Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Worst Thing I've Done To A Book

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

I've been a bookworm on social media for a long time. Every few years, I come across a tweet or Instagram post that asks, "What's the worst thing you've done to a book?" It's a fun question. Usually, people respond with, "Dropped it in the bath," or "Left it on a bus," or "Spilled grandma's famous chili all over the last page."

I have a story for you. The worst thing I've done to a book is too big to fit in a tweet.

I didn't just ruin a book. I ruined a whole author for myself. I haven't been able to read any of her books since this event happened.

Here's how it went down:

Flashback to tenth grade English class. I was sixteen years old, chubby, depressed, unpopular, and bookish. I read a lot. I was finishing a fat Stephen King novel every 2 or 3 days. Since I had no social life or motivation to get out of bed, I'd just sit in my bedroom and read for hours.

A few days before winter break in tenth grade, my English teacher gave the class an assignment. During break, we had to read Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. We had to write a one-page summary of each chapter and answer a bunch of questions. In my (brilliant) sixteen-year-old opinion, the assignment was time-consuming busywork that wouldn't teach me anything. It was due right after winter break.

My classmates were pissed off. No one wanted to spend their break reading a book and writing chapter summaries. People had vacation plans for Christmas. They wanted to spend the holidays with their families. We discussed boycotting the assignment or getting our parents to write excuse notes for why we didn't do it. We didn't think it was fair to have a homework assignment while we weren't in school. 

We probably could have explained our concerns to the teacher like reasonable people, but of course we didn't do that. Instead, I took it upon myself to save everyone's winter break.

Kip from the Napoleon Dynamite movie saying, "I'm basically a war hero."

And Then There Were None is 260 pages. Not a long book. Writing summaries and answering questions is tedious but not difficult. I could knock out the assignment in a few days. I didn't have plans for Christmas because both of my parents had lost their jobs. I was going to spend winter break in my bedroom, most likely reading books.

I could read And Then There Were None.

I could do the homework for the whole class. Since I only had 4 friends, I'd email them a finished copy of the assignment. They could forward it to their friends. Then it could be forwarded to friends of friends. Eventually, everybody would get a copy.

I thought it was a foolproof plan. I was helping people cheat for the greater good. We were fighting back against a Grinch who assigns unjust Christmas homework. We were heroes.

The Grinch from the cartoon Grinch movie stealing a can of "Who Hash." The text says, "Steals Christmas and the drugs."

We were morons, but I hadn't figured that out yet.

I actually have a vivid memory of working on this assignment. It was snowing outside, and my house was dark and freezing. My parents may have had the heat turned down to save money. I don't know. I was wrapped in blankets and trying to type while wearing gloves. For some reason, the ink was coming out of my printer in blobs. I had to keep reprinting pages and laying them across the floor to dry because they were inky messes.

(Do high school teachers still insist on having printed copies of homework assignments, or is everything digital now? Printers have caused so much angst in my life.)

Anyway, my parents were listening to Christmas music downstairs.

I was typing as fast as possible so I could get the assignment to my classmates.

It was really, really miserable. I was so cold!

I finished the assignment at the start of winter break and emailed it to 4 friends. I told them to forward it to other students, but I had one rule: THEY HAD TO CHANGE THE WORDING OF MY SUMMARIES AND ANSWERS. I was explicit about that.

(I even wrote it in all-caps in the email.)

It would look suspicious if everybody turned in exactly the same assignment. We'd get caught. I hadn't spent days freezing my ass off and frantically typing with gloves just to get caught.

A scene from the Jaws movie. A nervous man says, "I'm going to need a bigger coat."

Fast forward a few weeks. We're back in school. We've turned in our assignments, and my depressed brain has back-burnered the whole ordeal. I haven't thought about the assignment since I handed it to The Grinch teacher.

Since I'd forgotten about the assignment, I was completely blindsided when The Grinch stormed into the classroom and immediately lost his mind. I have never seen a teacher get that angry.

(Well, my sixth-grade teacher threw a desk across the classroom, but that wasn't my fault, so it was less traumatic.)

The Grinch was angry. Red-face-bulging-veins-flying-spit angry. I'm pretty sure the whole school heard him destroying us for cheating on our homework.

The cheating scandal went farther than I'd anticipated. Apparently, there were other English classes that had been given the same assignment. My answers had found their way to those students. I'd pretty much disrupted the entire tenth grade. This blew my mind because I only had 4 friends. There were 200-something students in tenth grade. I know I told my friends to pass the answers around, but I didn't expect them to do it so thoroughly.

Even the kids who bullied me used my answers. Rude.

Do you know how we got caught?

I'll give you 3 guesses, but you won't need that many.

Some of the idiots DIDN'T CHANGE THE WORDING OF MY ANSWERS. They just printed my document and turned it in. If I was smart, I would have anticipated this happening and rewritten my own assignment, but I'm not smart! I got caught in my own cheating scandal because I didn't change my own words!

Ralph from The Simpsons waving and saying, "I'm a stable genius."

After The Grinch finished shouting, he called all the cheaters to the front of the classroom so we could explain ourselves. My heart was pounding. I knew my classmates would rat on me. I was bullied constantly in school. Some of the kids who used my answers didn't like me. I was convinced they'd tattle just to see me squirm.

Shockingly, no one tattled. People said, "We worked on it together." That was it. We stuck to that stupid story. I have a feeling my name got lost somewhere in the cheating chain. Maybe people assumed the answers came from the Internet and weren't written by a student at the school? Or maybe my classmates were just nicer than I expected. I don't know.

I was also shocked by how many students didn't get caught. Two of my 4 friends didn't get caught. (They're the smart beans who OBEYED MY ALL-CAPS DIRECTIONS.) I overheard other students telling their friends that they cheated, but they didn't get caught.

What was our punishment? We got 0s on the assignment. There would be no do-overs or extra credit for us.

It could have been worse. If the school had followed its own rule book, they should have suspended us, but that would have involved suspending all the students who cheated. There were around 15 kids in my class who got caught. I don't know how many got caught in other classes. It was probably too high of a number to be worth the drama.

The Grinch promised that a 0 on this assignment would tank our final grade for the semester, but that wasn't totally true. As soon as he finished yelling, I busted out my syllabus and calculator and discovered that I could still get an A. I just had to earn a 90% or better on every single assignment for the rest of the year.

On the last day of tenth grade, The Grinch stopped at my desk. He said, "You're getting an A in this class because you're good at English, not because you deserve it."

Ouch. Probably true, but ouch.

Vintage illustration of a woman scolding a child. The text says, "Teenagers are why some species eat their young."

The worst thing I've done to a book is ruin Agatha Christie for myself. Her books sound interesting, but I can't pick them up without thinking about my scandal. And Then There Were None is the only Christie book I've read.

When The Grinch gave us this assignment, I didn't think I'd learn anything from it. I did learn something: It only takes 4 friends to disrupt the universe.

What's the worst thing you've done to a book?

Or, what's the worst thing you did in school?


  1. Oh, my goodness! Now that is quite the story! It does stink that you can't read an Agatha Christie book now, too!

  2. OMG. This is classic! I was a teacher and I cannot imagine assigning so much busy work and especially not over Winter break. He deserved to have everyone cheat on it. And what an ass for his final departing comment. And here you are, book blogging! You for the win!

  3. What Helen said! Except I wasn't a teacher!

  4. Oh my, what a story! I can definitely see how that would ruin an author, though it does make for an entertaining story. But that parting comment from the Grinch teacher is just awful, he definitely deserved the nickname.

  5. Wow! I must say, I was furious when the teacher told you you didn't deserve an A. He really was the Grinch.

  6. Oh, wow! This is such a crazy story! It's funny how we see things in hindsight, right? At the time you thought you were "fighting the establishment," but as an adult looking back you think, "Oh, wait, I was just cheating and not making any real point to anyone. Oops!" Sorry it tainted Agatha Christie for you! (And seems like your teacher was definitely a bit of a jerk.)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  7. Oh boy! That story is hilarious!! Thanks for the chuckle today!

  8. Wow, that's crazy. I don't understand teachers who assign homework over breaks. Of course, I think homework is stupid anyway (I am a teacher and homeschool my kids).

  9. Ha! We think we're being so clever!

    I'm sure I've done many, many, many dumb things but I can't recall anything school or book related. I was so shy and kept to myself most of the time. Outside of school was a whole other matter lol

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  10. You had too much faith in people. Ha ha. I hope you learned your lesson. 😅😉😌 I hope that was the last Christmas you spent freezing in your room. 😔

    My son used to evaluate the syllabus for every class on the first day to see just how much he could goof off and still get an A. 😛

    A very old woman who used to "babysit" me when I was a tween and my family went on vacations (without me) gave me a very, very, very old book about what were considered wild exotic beasts at that time. It was published in the 1800s and has full color illustrations in it. After I got it home I promptly tore the the protective tissue insert pages out of it. And a couple of years later, when I was going through a lion love phase, I cut the lion illustration out of the book and framed it. 😖 I can only immagine what it would be worth with no damage. It's wrapped in tissue paper in the back of my china cabinet. I can't look at it because I get sick to my stomach. 🙁

    I loved this post! 🙂

  11. Your teacher sounds like a jerk. I have to admit, it doesn't surprise me that most of them just printed it out without changing anything. What a story though lol. You were nicer than me, I wouldn't have even tried to do the assignment for everyone!

  12. Ha well that's why I have never dared cheating LOL

  13. Lol, a hilarious story in retrospect though I’m sure it was crushing at the time.
    I’m not sure I’ve ever ruined a book as such.

  14. What a great story. I am a "little" older than you. We didn't have computers when I went to school, we didn't even have typewriters or copy machines. So, cheating like that wasn't so easy. Some things worked better that way, others not so. There are so many more possibilites nowadays but, as we see, teachers can still find out that students cheat. And that's the best part of it.

    However, it is sad that you don't enjoy Agatha Christie. I am not a crime story reader but I have enjoyed all of the books I read by her so far. Maybe try another one of her stories, one with Miss Marple. Or Hercule Poirot. I think you might like them.