November 9, 2017

LEUNG | Scholastic Nostalgia

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When I was in elementary school, I remember how excited I got about Scholastic book fairs. I don’t know when they happened, or for how long. I only remember entering the auditorium I usually hated going to — it reminded me of long lectures by the principal on useless topics such as, “You must stay on the playground during recess — or else,” or “Chocolate milk won’t be available for lunch anymore — don’t ask” and browsing through the dozens of new, glossy books selected for us. And the little bits they sold; I went crazy for them. The tiny, colorful erasers and wall-sized posters seemed like the coolest things at the time. I looked forward to these book fairs as much as I look forward to ordering soup from Zeus now.

I don’t know when this craze ended. It could have been the lack of excitement for reading that occurred at the start of high school. Maybe it was the book fairs they stopped holding because they thought we grew out of it. It could’ve been being forced to read The Scarlet Letter and making Hester Prynne out to be the worst human being to exist just because she committed adultery after she thought her husband had died.

This isn’t a criticism of how we’re taught in English classes (even though I can already think of a list of improvements that could allow students to better learn and understand what they’re given to read). Just as our creativity is squeezed out of us as we grow older, our excitement for reading (any that we had to begin with, as I know some students were never excited about Scholastic book fairs — something I won’t ever understand, but will acknowledge) was pushed to the side. I’ve heard my friends complain about how they never have enough time to read “for fun,” so I made it my mission this semester to do just that. Before my statistics class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I plant myself on the windowsill next to the pots of jade plants (this location is imperative — it distracts me from the impending doom of one hour and 15 minutes of meaningless numbers and words) and read for around half an hour. It is pure time I set out for myself. I refuse to feel guilty about it, for I have purposefully allotted time out of my day to read — and only read.

As we grow older, we slowly push away things we used to derive pleasure from. In a New Yorker article, Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?, the author writes that young people read “scraps, excerpts, articles, parts of articles, pieces of information from everywhere and from nowhere.” With examples of this so readily available on Snapchat and other social media platforms, it’s no wonder people don’t reach for a book when everything seems given to us.

Maybe we think we don’t deserve to indulge in something that, were we younger, we wouldn’t have given a second thought about. Aside from people who have never enjoyed reading, there are always those who complain that they wished they had time to or that they feel guilty when they do, for they could be reading for their classes instead. That comment always confuses me: it’s about priorities. Instead of spending time aimlessly scrolling through Instagram or checking Snap stories that, at the end of the day, are meaningless and forgettable, it might be more fulfilling to pick up a book and read.

An NPR article similarly blames the digital age for the decrease in pleasure reading. I’m hesitant to place all the fault on technology, however. It feels like the easy answer, an accessible outlet to place blame. I think it’s more of what we deem to be the most important things in our lives. And at this stage, getting our work done while having a social life already takes enough time and effort that going out of the way to read a book — when it isn’t even assigned — seems entirely unnecessary. And so when we want to take our minds off of school work, watching a movie or a TV show is effortless and easy.

I miss the little, wholesome girl who couldn’t sit still in her class because she wanted to go to the book fair. But it’s not too far off from the excitement I get when I find myself in Strand Bookstore, perusing the shelves, drawn to the endless interesting title names and covers. Or how I look forward to finding The New Yorker magazine tucked in my small mailbox slot when I come back from class. It’s more of that almost-tangible nostalgia I have for physical books that I keep coming back to and want everyone to appreciate. I want everyone to find something between the pages of a book — not information about organic chemistry or statistics or history, but something that makes us think a little deeper and feel more.
Gabrielle Leung is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at gleung@cornellsun.com. Serendipitous Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester.