If you do not frequent the Newberry, you may be unaware of two ingeniously-designed wheeled carts sit outside the A.C. McClurg Bookstore offering a kind of Book Fair sampler fifty weeks of the year. They aren’t, of course, a cross-section of the full event. We can’t squeeze the variety of our full menu onto these appetizer trays. The books here are selected on a set of careful principles, the main one of which is “Big Books With Lotsa Pictures”. But besides that (and don’t knock it; even when they don’t sell, those picture books are a big help to parents with small children who are waiting for someone in the lobby) we also like to line the cart with:
Cookbooks: Everybody eats. The cookbooks are also just a small sample of what you’d find in July. The selection runs heavily to dessert, almost never diets, and anything that is shiny and specific. You will seldom find someone so general as Irma Rombauer, but you will find bijou little cookbooks on summer pies or fruit muffins. Just about any cookbook with the word chocolate or cupcake in it is eligible, so long as it does not also include the words “Low Calorie” or “ Carbohydrate Free.”
Cat Books: I’ve had complaints, you know. “Why are there so many cat books on the cart?” they say. Because there are so many cat books in the WORLD, kumquat tartare.
Holiday Books: I will try to find suitable books for the time of year, especially around Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Cubs Opener. A drawback of this is that on occasion, thesy do not sell, and I get inquiries as to why there are Valentine books on the cart in April. You don’t believe in getting ready early for next year?
Books With Funny Titles: If the book is reasonably cartworthy (clean and shiny, with an unbattered jacket), something like “The History of Funny Faces” or “Ventriloquism for Dummies” is bound to land here.
Those Birthday Books: You can buy ‘em all over: “Your Birthday March 27”, with all kinds of factoids about that day in history. I figure there’s more chance they’ll find a buyer sitting for seven months on the cart than for four days at the Book Fair.
Books I Don’t Know What Else To Do With: Does this book of modern poetry based on New Testament stories belong in Poetry or Religion? Wrong! It belongs on the cart, so I don’t have to make a decision.
Those are just a few categories, of course (I haven’t discussed Teddy Bear Books or Baby Name Books yet.) There are also categories that almost never make it onto the cart.
Mysteries: This is because I always put out the wrong books, and people come knocking at my door, saying, “I see you’ve got The Third Deadly Sin on the cart. I’ve read that. What other deadly sins have you got?” An anthology like Cat Detectives is good, though, since there’s bound to be SOMETHING in there you haven’t read yet.
Books Without Spine Titles: This includes saddle-stapled volumes and volumes with faded or blank spines. Unless you’re one of those really motivated souls who picks up every single book to look at it, how will you know to look at this copy of “Limericks About Laundry”?
Competition: I tend not to put really nice, really new books on the carts because they are, after all, sitting right outside a very nice bookstore. The A.C. McClurg Bookstore stocks good stuff for essentially the same clientele I’m trying to appeal to, so I’m bound to slip up, but I do try.. (They, in their turn, try to be polite when a customer buys a book off the cart for $4 that they’re selling in the store for $34. It’s symbiosis.)
Books Of a Thoroughly Adult Nature: I’m not trying to protect your tender sensibilities—I’ve seen what you donate—but we have passing marauders who catch these up, sneak them into the store, and shelve them in the Children’s section. Not good for my business or theirs.
There’s more to it than can be covered in one blog, of course, but this ought to be enough to convince you it isn’t really telepathy when you find just the book you wanted on the cart. (Not that I don’t know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you ought to get that book for fifty cents less. You’re paying for the armchair and the ambience, peanut pot pie; you won’t get that on Amazon.)