quickly in his native Norway. Twelve and thirteen year old me did not.
Meanwhile my classmates were assigned books like The Red Badge of Courage, The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter, all of which are shorter than Kon-Tiki by at least a third. I was outraged. And anxious.
This not-being-liked-by-a-teacher situation crushed my confidence and left me sleepless. My parents were concerned enough to call the school. It didn’t help. If anything, it gave him ammunition.
I did the damn book report. It was torture and I procrastinated. I remember writing the book report while I was still reading the book – not ideal – and I may have even dictated some of it to my mom on her typewriter. Yes, she was mad.
I have blocked out the grade I got on the Kon-Ticki book report (which means it was probably a B; I was not used to receiving anything but As). I wish I could tell you that Mr. B. was punished for the way he
tortured me singled me out. I wish I could tell you I got my revenge, or learned a lesson. But really I just got through it. I bided my time and tried not to stand out. Eighth grade made school a little less fun for me and woke me up to the fact that sometimes people just don’t like you.
To this day, I’m tempted to send the guy some of these anonymously.