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image: Class Notes headlineAlumni Readers - The Magazine checks in with past winners of the annual T. Kimball Brooker Prize for undergraduate book collecting

Robert ("BOB!!") Williams, AB'94, U.S. Highways

During childhood long-distance car trips with his family, Robert ("BOB!!") Williams, AB'94, took an interest in stretches of winding roads. After discovering H. G. Alsberg's The American Guide, Michael Wallis's Route 66: The Mother Road, and the Federal Writers' Project guides, Williams became a lifelong collector.

"My favorite book is a first edition of the Federal Writers' Project South Dakota Guide, which I acquired during my third year at the U of C. There were only 2,500 copies printed, and many of those are in libraries, which makes them extremely difficult to come by.

"One of the people at O'Gara and Wilson [a Hyde Park bookstore] was aware of my collection and made it a point to mention to me when the new Writers' Project books came in. One afternoon, I stopped by on my way back to Stony Island, and he informed me that they had gotten a copy of the South Dakota Guide. My eyes lit up when he said it was a first edition. I asked him to hold it for me, despite having just spent the last of my most recent GI Bill check.

"I called my mother and begged her to buy it for me as an early birthday present-very early, given that it was January and my birthday is in August. After talking it over with my father, she agreed and sent me a check. Luckily O'Gara's was willing to hold the book for a bit longer than usual."

William Frohnhoefer, AB'93, Catholic Literature with a Special Emphasis on English Converts

Book collecting exceeds aesthetics and the satisfaction of owning first editions for William Frohnhoefer, AB'93, whose Catholic literature library indulges his intellectual interests while strengthening his spiritual beliefs.

"I was raised a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools exclusively until I arrived at the University. Some of my most deeply held beliefs were challenged by Chicago's academic and social environment, and I found that I didn't always have the resources to confront those challenges.

"I became a voracious reader of Catholic theology, philosophy, and ethics, which helped me learn a great deal about my faith and culture. The impact my collection had on me as a student was enormous: St. Thomas Aquinas and Hanna H. Gray were my two favorite professors at Chicago. I owe them both a debt of gratitude for showing me how to hone my critical faculty by seeking out and applying a rigorous logic founded on first principles.

"My bibliophilia is probably incurable. The latest addition to my library is a French/Latin edition of Descartes's Meditations Metaphysiques-I'm still trapped in my Hum[anities] sequence. My favorite book is a five-volume set of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae in the definitive Latin Language Pontifical Academy edition.

"The learning I gleaned from my collection has also stood me in good stead as a person, enhancing my Catholic faith and moving it from an emotional and inchoate level to one of firm intellectual conviction-a conviction which I hope has made me into a better person."

Heather Stettler, AB'92, PhD'98, The History of Paleoanthropology and Archeology

During her undergraduate years at the U of C, Heather Stettler, AB'92, AM'95, PhD'98, took a broad range of courses in anthropology and became interested in the historical and theoretical development of prehistoric anthropology and archaeology.

"The development of my book collection followed directly from my selection of a major. Reading the work of those who helped to create a field of study helps one to understand later developments in method and theory. When writing a dissertation, it is a great pleasure-and time-saver-to have major sources right at hand.

"My favorite book is Treasures of Prehistoric Art by Andre Leroi-Hourhan. It evokes an archaic-and now defunct-approach to the interpretation of Paleolithic art. The latest addition to my collection is Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Western Asia, edited by Takeru Akazawa, Kenichi Aoiki, and Ofer Bar-Yosef.

"Some of the pleasure in owning the books dissipates every time I pack them up to move to a different place. I still have my primary collection, which has survived several serious attempts to cull it. I may begin collecting again when I have settled in one place."

Benjamin Lord, AB'97, Abstract Expressionism

As a general studies in the humanities concentrator, Benjamin Lord, AB'97, painted images that explored the "fault line" between abstraction and figurative art. He inevitably learned about the New York School of abstract expressionists and collected books along the way.

"People don't know what to do with abstract art. After almost 100 years of self-consciously abstract art, the political meaning of abstraction is still highly ambiguous. But I believe the possibilities are still very rich.

"I like the first monograph on Willem de Kooning by Thomas Hess, published in 1959. The reproductions are awful, but it includes many fabulous, quirky, early drawings not shown anywhere else. The text is a jewel of '50s-style art writing-informed but not arcane-from a time when authenticity of expression was still a subject for argument.

"I'm looking at different artists right now-not the abstract expressionists-but still buying books. For Christmas from mom I got a gorgeous new Caspar David Friedrich monograph in German, and I recently bought a book of photographs by Joe Deal that focus on the evolving southern California landscape."

Elda Stanco, AB'98, The New Latin-American Narrative

After her most recent move, Elda Stanco, AB'98, spent two days in bed, sore from lugging all her books, including her Latin-American literature collection. The books are worth the trouble, she says, because they reward her with nostalgia and a deeper understanding of her identity.

"I was born and raised in Venezuela, thus my love of the Spanish language and my interest in stories of the country I was from. I studied in American schools in Venezuela since age 3, so I was exposed solely to children's literature from the U.S. for many years. When I rediscovered Latin American short stories in grade school, they were like finding a treasure. Finally, stories that related to those my grandparents and parents told me!

"My favorite book is a copy of Pablo Neruda's 20 Poemas de Amor y una Cancion Desesperada [20 Poems of Love and a Song of Despair]. My mother used it in high school, and it has her handwriting-especially her name-all over. Looking at these pages brings back memories of my mother and her stories from her youth. She had kept it for herself for many years but gave it to me when I told her I was going to study literature.

"I have learned so much through my books and from the people I've shared them with. I can never forget the classes of my favorite U of C professor [Patrick O'Connor]-every time I see a book I read with him, it brings a great smile to my face. Certain books go with certain stages of my life. If I were to map out my life, I'd probably have a book to go with every important stage."

Katharine Olson, AB'99, Cymru am byth: The Language, Literature, and History of Wales

In her essay for the 1999 Brooker Prize, Katharine Olson, AB'99, recalled how a Welsh legend of a young boy traveling in the misty mountains of North Wales preoccupied her 11-year-old mind. The book, The Grey King by Susan Coopers, inspired her love-and her collection-of Celtic fairy tales and stories. Olson continues to quench her thirst for Welsh literature, history, and language today on a full scholarship to Harvard University's Department of Celtic Languages and Literature.

"My fondest memory is from the summer I visited Wales during a two-month intensive Welsh program at the University of Wales, Lampeter. By the second day, I had already made the rounds of all the town bookstores. I walked into a used bookstore auspiciously named Cambrensia Books. I asked the sales clerk if she had any books on or in Middle Welsh. An elderly woman sitting on a stool beside the clerk quashed whatever the clerk's reply might have been and asked me where I was from, if I was interested in Welsh history, if I spoke the language, all in one breath. In the hour and a half that followed, I stood spellbound as she told me local history, stories of shipwrecks, princes, the Drowned Land, the Tylwuth Teg (Welsh fairies), and countless other tales.

"I recommend John Davies's History of Wales most often-it is the best general introduction to Welsh history-and The Mabinogion, the main collection of medieval Welsh legends and prose tales. Nora Chadwick's The Celts is still the best basic book on the Celts out there. My favorite is either my battered yet reliable first copy of the Gwyn Jones translation of The Mabinogion; W. J. Thomas's Cambrensia, which the woman at the bookstore gave me, or the hard-to-find edition of the medieval Welsh historical chronicle Brut y Tywysogion [The Chronicle of the Princes].

"These books influence not only my choice of academic major at the U of C-history-but also my career path. I decided to pursue more advanced studies in Celtic and medieval history, to 'follow my bliss,' as Joseph Campbell once said, rather than always wondering, What if?"

Isabel Cole, AB'95, Fairytales and Folklore

Whether Isabel Cole, AB'95, is translating reports for German companies or penning original works of fantasy and science fiction, her fairy-tale and folklore collection continues to influence her worldview. Most "handed-down stories," says Cole, who makes her home in Berlin, are really "anonymous" translations.

"Fairy tales are ideal for collecting. They all resemble each other in some way, but they're different, and they lend themselves to opulent illustration. I developed an interest in fairy tales because of the collections edited by Andrew Lang, a 19th-century Scottish ethnologist and folklorist whose work was reprinted by Dover Books. They have wonderful Art Nouveau illustrations and a fascinating range of stories from different cultures-probably somewhat bowdlerized but never dull. I was given The Violet, Olive, and Brown Fairy Books as a child and read them dozens of times.

"Here in Germany fairy tales and folklore are taken very seriously. You can find books of local folklore wherever you travel, and a lot of exhaustive East German collections of folklore are floating around for bargain prices. The former Eastern Block countries were big on folklore as the literature of the common man-a means of understanding between the peoples. There's a place in Berlin where you can buy books by the kilogram for six DM or about $3-my boyfriend gets 'fresh books' there every Wednesday.

"The most recent addition to my collection was a book of ghost stories from Bacharach. On the scholarly side, I would recommend Jakob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, a matchless treasure trove of folklore, etymology, spells, superstitions, and natural healing methods.

"When I'm tired of being intellectual, I read cookbooks. Which, yes, I also collect." -B.C. and Anne Szustek


  > > Volume 93, Number 3

  > >
Battle of THE books
  > >
Search for meanings
  > > Anatomy of a text
  > > Publish and flourish
  > > Page-turners
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College Report

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  > > Editor's Notes

  > > Letters
  > > Chicagophile



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