Encountering an Old Friend

A Book That Greatly Influenced My High School Years

A Book That Greatly Influenced My High School Years

There it was on the shelf of Iliad Book Store in February 2009: A not-too-beat-up copy of the Committee on College Reading’s Good Reading, circa 1964. Naturally, I picked it up if for no other reason than to walk down memory road when I was a voracious reader. (And, if you read this blog, you know of course that I still am.)

I was the valedictorian of my class of 1962 at Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio—a school that no longer exists. First it changed its name to Saint Peter Chanel, then, some years later, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland shut it down. Even though I was in excruciating pain from a tumor that was pressing on my optic nerve, I still read as much as I could. On weekends, I would take the 56A bus downtown, stop in at Schroeder’s Bookstore on Public Square, and then spend some time at the main library, which was built in 1925.

What I felt I needed were books that served as a bibliographic reference to what I ought to be reading. That’s what Good Reading did. There were individual chapters by different members of the Committee on College Reading, all faculty members at various colleges. Just to give an example, here are some of Robert Clark White’s recommendations for 20th Century Continental Novels:

  • Samuel Beckett: Molloy
  • Albert Camus: The Stranger and The Plague
  • Karel Čapek: The War with the Newts
  • André Gide: The Counterfeiters
  • Jaroslav Hasek: The Good Soldier Schweik
  • Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf and Siddhartha
  • Franz Kafka: The Trial
  • Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain, and The Joseph Tetralogy
  • Marcel Proust: The Remembrance of Things Past
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea and Troubled Sleep

These are not bad titles for the time. I probably would have added something by Iceland’s Halldor Laxness and Portugal’s Fernando Pessoa, but these are mere cavils. Thanks largely to this book, my attention was directed to great writers in every field. And the book covered more than literature: There was also history, philosophy, religion, anthropology, physical sciences, and other subjects.

I was such an earnest young student. Even while on the bus, I would pore over books such as Norman Lewis’s 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary and Word Power Made Easy, taking all the quizzes in the books over and over until I got a perfect score. Despite all the physical pain, I had a good childhood, starting with what my loving parents gave me and adding what I could along the way.