The Wide Wild World of Books

The Book Fair is a place of vast variety, reflecting the infinite interests of writers and bookbuyers. This is why I turn aside the suggestions of those who tell me not to waste space on, say, Cliff’s Notes or ten year-old interior decorating tomes. There are people, in fact, who don’t see why I clutter the joint with cookbooks. It’s a narrow philosophy: If they, personally, find a book uninteresting, “it’ll never sell”.

I have thus earned the reputation of Cockeyed Optimist, one who gleefully greets each donation with the conviction that this, at last, will make us rich. I don’t really. I’m unfit for the role of any kind of optimist. I’m contrary, that’s all. Just tell me “it’ll never sell”, and my mind starts to race.

Once upon a time, a woman significant in Chicago history offered us books. I’ve forgotten her name, but you’ll remind me. She was the first female gynecologist to practice in Chicago. Starting in the 1930s, she was attending to patients well into her nineties. At this point, though, she had decided to get rid of her professional library, some forty boxes of books and bound periodicals.

We do not, as a rule, accept middle-aged medical books. But this was different, or so I kept saying. Women’s Studies was a growing discipline in the academic world, and one hot aspect of this was the study of medical treatment of women through the ages. Surely someone needed sixty-year runs of obstetrics journals and all these Clinics of North America volumes. (The Clinics of North America are slender monthly volumes available in a number of different flavors: Psychiatric Clinics, Nursing Clinics, Veterinary Clinics, etc. Each month each series published a volume on some specialized topic: Family Therapy, say, in this month’s Psychiatric Clinics of North America. They make for an impressive shelf in someone’s office.)

Over the complaints of the people who had to haul it in, we accepted the library. And we made money on it right away.  A local retailer wanted stacks of books to put in the window; we rented them ten boxes of these. How the public reacted to women’s fashion being displayed in front of stacks of Modern Obstetrics magazine, I never heard.

I did think a little extra effort might be needed to move the library, so I sent postcards to every women’s studies department and women’s health clinic in northern Illinois. This was pre-computer, so I had to address each one personally and write out my paragraph on how valuable this collection could be. The set-up volunteers, come July, grumbled but duly displayed the books, sorting them into nice even rows in the Health section.  We were ready for the onslaught of Women’s Studies scholars.

No happy ending this time, friends and neighbors: the nice even rows were right there when the Book Fair ended. I can hear the echoes of “I told you so” this very day. But I didn’t give up.

In pricing all these books, I had noticed that the Gynecological Clinics of North America had three times covered a subject dear to the hearts of certain, um, grown-up magazines. No, don’t turn away; it’s a strictly G-rated condition. They had discussed the question of hirsutism, or excessive hair. I knew I could sell these on eBay, if not to the Newberry’s usual sort of customer. The Clinics were all mixed together, though. So I set a volunteer at the south end of the table to hunt them out while I started at the other end

You are correct. Someone had done it before us. Of the roughly 150 volumes of the Gynecological Clinics of North America, exactly three were missing.

This story has few morals, but it does have one. The world of bookbuyers is one of astonishing variety and dedication.  Never underestimate what they’ll go through to find what they’re looking for.

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