Losing and Regaining the Magic of School Bookstores
I have had a long, complicated love-hate relationship with school bookstores. My experience with school bookstores truly began when I was still in elementary school. There was hardly a time I looked forward to more than the Scholastic Book Fair, which would come around now and then. The book fair gave me almost as much pleasure as did waking up on Christmas morning. Back then, purchasing books was practically a magical affair. My friends and I would discuss what we’d bought and fawn over our newfound treasures. Though, this excitement could have had something to do with the flashiness of the event, which featured such miracles as bendy pencils and giant erasers.
Perhaps my delight at the Scholastic Book Fair was also due, in part, to the price of the books for sale. Even at that young age, I could squirrel away my money and have a shopping spree at the fair. In a way, this made the books special; they belonged to me. Something changed quite drastically when I entered middle school and high school. Books became a kind of chore, and I began to lose interest in reading for class. This new world of middle school was a place where every sentence was hyper-analyzed, and every character represented at least fifteen metaphors each. In high school, we abandoned fiction, plot, dramatization, and characterization altogether. The idea of purchasing books became an unwanted and slightly pricey task, not a treat. Pounds upon pounds of textbooks to haul on my back became the norm. Receiving books from the school had lost all of its magic.
Though, as I have stated in the past, college is not high school. High school means, typically, a lack of choice when it comes to studies. As such, reading in high school is far more of a mandatory task and much less focused on personal interest. Going to university, on the other hand, is typically a choice made out of desire; most students who go wish to attend college. With this, hopefully, comes a passion for the subject with such they study. It was this passion that led me to apply for a job at the CU Bookstore. I thought, perhaps, I could regain that childlike wonder for school
bookstores and learning.
This job, however, did not quite accomplish that task. I was not mistreated, nor did I suffer some horrendous experience; quite the opposite. In my weeks working as a temporary employee for the ‘rush season’, everything was utterly mediocre. My days were typically spent packing books into boxes and sealing them off for pick-up or mailing. If I was not engaged in that activity, I could be found ‘picking books,’ which essentially meant wandering around the store and plucking books from the shelves for online orders. For most, this would be a perfectly acceptable job. Though for me, it had me realize that the magical days of the Scholastic Book Fair are officially over.
College is a significant improvement from the days of high school, but the dullness of textbooks has not ended. Ever since my oddly disillusioning experience working at the CU bookstore, I have been wondering how to regain the magic of the elementary school book fair. One of the ways this may be achieved is to try and purchase books cheaply. Instead of buying books outright from the bookstore, renting or getting them used, when available, are both excellent options. Indeed, although I spent time as an employee of the CU Bookstore, I will always advise a student to try and purchase their textbooks from somewhere like Amazon if they can get a better deal.
However, as so many Hallmark films will tell you, money is not the only thing that counts. There is also the matter of enjoyment, the matter of the pleasure of learning which I first felt in elementary school. How does one obtain that sensation again? For me, the only way was to try and appreciate the feeling of new knowledge. Even in my mandatory classes, which I would prefer not to take at all, I find a way to discover some element of newfound wisdom. If it is true that ‘knowledge is power,’ do not let knowledge have power of you. These textbooks and readings may seem excruciatingly tedious, but many of them have fascinating insights to offer. Instead of merely attempting to scrape by my classes by the skin of my teeth, I instead try to absorb whatever I can.
As I continue to expand my worldview, the abundance of reading has become far less frustrating. It is true that the magic of the Scholastic Book Fair has likely been lost with my early childhood, but that does not mean that the excitement that can come with learning is lost as well. It is true that not every single class will be of interest. It will take work to find pleasure in these types of studies, but it can be accomplished. Even a course and textbook which appear so dull that it is a burden to do the readings can be an opportunity for personal growth. It might allow one to see a side of things which they had not before considered. Even now, after having surpassed a few years of college, I am still attempting to hone this skill.
Sometimes I still enjoy thinking back to the frenzied, collective elation that myself and my schoolmates felt while we were preparing to visit the book fair. Perhaps it is a sad commentary of our society that academic learning has become associated with such displeasure and boredom, at least for some. Indeed, maybe there is a way to make academic education the immensely exciting thing it once was, but I confess I do not know what the solution would be. So, until that day exists, we must discover ways to take pleasure in education again. Even when the professor’s voice monotonously assigns reading upon reading upon reading, there are ways to unearth hidden gems of knowledge which may be buried within. For all of my fellow students, I wish you the best of luck.