One Less Thing to Worry About | Newberry

One Less Thing to Worry About

One of the things I feel I need to make clear to people from time to time is that we cannot keep track of who buys what at the Book Fair. This most often has to be explained to donors, who want to know if they can come get their books back in case nobody buys them, or who want to be absolutely sure that whoever buys THIS wonderful book also buys THAT wonderful book, since the two really go together, and anybody who wants to buy the first needs to buy the second.

We do not have the technology to track your books through the Book Fair and pin down the person who buys all or any of them. We’re simply not that diligent an adoption service.

We also do not take any special note, if you ever worry about it, of who does buy what. The best you will get along those lines is a warm smile if you take a pile of cat books to a checkout volunteer who is also a cat person, or a wrinkled nose from someone who prefers knitting mysteries if she has to add up all your Slambang psycho killer novels. Again, we just don’t have the technology to track you, whether you have bought every book we have on Red-eared Sliders (two so far) or a stack of books which prove the Civil War never actually happened and was faked on a large stage to give historical novelists an interesting backdrop (none so far, but if you write one and make millions, I expect a cut.).

No one is paying us to provide a list of purchasers of Fifty Shades of Grey and, even if they wanted to, there is just no technology at the Newberry for that. (Nor do we have the time for each checkout person to make a quick, secret list of all the books you’re buying. No, we do not limit checkout personnel to those people with photographic memories. Number skills are all we ask.)

I mention this because somebody was asking about pornographic books again. “You don’t sell those, do you?” she asked. “You can’t anyway, can you, or else you’d have to tell the authorities who bought them, right?”

Didn’t know quite where to even start answering that one, so I directed her attention to the books on Red-eared Sliders. (I recommend you buy one of those, by the way: excellent for changing the subject.) First off, “pornographic” is so subjective a word. One of my volunteers told me several times she found the broadcast of “The Forsyte Saga” so pornographic it made her shudder. Not the most recent one; the one PBS aired in the late sixties, inspiring the launch of Masterpiece Theatre. If she had been in charge of reporting pornography, the government would have collapsed years ago under the weight of the paperwork.

So there are no authorities particularly interested in what we sell. And when it comes to books or movies which a majority of customers would regard as X-rated, the fact is that we are hardly ever given any. I have always assumed it’s because somebody out there thinks we’re keeping records, and doesn’t want to go down in the Newberry’s secret files as a smut donater.

I DO recall who donated the largest collections of material for adults only, but it’s just part of the wonder of this job, not because I had to report to the Porn Police. One major collection came in from the estate of a book dealer who specialized in pushing the envelope of what was legal: the Book Fair’s share of his estate was all either porn of some literary or artistic value, and five times as many books from International Publishers, the publishing wing of the Communist Party. The other collection was brought in by a couple whose eccentric aunt had died. This aunt had accumulated every book about sex she could buy in those bygone days, from cheap paperbacks like Dr. Swapus (a wifeswapping novel combined with Dr. Faustus) to the thick anthropological studies “for students and scholars only”. Her collection was memorable due to her classification system: she gouged large and small check marks into the cover of each book. The number and size of checkmarks meant something to HER, but we could never figure out what it was.

If you have, somewhere behind your knitting mysteries or cat books, a few spicier titles with checkmarks in ballpoint on the cover, you probably bought part of her collection. But you are the only one who knows that. We were too busy making change (you can’t sell a book with gouges in the cover for much) to write down your name.

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