Daily Archives: April 30, 2005

The Classics

I fell out of love with English classes my freshman year. I’m sure the sweet teacher didn’t mean for it to happen. It’s just we were reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Instead of letting us read and engaging us in discussion, the teacher said she didn’t want to worry us too much on that first REAL book; therefore, she’d grace us with reading the book aloud.
At 14 I’d read plenty of real books. And although that teacher had a great soothing southern voice, I had a problem with the way she read the story.
I loved London’s words, the way he structured sentences, the entire idea of The Call and The Wild and what exactly they were.
The teacher might have had the same questions. I don’t know. She lost me with her first instruction. “Ladies and gentlemen, please take out your pencils and proceed to draw a line through all curse words you see.”
Even at that age I knew there was something wrong with the instruction.
Today I can’t tell you how many lines were drawn through curse words in that class. But I can tell you how many weren’t in my books.
I didn’t cross out anything. And I think I might have let a few curses slip with my friends just to see their reactions.
While the teacher enthralled the class with her oral interpretation of that classic, I read the literary great The Karate Kid. I had a thing for Ralph Machio. 🙂
I graduated to those great Silhouette young adult romances and P.S., I Love You. And by senior year I was enjoying my mom’s Desires. I wasn’t reading classics. In fact, after that first REAL book, I didn’t read another required assignment until Sophomore Lit. with Dr. Campbell at Midwestern State. The first classic I read then was The Last Picture Show. It enthralled me, and so did our discussions about McMurtry, our regional literature, the themes of the story and what makes a book a classic.
I lost six years of reading books with universal themes, amazing language, incredible characters. I didn’t even read the Brontes or Austen. But I sure loved the hundreds of Harlequin Presents I read. My high school librarian subscribed to the line and she knew I’d be there to check them out one at a time until I’d read them all.
I’m sure that Freshman English teacher would have explained that they weren’t real books. I would’ve have given her a pencil and asked what she felt needed to be crossed out.
I love the classics. Heart of Darkness is my favorite. But I love genre fiction too. In fact, I love it more. It’s the pulse of the time we live in.
The thing is, we don’t know what will stand the test of time. Hawthorne wrote for the masses. Rowling does today. Three years ago they used Harry Potter as one of the selections for the Literary Criticism test in Texas. Austen’s books are straight up romance. McMurtry sat down and penned a few novels about his home town, a town 30 minutes from the one I grew up in. Only time will tell what books make the cut to become the classics of their time. I’m sure the literati of my generation would disagree, but that’s okay. I love so many of the romances I’ve read over the last few years. Barbara Samuel’s The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, Deborah Smith’s Stone Flower Garden or On Bear Mountain are a couple that come to mind that might last a lifetime or three. But it’s okay if they don’t.
What’s not okay is that at 14 I was told the books I’d read weren’t real. That real books (who cares what they were!) were destroyed with pencils and a teacher on a mission to rid the world of “words that might offend”. That I lost six years of reading books I might have liked if I hadn’t been turned off early on.
I hope my students embrace all forms of literature, genre fiction, “literature”, and the classics. And I hope my daughter never has a teacher who knows just how to take a great book and destroy it.


Back in the day…
Rebellion was my middle name. It wasn’t fun, but I sure did wrap the emotion around my shoulders and shove it in my mother’s face every chance I got. Not my dad’s. Just my mom’s. I don’t know if it’s because I’d heard the stories of my dad’s youth and didn’t want him to relive those days or if it was just because my mom spent more time at home. Probably the latter.
Somehow we made it through those rough teen years.
But for some reason that tug of rebellion stuck with me. I can’t count the number of times my mother’s been on the phone with me, simply discussing, and I’ve turned it into an argument. Usually the topic deals with religion. Sometimes it’s Harry Potter. 🙂
She thinks he’s all about real witchcraft, I think he’s fun and fiction. (Just like the prince in my last book.}
Now that I’m closing in on the upper 30s something’s shifted. I don’t want to debate. I can’t change her mind about the stuff we disagree on and she can’t change mine.
And that’s okay.
There. I said it.
My mother does not have to live and breathe by the word of her eldest. She can have her own opinions, her own beliefs, her own code of conduct.
And just because we’re different doesn’t mean I’m going to burn in Hell. 🙂
What exactly does all this have to do with my writing?
It goes way back. For the last five years I’ve avoided writing an inspirational romance simply because my mother begged me to write one. In my mind, her request was tantamount to embarrassment of my other work. Silly, but then it takes a gal who’s buried her head in books for years a while sometimes to figure out real life.
My new work is an inspirational, but it’s different from most I’ve read. We’ll see where it goes. Today in the shower another idea popped in my brain. Another inspirational. Both are dark, gritty books. But I’m going to have a good time writing them. And then I’m going to go back and write the inspirational I avoided writing for five years just because my 18-yr-old self from long ago kept whispering that I didn’t really want to write a book about God when I wasn’t even sure what I thought about God. Not that I didn’t like Him or appreciate Him, but that I didn’t get Him. Silly me. There was nothing really to get. I just had to accept that He’s there and go on about my business.
I wish I would’ve figured all this out 18 years ago, but I didn’t. Since I can’t change the past, I’m going to let it go.
And tonight when I write, I’m going to say a quick thanks to my mom and God.