Going by the book

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 07:51 PM

Whitney Trettien stood behind a gigantic 1956 edition of “The Funk and Wagnalls New Practical Standard Dictionary” and the enormous 1939 edition of “Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary: A Library of Essential Knowledge.”

Trettien, a graduate student in English at Duke University, likes big books.

Not so much for the knowledge within them, but for, well, how big they are.

“When I was young, I just fell in love with big books,” Trettien said. “I know, in this era, they are dinosaurs, and so I’ve taken it upon myself to save them.”

When Trettien and her partner moved to Durham, she recalled, “we didn’t have any money or furniture.”

But she had the books.

“I used them as furniture or plant stands or wallpaper,” she said. “I’m happy to extend the lives of these dinosaurs any way I can.”

Trettien was one of 18 contestants Thursday displaying their idiosyncratic book collections at Duke’s biannual book collectors’ contest. This year’s Andrew T. Nadell contest in the lobby of Perkins Library offered cash prizes in both the undergraduate and graduate student divisions and an opportunity to compete in the national Collegiate Book Collecting Contest.

The contest brought out the somewhat predictable — Harry Potter and speculative fiction, or sci fi, collections — as well as the more esoteric.

It was easy to tell the collecting focus for Beth Sanchez, an MBA student in the Fuqua School of Business. Arrayed in front of her, among many similar items, were “The Epic Mickey" and "Creating Magic.”

“I’m not quite a total Disney geek,” Sanchez said. “I like to say I’m more a Disney aficionado.”

She began collecting Disney books and other memorabilia soon after she saw her first Disney movie, as a young child.

“The spark that started then just blossomed,” she said. Now, Sanchez compares herself to Belle, from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“She’s adventurous, loves her family and loves books,” Sanchez said. “And so do I.”

Ashley Young, a doctoral student in history, brought her collection of 19th century New Orleans cookbooks — as well as samples of cornbread made from two different recipes in the cookbooks.

“Food and these cookbooks are an important aspect of New Orleans culture,” said Young, who developed an interest in the books while working on her dissertation. “They’ve been left out of the national narrative, but they are essential to understanding cultural development in New Orleans and the South more generally.”

She showed off, with pride and passion, the 1902 edition of “The Picayune Creole Cook Book” and pointed out the differences between the first and second editions, and “how they tell us something about race, ethnicity and the role of women.”

“That’s why I find them all so fascinating,” she said.

Ryan Boone, an undergraduate political science and history major, called his collection “Wandering Sages: The Collection of an Aspiring Diplomat and Traveler.”

It included works by Henry Kissinger and tomes on “The Craft of Research and “The Future of Power,” as well as an enormous “National Geographic Atlas of the World” that would have fit comfortably into Trettien’s collection of big books.

“I like books because it’s good to know the latest ideas and what people have said before,” Boone explained. “It’s good to be able to reference great thinkers and be able to go back to them again and again.”

When Boone spent a semester in Cairo recently, he lugged many of his books with him.

“I like a bookshelf far from home,” he said. “It’s really comforting.”

Boone didn’t consider, instead of all the lugging, bringing a Kindle or another e-reader to Egypt. He doesn’t — he said with mock outrage — own a Kindle.

“I refuse to own one,” he said. “Nothing beats a book.”