With spots of sunny openings, and with nooks
To lie and read in, sloping into brooks.
-Leigh Hunt (1784–1859)
James Leigh Hunt’s literary fame rests chiefly on his miscellaneous light essays including The Story of Rimini (1816), based on the love of Paolo and Francesca, is his only long poem of consequence from whence this opening quote came. A noted dramatic and literary critic, he was a friend of and one of the first to praise the genius of Shelley and Keats. They could dress pages with lexicon that makes the heart dance.
I love to read. Cereal boxes, shampoo ingredients and To Kill A Mockingbird. Does not matter. My father lost track of me in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in San Francisco. I insisted on reading every single blurb written for each item on display. Hours went by, they went for ice cream, when they came back they found me enraptured over a cow lick that had been licked into the shape of an swastika.
Then along came my teacher for my reading course in the College of Education at the University of Arizona. She was weird and rude. She wouldn’t let the blind student audiotape her class. Kicked him out. Told him her lectures were copyrighted.
“Geez, this will be rough,” I thought.
Three fourths of the time I had no idea why she was lecturing about the subject she was on. It was never about reading at all. She would talk about aborigines, do some example of how they hunted on the board and then assign homework.
The worst homework assignment ever
The most horrible one was to write down everything we read for one day. I did this for about two hours. “On” and “Off” for the light switches, bill boards while I drove down the street, license tags, the bottom of the tissue box. This was agonizingly hard work. I put it away and continued reading surrounded by the guilt of not writing it all down. I picked up the four pages, front and back, I had already written-- and reread it. Then realized this would have to all have to be written down again. It was ridiculous. There was no getting away from it. For the rest of the day brittle shame hung on every word I read and did not write down.
I turned the four pages in and got a C.
I had hated my beloved reading abilities for a day only to gain a small inkling of how frustrating life is for anyone who struggles with it.
For our final she handed out examples of other student’s works that had gotten an A. We were befuddled. One was a biology test; another some nonsensical puzzle.
It was at the library when the idea stuck that I could make a book. This was a reading course after all. I would mirror back her teaching method. Lecture, show a sample, and give an assignment. I didn't know what else to do.
One chapter was about crossword puzzles. I wrote a small summary defining what one was, cut and pasted a puzzle I had solved from the newspaper and the next page was a blank crossword puzzle for the reader to solve.
Another chapter was about how to draw a horse. I drew the horse numbering the pencil strokes in order and on the next page was a beginning sample with several missing strokes for the reader to fill in the rest and so on.
It even had a cover, a chapter list, and an index.
The teacher wrote, “You forgot to include a bibliography. A+ See me after class.”
I don’t have that paper anymore. She asked if she could keep it as an example to mystify her future classes with.
It was at that point that I knew exactly what it takes to be a teacher.