Walking into the Scholastic Book Fair as a kid made me tingle with anticipation. All those Apple paperbacks lined up just so, each of them a whole little world contained in its pages. And then there were the scented erasers, which I collected like trading cards but refused to use. Ever.
At 9 years old, the Scholastic Book Fair was my nirvana.
When I stumbled upon the chance to co-run the Scholastic Book Fair at my kid’s school, I jumped right in. Without a life preserver. Running the Book Fair is no joke. That wonderland of stories takes a hot minute to set up. And all the erasers and toys and journals are great–until you’re the adult trying to convince kids that erasers are cool, but literacy is cooler. And don’t even get me going about my fears around running the cash register.
But even with the chaos and the five hour volunteer shifts, I fell in love with being in the middle of all those books. But what I loved even more were the kids that wandered in with money their parents had sent to school with them with clear instructions that it be spent on books, not scented erasers (*ahem*). These same kids swore they hated to read. But I knew better… because usually kids don’t hate to read. Not really. They hate to read the boring, irrelevant stuff adults hand them to read. But if you, say, ask a kid what they like and really listen to them–but you have to really listen without believing that you know them better than they know themselves, which is hard for adults sometimes–they’ll start to tell you important factoids about themselves. And from that little bitty bit of info, you can start handing them books that they might actually like.
But you have to stay totally unattached to the outcome. You can’t be certain they’ll like one particular book. Because, if they feel like you’re pushing an agenda, it’s suddenly like trying to shove a cat in a cat carrier–all resistance & emotional meowling. You can, however, be super enthusiastic about a book that you liked. But then you just have to set it in the pile and walk away, nonchalant, like you’ve got no stake in the game. Even if you’re so sure that if they’d just give The Yearling a chance, they’d love it. (Pro tip: they will not love it. And they will carry a resentment against you forever for making them read the tragedy that is the end of that book aloud in eighth grade english class. Or maybe that’s just me).
Three years of working the Scholastic Book Fair, and watching kid after kid become completely delighted when they finally found a book they really wanted to read, finally got to me. In a good eway, I suppose. Because I started thinking that if I could help super-resistant, epically stubborn kids find books they loved, maybe I could help adults find something they really wanted to read, too.
Nothing squelches the joy out of reading like adults insisting on reading books they should read instead of books they want to read.
Read what you like, y’all.
When I thought about what I wanted to have in the store, it boiled down to a collection of really good stories, a collection that–in some way–would represent every person that walked in the door. I chose to sell used books because everyone should have access to affordable books. And for some folks, new books simply aren’t affordable. I know they weren’t for me for a long time. Over the past (almost) two years we’ve been open, we’ve expanded and honed our collection of used and new books to focus heavily on diverse fiction and books addressing social issues (including feminism and anti-racism and actual history–like the way it really happened).
One of my greatest joys is helping customers find books they seem completely delighted with. Books reveal a lot about a person, especially when folx start telling you about the stories that mean something significant to them. It’s a window into who the person is and what they’re about. It’s a gift to be able to see that kind of honesty, vulnerability, joy and pain on a regular basis. Humanity is messy. Bookselling is sometimes messy, too. And I wouldn’t change one thing about it.
I never, ever genre shame at the store. Because I honestly believe–from the bottom of my nerdy little heart–that you should read whatever it is that you like. Whatever moves you. Whatever makes you feel alive.
I love helping folx find just the right book. I love being in community with each person that walks into the store. That, for me, is what bookselling is about.