It took Victor Villasenor more than 40 years to write his eighth book, the memoir Burro Genius (Rayo, $24.95), but then it took almost that long for diagnosticians to figure out why he had done so poorly in school -- because of extreme dyslexia. His difficulties with language were only compounded by his status as a Mexican American in an English-language grammar school in Southern California, and he recalls being so "terror-stricken" by school that by the third grade he'd become "a regular bed wetter." Things got so bad that young Victor was incapable of accepting praise. When he was in the seventh grade, a substitute English teacher dispensed the class from worries about spelling and punctuation and told them to write an essay about what they loved to do. When Villasenor got an A for his submission, he assumed that the sub must be a hack and suggested that he take back the A for his (the teacher's) own good. "Just keep writing as pure and honest as you wrote yesterday," the teacher replied. "The A remains." Villasenor was so moved that he began to cry as he wrote a second essay, and he has never forgotten the teacher "who, in three tiny days, had touched my heart and soul."

Although this book seethes with resentment, Villasenor ultimately found the strength to do a kindness to one of the regular teachers who had let him down. Having become a well-known author, he was recognized on the street by a man who had put him through what Villasenor calls "a lot of crap" in school. "We had fun, didn't we?" said the man, now old, feeble and a widower. Villasenor thought for a moment, then said, "Yes, we had fun, sir."

-- Dennis Drabelle