Show of hands: Who remembers The Scholastic Book Club?
Okay, so I can't actually see you, but I can feel your excitement and nostalgia all the way from here.
For the uninitiated, The Scholastic Book Club was a program in schools where kids could order books from a little order form, the teacher would send it in, and a few weeks later, the books were delivered to the classroom. (They were WAY ahead of Amazon.) You know, to promote reading, because Reading Is Fundamental.
I LOVED it. For some reason, at my school it was called The Lucky Book Club. We'd get the forms with their little pictures of the book covers and check boxes, and I'd rush home and gather together all my money, then fill it out and wait impatiently for Delivery Day. One time I was in the school office and saw the actual boxes being delivered and was thrilled -- like I had seen something Big and Secret and Behind The Scenes, like the inner workings of an important operation. Our teachers would get the boxes, and then during silent reading time, they would get everything together and make stacks at the front of the room, and then we could go up one by one and collect our book goodness.
My stacks were always the biggest, because I was a total book nerd. I went everywhere with a book, including the dinner table and got reprimanded all the time for that. But my parents encouraged my reading and spending my allowance on books. If I got an A on my report card, my dad took me to the local bookstore as a reward and bought me a HARDCOVER book and inscribed it. My mom volunteered at a thrift shop, and after every shift she brought home a bag of books for me, and she took me to the library once a week. I didn't just read books -- I devoured them, and quickly. So when it was Lucky Book Club time, they would supplement my allowance so that I could order more than one or two -- sometimes I'd get 3 or even 4 AND a Dynamite Magazine or a poster with a kitten on it! (Hang in there, baby!) I'd always feel a little embarrassed, seeing my stack tower over everyone else's, but that would fade quickly into glee and the high of New Book Smell.
I bought all sorts of books -- everything from Beverly Cleary to books about gerbils and gila monsters. (I know, right? WHY???) In third grade I got a book about exotic cats and decided that I needed an ocelot. My absolute favorite two books were biographies about Helen Keller and Louis Braille because they had the braille alphabet on the back. (I spent more hours pretending I was blind than I did reading the books.)
Some of my actual Lucky Book Club books. Alas, the gerbil and gila monster ones are gone.
So Scholastic was the first book club to which I ever belonged, even though I didn't exactly sit around and have meaningful discussions about any of the books I got. (Yeah, right: "Oh yes. The schadenfreude I felt after Ramona ruins two of Beezus' birthday cakes was exhilarating, and the symbolism of Ramona ruining the cakes is that she does not want Beezus to age so that she can overtake her older sister's hierarchy within the familial structure." Pffft.) I've been in exactly two others -- one where we read Carter Beats The Devil (it's good!) and we met once and never again (I even read Seabiscuit, which was the next book, but we never got it together) and then we started one at work. I got to choose the first book, and I chose Lobster Boy, the story of Grady Stiles who had lobster hands and feet and was murdered by another carnival freak, and I wanted to have the meeting at a seafood restaurant. Needless to say it did not go over like gangbusters, but to this day I still think it was an awesome choice.
A few months ago, I had heard that one of our beloved San Francisco bookstores, Stacey's was closing, and I was so sad to hear the news. You all know how I feel about that (a gentle reminder here). I belong to an email list my friend Lynn Peril started (check out her excellent books -- Pink Think and College Girls see here!) called The Ladies Lit List, where we talk about life, books, and whatnot, and I emailed them right away to tell them the news.
Of course, everyone responded with horror, but I think one of our common themes was, "I haven't been there in a while." That was certainly true of me -- I hadn't been in there in a few years. While I do buy books elsewhere, I, along with everyone else with that reaction, was part of the problem. These bookstores can't stay afloat if we aren't buying books from them -- Amazon and the economy are killing off these smaller stores, and it's so sad to see happen.
Since it was an Accomplishment for the blog, I suggested we start our own book club, to help out these indies and the book business. Now, I realize 5 or so books won't save much of anything, but it's a start, and at least we could feel good about helping the cause. And so, The 97 Things Book Club was born. (That's not really the name. It doesn't really have one.)
This was the book I suggested:
It was a book that I had wanted to read for a long, long time, and at the time I chose it, the Inauguration was coming up, and I'd been reading articles on the Obama/FDR comparisons. And I had met Ms. Goodwin a few times at the bookstore where I used to work, and she was always gracious and kind, so that was a plus in its favor, too. So we had the book, set the date, and most importantly, decided what we were going to eat.
Even though we had over a month to read the book, when our First Official Book Club Meeting rolled around, only one of us had finished it. (Let's face it, we all know how it ends.) Shamefully, the Hostess was not that person, as I discovered that it was so dense I could only read a few pages at a time, and was sidetracked by the autobiography of Maureen McCormick who was Marcia Brady and had a WAY serious cocaine habit. (You'll all be happy to know that Marcia -- er, Maureen -- found God, though she should have found a more exciting ghostwriter.) I had only just finished reading about Pearl Harbor and was to February 1942. With the exception of Lea, the other ladies hadn't finished it either. (Lea wins the gold medal for patience and perseverance.)
But all was not lost. There was still a rousing discussion (how could there not be?) so the afternoon was filled with terrific conversation -- everything from the economy then and now, Eleanor and feminism, the press, Obama and the stimulus, to, um, wondering if FDR could still, uh, "perform." (Yes, I know, totally tasteless and sacrilegious. But come on. And we were told yes. Giggle.)
And, of course, FOOD:
crustless sandwiches for a proper ladies' 40's luncheon, and sushi in remembrance of japanese internment camps
Lynn's amazing brownies, and Jessica's cookies from Bake Sale Betty. Not pictured: Mary Ann's cake and Mary's champagne
So while the book choice was far too lofty and dense and too hard to focus upon for a Book Club (but not as bad as Lobster Boy, which is STILL think is an awesome choice), it was still a success. I've learned so much American History -- things about which I was not aware -- that is helping me to understand and come to grips a little with what's happening today. It was a lovely afternoon, filled with good people, smart conversation, delicious food, and the economy (especially the book and delicious snack treats industries) and minds were stimulated. (And, um, we learned that FDR could be, too. D'OH!) Which is what it's about.
The Smart and Fabulous Lit Ladies!
So I made a much wiser choice for the next one:
NPR review here
It is REALLY GOOD. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with anything put out by Algonquin Books, and this one's no exception. (When I was buying it my friend said, "Oh, that is SUCH a Karen book." I think that's a good thing, except questionable when it comes to Lobster Boy.) I bought my copy in hardcover, but it releases in paperback March 17th. I'm going to call our local bookstore and see if they can get us some extra copies -- Algonquin's Marketing Dept. is even having a promotion for it for book clubs. And it's a perfect segue -- Mudbound begins where No Ordinary Time left off.
The next meeting is Saturday, April 4th at 2 pm!
So I hereby invite all of you to join The 97 Things Virtual Book Club, and read Mudbound by Hilary Jordan. I can figure out a way to "host" a meeting on the blog -- have a dedicated post with comments, maybe? I would love that! And my plan is to do a new book, every six weeks. Or host one yourself. It's fun, especially if guests bring delicious food.
And remember -- support your local bookseller and talented authors. It's good for the economy, and even better for your mind, heart, and soul.
Thirty down, 67 to go.