Archives For Goodwill

Yesterday, there was one paperback copy of The Hunger Games squeezed in-between other trade fiction. Two hardcover copies of Mockingjay were together on an opposite shelf. These books from The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins had been donated to a local Goodwill store. When I found them tucked away on the store’s shelves, I knew that the series had met a tipping point: still popular but not popular enough to treasure and (19)

The Hunger Games series (2008-2010) has been to today’s graduating seniors what the Harry Potter series (1997-2007) was to today’s 28 year olds…a collective reading experience. The series developed a dedicated young adult following, and the most obvious signs of their dedication was the carting of hardcover editions because each reader could not wait for the book to go to paperback.

Once The Hunger Games series caught fire (literally), book conversations centered on Katniss. There were speculations on her choice of Gale or Peeta. Predictions on the fate District 13 were rampant. The publication of each new book in the series was a major event; students shared copies from period to period. When the first film, The Hunger Games, came out students critiqued every detail that was present and noticed every detail that was missing.

Our Reading/English/Language Arts teachers loved having students read these books as well. The series laid the connections to more traditional texts such as the Greek myths or Romeo and Juliet. There were plenty of connections on current events in the economy and media that could be made as well.

Finding three copies in the used book shelves now, however, signals a sputtering of interest. Students will still pick up the used copies from the book carts in the classroom, but the rabid fans have moved on.  Collins has helped this year’s graduating seniors develop their independent reading skills, the kind of skills that will serve them well in the future.

There are benefits to the recycling of books. I spent $7.98 on the three copies that would have been $27.66 if purchased new. The consequences of reaching a tipping point in popularity is a benefit for classroom libraries, which means finding used books from this series will be easier now that …. “the odds be ever in our favor.”

In keeping my classroom libraries filled with books, the trends I notice are not necessarily trends in book buying, but trends in book discarding. After exams, midterms or finals, assigned titles are discarded to make room on a bookshelf or in a school locker for new required reading. Following trends means knowing that three to four months after the curriculum unit ended, an assigned title begins to crowd its way onto the bookshelves of thrift stores such as Goodwill or St. Vincent’s or the Salvation Army.

Three copies of "The Scarlet Letter" on the shelf at Goodwill. All new; never opened!

Three copies of “The Scarlet Letter” on the shelf at Goodwill this past week. All new; never opened, bearing their $1.00 each price tags.

Since Puritans are usually up for discussion in September in American History coursework, many English departments turn to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter for their Advanced Placement or college bound students as a complementary read. Therefore, I was not surprised when, during this last week of January, copies of The Scarlet Letter began appearing, not in single copies, but in droves. I expected as much. The Scarlet Letter represents the “not keeping” trend. While a student may hesitate for a millisecond before placing The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye in the “throw away” pile, I imagine there is universal delight in discarding The Scarlet Letter, a delight only exacerbated by discarding its equally loathed curriculum companion, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The mention of The Scarlet Letter may set off groans. Woe to the teacher who attempts this book without the iron cast-backbone or the determination of an evangelist. Readers of The Scarlet Letter will need to be converted, and it is only the fear and damnation of another scarlet letter that keeps them plodding on, the scarlet “F”!

The tone of the book is set immediately with the opening line:

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

Looking further down the page for some relief from the gloom, the reader should notice that he or she is being directly addressed, as if from a pulpit delivering a parable or allegory:

Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.

Yes, Hawthorne will be delivering this sermon for 192 pages in the Dover Thrift Edition ($3.15).

Students are aware that this classic will improve SAT scores with the challenging vocabulary and complex structures of 19th Century prose, but they still seek help beyond the classroom. There are Sparknotes, Schmoop notes, E-Notes, Cliff Notes, and Bookrags available for this text, so as a result, the paperback text on the thrift store shelf may never have been opened. The copies available at thrift stores are generally pristine copies. I imagine they were purchased by parents who dutifully picked up the book because of a syllabus of some sort. Maybe this was a summer reading choice, a particularly deadening assignment. Actually, the effort in purchasing this text could have been avoided, because the text itself is online at no less than six places:

And there are free audio versions at:

But we still teach The Scarlet Letter, and our paperback collection of The Scarlet Letter distributed in class is comprised of at least 10 different editions. No student is on the same page number when the text is read aloud in class in order to share the conflicts between Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne, and Chillingsworth. Interestingly, what seems initially complex to the student is eventually understood as a really a ripping good love triangle of sex, intrigue, and irony. Once they see Hawthorne laying out hypocrisies of the Puritan society, they are more genuinely engaged. Plus, there is the lovely child Pearl, and they grow to sympathize for her.

In order to engage students in assessments, our Grade 11 teacher has organized “self-directed” projects for students to choose  and some of these have included:

  • Create a song telling the ballad of Hester Pyrnne.  You may compose the song, or write new words for an existing melody.  Share the song with the class either live or via audio or videotape.
  • Think of a sin associated with Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.  Create a badge that uses a letter or other symbol to represent the sin.  In addition, use art, needlework, or some other craft to make the badge reveal something about the man’s character, interests, or profession.  Write an explanatory caption or paragraph to accompany the badge.
  • Choose music to be the score for a film version of the novel.  Choose music for at least five major scenes.  Write explanatory notes for each selection

The harvesting of The Scarlet Letter texts from thrift store shelves is best from January-March. I can add as many as 10-12 copies during these months. Competition for the title grows during the summer, and the books are often more dog-earred by then.

But with all the negativity, why teach The Scarlet Letter? Because Hawthorne provides a bridge from this historical period to ours by using the empathy that is generated in fiction. Our brains are wired for stories more than facts, and reading The Scarlet Letter helps our students identify with characters in order to understand the politics and policies of this turbulent time when our nation was still in its infancy. Additionally, his story serves as a springboard for other stories. According to Canadian author Margaret Atwood, “The roots of totalitarianism in America are found, I discovered, in the theocracy of the 17th Century. The Scarlet Letter is not that far behind [the novel] The Handmaid’s Tale, my take on American Puritanism.”

Oh, and yes. We also assign The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Chance favors the prepared” in the used book market.

Saturday is my day for running errands which takes me to Brookfield or New Milford, two Northwest Connecticut communities. Each of these towns has a their own Goodwill store located on Route 7, and I make regular stops to their bookshelves of donated books looking to see what has been most recently donated.

This past Saturday morning, I did just that. In fact, I stopped at both stores and purchased a total of 47 books for $41.43. WhenI came home, I noticed that WebEnglish Teacher had posted a link to a website listing the 100 Essential Reads for the Lifelong Learner  organized by Online Schools. These books were organized by discipline: fiction, non-fiction, autobiography/memoir, biography, world literature literary theory, history, political science,science/math/social science. Her question was “How many of these essential books have you read?” I was happy to see some familiar titles on the list, but many were new to me.

I could not help but notice that I had just purchased five of the suggested titles on this list for different classroom libraries that very day! There were other titles on the list available on thrift store shelves that I did not get since our libraries either already had enough copies or the titles are available online in the public domain.  The Online Classroom Essential Reads List is organized so that each title had a designated number, not a rank, and link provided for each book with a short explanation. Some of the links are helpful.

Here is a list of the 5 PURCHASED ESSENTIAL READS and the grade or class that uses them:

35. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This fictional account of a platoon in Vietnam is based on Tim O’Brien’s experience in the war himself and explores the fear and courage that are necessary to bring one through to the other side.

-This is a text that is used in our Grade 11-American Literature classes. The book is one of the few texts that students will willingly complete; once they finished the first story, they are hooked which is a tribute to O’Brien’s writing style. The prose is artistic but not difficult for even our lowest readers. Our students are curious about Vietnam, a part of history that is chronologically left for those lazy days of June. We use film clips (Platoon, Apocolypse Now, The Deer Hunter) in our unit with this text. We also eat MREs in class, and organize lists as to what each of use “carries.”

43. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Wolff recounts his life as a boy and teen struggling with his identity as he lives with his divorced mother and her second husband in the 1950’s.

-This text will go into the English IV elective Memoir. There is a possibility that a 9th grader will choose this as an independent reading book in the non-fiction unit. The narration captures teen angst very well, and could work as a non-fiction companion piece to Catcher in the Rye in Grade 11. If Common Core wants classrooms to integrate more non-fiction, this is an excellent piece to add.

61. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Discover how to find the beauty in life no matter what your experience as you follow the life of a young shepherd who gains so much from his journey of life.

-This book is assigned as summer reading for incoming English II honor students. We require a dialectic journal with 30 quotes from the texts as the summer reading assignment. Despite the burden of writing, students really enjoy this book which allows us to segue from “the journey” archetype taught in Grade 9 to the different types of perspectives in Grade 10 World Literature.

94. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Carson’s powerful writing on the topic of environmental justice creates a book that will make the reader think seriously about humanity’s relationship to the Earth.

-I got this book for the environmental studies teacher. So far, I have found five nice copies this past year. She offers this as optional reading to her students, and I think this should be required reading for students interested in pursuing an environmental science…or any science, for that matter.

100. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Psychology student or not, this book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the curious way the mind works–and how it does not work. Several of the most bizarre cases are detailed here.

-I rarely find copies of this book, so finding one in good condition is a score! The psychology/sociology teacher loves to lend this book to her students; they are fascinated by the case studies. I am always excited to find a gently used copy for her to share.

Here is a list of the 10 essential reads I LEFT ON THE SHELVES (and where they are used in our curriculum)

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.-Grade 11; we have enough copies

12. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. -AP English Literature; text is in the public domain so students read this online.

14. The Call of the Wild by Jack London.- Grade 9;  text is in the public domain so students read this online.

15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. -Grade 11; we have enough copies

28. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.- AP English Literature; we have enough copies

33. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.- Optional read for Grade 11 Coming of Age unit OR Advanced Placement English

34. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. -Grade 10; We have enough copies

58. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. AP English Literature; we have enough copies

82. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.- Resource for AP English Language and AP English Literature and Creative Writing

98. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.-I will need to check with the psychology teacher!

 Both Goodwill stores, Brookfield and New Milford, regularly offer a wide variety of used books, and our classroom libraries are currently well-stocked with titles puchased used for $.50-$2.00.
This past Saturday, the  total cost for the five  “essential” titles I did purchase? $5.18. Getting these essential reads into the hands of our students? Priceless.