Thank you, Mr. Fulbright

I listened to an interview with Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School. Smokler’s intent was to encourage adults to revisit the classics they slogged through in high school. He spent just 10 months rereading these 50 books, which is a feat in and of itself. His book has not been released yet and I’m eagerly awaiting it.
As I listened to Smokler and the callers on NPR discuss their experiences with rereading books they confessed they didn’t like as high schoolers, books like The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby I was transported back to my senior year at McCluer High School in north St. Louis County. I took an advanced English class that year with Mr. Fulbright, who began the year by giving us an intimidating list of books from which to choose. One book a week was his expectation. And the caveat that our “book reports” mustn’t simply summarize the plot and characters. He taught us how to think critically about the books; to learn more about the authors and their times; to look for subtext. He taught us to engage with one another about the classics, which was no easy task in the era of “Never trust anyone over 30.”
The books I remember reading that year, books I had the pleasure of rereading in college as an English Lit major, included Gatsby, along with The Grapes of Wrath, The Canterbury Tales, Animal Farm, East of Eden, Pride and Prejudice, Flowers for Algernon.
Mr. Fulbright has since passed away but his influence lives on in me and many of my classmates. Amazing, talented teachers make such a difference in our lives. If you’re lucky enough to reconnect with the teachers who shaped your world view, be sure to let them know. I wish I had.


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