One of the scariest things about Halloween in this adolescent century is how it runs for about two months. The first Halloween candy started appearing on store shelves around August 31. Kind of fun to see it, really: those empty display shelves gradually getting set up, with the bulk bags of orange and black lollipops here, and the peanut butter kisses over there. Boxes being unloaded and goodies neatly set up in their proper places: threw me into a state of Book Fair flashback.
I have no particular grudge against the storekeepers who rush the Back to School items out of the way of the more cheerfully commercial wares of Halloween. The year still has 365 and one quarter days in it, even if we do seem to rush from holiday to holiday. And it gives me an excuse to talk about the 2020 Book Fair, which will mark our thirty-fifth anniversary,
(Yes, I KNOW we just had our thirty-fifth Book Fair. It’s a Math Thing: the thirty-fifth Book Fair was the thirty-fourth anniversary of the first Book Fair. If you count on your fingers…. Just take my word for it, would you?)
One of the things I hear at every Book Fair these days is the tussle between the “We’ve always done it THIS way” folks and the “Just because you’ve ALWAYS done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right” people. These are invariably people who have worked in our little book binge for ten or twelve years. The fact is that there aren’t all that many things we’ve ALWAYS done.
Thirty-five years ago this fall, as the Newberry was making space for people to come and play with books, we had no designated place to work, no supply of boxes, no supply of books, and not a bookend to call our own. For nearly ten years we simply borrowed bookends from some mysterious supply upstairs (come to think of it, to this day I don’t know where the Newberry keeps its official supply of bookends.) One year, the Chair of the Book Fair Committee simply went out and BOUGHT bookends, which still form the core of our own supply.
Had you attended that first Book Fair, in August of 1985 (we held ‘em the last weekend in August in those days) you would have noticed a lot of things that are different. The books WERE priced in the upper righthand corner of the first white page, but they were arranged on an assortment of stray tables, with a few rented from Hall’s, which supplies our tables to this day. Bookends were sparse, and so were the books, of course. We had about a tenth of the stock we put out in 2019, some three or four hundred boxes. There was a table with stacks of records on it, and very few videocassettes. (No CDs: they did exist, but it would be the early 1990s before any showed up in donations. Our joyful reaction ran along the lines of “What are we going to do with THESE?” We eventually lined them up between bookcases on a table, and I feel sorry for you young’uns who never came in early in the day and see the rainbow glow of a table in Ruggles Hall when the sunlight comes in the window and hits the shiny discs in their transparent jewel cases, throwing a light of beauty and hope that the singers on the discs could only aspire to and fail, and giving an air…. Where were we?)
Certain authors were notably absent. Of course, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood had yet to be written and released on an unsuspecting world, but Stephen King had been making waves in the book world for about ten years. Millions of his books were available, but these were not donated to the Book Fair. He was still in that state of authorness at which people are just handing copies of his books to their friends, saying, “You have GOT to read this!”
So almost no big popular bestsellers (of the day: plenty of bestsellers from the forties and fifties), no CDs, few videos, and few bookends. No bookcases—those came along in the nineties as well, except for one big rolling case that was, like the bookends, lent to us for the duration of the Fair. Tables didn’t sit next to each other, hardly a single category required a whole table to itself, and there was chaos as the customers rushed in to find what they wanted.
Yeah, we have always done it THAT way. Get ready to celebrate the same way come July.