The Sunday Salon: School Days

School days, school days.

For me, school meant slick new notebooks and paper folders in all colors. Boxes of flinty pencils I could sharpen into lethal points. Backpacks in stylish colors and prints.

And books. Lots of books.

I didn’t even care that most of them were textbooks. I loved them all – the battered, well-thumbed history books passed down from year to year, the shiny new workbooks for French with lovely glossy photos of famous landmarks. With only one exception (math books) each tome thrilled me to the core.

Like many adults, I have fond memories of my school days and feel a tiny bit wistful when September rolls around. One of my friends finds herself with no children to send off to school for the first time in about 23 years. “How strange it feels to walk past the back-to-school displays and not need to make a single purchase,” she sighs.

Here’s my secret. I haunt the school supply aisles every year and stock up on notebooks, index cards, folders and pens. This year I splurged and bought colored markers and some blank white paper for drawing  doodling. My biggest bargain were spiral notebooks for 10 cents. I confess to going slightly crazy on that one.

But really, can you blame me?

So – as often happens – when I’m feeling a need for something I can’t satisfy in real life, I turn to books for my vicarious gratification.

Books about school. That should do it.

Book Riot put together a nice list of books about life at school (Six Books for Back to School). Most of these I’ve read, but I may go digging for my copy of Villette (since I’m on something of a classics kick these days) and re-read it.

Here are some other of my personal favorites:

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, is definitely a look at the darker side of adolescence in a British boarding school, but it’s still a classic and important story about relationships for people of all ages.

Class Reunion, by Rona Jaffe, is the story of four girls who go to Radcliffe in the 50’s and go on to live interesting lives, then meet up again at their 25th reunion. (On a side note, if you go to the Amazon page for this book, you’ll notice that it’s out of print and a resale first edition will fetch a price of $199.00. And my husband doesn’t understand why I save books.)

Goodbye Mr. Chips, by James Hilton, traces a teachers long career at a British boarding school, and although it seems dated in some ways, it’s quite to true to the era in which I grew up, so it’s a nice bit of nostalgia for me.

Admissions, by Jean Korelitz, is a modern tale about 38-year-old Portia Nathan, who has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. This was a fascinating look at life in the “Ivy’s”  from the administrative side.

So even though it’s hot as blazes outside today, I may crank up the air conditioning, put on my school sweater, and pretend it’s fall while I wander back to the halls of academe.

In books, that is.

How about you? did you love school or hate it? do you like revisiting your school days vicariously through novels?

The Sunday


9 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: School Days

  1. I loved school as a kid because that was the only place where I could entertain myself. I grew up in the pre-internet age and we lived in the country with no neighbors and only three TV channels. Library trips were once a month and you could only check out four books at a time. As you can imagine, summer stretched out miserably for someone like me whose idea of fun is reading and researching subjects. When we took our eldest daughter to college last year to start her freshman year, I wanted to stay. Not because I couldn’t let go of my baby, but because I never got that full college experience of dorms and study groups and stimulating lectures and hanging out with friends with no parents in sight.

    One of my favorite types of films is the school film, especially if it is about the teacher who comes in and turns the unwanted kids around as in “To Sir, With Love”. I haven’t really sought out books that are set in schools, except for when I am looking for books for my kids. With four kids, I’ve read my share of middle school and YA books, most of which have a school setting. One I read recently that I liked was “Pink” by Lili Wilkinson. It is about a girl who switches schools because she wants to change her image.

    • To Sir, With Love is a classic! I’ve watched that many times. There were some really good tv shows about school that I enjoyed – Room 222 is an old one I remember. There was a show called Boston Public a few years ago that I thought was good.

      I did commuter college, and went at night after my son was born, so I missed out on a lot of the college experience. But still, I enjoyed it. I went back a few years ago, but it wasn’t quite the same being a student in your 40’s!

  2. If you liked Goodbye mr Chips, try To Serve them all my Days by R F Delderfield. Its about a man who returns from world war 1 and joins a boarding school as a very junior teacher, gradually being changed from nervous wreck into a much loved teacher.

  3. I loved school as a child. I was probably one of the minority…but what drew me in, was the library!! I loved reading and not having the opportunity to go to a public library…my school library became my safe haven. I am starting over again…have 2 teen sons and a toddler. So, I’ll be needing supplies for awhile. However, I LOVE your idea. Who says adults don’t need nifty folders, cool pens, and colorful binders??? I love them, too! 😀

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  5. Hi, Becca — Just yesterday as the students were invading our peaceful late-summer campus, I noticed the girls looked either 12 or 30. All depended on if you saw them fussing around the grocery store or wandering through the building or hanging around in downtown East Lansing! Lock up your daughters! As for me, books rock to the moon, and office and art supplies are a close second! Viva la Staples!

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