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Saturday, June 14, 2003

I'm proud of the fact that, as a high school and college student, I never descended to reading Cliff Notes for the various literary works I was assigned. I'm less proud of the fact that, more often than I care to admit, my solution to the "Holy crap, I can't understand this book at all" problem was to simply not read it and bluff my way through class discussion, a talent which I honed to an unfortunately high degree of effectiveness. But a lot of times, I really did read the book, even if I was hopelessly incapable of really appreciating it. (I've often wondered if forcing Shakespeare upon unwitting ninth graders is really a sound educational policy, but that's a digression for another time. Jason, this is precisely the kind of question you might consider on your blog....hint, hint....)

I understand the idea behind Cliff Notes, as an educational aid. What I didn't understand was the way students actually used them, which struck me as a tacit admission like this: "Man, there's no way I'm gonna read that book. But just the same, I'm afraid of looking like a dunce if Mrs. Wigglesby calls on me." I was always thinking, "Be honest! Bluff your way through, and if you get caught, admit you didn't read the damn thing! What's she going to do?"

And yet, my ability to academically bluff somehow never translated to being able to bluff in a card game. Go figure.

Why am I rambling about this? Well, someone recently arrived here via a Google search for the Cliff Notes to a book. What book? Not Pride and Prejudice. Not Ulysses. Not even A Farewell to Arms or The Grapes of Wrath. No, someone was looking for the notes on a Stephen King book. And not The Stand or 'Salem's Lot, either. They were looking for King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

On the off chance that this person is reading this, please hear me out: On Writing is a terrific book, and it's a short one (288 pages in my hardcover edition, not a doorstop by any means). It's insightful, funny, and toward the end (when King discusses that encounter with a reckless driver that nearly killed him a few years back), downright moving. Instead of looking for the Net to do your homework for you, read the damn book. For Christ's sake.

End of complaint.

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