An invitation to the Great Book Banquet

Published 3:31 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

In late March, I received a forwarded email informing me the Shelby County School District needed help with Battle of the Books (or BOB as it’s known). While the email hadn’t been directed to me at first, I jumped immediately at the invitation. My quick response reminded me of the parable I’d heard Sunday morning from Matthew 22 when a king gets ready to throw a wedding banquet only to find that the original guests won’t show. The king sends his servants out to gather a second group, the poor and the undeserving, and they come at once.

My enthusiasm for BOB comes from my enthusiasm for reading. For the past four years, the district has hosted the book competition for every student from the intermediate to high school. At each level, the libraries are stocked in the fall with copies of the five-to-six books the students will read, and students prepare for tryouts by reading the books and writing questions and answers about what they learned. The competition amongst the schools is held in April.

Until this year, I’d been kept out of BOB because our school had a wonderful sponsor, media specialist Sheikla Blount. Ms. Blount has been to my school, and to BOB, what Shug Jordan and Bear Bryant were to football in the state of Alabama, but I finally found my own invitation to the Great Book Banquet when I was asked to be a reader, a judge, for the high school competition.

The problem was, in the parable, the king threw one of the new invites out because the new guest was poorly clothed. In my case, I felt far from being the Silvertongue (nod to the popular young adult series Inkheart) the students deserved. Even worse, I had only read two of the six books.

I felt doomed to wear the title of “Worst Reader Ever” until I began to call upon the county’s public libraries for help. Thanks to their help through interlibrary loan, I was able to secure copies of my missing books. Now I just needed time to read. I had to get creative, resorting more than once to reading and running on the treadmill, but I finished (and laughs were had by the Shelby County sheriffs on night shift at 4 a.m. as they drove by Snap Fitness and watched Speedy Von Reader).

I went to such lengths to finish the remaining books because I love a good story. I love words. I would’ve loved the BOB as a student, and I love a county that makes a reading competition possible.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.