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Suzanne Tobias: Books are an irresistible indulgence

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at 11:11 p.m.

It’s no accident, I’m sure, that school book fairs coincide with parent-teacher conferences.

You’re there in the classroom, hearing how good or bad or mediocre your child has been doing in class. And no matter which way it goes, books are the answer.

Because reading is fundamental, right?

And then the books are right there in the school library, organized into eye-catching displays alongside race-car posters and life-size cardboard cut-outs of Taylor Lautner and bins of alien-face pens whose eyeballs pop out when you squeeze their heads.

Good stuff.

And your child has his wish list ready to go, because just before conferences he conveniently was allowed a sneak peek inside the book fair during language arts class. He filled his little green worksheet with title after title – most judged primarily, if not entirely, by their covers. For example:

•  The annual “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” edition, which provides countless photographs with which to gross out your sister. (Louis “Super Stomach” Cole has ingested 21 live locusts, raw sheep brain, 660 live mealworms, a scorpion and more! Turn to page 94 …)

•  “Guinness World Records 2013” – now in 3-D!

•  A “Gotcha Gadgets” kit, which includes instructions and everything else you need to build 20 motion sensors, door alarms and other contraptions to prank your friends (or sister). It’s “science,” my son assured me.

•  And “The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee,” the latest chapter in Tom Angleberger’s hilarious “Origami Yoda” series, because it no doubt will include instructions for creating a Chewbacca cootie-catcher. In other words, HOW CAN YOU NOT BUY THAT?!

I’m a sucker for a book fair just like I was a sucker for those Scholastic book order forms, with their 99-cent specials and souped-up editions of childhood favorites. (How many copies of “The Phantom Tollbooth” does one family need? The answer is – duh! – several.)

But as vices go, indulging kids with reading material seems pretty harmless. They get a new book (or five), I get the warm and somewhat wily feeling of rewarding good report cards with more reading, the school gets a kickback, teachers get books for their classroom libraries, and the Ripley’s conglomerate is able to shock and disgust a new generation.

Win-win … win-win-win.

Adults might not have book fairs, but we have our own little green wish lists. Mine lives on a free website called GoodReads.com, which has become my favorite way of tracking what I read, logging what I want to read and seeing what friends think of the books they’re reading. It’s part of our collective quest for the next great book.

That quest led me to Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which I shared with my teenage daughter; to R.J. Palacio’s heartbreaking and fabulous “Wonder,” which I suggested to my son; and to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed,” which I recommend to everyone I meet.

Next on my never-ending literary to-do list are “Gone Girl,” “The Orchardist,” the Steve Jobs biography and any book by Raymond Chandler.

If I can tear myself away from these Ripley’s photos.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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