Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Townsend

by Fae Rowen

My eighth grade English teacher "made" us read a book every week. Luckily we didn't have to write a book report every week, but we had to keep a log with the names of the books we read. Once a month he called us individually to his desk to look at our log.

I prided myself on being a good student. I followed the rules. Two months into the new school year, I took my paper to his desk. Eight book titles filled the lines. He looked at the titles, then looked at me. Several times. Usually he asked students about a couple of their books, to be sure they'd read them I think, but he didn't ask me any questions.

I had access to lots of books. I'd been volunteering at our city's library every Friday night for three hours since the sixth grade. It was a good way to get to go to the library every week and check out the maximum number of books (ten), then return them the next week.

I'd read just about every book in the children and junior high sections, where I shelved books, and I had started losing my interest in reading. Even though the librarian saved the new books for me, they all seemed the same.

Mr. Townsend frowned. "It's time you start reading something besides Nancy Drew and Sue Barton, Student Nurse, Fae."

If I'd wanted to be a nurse, I would have changed my mind after reading all those Sue Barton books. I had no interest in The Hardy Boys. Our list was supposed to be novels, not non-fiction books for reports in social studies or science. I had no idea what kind of books he meant. YA was not a genre in those days.

"I'm going to give your parents a call."

Oh, no! I was in trouble. A teacher had never had to call my parents before. The word mortified would be a good choice to describe how I felt.

I waited for my parents to say something at the dinner table. Nothing. I guessed Mr. Townsend would call after dinner. But he didn't.

I'm not sure when he called, but when my father took me to the library the next Friday night, he came inside with me. Usually he just dropped me off in front of the building. "Mr. Townsend called. He wants us to get you an adult library card."

Wait, what? That would mean I'd have access to the whole other half of the library. To sections that I hadn't even been allowed to shelve the returns. And to all those books.

My dad signed the paperwork, and the head librarian gave me a temporary card. When I finished my shelving duties, I spent half an hour in the adult fiction section stretching to look at all the books on the top shelves, since, in my limited experience, the best books were shelved out of reach.

I settled on one book. It had three times more pages than the longest book I'd ever read, and the letters were much smaller. There was no way I could read ten books like this in a week.

Well, I devoured Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood like it was a home-delivered pizza. It sure wasn't Sue Barton, Student Nurse, whose major problem was getting a spot on her uniform, although Captain Blood had originally been a doctor before he became a pirate.

I returned that book and checked out Ben Hur the following Friday. During the week, my dad and I watched Captain Blood and Ben Hur on TV. I started reading what my mother called "the classics." Saturday mornings my dad and I watched the movies made from the books I'd read that week. My mom joined us for Gone with the Wind.

No longer relegated to "age appropriate" books, my imagination was challenged by historical fiction, literary fiction (Catcher in the Rye—I didn't get much of it), and genre fiction. Soon I was back to checking out ten books a week again, and reading after I was supposed to be asleep.

Captain Blood changed what I read and how I read. Rafael Sabatini's words made me want to read again. They opened up new worlds (literally, with science fiction books) and ideas.

So, thank you Mr. Townsend, for taking Sue Barton out of my hands and replacing it with fantastic adventures which planted the seeds for my future writing career.

What book changed something about your life? 
Was there a character who helped you?

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules. P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


5 comments:

  1. Stephen Donaldson's books about Thomas Covenant changed me profoundly and made me want to write. My sister, Kate Flora, had a librarian like your teacher at our tiny Vose Library in Union, Maine. It was partly her influence that turned Sister Kate into someone with 18 published titles.

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  2. Bless those first "influencers"! Here's to hoping students somehow find their special books. Thanks for sharing your experience. We're all richer for our sharing.

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  3. I agree you had a great teacher, but also great parents for following up--getting you that adult card, and watching the movies with you.

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