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Books by Dead Guys

Margaret Murray at California Authors boothGreetings from a ragged writer at the California State Fair Author’s Booth.

Across from me I see a banner announcing “Books by Dead Guys!”,

showcasing a series of Gold Rush history books, written in the 1800s

and compiled from primary source documents.

Perched in my chair like a chicken in her coop, I’m tired from a day of teaching,

yet jazzed by the “big fun” fair around me.

Right now I’m bemused by a life-size plastic cow across the room.

The cow is turning round and around on a platform of painted grass.

Above the revolving cow is a fish-shaped sign that says “Glenn”.

I ask the young writer of historical and fantasy novels to my right

if there is a county named “Glenn” in California?  He doesn’t know.

People are walking by; some stop and talk, check out books and buy them.

A congenial-looking man ambles by and looks at my Sundagger.net flyer.

“Is there a county in California called Glen?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he says “Glenn County is about 50 miles north of Sacramento.”

“Oh,” I say.

Here comes an older man driving in an electric scooter. He’s sporting a straw hat with a brown brim.

He stops to pick up a book describing the history of the Sacramento fair.The author comes over, eager to

make contact. The man looks up, flipping the pages of the book on his lap.

Now he is taking out his wallet.

My eyes go back to the circling cow. This seems to be a very popular cow since groups of families, couples,

and single fair-goers are congregating around it. I notice it is revolving counter-clockwise and wonder why.

I think about cows, having come from a family of dairy farmers in County Cork, Ireland. My grandfather,

Jeremiah McCarthy, left over a hundred years ago to follow his elder sister to America. The 2nd son of eleven children,

he wouldn’t inherit the farm and so became a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I believe there’s a family story he wanted to get away from the cows too.

The congenial man who told me about Glenn County picks up my novel.

“Would you like to have my postcard?” I ask. He takes the postcard with a picture of my book

on the front and a quote by famed mystery writer, Tony Hillerman. I watch the cow.

Round and round it goes. It’s white and brown, with brown ears and cheeks–do cows have cheeks?

I wonder if a real cow was a model for it.


“What kind of a cow is that?” I ask. A fellow writer to my left who grew up on a farm in Sacramento

says it’s a Guernsey cow.

The congenial man looking at my book takes out a twenty. He puts the money down on the counter,

saying he loves Tony Hillerman. He says he buys a book at the California Authors booth every year.

I give him change and autograph a copy for him, flattered and pleased.

A woman with a big green sticker on her T-shirt walks by with a friend. I comment on her sticker that reads,

“Change the World for $28. Save Our School Libraries”. Her name is Sally Eversole. It turns out that nearby

Elk Grove Unified School District just laid off their librarians and the library technicians, 73 in all.

The librarians were rehired, but not the technicians. Sally explains this means only school principals

–not the children themselves–will be able to check out books in elementary school libraries.

If every parent in the district pays $28, the library technicians will be able to work a four-hour day,

thus saving their jobs and their benefits. Most importantly the libraries will be open for our kids, explains Sally.

Want to support young readers and dedicated library employees? Go to the Elk Grove district website.

Yeah! for the California Authors Booth. Yeah! for book lovers everywhere.

It’s after 10pm. I’m walking to my car in Lot Z while fireworks light up the night. The moon is waning.

I pass the livestock pavilion, still lit up, and hear the cows lowing, their sound primitive and deep like a woman in childbirth.

Someone turns off all the lights. The cows stop mooing.

How peaceful everything is, so quiet. I imagine the plastic cow has stopped revolving too.

It’s great just to be here, right now. I’ll be back on Sunday, August 1st, the last day of the fair.

I’m glad.


Published by Margaret C. Murray

Margaret C Murray is a bold Bay Area author whose works burst from an imagination brimming with magical realism. Her novels take place within poignant and vibrant historical contexts, telling stories that draw parallels between disparate worlds and times. She speaks to the enchantment of human existence. Margaret is the founder and director of Writewords Press.

One thought on “Books by Dead Guys”

  1. Naida West says:

    Hi Margaret,
    This comment is a bit late, but I found your blog and think it’s great — yes yes, the love of books is what we’re about!

    Just one thing. Books by Dead Guys sign hanging on the front of the table won’t be there in 2011. The point of the Authors Booth is that we’re alive and kicking. We also aren’t supposed to hang signs on the front of the tables — I guess that sign doesn’t hurt anyone now, but I wish it were not the heading of your delightful blog.

    What a great idea, to write up a blog while about the customers!
    Naida

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