Why books matter


One day every summer the parking lot of our local youth center erupts into a homeschool used curriculum sale.

The parking lot overflows with minivans. I park my purple pickup illicitly in half a parking space. Inside, the swarm of skirts, the arms full of babies, and the myriad books annually revive my secret regret at having not been a homeschooler.

It takes me three hours to finger my way through the books at every table in the room.

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Would I like The Methodist Hymnal? The Republic of Plato? Naval Battles? Portrait Drawing? How to Cut Your Family's Hair? Saxon Math? Or, from the free box under table 53, Basic Physics: A Self-Teaching Guide?

One mother explains to me that she can't keep track of how many children the women around here have. Every year there's one more in each family: 10, 11, and counting.

We jam in elbow to elbow between the rows of books. It rings true to life: people close to people, and close to books. How often the people we love, rather than the contents of the books themselves, make the books matter.

Rounding a corner I catch sight of a copy of Catherine Marshall's Julie, the book my mother read the morning of her wedding. She told her mother she wouldn't get married without finishing. Naturally, I've wanted to read it ever since.

"Whose is this?" I call to the surrounding tables.

"Mine." Since childhood I have known the woman who answers me. She gave the gospel message to the children of my church when I was 5, and guided me through the prayer of salvation. Perhaps this makes her the forceps at my new birth.

"You can have it," she says. She writes in the front: "To Chelsea. Love, Teresa."

I find a copy of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the grade school book my father most cherishes. His teacher read it aloud to him.

I know in my guts that the stories that comprise my parents matter to me. The Rats of NIMH costs $3, though. I already spent my $20 on poetry and glossaries of physics terms, and can't afford it. When I get home, my father mourns with me over its forfeiture.

Next I find The Catcher in the Rye.

"Have you read this?" I ask the woman at the table. I never expect homeschool moms to have read The Catcher in the Rye.

She did, in high school.

My own copy, which I acquired in the 11th grade and refused to read, has black smudges across the first few pages where I tried to cross out the obscenities with permanent marker. The quantity of obscenities fatigued my hand, and I gave up.

"You're brave," I say.

"Back then," she says, "I probably didn't know what the words meant."

My heroic 11th grade English teacher, the first man to tell me I might become a writer, allowed me to abstain from reading it.

But this week I shelved my pharisaical ethic and cracked it open again, so that I could share the story with him. Though he, the long-armed Catholic fisherman, is no longer my teacher, he still teaches me.

In one corner of the auditorium a group of teenagers chat while their mothers manage the tables. "We're selling this whole set of books for $300," says one boy. "Who would pay $300 to read for fun?"

Despite this, he may look back tenderly on the books that tie him to his parents and his teachers.

Chelsea Boes
Chelsea Boes

Chelsea is an editorial assistant for God’s World News. She graduated from Patrick Henry College with a degree in literature. Follow Chelsea on Twitter @ckboes.


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