In the Season of Distaste

“So you like this guy?”

It was one of those customers who like to argue about books. Arguing about books is a fine old pastime, if you’re in the mood, but I do wish these folk would find each other instead of me.

“What guy?” says I. “The author of that $350 book you’re holding up and would you mind holding it with both hands so you don’t drop it?”

“Yeah, him. So you like him, huh?”

“Well, as I recall, he was a wife-beater and a thorough grouch, whose books drip with venom and hatred of mankind and just a general lack of niceness. I can’t say I ever met him but no, based on his reputation, I’d have t say I don’t like him much.”

“So why are you asking $350 for his book?”

I cannot answer this question as I would wish. I would like to say, “Well, if you paid for that suit and those shoes, I would estimate that YOU are worth a million or so, and I’m not sure I like you much.”

There are volunteers who worry about the same sort of thing. “I think people would pay five bucks for this book, but it’s certainly not worth more than fifty cents.” They at least have the right idea: the price of the book doesn’t reflect what we think of it. It may work the other way, in fact. One volunteer said, “If they’re going to insult the Newberry by buying this book here, they should pay twice as much.”

 It’s hard to steer clear of emotion when considering books, but we can’t sell just the books we like. One volunteer in days gone by hated The Joy of Cooking, while another has borne a grudge for years against Pat the Bunny (her name was Pat, see.) There are people who hate whole sections of the Book Fair: romances, for example, or Cliff’s Notes, or any book printed in Mexico. (He wanted to argue about immigration; I said books didn’t need green cards and he snarled at me.)

To get back to the man with the spiffy shoes, I told him, “The book sells for $500 or more to people who take an interest in that author’s work, and I thought there would be customers clever enough to spot the bargain and pay $350.”

The outcome hung by a hair, and then he handed me the book. “Good luck with that,” he said.

I can’t win ‘em all.

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