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A teen with books and brains

Walking into a quickie-junk-food place to get a cup of coffee, I espied a high school teen actually carrying a book, a novel no less.

I asked what he was reading. He looked me up and down and asked if we could talk. That was no problem I said, and then asked if he was actually reading the hardcover. He replied in the affirmative and held up another, a soft cover, and said he was nearly finished with that one.

“I’ve been over a million-word reader every year since elementary school,” he declared.

I gave him kudos and, undoubtedly (well, possibly) recognizing the hat, the student mentioned he is also a reader of yours truly. He then asked if I write of our encounter to please not mention his name. I said, “No problem, you haven’t mentioned it and I certainly can’t if you don’t tell me.” He laughed.

Then it was his turn to ask the questions. “What were your favorites when you were my age, Mr. Emo?” he inquired. He probably shouldn’t have done that, but not once in the ensuing conversation did he roll his eyes.

We sat down and I told him that when I was in high school, and before, I had the good fortune of having some very good teachers. I also said that “back in the days before computers and Internet I spent a lot of time at the local library.”

I began with classics like “Tom Sawyer,” “Moby Dick” and most of the science fiction books by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells while still in grade school at John Adams. Later, I moved on to the too racy for its time, “Catcher in the Rye” that was ripped from my hands as a freshman in high school. I enjoyed them all. The young man laughed at that revelation of a banned book.

He paused for a moment when I asked him who his favorite authors were, but soon rattled off “Hunger Games” books by Suzanne Collins and of course, the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling. Another favorite writer, he said, was James Dashner and “The Maze Runner” series. When I asked if he had ever heard of Steinbeck or Hemingway, that’s when he rolled his eyes.

“Of course,” Mr. Emo, “and I’ve read a few of their books, too.” Before I could ask, he added that after reading a “Meandering” story on beat writer Jack Kerouac, he had read “On the Road.” I must admit my chest puffed out a little on that news. This kid was going places.

When I began expanding our conversation to controversial writers, the student said his parents wouldn’t allow him to peruse anything by Ken Kesey, including “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” He also mentioned they forbid him to read George Orwell’s “Brave New World” and anything by Hunter S. Thompson, not even “Hell’s Angels” or “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

“So you have your banned books, too,” I said, and realized why he didn’t want me to mention his name in this recounting of our meeting. “That’s too bad.”

But with a sly grin, he replied, “It’s OK, I’ll just wait until I’m out of the house and going to college.” I asked him what his major was going to be and he said he wanted to become a high school English or history teacher. I wished him the best of luck and we parted.

Walking to my truck, I wondered what magical technology his students would have to work (and play) with during school. Certainly no books — so good luck to them on learning about life.


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