I was never a scout of any kind, which would be totally fine with me if it weren’t for the merit badges. I can live without waking up early, hiking, camping, navigating by the stars, and whatever else it is that scouts learn to do, but I always liked the idea of merit badges. Even during my faux-disaffected high school years, I was kind of a gold star seeker, and merit badges are like their own highly specific gold stars.
So when a friend of mine texted the other day to tell me, kind of out of the blue, that I’m one of three people (her husband and another bookish friend are the others) whose book recommendations she will read every time. “That’s a place of honor in anyone’s life,” she said. No kidding! I don’t know how many higher compliments I’ve been paid. I told her I felt like having a pin made that said “Trustworthy Book Recommender,” just so everyone would know. (Yes, my desperation for approval is a little nauseating, now hush.)
And thus the idea for other bookish merit badges began to grow. Here are some that any reader should be happy to add to their collection.
1. Trustworthy Book Recommender
It goes without saying that I was always going to put the one I’d been awarded on the list. Being a good book recommender isn’t the same as just having good taste, it’s knowing the recommendee well enough to select books that you know they’ll enjoy. Instead of using some fancy algorithm, Amazon and GoodReads should just hire a room full of these people to look at what people have read and enjoyed and suggest their next read.
2. Courageous Explorer
If there were such a thing as Book Scouts, I would hope one of its core values would involve reading widely. In that spirit, tackling books outside your most favorite genres would earn you this badge. Or, let’s say you’ve read Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but don’t consider yourself a fantasy fan, per se. Reading some fantasy novels outside the spectrum of only the most popular in the genre could earn the badge as well.
3. Successful Book Club Maintenance
Book clubs are awesome. Or, at least, they sound awesome (I’ve never actually been in a tried and true book club), but from the sound of it, they can be difficult to sustain without losing steam. Members stop attending, don’t read the agreed upon book, or treat meetings like any other casual get-together. If you can keep a book club thriving for six months (or through three books, whichever comes first), I’d say you’ve earned all the praise you can get, badge included.
4. Always Be Prepared (Level: Book Nerd)
How many times have you been somewhere facing an unexpected, interminable wait, when your only wish in the world is that you had thought to bring a book along? Readers achieving this badge would expect the unexpected and demonstrate frequent preparedness on the book front, whether in doctor’s offices or between half-innings at a baseball game.
5. Author’s Best Friend
For this badge, you’ve got to be the person who doesn’t just read an author’s book and spread the word about those you like, but who also goes to readings and signings every chance you get (maybe you drag a friend or two along). It’s never been easier to engage with authors we love, whether through Twitter, Facebook, Reddit AMAs, or GoodReads Q & As, and that can make it easy to see the old-fashioned author event as part of a less streamlined past, but you still take time to offer support in person. Bonus points if you don’t live in a large city and so travel to see authors in person.
We may not be able to start a fire with flint and tinder (and we’re not using a book to help, so don’t even think about it), but we’re proud of our skill sets all the same. What badges would you award, and for what? Who among you can claim all five? Let me hear it!