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August's FEATURED AUTHOR: Respect for Books...

August 25, 2010
August's Featured Author Stephen Parrish writes about bookish misbehavior in today's guest post... Check out what he has to say!

Respect for books
I'll call him Marvin, the kid in my high school literature class who Mr. Stoekl caught defacing a book. Marvin was a loner, a pimply-faced introvert who probably suffered from attention deficit. During lectures he often scribbled in his textbooks, which were on loan from the school.

Teachers are obviously trained in stealth tactics, because misbehaving students never see them coming. Marvin was unaware Mr. Stoekl was onto him until a shadow crossed his desk. By which time it was pointless to slam the book shut, tuck the pen away, and conceal all evidence that he'd written "STOEKL BITES" in the margin of his poetry anthology.

"Son," Mr. Stoekl said, occupying the empty desk next to Marvin, "please don't do that."

"I didn't mean anything by it, Mr. Stoekl. I didn't mean any offense."

"Offend me all you want. Just don't offend the book."

Mr. Stoekl was unlike any of our other teachers. He grew up in eastern Europe, immigrated to the States in his early twenties, and went to work in a factory. A son he put through college became a high school teacher and spoke so fondly of his career that Mr. Stoekl got hooked. At 65 he retired from the factory and enrolled in a teacher certification program.

At 70 he graduated and was hired by my high school. At 75, one year after catching Marvin writing "STOEKL BITES" in his poetry anthology, he retired again. Our town honored him as Man of the Year.

"You think it's just a stack of pages glued together," Mr. Stoekl said to Marvin. "Abstract ink smudges. Something that used to be tree."

"Sir, I---"

"Most of those writers are dead. What they wrote has survived them. What you wrote on their distinguished pages won't survive the school year."

If a book contains history, Mr. Stoekl argued, then the book itself is a part of history. All books are time capsules. When you open the front cover you open a door to another world, a world accessible through a kind of looking glass made of hardboard and cloth. The author's voice resonates in the reader's head with the same words that resonated in his own as he wrote them. He speaks to the reader from the past. What he witnessed, experienced, learned, and discovered lives forever.

Mr. Stoekl went back to his desk at the front of the class, and Marvin sat staring at the book still open in his hands. After a few minutes he drew two neat lines through "STOEKL BITES" and put the book away.

Mr. Stoekl didn't live long after retiring from my high school. But the lessons he taught will one way or another live forever. As for Marvin, he and I lost touch shortly after this incident, although I hear he lives in Germany, has since authored a novel about maps and gemstones, and never, ever defaced a book again.

Thank you for stopping by this month, Stephen! I've enjoyed having you around, and I hope you've enjoyed your visit! 


Stephen Parrish said...

Thanks for having me, Drey!

Alan Orloff said...

Wow, Steve, you sure have a lot in common with Marvin. Weird. I've enjoyed your stint here as a featured author. Way to go, Steve, and thanks to Drey for hosting him.

holdenj said...

Mr. Stoekl sounds amazing! What a great teacher to have had in your life.

Lisa Roe said...

Wonderful guest post! It evoked the wonderful teachers of my past...and even made me mist up a little. ;-) Thank you for sharing!

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