Archive for Friday, June 22, 2012

A passion that’s one for the books

Collectors’ love for amassing literature reflects life pursuits

June 22, 2012


Allie Alvis, a Kansas University student studying linguistics, won the Snyder Book Collection Contest this year for her extensive collection of books about language and an essay on the subject. Alivs is pictured with some of her books and her cat Tiny.

Allie Alvis, a Kansas University student studying linguistics, won the Snyder Book Collection Contest this year for her extensive collection of books about language and an essay on the subject. Alivs is pictured with some of her books and her cat Tiny.

The thing about collecting is that, sometimes, it starts accidentally with something small, like a book that piques your interest. Then you come to acquire another thing, and then another. And another. If you’re lucky, the possessions lead to a higher purpose.

In this way, Allie Alvis is lucky. She became $600-richer lucky in April when she won first place in the undergraduate division of Kansas University Libraries’ annual Snyder Book Collecting Contest for her annotated bibliography and essay detailing her collection of books about linguistics and why she loves language. But her real fortune, she says, is in the discovery she made through her accidental accumulation: what she wanted to do with her life.

Alvis was working in a Barnes and Noble, not certain she wanted to continue in retail without a college degree, but not certain what she’d do in college, either. She’d always liked books — “so much so, I ate one once,” she says with a laugh — but didn’t have one particularly arresting topic. But one day she picked up “Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way” by Bill Bryson, devoured it, became interested in linguistics and got her hands on every book about the topic she could.

It was through the increasing pile of books that she found her passions: book-collecting and linguistics, which she’ll graduate from Kansas University with a degree in next year. The two go hand-in-hand, she says, because she gets the “thrill of the hunt” in finding new books to add to her collection and then the thrill of learning its contents. Book collecting — that is, building a personal library suited to a particular personal interest — is the best kind of collecting, she says, because “there’s a sense of ownership of the book, but also of the knowledge within it.”

Alvis’ library focuses on “reverse-engineering the way people talk” but it’s not the only book collection that changed the way its owner viewed the world. Trent Boultinghouse, a senior from Girard, won second place in the contest’s undergraduate division for his curation of primary sources from his hometown — a special place in the history of printing words.

Girard was home to “Appeal to Reason,” a thriving socialist newspaper from the 1890s to 1920s. Boultinghouse’s essay, “Accessible Radicalism: The Subversive Printing Tradition of Girard, Kansas,” told the story through his collection of “blue books,” the leftist public-education pamphlets printed and distributed throughout Kansas during the period. His interest sparked in high school, when he learned his now-conservative town was once home to such radicalism.

“I really couldn’t believe that it existed,” he says. “I was enjoying a bit of teen rebellion of my own and had to know more.”

He, too, wove his pet interest into academic success, writing his honors history thesis on the town’s surprising history.

The contest division’s third-place winner, David Reiersgord, a senior from Edina, Minn., has a collection hailing from South Africa.

He studied abroad there and came to explore it further from back home through its literature, especially in books that relate to its apartheid history. Books there, he says, are expensive and sometimes hard to come by even today, but a culture’s collections are a way to understand it. And his reading has led him to believe cultures are a lot more connected than they may at first appear.

“Why I like reading so much is that it’s the easiest way to go there,” he says. “Opening up a book is like opening up a door and walking around a place and time — you can explore any point of view and find a whole new way of approaching our day-to-day lives.”


Patricia Davis 5 years, 9 months ago

I always go for the autodidacts—the ones who teach themselves. You can spot one by the light in the eyes, the passion in the voice, the intrepid curiosity. And, of course, a huge collection of books. Congrats to all who still believe in the power of books.

George_Braziller 5 years, 9 months ago

Allie - Get a copy of "Alpha to Omega: The Life and Times of the Greek Alphabet" by Alexander and Nicholas Humez if you can find one. I think it would be the perfect addition to your collection. The title makes it sound like a big snooze but it's really very fascinating.

Tyson Travis 5 years, 9 months ago

I collect books on WWII aviation, jazz and big bands, and my favorite, Architectural History, mostly books starting with "Lost..." like Lost Boston, Chicago, Euclid Ave in Cleveland, NYC, MSP, Houston, etc, which detail the missing Victorian treasures that were turned into parking lots before historic preservation became fashionable (unfortunately quite a bit of this happened in Lawrence.) I'll never get rid of them in my lifetime, but if I will them to a library, I'm afraid they'll wind up in the dollar book cart out front during a clearance. Enjoy them while you can!

George_Braziller 5 years, 9 months ago

Do you have "Lost London"? That one was my introduction to the "Lost..." ones.

I checked it out several time but now it seems that the public library must have "lost" it or disposed of it. Last time I looked there was no record they had it.

Tyson Travis 5 years, 8 months ago

Yep, got that, also Lost Europe, lost Frank Lloyd Wright, many others. You might try searching for that title in EBay, work your way down in the historical/nonfiction category. Be patient, I've bought most of mine on EBay, eventually your title will crop up. I bought 3 copies of Lost New Orleans, one for me, two for gifts. My favorites are the Lost New York, Chicago, and MSP. Use "Lost" as your search once you get into the category. I had to go to only once to get my book on Euclid Ave. mansions in Cleveland. Libraries are famous for selling seldom-circulated titles in clearance sales, I'd like to see my collection wind up intact where others could enjoy them someday.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 9 months ago

After being introduced to Patrick O'Brien, I bought all of the Aubrey/Maturin books and then fell in love with the ships and their arms. I now collect books that deal with British warships from 1796 to 1815. I want to become familiar with every inch of them, and know all abut the cannon they carried and how they worked. And, of course, I have Master and Commander and Evening With The Captain. A sextant, a ships bell, an hourglass, etc. etc.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.