[Chronicle]

May 11, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 16

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    Love of books wins Brooker Prize for three second-years

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    In an era that embraces high-speed digital data transfer, bibliophiles who cherish hard copy are thriving quite nicely in the College. So much so, that for the first time in its 11-year history, the competition for the T. Kimball Brooker Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting has resulted in a three-way tie.

    Last week at a Library Society Dinner, the Brooker Prize selection committee announced this year’s winners––second-years Moshe Krakowski, Jared Shurin and Anikó Szatmari.

    [shurin, szatmari, and krakowski] by jason smith“For the faculty members and library staff who serve on the selection committee, one of the greatest joys we have is to meet students who share our love of books, who collect them and care about them,” said Alice Schreyer, Chair of the Brooker Prize selection committee and Curator of Special Collections.

    “Thanks to the flexibility of the prize’s donor and his commitment to encouraging book collecting among undergraduate students at the University, we were able to make the unprecedented decision to award three prizes. As one committee member remarked, ‘extraordinary circumstances required an extraordinary response.’”

    Although the winning collections are diverse, Katie Trumpener, Associate Professor in Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, English Language & Literature and Cinema & Media Studies and a member of the Brooker selection committee, said the students shared an unusual sophistication as collectors with “impassioned and well-conceived collections.”

    When weighing the strengths of collections, the judges look for creativity in defining a collection’s scope; a range of strategies for adding to the collection; and a kind of “wish list” that gives the collection a future. Members of the selection committee read each collector’s essay and bibliography and then view the collections in the collectors’ homes.

    According to Sem Sutter, Bibliographer for Modern Literatures and Acting Assistant Director for Humanities & Social Sciences University Library, the selection committee seeks evidence that the collectors connect with their books intellectually, imaginatively and viscerally. “It is usually very clear when the bibliophilic bug has bitten,” Sutter said.

    That bug stung prizewinner Krakowski early, and his family encouraged his interest. “While other kids got Nintendo for Chanukah, I received a five-volume set of Chidushie HaRitva’h––a medieval commentary on the Talmud––a book that I couldn’t hope to understand until some years later,” Krakowski said. His books on Jewish studies capture the basics of biblical and Talmudic studies. One of his most interesting purchases occurred in Israel, where he purchased a book directly from R’Volbe, an author who personally interviews every person who buys his book.

    Shurin said his collection, “Robert Graves: His Life and Works,” contains not only the British poet’s writing but also the various works that influenced Graves’ life. “A strange sort of fanaticism drives me to find first editions, hardback and special printings––more attractive volumes that give me more accurate versions of Graves’ original words and thoughts,” said Shurin, who hails Graves for prolific writing in a variety of fields. “By chasing down his works, I hope to get closer to Graves himself in a shameless attempt to huddle up to his genius.”

    Shurin will study abroad in London next year and believes his greatest collecting coup will occur there. “I’ve experienced English bookstores before, and I believe that a year is probably enough time to get through at least one or two of them.”

    Szatmari’s collection, “The Marriage of Philo and Sophia: Love and Knowledge in Medieval Islam and the European Renaissance,” primarily consists of books about Islamicate philosophy and history, Sufism and Renaissance hermetism. She describes her collection as a personal research library that holds both intellectual and visual beauty for her.

    “The seemingly unrelated topics, in fact, are linked because Islamicate (Muslim, Jewish, Byzantine) culture had a significant impact on the development of Renaissance philosophy,” said Szatmari. “I am especially interested in ideas about the relationship between love and knowledge and the role of love in ontological and epistemological theories, as well as ethical theories, which were an overlapping interest of these thinkers.”

    Szatmari’s love for her books is a typical sign of the avid collector, according to Schreyer, who noted that bibliophiles “often find themselves appreciating the books as physical objects, beyond their texts, to admire and cherish.”

    When he established a book-collection competition at Chicago in 1990, T. Kimball Brooker (A.M., ’89, Ph.D., ’96) hoped to encourage systematic book collectors to continue building a specific body of knowledge. “A lifetime avocation of book collecting can come back to the University, preserved for others,” said Brooker.

    Brooker won a similar competition as an undergraduate at Yale University for his collection of books from 16th-century Italy. As a graduate student in art history at Chicago, he expanded his collection to include architectural treatises published in the 16th century and books about the theory and practice of art. The collection is still growing.

    “What is an intellectually engaging and enjoyable hobby has serious aspects when you realize a book collection can add to a field of study or create new knowledge,” said Schreyer.

    She said a key factor in growing a collection is the hunt––a sense of sport with an ever-increasing pace. Most collectors search the secondhand book market, a strategy that has recently been transformed by the Internet. Collectors now have immediate access to online dealers and catalogues.

    “For all of the technology, there really isn’t anything that is a substitute for looking at the actual books,” said Schreyer. “It will take a few more years to see if the increased sophistication of the collections that we saw this year can be attributed to the expanded exposure to materials via the Web.”

    The Brooker selection committee included Schreyer; Trumpener; Sutter; Martha Feldman, Associate Professor in Music; and Peter White, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures.

    Representative titles from the winning collections are on display through the end of Spring Quarter in the first-floor lobby of Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St.