Growing up, I was taught– no, practically spoon-fed– “don’t judge a book by its cover.” From day one in kindergarten the Golden Rule was to treat others as you’d like to be treated, and to not judge a book by its cover. These were the basic rules we all repeated over and over again until our tongues grew numb. Any betrayal of these rules warranted the highest level of shock, yet we were all guilty of silent judgments and treating The Others slightly different, even if it was subconsciously.
So why is it, 18 years after I first walked into Kindergarten, that I still find myself feeling guilty for literally breaking the rules of my youth… Against books?
I start my first teaching job next week and I decided to order all of the summer reading book choices so that I can at least appear to know what’s going on.
The thing is…until my first paycheck…I’m broke. I ordered used books, a practice I became addicted to in college. Ordering used books was my drug– books travelled to me from states I’ve never been to, sometimes filled with hidden treasures. I once ordered a Stephen King book on writing, and it came with a forgotten Christmas card and inspirational note from a doting grandmother to what I could only presume was her pompous ass of a grandson. I mean, who else abandons a meaningful gift and note to a stranger for a mere $1.75? Obtaining books for only a fraction of their value became a rush for me, especially if they turned out to be in pristine condition. I lived for obtaining new stories and mysteries, all for as low of a price as I could get. Used books introduced me to a secret society of knowledge a full price book couldn’t even begin to show me. Used books provided an even deeper connection to those who had come before me and read the book’s life story. Used books were magical.
And yet… When my summer reading books arrived…I stared in shame at the books before me, imagining what would have happened if I had brought the yellowed, water-stained books to high school with me. Ridicule would have been certain. And if the books belonged to a teacher? Judgment would have been inevitable. My own teenage insecurities resurfaced, bringing forth visions of me being ridiculed by my own future students, students I’ve yet to meet, and propelling me into a state of teenage panic where, against my better judgment, I decided to ignore my summer reading books until I could no longer pretend their soiled pages were free of imperfections.
A few weeks passed, and I caved. As I stared at the water stained pages of one of my books this evening, a new story unfolded in my head. Were the pages yellowed and coiled from a flood? Soiled from a romantic moment in the rain? Yellowed from piss at a dog park? Stained from spilled alcohol as a bartender worked his or her way through school? The possibilities were– and are– endless. I may not be able to control the state in which my used books have appeared, but I certainly can control my actions.
Never judge a book by its cover, and always treat a book like you would like to be treated. With these rules in mind, the writing of your own story is filled with possibilities.