Last weekend our school received an enormous donation of books. So I spent the afternoon with members of the National Honor Society and Beta Club boxing up the haul and loading them into a horse trailer. On the side note of high school students, when all was said and done they took out sheets of paper and logged how many hours they had volunteered, so that later they could put it on college and scholarship applications. And not that I am calling these students self-serving: these are among our school’s very nicest, and they would have done it anyway. Just honestly, I hadn’t thought of the concept of “volunteer hours” in almost fifteen years.
I don’t know the number of books donated. To contextualize the stack—all hardbacks—that we moved, it was probably the size of three or four couches put together. It was a collection that went back to the late 1960’s, and the only uniting factor in the bunch was that they were all bestsellers. Which is fascinating. I have an MA in literature, and in general I think I am not quite well-read, but at least OK-read. I’ve always wondered what current bestsellers will make it to that “classic” status, or will at least be remembered in a few years. And from what I saw, the answers to both those questions is probably “not many.”
I’d only heard of about 20% of the books we moved. I know most were bestsellers from their covers (“x weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list!”) and from reading about them now. Ideally, a lot of these books will join our school’s library. However, a lot won’t, because they aren’t appropriate for a high school. I’m pretty open to what high school students read—probably more open than many teachers—but Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t need to be on our shelves. Story: as one student packed that particular novel into a box, I heard him wonder aloud, “There could be that many shades of a single color?” Bless his heart.
A vast majority of the books are thrillers. This makes sense, since thrillers seem to be what sells best always. From titles and covers I can tell that a majority are political in nature and deal with the USSR, and that’s funny; change “USSR” to “Russia,” and given the news of the last two years, well, perhaps those books aren’t as dated as one would initially think. There were also a lot of thrillers dealing with the occult, all in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, thrillers dealing with the ocean, along the lines of Raise the Titanic, and thrillers dealing with Vikings—I think I saw the word “Valhalla” at least a hundred times (that last one is a head-scratcher).
There were romances, a number of James Michener historical sagas, and books on whatever philosophy-lite topic was going around that year—think Chicken Soup for the Soul. There was scant scifi, though I was pleased to find a copy of The Da Vinci Code, because no bestseller collection would be complete without it. It was a great donation, and we teachers will be sorting books for months to come. And it made me think, though most of the titles have faded to obscurity, when earning my MA we constantly studied texts that had gone out of print only to later be rediscovered. Could some “treasure” be in those stacks? I’d like to think there is.
–Jeff and Leah