It is very difficult to stroll through the busy Book Fair without humming “The Impossible Dream”. Yes, part of the inspiration is our thought that one day we MIGHT sell all these copies of The DaVinci Code. But it is inspired even more by the sight of so many dreamers, so many questers, all looking for their dream in the array of books, DVDs, and Midwinterhoorns for sale.
Once again, Uncle Blogsy passed surreptitiously and incognito (wearing a gaudy apron and a big button that said ”Ask Me”) among you, and heard from you what you sought.
Some people were specific (“Do you have a concordance to the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald?”), some eager (“Do you have a big Travel section this year?”) and some simply unique (“Have you ever seen any Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 on CD?”) You asked for books on cigars, Warren G,. Harding, origami, Tintin, stamp collecting, and Hieronymus Bosch. You wanted books by Gladys Taber, Charlie Trotter, and Philip K. Dick. You sought Tarot cards, calendars, maps, and the restrooms.
A number of visitors seemed puzzled by our geography (though it was pretty close to what we had last year.) “The Collectibles Room used to be right there, but you’ve moved it!” one person declared, as if I had personally picked up the room and pulled it out of his way as he came into the building. “I used to know this Book Fair blindfolded but now I have to start over,” said someone else. One person, standing next to a sign that said “Science Fiction” pointed to a corner of the room and said, “Science Fiction is over there” while another good soul cried, “Chicago books are in Room 3! Where’s Room 3?” Room 3 was hard to find, as you could only get there by walking through Room 2 or Room 4, but this was no excuse. She was standing in Room 4 at the time and, as a matter of fact, Chicago books were in Room 4. (Got a lot of complaints about that: not only had I hauled the Rare Book Room and hidden it, but I had single-handedly misplaced the city of Chicago.) But some people had no need of numbers. A man who was reading a message on his phone looked up at me and said, “Which room is ‘the Big Room’?” THAT one was easy.
One of our most popular section, guarded by three squirrels, was referred to in a number of questions, SOME of which correctly called it the Squirrelling Area, a place to set aside your choices while you hunted for more. But I was also asked for the “Holding Area”, rhe “Book Hold Area”, and–my new favorite–“Your Squirrel Station”. We may issue uniform badges saying that next year.
As always, some great thinkers developed questions which defy categorization. “Are you SURE this should be two dollars?” (You can pay more if you like.) “Is the Franz Liszt painting still on this floor?” (It has been moved, but that hardly calls for a lecture on the importance of Liszt to the philosophy of the Nazi Party.) “Is there a room with magazines?” (Five of them.) “Why is every paperback children’s book I pick up by Pat Boone?” (Pick my lottery numbers for me this weekend, would you?) “When was the Scandinavian invasion of England?” (I answered that it came somewhere around the seventh or eighth century, but though this is true if one considers the increasing Viking raids to be an invasion, the actual event known as the Danish Invasion occurred in 1016, when…you can always rely on SOMEBODY in the crowd to prove you’re standing in the Newberry.) “Where are books on constellations, if I’m lucky?” (You’ll find ‘em in Science, if it’s in your stars.) A man holding up his phone: “Did this book sell yesterday?” (Why yes, sir, at exactly 2:47 P.M.)
But of all the seekers and questers, my favorite had to be the man who stopped me to ask “Are things different this year?” Things are different every year, Peanut Brittle Flambe, just as they are the same every year.