Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #42 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand
The excitement you got each month when your teacher passed out Troll & Scholastic book order forms.
One of the best things about elementary school was that, for the most part, the good days outweighed the bad ones. On music days I got to spend time “singing” and “playing” instruments (best of all were the recorders!) Everybody rejoiced on days that the gym teacher allowed us to play capture the flag and dodge ball. And, of course, Pizza Fridays were just about the best days in the whole universe! But nothing quite compared to the ridiculous joy I derived from book sales and fairs.
Book order forms may have been passed out monthly in Buzzfeed’s world, but I don’t recall it happening that often. (Though maybe it did. My memories are hardly the be all and end all.) But I certainly remember regularly obtaining and perusing those wonderful, colorful, newspaper-y booklets. I can’t really describe how much my younger self simply adored reading. I’d read anything, from scary monster books that gave me nightmares to really kiddy fare like the Berenstain Bears. Between the ages of seven and twelve, books were staple birthday and Christmas gifts. And though I’m sure I balked at the idea of getting books over Barbie, I was secretly quite happy.
Receiving books unwarranted was all well and good, but I didn’t have any power over the titles I received. With the book forms at school however, I did. I had ALL the power to choose whichever books I wanted! Because the books, they were ALL MINE! Mwahahahaha!
I also had a very vivid imagination thanks to books.
Sure, I could pick any books I wanted, but my parents, the ones footing the bill, had the final say. I could circle 30 books on any given form, and maybe I’d get 1/3rd of my choices. Even though the books were ridiculously cheap by adult standards (some costing mere pennies), in our house all those books needed storage of some kind, which lead to clutter, which lead to messiness, which lead to screams of “where are my [insert series title here] books??” and subsequently irate parents. I’m sure they had some sort of system in place for choosing what to buy, which may have been as simple as setting a price limit ($5, $10), so all I could do was make my choices and hope for the best.
School days that were even more betterer than the book forms days were when the books arrived. Our books were sent to the school, and seemingly like magic, they were already grouped under our names when we got in. The teacher passed out bundles like Santa Claus, and we were happy. I was happy. My bundles were replete with high-flying fantasy, true-to-life stories, eerie tales from the beyond, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels, Mad Libs, and, most certainly, plenty of Garfield! (And free posters, always!) I’d truck all those book homes in my backpack and read, and read, and read until someone (perhaps my Mom calling for dinner) broke my trance. It was the The. Best. Day.
It bears mentioning that I didn’t get books with each and every form. Otherwise, goodness, I’d have been swimming in compact paperbacks! These special days for me only happened a few times a year. Often they were coupled with a book fair that was held by the school once or twice a year. Held after school or on a weekend, at first I went with my parents and they bought the books. As I got older, I was allowed to attend them “by myself” with my parents acting more as chaperons than police escorts. They’d give me $10 and off I went. Slowly. Oh so slowly. Cause I only had $10, y’know. There was a fine line to walk between getting lots of books and getting the ones that mattered most.
As blissful as these memories are, they are inextricably tied to more melancholy ones. For as many times as I remember received my fresh, uncracked books in school, I also remember the few kids who never got books. Order forms came and went, and they never got any bundles. I won’t sit here and pretend to speculate anything about their lives through the fog of the past, but it did make me a little sad to see them there without any new books. Sadder still, I always felt like I should have shared books with those kids who didn’t have any, but I never did. It was bad enough that I had to share my shiny, new prizes with my younger siblings, with their sticky peanut butter hands and childish carelessness, just because my parents said it “was the nice thing to do.” (gawd, jeez!)
I eventually traded a life with book forms for one with a library card; however, my younger brother and sister still got the forms. On occasion, I’d glance through one even though I was far too “cool” and “adult” for such nonsense. Still, the idea of getting new books rather than the ratty library books (which, yes, were so much more accessible), was really quite appealing. And I remember the smiles on my siblings’ faces when they brought home their bundles of new books.
Best. Day. Ever!