My favorite Atheist blogger vjack has hit the nail on the head with his post Banning books to protect a delusion. As I went down the list of banned and/or challenged books, I was struck by how many I had read. The third title, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, hit me pretty hard. 30 years ago my high school English teacher pulled me out of a self defeating funk by challenging me to read the book. It changed my life. When I think back on the important turning points in my life, this book, and my subsequent analysis of the text, changed what thought about myself.
The story is simple. I was an underachiever. A solid low C student who was perfectly happy to surf as much as possible and coast through school. Plus, I grew up in the shadows of people who outperformed my intellectually. My friends were smart. I was the slow kid. I believed it too.
Mrs. Jolliffe locked me in a room and made me read The Grapes of Wrath. After a few chapters. I could not put it down. She pushed me to analyze the text, and finally to write a term paper explaining my insights. When she handed out the grades, I had the only A. My friends all ended up with B’s and C’s. I realized I could think and if I applied myself I could do well.
The story did not end there. I visited a church that was on a book and album burning tear. The asked for books and music to donate to a bonfire at a youth group meeting I attended with a girl I was dating. The only book I had was The Grapes of Wrath. It was sticking out of my back pocket. They went on about it’s profanity and evil sexual influences. They wanted me to burn it, or at least throw it away. I wanted no part of it. I jumped in my VW and went night surfing instead. To this day I associate the event with the start of my atheistic awakening.
Mrs. Jolliffe retires this year after 37 years of teaching. She’s taught both of my sons. They both love to read.