AbeBooks was a proud sponsor of the National Book Collecting Contest for Young Canadians Under 30. The contest allows young Canadian book collectors to showcase their books. Any type of collection is welcome, provided it belongs to the entrant in its entirety.
Entrants were asked to submit a 1,500 to 2,000-word essay about their collection, describing important features such as binding, decoration, illustrations and key bibliographical aspects. The size or financial value of the collection was not a determining factor. Instead, the judging panel examined the focus of the collection, how it was put together and the manner in which the books were described.
There were three winners, to whom a first place, second and third place was awarded, who took home $1,000, $500, and $250 respectively. Our friends at the CBC and National Post also threw their weight behind the contest, which was administered by the W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation (DLF), the Bibliographical Society of Canada (BSC) and the Alcuin Society. The 2011-2012 winner was Samuel Jang, from Victoria, BC. The second place prize went to David Fernandez from Scarborough, whose essay, "The Imaginary of Books: Homosexualities, Images and Texts" is reproduced below for our readers. Saskatoon's Gideon Foley landed third prize.
“My briefcase is full of books
and this very night I expect them
to tell me things about myself I don’t know.”
The Imaginary of Books: Homosexualities, Images, and Texts is a collection of books about male homosexuality in contemporary literature, history, and theory from Latin America, North America, and Europe.
Book collectors act as archivists and librarians when they contribute to document, preserve, and make history visible as a result of their collection practices. The Imaginary of Books makes an effort to demonstrate how the development of the history of homosexuality in Latin America, North America, and Europe is intrinsically connected to books. For instance, the popularization of paperback books in the 1940’s sparked a culture of consumption of inexpensive, portable, and provocative editions of gay and lesbian works of literature among queer readers in North America and Europe. In the case of Latin America, the production of books with homosexual themes in the first half of the 20th century was determined by censorship, lack of support or interest, and discrimination. Since then, multiple literary voices have emerged from the silences of the past to speak about experiences of homosexuality in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico. The Imaginary of Books aims to represent these distinct episodes of homosexuality in literature, history, and in society by documenting, preserving, and including books that narrate stories from unique perspectives and by means of texts and images.
“We would all bring our notebooks
and write poems or chapters of our books,
and would have sex with armies of young men. T
he erotic and literary went hand in hand.”
I dream of first or early editions of literary works therefore I treasure the ones in my possession. In addition, I collect multiple copies of certain titles in order to compare variations between editions, to study the information contained in the paratexts, and to connect and analyze editorial practices from various regions of the world; for instance, I own over a dozen copies of the novel Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and my goal is to collect the existing translations and editions of this particular novel in order to conduct a critical study of their cover art. Several books in this collection embody the experiences of homosexuality of a single author, and many others represent a leading voice for homosexuals in the country of publication. My acquisition practices are both personal and meticulous; they respond to my individual preferences and instincts, as they are equally informed by a collective reading of homosexuality in literature, history, and theory as a result of my interaction with writers, booklover, collectors, and academic in the various disciplines.
I collect books for their bibliographical value, for their historical significance, and for the pleasure of discovering new readings in unexplored fictional and real territories. The Imaginary of Books presents a selection of previously banned books, rare editions, critical volumes of literary works, and it also pays attention to the production of upcoming authors, and award-winning titles in the field of sexual and diversity studies.
Reading books is an individual experience but collecting books requires an especial talent to succeed in the worlds of bibliophiles, avid readers, booksellers, and other collectors. I buy books from booksellers located in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and in the U.S. I constantly browse the bookshelves of Toronto’s bookstores seeking for treasures, and when I am abroad I visit the local bookshops before I go anywhere else. I also purchase books online on a regular basis, especially if I am looking for a particular edition of a book or trying to acquire the works of authors published outside North America. However, the practice of collecting books is more than just piling up or proudly displaying books on a shelve, and it requires more than following a rigorous method of selection and acquisition. I am a better collector because I share my passion for reading, for books, and for learning; I am the kind of book collector that makes people believe in the power of books to provoke social change. I am a better reader because I collect books; I have learned to read beyond the text since I consider other aspects of the book like the cover art, paratexts, and the transmission of the text.
“I cannot myself help but to see texts,
their distinct versions, their different physical modes,
and their comprehension in social context.”
D. F. McKenzie
The Imaginary of Books is a collection of modern books published from 1950 to the present in Latin America, North American, and Europe. The majority of books in the collection, consequently, are paperback editions in a variety of sizes: from traditional octavos and duodecimos to the A (4.33" x 7.01"), B (5.12" x 7.8"), and C (5.32" x 8.31") popular paperback formats.Besides the format, I based my bibliographic selection in the following criteria: I pay special attention to first or earlier editions in paperback formats since these often provide introductions, prologues, epilogues, text blurbs, and other valuable paratexts. In addition, I collect multiple copies of the same book in order to study its textual history, therefore, I do my best to obtain at least two copies of the same work: one copy from the author’s country of origin, and the rest can be international publications, critical volumes or anniversary editions. Lastly, I also select books based on their cover art because the images on the covers, bindings, or dust jackets enable other readings of the texts. The Imaginary of Books understands the queer culture behind the production of books of literature, history, and theory dealing with homosexuality since the collection focuses on the literary quality of the books, as well as in their relevance for the history of homosexuality, and the collection also considers bibliographical matters such as format, place and date of publication, and book covers.
The Imaginary of Books embraces not only texts but also diverse images of homosexuality visible in the design of the books. The collection invites the reader to see the images in the books as evidence of an imaginary of homosexuality in books, in other words, the collection is a visual and textual representation of a rising tradition of homosexuality in literature, history, and theory in several regions of the world. I collect books based on their covers because the images in the form of photographs, illustrations, paintings, and artistic designs direct our readings of the text. Besides, book covers reveal important aspects of the imaginary- or common values, symbols, and practices- of gays and lesbians in different periods and nations, while they also illustrate diverse perceptions of homosexuality in the social imaginary of the last century. The collection identifies books as visual objects capable of allowing other methods of readings, in other words, since “looking comes before reading”, one can argue that book covers are visual interpretations of the textual condition of books, as well as images of the historical, social, and cultural contexts surrounding the publication of books.
“Books should lie open to one another”.
The Imaginary of Books: Homosexualities, Images, and Texts is more than a book collection; I see it as a constant process of learning and self-discovery. The collection is rich and diverse since it looks at the subject of homosexuality through literary studies, history, textual scholarship, history of the book, sexual and diversity studies, and from other disciplines such as semiology, art, and cultural studies. I began collecting books about homosexuality in Latin American literature five years ago as a result of personal and academic interests in the subject. I hold a B.A in Latin American Studies from the University of Toronto, and I am currently in the graduate program at the Faculty of Information in Information Science, and Book History and Print Culture at the same academic institution.
I considered myself an avid reader when I started collecting books; every new book opened my eyes to new readings and to different views on the homosexual experience not only in Latin America but also in the rest of the world. Later I included books of North American and Europeans authors into my collection when I discovered references among writers from different literary traditions. In 2008, I received the Hoeniger Book Collection Prize for my proposal titled: Homosexualities at the Crossroads: A Latin American View on the Homosexual Experience as I gain knowledge of literary studies and became more aware of book collecting practices. The proposal presented a selection of forty titles that connected the texts of “a select group of Latin American writers with the works of writers from other regions and literary traditions.” This experience allowed me to travel to Cuba where I realized the importance of textual history for the development of a comprehensive collection of Latin American literature with gay and lesbian themes. I see myself now as collector who appreciates books for all they have to offer. I search for meanings in every aspect of the book as a way to experiment with novel approaches to understanding what books tell us. Books are my field of passion because I truly believe these objects have the power to ignite social change. I hope that one day my collection will be preserved as an example of the imaginary of homosexuality in books.