The annual book fair put on each year by the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library is like a great book that yields fresh insight on each re-reading. Last week, we published a 1,000-plus-word story about the fair. Even that, though, was woefully insufficient to capture the venerable event’s many subplots and tropes and themes.
One story we didn’t include in last week’s article, which, if the fair were a book would be a chapter of its own, is that of Chet and Barbara Taranowski. The couple met over two decades ago as volunteer book-sorters — the people responsible for unpacking boxes and boxes of thousands and thousands of donated books that pack the cafeteria and spill out into the hallways of Oak Park and River Forest High School each summer.
One June, during a pizza party for volunteer sorters at Leona’s, Chet happened to sit next to Barbara.
“At the time, I thought, ‘Who is this?’ I wasn’t looking,” Barbara recalled during a brief interview on Monday. “I thought I’d be nice to him because I was going to see him sorting books anyway, so we started talking and we had an amazing amount of stuff in common.”
They both had gray cats. They both drove Toyotas. They both had advanced degrees in social work. They both loved books. They were the same age.
“We’re like brain twins,” Barbara said.
During their conversation at Leona’s, Chet invited Barbara to play some volleyball with friends. They exchanged numbers. He called and called again. Eventually, they went on a date — a conversation over Ethiopian food — that turned into the rest of their lives.
In 2000, after dating for several years, the couple married in their backyard. Two years later, they had a son.
“He’s our miracle baby because we were advanced in age,” Barbara said. “I call him the spawn of the book fair. He’s been sorting books since he was a baby.”
His name is Alex Reade. Of course it is. But the son of brain twins might have been bestowed with a name even less subtle had it been up to his parents’ fellow book fair volunteers.
“We were sorting one night and I’d come back from the doctor,” Barbara recalled. “I told them I’d be having a boy. They all wanted him to be called Booker.”