But one of the most important moments of the class was when Mrs. Loftus gave us a list of classics and assigned us to read one. I took the list to the school library during my study hall and started perusing the shelves. I first came across The Catcher in the Rye. I had heard of this one before, so I decided to check it out.
When I brought it up to the desk, the librarian, Mrs. Blanton, looked at the title and then back up at me.
"Gretchen, do you know what this book is about?"
Now, you have to imagine this being said in a whisper because Mrs. Blanton always spoke in a whisper (she was a librarian after all). Her whispers had different levels to them--loud whisper, medium whisper, and a soft whisper-whisper to name a few. These whispers seemed so much a part of Mrs. Blanton that I could actually imagine her talking like that when she was, say, ordering lunch meat at the deli, or disciplining at her kids at home.
At this moment, she was using the medium whisper. But when I replied that no, I did not know what the book was about, she dropped down to the whisper-whisper and said, "Well, I have to warn you that it has some (barely audible whisper) sexual content, like (almost imperceptible whisper) a prostitute."
"Oh, oh, okay. Thank you Mrs. Blanton." She nodded solemnly in response, stamped in a due date, and sent me on my way.
I was not sure what to make of this information, but I decided to read the book anyway. Midway through, though, I found myself more annoyed than scandalized. I felt like if I met Holden Caulfield in real life I would want to tell him to get over himself. And that whole thing about catching kids in a field sounded a tad too creepy for me. I finished the book, but decided I wasn't a fan.
So, I returned to the list Mrs. Loftus gave us and settled on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. From the moment my mind's eye pictured those lonely, windswept moors, I was hooked. And, that is why this this assignment was so important for me--it led me to what would become one of my favorite books of all time.
Since that school year, I have reread this book almost every year, which became much easier after my parents bought me my own copy for Christmas. There is just no other story like it. And, there are so many aspects of the story that leave me questioning, that I really have no choice but to read it over and over again.
Take Heathcliff, for instance. I have never really decided whether or not I actually like him. Sure, it's pretty romantic when he says, referring to Cathy, "I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" I mean, I think you'd be lying if you said you didn't want your true love to have that reaction when you die (I'm actually considering putting that quote on an index card for Pete so he can yell it to my housekeeper, Nellie Dean, if anything ever happens to me...and, I still need to hire that housekeeper. I hope she won't mind changing her name.) BUT, in most other scenes in the book, Heathcliff is kind of a sadistic, cruel manipulator. Is it really his fault, though? See, now I am going to have to go read it again when I am finished writing this post.
One thing I know for certain from reading this book is that intense love coupled with emotional distress will cause you to go into a brain fever. I don't know exactly what a brain fever is, only that it will force you to "take to your bed" and almost certainly die. Since reading Wuthering Heights at the age of 14, I have taken extra care to remain calm in situations and not work myself into a brain fever, at least not until Pete has rehearsed the appropriate lines and I have that housekeeper named Nellie. Because it would be such a shame to waste a good brain fever on people who are not prepared to properly react to it.
I don't remember what the rest of the assignment that Mrs. Loftus gave us was. I have no recollection of writing a paper or doing any project over the book. But, then again, Mrs. Loftus was stricken with an attack of Shingles that year, and even the gerund worksheets trailed off. It is quite possible that she forgot all about the assignment. But, I will forever be grateful to her for leading me to this book that haunts me much like Cathy haunts Heathcliff.