Mystery Miscellany | Page 58 | Newberry

Mystery Miscellany

I know what I can do in recollection of the Mystery and More Book Fair: I can explain the Collectibles table. Not many customers were ever curious enough to ask me about those books, and it didn’t matter how many signs I put up: some people shied away from anything that wasn’t neatly advertised.

The Mystery and More Book Fair involved mysteries, science fiction, romance, westerns, military fiction, true crime, true espionage (a category we don’t use at the July Book Fair), and children’s books. And on one set of tables I put what we CALLED “Collectibles” but which really stood for “Anything Else We Thought Might Interest You.”

This included, for example, Literature. These were books which in July would go into the Lit section but which had some relation to what we were selling: Owen Wister’s The Virginian for readers of westerns, Graham Greene’s “entertainments” for lovers of spy novel, Wilkie Collins for those who wanted genuine Victorian suspense, and so on. This didn’t get us far. All anyone ever bought out of that section were Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe (THERE are some names you didn’t think I’d be using in the same sentence.)  Try as I might to convince the romance buyers to pick up Anna Karenina….

We also had a section I called “Other Books by Mystery Writers”. Mystery writers often commit nonfiction, even if it’s just autobiography. Andrew Greeley wrote about everything, of course. Robert Van Gulik wrote some esoteric essays on Chinese Imperial culture (the role of the gibbon in Chinese literature, for example.) James Yaffe wrote about Jewish life in America, Charles Merrill Smith wrote Episcopalian guidance, and Ian Fleming wrote about diamond smuggling (all the stuff he couldn’t squeeze into Diamonds Are Forever.)

There were things you’d expect, of course: books autographed by mystery authors, those rare early editions (The Devil’s Elixir from 1818, by the man who wrote The Nutcracker), books on how to write mysteries, etc. A section people came looking for and which was never quite big enough was Chicago Crime. I get nearly as many requests for Al Capone autographs as I do for Babe Ruth, with about the same level of success. (If I can get one more Babe Ruth autograph, that will bring my total up to exactly one.)

This section was where we put the Large Print mysteries and romances, and the uncorrected proofs of fantasy and science fiction novels, and the Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of cowboy boots and the copies of the Aqua Sutra (with waterproof pages, no less. I thought it fit all those vampire/mermaid romances.) Solve-the-Crime jigsaw puzzles went there, and we had a show biz subsection, for books on mystery movies, lives of Alfred Hitchcock or Harrison Ford, and theatre programs from Sleuth or An Inspector Calls.

And, of course, I liked to include at least one art book by Sir Anthony Blunt, and Richard Ellman’s life of Oscar Wilde, just so I could explain why. Blunt, of course, was the art historian and Director of the Courtauld Institute who turned out to be working for the KGB, while the picture on the dust jacket of Ellman’s book PROVES that Oscar Wilde went to a lot of Harry Potter movies before deciding on his “look”; he has Professor Snape imitated perfectly, even to the lurking sneer. We at the Book Fair like to remember the Newberry is as famous for its scholarly research as for its Book Fair.

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