Since You Asked

Winston Churchill is doing very well these days.

Every year, I have at least one request for books by or about Winston Churchill, and this year I had two, not including requests for books on World War II. This does not make him our most requested author, however. That honor belongs to some Russian named Checkout.

Yes, this is my annual summary of the things I was asked for at the Book Fair. I write these things down, see. There are people who know me who shudder when they see me bring a piece of paper from my pocket and make notes while they’re talking. If only they understood how difficult it is for me to read these jottings 12 hours later, they could spare themselves some sleepless nights.

However, most of my notes appear to be legible this time around. It did take me a little time to decipher the note about Trilby, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood the question in the first place. I was told that George DuMaurier’s masterwork was, of course, in English, but was written in such a Continental style—very French—and that perhaps people would be looking for it in Foreign Languages.

There was a tie for my Favorite Overheard Remark, between the young man who urged the young lady with him, “Let’s go squirrel!” and the customer looking through a book in the Travel section who announced “Well, I guess Spain isn’t considered an island in the Caribbean.” I award no points at all to the man who stopped stock-still and cried, “Look! An old-school Pictionary game!”

I tried to get the word out that I moved the Gardening section this year, but I did get half a dozen inquiries about where it was, including several variations on “Are the Gardening books mixed into the Nature section this year?” Several people, as well, asked after individual bits of the Nature section: books on animals, books on dogs, and books on pets. Nature’s not just for tree-huggers any more.

Authors besides Winston Churchill who were asked for included Nora Ephron, Eugene McCarthy, Jayne Anne Krentz, John Mortimer, Alfred Wainwright (author of several scarce books on hiking in the English fenlands), P.G. Wodehouse, Paul Erdmann, Jacques Cousteau (Nature again), Thomas Hoving, J.K. Rowling, and Jack London. The Great Gatsby, In Cold Blood, Crinolines and Crusades, the Home Medical Guide, The Oxford English Dictionary, The Four Agreements, Alice in Wonderland, and Winston Churchill’s History of World War II were some of the books individuals went hunting for.

The most interesting question, etymologically, was the one for the drinking fountain, which I naturally heard several times over the hot, sweaty weekend. NOBODY actually asked for the drinking fountain. I had about four calls for the water fountain, two for the water cooler, and one for the water bubbler. Someone with a better backing in regional phrases can explain what this all meant.

But I know what you’re reading this for. (You ARE still reading, aren’t you, licorice torte?) You want to hear from the great minds, the unique customers who struck their own line and broke new paths. Yup, we had ‘em. This is the NEWBERRY, kumquat parfait: we attract these people.

“Books on French painting, sir! Was Renoir French?” (With a name like that? Irish, Ma’am.)

“Are they giving all these books away?”

“Was this book REALLY published in 1889?”

“Why do we grow old and die?” (It’s this button that says “ASK ME”; I get one of those every year.)

“Why would anybody who had first edition Little House books ever give them away?”

“Where would I find crafty books?” (I had several answers ready, but I knew she meant How To.)

“What time does the squirelling start?” (I have nightmares about that, pigeon compote.)

“Where else can I look for old school primers? I’ve already checked Children and Classics.”

“I love a man in an apron!” (“It’s the new black,” I told her.)

“Are there more than two rooms?”

“Are we allowed to take pictures?” (as long as you don’t betray them to a foreign power)

“What movie was that where the giant bees wall up the explorers in giant honeycombs?”

And there are people who come to the Book Fair just to buy stuff.

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