So in spite of all my best efforts to show the Newberry guard how to use the Death Ray Button on his security monitor, the hits keep on coming. We had somebody bring us a banker’s box which she had tied shut with twine. Someone else brought us a nice metric conversion table. What makes a metric conversion table nice? Well, it was inscribed, for one thing. Yes, the editor of the metric conversion table had actually presented this copy to a friend in gratitude for long friendship. I don’t explain these things, plumcake: I just report ‘em. Oh, and I had my very first copy of The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder. Say what you will about Rebecca Wells, the author of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, she knows how to create a title.
Anyway, in between answering the door to smile at people with books and to chortle into the phone with people who want to know if they’re too late to drop off fifty boxes of videocassettes, I was pricing as fast as I could so as to empty all the shelves. My usual playroom becomes the Book Fair checkout area, so lots of people will see it. I have tried to suggest that seeing books on shelves in a library will not shock our customers, but I’m told it’s an aesthetic thing. The aesthetic philosophy of a blogger who shaves every other day (when he thinks of it) has no impact on the Powers That Is.
I was sitting there pricing a paperback edition of the plays of Henrik Ibsen and reflecting on the number of copies of this particular collection of plays of Henrik Ibsen I have priced in my time. This came in with the same edition of Death of a Salesman I’ve been pricing since well into the last century, and the edition of Streetcar Named Desire that has passed between my grubby fingers at least thirty times a year for over twenty years. And I’m afraid the thought “Why would anybody buy this from us when there seem to be a hundred copies to every city block in Chicago?”
The answer is, of course, that the customer doesn’t KNOW that. There’s no way for a customer to know how many times I’ve marked this or that book over the last quarter century. The things that happen in this room when the shelves are all filled are not known to the book buyer. The customers don’t see the travel books with pages torn out, or the fifty-five copies of Three Cups of Tea. They don’t hear the voices of donors asking for their boxes back, and they don’t feel the weight of a box of paperbacks that the donor has hidden National Geographics under. They never even see the banana boxes.
All they get to see, when they walk into the Book Fair at the end of July is books: thousands of wonderful mysterious books with the answers to their questions or verses to lift their spirits or narratives to keep them reading until dawn because they’re too scared to turn out the light. To the ones who have never read Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, the play is entirely new. The number of copies of Bridges of Madison County we had last year and the year before will not affect the thrill of somebody who’s never heard of it until now.
The thought of the gaze of a customer at the thousands of books promising wonder and merriment was so inspirational that when someone knocked on the door and delivered all his National Geographics I forget to fire the tranquilizer dart.