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Final Exam

Profile photo of author Nino Ricci. Nino is seated with hands clasped.

The Wordsmith

Acclaimed author Nino Ricci shares his affinity for history, anti-heroes and an advanced sense of irony.

By Laura Bickle
Photo: Kevin Kelly

Name: Nino Ricci

Describe yourself back in school.
Dazed and confused.

Reading …
saved my life in elementary school.

Writing …
saved my life in high school.

What was your favourite subject?
Phonics. It led naturally into English, which I liked not only because we got to read things but because I developed a nerdy attachment to grammar. I have to thank my Grade 6 teacher, Miss Johnson; she taught us how to properly parse a sentence, a skill that turned them into these intricate architectural marvels, and that has stood me in good stead to this day.

Your most challenging subject?
Recess, by far. It was the only one in which no instruction was provided! The sole school-related activity that surpassed it for sheer horror was riding the bus — where I suffered chastisements that I took as legitimate punishment for having failed recess.

Which subject do you wish you had paid more attention to and why?
History. I only began to realize in adulthood how basic an understanding of history is to gaining personal perspective and making any sort of sense of the world.

Favourite historical figures?
I’ve always been drawn to figures like Buddha, Socrates and Jesus, who were essentially teachers.

Who are your heroes from fiction?
In fiction I am drawn more to anti-heroes, because they tend to be more interesting. Satan in Paradise Lost. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. The Underground Man in Notes from the Underground.

What do you wish you had been taught in school but weren’t?
How to be a human being. How to succeed at recess. That every humiliation I endured would one day give me killer material for my writing. That in the fullness of time, the meek would inherit.

If you could pick any year to attend school in, when would you choose?
I’d go back to 1965, my first year of school — with its smell of chalk dust, its felt cut-outs and waxed checkerboard floors — when my innocence was still intact and so too, it seemed, was the world’s.

If not writing, what career would you have pursued?
The one career I have pursued in addition to writing is that of teaching.

Most appreciated quality in a teacher?
Compassion. Barring that, an advanced sense of irony. I was lucky enough to have had a number of teachers with both.

Best advice that a teacher gave you that you still follow?
“I” before “e” except after “c.”

Best life lesson learned at school?
No matter how worthless you may want to feel, there is almost always some teacher out there who will insist on dragging you out of the gutter.