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When we are writing we are often told to keep our readers in mind, to shape what we say to fit their tastes and interests. But there is one reader in particular who should not be forgotten. Can you guess who? Russell Baker surprised himself and everyone else when he discovered the answer.


Writing for Myself

Russell Baker 1 The idea of becoming a writer had come to me off and on since my childhood in Belleville, but it wasn't until my third year in high school that the possibility took hold. Until then I've been bored by everything associated with English courses. I found English grammar dull and difficult.

I hated the assignments to turn out long, lifeless paragraphs that were agony for teachers to read and for me to write.



2 When our class was assigned to Mr. Fleagle for third-year English I anticipated another cheerless year in that most tedious of subjects. Mr. Fleagle had a reputation among students for dullness and inability to inspire. He was said to be very formal, rigid and hopelessly out of date. To me he looked to be sixty or seventy and excessively prim. He wore primly severe eyeglasses, his wavy hair was primly cut and primly combed. He wore prim suits with neckties set primly against the collar buttons of his white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique.


3 I prepared for an unfruitful year with Mr. Fleagle and for a long time was not disappointed. Late in the year we tackled the informal essay. Mr. Fleagle distributed a homework sheet offering us a choice of topics. None was quite so simple-minded as "What I Did on My Summer Vacation," but most seemed to be almost as dull. I took the list home and did nothing until the night before the essay was due. Lying on the sofa, I finally faced up to the unwelcome task, took the list out of my notebook, and scanned it. The topic on which my eye stopped was "The Art of Eating



4 This title produced an extraordinary sequence of mental images. Vivid memories came flooding back of a night in Belleville when all of us were seated around the supper table ─Uncle Allen, my mother, Uncle Charlie, Doris, Uncle Hal ─and Aunt Pat served spaghetti for supper. Spaghetti was still a little known foreign dish in those days. Neither Doris nor I had ever eaten spaghetti, and none of the adults had enough experience to be good at it. All the good humor of Uncle Allen's house reawoke in my mind as I recalled the laughing arguments we had that night about the socially respectable method for moving spaghetti from plate to mouth.


5 Suddenly I wanted to write about that, about the warmth and good feeling of it, but I wanted to put it down simply for my own joy, not for Mr. Fleagle. It was a moment I wanted to recapture and hold for myself. I wanted to relive the pleasure of that evening. To write it as I wanted, however, would violate all the rules of formal composition I'd learned in school, and Mr. Fleagle would surely give it a failing grade. Never mind. I would write something else for Mr. Fleagle after I had written this thing for myself. 突然我就想描述那一切,描述当时那种温馨美好的气氛,但我把它写下来仅仅是想自得其乐,而不是为弗利格尔先生而写。那是我想重新捕捉并珍藏在心中的一个时刻。我想重温那个夜晚的愉快。然而,照我希望的那样去写,就会违反我在学校里学的正式作文的种种法则,弗利格尔先生也肯定会打它一个不及格。没关系。等我为自己写好了之后,我可以再为弗利格尔先生写点什么别的东西。

6 When I finished it the night was half gone and there was no time left to compose a proper, respectable essay for Mr. Fleagle. There was no choice next morning but to turn in my tale of the Belleville supper. Two days passed before Mr. Fleagle returned the graded papers, and he returned everyone's but mine. I was preparing myself for a command to report to Mr. Fleagle immediately after school for discipline when I saw him lift my paper from his desk and knock for the class's attention.


7 "Now, boys," he said. "I want to read you an essay. This is titled, 'The Art of Eating Spaghetti.'"


8 And he started to read. My words! He was reading my words out loud to the entire class. What's more, the entire class was listening. Listening attentively. Then somebody laughed, then the entire class was laughing, and not in contempt and ridicule, but with open-hearted enjoyment. Even Mr. Fleagle stopped two or three times to hold back a small prim smile.


9 I did my best to avoid showing pleasure, but what I was feeling was pure delight at this demonstration that my words had the power to make people laugh. In the eleventh grade, at the eleventh hour as it were, I had discovered a calling. It was the happiest moment of my entire school career. When Mr. Fleagle finished he put the final seal on my happiness by saying, "Now that, boys, is an essay, don't you see. It's ─don't you see ─it's of the very essence of the essay, don't you see. Congratulations, Mr. Baker."



Summer Reading

Michael Dorris 1 When I was fourteen, I earned money in the summer by cutting lawns, and within a few weeks I had built up a body of customers. I got to know people by the flowers they planted that I had to remember not to cut down, by the things they lost in the grass or stuck in the ground on purpose. I reached the point with most of them when I knew in advance what complaint was about to be spoken, which particular request was most important. (1) And I learned something about the measure of my neighbors by their preferred method of payment: by the job, by the month ─or not at all. 夏日阅读



2 Mr. Ballou fell into the last category, and he always had a reason why. On one day he had no change for a fifty, on another he was flat out of checks, on another, he was simply out when I knocked on his door. Still, except for the money part, he was a nice enough old guy, always waving or tipping his hat when he'd see me from a distance. I figured him for a thin retirement check, maybe a work-related injury that kept him from doing his own yard work. Sure, I kept track of the total, but I didn't worry about the amount too much. (2) Grass was grass, and the little that Mr. Ballou's property comprised didn't take long to trim. 巴卢先生属于最后一类,而且他总有理由。有一天他兑不开一张五十元的钞票,又有一天他支票用完了,还有一天我上门时他干脆就溜出去了。撇开钱这档子事,他倒也还是个挺不错的老头,每次看见我,老远就挥手或脱帽致意。我猜他退休金不多,可能出过工伤,整不了自己的园子。没错,我全都记着账,可我对这点钱并没太在意。(2)也就是剪剪草,何况巴卢先生住宅外面的那一点草坪修剪起来花不了多少时间。

3 Then, one late afternoon in mid-July, the hottest time of the year, I was walking by his house and he opened the door, motioned me to come inside. The hall was cool, shaded, and it took my eyes a minute to adjust to the dim light. 到了一年中最热的七月中旬,一天傍晚前,我走过他家,他开了门,示意我进去。门厅里凉凉的,帘子遮去了阳光,过了一会儿我的眼睛才适应室内的暗淡光线。

4 "I owe you," Mr. Ballou began, "but…" "我欠你工钱,"巴卢先生开口道,"不过……"

5 I thought I'd save him the trouble of thinking up a new excuse. "No problem. Don't worry about it." 我想省得他费神找新的借口了,就说: "没事。别放在心上。"

6 "The bank made a mistake in my account," he continued, ignoring my words. "It will be cleared up in a day or two. But in the meantime I thought perhaps you could choose one or two volumes for a down payment." "银行把我的账弄错了,"他没理我的碴儿,接着说,"一两天里就会改过来。在这当儿,我想你不妨挑一两本书作为我的首付款。"

7 He gestured toward the walls and I saw that books were stacked everywhere. It was like a library, except with no order to the arrangement. 他朝墙那边指了指,我这才发现到处都堆着书。就跟图书馆一样,只不过没有分门别类罢了。

8 "Take your time," Mr. Ballou encouraged. "Read, borrow, keep. Find something you like. What do you read?" "别着急,"巴卢先生鼓动说,"读也好,借也好,留着也行。找你喜欢的。你平常都爱读什么书啊?"

9 "I don't know." And I didn't. I generally read what was in front of me, what I could get from the paperback stack at the drugstore, what I found at the library, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, comics. The idea of consciously seeking out a special title was new to me, but, I realized, not without appeal ─so I started to look through the piles of books. "我不知道。"我的确不知道。我通常是弄到什么就读什么,从药房里买到的平装书,图书馆里借得到的书、杂志,到麦片包装盒背面的说明,还有连环漫画,什么都看。有意识地找出一本特别的书来读对我是件新鲜事,不过我觉得这主意挺不错──于是我开始在书堆中翻找起来。

10 "You actually read all of these?" "这么多书你都读过啊?"

11 "This isn't much," Mr. Ballou said. "This is nothing, just what I've kept, the ones worth looking at a second time." "这不算多,"巴卢先生说,"这根本不算多,只不过是我自己的藏书,都是值得再读一遍的。"

12 "Pick for me, then." "那就替我找一本吧。"

13 He raised his eyebrows, cocked his head, and regarded me as though measuring me for a suit. After a moment, he nodded, searched through a stack, and handed me a dark red hardbound book, fairly thick. 他眉一抬,头一侧,望着我,就像是在给我量体裁衣似的。过了片刻,他略一点头,便在一堆书中搜寻,然后递给我一本暗红色封面的精装本,挺厚的。

14 " The Last of the Just," I read. "By Andre Schwarz-Bart. What's it about?" "《最后的正义》,"我念道,"安德烈?施瓦兹巴特著。是讲什么的?"

15 "You tell me," he said. "Next week." "你来告诉我,"他说,"下个星期。"

16 I started after supper, sitting outdoors on an uncomfortable kitchen chair. (3) Within a few pages, the yard, the summer, disappeared, and I was plunged into the aching tragedy of the Holocaust, the extraordinary clash of good, represented by one decent man, and evil. Translated

from French, the language was elegant, simple, impossible to resist. When the evening light finally failed I moved inside, read all through the night. 晚饭后我坐在室外一张不舒服的餐椅里打开了书。(3)读了几页,院子就消失了,夏夜也消失了;我一下子就进入了二战期间纳粹对犹太人的大屠杀这一令人悲痛的惨剧中,进入了以一个正派人物为代表的善与恶之间非同寻常的冲突中。书译自法文,译文优美朴素,令人不忍释手。天色终于暗了下来,我回到室内,读了一个通宵。

17 To this day, thirty years later, I vividly remember the experience. It was my first voluntary encounter with world literature, and I was stunned by the concentrated power a novel could contain. I lacked the vocabulary, however, to translate my feelings into words, so the next week, when Mr. Ballou asked, "Well?" I only replied, "It was good." 时至三十年后的今天,我仍清晰地记得当时的经历。那是我初次有心地接触世界文学,我被一部小说所能包含的集聚的力量深深震撼。但我缺乏足够的词汇表达我的情感,因此,第二个星期,当巴卢先生问我"怎么样"时,我只回答说:"书真好。"

18 "Keep it, then," he said. "Shall I suggest another?" "那就留着吧,"他说,"要不要我再介绍一本?"

19 I nodded, and was presented with the paperback edition of Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. 我点点头,拿到了一本平装本的玛格丽特?米德的《萨摩亚人的成年》。

20 To make two long stories short, Mr. Ballou never paid me a cent for cutting his grass that year or the next, but for fifteen years I taught anthropology at Dartmouth College. (4) Summer reading was not the innocent entertainment I had assumed it to be, not a light-hearted, instantly forgettable escape in a hammock (though I have since enjoyed many of those, too). A book, if it arrives before you at the right moment, in the proper season, at an interval in the daily business of things, will change the course of all that follows. 长话短说,无论当年还是次年,巴卢先生分文未付我替他割草的工钱,但我在达特默思大学教了十五年的人类学。(4) 盛夏阅读不是我原先认为的仅仅借以消磨时光的娱乐,不是躺在吊床上无忧无虑、打开书本就什么都忘掉的一种消遣(虽然自从那个夏天以来我曾多次以这种方式自娱自乐)。一本书,如果在恰当的时候,恰当的季节,在日常事务的间歇中出现在你的面前,就会改变你此后的人生道路。