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Book Fair Blog

Every book has a story

Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Herding Categories

There was once (and may still be) a devoted band of paperback collectors who avidly sought out paperback books from before 1955 with skeletons or skulls on the covers. Another group hunted for novels with pictures of recreational drug use (almost always including a syringe) while others wanted “juvies”: those fifties covers which featured pictures of juvenile delinquents.

So no, I have never been able to sort the books at this Book Fair QUITE the way some buyers would like.

“Where would I find books on death?” a customer asked me once, and was so impressed with the answer (well, cemetery research is in genealogy, but studies of attitudes toward death are in Sociology or Anthropology, while the history….) that she started hanging around the Newberry, and its relationship with The Cemetery Lady, Helen Sclair, was launched.

The request for books on baking bread was as specific but not so long to answer, but that started off our partnership with our Cookbook Lady, whom you will spot now and again in the Cookbook section this July, keeping an eye on how her flock is dispersed.

On the other hand, I was not able to satisfy quite so cheerfully the woman who asked, “Where are your novels set in Baltimore?” or the man who asked “Where will I find your cello music?” Perhaps they moved on to Book Fairs which are more strictly organized.

Some people like to dive into an amorphous mass of material and emerge victorious with the prize while others turn away after five minutes, muttering, “They could at least be in alphabetical order.” Our postcard selection, for example, is small enough that the postcard buyers like just to sit and leaf through, though I have had requests for postcards of battlefields and another for postcards of libraries. I have to stop and explain that most of what we get are postcards of motels and postcards of tourist attractions, with a small subsection of postcards of famous paintings. This makes browsing quicker for those people who are looking for, say, German New Year cards featuring pigs.

(No, we do NOT have any of the postcards from the Teich Collection for sale. This may be a GOOD thing. The list of subjects for that part of the Newberry’s collection runs to 70 pages.)

Of course, all my decisions on category are random and capricious. I’ve been told as much many times, such as the occasion when I explained to a customer that she would have better luck looking for Gone With the Wind in the Literature section.

She pointed to the sign. “But this says Civil War!”

The number of customers frustrated because they can’t find any gardening books in the Nature section seems to be expanding. Some of them chuckle warmly when I point to a sign not six feet away which identifies our Gardening section, while others demand to know who thought of THAT. There’s generally at least one customer looking for books on wine who doesn’t understand why we put them in Cookbooks, and one for demands to know why books on cigars are NOT in Cookbooks.

The Nature section DOES include books on how to care for your gerbil, and among the field guides to birds, snakes, and wildlfowers are what feels like thousands of books on cats. “You should have a Pets section!” a man snapped at me one year.

“We do,” I said. “It’s in the Nature section.”

Some people have requests which are far less specific. A customer once handed me his card and asked him to call him every time I got books on twentieth century politics (I did not do so; I get the same number of hours in the day as everyone else.) And once upon a time a man dropped off books and said, “I’m coming to the sale in July.”

“That’s what we’re looking for,” I said.

He said, “What I’M looking for is books that take you far from civilization to howl at the moon.”

“They’ll be all around you,” I promised.

Just about four weeks now

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