So one July, I watched a couple step into Room 6 (the Big Room) and simultaneously freeze, both looking at the boxes at the end of the first table. “Maps!” they said as one, and moved forward to go through the collection.
It wasn’t the biggest event ever, or even at that Book Fair, but I like it–it shows two minds working as one, eager shoppers, people whose obsession we were able to satisfy—and yet there are people who MUST disagree with me.
“When people are married to each other for a while,” I am told, “They start to sense each other’s moods, so probably only one of them was interested in the maps, and the other one just understood that.” I have yet to understand that point. Is it that two maplovers will never meet and marry, or simply that there can’t possibly be two map freaks in the room at the same time?
See, another thing I have observed about this Book Fair is that there are people who Get It and people who don’t. “Why would anybody buy a map from 1954?” I hear. “It’s so out of date they won’t find anything!” A map from 1754 or 1854 may be a collectible, they acknowledge, but 1954 maps are just so much wastepaper. I point out the existence of entire clubs dedicated to old gas station maps or official state maps, and I get a Look. “My Aunt Booney collected string,” they say. “Are you going to sell string, too?”
(I could, thanks to all you retro-types who still tie your books in bundles for donation. I plan to take the old string and use it to tie up bouquets. Yes, this is so I can advertise our Book Fair as “the days of twine and roses.” We now continue with our regularly scheduled blog.)
I was thinking about this as I was in the A.C. (Awesome Charts) McClurg Bookstore at the Newberry, leafing through Stephen Hornsby’s Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps. This is a salute to a kind of map I get in all the time and, if anything, get even more flak about than about 1954 road maps of Arkansas.
“That’s just something they gave away,” I’m told. “Don’t take up good space at the Book Fair with that trash.” Even some maplovers are a bit offended by them.
These are maps that were made at least as much for their entertainment value as their ability to give geographic information. If you have ever visited a visitor attraction (tourist trap) and eaten at a restaurant where you had a paper placemat with a map of Tackyfunworld, where the main attractions are in big cartoons along tiny little lines indicating the streets, you have a pictorial map. If you have walked past a protest march (and who hasn’t, this month?) and been handed a map showing big dollar signs at City Hall and eyes dripping tears over neighborhoods without big dollar signs, you have had a pictorial map thrust on you.
The Book Fair gets some of these on postcards (big parrots on a map of Miami, showing how to get to Parrot Jungle), bookmarks (You grabbed a map covered with big pictures of Howard’s Inns in Pennsylvania when you stayed at one in Pittsburgh and needed a bookmark to put in your copy of The Help), and even occasionally wall maps. (The big Gangland Map of Chicago is featured in Mr. Hornsby’s book, AND is for sale at the McClurg Bookstore AND is often to be found at the Book Fair.) I say they’re bits of history, and an interesting variation on an art form, but you can bet I hear about ‘em.
“They’re not even really maps,” I’ve been told, “They’re just ads; they’re trash! Why don’t you put them in Collectibles, if you think they’re interesting, instead of in with the maps?” I suspect some folks don’t even complain. They just crumple these up and toss them under the table, where they won’t embarrass us in front of the rare kook who wants old maps.
Now I have a big, brightly illustrated reference book on my side. If you run to the A.C. (Art Cheap) McClurg Bookstore and buy a copy of it, you’ll know what to hunt for in July.
I would appreciate it if you could alert volunteers in the area by stopping in your tracks and exclaiming, “Trashy Maps!” We’ll see how they explain THAT away.