Word for the Week | Page 12 | Newberry

Word for the Week

   I had another one of those visitors this week.  “So what are the prices?” he said.  “Five dollars for a hardback and a dollar for every paperback?”

   These people are still in the garage sale level of bookbuying.  “Oh, they’re all different prices,” said I.  “It’s artisanal.”

   I wonder if I have more people among my acquaintances who assume they have heard me incorrectly than the rest of the world.  “What?” he said.

   “You’ve seen all the ads, haven’t you?  Stores are selling artisanal chocolates and restaurants brag about their artisanal bread, and half the pizza places in this neighborhood are adding artisanal pizzas to their menus.  Well, we do artisanal pricing.”

   “Oh,” he said.  “Okay.”  I wonder if I have more people among my acquaintance who just decide to abandon conversations because they realize I’m not going to be getting well any time soon.

   However, the wider blog-reading public (that’s you, kumquat kabob) has certainly noticed the growing trend toward the artisanal, especially among foodstuffs.  I noticed it first at the pizza joints—I assumed it was some conspiracy on the part of America’s arugula growers—and then realized that some places had been bragging about their artisanal bread now for a couple of years.

   Artisanal implies that something is handmade using esoteric techniques mastered only by a few geniuses (that’s what having “art” as part of a word will do for you; some of the pizzas have bits of artichokes on them, but I think that’s coincidental).  That of course describes out pricing at the Book fair: each book is delicately hand-selected and hand-priced so that each book you pick up, dear potential buyer, has received the individual care of an individual Book Fair genius.

   Artisanal also implies something really special and somewhat esoteric.  Which reminds me: a lot of you are being positively artisanal in packaging your donations.  Leaving aside the fact that in January we discourage you from bringing anything at all, I am disma…impressed by the work some of you have put into your packagaing.  I am in special awe of the person who packed five shopping bags full, realized that the handles were breaking off the bags, and somehow managed to get each bag into a larger bag with sturdier handles.  Each of these bags split along the side, but it was cooperation in its purest form: a crummy bag with good handles helping out a good bag with crummy handles.

   The books all fell out anyway, with the result that my toes are looking a bit artisanal, but it’s not the result that matters so much as the artisanalness of it.  (Have you TASTED some of those artisanal pizzas?  And quit complaining about my language.  If words like poetude and artisanalness aren’t artisanal, what is?)

   And the lady who brought me magazines in what I thought were milk crates was an artisan in her own way.  These were actually her magazine racks from the living room.  Someone else might have used a combination of bags with and without handles, but she just tossed the magazine racks in the car, asked me to empty them out, and took them home with her.  Oh, and I called her and she came back to get her 2009 1040 form, which had gotten mixed with the rest.  (That looked a bit artisanal as well, but that’s Uncle Sam’s lookout.)

   So that’s one more thing for you to admire come July, when you visit the Book Fair: from donors to pricers to setter-uppers, we’re no assembly line mass-produced business.  Our artisanalness shines in every inch of the event.  (Oh, and I would not in any way interfere with your own artisanalness, but if, when describing us as artisanal, you remember that that third syllable is pronounced that way Raggedy Ann pronounces her name, I’ll be happier.  Some visitors DO insist…oh, never mind.)

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