Bob McAllister has been an English and theater teacher on the island since the Vietnam War.
An aspect of the written word that he has taught his students year after year is, “Literature is abstract until it’s lived.”
He drew from his own experiences to help his students connect to their reading assignments. He stood at the front of the classroom telling stories of his childhood and young adulthood in the hopes that his students would learn to do the same, that they would relate to the stories they read in a way that would give them inspiration to tell their own stories.
“Everyone loves a story,” McAllister said. “Everything is a story. We are a collection of stories.”
So, it comes as no surprise that the teacher has collected his stories into a printed form. He will be reading from his new book, “Thief of Hubcaps,” at Eagle Harbor Books at 7:30 p.m. this Valentine’s Day. The book is a collection of the stories he used to tell his students and a little more.
Each chapter tells a different tale in the saga of McAllister’s long life. And each tale ends with an understanding of life in the greater scheme of things; the bigger picture of what it means to be human.
“There’s something about experiencing something and then to go back and see what we thought has now become something else,” McAllister said.
“By some alchemy of art,” he added. “We find relationships between our memories. We find more and more connections. Amidst the chaos, it’s nice to find that some things do fit together.”
The title, “Thief of Hubcaps,” comes after a story he tells towards the middle of the book of his first foray in crime as a young adult in 1955.
He indeed stole hubcaps, he said, but it’s lucky he got caught because it was in the year of his probation that he learned something from it.
In the story, he is sentenced to a strict curfew and to go to church every Sunday for a year.
But even while most of the book is of his childhood, he calls his short stories fiction, and not a memoir.
“We know that memory is a fractured mirror,” McAllister said. “It’s not accurate.”
It’s an aspect of storytelling that he brings up from time to time in his book, and one of the points the book asks is, what is real and what is not?
“For me, all fiction is based on experience,” McAllister said.
At the reading next week, listeners can expect to hear experiences that span more than 70 years of life in the Pacific Northwest and more than 45 years of teaching at island schools.