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Lagniappe

For most high school students, the idea of an English class churns their stomachs and fills them with disdain, and I was no exception. For the longest time, English had a terrible connotation in my mind. I had never enjoyed the idea of writing a paper; it seemed pointless and I felt reading the required media was asinine. Overall, English class and I were not cordial to one another. I came from a family of avid readers and my parents touted the importance of reading from a young age, but since early on in elementary school, I could not find as much enjoyment from novels as my family had, especially those assigned by my teachers.

This was true until my junior year in high school. I walked into English 11 to meet my new teacher of what I assumed would be another year of mind-numbing, dull curriculum, since I had no hope left after all my experience in previous classes. The teachers name was Mr. Lunn, and from the moment he walked into class I knew he would be, if anything, eccentric. For one thing, he wheeled his cart into the class room full of teaching supplies and papers, and on the bottom were two NERF guns, a plastic sword and battle axe. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this teacher.

He started discussing what we would be covering that year and I became more interested. Besides the fact we would be reading classic heroic stories like Beowulf, The Odyssey, and Macbeth, but we were going to be able to read the books we wanted to read, and instead of summaries of the books, we would write reviews of them, critically analyzing the aspects of the book and backing up our reasons for enjoying the book or not. I was surprised that I was actually excited for the class to start.

As the school year progressed, English became my favorite class by far. It was all thanks to Mr. Lunn and his surprisingly interesting curriculum. I loved the stories we were reading and was really glad about the independent reading assignments. I found I had a passion for reading a lot of anything, especially science-fiction and fantasy. The only problem I had with the class was the papers. I could not write a good paper no matter how I tried. Apparently I was not the only one in the class with that issue because one day, Mr. Lunn came into the room and said “Today, we are going to learn how to write a decent paper on something we have read.”

He then proceeded to rip our writing apart and told us what garbage we had been submitting for him to grade. I was offended, but certainly glad the topic was brought up. Mr. Lunn said that disregarding the occasional misspelling and grammatical error, the papers lacked substance. It was like reading thirty summaries that were taken straight from the text, rather than being deeper. Mr. Lunn was a southern man from Cajun country, so he used a colloquial phrase to explain what he meant. He said we had to look for the Lagniappe in the things we were reading, which we responded to with several confused looks. He told us that lagniappe is a term meaning “something extra,” such as a free donut or a bonus points on a test. He said to us:

“Authors have a tendency to put extra things in their writing that most people don’t catch if they’re just reading for enjoyment. You all, however, will do much better if you look for those extra meanings, the little nuances that can change the entire story if you realize them.”

I am not too sure how well the message was received by my classmates, but I took the term lagniappe to heart. I read the novels and stories over again, and read the ones currently assigned more closely. I started to see patterns in the writing, little nuances that showed characters growing as the story progressed. I started to see that many novels were allegories to situations that were happening in the writers’ lifetimes, whether it was the Red Scare in Miller’s The Crucible, or World War II and Hitler’s rise to power in Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. I saw both Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins were allegories of Christ. I finally realized that Romeo and Juliet was so popular because the characters are easy to relate to. Once I started to see the “extras,” I had more to about which I could talk in my reports, having deeper topics and being able to understand the novel on a deeper level, as well as have a better perspective on what the writer was thinking when he wrote the piece. I understood the reading on a much deeper level and my writings and grade were reflecting it. It was not long before Mr. Lunn started using my writings as examples for everyone else in the class. Not only had I started to improve in my writing, I started to enjoy the activity. I found myself writing stories in my free time, reading much more avidly and writing reviews of them online, even trying my hand at poetry. It was official I was hooked on English class.

My senior year, I had the luck to take a class called “Humor and Satire,” which happened to be taught by none other than Mr. Lunn. This class, contrary to what most of the class thought, spanned from the classic humorous writings of Shakespeare to modern comedians like Chris Rock’s “Mommy, can I say the N-word?” and George Carlin’s “Baseball vs. Football.” This class was funny without a doubt, but gave me a wider spectrum of writing styles to study and learn from. While everyone else griped and groaned about the writing assignments and how “unfunny” A Midsummer Night’s Dream was because you had to think about the insults and jokes, I continued to absorb and learn and grow in my literacy. I kept writing my stories, reading and analyzing, trying to find something I could not learn from and enjoy reading.

In retrospect, I think Mr. Lunn was by far my favorite teacher in my high school career. He not only made me addicted to writing and taught me to read effectively, but he made the topics fun to learn about and interesting every day. If it was not for his class I’m not sure just how well of a writer I would be, nor how much I would enjoy reading for leisure. Thankfully though I do not have to worry about that and can enjoy both writing and reading for many years to come.