What You Wanted to Know | Newberry

What You Wanted to Know

People ask questions at the Book Fair. It’s my own fault: I have one of these old buttons they printed which says ‘ASK ME” and they always obey.

We have the questions for specific authors or books, of course: I was asked to point people toward Emily Dickinson, Barbara Pym, a children’s book on Nefertiti, McCarthy’s book on the sinking of the Eastland, books on chess (three times), and books of magic spells (also three times. I did NOT follow these people to see how they paid.)

And of course, there are the questions of mere location: Where is room 1, where is checkout, where is room 2, and, naturally, where are the restrooms. (And as always, there’s one every year. “Do you have a restroom? Do you have two?” Are there THAT many libraries in our fair land with only one restroom? Anyone who can put on so well-organized a Book Fair knows about men’s rooms AND ladies’ rooms.)

But there are the philosophers, who stop me to ask ethical questions. “Is it wrong to use Visa to buy a $2 book?” (No, sir. It’s wrong to come to a book fair and buy only one book.) Or they pause and study me, challenged by that ASK ME, and come out with “Have you heard the joke about the honest politician?” (The very phrase “honest politician” is the joke, apparently. The same person asked me “Which way is up?” It was an educational day.)

The category we do not have which was most often asked for was graphic novels, with comic books a close second, while the category most asked for which we do have was genealogy. Though a lot of people had to be told what they were looking for was Show Biz. (“Do you have a film category outside the Art section?” “I’m looking for books on costume design for the stage and there was nothing in Drama”) We also had a wandering soul looking for Metaphysics again this year: NOT the same person who asked last time around. Our official attitude is that if you know enough about it to ask where it is, you should know where to find it. I’d add it to our subject list, just to cut down on the questions, but I did that with Graphic Novels and got no satisfaction out.

There are perennial questions. “Why don’t you have chairs? I like to sit down and look my books over.” “What does the PB in PB Fiction stand for?” (I always forget to ask them to tell me their best guess.) And “Does the A-L in HB Fiction A-L mean the author’s name or the title?”

Alas, as everyone who works in a library knows, there are the unanswerable questions. Sometimes you just have to stand back and let people come up with their own answers, because you cannot trust your own voice. “What’s this table? Miscellaneous?” “I already own John Drury’s Old Chicago Houses. Should I buy his Old Illinois Houses?” “Are the prices marked in any of the books?” (Not “Are the prices marked in the books?” but are they in ANY of the books. Still thinking that one over.)

But then we have the customer who makes the Book Fair Manager’s day, the question he wouldn’t mind hearing several times during the Book Binge.

“How can I fit this into this bag?” (Come back next year, friend; I like your style.)

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