Not a Petting Zoo

Say what you will, a day that starts with somebody donating a dead bird is going nowhere.

There is that school of thought which recommends, “Eat a live bullfrog for breakfast every morning. Then nothing worse can happen to you for the rest of the day.” We at the Book Fair are not such sunny optimists as that.

To be fair, the lady was not actually donating the bird. She was bringing over somebody else’s books, and as she brought the bags and boxes to the back of her van for me to lift up to the dock, she reached into one and brought out a small package with a label on it. She took this to the front seat, murmuring, “I knew there was one more bird in here somewhere.”

To continue to be fair, I don’t know anything about said bird. It could have been a blown glass bird of legendary beauty. It could have been a beanbag bird thrown into the crowd at a performance of Cats. But the way she lifted it delicately by thumb and forefinger and carried it at a certain distance from her body, I felt I was dealing with a former parakeet.

The books themselves had been in the basement for a long, long time, and the day was humid. Ah, but there was still a spring in my step and a gleam in my eye. After all, she had said “one more bird”, which suggested I would not find any more.

I don’t know yet because shortly after she left, a man dropped off two of those boxes which U-Haul optimistically calls “Medium” I have spoken to you about these. Their “Small” is about as big a box as I want to see used for books. These were not so terribly heavy, because they were primarily filled with videocassettes. I can report that videocassettes in their thin, cardboard case do not smell so nice when they have been in a flooded basement and then left to themselves in a corner. But they are as nothing compared to those Disney movies in their wretched clamshell cases. These split open, offering whole new neighborhoods for the mold to grow into.

There were some Lakeside Classics. Lakeside Classics, famously, are bound in black, brown, green, or red bindings. These bindings were white. They had not been white to begin with.

But the boxes contained a rare objet d’art and an autographed (and unmoldy) book by a major writer, so something of this donation was saved for the Collectibles. Most of the rest, alas, is headed for recycling. We can tolerate a bit of basement smell (a few days on the bookcases at the Book Fair helps that go away) but industrial strength odor would give us quite the wrong air in July.

Speaking of threats to the general health, I have been doing further research on the question of bedbugs in books. Going to the Internet was the wrong response to the question. The Newberry employs a mighty Conservation Department, which works, among other things, on monitoring insect infiltration in the building. Traps are left at strategic spots, including the Book Fair Play Room, to sample the population and control what’s happening.

The Book Fair trap is generally not the most interesting of the lot; far more interesting bugs appear on the upper levels. (Remind me to tell you more about the Confused Flour Beetle.) If there were a mass donation of bedbugs from our constituency, this would come to the attention of these Guardians of the Collection long before the end of July. In fact, it has been hinted to me that bedbugs are not a major concern of the Conservation Crew: there are more dangerous critters they are wary of.

So you may rest assured, when you come to the Book Fair, that someone is watching to keep your selection free of bedbugs, major mold, and late canaries. What other Book Fair makes that claim?

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