In the summer of 1975 I got the class assignments for my upcoming freshman year at Ledford Senior High School in Wallburg, North Carolina. I didn’t know any of the teachers, so I went and talked to my friend Jesse, who was a couple years older. How is this guy I have for English, I asked?
Not, good, Jesse explained. He’s hard.
Fortunately, I had no damned clue how to switch out of that section and into an easier one, so I was stuck with second-year teacher Jim Booth. Who proved to be not only a great teacher, but one of the most important people in my life. I got an A in English I, then senior year I got an A and won the award for top student in his English V class. Along the way he taught me to love language and somehow I became a writer in my own right. I learned a lot about music from him (and saw his band Prufrock play a couple of times – they were really, really good). In the years that followed he was a mentor as I developed. He became a friend. He was the guy responsible for me getting my MA (and for finding the program at Iowa State that I earned that degree from). When things went south with his wife, he moved in and we were roommates for a year or two. Then he hired me to be on the Communications department staff with him at a college (the name of which we do not speak aloud – long story).
In other words, it’s what happens when the right student encounters the right teacher. I cannot fathom what my life would be today had I listened to Jesse and somehow gotten that class assignment changed, and for this I’d like to say a huge thanks.
All of this is me personally angling up on a couple of things. First off, you have hopefully seen Otherwise’s wonderful review of Jim’s new novel, which was released today. With luck, you immediately hustled over to Queen’s Ferry Press and ordered your copy of what I promise you will be one of your favorite books this year.
Second, it’s also Jim’s birthday. And it’s one of those big, round-number, landmark kinds of birthdays. I won’t divulge which one, but if you’ve paid any attention to the things he has written here at S&R over the past several years you should have no trouble guessing.
So, all in all, today is a big honking day for one of our favorite people. I hope you’ll wish him a happy one. You know, right after you order that novel….