The Magic of the Printed Book

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Today was a flip flop day. Some of you will know what that means, how important it is. Some won’t. The latter group may never fully understand me, how people  consciously or subconsciously struggle with the constraints that “civilization” forces upon them, or what it means to be Canadian. If you don’t understand flip flops you can never really know me.

Anyway, today at the public library my ears were drawn to a young woman who clearly understood both me and flip flops. She was telling her friend how she longed to start wearing them again after what has been a long cold wet winter. I caught her eyes and looked down at my feet. ‘I’ve already started. I like to push it earlier and earlier every year,” I said. She laughed with me.

We were in the teen section, she working on a computer with her friend, me browsing the books. “You like teen books too?” she said. “Yes,” said I. “I write them so…”

She wanted to know what books, what type of books. I told her about WICKET SEASON and about AUDACIOUS. When she wasn’t sure what a verse novel was I pulled a Lisa Schroeder book from the shelf and showed her. “Ah yes,” she said. “I love these. They’re easy to read. Shorter.” Maybe Lisa Schroeder would have been insulted. I was delighted.

“How did you make the book?” the girl then asked. By this time I realized she was just a kid, a very pretty African Canadian girl at that indeterminate not quite adult age somewhere between eleven and twenty. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I thought she might have meant “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How do you write a book?”. But then she added “It must have been expensive to get them all printed and everything.”

Wow. She knew nothing about how books were published. I explained that I didn’t pay to have them published. That a publisher paid me for the book and the printing. She wanted to know how much I was paid and was impressed, eyes widening when I told her the (very modest) figure.

I could have talked to her all day. She represented the youth, the awkward almost adults, the diverse readership I so want to reach. “How old are you?” I asked. “Sixteen” she answered. I told her the protagonist of AUDACIOUS is sixteen. She told me, in the type of non sequitur that only makes teenagers all the more charming, that her brother was an artist. I pulled a DVD of HILDEGARDE off the shelf and showed her, then wished her good day.

But here’s what I’m thinking now. This kid goes to school. Schools are FULL of books. How can she not know how a book is made? She’s probably been on a field trip to a candy factory, a bakery, a cannery,  a farm, city hall and a gold mine. How can she not know the source of the knowledge we are funneling into her every day? If I asked her who Gutenberg was, would she have a clue? Does she know who Penguin are? Or Harper Collins? Or Orca or Lorimer? She’s read their books I’m sure. What can we do to make kids understand how important this all is?

These are the conversations, the insights that will be lost when we get all our books via email. This gathering of book magic and its faithful minions is what we’ll miss. I would hate to see that day.

Who have YOU met in the library or the book store? What did they teach you?

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