A table covered in what looked like wrapped gifts was stationed in Jamrich on Monday, Feb. 22 and was attracting all sorts of students from different majors. Sometimes those students would even run off to grab their friends and bring them over to laugh at something they had seen written on top of the packages. The excitement was only heightened once students paid the suggested donation of $1 and then ripped off the wrapping to discover the title of the book they were holding.
It was only the first out of four days for the Blind Date with a Book event and it was already a huge success for both the students finding joy in their new books and the students in the Mortar Board who were running the event.
“It was so fun to see how excited people would get for something as simple as getting a book … People had fun reading the descriptions, people were running to get their friends to also read the descriptions, having us help make recommendations but we had to do it mysteriously to preserve the integrity of the whole experience,” said Elizabeth Mansfield, a senior majoring in sports science and general member of the Mortar Board. “I remember leaving and just feeling really happy because there was so much excitement just for people getting a new book to read. It was super wholesome.”
The Mortar Board had started out with two boxes of wrapped books and by Wednesday, the second day of the event, they only had 19 books left to sell. The event was so popular that they had to go out the next weekend to buy and wrap more books.
This is not the first time the Mortar Board has held the Blind Date with a Book event, but it is one of the first events they have been able to hold this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Mortar Board is a national senior honor society that normally participates in volunteer service events and projects for the Marquette community. Since most of their usual activities normally require in-person involvement, the Mortar Board has had to figure out other ways to stay connected and host events.
“We did pen pals with the Norlite Nursing Home and Trunk-or-Treat and Make a Difference Day, but I am hoping we can get some more stuff rolling this year. We just have to be creative because everything has to be COVID-19 conscious,” Mansfield said.
One of the great things about the Blind Date with a Book event for Mansfield is not only the relative ease with which it can come together during the pandemic but the creativity and enjoyment that comes out of it. This is not simply a fundraiser for the Mortar Board, but a fun project they can be creative with and promote literacy.
“[Blind Date with a Book] is a great fundraiser so that we will have more funds to do service projects in the future, but it is also just a fun project. It is not a typical bake sale or can drive. It is putting this creative spin on it with us coming up with these fun descriptions,” Mansfield said. “It also kind of aligns with our whole scholarship theme of Mortar Board.”
Kailyn Lefeber, senior and clinical laboratory science major as well as vice-president of the Mortar Board, says she enjoys the event since it adds an element of surprise and mystery to one of her favorite hobbies.
“I am pretty passionate about reading too so to get others involved is awesome. It is really exciting to see everyone come up to the booth and be like ‘oh what is this? Books for a dollar, that’s awesome,’” Lefeber said. “Basically the idea is don’t judge a book by its cover because most people look at a book and might think ‘nah, I don’t think I would like it’ but they don’t really know what it is about, so that is what we have kind of eliminated.”
Each book is wrapped and has a note card taped to the top with a written description, but the words are not as descriptive as one might think.
Megan Romkema, a senior and forensic biochemistry major and member of the Mortar Board, said the best descriptions are the ones that are vague, intriguing but still give some insight into the genre of the book. She said the books with the more straightforward descriptions do not go as fast.
The thought and creativity that was put into the book descriptions became apparent as the Mortar Board wrapped their second batch of books and bounced description ideas off of each other. For an anthology of Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry, they threw out ideas like “Edgar Allen Prose” and the very vague description “do you like ravens?”
For Veronica Line, a senior majoring in biology and general member of the Mortar Board, seeing student’s reactions to the descriptions and book titles is one of the most rewarding things about this event.
“So of course we are promoting literacy with [Blind Date with a Book] but it is a lot of fun just to see the reactions of people. You will read a description and you will think the book is going to go one way and it does a complete 180,” Line said. “There was one that said ‘if you like food, this book is for you’ and it was about the shrimp mob, essentially, like black market avocados and those kinds of things, and I was like ‘what?’”
This event also helps give books a new home. Most of the books come from donations or thrift stores where the Mortar Board members handpick the books they think will most appeal to other students. However, this still means they end up with a wide variety of wrapped books that include everything from books about backpacking to college survival to Amish thrillers to earthworms and a surprising amount of murder mysteries.
“Some people had gone out and bought books with our funds that we have, some people had donated books, so we had a wide range of lots of different topics,” Line said. “Some were in better condition, some were a little bit more loved.”
Regardless of the genre or state of the books, nearly all of them were sold in the first week and the Mortar Board is expecting to sell most of the rest on the final two days of the event: Tuesday, March 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursday, March 4 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“I was honestly shocked by how much participation we had, especially right now when there are fewer people going to classes in person. I was really worried that it wasn’t going to be well-received, or that people would not take the time to stop and look,” Mansfield said. “We had people who would come up and look for fiction books or people who were searching for poetry or people who were not necessarily big readers but wanted that nonfiction bite that they could grab quickly … we had one girl who said ‘I want the angstiest book you can find’ and we were like ‘this is going to be great.’”
The Mortar Board hopes the success of this year’s Blind Date with a Book event will carry on to the next group of seniors who join the club. All eligible juniors have already received an email about membership for next year, and applications are due March 12. Applications can be found on the dean of students website.