Going Through the Treat Bag | Newberry

Going Through the Treat Bag

As noted, I have one of the largest institutions where people bring ME things for Halloween, instead of my having to go out in costume and yell “Trick or Treat!” Mind you, I seldom get chocolate, but no one tosses a rock into my bag, either.

Once in a while, I do find it difficult to tell the tricks from the treats. This collection of Gospel records is a case in point. Somebody could write a dissertation about all these roving bands of singers who toured the country to perform in church halls and high school gyms. And what are we to make of the groups who tried something different, like this album where an organist’s performance of hymns is blended with songbirds as back-up musicians? What of this album which tried to turn the aerobic album trend toward a higher plane by giving you a 16-page instruction book of dances to perform to the hymns? The album is called “Firm Believer”. Yeah, they all say that.

The same donor gave us an Enoch Light Million Dollar Sound album. I was unfamiliar with these, but apparently Enoch Light assembled musicians with million dollar instruments: no fewer than fourteen people who brought with them legendary fiddles–Stradivari, Guarneri, and other such. This musical muscle then performed songs like Embraceable You and That Old Black Magic. For those of you who have heard only Louis Prima and Keely Smith perform that number, I am sure hearing it on a Stradivarius will kick everything to an exalted plane.

We also got what MUST be the worst-illustrated version of Alice In Wonderland ever created. Either the illustrations are the way they are to show off Alice’s dream state, or the artist was taking a few hallucinogens and was personally in a dream state. The Newberry has a goodly collection of Alices; maybe this would do as a contrast.

But a real treat (or trick) for a Book Fair Manager was a chance to point out again what it sounds like when booksellers grow old. It’s the remark, “We used to get those ALL the time!” In the early 90s, it was a dull week for donations if we didn’t get at least a dozen books in this series (or a dozen copies of one book in the series.)

They’re pretty, and they’re well-made, and they almost always arrive utterly unread. They were apparently Louis Rukeyser’s fault: he started up this line of books in 1989, and called it the Larger Agenda Series. He was going to change the world with hardcover books under a hundred pages long by great writers who would take on big issues. John Kenneth Galbraith gave us A Short History of Financial Euphoria, while Michael Lewis handled international relations with The Pacific Rift. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote on The Disuniting of America, and George Plimpton wrote X Factor, about the quest for excellence.

I haven’t been able to get a definitive answer on how many books there were in the series: the publisher responsible, according to one website, produced 33 books, but perhaps not all of them were Larger Agenda books. The books cost $11.95, which was a touch high for a hardcover that small at the time, but you were getting Big Authors Big Issues, after all. AND the price went down if you wanted to order in bulk, and give copies to all your employees. WHICH I think is what happened, and why so many of these turned up at the Book Fair back in the day.

We got plenty of Schlesinger and Plimpton and Galbraith, and many many copies of William Greider’s the Trouble With Money (his Secrets of the Temple was that year’s tell-all bestseller about Wall Street). This being the Newberry, however, the ones we saw MOST were George Gilder’s Life After Television, a 1990 title which predicted that TV was eventually just going to be too small for the media of the future, and James Atlas’s The Book Wars.

I was always disappointed to learn this was not at all about the competition between Brandeis University and the Newberry Library for the best book fair in Chicago. It’s really a study of teaching Great Books in the world of higher education, and an endorsement of The Closing of the American Mind, another bestseller of the era. Thanks to the people who fought through the snow on Halloween, the Book Fair will have plenty of both of these books to provide treats come July. (July in Chicago being what it was, I’d almost rather have the snow.)

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