Essay: How many books can you buy for $30 at the Newberry Book Fair?


When I visited the Newberry Library Book Fair on Friday, I knew I had to come up with a strategy. It’s a locally famous sale, with tens of thousands of second-hand works available at very low prices. A kind of Nirvana for a book lover, but also a kind of Hell. You can’t buy them all.

photo creditPatrick T. Reardon

I set myself a limit of $30. And I decided to focus on good deals.

The Newberry, which will continue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and, as a half-price day, on Sunday at 60 W. Walton St. in Chicago, is synonymous with good deals. But there are bargains, and there are good deals. I went on a hunt to get as many books as possible for my 30 bucks.

I bought twenty.

As you can see from the list below, I ended up with a wide range of titles that reflected my broad areas of interest – literary works by Philip Roth and Allen Ginsberg, pulp westerns and science fiction and books dealing with comparative religion. Also, a few that I liked simply because of their covers.

If you went shopping at Newberry with $30, you’d probably end up with a very different list. At other times in my life, my list would have included a lot of history books and biographies. It could have included a lot of Chicago books as well, and that was the first table I hit. Alas, virtually every title there was represented on my own shelves in Chicago.

At other times, I would have wanted to buy cheap hardcover books, but, for various reasons, I was looking for paperbacks this time. Of the 20 I bought, only two were hardcovers.

For any true book lover who goes to a sale like Newberry’s, part of the fun is telling someone else about everything you’ve bought. So that’s what I’m going to do, from now on, listing the books in alphabetical order:

  • Alabam McCall by Walt Huffine—This western has this slogan on the cover: “McCall’s partner and the gold were gone. He left for revenge. I have been sold. Plus, it’s a great name for a character.
  • alien planet by Fletcher Pratt – The vast majority of Pratt’s books were military history, but he also wrote a few sci-fi/fantasy books, including The Well of the Unicorn, considered one of the hundred best fantasy novels.
  • Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg—Howl is one of the great poems of the 20th century and belongs to TS Eliot land of waste on top. It will be an extra copy for me, maybe to give away.
  • In search of the Jewish Mary by Mary Christine Athans—Everything about Mary, the mother of Jesus, has troubled me since Catholic high school. I like the idea of ​​a book that looks at her as a Jewish woman.
  • Melville’s Moby-Dick: A Jungian Commentary by Edward F. Edinger—A few years ago I read Moby-Dick in a very close way and fell in love with the book. What a Jungian would say about this great big white whale should be very interesting.
  • Thoughts on the Psalms by CS Lewis—Lewis’s simple christianity is a wonderfully insightful book. I was less impressed with some of his other books. This, however, seemed worth a try, as I love Psalms and it only costs a dollar.
  • Model railway by the editorial staff of the Lionel Corporation – This 1950 book has a massive, powerful railroad engine that thunders from the cover, as if it were a train out of control kind of novel. In fact, it’s a fancy promotional gimmick from the big model railroad company. I gave it to a model railway friend.
  • Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak – The title hints at a Shakespearean connection to a science fiction story. Worth a try for a dollar.
  • Survival at Auschwitz by Primo Levi—Levi, the great Italian Jewish writer, gave the world this moving and heartbreaking memoir of life and death in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
  • The Boy Who Followed Ripley by Patricia Highsmith—I don’t know anything about this book except that it’s by Highsmith and I want to read more of his stuff, especially his Ripley books.
  • The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley – I own a hardcover of this book on religious hysteria, and all I can say is that I think I bought it because it was one of the first books I’ve seen and it was misclassified with science fiction books.
  • The great religions by which men live by Floyd H. Ross and Tynette Hills—Among the many books on religion I own, I like to have books like this that approach faith from an objective, outward perspective.
  • The Stockholm Messiah by Cynthia Ozick—Sometimes I buy a book based on its title. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was written by Ozick, called one of America’s greatest living writers by David Foster Wallace.
  • The first of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Spark — I have long been a huge fan of novelist Muriel Spark and her novel and the film based on it, starring 35-year-old Maggie Smith. I’ve had a copy of this book for decades, but now I have one to give away. You want it ?
  • The teacher of desire by Philip Roth – I only recently started reading Roth, enjoying his stuff enough to buy this $3 hardcover on faith.
  • The return by Walter de la Mare—This book, it turns out, is considered one of the most important literary works of supernatural horror of the first half of the 20th century. HP Lovecraft was a big fan of de la Mare. I didn’t know any of this. I bought it for its cool British 1950s cover.
  • The secret visitors by James White—No real reason, except this was published in 1957 when some of My Favorite Boy’s Sci-Fi Adventures were written.
  • The Virgin and the Gypsy by DH Lawrence—OK, that’s probably a pretty good little novel since it’s by Lawrence. But I paid a dollar for it because it’s a really hokey 1946 cover.
  • The Watsons by Jane Austen and John Coates – I’m a big fan of Austen, having arrived late to the party but, in recent years, I’ve fallen in love with her Emma and Pride and Prejudice. I chose it because it was a title that I did not know. There’s a reason, it turns out. I now realize that the book is based on 80 pages of a novel that Austen abandoned. Coates, whose name I didn’t notice on the cover, adapted his 7,500 pages into a 313-page book.
  • Don’t cry, my child by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o—The cover indicates that this novel is part of the African Writers Series. I like to read novels from other cultures.

Two final notes:

After a shopping spree like this, there’s always the question of what to read first. I find myself drawn to Huffine Alabam McCall. It’s 159 pages of what seems like pure western genre delight. We will see.

The other thing is a thought for anyone planning to go to the fair.

Because Sunday is a half price day, if I had waited until then I could have gotten 40 pounds for $30. Just say.

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