In middle school I was gawky. Suddenly tall, growing out a bad perm from the "I want Baby's hair from Dirty Dancing" phase, I bumped my bony crane-like elbows on the end of our kitchen pass-through almost every day, for a year. Everything stuck out and bumped into stuff and felt newly uncomfortable. My elbows, my knobby knees, my screwy hair, my emotions, my beige lace training bra, my striped rugby shirt that I wore way too often with the matching green scrunchy and did I mention my emotions. It was all confusing and humbling and sweaty and humiliating. I had a crush on the coolest boy in school. He was blond and played soccer and had the kind of smile that made me feel things I couldn't describe at age thirteen. I'm pretty sure he had no idea who I was. Basically a bad John Hughes script. But the place where I always felt poised and smart and fearless was in my favorite class, Reading.
We chose elective classes for the first time in middle school, and instead of Study Hall or Home Economics again, I chose Reading in eight grade. Isolated outside in one of the trailers that had to suffice as a classroom after our school population outgrew the existing building, Reading was the perfect 50 minutes of my Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There were expectations about how many books we read, roughly one a week if I recall, but no forced reading list. Monday and Wednesday we just read. No, seriously, we just read whatever books we wanted, for 50 entire minutes and the teacher actually encouraged this behavior. And then on Fridays we had to deliver our book reports.
Most students dreaded the book reports. But our teacher, (whose name sadly escapes me, sorry Mr. ?,) alleviated our fears of writing books reports and gave us a choice each week. You could write a standard book report or you could take an oral book report quiz. I flipped between the two during the semester. But the style of the oral quiz has always stuck in my mind. With almost every book I read I still give myself this quiz at the end. Mr. ? would take the book we had just finished and then turn to three random spots in the book, read us a brief section, two to three sentences, and then ask us to describe what was happening in the book at that point. It was brilliant. I'm certain he had no idea what was actually going on in most of the books, but he could tell in just two seconds whether you knew what you were talking about. And given the opportunity to talk about a book instead of write about it, everyone in the class chose the oral report about 95% of the time.
The books I read that semester helped ground and get me through the most awkward years of my young life. They helped me understand the constantly changing and developing world I was finding myself more and more aware of as a teenager. It was scary and exciting and confusing and books helped me cope with all of it. I discovered Scarlett O'Hara that year. I read my first 1,000 page book, and I got to talk about books every week. It was the best part of my day on many days. So in honor of Mr. ? and 8th grade Reading, here are my book reports from the last two weeks, I picked the written format. So what was your favorite class in middle school?