Of bookworms and squirrels

NewberrySquirrel.jpgI entered the Newberry Library expecting to see a few curious book-lovers and bargain-hunters. Instead, I saw squirrels.

At least that’s what the staff called the more than 8,000 people who attended the library’s 25th annual book fair last weekend, all searching for that rare first edition, fun bedtime story, or intriguing cookbook.

Stacks of cardboard boxes and brown paper bags awaited shoppers at the library’s entrance, and a side table called the “squirreling area” provided a home base for hauls too big to carry between the seven large rooms packed with tables full of used books.

After receiving my own bag, I was swept up in the quiet intensity that surrounded each table. Friendly fair volunteers corralled folks into lines that were deceptively peaceful. Much like while zigzagging through traffic, people masked impatience with just enough cooperation to get by, jumping at the first opportunity to speed ahead of a slow browser and resume digging.

And boy, were there lots of them: the Newberry received more than 100,000 donated books, to be resold at an average of $2 or $3, making it their largest annual fund-raiser.

I didn’t see a single uninteresting book: an illustrated atlas of Hawaii, a report on the Church of Scientology “from the inside by a non-member,” thousands of paperback romances with titles like Treasure’s Golden Dream and My Lord Stranger.

The fair also offered a small selection of donated CDs, records, and old magazines. It is a testament to the fair’s variety that fellow intern Jake Grubman, ’11, could walk away with both an old issue of Sports Illustrated and some Wu-Tang Clan albums.

I did some good squirreling myself, whittling down a shopping bag of books to a handful, eventually spending about $5. But that’s nothing compared to the woman ahead of me in the checkout line.

As she approached the counter, she pointed toward a group of eight brown bags and two cardboard boxes of books, all hers. It took three staff members to help move them all onto the counter. The unlucky elderly volunteer slowly raised himself out of his seat and looked in bewilderment at where to begin.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

July 28, 2009