Refining Defining | Newberry

Refining Defining

It occurs to me, as I move through the assembled ranks and columns (I prefer to call them columns, and some prefer to call them junk) which have appeared in this space over the last not quite five years, that we are developing some in-jokes which newcomers might not understand. References to, say, “banana boxes” (inventions of the depraved for the torment of Book fair managers) or “Quarter inch” (that which the whole world is off by) may pass over the heads of casual readers like the humorous catchphrases of days gone by: “Who’s on first?”, “Where’s the beef?”, or “Read my lips: no new taxes”.

Among those, of course, is “Smurf month” or, I hope, “Smurf week”. This is a period of time when donations arriving at the Book Fair are characterized by, shall we say, a charming eccentricity. (It sounds better than saying “unbridled lunacy”.) I am not, at this moment, suffering from a Smurf week. It takes a consistent, ongoing series of hallucinations to make a Smurf month: not mere periods where lucidity is lacking.

I THOUGHT I might be headed for a Smurf week when that collection of literary paperbacks yielded a double row of nearly unused sticks of sidewalk chalk underneath. I suspected a Smurf month might be on the way when a collection of children’s books also included a small wooden jingle bell implement and a wind-up Humpty Dumpty. The card signed by the stars of X-Files combined with three plastic bags of unused greeting cards suggested the Smurfs Were Marching In.

But no, no: these were followed by those Civil War collections I mentioned on Monday. Civil War collections very seldom fit into a Smurf week, in spite of the eccentricities I blogged about. (I did not mention that some of my more sensitive volunteers fainted dead away at the aroma of mold rising from one of the collections.) These were followed by a massive collection of books and magazines on the history of railroads in America, a very hot subject around these parts and suggestive more of long green than of short blue. (Although it should be noted that there was one run of a good train magazine which was not owned by the Newberry, although we DO have the index to it. THAT’S a bit Smurfy.)

So the discovery that someone had donated all of their son’s high school achievement awards (held in a very nice wooden frame) was not enough to tip the scales toward blueness, even when I discovered I had received no fewer than three Boggle games. (We also got one of those electric football games that you plug in and watch the little plastic players wiggle toward each other. THAT is an American Pop Culture Icon, and not Smurfy at all, at all.)

I have worked up an immunity, you see, to mildly Smurfy periods. When the nice lady brought me some Victorian periodicals which she was sure were worth hundreds of dollars, I did not twitch. I did not even quiver as she handed me the plastic bags in which she had wrapped these treasures, and said, “No, no! Don’t open them! They’re so moldy you won’t want to touch them!”

No, that donation was not strange enough to qualify. The DONOR was, but she went away. So, once she was out of sight, were her valuable magazines, which I did not consider particularly Smurfy.

Though they had started to turn blue in places.

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