Once upon a time, during Book Fair set-up, a volunteer came to me with a book he found in the wrong place. “I’m setting up Short Stories,” he said to me, “And this was in it.”
I looked. It was one of those Printer’s Row booklets from the Tribune. I said, “Well, that is a short story.”
“Yes,” he said, with a sigh that showed he was being very very patient, “But the category is Short Stories, so there should be more than one story per volume.”
My mistake, you see, was not having both a Short Stories and a Short Story category. I try to move on, with a chuckle, but I do think of these literal souls when I’m pricing, oh, say, books for the Chicago section (“But that’s a book on Evanston!”) or for Foreign Language (I actually had someone point out that since Anglo-Saxon is a precursor to English, I can hardly call it a FOREIGN language. I thought about asking whether England is a foreign country or not, but instead I made some garbled excuse about checking whether the paint was dry yet on the Smurfs.)
And I thought of them as I was pricing a large collection for our Blank category. Much of what I was pricing definitely belongs there: a small collection of rather expensive blank journals had come in. They were blank, apparently, because the donor had ripped out the two or three pages in each which had actually been used. This drops the price, depending on how obvious it looks. I also regret it because the missing pages might well have been more interesting than some of the novels we get in.
An academic on his way to retirement had dropped off a box of blank composition books: you know the kind, with the black and white marbled covers. This should turn to gold come July, what with the fall semester coming on, unless, of course, the new generation uses only notebooks with come with batteries and Angry Birds.
But there was this donation from a genealogist. Their family history had gone upstairs in nine big tubs: all sorts of data in three-ring binders. When the Newberry keeps data, it transfers this to acid-free archival containers, and I wound up with a lot of nice, big three-ring binders, most of them in nice shape. (Photocopied pages will often stick to the inner plastic surface and leave a mirror-image reprint. This doesn’t enhance the looks, but unless you’re going for elegance in your three-ring binder, it doesn’t hurt.)
These traditionally go into the Blank category with the spiral notebooks and composition books. But I KNEW, as I priced them, that someone would come up and tell me, “These aren’t blank. They’re just empty.”
But, of course, I can’t set up an Empty category. All those books candidates write during major elections would have to go there. I might substitute an Unused category, but that would quickly get crammed with Diet, Investment, and Self-Help books.
Actually, I tossed in a few sketchbooks people have given me, wherein they have scribbled a drawing or two, but then gave up. So these books are technically only 90% blank, and should probably go into a category called Partially Blank. I did give some thought to plunking them into Art instead, but after looking at the few sketches, I just couldn’t do it. (The blank pages were far more artistic, in their restraint and delicate use of white space.)
If it comes to that, I have customers who will probably demand to know why the composition books aren’t in Education. I don’t know: maybe we should institute a free-range Book Fair, where we just toss the books out on tables without any signs. Except then we’d have customers saying, “Pay for them? But the sign says FREE Range.”