Happenstance in English Class

I failed my sophomore English class in high school because I did not complete a fundamental reading assignment and, by extension, did not complete the book report which accounted for a vast percentage of our grade. I also stopped attending class at some point in the semester, however it wasn’t my fault. Truly! My teacher really didn’t like me. As the precocious adolescent I fancied myself to be, I picked up on her contempt and never returned again. So, there!

Back to my story, I got sidetracked a bit.

That summer, I was packing my things for my yearly vacation in Europe and stumbled upon the book which was on the floor, midway between being at the foot of my bed and underneath it. I picked it up, blew the dust off, gave it’s hard cover a knock (an idiosyncratic stunt I exercise every time I come into contact with a hard cover book) and tossed it into my already overflowing suitcase. What the heck, I thought to myself, I’ll need something to read while on the beach.

BeachWhile laying out on small rocks intertwined with pebbles and specks of sand, I observed the mountainous terrain overlooking the Aegean sea. Her pristine blue waters were calm and smoother than an overflow of olive oil. The perfect day for swimming is when there isn’t a single wave in the water. Not even one ripple! Her peace inspired me and I sat there, alone, to take it all in. Sometimes I’d just close my eyes and smile. Be still in the moment.

Beach in GreeceI spent my summers alone, not literally, but sometimes, yes literally, yet, just in the sense that – well, this is about the book so we can talk about lonely summers some other time. Never mind, I digress.

Bikini legsIt was then that I remembered packing some literature along for this trip. Without looking or even moving my neck, I stuck my left hand out to reach around and pull my beach bag toward my barely there, bikini-clad skin. I shoved my hand inside and kind of just flailed it around a bit allowing my fingers to be my eyes, all the time never moving my neck from this pristine view. Meantime, my hand rummaged: CD Player, no, head phones, no, Beeper? Why did I bring this thing with me, not like it works here…Anyway, dark tanning oil, I should really close this bottle more securely… glossy hard cover book – yes!

Eureka.

I pulled the book out of my bag, took a look at it and gave it a nice, hard knock (read: quirky thing I do). I remember thinking to myself that the book will probably be stupid and nonsensical and a huge waste of time – but time is what I had and I was in the mood for a mental vacation to accompany my physical one. I also remember thinking that my English teacher hated me and would purposely select something so boring and uninteresting just because she was so mean and spiteful. Hmm, I wonder what she’d think about my blog. I don’t mean to meander, again, I really do get lost in these thoughts.

In the small beach town where I stayed, I didn’t know too many people my age. It was mostly a contrast of very young children under the age of 5, or very old people over the age of 60 (sorry friends that are 60, I do not think you are old at all, this was 16 year old me cogitating.) In any event, I read the title to myself and then again out loud “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Here we go.

I delved into it like a crustacean feasting on plankton.

I devoured that book and it satisfied my intellectual desires, hackneyed teenage angst and provided literary acumen for me under the Grecian summer sun.

I read “Catcher in The Rye” then, and I read it again at least two more times after that. “Catcher” remains to be one of my all time favorite pieces of literature up until this day. I sometimes wonder if reading it in class would have impacted me as much. Maybe there was something about reading at the beach, at my own unstructured leisure that allowed for me to enjoy this piece of literature in a way that a humdrum classroom with a boorish teacher could not. Maybe I’m just full of shit and coming up with excuses to justify that failure (it hurt so much to fail English, I’ve always loved English!)

I remember this story from time to time, especially whenever I see “Catcher in The Rye” or happen to witness a young person reading it. I sometimes even share this story with people, noting the accidental fortitude that the very book I thought I’d disdain (and caused me to fail) would become my all time favorite.

Makes for a nice re-telling of the story though. A good way to “chew the fat”.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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About Maya

I like words like "labyrinthian," "kerfuffle," and "serendipitous" because they're mellifluous. I love poetry, pumpkin ales, sangria, long summer days, Fall foliage, going out of my way to step on crunchy leaves in October, live music, Jazz, Salsa dancing, theater, film (foreign and indie), the arts (myriad varieties), dance (in theory and practice) and any place where I can sit outdoors and take it all in.
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