Thursday, February 18, 2010

Van Sinderen Book Collecting Prize

In January I entered the Adrian Van Sinderen book collecting prize for seniors and sophomores here at Yale. Here is the description of the competition from the official website (

In order to encourage undergraduates to collect books, build their own libraries, and read for pleasure and education, the late Adrian Van Sinderen, Class of 1910, established in 1957 two prizes, one for seniors and one for sophomores. The Senior Prize is now $1,000, the Sophomore Prize $700. Prizes for Honorable Mention are occasionally awarded at the discretion of the judges.

In the awarding of these prizes, neither the number of books nor their monetary value is the determining factor. First consideration is given instead to discrimination and judgment in the selection of titles related to the contestant’s interest. The underlying purpose of the competition is to encourage students to build collections characterized by unity of field or subject. Collections of books acquired solely for courses are not acceptable.

Collections may cover specific subject fields, such as history, biography, literature, philosophy, or the sciences; they may pertain to a particular interest within one of these fields; they may be formed for their bibliographical features (i.e., edition, illustrations, bindings, etc.); or they may represent an intelligently chosen nucleus of a general library. Rare editions and fine bindings, though desirable luxuries, will receive equal but not extra consideration. Paperbacks are acceptable if there is evidence of some worthwhile thought and purpose. Winning collections have included Chicano literature, books on bees and beekeeping, first editions of William Burroughs, books on costume, Sherlock Holmes, and the Asian-American experience.

I have been collecting things ever since I was a child. Miniature tea sets, Madame Alexander dolls, pill boxes, hearts, and of course books.

To enter the book collecting prize you have to write a short statement of intent. Here is mine:

My major often receives raised eyebrows. And incredulous looks. Usually it is accompanied by questions like, “What is that?” or “Are you serious?” I am used to this and so I always prepare for it before telling someone that I am a Renaissance Studies major. After the inevitable, “What are you going to do with that degree?” and the requisite response, “Hopefully teach?” the next question is, “Why?” The answer is my book collection. For as long as I can remember I have collected historical fiction. Before my family would leave on vacation we would go to Powell’s or Barnes and Noble and I would head to the fiction section looking for spines with gilt and covers with girls in corsets. My family would tease me mercilessly in the checkout line, forcing me to turn my habit into a more covert operation. It is only recently that I have owned up to my obsession, removed my books from the drawers, closets, and boxes I had hid them in and displayed them on a bookshelf in my room. I freely admit to the repetitiveness of my collection. I tend to focus on a person and read everything I can find on them before moving on to the next. It is the slight differences in these stories that draw me in. As a historian I am looking for facts. As a reader I am looking to each new author to spin the story in some fresh and exciting way. My collection is a reminder to myself and to others to have fun with history. It is an inspiration to look at history as a series of real life events, and to dig deeper into what really happened.

Anyways, I just heard back that I have made it through to the next round! I will keep you posted.

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