I’ve been on about our categories recently, but why shouldn’t a laborer in the fields do tribute to the tools that make his daily grind possible? They are, after all, what sets the Newberry apart from the most basic of book sales, which puts up one sign, saying “Hardbacks a dollar, Paperbacks ten cents.” This is a very simple way to run a Book Fair, and sometimes one can help but wonder….
Still, even that distinction has its drawbacks (or just really big paperbacks and really small hardbacks) so we celebrate our sorting. Recently, we have discussed the small categories and the big categories, categories some people want but ain’t gonna get, and categories where some people like to shop and which others would like to drop.
But what are our Top Pops? What are the categories where the shopping is so fierce that after the Book Fair the people who set it up in the first place demand, “Where did all the books go?”
Some categories are so small (see previous column) that a customer or two may ask that at the start of the sale, and it is no surprise that these bits of shelf and table are empty, or nearly so, at the end of Sunday. But we’re not counting those for now. What are the regular categories that seem to evaporate totally during our busy book binge?
We have a vast variety of books in the Children’s section, from ancient storybooks to nice new volumes which direct you to websites where you can sing along with the text. There are cookbooks for children, religious guidance for children, math assistance for children, novels which deal with deep social concerns for children: you’d think something along these lines would not sell. But the amount of empty space in this section come the Monday After is an openmouthed wonder to us all. Until the contractors busy with the Grand Renovation discover a sleeping slithergadee in the ventilation ducts, hibernating with piles of half-devoured Babysitters Club novels, we can only assume there’s a customer for just about every book we put under that sign. (No, we will NOT start putting the overstock from other departments in there just to dispose of it.)
Considering how much we get of it, you’d think the Literature section would be kind of sleepy. All those copies of Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, and other books which failed to catch a student’s interest in Lit Class come here as if it were a secret burial ground. And yet, especially in the Paperback Literature section, empty space develops early and grows throughout the Book Fair. It appears that for every student who was required to read Tristram Shandy and didn’t, there’s someone who’s always WANTED to read it.
I take a certain amount of grief for the Classics section. As Dead White Males go, you can’t get much deader than the writers of Classical Greece and Rome (except Sappho, I suppose.) And yet, it’s a slow year when as many as twelve books are left at the end of the day on Sunday. Some people tell me it’s because other book sales just don’t HAVE this category; others say it’s because the world is filled with people who want to pretend they’ve read Herodotus. We’ll see how it goes this year, when that truly impressive library we got in the unnanounced trucks goes on sale (He not only bought books by Plato and books about Plato; he had books about books about Plato.)
Those are the real biggies. There’s also usually plenty of action in Mystery, Science Fiction, Chicago, Cookbooks, Games (especially the jigsaw puzzles and books about chess), and so forth. But just as each Book Fair has its own personality, each year’s Book Fair’s crowd has its own hopes and dreams.
We’ll see how we match up this year. Three months to go.