Back-to-School: From Joan of Arc to Yellow Submarines
Voracious readers often have a story of what inspired their love of books. I don't have a general love-of-reading origin story (except that I owe a lot to Richard Scarry), but my passion for reading history books started in Dallas, led to France, and had a surprising twist in a yellow submarine. The invisible threads that tie people and places and events together will forever amaze me.
Bonnie Wheeler was the professor of a cross-disciplinary class I took at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The class focus was critical research about King Arthur, Charlemagne, and other British legends. We read original sources, challenged their veracity, and engaged in robust class discussions. Each topic culminated with one-on-one debates such as: "Was King Arthur an historical figure?" Of course he was! (I'm pretty sure I won that debate.)
Prof. Wheeler wasn't just interested in teaching us about critical analysis, or British history. I think her goal was to help us become interesting people. She and her husband, Jeremy DuQuesnay Adams (another SMU professor) hosted their students at a series of proper dinner parties at their home, thus immersing me in my first sophisticated "adult" experience. I passed the course, though I'm still working on that sophistication thing.
It was far and away my favorite class ever. I loved reading about historical figures and events I wasn't familiar with. I loved learning how we got where we are today and about the people who came before us. Most of all, I loved the stories they left behind. The intimacy of the small class and the respect with which Prof. Wheeler treated us sparked a lifelong interest in history and good history books.
Several years later, while working crazy lawyer hours, I found myself drawn back to the stories of history as an escape from contracts and closings. One book in particular grabbed my attention, JOAN OF ARC: Her Story. There are, I don't know, a hundred thousand history books out there? More? I picked this one out of them all and didn't realize until I was done that the translator was none other than Prof. Wheeler's husband, Prof. Adams.
So wait, how do I end up in a yellow submarine? This is where it gets weird, but the Beatles were doing some "interesting" things in the late 60s, so maybe it's not that weird. Prof. Adams died last year, and it was in a story about his passing that I learned he was the inspiration for a main character in the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" movie. Go figure.
In honor of great professors, great books, sophisticated dinner parties, and invisible threads, I'll leave this post with Professor Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD (lovingly inspired by Prof. Adams):