Build Your Own Branch

It’s a literate neighborhood, this, where the Newberry sits in the borderland between the Gold Coast and Streeterville (or just in the middle of Near North, depending on your view of Chicago neighborhoods.) A lot of these tall buildings conceal hordes of book people. Should know: they keep dropping stuff off.

A lot of the buildings have some kind of communal book swap center, or even a library: everything from a shelf in the laundry room to a little room with shelves. The books involved are almost always things that residents of the building have finished with but think somebody else would like to read. In general, no one keeps track of where the books come from or where they go: they’re available to all comers. From time to time, the volunteer librarian or a passing good-deed-doer packs up the excess and sends it over to the Newberry for me to sell.

No No! I’m not suggesting you run right up there now and send me stuff! I have plenty, thanks. I’ve kind of lost count, but we’ve had seven major estates come in since the end of April which, in addition to the normal flow of donations, has provided me with a sufficiency. Anyway, you’re not going to find a Gutenberg sitting up in the condo library.

What I thought I’d mention is that if your building does NOT have a shelf of books somewhere, and you have enough clout in your building to establish one, there’s this Book Fair coming up at the end of July where you can pick up some reading material at very reasonable prices. I wanted to pas along a few hints about what you might select.

To judge by what I get in from condo libraries, mysteries are always a good bet. Cozies ad hard-edged suspense are about equally popular, and we can offer a selection of each. I would suggest you go for the ones published in the last two to three years OR go for some of the classics: the Ed McBains and Agatha Chrisities. Everybody who wants to read The DaVinci Code has done so by now; it’ll be a while before the next wave of readers becomes curious about it. But you will always get someone who hasn’t seen the latest Sara Paretsky yet, or who wants to go back and re-read one of her first ones.

The same goes for romances: go for the new, shiny ones or reach back and pick up The Grand Sophy for people who want to read it once more. Bestsellers, by the way, do NOT seem to follow this pattern. Nobody wants to get caught reading the hot new book everybody was reading in 1997.

Political Science and Health always have their takers, though you might wish to post a note saying that the views expressed are not necessarily those of the librarian. But History and Biography know no season: a book about World War II doesn’t need to be from last week, nor does the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. You will always find somebody who can’t read enough on those subjects.

Poetry, on the other hand, is always going to sit there. MAYBE you could put out the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost and get takers, but those slim little volumes of heart and soul by modern poets will be on that shelf next week and the week after. In fact, they will multiply, as residents realize this is a good place to dump the volume of verse on current events their second cousin paid to publish.

You want to be careful with How To books: people like them but the building management is sometimes touchy about residents who do their own wiring. They might also raise an eyebrow at a lot of books on Real Estate Management. Photography books will stay on the shelf, but will get thinner (no one’s there to keep residents from cutting out a picture they like and taking it home to frame.) Cookbooks are a mixed bag. That volume of Low-Carb Microwave Recipes is not going anywhere. The shiny book on Cupcakes will not be there next time you turn around.

You know your own neighbors: surely we have books you know will appeal to them. 2000 Insults for All Occasions, Be Your Own Personal Injury Lawyer…the possibilities are endless.

But skip Learn Tap Dancing In Your Spare Time. The person who’d take that lives right above you.

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