Oh Yeah? | Newberry

Oh Yeah?

I think I have never been accused of being a poster-child for incurable optimism. No, my model has always been the bleak existentialism of Thorne Smith, who wrought about a businessman who kept lecturing on the subject of Put On a Good Front and SMILE the Depression Away. He had, Smith notes, nearly smiled his company into bankruptcy several times, being saved only by the heavy labor of his (unsmiling) partners. No, the closest I ever came to Positivity was when I asked some publishers whether they would be interested in a book on The Power of Non-Negative Thinking. (They said “No.” Should’ve read the book.)

All the same, I struggle sometimes with the reaction to the treasures you bring me at our lovely book binge. Just this week, probably in response to Wednesday’s column, someone treated me to a glorious collection of bright, shiny books in excellent condition…and in Polish. I have various adventures of Frog and Toad, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and Pollyanna in Polish, to name but a few of the wonders of this donation.

I told one of our visitors about this and he immediately said, “Y’know, there’s probably some Polish cultural center in Chicago you could give those to.”

I mentioned to another visitor about these two little math books which once belonged to Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, a young Indian astrophysicist who came to the University of Chicago and, some fifty years later, won the Nobel Prize for Physics. His autograph, I am told by the mavens online, runs fairly high, AND I can, if everything pulls together, put these two autographs on either side of this elegant little pamphlet by Stephen Hawking.

“Do you really think you can sell those?” my visitor asked. “Maybe you should just send them to the University.”

“I’m not really here to give books away,” I pointed out.

He shrugged. “Yes, but why would anybody interested in science come to the Book Fair?”

The same day the Polish books arrived, we had a box of books come in in which a really intent collector had packed some two dozen books written as sequels to Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s name appears in most of the titles, so you can see who the draw is in this genre of literature. One or two authors had written series about Darcy, but others simply wrote one book in this selection: maybe eight or nine authors were represented in all. (These will all be found in our Romance section, though I’m sure some of the books where Mr. Darcy solves mysteries were included.)

I was expanding on this subject to yet another unpaid advisor, who looked at me gravely and said, “Maybe the Jane Austen Society could recommend some women’s reading group that would accept those.”

Now, this is hardly a new phenomenon. I get this sort of free advice all the time. But I never have understood it. Shall we replace that big banner on the blank wall of the library with a new one that says “Newberry Book Fair: We Don’t Sell Anything Unusual”? Do my advisors expect me to hand out a map at the door to the Book Fair showing the hundred books we actually sell, and where to find them? (It is NOT true that we were founded solely to sell The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood: that hadn’t been written yet in 1985. We were founded solely to sell Think and Grow Rich, and Rebecca Wells just moved in after a while.)

We aren’t so much a book sale, it seems, as a book club, made up of people who look at our latest arrivals and discuss reasons we can’t sell them. I resent this. Not so much because they are missing the point of the whole exercise, but because they force me to become Positive, putting up a good front and trying to SMILE them all away.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

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