Mack Williams: Scholastic Books and others
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Goodwill’s used bookstore has a great collection of books. The vast quantities of books donated seem to have rounded out the same designated categories as those in “proper” bookstores which charge much higher, “hot- off- the- press” prices ( all of which makes sense, since Goodwill’s books were once sold at “proper” bookstores, themselves, but now, they have a “not-so-warm” connection to the dates of their printing).
When I was in the grammar grades at Granite Quarry School, we had an opportunity to order, for our very own keeping, some books which particularly suited our personal interests. The regular school texts were chosen for us, but to some of them we became very partial as well. For me , that classic fifth grade textbook of North Carolina History also filled the description of a “personal favorite!” The brand of books from which we were given the opportunity to order was called Scholastic Books; and it is still available for purchases from today’s school children.The Scholastic order form back then was made of paper similar to that which constitutes comic books, but those Scholastic Books, although consisting of some pictures, were top-heavy with words in comparison to the volumes published by DC Comics. I remember ordering paperbacks about rocks, fossils, astronomy, ghost stories, weather, Christmas stories, simple chemistry experiments, etc. One time , I ordered a paperback titled “Odd Pets.” Any title that included the words “strange” or “odd” always seemed to be an easy sell for the Scholastic Book Company (at least to me).
Inspired by magician Mark Wilson’s Saturday morning television show back then, I ordered a book on simple magic tricks from Scholastic Books. Some years ago, Mark Wilson and his wife Nani Darnell were selling magic kits in a television infomercial. I purchased some of the kits for my son, Jeremy and he became quite adept at sleight-of-hand in his middle-school years, performing for our family and at a dinner party given by an older German couple with whom we were friends.
Recently, I was browsing again through the used book section at Goodwill, when I came across some old Scholastic Books that someone had donated. I recognized them right off (even the one on “Odd Pets” was there), because some were the mass-produced “clones” of my old books (clones of mine to me, but to others in my place, clones of theirs) which I ordered back at Granite Quarry. I saw the familiar, original price of “60 cents” printed in an upper outside corner on the covers of many of them. That price is only 15 cents less than that of the weekday and Saturday copies of the newspaper of the town where I reside!
Other books familiar to me as a child, and some of which I recently found again at Goodwill, were the “Golden Nature Guides,” with their printed price of $1 (copyright early 1960s). One of the clerks there had penciled in “50 cents” on the title page, so in a certain sort of way, they had only lost half of their early 1960s value. The current price on the modern, freshly printed nature guides is around $7, so the original dropped 50 % in price at the Goodwill store, while the current copies have risen a little in excess of 600 % in price over the originals .There is something here which could be graphed, but at Granite Quarry School I was not very good at math or drawing; and at Appalachian I made it out of the Psychology Department with a D in Statistical Methods ,which despite its being a “D”, represented an answered prayer, following 3 previous enrollments and 3 much lesser grade averages ( all three numbers equaling the same letter grade) in that identical course, so I will just stick to words instead of illustrations.
Many of the old Golden Nature Guides had an almost new appearance to them at Goodwill the other day. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my copies soon lost their pristine look from taking their turns being filed in the back pockets of my blue jeans (“dungarees,” back then) for a good while, before being returned to the bookcase. Those little books, dear to my heart, were often kept in a place far from it.
Whenever I run across one of “my old books” at the Goodwill Store, I go ahead and purchase it, because many of my originals have become lost through the years. As I pull those “facsimiles” from the many volumes lined up in the Goodwill bookcases, they seem so familiar that I almost expect to see my name written on their cover pages, or to see some of my childish doodles somewhere within the covers, both name and doodles written with one of those old “Southern Railway No. 2” pencils which my father would inadvertently bring home from the yard office at Spencer. Some of my recently purchased old books do have childishly written names and childishly inscribed scribbles within, but none of the names are mine, and none of the doodlings made there are in the fashion peculiar to me.
Some of those old books depict children collecting rocks, butterflies, and looking into microscopes or telescopes, but in the clothing and hairstyle fashions of half a century ago. The artists’ renderings in those old books match exactly the photographic “renderings” of my classmates and me in the old Granite Quarry School annuals.
On the way out the door the other day for my check-up at the doctor’s office, and through the “phantom” return of a long-departed habitual force, I grabbed one of the old Golden Nature Guides to take with me in the car. I wasn’t only motivated by the long ago habit associated with my back pocket, but also by the fact that my present doctor has a dearth of reading material in the lobby, not like the varied assortment of journals pertaining to science and nature offered many years ago by my childhood physician, Dr. Frank B. Marsh.
As a youth, I would also bring along one of my Golden Guides to read as my father drove us on trips to visit relatives in North Wilkesboro. Having been a driver, myself now, for many years; the other day I waited till I reached the doctor’s lobby to give my little -brought -book a thorough thumb-through again. It was a guide to seashells, through which I hadn’t looked in decades. As I drove , the sight of the shells depicted on its cover, as it lay there on the seat beside me, almost tempted me to pick it up, just as I would have picked up the actual shells themselves if I had been on the beach at that very moment; but people, especially of my age, are well aware of the danger of reading while driving. That lesson, we mastered years ago, but today there are a great many “readers” and “writers” on the road, who despite that love of “reading” and “writing,” are unfortunately, not so studious as we.