Thursday, August 8, 2013

So Nerdy

So yesterday I was at the bottle shop and. . .

Wait, do I need to explain what a bottle shop is? Depending on your region, it's basically a liquor store, though they go by a variety of names. In this case, I was in a shop that specializes in the craft beers that I can't find at my local supermarket. Their website says they have over 1,000 different beers from all over the country, and I believe it. I had some specific items on my list, and some recommendations from my brother, so while the shop owner volunteered to help me, I was happy at first to browse the shelves on my own.

As I read my way up and down the shelves and across the regions, another customer went to pay. He obviously knew a lot about craft beer, and he and the owner were soon deeply engrossed in a discussion of different beers and local breweries. They pulled a few beers to sample. The customer offered a beer of his own. I could follow a little of their conversation (my brother has brewed his own beer as a hobby for over ten years, and now he grows his own hops), but for the most part I was content to browse.

Clearly I had to try something called Unicorn's Revenge

Finally, I reached a point where I did want some recommendations (I knew the brewery but not which beer), and the owner happily and knowledgeably offered his advice. I made my selections, and when I went to check out the owner offered me a tasting of one of the beers they were trying. It was not something they had for sale, but a beer that the other customer had brought in, Gandhi-Bot from New England Brewing Company. I asked where the brewery was, and when the owner said Connecticut but the beer isn't for sale in Illinois, I turned to the other customer and asked how he got it.

"Did you just drive back from the East Coast?" I asked, since this is something that people I know do.

He looked embarrassed. "No," he said, looking down, "I actually do something kind of nerdy." As a teacher who hangs out with librarians, I embrace all things nerdy. I thought he was going to say he has a nerdy job that involves travel. "I got a box with different beers in it and. . . "*

He obviously thought I was going to make fun of him.

"That's awesome!" I said.

"Yeah, well, some people think it's weird to exchange beers with strangers. . . " The three of us talked a bit more. For the second time in two days I was in a conversation about sending beer through the mail. Eventually I paid my bill and went home, but the conversation stuck with me, especially the comment about something nerdy.

Books are my thing, clearly, especially books for teens. When I visit my local indie bookstore, I'm the one talking with the bookseller about titles that aren't even out yet until another customer comes up to pay. I'm the one helping strangers pick out books for their young relatives. And I'm the one sending books through the mail, sometimes to people that I don't yet know in person.

At the bottle shop, I was only slightly beyond a beginner. I'm from the Pacific Northwest, where craft beer and microbreweries were already popular when I finished college, so this isn't exactly new to me. I knew some things that I liked, such as stouts and porters, and that I didn't like red ales. Or at least, I haven't liked the red ales that I've tried. There are breweries that I know I like, such as Magic Hat, and breweries I wanted to try, and breweries recommended to me. At one point I needed an expert's advice, and the owner helped me navigate the specific subtleties within the brewery's beer list.

When our students arrive in a few weeks, many will be like me in the bottle shop. None of my students will be beginners since they read a ton in 7th grade. A few will know that they really like adventure, and others will only think that they don't like fantasy. They might know they like Veronica Roth, they might want to try Carl Hiaasen, and someone might have recommended they try Laurie Halse Anderson. One of the challenges I'll face is to help them without overwhelming them, and without making them feel stupid for not already knowing. Like the store owner helping me, the trick is to challenge the connoisseurs without alienating the beginners.

At the same time, I want to create a classroom, a community, where the student pursuing a passion (hopefully not craft beer in 8th grade) has the confidence, when asked how he got the new James Dashner title months before its release, to say, without embarrassment, "I do this awesome nerdy thing where. . . "

Currently Reading: Awaken by Meg Cabot
Why: Meg Cabot wrote it.

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*I am, obviously, paraphrasing. I can't remember his exact words, but you get the point.



  1. I love this post! It is so true that we need to be able to guide our students through their beginning knowledge of books. I like the description of the bottle shop...sounds like a great shop! (and of course you had to try Unicorn's Revenge) My only question is: how do I sign up for that really nerdy thing where you get a box of beer from all over? Sounds great!

    1. I would be really excited to get a box like that!