Bill Crider posted yesterday about Gil Brewer's novel THE THREE-WAY SPLIT (which I have on my shelves but have never read), and one of the things Bill mentions is that the book is only 128 pages long. That made me think about when I was a kid, and 128 pages was my favorite length for a paperback because I could read part of it at school in study hall and then finish it at home after school.
I don't think kids today know much about study hall. It doesn't fit into their busy, regimented, caffeine-fueled schedules. But it was my favorite part of the day during junior high (where it was mandatory) and high school (where it was an elective, but I took it every year but one anyway) because most of the time I could use it to read books. Occasionally I had to spend part of the period doing homework, but mostly I sat there reading the Saint, Nero Wolfe, Doc Savage, Conan, Jim Hatfield, John Carter, Mike Hammer, Travis McGee, Shell Scott . . . you get the idea. I certainly wasn't going to waste that valuable time in the middle of the day studying.
Except, of course, given the way I've made my living, I really was studying, I just didn't know it. Neither did the coach who was in charge of study hall, who was always irritated by the fact that I was sitting there reading paperbacks. He liked to come and loom over my desk (he was large enough that he could actually loom), and the following conversation always took place:
"Don't you have any homework, Reasoner?"
"Done it already, Coach."
"What kinda grades you make, Reasoner?"
"Straight A's, Coach."
Followed by indeciperable muttering as he walked off.
One of the other coaches where I went to high school, the head football coach, in fact, was also the algebra teacher, and a very good one. One day I was sitting in his class during some slack time, so I took out a paperback and started to read. I know it was a Shell Scott book; I think it was BODIES IN BEDLAM, but I'm not sure about that. But the coach saw me reading it and called me up to his desk, told me to bring the book with me. I was pretty nervous, expecting to have it confiscated -- and I wasn't through with it. But instead the coach said, "You like that book? I think I've read all those Shell Scott novels. They're great!"
Well, I was flabbergasted. This was the first adult I'd ever talked to who actually liked to read some of the same stuff I liked. Most of them who paid any attention to what I read disapproved of most of it, like I was going to grow up all warped or something because of it. They were right, of course, but that's not the point. What was important to me was finding a fellow fan, and in an unexpected place, at that. Obviously, I've never forgotten it.
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