A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about pornographic books at the Book Fair, calling pornography the Book Fair’s Smallest Category. This reflected only the fact that we do NOT get the massive numbers of naughty books some people assume we see. This is not REALLY our smallest category, because it is not, in fact, a separate category at the Book Fair.
(I did ask for, over twenty years ago, a sign to put up over a special section we would call “Erotica”. The Newberry, in its wisdom, gave me the sign, but made me promise never to use it. This would have been difficult, anyhow, not only in view of the small number of books in the category, but also as regards sorting. If we got in a big picture book on the Ford Mustang, and a volunteer insists on putting it in Erotica because that’s the care he was driving the night of the Prom, how can I argue about it?)
But rather than consider erotica today, I thought I would answer the question “What is the smallest category at the Book Fair?” It all depends, really. Our Dance section has historically been very small, but it has grown up lately, partly because of the Grand Renovation. All this rebuilding has led people to reorganize and restack, and a lot of duplicates from the Newberry’s famous Dance collection have been coming to the Book Fair. So Dance has not qualified for this title, lo, these past two years.
However, we still have fairly small categories in the areas of
WESTERNS: This category has also had its ups and downs, as witness the donation, a couple of years ago, of some eighty copies of Shane, from a middle school. (This middle school was an anomaly, to judge by the people I run into who have never read this book nor seen the movie.) Although we GET other western writers, it sometimes seems as if this category comprises one row of Zane Grey and two rows of Louis L’Amour. Westerns have their fans, of course. One year the entire section was bought up by a couple of men from the Rosebud reservation, who told us that nonfiction writers often get their descriptions of the countryside wrong, but writers of westerns could be counted on to get it right.
MILITARY FICTION It was the late eighties or early nineties that, in response to Das Boot and other such bestsellers, writers were producing thick novels about life on a submarine in wartime, or life in the air during wartime (Top Gun, of course), or just life in wartime. It was the Next Big Thing, so we set up a separate section for it. It turned out to be the Next Big Fad, and the world moved on to other things. A lot of the Military Fiction authors turned to spy thrillers instead.
MYSTERY ANTHOLOGY: Once upon a time, there was a book club which would sell you the Mystery Three-in-One: a book with three short mysteries by bestselling authors. These were not condensed versions: it just used to be okay to write short mystery novels. But to alphabetize these under M would have made for a big swatch of grey bindings in the middle of the hardcover mystery section, so we started this section to give them and other collections of mysteries by various authors a section to themselves. The Mystery three-in-one did not survive to this century (Tom Clancy made it ridiculous for an author to write a book less than 800 pages long.) and this category sometimes takes up a couple of shelves right after the letter Z in Hardcover Mystery.
The question is asked occasionally, “Why even bother with such little bitty categories?” People don’t seem to like the answer “Because people shop there,” but I’m not sure what else to say. We have had customers who are so overwhelmed by, say, the Biography section that they won’t even look. A category with a small focus seems to please the customers.
Which of course brings up the question, “Then why don’t you have more little categories?” Well, the two men who made our subject sign posts have both died and I’m not sure who can be trusted with the secret plans. And did I mention the person who was sorting the book on cars into Erotica? It’s better to keep the number of categories to a level my ulcers can cope with.