Before the big box bookseller…a true story.

I love books. I always have. I can’t remember NOT being able to read, but I do recall being well into chapter books before I started school. I cut my teeth on Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Little House on the Prairie. I lived for book club order days!

Long before school book fairs, there was the book club. Each child received a full-color booklet advertising all the books available for order. I would pore over every single blurb and circle the ones that interested me. Then, I would add up the prices of all those books to see if I could get away yet again with ordering everything my little nerd heart desired! It was practically a religious act. The pages of the booklet were just as thin and crinkly as the Bible. I’m pretty sure I prayed Daddy would write a big, fat check for me to take to the teacher. After all, I wasn’t being greedy because I didn’t want to order the stories I’d already read, and I could tell which ones were for tricking slow readers into liking books.

Once I made my calculations and got the go-ahead from Daddy, I filled out the order slip. It was a list of all the titles in the little catalogue. I checked the boxes for the books I wanted and filled out my name, school, grade, and class in ink using my neatest handwriting. This was an important transaction and I did not want any confusion whatsoever in fulfilling my order. Then I carefully cut the order slip free of the booklet, stapled Daddy’s check to it, and turned it in to my teacher who would invariably comment on the size of the order.

Next came the waiting. Some 4-6 weeks later, the teacher would receive a boxed shipment of books her students ordered from the club. She would check and double-check the order slips to make stacks of books for each child who ordered. Mine was almost always the tallest stack and I would smirk at my classmates in snooty pride. I was very much interested in who ordered which books (and who didn’t order books at all). It was an early indicator of the intellectual and social pecking order. In those elementary school days, I may have loved Laura Ingalls but retrospect reveals much more of the Nellie Oleson in me than I care to admit.

This was the way a schoolgirl could order her very own books back in the 1970s in rural Alabama. Sure, we had a school library and a public library, but I wanted my very own personal library that I could admire and arrange. Our town did not have a bookstore at the time. Big box bookstores were nonexistent, and I’m not sure anyone had even dreamed of Amazon. Those crinkly little booklets, though, opened up a world well beyond the backwaters and mountains that were my home.

I may have been a snotty little thing, but I am very appreciative of the carte blanc that fueled a lifelong love of reading. And, yes, I still keep a personal library…organized according to the Dewey Decimal System just as it should be.

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