Back in 1980, in a quaint little public high school named after the First President of the United States, in the wonderful city of Kansas City, Kansas, a wayward young lineman, a junior at the school, took a semester course called Short Story. The wayward young man took this course because either he was incredibly interested in literature OR it sounded like an easy class to take (you know, SHORT story vs. LONG story).
The Short Story course had a textbook. But it was no ordinary textbook. I, no, I mean, the young man still remembers walking into the closet to get his copy of the torn ancient book off of the shelf. To make a long story short, over the course of that semester class, driven by that book, the young man was transformed into a reader. The world changed.
At the end of the semester, the young man almost surely remembers checking the book back in. But the book somehow knew the young man needed it and followed him for the rest of his life keeping him honest and reminding him of the beauty of the written word.
The book is called MAJOR WRITERS OF AMERICA, copyright 1966, Under the General Editorship of Perry Miller, late of the Harvard University.
It is like a Hall of Fame of American Literature. Many of the stories contained within are my absolute favorites.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Found Among the Papers of the Late Diedrich Knickerbocker” by Washington Irving, one of my favorite all-time stories. What I remember best about this story is reading it to my kids every October when they were little in order to get in the Halloween mood. It still makes me happy to think about reading “Sleepy Hollow” lying prone on the bedroom floor, one or more kids sitting of my back, the others lying next to me, listening to Irving’s magnificent prose.
Did you know Robert Frost wrote other poems besides “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”? I didn’t, until I opened this book.
And let’s say, one would ever, ever, ever want read a poem by Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, I can hook you up.
Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg”, “Bartelby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”, by Herman Melville, a little ditty called “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, Poe, Hawthorne, Emerson, just to give you a sampler.
Some of the stories, like Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”, I have probably read 100 times. Others, like “A Witch Trial at Mount-Holly” by Benjamin Franklin, I have yet to read.
Besides the Bible, this book probably has had a bigger influence on me that any other written text on the planet. It helped mold a big, dumb lineman into a man with a love of the story and a love of words. I apologize to Washington High School and sincerely hope that the statute of limitations has expired. Rather than pinching a book from a public school, I prefer to think of it as a “book rescue”.
Man rescued book; book rescued man.
2 responses to “The Book: Introduction”
To be sure Mike, that WHS has a “Mr. Bookman”, the library cop who is trying to track you down…..it would go something like this –
“Hays, Michael……football and baseball player…..chubby but solid and athletic……failed to check in a copy of Major Writers of America on May 12, 1980…….”
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