All right, all right: in response to popular demand, I shall pause in my explanation of the Manager’s philosophy behind all the subject headings at the Book Fair. I’m not sure whether it’s the glimpse into a Blogsy brain that is so appalling or if it’s a simple case of Superman’s wires. It is enough to see Superman fly; it spoils the movie for some people to learn about the wires and camera tricks that make it possible.
So in place of my remarks on the Women’s section (I had a customer once who demanded to know why there were books by men there.) I will address you on the subject of non-book families. I mentioned these folks before—nice people, many of them, and not at all illiterate or uneducated. Some people, as I said, consider their books to be tools: useful when needed, discarded or set aside when not. But a recent donor took it all too far: almost a pathological case of non-bookness.
I get the impression it was a matter of inheritance. A parent or grandparent or someone was altogether the other way: somewhere in her ancestry was a book family. You can tell. One book has the name of the 18th century owner written on the title page, a bookplate a hundred years later from an owner with the same last name, and a scribble underneath from fifty years after by someone with the same first and middle names as the 19th century owner. A clear case of family heirloom bookishness.
What does a non-book family do in such a case? It may have involved an inherited house, and the books stayed for a while on the shelves. They stayed somewhere, at least, where they got too hot and dry, and the leather covers began to break off. This happens in bookish families, too, but in any case does not encourage book use. At some point, the books were packed away, as family treasures not used but too good to throw out, and stacked in a storage locker.
The storage locker leaked, so the books which had previously been too dry now sustained water damage. Such a leak takes a while to notice, because families don’t go out on a Sunday afternoon for a picnic at the storage locker the way they used to. They look in the locker once or twice a year, and then only to get out the lawn umbrella and put away the winter clothes.
On discovering that all these lovely old leather books were damp-stained and losing their covers, the family tried to pass them along to bookish folk via that fine old suburban redistribution program: the garage sale. Each book was marked at three bucks and set out in milk crates. When this failed to turn the trick, they asked around and heard about the Newberry. Saved! They could deal with their ancestral heritage without recourse to the dumpster.
If only the Book Fair had been around fifty years ago, we might have performed a rescue mission. I now have milk crates of books lacking covers, sets lacking volumes (something sold at the garage sale), and books with covers intact but the most appalling stains. Here’s a set of Dickens lacking a volume (there were only four; in 1853, when the set came out, he hadn’t finished writing yet), there’s an important first edition from 1848 in pristine condition if you don’t notice that the entire binding, front, back, and spine, is missing, and here’s a lovely set of blue leather volumes containing engravings bound up specially for the family AND the only obvious spot of mold in the collection (but it makes up for being alone by also being the size of a dollar bill.)
I wasn’t going to talk Book fair categories, but let me just mention that a volunteer once suggested that we set aside a section for Free Books. “You know, books no one would actually spend money for.”
I said, “We have a section like that. It’s caked a Recycling Bin.”