In the Details | Newberry

In the Details

From time to time, even I have one of those days when I drop my keys just as I’m reaching toward the lock, set a book down too close to the keyboard and hit the escape button, and look at the time in shock only to realize I have put my watch on upside-down. I call these my Technologically Inept Days. (I can hear the chorus of disbelief now: “He still wears a watch? I’ll bet he’s technologically inept.” Children, if I ever get that Gatling Gun app for my phone, there will be a reckoning.)

Even the books brought to me by those wonderful donors (during a Winter Storm Warning which keeps clever people at home) sometimes get in on the act. I was looking up the price of a lovely Chicago World’s Fair book online when I found that the book had not one but THREE different titles. Computers are not built to handle such novelties, chocolate chicory stick. I had to look it up three times.

Nice book, too: part of the mad rush in 1933 and 1934 to get a book about Chicago and the fair into print, while the tourists were in town and buying. (Publishers did the same thing in 1893 and 1894). The cover of the book boldly tells you it is both forward-looking and historical, presenting pictures of “Chicago And Her 2 World Fairs”. I looked that up, and found several copies for sale online, at around $25.

But I noticed, while checking the copyright date, to see whether it was a souvenir of the first or the second year of the Fair (things from the second year seem to run slightly lower), that on the copyright page, the title of the book was stated as “Chicago and Its Two Fairs”. Note that Chicago has become gender-neutral, and we’re spelling out the numeral 2, as I was taught to do in high school English. I also found that people listing the book under this title tended to charge around $10. The Newberry owns a copy, by the way, among its extensive Chicago Fair material, and lists it under THIS title.

Of course, as you know if you read this blog regularly (and what card-carrying intellectual does not?), I wrote a column some time ago about the importance of looking up books by their proper titles, which are the titles printed on their title pages.

Good luck with that. The first page in this book is headed “A Century of Contrasts”. I did find a copy of the book listed under that, too. For five bucks. I have to leave that out of my reckoning, though, because the reason for the low price, as well as the title, is that that bookdealer’s copy didn’t have a cover.

Of course, I’m under no obligation to put this book in alphabetical order anywhere, but I do have to choose which title to use as my pricing guide. I did decide, but you’ll have to wait until July to see which I chose. (Those of you who look books up online before you buy will have to take a little extra time, too. Goody.)

I can hear you again, that chorus in the background. “But what do you do if the book doesn’t have a title at all, Uncle Blogsy? How do you price all those blank journals?”

I hold them at arm’s length, turnip tart, and say “Now what would someone who would come out on a snowy day to bring me a book with three titles pay for this?” I’m sorry if my revenge hits the wallets of those of you who stayed nice and warm at home during the snowstorm, but as a Chicago politician once noted, “Book-pricin’ ain’t beanbag.”

(I’ll check the exact wording later. I just got the call that someone just brought in fifteen snow-covered boxes of books. Why does Barnes & Noble sell snowshoes, anyhow?)

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