Accounting for Tastes | Newberry

Accounting for Tastes

Perhaps you have partaken of a rather athletic card game called 52 Pick-Up. For those who have not, this is a game with two players: the dealer and the victim. The dealer says “Wanna play 52 Pick-Up?” The victim says “Sure!” and the dealer tosses a deck of cards in the air and says “There! Pick ‘em up!” It’s the sporting equivalent of “How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?”

At the Book Fair, I play a similar sport, which I call “66 and Run”. Someone asks me, “How many categories are there at the Book Fair?” I say “Sixty-six!” Then I run.

I do this for two reasons. First of all, no one really knows how many categories we do have at the Book Fair. You might think this odd, particularly coming from someone who puts out the category signs every year. But signs are not the same as categories.

For example, we have separate signs for Paperback Romance and Hardback Romance. But are these really different categories? Similarly, Fiction is divided into HB Fiction A-L, HB Fiction M-Z, PB Fiction A-L, and PB Fiction M-Z. Is that four categories, or is it one category divided into four smaller, easier to handle sections? If you say we should count them together, it will give us one number, and if you say they should be considered separate categories, what, then, do we do with the categories where we sort into subsections while setting them up but don’t necessarily have big signs on poles to point them out? Reference, for example, has separate sections for Atlases, Dictionaries, Baby Name Books, Genealogical Works, Mythology, and a slew of others. Are THOSE all separate categories, even in they don’t have signs? Foreign Language is divided by language when set up, and Travel by continent and country, and…we must be up to a three-digit number by now.

And we haven’t even discussed how the LPs are divvied up, and we were going to have five categories of CD this year, and….The other reason to run, of course, is that everyone has advice on the number of categories (which no one knows, but as the mighty Donald Kaul declared, “Ignorance is no excuse for not having an opinion.”) No matter what the number is, it is invariably too high or too low.

We should combine Fiction and Literature because dividing them is so judgmental. We should combine Poetry with Literature because anything else is insulting to poets. (A poet who isn’t ready to be insulted should find another line of work.) We should break out investment advice and give that its own category. (This really came up the year a donor gave us forty-one boxes of books on the subject.) We should take all the books on Fashion as well as all the books on parenting, and put those into Women’s Studies, because no man would ever buy them anyhow. We should get with the new century and put Health, Cooking, and gardening into one Superfoods category. We should take all the thrillers out of Mystery and give them their own category. We should take all mysteries which have detectives in them and put THOSE in a separate category. Anthropology and Sociology are really the same thing: those should be combined.

Some day, I will plug all these suggestions into a computer, grind the numbers, and see if what I suspect is true: that if we adopted all the ideas that aren’t mutually exclusive, and combined and divided categories, we would wind up with the same number we started with. And I would find myself confronted by people who think it’s a ridiculous number of categories for a grown-up Book Fair.

In the meantime, I am torn between the idea of claiming we have to have 66 categories because we’re sponsored by Phillips 66 (do they still make that?) or just writing a chartbusting song called “Get Your kicks With Our 66.”

No, I DON’T want to hear which category you think the numerology books should go