Last weekend was the Red Scare Book Fair, a kind of quietly rebellious event hosted in the Nightingale Theater. Like many events hosted by the Red Scare Collective, the event’s Facebook page describes it one word as “educational” and in several hundred more as promoting “anarchist, communist, and other radical-left ideas.”
When we rather foolishly tried to pay at the door, a volunteer outside said that there was no fee but that donations were encouraged. “After all,” he said, “we’re spreading culture here, guys!”
The book fair itself was a rather humble affair, the volunteers who’d organized the event often outnumbering the visiting crowd. Scattered across the tables was a collection that was undoubtedly abstract, more united in controversy than it was any central political message.
The first items to catch my eye were a collection of unorthodox self-help pamphlets. Where one of these pamphlets was intended to help the reader deal with anxiety, another was simply titled, “How to Not Kill Yourself” and another centered around “navigating friendship break-ups.” Much to my surprise, I found the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who popularized cosmic horror, to be in nearly as large a supply as that of radical gonzo journalist and general misanthrope Hunter S. Thompson.
Counter-culture seemed to be the prevailing theme here; nevermind how exactly the author went about the countering. I can imagine a sizable portion of these books had been banned at one point or another, especially those which explicitly promoted extreme left values. Certainly I found myself disagreeing with many of the authors in the room, but I suppose one of the tenets of the fair was to expose people to contentious views and opinions.
Chief amongst these for myself were a couple instructional books written by Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. I’ve tried my best to convince disinterested crowds that Che, who you’ve probably seen on t-shirts, was no better than the fascists he was opposing. Yet it was almost pleasing to see his work in the book fair, as if it proved just how uncensored and unfiltered the selection of literature was. Morbid curiosity even drove me to buy his book detailing the intricacies of guerilla warfare.
Nestled in the corner of the room was a table simply labeled “Propaganda???” This, I suppose, was where the educational aspect of the event came in, as there were several examples of propaganda ranging from America’s monstrous depiction of Nazi’s in WWII to a Ronald Reagan ad which simply reads, “The time is now.” Previously, a member of the Red Scare collective had promised the propaganda section would feature books, games, and films, so I was a little disappointed by the limited display.
When it came time to charge us for the books we’d chosen, among them a politically-charged anthology of unconventional poetry and a supposed exposé on the government’s worst secrets, JFK and UFOs included, the vendors were surprisingly relaxed. One man undercharged us for every item we purchased, to the point that I had to urge him to let me pay him the listed price.
In the end, the book fair really was focused on its content, not its presentation. That’s not to say there wasn’t something oddly charming about a dark, circus-like theater occupied by a variety of polite counter-culturalists, just that I actually found myself more drawn to the books than the event itself. Hopefully enough of a crowd checks it out to convince them to host similar events in the future, even if it means temporarily resorting to society’s filthy, capitalistic ways.