Posted by: ktzefr | August 7, 2014
Reading the fine print — or not!
When I was growing up I was a sucker for advertisements — the flashier and more unbelievable, the better. I always went through the Sunday paper and checked out the deals in Parade magazine.
One Sunday in the sixties, the Doubleday One-dollar Book Club was offering five books for five dollars. How could this be? They were brand new hardcovers, too. How could a twelve-year-old reader with five dollars in the piggy bank possibly turn down this offer?
This was not the first time I drained the “piggy bank” for a really good deal or cause or adventure and it would not be the last. It may sound like I’m an impulsive person, but I’m not. Every time I’ve broken into the pig I have thought long and hard beforehand about the decision I was making with my heart, especially when my head was flashing the yellow light. I do not regret any of those choices. But I have learned some lessons.
On that day in the sixties I did not read the fine print. If they wanted people to read it, why did they write it so small?
I ordered the five books. I actually ended up with extras as one thick tome held three novels by Edna Ferber. I also selected The Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen, The Judas Tree by A.J. Cronin, a book titled Women and Fatigue, and a marvelous book of photos — Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. I didn’t choose any children’s books. I was twelve, for goodness sake!
I loved Ferber’s descriptions of place in Showboat, So Big, and Cimarron. All tales so vivid I was inspired to write my own stories set in the west. I did this a lot — read a book or saw a movie and then wrote with an obsession about places I’d never been. Not the best approach to writing, but the girls at my study hall table enjoyed the daily installments and making up stories was more fun than doing homework.
In The Life of Christ I read that the author was Catholic, a rarity in our neck of the woods. We were sometimes Baptist, sometimes Pentacostal. We went to both churches at various times and there was much discussion about whether or not a person could be “once in grace, always in grace” as the Baptists believed or if the Pentacostals were right in saying that one could backslide a zillion times and still get to Heaven. Sheen’s book added yet another view to the mix. I would later attend a Methodist college, be married by an Episcopal priest in a non-denominational ceremony, and join the Presbyterian church. I would then make Buddist, Hindi, Jewish, and Muslim friends and make a point of searching out the similarities.
I didn’t understand much that I read in Women and Fatigue and the book didn’t hold my interest. To be honest, I probably didn’t even know what the word “fatigue” meant until I bought the book. People in Appalachia often spoke of being tired, worn out, even worked to death, but I had never heard anyone say they were fatigued. I was young, excited, and energetic and I found this book exhausting to read.
My favorite book of the lot was Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. I roamed the world for hours at a time. Daydreaming. Traveling vicariously to faraway places. Making plans. Someday!
But it was The Judas Tree that brought a more immediate change in my life, bouncing me right out of childhood and into adolescence. After reading about Mary and David making love in the bracken amongst the heather flowers I was not the same person. This was the first “sex” scene I’d ever read. Back then there was no sex education in the schools and the subject was not discussed at home. Girls my age giggled about teenagers making out. Tales were told, stories overheard, about wild girls. No details provided. We had to “read between the lines,” which made it all sound dirty and/or dangerous. Until The Judas Tree. I marked passages, dogeared corners, read and re-read “the page” where the birds sang and the bees hummed in the background. It all sounded pretty and natural. Well then…
Back to the book club. The month after I’d received the five books for five dollars from the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club I was surprised to see another book arrive out of the blue. A bill arrived, too.
It seems the fine print had stated the five books for a dollar each was just an “introductory offer” that committed the person to buying one book each month at the regular price. For a whole year! I had used all my piggy bank money on the first five and could not afford the much higher-priced books that were offered each month.
More books and more bills followed. Eventually, letters from a collection agency came. I stopped opening the packages. I threw away the letters.
After several months, the books stopped coming in the mail. The bills finally stopped, too, as did the letters. I was relieved.
I kept all of the books on a shelf in my room and felt guilty when I looked at the freebies. I should have read the fine print.
And yet, decades later, I still have The Judas Tree on a bookshelf in my study. Every now and then I pick it up to read the scene in the bracken and the heather and recall how the first reading changed my childhood, broadened my world, and gave me a different glimpse of life. Not a bad way for a kid to be introduced to the beauty that was possible behind the stuff that was talked about only in whispers.
I don’t know what happened to Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. But it doesn’t matter. The photos that filled that book were tiny. They were all in black and white. I’ve now taken my own color pictures of many of those marvelous places I dreamed about as a child.
Posted in Books, Kentucky, Literature, travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: advertisement, Appalachia, Book Clubs, books, Coming of age, Literature, Sixties, Writing