Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Give Books

I was just going to add this to the ICYMI list, but it's too cool not give extra attention.

Adam Gish, an English teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, took a hundred students on a different sort of field trip. He loaded them up on two big yellow school buses and took them to a book store. Each student had a $50 gift card. They got a tour of the store and time to spend the money on whatever books they chose.

Students had to write an essay to qualify for the trip, a program that has been growing bit by bit since the days that Gish discovered some students had never been in a book store before.

This might be one of the most awesome things ever.

I still remember the Scholastic book fairs in elementary school, and the sheer power and excitement of holding an actual real book in my hands, buying it with my own money and taking it home to sit in a corner and read. I remember how those books smelled, how the new pages had that special resistance to being opened until the binding was gently eased loose by the reader working his way through. I bought some of the books aimed at students my age, but I loved getting the "real" books-- I still have my copies of the H G Wells novels I bought from Scholastic.

When I taught middle school, I tried using the book club fliers, but the hassle of being a middle man for thirteen year old customers was daunting, and it wasn't quite the same (though when I opened those boxes of books that came, and that old smell wafted out, I was excited all over again). And when the twins were born, we enrolled them in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, one of the most awesome pieces of real philanthropy that a celebrity ever undertook (the library sends a book a month to every small child who's enrolled-- you can read about it here).

Sure, I buy tons of otherwise unavailable books on line. But there is nothing like actually being in a bookstore, seeing them all lined up or laid out and looking through them, peeking to see what cool stuff awaits.

It has been years and years since we had a new bookstore in my area; we now have a used bookstore that gets some new stuff, and that's better than nothing. It's about 75 minutes to the nearest Barnes and Noble.

But to be able to put some students on a bus and hand them a gift card for buying books-- that would be awesome. My first thought was that I'd love to chip in, but Gish has an apparently generous anonymous donor, and this has to be a more common thing. For instance, if teachers in LA aren't taking students to the Last Bookstore, that's a crime. Book store field trips should be a thing everywhere. I would love to hear about similar programs in your area, and if you don't know of one, then I think you should get together with some other folks and start one. We all should. If you're looking for a good community project to round out the holiday season-- not just the gift of books (though the Icelandic tradition of Christmas Eve book gifts is also way cool)-- but the gift of getting to shop for and pick out a book of one's own. That seems like an excellent idea.

1 comment:

  1. My father (an English professor and great lover of books) sent me this poem two decades ago. It still can make me tear up a bit when I read it, remembering the love of books and reading he instilled in me. And no, the irony of sharing it by computer is not lost on me.

    A poem by Dr. Jerry Sterns

    Books will be replaced by electronic libraries, talking videos,
    interactive computers, CD-Roms with 100s of volumes, gigabytes
    of memory dancing on pixillated screens at which we will bleerily
    stare into eternity, and so I Sing the Song of the Book:

    Nothing more voluptuous do I know than sitting with bright
    pictures upon my lap and turning glossy pages of giraffes and
    Gauguins penguins and pyramids
    I love wide atlases, deliniating the rise and fall of empires, the
    trade routes from Kashkar to Samarkand
    I love heavy dictionaries, their tiny pictures, complicated columns,
    minute definitions of incarnitive, and laniary, hagboat and
    I love the texture of pages, the high gloss slickness of magazines
    as slippery as oiled eels
    the soft nubble of old books, delicate India paper so thin that my
    hands tremble trying to turn the fluttering dry leaves and the
    yellow coarse cheap paper of mystery novels so gripping that I
    don't care if the plane circles Atlanta forever, because it is a full
    moon and I am stalking in the Arizona desert a malevolent shaped
    I love the feel of ink on paper, the shiny varnishes, the silky
    lacquers, the satiny mattes
    I love the press of letters in thick paper, the roughness sizzles my
    fingers with centuries of craft embedded in pulped old rags
    My hands caress the leather of old bindings crumbling like
    ancient gentlemen
    I sing these pleasures of white paper and black ink of the small
    jab of the hard cover corner at the edge of my diaphram, of the
    look of type, of the flip of a page, of the sinful abandon of the
    turned down corner, the reckless possessiveness of my marginal
    The cover picture as much a part of the book as the contents
    itself--like Holden Caufield in his red cap turned backwards
    staring away from us at what we all thought we should become
    I also love those great fat bibles evangelists wave like otter pelts,
    the long greying sets of unreadable authors, the tall books of
    boyhood enthusiastically crayoned, the embossed covers of
    adolescents, the tiny poetry anthologies you could slip in your
    And the yellowing cookbooks of recipes for glace blanche dupont
    and Argentine mocha toast, their stains and spots souvenirs of
    long evenings full of love and arguments and the talk like as not of
    books, books, books...