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The Book That Changed My Life: Didn’t You CRY?

The Book That Changed My LifeIn ninth grade I was blessed with an English teacher, Miss Soule, who really loved books. (Not always the case with English teachers, witness my tenth grade teacher, who pronounced genre with a hard g.) Miss Soule had a standing weekly assignment for which we were required to turn in some kind of book-related project — it could be a standard book report, maybe a dramatization of a scene from a book one had read, new jacket art, etc. Despite generally being a laggard when it came to homework, little bookworm me had no problem with this assignment.

It was 1970, and the big book of the year was Erich Segal’s first novel, Love Story. It seemed like all the girls in my class were reading it — the doomed romance between Oliver, the tortured WASP Harvard jock, son of a wealthy but cold father, and Jenny, the whip-smart Italian American girl who was making her father, a loving blue-collar guy, happy by her success as a scholarship student at Radcliffe. (This was before girls could go to Harvard College; yup, I’m older than dirt.)

While the newspapers and magazines were regularly running think pieces about the phenomenon that was Love Story (I remember a popular theory that Jenny Cavilleri was by her initials deemed to be you-know-who), what I heard from my female classmates was only one thing as they swapped copies of the book amongst themselves: “Didn’t you cry?” So little bookworm me, already poisonous, channeled my inner Mary McCarthy and for one of those weekly assignments wrote satirically about this dumb book making these dumb girls cry for the dumb fun of it.

That was my first taste of literary journalism, and I’m grateful. But I am also grateful that the subsequent proddings of Miss Soule and my own conscience led me to actually read the book I was mocking, and discover that I liked it. And yes, reader, I cried.

From the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference. For more in this series click the tag Book That Changed My Life.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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