Love of Books Lasts a Lifetime

Originally appeared in The Record February 22, 2017

By Jack Jacobs of The Record

When I was a ten-year-old fourth-grader in 1963 at Lincoln Elementary School, I had something no other kid in the class had: a publisher. Back then my father owned the Country Club Variety, a small Five and Dime store on the corner of Country Club Boulevard and Mission. Now because all my school supplies, binders and binder paper, pens and pencils, came from there, in my mind I had every right to proclaim on the cover of my report on California’s 21 Missions: Publisher Fred Jacobs.

Dad sold many other things in that store. He had a candy case up front where he measured out bulk jelly beans, chocolate peanut clusters and chocolate-covered orange sticks. Sewing notions, bolts of ribbon, skeins of Red Heart yarn and Carr picture frames were always mainstays. Jacks and paddle balls and baseball bats made me think dad really had a toy store. But he also carried those Little Golden Books with brightly-painted cardboard covers that always seemed to make their way home to find a place on the couch or the hassock or on the side table beneath the reading lamp. Growing up, Chicken Little and The Little Engine That Could soon gave way to the Whitman classics Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

So I suppose it is safe to say my parents instilled in me such a love for the written word and storytelling that I went off to college majoring in English instead of business, and then chose a career at this daily newspaper rather than dad’s Five and Dime.

Through it all I always had my publisher.

Longtime opinion page editor Avery Kizer once reminisced about his publisher, Record founder Irving L. Martin Sr., and his ability “to turn up, wraith-like, anywhere and everywhere in the plant.” I suppose that’s a gift most publishers possess, and certainly is true of the seven publishers I have worked for the past 41 years.

So having publisher Roger Coover hovering over my right shoulder unannounced one afternoon a couple of years ago did not alarm me as much as the reason for his visit.

“I have a volunteer opportunity for you,” he said as a way of greeting.

That “volunteer opportunity” involved stepping into some pretty big shoes. Opinion page editor emeritus Richard G. Marsh had been a founding board member of the Library and Literacy Foundation for San Joaquin County back in the early ’90s. Opinion page editor Kevin Parrish had also served on the board, as well as executive editor Mike Klocke and features writer Lori Gilbert. Now publisher Coover was asking me to represent The Record on the same board.

The temptation to echo the refrain of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener was all too strong. But really, how do you tell your boss, “I would prefer not to?”

You can’t. I didn’t. And now two years into a three-year term on the board of the Library and Literacy Foundation, I find myself stretched and pulled into places I never imagined I could go. I am grateful for the journey and the opportunity to participate in three upcoming literacy events that the Library and Literacy Foundation has in hand this year.

On April 29th the Downtown Stockton Alliance sponsors its Great Big Read at Janet Leigh Plaza. The day features many events and activities that promote reading, writing and performing arts. The plan at this writing is for the Foundation and Little Free Libraries to partner with the Alliance for another Big Free Library Book Giveaway.  At last July’s book giveaway, over 32,000 books were distributed free of charge to anyone who showed up at a Port of Stockton warehouse. This spring the downtown venue will be much more accessible, and 35,000 books will be available for all takers.

On May 12, the Library and Literacy Foundation’s 26th annual Trivia Bee Fundraiser takes over the Stockton Arena. This year’s theme is “The ’80s” and promises “To Bee Like Totally Awesome!” It also promises to be one of the most competitive. Already word is out that the folks at Friends of the Lodi Library are holding tryouts to see who can best represent their team. The tryout party is scheduled for Wednesday night, March 8, in the Lodi Library’s Community Room, 201 West Locust Street, at 6:00 p.m. sharp. All members of the Friends are eligible to try out for the three-person panel.

Plans are already underway for the 20th anniversary celebration of Family Day at the Park, The Record’s Literacy and Book Fair on September 16, 2017. Last year the Foundation donated 762 children’s books from our booth on the grounds of beautiful University Park. This year the Foundation hopes to at least double the amount of grade-appropriate books in English and Spanish to be gladly given to all children willing to color in a Foundation bookmark.

In all of this I see a few morals. Being asked to volunteer doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Chugging uphill takes effort, but has its rewards. The treasure is there if you dig for it. Don’t be afraid to step into the big shoes of those who have come before you.

And maybe, most importantly, listen to your publisher.

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