I have mentioned in passing that one of the challenges of this Book Fair is the business of sorting books into the different categories. I KNOW this concept has video game potential, if I could just decide which would work better: awarding points for getting the book into the right category or making up the most ingenious explanation for putting a book in another category. (“Well, if House at Pooh Corner is about a house, it should go in Architecture, not?”) Games of misapplied logic have always been popular. (Next year is an election year, y’know.)
Some books make this difficult by straddling a line. This, for example, is why we put Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror all into one category, so we don’t have to decide where Science Fantasy or Dark Fantasy go. A recent book on the politics of healthcare reform could with equal justice go into Health of Political Science. Books on Marilyn Monroe tend to go into Show Biz, but what about this book which claims her death was a murder, carried out by political assassins? In the game, I’d be inclined to give an equal score to Show Biz AND to Law and Crime (and only a tenth of a point to those of you who picked Political Science or History.)
And, of course, that no two people see books quite the same way. An author named Carl Hiaasen left the world of newspaper columns to become, it says here on the Interwebs, which ought to know (because only True Facts make it into cyberspace), a major “writer of humorous crime fiction”. Crime fiction will almost always be found under Mystery, humorous or not. Dave Barry’s crime novels are there, too, and P.G. Wodehouse’s crime stories are ALMOST always there. But there is some justification for putting Carl Hiaasen and dave Barry in Humor, along with most of Wodehouse and Dave Barry’s nonfiction works. (Although if I FIND Carl Hiaasen in Humor, I growl in a way that makes the Elf on the Shelf frown, and put it back in Mystery.)
Then there’s this bestseller of (egad) twenty-five years ago: Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil. This is a tale of true crime, and yet people keep putting it in Fiction or Mystery, because it reads like a novel, or because a movie was made of it, and we associate big screen movies with fiction. I have also occasionally found people putting it in History, or Travel (I don’t think is was INTENDED as a guide to Savannah, Georgia). In fact, about the only category I have not found it in so far is Gardening, which you’d think…or would you?
But when I start to feel downhearted, I remind myself that we are, after all, different people. Where would we be without the people who insist Zen Buddhism is a New Age cult, that Jean Auel’s caveperson sagas are children’s books, and that Taylor Caldwell’s novel I, Judas belongs in Religion (because the author was channeling her past life as…you get it)? And when I am at my very lowest, I think back to the time Richard M. Daley dropped by the Newberry to receive an award.
It was 2007, and we wanted to honor His Honor for his service to art and culture during his tenure as Mayor of Chicago. It was a close-run thing because the Mayor has a tight schedule, and we had to find a day he was available to show up and accept the award. (We scored: not only did he stay for the award dinner, but he stayed for the WHOLE THING: mayors of Chicago are accustomed to saying a few words after salad and then running out to another place to make a few remarks over the Chicken Almondine, and then hurrying to another venue for a speech over apple pie.) As a symbol of his work with libraries, we at the Book Fair were asked to festoon the tables at the dinner with white books. “No dust jackets, nothing fancy,” we were told. “Just a lot of white books, all the same size.” Volunteers were set to comb the tables after the Book Fair in search of white hardcover books.
The manager then got to go through and pull out the blue books (“I wasn’t finding many white ones,” said the volunteer, “And I thought these would do”), the paperbacks (“They’re white!”), and the fine old gift Bibles the size of unabridged dictionaries (“It’ll take up the same space as SIX of those little white books!”
I didn’t argue; I just re-sorted without worrying about it too much. I had to get it done before some joker came up and said, “You can’t use THOSE books. Most of them are read.”