During this Book Fair, a volunteer took time to explain to me a new theory of what not to sell in Collectibles. I have mentioned this heretofore: nothing seems to bring out the counselor in my volunteers, donors, and customers like the question of what I shouldn’t sell.
“That paperback with the map,” she said.
“The five hundred dollar one? That’s quite rare, especially with its original wraps.”
She frowned. “Wraps?”
“Paper cover,“ I said.
She cleared her throat. “That’s what I mean. Why don’t you sell that online? Nobody who comes to this Book Fair is going to know about wraps or rare maps or even what the book is.”
I started to explain about the lady who started off the Book Fair by asking about advance proofs of David Foster Wallace, but she wouldn’t let me tell the story (a growing epidemic among my acquaintances.) “Real people won’t understand why you’re charging so much and they’ll go away. If it requires special knowledge to know why something is rare, the customers here will never know that much about it, and that makes the book worthless.”
“So a diamond isn’t a diamond if you think it looks plastic,” I said, assuming a voice of great scorn.
She missed that, of course. “Exactly!” she said, on a note of triumph. I guess sarcasm isn’t sarcasm if you don’t know it is.
That advice comes in pretty often when passing volunteers see the Classics section, and wonder why Charles Dickens isn’t in it. I explain that Classics is for works written during or about the ages of Classical Greece or Rome, the place to find Plato or Homer or Cicero. I generally get a withering look and a grunt of “Well, who’s going to know that?”
And yet, the Classics section sold all but the last ten or twenty books in the section (not counting the books by Charles Dickens somebody put in there.) SOMEBODY knew what the Classics section was there for.
Believing that whatever you know is common knowledge is both overly proud (if I don’t know it it isn’t worth knowing) and ridiculously humble (I could never win a dollar on Jeopardy; I don’t know all that expert stuff.) The same people who inform me no one will recognize an old book with a rare map in it are the ones who point out to me the novel that has shot up in value since that movie they made of it won an Oscar. (I’ve attended two movies in this century; this is not the kind of thing I know.) The same person who doesn’t know why we have a Classics section would be wildly upset if we stopped having a Chicago section, because that’s where she buys books on Evanston. (And yes, I get berated by other volunteers for putting Evanston in the Chicago…never mind.)
Anyway, what is it with telling me not to sell things? The Book Fair is HERE to sell things. I much prefer the questions about “Why don’t you have a section just on buttons?” Then we have room for a discussion. (The lady who asks for the Chicana section every year, for example, usually tells me why we don’t have one. “It’d just be thirty copies each of the same three books you get every year.” That’s a literary discussion, and not just a complaint.)