Loving Books in the 1990’s

Truth be told: I am only a little bitter about the advancements in technology; only slightly. I can’t tell you how often I see kids rockin’ and rollin’ on smartphones and tablets to entertain themselves — I’m not drinking Haterade either; if I had the ability at that age, you best believe I’d be discovering the world (or using Google maps to look at my house — I was that kind of kid) with the best of them. For fleeting moments, my amazement at how the world evolves degenerates to venomous envy and bile-boiling rage. Do you know what it was like to love books when I was a kid? It was archaic hell. We had to go to stores, we had to wait in lines, and the only leg up we had on the cavemen was the printing press.

This week’s blog is directed at the youth of our nation, the generation that has no idea what the world looked like before the Kindle or Amazon. This week, I am addressing the demographic that has no idea that mind-numbing torture of ordering a book through the mail (because the book store in the mall didn’t carry it) and having to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Buckle up, Punks, Professor A.P. is giving you an education on what the ancient world was like.

[DISCLAIMER]: A.P. Miller is not responsible for the sleepless nights that your children may experience from being shown how basic the world used to be. Those children may also experience profound episodes of appreciation for how hard their parents’ lives were, as well as fear that the internet will die forever and the world will be plunged back into the dark ages. Please consult a doctor before proceeding with this blog.

You Were at the Mercy of a Store’s Inventory. Picture it: you go to the bookstore to pick up a copy of “Days of the Phoenix” by A.P. Miller (available on May 7th, EXCLUSIVELY at Amazon.com) and they didn’t have it. That publisher didn’t have a merchandise agreement with that bookseller. Now, some wise-ass clerk (who could afford to be a wise-ass, because Yelp didn’t exist then either) would offer to check the back, but we all know that he was going to the back room to scratch his butt. Ol’ Wise-ass would come back with an expression that said “there is a turkey sandwich in the fridge with my name on it and your quest for specific literature is keeping me from it;” He’d offer to try and order it for you, but the distributor didn’t carry it then either. Now, yours truly grew up in a geographic location that gave directions to his house that included “make a right (or left) at the painted tree,” there weren’t a whole lot of options for book stores. So, while you wanted to read “Days of the Phoenix,” you’d have to settle for the latest edition of “the Boxcar Children.” Bummer, right? That was life, kid. Life was tough back in the stone-age!

The Dewey Decimal System and the Card Catalogue. I’m being completely serious when I say that Mrs. Roberts, the elementary librarian for the Moshannon Valley School District should have been awarded sainthood. That woman loved to encourage us to read, she got us into the library functions by giving us “jobs” to do in the library and really taught us the world of reference. The point of that anecdote was that we had to learn the Dewey Decimal System and how to use a Card Catalogue — before computers were widely available in the majority of American Homes, libraries would keep inventory of the books on the shelves using a catalogue system which used …well, cards. Then, to find the book once you’ve located the book, you had to search the library for codes based on subject material, fiction or non-fiction; think “DaVinci Code,” except the clues weren’t in old paintings. If you visit a library today, you can still see the Dewey Decimal System in place — you should go to the library, they are wonderful places filled with wonderful people!

If a Book Sucked, You Wouldn’t Know It Until You Finished It. I believe that books don’t inherently suck, but found its way into the hands of the wrong reader. How did you know if you’d like a book? You could get recommendations from friends, but there was no guarantee that they knew your exact taste. There was the Oprah Book Club, but that was more towards an audience that wasn’t A.P. Miller. There were actual book clubs, but they weren’t reading and discussing “the Hellbound Heart” or “A Clockwork Orange” (at least not where I lived). So, there were a lot of cover buys, and they were not guaranteed to do the trick for you.

We Got Free Pizza For Reading. It wasn’t all bad, I guess. In my elementary school, we participated in the Book It program; you read books and Pizza Hut hooks you up with pizza. Now, I was reading for free, but I am not one to turn down a free pie. If memory serves, if everyone in your classroom met their reading goals, then there was even more pizza. I’m not sure if schools are still doing it, but I hope so. If pizza gets kids reading, hook them up with a slice. Hell, as an adult, I’d enjoy pizza as an “atta boy” for reading — I’d like coffee for reading too, in case someone is reading this that can make those things happen.

Book Orders Were Celebrated Events. Scholastic, one of the world’s most prominent publishers of youth literature used to send around order forms for their releases — these book orders were printed on paper with half the thickness of prison toilet paper, but they were revered like the gospels. This was the pinnacle of reading convenience! You fill out an order form, stuff a couple bills in an envelope, and give it to your teacher. In a few weeks, your teacher was making it rain with the written word — it was glorious! Me, being the fear-glutton that I was, would order books about ghosts and other scary stuff — I couldn’t wait to read them in the daylight (because I was …am, a little bit of a wuss when it comes to material like that). Think about that children: we had to wait to make bulk orders for books because we didn’t want to go to the store and get them.

As I entered high school, access to the internet made it a lot easier to get a hold of more specific titles. Amazon was as awesome then as it is now with finding special interest books or titles of fiction that aren’t widely carried by traditional booksellers — there is a good reason why Jeff Bezos has earned his status as an excellent businessperson. As the millennium would turn, the dark ages of loving books ended. Today, I can get my hands on any book I can fathom and often I can get it right on my phone without having to put on pants.

I didn’t mean to scare you, but its important that you know how the world used to be. Appreciate the future you live in now, because it didn’t always used to be that way. While you are appreciating your ability to buy books effortlessly, be sure to visit Amazon.com on May 7th and pick up your copy of “Days of the Phoenix” by A.P. Miller!

Until next time; see you on your next trip across the Millerverse!

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