#352: The Lady Under the Table

July 28th, 2014

There’s liking books and then there’s hiding under a table to read them.

The small woman with the graying black hair opted for the latter.

She was about 50, Asian and was hiding under a table filled with books in a room filled with tables filled with books. She sat underneath yards of paperback fiction, directly under a worn copy of Dante’s “Paradiso,” which would have seemed hellishly symbolic if there hadn’t also been heaps of Zane Gray and Norman Mailer there too.

Under her table in the improbably named “Ruggles Hall” of the Newberry Library, the woman flipped quickly through the pages of a thin, leather volume – one of a dozen she had secreted under the table with her.

It was the Newberry Library Book Fair, the yearly event where the stately old library sells off rooms of donated books, records, VHS tapes, what have you.

For a few bucks each, you could walk away with the treasures of Western literature or a crappy “Get Smart” novelization. You could find old tomes or new potboilers or, one of the old volunteers told the lady and me as we checked out, more than 300 books on Chinese culture they were trying to unload from one donor.

It’s late and I’m tired. I’ve tried writing this piece a thousand different ways and watched about a hundred movie trailers because that’s what I do when I’m stuck.

I’ve written about the shoppers milling silently around the tables, some in reverie, some squeaking like happy puppies when they find a long-lost treasure. I’ve written about the books themselves, described the covers and bindings in glowing, rambling and adjective-laden phrases.

I’ve written about the joys of books themselves, the terrors of imagining thousands of writers putting their hearts, souls, research and time into what would someday become the leftovers at a four-day book fair.

I’ve written all these things and, one by one, deleted them. Because I’ll never do better than the opening. I’ll never find a better symbol of the power, delight, oddness and majesty of words than a grown woman hiding under a table so she could read.

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You are currently reading #352: The Lady Under the Table by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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