Rare Books Find a Home with Youths
Carol Huang Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Not many university students can claim to be among the best young antiquarian book collectors in the country. True, not many have ever aspired to.
But in an Internet age where computers and video games clamor for the attention of young people, four young collectors prove that the love of books lives on. They showcased their prize finds last month at an event sponsored by the Ticknor Society, a Boston book-lovers group. Each displayed the intellect, intensity, and endearing obsessiveness that the hobby seems to inspire.
Bill Miglore, who graduated from Amherst College last spring, held up a dusty 1940 copy of Scholastic magazine. But this copy contains Truman Capote's first-ever published work: a few lines about what he liked girls to wear on dates. The work had gone undiscovered for so long that Capote specialists stopped looking for it 20 years ago.
Fellow panelist Anne Harley, who records, performs, teaches, and researches Russian Gypsy and chamber music from the 1780s to 1850s, collects books of, well, Russian Gypsy and chamber music from the 1780s to 1850s. Her collection illuminating the "cultural milieu" of the music won her Boston University's book-collecting prize last spring.
Ms. Harley reads aloud an excerpt that "made her eyes light up" the first time she saw it, inviting the audience to experience the moment the words captured.
Exact criteria for a winning collection are hard to pin down. Bibliophiles insist that spending a lot of money is neither a requisite nor a guarantor of quality. They appreciate thoughtful, well-rounded collections that demonstrate a collector's genuine interest, passion, and effort. A few special finds don't hurt.
"A good collection tries to understand a subject through history," says Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books and Collections Magazine. Last summer, the magazine held the first nationwide college-level book-collecting competition, inviting three-dozen students who had won their school contests to submit essays and annotated lists. Mr. Miglore placed second.
The collection must also be fairly comprehensive, Mr. Brown says. A set of 200 books written about "Finnegans Wake," for example, is not very good if there are 2,000 such books out there.
The pursuit takes time, and know-how. Some of the collectors' prize finds once lay unknown in small bookstores around the world.
Or, more commonly these days, they were catalogued on the Internet - perhaps miscatalogued.
Today, almost anyone can advertise any book online, oblivious to the precise definitions of "good" versus "fair" condition that bibliophiles have established. …