I do not remember what books she gave me, except that they were thick hardcovers. I believe one might have been a Thomas Hardy. It makes no difference. My English teacher was right, and I was wrong. Some books are better than others. And as a teen I had no way of judging for myself.
Without that bet, I would still have read serious literature when I had to, but I’m not sure how much I would have read because I chose to. Mrs. Dickey had taught me that there are things one ought to read. I put away the books of sports records and pulpy sci-fi. By the time I finished high school, I had read all of Shakespeare, the sonnets included.
When I started college, although I began as a physics major, with lots of work in math and computer science — you can’t entirely ungeek the geek — I was drawn increasingly to literature. In those days you could still find a jampacked course on Western Civilization and read the great books. (Dante haunts me still.) I devoured Greek drama, medieval philosophy, Russian absurdist stories, and the novels of Updike and Baldwin. In my spare time I prowled the stacks of the campus library, in search of authors of whom I had never heard. I was an addict whose craving could never be satisfied. I was finally in the oasis after a lifetime in the desert.
I read a lot of SF when I was a kid, but I read a lot of other things, too. You can’t be a good writer if you haven’t read a lot (I’ve always wondered where Mark Twain got access to his education).
Sorry, link fixed…