Teachers and parents spend a lot of time trying to “improve” children. In the sixties in grammar school one of their tactics was the Arrow Book Club or Scholastic Book Club. Each month we’d get a newsletter with different books and we would take them home and show our mothers and then buy one or two. Then we’d do book reports on them. “Encyclopedia Brown”, “Homer Price”, and many others.
In Junior and Senior High School we were introduced to the Bookmobile. This was a trailer filled with bookshelves and books. We would be given time each day for several days to visit the bookmobile and select books and purchase them. The selection was more sophisticated than in grammar school and the reading levels ran the gamut.
For me and my friends this was a chance to buy books on war. History books, war story books, anything with Nazi’s and bombs would do. Our other obsession was science fiction. This was one place I was allowed to purchase whatever I wanted. I just asked my mom for money at the beginning of the week and we were off to the races.
Since we were becoming young adults we were now being permitted to choose our own books for book reports. Bruce Catton’s Civil War books, Shirer’s Hitler, and a million other books on WWII. We read Heinlein and LeGuin and Bradbury and in general tried to find the coolest book to report on in class so we’d look cool.
Of course this was a serious error since only eggheads think reading is cool. But there we were, at the front of the class reading our reports on illustrated men and the battle of Midway and D-Day and robots.
We were reading…that was good. But we were still separating ourselves from everyone else. We were on a slippery slope to meaninglessness and didn’t even know it. By the time we woke up to see what we had done it was too late. Being smart wasn’t a skill set you needed in 1965. Nobody sent us the memo though so we went on raising our hands and buying our books and trying to out know it all each other. This is a habit that persists in me to this day. Perhaps it’s no accident that in my office my nickname is Encyclopedia Jack.