Summer in the City

In Monday’s column, I believe I passed hastily over a very important point, and would like to remedy that. It is, in fact, something that I have suggested for years be printed in large block letters on our postcards and bookmarks. Everyone should be told that the Newberry Book Fair is INDOORS, where we have AIR CONDITIONING.

I know this violates a basic American tradition that all large events held in the summer must be out under the blazing sun, preferably ringed by barbecue grills so that we can not only add to the heat but throw in a bit of smoke as well. We at the Newberry have not made this decision lightly. I personally have nothing against the traditional American summer festival, replete with the smell of barbecue, beer, and browning brats (these are the small children whose parents forgot the sunblock.)

But the fact is that we are dealing with books, records, AND Chicago weather AT the end of July. This is not a good mix.

Yes, I KNOW we could put up a tent, marshmallow loaf. But if you’ve ever worked with large tents, you know they can a) leak, b) fall down, c) blow away and d) block any kind of breeze from reaching the sweat-soaked book maniacs inside. Whereas the Newberry a) leaks just a little and very seldom on the first floor, b/c) is not going to fall down or blow away except in a major disaster, in which case ALMOST all my customers will be worried about something besides that $3 copy of Sherman’s Lagoon, and d) is AIR CONDITIONED.

You’ve been there and it didn’t feel air-conditioned? Well, you were there when a few hundred other sweat-soaked book maniacs were in the room with you. (People still have to venture outdoors to get from home to the library. We’re working on that.) It would have been a good deal worse without the air conditioning. (Back in the day, when we couldn’t count on air throughout the building, we would mount these seven-foot fans in remote corners. This cooled people off AND made enough noise to cut down on the number of times a spouse could demand, “But where can we put one more book?” The good old days had some nifty points.)

And this is better for what we’re selling, as well. Books do not like heat or humidity, and setting up outdoors means a few customers are going to be buying the local ants as well. Vinyl records begin to warp at unreasonably low temperatures, and CDs which have been stored in a nice, cool warehouse are likely to develop condensation when set out in the Chicago summer air.

At outdoor festivals, you have to hunt for those tall plastic portable restrooms, but indoors, the restrooms are where they’ve been for years, and you don’t have to ask. (Though you will.) There are drinking fountains. There are (in limited quantity) places to sit down which have not been in direct sunlight (something you never think about until after you sit on them.)

Again, it isn’t that we object to the traditional American outdoor festival. We hold one ourselves on the Saturday of Book fair weekend, where you can get a root beer float and listen to speeches and music. AND, if you enjoy the Bughouse Square Debates, you’ll enjoy them all the more knowing that there’s a nice, AIR CONDITIONED Book Fair going on where you can slip in for a moment of relief before rushing back out to enjoy a bit more sunstroke. (Buy a book while you’re there; it helps pay for the toilet paper.)

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