Honesty Is One of the Better Policies | Page 13 | Newberry

Honesty Is One of the Better Policies

Yes, it’s true. I am the voice you hear when you call the Book Fair Hotline and get the recorded message. Among other things, this means that I am myself the person who identified Uncle Blogsy as “an ill-tempered individual”. As mentioned, I have had complaints that I am not ill-tempered enough when unloading book donations. It’s a burden all celebrities have to bear. We WILL occasionally disappoint our public.

The reason I said that about myself was simply to warn people that I might just occasionally roll my eyes at them when they open the back of the SUV and expose forty dusty, broken-down boxes with cardboard barely holding together around their old college textbooks. Or that I MAY seem a bit exasperated when they arrive at five minutes to closing time with fifty Potash bags of National Geographics.

I don’t mean you have to justify your collection to me. Except in extreme circumstances—the mold is actually crawling off the books and starting to gnaw at the pavement in the parking lot—I do not plan to chase you away. You don’t need to make excuses and you don’t—how shall I put this?—need to lie to me.

Maybe you aren’t actually lying. Maybe you honestly believe those forty boxes are filled with “lots of art books”, as at least one person tells me every week. Over the years, I have considered the address on your receipt and decided after all not to write you a note to say that “lots” does not, in my dictionary, mean “three” or that a hundred art magazines is not the same as a hundred art BOOKS.

When it’s records, you do not have to feel compelled to say “There are plenty of classics in here”. This gives the impression that you mean, by “classics”, the same thing I do: Bachs, Beethovens, Brahmses, Debussies, Mahlers, and Lehars. But this is a matter of definition. The last boxes of vinyl LPs was brought by a woman who told me that there were plenty of classics in the boxes. Maybe there were, to her. I would have said there were only four, but it all depends on how you regard Barry Manilow.

Let’s sit quietly and discuss this for a moment, parboiled brie. First of all, I am not going to make an inventory of what you brought in and put it on permanent file at the Newberry. Unless YOU write it on the receipt, no one will know whether you gave me books on Impressionist painting or dog-eared copies of Forever Amber and Naked Came the Stranger. I do TRY to remember who gave me what, on a short-term basis, just in case that copy of The Da Vinci Code is signed by Leonardo himself. But, honest, I cannot do this with all 120,000-some books that pass through my grubby fingers.

Second, I’m in the business of selling books and records and other cultural artifacts. I’ve already mentioned that in July the old Moody Blues albums were actually selling faster than the Mendelssohns. Whatever you bring me, I will try to put out for sale whatever I, personally, may think of it. You don’t have to pretend for me, cashew ketchup. Just say “Lot of nice books in there”. I might still disagree, but that’s a value judgment.

Or just say, “Those are pretty heavy”. We won’t need to have any arguments at all.

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