Inside, the school smelled smartly of varnish and wood smoke from the potbellied stove. On gloomy days, not unknown in upstate New York in this region south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie, the windows emitted a vague, gauzy light, not much reinforced by ceiling lights. We squinted at the blackboard, that seemed far away since it was on a small platform, where Mrs. Dietz's desk was also positioned, at the front, left of the room. We sat in rows of seats, smallest at the front, largest at the rear, attached at their bases by metal runners, like a toboggan; the wood of these desks seemed beautiful to me, smooth and of the red-burnished hue of horse chestnuts. The floor was bare wooden planks. An American flag hung limply at the far left of the blackboard and above the blackboard, running across the front of the room, designed to draw our eyes to it avidly, worshipfully, were paper squares showing that beautifully shaped script known as Parker Penmanship.
Obviously there are contexts in which you really have to read your assigned books; if you skate through your college assignments like I did, you’ll regret it. But if someone demands you read a book simply for their personal pleasure, they’re bullying you, and by even pretending to read it you are already a Christ-like humanitarian. There is no single book you have to read cover-to-cover in order to be a good person, and there are plenty that will make you a worse one. Save your time for the books you do want to read. Or at least for some good TV.