By Nicole Spector
Every week it’s the same dream: I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve missed nearly an entire semester of Miss MacDonald’s AP literature class. Now it’s finals time. My alarm clock is shrieking. I’ve got twenty minutes to get to school and also, to read with great scrutiny, several books. The list includes obvious classics like Crime & Punishment and Madam Bovary. I haven’t so much as cracked the cover of any of them. I’m devastated. How could I have been so irresponsible?
Inside the dream, I panic. Knowing Miss MacDonald, one of the school’s oldest teachers (she's been there at least four decades), she won't go easy on us. She'll test our familiarity with the works down to utter minutiae. She’ll want to know what Raskolnikov’s room is like — how many feet long? What novel helped shape Emma’s romantic ideals? There will be long essays to write on the spot and no multiple-choice questions.
I must find a way to postpone taking this exam.
But it's not just Miss MacDonald’s disappointment that gets me. It's a deeper sense of failure. I remember something that happened when I first met her. This happened in real life, in the life outside the dream, but I remember it within the dream. I remember arriving early to her first period class despite my aversion to the morning. I remember dropping in after school to ask questions to which I knew the answers. It wasn’t because I enjoyed the class, really. It was because it felt good to watch her pale gray eyes light up with my phony enthusiasm. I guess I thought I was doing some kind of good deed. I perceived her as a lonely person. What I was learning wasn't about Raskolnikov's room. It was about varying kinds of generosity and sacrifice. Is that a better lesson?
Today I looked her up. She died a few years ago. I also found an old report card. She’d given me an A-.
What have you learned from books?
What have you learned from other people?
Nicole Spector is a writer and editor in New York. She is the author of Fifty Shades of Dorian Grey.