Friday, May 23, 2008

Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman

My high school geography teaching recommended this book to me. He wrote the title on the edge of my notebook while I was reading something else; maybe Summerhill. He liked me even though I spent most of his class reading, I guess because a couple of times I misunderstood the assignments and accidentally turned in something interesting and also because I had these jeans I'd written all over. They were against dress code but he never sent me to the office for them. When another girl asked why he didn't he said it was okay because they had "philosophical quotes" all over them, although I think the closest I got to philosophy on those pants were some Smashing Pumpkins lyrics.

He wrote on one of my assignments, "Never stop writing. It will be your lifecraft." I still have that note. I was about to say he was the first person who ever told me I would be a writer, but now that I think about it he might be the only one who's ever said that.

He was pretty crappy at being a high school teacher. He was young and insecure and tried to be cool, not realizing how cynical we were. He told us there was only one rule in his classroom, "respect." I guess he didn't know that half the teachers said that and that they all found ways to make "raise your hand and ask for the bathroom pass," mandatory parts of respect. I guess he didn't know he would do that, too.

After a while, he started calling the campus police over really stupid stuff, like someone raising their voice but not even actually yelling. It seemed like he pressed his red emergency button about twice a week. Officer Nino would come to find out what was wrong and talk to the kid and tell them to cut it out while Mr. Caesar got redder and redder in the face trying to explain what a huge disturbance the kid had caused. In other classes, they only called the campus police when actual violence was occurring.

I had learned to tune stuff out, so while all this was going on I sat in my seat in the back row playing Magic with my friend Jesse or reading Of Mice and Men for English.

I kept that bit of paper where he wrote Steal This Book for many years. Every once in a while when I was in a new bookstore or library I'd look for it. I either didn't think you were supposed to use interlibrary loan for something like that or I was too shy to ask about it.

My senior year of college some friends and I went to San Francisco and found Steal This Book in the City Lights bookstore under a section named something like anarchy. I was a little tipsy and spent almost $70 on books, which was a lot for me at the time, especially since I was financing the entire trip on a credit card.

I bet Mr. Caesar, who if he is still a teacher is almost certainly battered and bitter by now, would like this story.

After six years of waiting to read it, what did I think of the book? I'll leave that to the next entry.


Sam said...

I can't remember much of the book (read it about 7 years ago). But I like the general philosophy of the book. I read the entire thing online where it was available for free.

Curious on what you thought of it

Scarlett said...

@beany: I guess I probably could have read it online at the time when I bought it! I was kind of behind the curve with the Internet at that point in my life.