Future Imperfect, Present Tense | Newberry

Future Imperfect, Present Tense

I do not number a LOT of these people among my acquaintance, but someone actually scolded me for Wednesday’s column. “More people are buying electronic texts than books these days,” she said. “You need to start planning your vacuum cleaner section now, because there won’t be any money in selling books. So few people want them now.”

What she meant, of course, was that the sorry screeneyed souls in her circle don’t want them. I immediately thought of Mad-Libs.

Mad-Libs is a party game you have probably run across in your time and, whether you have or not, you will be able to buy in the Games section come July. (There will also be some of the children’s Mad-Libs books in the Children’s section.) Mad-Libs were invented by a couple of TV comedy writers, Leonard Stern and Roger Price in 1953. It became the cornerstone of their publishing company, Price Stern and Sloan (PSS!) which among other things also published the definitive collection of Elephant Jokes. (If you do not know why the elephant painted his toenails red I can’t stop and explain. There’s only so much time in the day.)

Roger Price, who was also a game show panelist, novelist, game inventor, and what have you, came up with Price’s Law of Mass Marketing, “If everybody doesn’t want it, nobody gets it.” That is, to a manufacturer or distributor who is out for the quick buck, selling only those items that a huge portion of the population wants to buy is the way to go. A product which only ten percent of the population will buy fanatically is not big enough to bother with.

There was a volunteer who suggested every year that we throw away all fiction over five years old: nobody would want such stuff. One or two other volunteers have all but ordered me to throw away all car repair manuals more than ten years old, because surely only one in a thousand people would be interested. (There’s a hitch to this: repair manuals over ten years old are the only ones we ever get.)

But no, we here at the Newberry cater to those tenth of a percenters. You can buy this year’s bestseller anywhere: WE’RE the ones who can sell you the proceedings of the 1976 conference on excessively hair legs. (You think I’m making that up, don’t you? It’s in the Health section, coddled codfish.)

What really brought this home to me was another session pricing records from this wonderful collection inflicted on me last fall. We do, by the way, to follow up on last week’s column, DO have plenty of Chicago polkas besides Li’l Wally’s Jay Jay albums. There’s a goodly stack of Marion Lush (The Golden Voice of Polkas), and plenty of albums from Dyno, another of the great Chicago Polka publishers, and even a volume of hits from Ron Terry’s Polka Party.

But besides those, we have a plethora of rare recordings you MIGHT not be able to find elsewhere. We have Living Marimbas playing Glen Campbell hits; we have Joann Castle playing Hawaiian Ragtime. There is an album which sets Mother Goose rhymes to current dance music (the Frug, the Watusi, the Jerk…ask your grandmother, but don’t let her demonstrate unless you’re in the will.) There is an album by a Chicago family harmonica group: it isn’t their fault their last name is Chimes. We have an album of current song hits called Dear Heart and Goldfinger. Another LP of anatomical hits shows a dreamy-eyed young woman under the title Organ Fascination.

Should have seen it coming when I opened that box and found the Smurf Sing Song album right in front. Of course, everyone wants THAT.

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