Book Fair Futures, 2014

Some people call it arrested development. I say it’s just a part of human nature that SOME people feel they must deny. Makes ‘em feel grown up. Sometimes you just have to rattle the presents and try to guess what’s inside, no matter how many days it is before you can open them.

You know I’m not talking about banana boxes of books or garbage bags filled with oberek recordings, because I get to open those all the time. No, I am making excuses for the fact that I had to do a quick subject comparison to last years’ Book Fair.

If you’re just coming in on this soap opera, you may not know that we keep a running tally of the boxes of books we’ve packed. As I speak, this number is at 1,522, or just a little over half what we had for sale last July. And as we pack the boxes, we mark down what subject the box being listed belongs in. So any time I want to do the math, I can compile a list of how many boxes we have per subject, allowing me to get a vague impression of what the Book fair may look like come the day.

So I have done the math, and looked up the list of where we stood around the Fourth of July, 2013. I traditionally block out the scenery and props during Independence Day weekend, so this list is crucial. A list from March 2 is not so important in the long run. But even at that, comparing things at about the two-thirds mark, a few trends are becoming clear.

We have, for example, more boxes packed for the Civil War category right now than we did on July 4, 2013. Since we’ll surely have more money coming in, you might want to marshal all those pieces of currency with Ulysses S. Grant on them and prepare to bring them in during the last weekend of July this year.

We also have nearly twice as many books packed for the Religion section as we did last July 4. To some degree, that’s the books on Buddhism and Hinduism which came in with the big Asian studies collection, but we also just had a large Evangelical Christian collection come in, by way of contrast. We don’t really have trouble selling Religion. One thing that unites our customers is a desire to seek out information, and the ones in Philosophy and Religion, especially, hate to miss out if they see a book they haven’t read yet. (It’s the same, apparently, with the people who WRITE the religion books. I was certainly not expecting this evangelical astrology book: God, it notes, invented the Zodiac, so you simply need to read it using scripturally approved rules.)

Last year, the Foreign Language section was larger than it had been for some years. We seem to be on track to beat it, with more boxes packed right now than we had in either 2012 or 2011. Military History also seems to be moving up to beat last year’s collection (in spite of having all the Civil War books pulled away somewhere else). Music also seems headed for a peak year.

What’s down this year? Paperback fiction is at a really small level, which may gratify all those experts who said that would be the first thing to go when Kindle took over. Last year was a record year for both Anqtiues and Children, which so far seem to be headed back to the more average levels of 2011 and 2012. People are still donating their jigsaw puzzles and board games in good quantity, but books about chess, bridge, and backgammon aren’t as numerous as the last few years. And so far we have less than a third the number of sets of encyclopedias, which should gratify those who said THAT would be the first thing to go when Kindle took over.

Things will change, of course. I have been threatened with huge numbers of books on trains, and dance, and more books in French. And what the donors have planned for me, even they can’t really guess. A truck could pull up to the dock tomorrow and make me set aside a whole room for Cookbooks.

That’s what makes a successful party: even if rattling the box gives you a hint, you don’t really know if it’s going to be a 30th Book Fair Snuggie or plain underwear until you unwrap it.

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