Wave at a White Whale Today

Now that this whole mayor thing has gone through, maybe you’d like to take part in a really significant election.

If, like millions of Americans, you dash straight to this column in the mornings, you may miss the rest of the Newberry’s nifty website, and thus have not read about the launch of the Adoption Program.

Now, they knew you’d ask, so no, you don’t get to come and pick out a nice book from the collection and take it home. This is like the Adopt-An-Anteater programs at zoos. You don’t take the anteater home; your money goes to support the anteaters generally. You are, of course, free to walk up to the enclosure and wave at YOUR anteater when the zoo is open.

What this program does is offer a variety of things to wave at, from quotations at $20 a wave to whole books at $1,000 a wave. They’re things particularly representative of the major facets of our uncommon collection: a ledger drawing for the Old West, a dance photograph from the Ann Barzel Collection, literature and history galore and, of course, a lot of our stars: one of our first edition Moby Dicks, our Mozart manuscript, a quotation from our First Folio, etc. If you take advantage of the chance to make a donation to your favorite, you get a nice thank you email and a link to an adoption certificate which features a few more details about what you adopted.

But there’s more to it than that. “You know who’s adopting what, right?” I asked. “You know how many people are adopting Malcolm X’s Pullman employment record?”

“Of course,” I was told. I stood back, quietly agog to be in the presence of the Adoption Score-Keeper.

You see what this means: you are, by your donation, not only supporting the Newberry. You’re supporting your hero. Whom do you want to see win, say, in the Music category? Claude Debussy, Wolfgang A. Mozart, Bruder Lustig (dancing champagne bottles), or Jacob de Senleches? I am told that the Mozart and Debussy pieces are the most popular adoptees so far, and are running neck and neck. How do you Mozartians feel about being tied with a relative newcomer?

In the quotation arena, we have Shakespeare vying with a quotation from Alice in Wonderland, the immortal “Call me Ishmael”, and a dark horse candidate, a bit of testimony from a Baptist who had been caught dancing and whose hearing before the church fathers is preserved among the local history manuscripts at the Newberry. You supporters of the Bard want to see him beat out the competition, right? (I must admit to a soft spot for the Baptist.)

It’s the same in the other categories. In manuscripts, will it be Ernest Hemingway or Sherwood Anderson (with Malcolm X and a little-sung Civil War soldier also in the running). Maybe you like the dance photograph in the Images category, but an adoption of the ledger painting is a vote for neat horse pictures everywhere. In books, you’ll find Herman Melville entering the lists again, his whale vying with Frederick Douglass and Don Quixote. And there’s the map category, and the special Father’s Day selections and….

Take a look for yourself and toss a few dollars into the till for your all-time hero. This is a CHICAGO type election, you understand: you may stuff the ballot box with donations until the numbers on your card wear out. I have been promised updates if you’d like to know how the adoption rates are growing. Drop by and vote every day: keep the numbers up for Captain Ahab and dancing champagne bottles.

And, ahem, if you WERE looking for an adoption program where you take home the book, I run a program like that myself in July. I’ll have Shakespeares and Melvilles and Don Quixotes, too. And, because it is, as noted, a Smurfish month, by the most peculiar coincidence, someone has dropped off a copy of one of the very books offered for adoption on the Website. Not the First Folio or the first edition of Moby Dick: you’d have heard me holler from where you’re sitting. But on Monday this week, someone dropped off a battered copy of that cute little Debussy toy ballet featured in the music section. If you don’t spend ALL your money adopting books online, you’ll find it in the Collector’s section come July (if you’re fast enough. It has a lot of fond parents already.) 

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