Weird or Wonder (or Both)

Once again, I have proven to be too twentieth century. I was complaining to people—being a curmudgeon and an ingrate besides–about the donation of a new, improved Sharpie pen which is guaranteed to write in conditions up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

“What kind of memo am I going to write when it’s 500 degrees?” I demanded. “The only thing I’m really going to be thinking is ‘Goodbye’, and I can shout that on my way out of the room.”

The person rolled large eyes at me and sighed that “these old duffers” sigh. “You have to have a pen like that,” she said. “If you try to text someone at that temperature, your phone will melt.”

See, it all makes sense if you’re up to date with technology.

That donation, which also included a pen sized 4-head screwdriver, got me to thinking about that perennial question of Book Fair watchers. “What is the weirdest thing you ever had donated?”

My answer depends to some degree on how interested I am in the question. If I simply want to move on to the next inquiry, I chuckle something about the squeaky toy in the shape of Michelangelo’s David, and we roll along. If I want to get into the nitty gritty, I answer more honestly and say I don’t know. I can’t recall everything that came in that made me murmur “What the hey!” and I understand that weirdness is in the eye of the beholder. I might think something is bizarre—like a pen that will write at 500 degrees—that other people take for granted.

Consider those boxes of modern replicas of medieval musical instruments. SOME people would think that was strange, while other people would simply sniff and tell me those are the more common modern replicas of medieval instruments. I thought getting Peggy Guggenheim’s copy of Samuel Beckett’s first book was unusual enough that I spent some time trying to find out if it had been reported missing by some other library. But the people who donated it didn’t think it al that odd.

Thirteen boxes of Lithuanian books were brought in last week: there are people, believe or not, who would think that’s plenty weird. Still, the Newberry has one of the finest collections of Lithuanian material in the western hemisphere, and we were the logical destination. Someone else sent in an erotic print by one of the greatest children’s book illustrators of the twentieth century. I considered it a bit surprising, but not all that weird. (It’s a passionate embrace, pumpkin gravy: nothing that will call for a warning note in the online catalog.)

No, in the end, I understand why I can’t recall much in particular when someone asks about the wild and the weird. To me, it’s all just a matter of running a high quality Book Fair. Let other people specialize in New York Times bestsellers and Oprah’s Picks. I’ll sell those too (you banana box hoarders out there don’t give me much choice). But it’s just a matter of offering a variety of goods, from the Bhagavad Gita in Lithuanian to a pen you can use to write your will while your car is melting to a squeaky toy after a design by Michelangelo. (That one sticks in my head because I wonder if it was a one-hit wonder or if there were other’s in the series. Anyone for a squeaky toy version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream?)

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