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. 




  1. Wonderful blog! I’ve been nailed by the ‘introductory offer’ too, on LPs in the 70s. It’s one of the oldest–and best working–scam ever. I’m not sure I get wiser as I get older. I’m really tempted by the cheese-of-the-month club!

    • Thanks, Thierry. Learning to read the fine print took the fun out of things because it usually meant I couldn’t get whatever it was I wanted to buy. 🙂

  2. Katie: I continue to read your posts with amazement regarding the vivid detail in which you recall memories from so long ago plus your style of writing is so natural yet keen and extremely amusing and interesting. You have a real gift of writing and expressing yourself. Thanks for sharing that with others!

    • Thanks, Rose. Although I can often recall memories from yesteryear I sometimes can’t recall yesterday! I was always the sort who had to reflect on and relive everything — the good and the bad. I guess when you go over something a million times in your head and think you should have done this or that, it’s harder to forget. 🙂

  3. Katie, I so totally agree with Rose. How you remember such details from your childhood astounds me. I can barely remember details from a week ago, let alone when I was 12. Seriously. But I love that you do, and I love reading about your memories and your stories. Something always resonates with me – certainly the __-of-the-month club (fill in the blank), as I joined that craze as a result of watching those old Time Warner commercials – I have a collection of CDs entitled Singers and Songwriters from decades ago – and a myriad of recipe cards that would, in the end, have cost so much less had it been a book than individual card shipments! Lessons learned – yup 🙂

    • Thanks, Stacy. When I think more about it, I really didn’t learn my lesson with the book club. It would take the “hundred dolls from around the world” to finally impress upon me the importance of reading the fine print. I’ll write that one sometime. 🙂

      • Ha! I look forward to it 🙂

  4. I loved this article! Like you, I ordered books from a book club with that enticing introductory offer. Fortunately for me, my Aunt Roellen paid for one contract and I believe my parents paid for another. Everyone in our family valued reading and writing so much that book clubs were happy expenditures.

    • Thanks, Mayla. My parents couldn’t afford the book club, so I was in a tight spot for awhile. I made great use of the library afterwards.

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