Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Tale of Two Booksellers

I decided late in the game to assign Orwell’s 1984 to my lit class. I frankly assumed that they were reading it in high school, and I didn't want to be redundant, but after I polled them, only about 5 out of 54 had read it. It wouldn’t be fair – and I’m all about the fair, folks; I’m a Libra (plus it probably violates a policy somewhere) – to ask them to buy a book after they had already received the syllabus, bought the required books, etc. The book is online anyway, so cost is not a factor.

But I thought it would be a pain to work with the novel in class without real paper books. It’s hard to ask students to look through the text in class when there is no text. Since the bright idea to read it was mine, I set out today to buy some used copies of 1984.

There is only one used bookstore near me. I’d never been in it, but it was close. Once there, I found a jovial man (almost too jovial, ya know? The a-joke-to-be-made-of-everything type). I told him I wanted a lot of copies, and he found what few used copies the store had.

"We don’t have many copies because the teachers give the students points or something for giving the books to her," he said. (Note here that a teacher is automatically a "her.")

"Hmm." I said. "I wonder why?"

"Oh, she gives them to other students later, I suppose. It would just be easier if they would bring them back here."

Easier for you, I thought. There’d be money to be made.

Because there were only three used copies and I’d hoped for 13 (one to be shared by each two students in class at a time), I decided to just buy one. As we’re concluding the financial part of the transaction, Bookseller #1 becomes a literary (or perhaps cultural or perhaps educational) critic.

"It’s time teachers found something else for students to read, anyway. 1984 has come and gone."

"Yeah," I said. "1984 was so 22 years ago."

"Right," he said. "They could find something better than that if they want to teach about tyranny."

I was pretty grumpy as I left, having been insulted and all.

So I went to the best bookstore on the planet, even though it was going to add some significant time to my errands. There I found more than enough copies for my purposes. As I checked out with a stack of 1984s and a book of “found” Raymond Carver stories (found after his death; remind me to hide a few short stories in my underwear drawer or something so that after I die, they can continue to publish new work by me, too, ok?), the cashier asks, “Are you a teacher?”

“How did you know?” I asked with a smile, knowing full well how she knew. She was smarter than Bookseller #1, who couldn’t pick up on the clues.

“Well…” she said, gesturing to the stack. “Who else would want this many 1984s?”

And then she gave me a 10% educator’s discount.

Remind me to continue to go out of my way to the best bookstore on the planet.


AMorris said...

I hope it's an independent place. There are a couple of places in Lawrence, KS that are great. (The LW went to KU) The Dusty Bookshelf and the Raven. Antigone here in Tucson is great too.

AMorris said...

"They could find something better than that if they want to teach about tyranny."

Yeah, like C-Span or Fox News.
C-Span because tyranny can look like real government. Fox because, well, you know.....

Bitty said...

Oh yeah, it's independent. It's splendid, splendid. I'm not sure that I've ever NOT found what I was looking for when I've gone there.

One day I found a whole shelf of Best in Children's Books. I had about a dozen of them as a child, but they went the way of most childhood possessions. I bought my favorite one, which taught me about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, for a very reasonable price.

I thought about linking to the bookstore, but I try to be as ambiguous as possible about who I am, where I live, and where I work, although someone who looked over this blog really closely could figure some of it out.

Yeah, I loved his "tyranny" comment. There's a friggin' reason why I'm teaching the book and why it has held up 22 years past its title.