A book, some photos

I swear I’m not a packrat, but sometimes you hold on to things for reasons that seem more intuitive than logical. Which brings me to a book on our shelf at home — The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham. This was from Grade 9 English class, if I’m not mistaken.


Let’s get something out of the way, in case that book cover looks cool. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, its characters, the themes. I am afraid to say there are no weapon-wielding anthropomorphic insects, which was a crushing blow as I turned the pages at the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book, and John Wyndham (The Midwich Cuckoos, The Day of the Triffids) was no slouch.

However, a couple of years ago, when I took it from the shelf to have a look, I found two photographs inserted. You see, back then I was a yearbook photographer, and these were a couple of photos I’d probably printed off at the time (this would have been 1985?) perhaps to give to one of the people pictured should I have seen them in the hallway between classes. It’s possible it was just a fancy bookmark. I don’t honestly remember, but I’m struck by the good condition of the paper (printed on glossy stock, which was verboten in the darkroom because of its cost and scarcity). If you look at the bottom margin of the upper photo below you can see that I didn’t square the cut.


This is not a John Hughes film. At the end of the day, we’re looking at three teenagers standing at the rear (smokers’) entrance to Memorial Composite High School, in Stony Plain, Alberta. I sorta knew a couple of them. The guy in the middle was an asshole straight out of Stephen King’s Christine. I suppose I could grab my yearbook and look up their names, but all that’s going to give me are facts, right? What strikes me about the Wyndham book, the photographs, is how much of a time capsule it all is, as a somewhat complete package. Of a kid who was yanked from town to town, school to school, who didn’t get to have much say of where I went, what I had to endure along the way, who became more preoccupied with getting through it as opposed to (cue Hughes, whose movies I grew up watching) Having The Time Of My Life.

I suppose there’s a clever thing I could do: to connect the misrepresentation of the cover of The Chrysalids vs the more complex content, to the misrepresentation of how high school is sold to us vs the reality of growing up for many of us. So I will.


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