Dispatches from the Newberry Library Book Fair

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on in your own city. To get all of the possible events you could attend on any given weekend, you might need to monitor half a dozen newspapers or more. Or you just need to be following the right people on Tumblr. Thanks to some blogs on my Tumblr dashboard, I heard about the Newberry Library’s annual book fair. I had never heard about this event before and I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life. As soon as I did  hear about it, though, the event was pencilled into my day planner and I was looking forward to it all last week.
Firstly, let me say that the Newberry Library is located in a wonderful part of the city, a neighborhood known as the Near North Side. Houses are snuggled close together and have stone steps leading from the sidewalk to the front doors. After emerging from the tall, glass buildings of the Loop it’s refreshing to be in a more neighborhood-like area that still has that city feel. The only downside to this area is finding decent parking. Smack dab in the middle of this neighborhood is the Newberry Library, an impressive stone structure with green space situated at its front. This green space is largely taken up by a dog park and it displayed to me one of my favorite truths about the city (at least that I’ve seen) – city dogs are so well-behaved.
Once inside, it was hard to miss the bust of Mr. Newberry himself. For those of you who don’t know, the library was created through a provision in Chicago businessman Walter L. Newberry’s will that called for “a “free, public” library on the north side of the Chicago River.” Currently, the library serves as a research facility and tours are given on Thursdays and Saturdays.
As I entered, there were some informational folks on either side of the doorway. At their tables, I was able to pick up a bag to hold my various finds throughout the book fair and a map. Yes, this book fair was spread out over several rooms and so required a map. Each room was labeled with a number and there was a description of each room’s contents on the opposite page. After a quick perusal of the map, I knew I wanted to hit the fiction room first. I was a bit disappointed that most of the room seemed to be taken up by mystery and romance paperbacks. But it was the first room I’d been in, so I held out hope for the others.
After the fiction room, there was a room with children’s books and old records, neither of which appealed to me. I have no children and records take so long to sift through. So I moved on to the next room, which happened to be the largest and seemed to have the widest array of genres. There were rows of old reference books – encyclopedias that were so large I had trouble lifting them to look inside, old dictionaries, and even a guide to jargon. Tables in the middle of this large room housed all types of books, including politics, drama, show biz, and biographies. I’d only picked up one book in that first room, but in this room, I found about ten.
After going through all of the labeled rooms on the helpful map, I noticed the library’s shop. I am never one to pass up a gift shop, so I had to duck inside and see what they had to offer. The first thing that struck me was the difference between the rooms of used books and this shiny gift shop. The used book rooms were filled mostly with natural light, whereas the gift shop was lit up with regular strip lighting on the ceiling. In addition, the gift shop was filled with newer books, all shiny with their covers un-creased by time or a loving reader. And, naturally, everything in the gift shop was more expensive. The one heartening difference between the gift shop and the used book rooms was that there were far more people perusing the rows upon rows of used books than were eyeing up a brand new copy of Infinite Jest.  I did make one awesome find in the gift shop – a vintage Penguin mug of Jane Eyre. I’ve wanted one of these mugs for so long that I just had to get it.
In the end, I came away with some good finds – some old Edith Wharton paperbacks, Jon Meacham’s book about Andrew Jackson, and, of course, my vintage Penguin mug. In total, I spent $11 on my six used book finds. To my mind, the book fair was a success and  the Newberry Library was an impressive place to visit. If you happen to be in the Chicago area, be sure to check it out!

2 replies on “Dispatches from the Newberry Library Book Fair”

I love library book sales. The one in my hometown let you fill up a paper bag for $5 on the last day so they’d have fewer leftovers to pack up. The sheer number of books I could squeeze into a single bag was astounding (and good practice for cashiering and bagging books at a used bookstore later). One of the local libraries had a small sale on the lawn during the town’s 4th of July festival, but I couldn’t find anything worth buying. Sad.

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