Monday, December 14, 2015

The Privilege of Being a Rez Bookworm

The highlight of my life as a ten year old was when the Scholastic Book Fair came to town the rez. I can still remember the anticipation of its arrival (second only to the anticipation of receiving a Scholastic Book Order), begging my parents for as much shopping money as they would give, and seeing the poster boards up around the school, the date written in black permanent marker.

When the Book Fair arrived, our teacher lined us up and paraded us over to the high school section of the school where the fair was set up. I pored over the books for as long as they let us browse--not nearly long enough, as far as I was concerned. I loved the swaths of books of all genres set up in tidy piles across numerous tables. The books were colourful, shiny, and new. Just waiting to be devoured on the couch that Saturday. I would purchase one book from a favourite series like Sweet Valley High or Goosebumps, and save the rest of my money for when I could return at lunch and recess and browse without the pressure of returning to class. In this uninterrupted time I would carefully consider and select however many books I could afford, sure to spend any spare change on a bookmark or two.

I would move through the rest of the day thinking of nothing but the books in my bag, finding any opportunity I could to set them out and just look at them or swap titles with my fellow book nerd BFF.

My love of books was enshrined.


A few weeks ago, I returned to my old school on the rez, the one with the book fairs. I was attending an event in the school library and I was hit with a dose of nostalgia seeing a poster for an upcoming Scholastic Book Fair in the hallway.

I walked into the library and it felt so small. It was set up exactly the same as it had been when I was a kid: a magazine corner next to the check out counter; a couple of computers along the wall; and four short stacks of books at the back, with a children's section at the far end.

Granted, I was small the last time I had spent any significant time in this library. And before I'd had the chance to grow up, come-of-age, and maybe explore those library stacks beyond the children's section, I moved. To the city.

And that's when I realized I'd been living in a Book Desert.

It was when my mom took me to the Chapters bookstore in downtown Ottawa. I'd heard about it from one of my new teachers in junior high (a novelty to me, since no junior high existed on the rez but I'd seen it "glamourized" on Degrassi), who told us of this massive bookstore that had two floors! And sure enough right in the middle of the store was an escalator that moved me up to the children's and teen sections where I could spend hours.

How had I gone so long without knowing a place like this existed?

Did these city people realize how lucky they were to be able to buy any book they wanted just outside their front door?

Mom, when can we come here again?


On the reserve today, there is still hardly a place to browse and shop for books. In fact, I can't think of one.

My boyfriend's reserve is next to a slightly larger town than mine, so kids and people there could buy books at Wal-Mart. But have you seen a Wal-Mart book section? Sure, it has some bestsellers and, arguably, a true book nerd would make it work--but how can you inspire a love of reading in children with such limited book resources?

Although I've taken to public libraries this year, to this day one of my favourite hobbies is still browsing in bookstores, both small independent ones and massive chains (I have no shame).

The truth of the matter is that to be a bookworm on the reserve is a true privilege.