I've been a reader for as long as I can remember. But although I can't isolate the moment that I knew I wanted to study literature any more than the moment that I knew I wanted to write (which came much earlier), I think I can identify the first time I realized that analyzing literature was a thing one did--and maybe something I had an aptitude for.
It was in ninth-grade English. We were reading a novel whose title and precise plot I no longer remember, but its protagonist was a pre-adolescent boy. I believe he was an orphan, and he might have been a Native American (I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where we were assigned a lot of books about Native American boys). In one of the chapters the boy befriended, or maybe was just fascinated by, a wild or semi-wild animal; I think it was an unbroken horse. Our teacher asked us to look through the chapter and pick out the adjectives used to describe the horse, and as we called them out she wrote them on the overhead projector.
We had come up with perhaps a half-dozen words and phrases, not yet very far into the chapter, when I looked up, studied the list for a minute, and raised my hand.
"Those words?" I said, tentatively. "I think they don't just describe the horse. They also describe [the protagonist]."
My teacher gave me what may be the purest and most radiant smile of satisfaction I have ever received, as if I'd passed a test she'd set up in the hope but not the expectation that I might have exactly the skills--or talent or moxie--to succeed where others had failed.
The confident warmth of her approval is, in fact, probably why I remember this moment--for as literary insights go, it was not one for the ages. Maybe that's why I got into and persist in this business: in the hope of once again being told that I've gotten it exactly right.