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Book Fair Blog

Every book has a story
Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.


Every now and again, I get the complaint that I am being overly negative. Yes, I know that’s difficult to understand, what with my concentration on bluebirds of happiness and doves of peace and swallows of Kool-Aid, but there are those who get the impression that I am not pleased with the world at large. I have nothing against the world at large except that I’m not sure it ought to be left at large. But, prison overcrowding being what it is, we can’t do much about that.

In any case, let’s talk about something cheerful and positive, just to confound the hypercritical. Let’s talk about those shopping bags you bring me books in.

No, wait, come back! Honest: the story of shopping bags at the Book Fair is not merely the broken dreams brought on by paper handles, or toes benumbed by books breaking through the bottom. If I have given the impression that shopping bags are unloved at the Newberry, I have not stated the full case.

Yes, the vast majority of paper bags with paper handles (or that used to have paper handles) go into recycling. But this leaves me with many, many shopping bags in good enough shape to be used again. I recycle those the old fashioned way: I set them aside for reuse. In fact, I fold them up and tuck them away in some of those boxes you send me which are way to big for packing books. (No, I’m not complaining: we’re being positive today, remember? And I just told you that I find a use for them. That’s what we’re about around here: helping inanimate objects reach their full potential. And can I get a government grant for that? No.)

If you can spare your eyes from the checkout folks at the Book Fair (I know: you’re watching their hands because you don’t believe anybody under 65 knows how to make change. And I know all about YOU, mister: coming back and buying just two paperbacks at a time so you can get in line and chat with that redhead you have your eyes on. If you think our checkers are to be lured away from us by mere wealth, and promises of a new car and large boxes of chocolate-covered cantaloupe bits, you’re probably right, but you’re slowing down check-out, which…where were we?)

I say, if you look down under the checkout tables come July, you will see some great big boxes filled with shopping bags. Some of these are fine, old collectibles: bags from Border’s, Dominick’s, Marshall Field’s, Hamburger Hamlet. Others are fresh and new, and possibly from the new trend for cloth bags. In any case, they have been deemed solid enough to hold books again, and are free to the customer who buys enough books. (Another reason to resist the family members who wail, “More books?” You can say, “Yes, but I got this cool bag from Cinnabon!”)

Providing these bags for those people whose purchases are too large or heavy for the T-sacks we get from Potash Bros. seems to me to be ideal. But it has not been without controversy over the years. There have been objections to sending the boxes out to storage (“You’re paying to store secondhand shopping bags?”) There have been choosy customers. “I will NOT get on the bus carrying a bag from Victoria’s Secret!”) There have been checkout personnel who have had to take sudden breaks. (“If I have to tell one more person that no one could look at them and believe for a second that they ever set foot inside Victoria’s Secret….”)

There was even a volunteer who was revolted by the idea of my folding shopping bags as part of my busy day. “I can do that for you!” she said. “That’ll free you up for important jobs. Just clear off one of your sorting tables and store all the empty bags there and I’ll come in once a week and fold them. Oh, and clear some space over there for the empty boxes to store them in.”

How that was supposed to help me…but I was being positive, wasn’t I? Well, we never did execute her plan for a bag-folding space, and THAT’S a good thing.

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