The Scholastic Book Club
Special note: Names, locations, and composite descriptions of people have been intentionally changed in this story.
When I was a kid, the Scholastic Book Club was one of the few bright spots that kept me motivated to learn, to dream and to hope for the future.
The Club would periodically send out brightly colored advertisements printed on newsprint, the same paper stock that newspapers are still printed on today. When my teacher handed them out to us, I would spend endless hours after school looking through that advertisement. Scholastic printed paperback versions of classics that were much more affordable than similarly formatted versions of the same book in bookstores.
The Orange Cat Goes to Market was the name of the local bookstore in Garberville, California. I loved going to that bookstore. My parents would occasionally take me and my sister there. We didn't go often, mainly because it wasn't the most affordable place to shop. When I think back on those years now, Orange Cat was rather expensive, especially when compared to the Scholastic Book Club.
This was all the more reason for my fixation. I remember asking Mr. Wilson, everybody called him Marc, about the Scholastic advertisements. I asked him about the advertisements so often that I think it became a running joke amongst him and the other teachers. After a while, he would actually stop me in the hallway and say things like, "Orval, I hear Scholastic is printing another advertisement. It should be here in a few weeks." I know he thought that was funny. As an adult, I think back on it now and I also think it's funny. But when I think about my inner child, the child I was back then, such statements were torture.
He capitalized on my fixation when the advertisements did come. He'd make a big spectacle of bringing the stack of Scholastic advertisements to the front of the classroom. Then, with dramatic zeal, he'd cut open the binding fastener holding the advertisements together. In those days, I thought I was more deserving of the advertisement than anybody, and he knew it. He'd chuckle as he walked around the room handing out the advertisements.
Some kids would just take the advertisement and toss it in their desks. Others would immediately use the advertisement to fan themselves. Others would simply ignore the advertisement, choosing the precious minutes we had between periods to catch up with others about the latest gossip. Not me, no sir, no ma'am, not me.
When I received my Scholastic advertisement I would smell it and then I would immediately get lost in it. I'd pore through the words on that paper advertisement, savoring the delicious bibliobits as I called them. The scent of that paper simply added to my minute obsession. And I call it a minute obsession because what really happened in those precious minutes is I would analyze what the Scholastic Book Club was telling me is important. In the words on that paper, I would come to understand what was important in that moment in time. I'd memorize the titles of the books on that page and then I would go to the library to see if we had any other versions of the books in the advertisement.
The Scholastic Book Club provided a snapshot of what I believed the world outside Humboldt County thought was important. Whatever I found to be interesting, I'd mark up. Then, if it wasn't available in the library, I'd figure out a way to save my pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters for enough money to purchase what I needed from the Club. Even though I know now that Scholastic had figured out a way to take advantage of a specific market, a market made up of children, I am grateful for the things they marketed to us kids.
So great was my obsession for Scholastic that I'd still be reading that advertisement when Marc started the next lesson. He'd gently ask us all to put away the advertisement. His gentle request turned to more emphatic insistence that we put it away. That worked for most of us, but not for me. Then, he'd specifically point me out to the rest of the class, saying, "Orval, if you don't put that advertisement away, I will not process your book order!"
That got my attention.
The advertisement went into my desk and I gave him my undivided attention.
Eventually, at some point the same day, we'd get back to discussing the Scholastic Book Club. Marc would tell us when he would be processing the book order and when we would need to submit our orders to him. This got me immediately thinking about what I would need to do in order to get those precious books.
* * *
The Scholastic book order eventually came. Sometimes it was just a couple of weeks after we submitted our order. Other times, it was a month or more before the books arrived in the mail. One of my favorite recollections was of watching Marc sort the books and then pass them out to us. He always smiled and chuckled when I got my book order.
I can only imagine now what made him smile and chuckle. Was it the expression on my face when I received the books? Was it his knowing how profoundly important that book order was to me? Was it a combination of those factors?
I still have some of those books.
Occasionally, when I'm out visiting my mom in California, I'll go through the small collection of books that she still keeps in my old room.
I'll sit at my little desk and I'll pick up one of those books and I'll get lost.
I'll get lost for a moment in my Scholastic Book Club.