by S. M. Hutchens
My years in the library contained many interesting experiences, but only one that was so bizarre, so surreal, that I still have a hard time myself believing it happened, the story of which I would blame no one for doubting. I shall, however, and I hope to some good purpose, proceed here to relate it and—* * *!—ah, there was a good sneeze in Háry János style, so you must believe me.
A young woman approached the desk, told me she was a high-school English teacher working on a master's degree, and needed to read a novel about war. Could I help her find one? Perhaps, I thought, this might not be as easy an assignment as it sounded. Surely she had already read many of the major ones, so I began the interview, hoping I would not insult her by touching upon the obvious: Had she read The Red Badge of Courage? No—what was that about? How about All Quiet on the Western Front? Hadn't heard of it. Since she was young, I thought I might move to some more modern titles: Catch Twenty-Two? On the Beach? No and no. I was now fairly desperate. War and Peace?—and while I was at it, Doctor Zhivago? Not familiar with those. By now I was searching her face for signs she was teasing me, but could see none. Well, what about the Iliad? No—who wrote that? Homer. Homer who?
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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