One of the exciting projects in the Newberry’s 125th anniversary, or quasquicentennial, or Q, as we’re starting to call it, is this book which will feature 125 nifty items from the history of the Newberry. A great deal of trouble was gone to to pick out 125 items that really represent the Newberry as it was, is, and hopes to be. These are not necessarily the most valuable items, the unique items, or even the most expensive items (not always the same as the most valuable.) They’re things without which the Newberry would be a different Newberry and the world a different world.
I do not have the time or patience, prunepit pie, to list 125 things that make the Book Fair the envy of its competitors and the object of adoration to its fans. But I thought I’d stick to the spirit of the numbers, and tell you about 12.5, in no particular order.
1. Squirrels: The squirrels out in Bughouse Square are unique in their own right, of course (there’s a song about them) but the squirrel statues at our Squirrelling Stations are the ones I mean. Opinions of them range from cute to creepy (isn’t that always the way?) but everyone agrees we wouldn’t be the same without our squirrels.
2. Aprons: Our volunteers wear iconic red aprons which are for them alone. Once upon a time, for a very brief period, we sold them to the general public, but we quickly realized that these marks of distinction should be saved for those who had earned the right to call themselves Book fair Volunteers. The only real problem with them is that they block your view of the
3. T-shirts: No high-fashion wardrobe should be without these. There have been several designs and different colors (and if you really want to squander three hours of your life, try attending a meeting on T-shirt colors: it takes at least three meetings to decide “blue” and eight more to pick out the shade.) So far this year, they have voted down my suggestion that the T-shirt say “The Newberry: If you cane here more often, you’d know what Quasquicentennial means”. They say it would be blocked by the aprons.
4. Bookmarks: There honestly are people out there who are proud of having all of these bookmarks, back to the 1986 version. No, no: so far as I know they have no market value. Yet.
5. A Personal Mystery Shopper: Go into Room 4 and you will meet Milly, who can tell you where to find the mystery author you need to read, or, if those are all gone, another writer you’ll like just as well. She does this so well that by Sunday morning, the room is echoing because so many of the books are gone.
6. The Line (or the queue, as we should call it): The folks who line to wait for the doors to open are civilized, polite, and not to be messed with. (They can become less civilized right quick if you try to slide in ahead of them.) Join them sometime and hear their war stories of waiting in line back in ’87, or hear their carefully mapped-out plan for hitting room 4 first and snapping up all the copies of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
7. The Rush: To some people, watching the customers rush in at 4 P.M. on Wednesday is a greater thrill than the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Frankly, things have changed, and the Thursday noon rush has far more of the jovial “Get out of my way or I’ll kill you” flavor of the old Wednesday night dash.
8. Our Artisanal Sections: Some volunteers have been at their work for years and have developed perfect systems for displaying their subject. The East and West Walls of Room 6, where Marilyn masterminds Hardback Literature and Steve arranges the reference are good examples, as are Godelieve’s work in the children’s corner, Mary’s labors in How To, and so on. Mind you, don’t come looking at them on Sunday, because little of the original design remainst by then.
9. Collectibles Checkout: Speaking of artisanal, you should buy a $1500 collectible or a $1 postcard in Collectibles just to meet Muriel, Evelyn, Jay, Linnea, Ed, et al. Honest, we know how to change the ink in the credit card machine now, and it’s undiluted smiles and grace these days.
10. Tally Sheets: Not that I care to neglect the work of the people who work like dogs down in the regular checkout, from the traffic directors to the guards who show you the way out the door. We have a two-prong system, where one person (the tallier) adds up your purchases and writes them on one of these unique-to-the-Newberry tally sheets and sends you on to another (the cashier) to pay. Ten points are awarded on the brownie point record for everyone who does NOT sing “Come, Mr. Tally Man, Come Tally Me Banana Boxes.”
11. Artwork Section: This is in Room 2, but almost never before Friday. I don’t like customers to see empty shelves, so during the night, bookcase fairies move out shelves and set up framed pictures between the wall and tables. The tables provide display space for small artwork and keep customers from bumping into the large artwork and knocking it over. Broken glass does nothing to enhance a Book Fair.
12. Bags: Of course we are hugely grateful to Potash Bros. for the shiny new bags. But what you want to see are the collectible bags we’re recycling from our donors and just give to customers at checkout: Marshall Field’s, Border’s, Crown Books. It’s just a generational thing, I know, but I was stunned this week by a cheerful bag that said “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” It wasn’t so much the sentiment as the realization that it came from a gift shop in Vietnam.
12½. The Bughouse Square Debates: I understand these are okay, but for some reason I never do attend. Let ‘em get their own blog. (They do have great root beer.)