Where do you live?
I have lived in the great city of Knoxville, Tennessee for 10 years.
What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?
I studied counseling, theology, and literature while in college at Johnson University. Now I manage a long term living facility for adults with mental disabilities. I hope to eventually return to school to study either theology or literature.
Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in?
My collection focuses on ephemera and first editions of southern American authors and poets, primarily the first half of the 20th century. Because these authors are relatively recent and common, I often find them at local thrift shops. I love the writings of Flannery O’Connor, James Agee, Alex Haley, Robert Penn Warren, James Dickey, some of the Fugitive poets, other southern themed poetry from small presses or university presses, and of course Faulkner. I collect other writers as well who are more current, including Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, and Charles Frazier.
I often try to read critical works as well and so my collection also includes a large amount of authorial studies. Reading in this way has been a major help in realizing direction for the collection as a whole. Before my interest became honed to southern writers, I sought after the great modern American writers in first edition, and so I still hope to finish my Hemingway and Steinbeck collection.
How many books are in your collection?
It varies depending on trading and a continual need to free up bookshelf space, but currently I have about 200 in the southern lit collection with 9 various ephemera pieces. My entire first edition collection totals near 375.
What was the first book you bought for your collection?
I tried to read through Hemingway’s works in order of publication while in college. I came across a hardback of ‘Islands in the Stream’ at a local thrift shop and I learned later that it was in fact a first edition. That sparked my interest in serious collecting. The first piece I bought intentionally for the southern lit collection was a signed copy of ‘A Place To Come To,’ which now I have realize is very common, but at the time I thought I had discovered a national treasure.
How about the most recent book?
This week I found a signed numbered pre-released copy of ‘A Place To Come To,’ still in the original box, at a very reasonable price. Three weeks ago I purchased an uncorrected proof with some minor pencil notations and corrections of Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway (only chapter 8) which eventually became ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.’ Before that document, I added a signed Reynolds Price book called ‘Love and Work’ to the collection.
And your favorite book in your collection?
My parents gave me a fine copy of ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ when I first began collecting and it has remained special to me. The fly fishing and nature descriptions which highlight the book were some of my first favorite short stories and I find myself rereading them every few years.
Best bargain you’ve found?
Just like any rare book collector, I hold a hope of finding a rare book at a used bookstore which has been mislabeled. I once found a first edition of Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Violent Bear it Away’ in Good + condition for $8 in a store which has a reputation for being thoroughly picked through by collectors. It was a very beautiful copy which I later traded for my copy of ‘Death in the Afternoon.’ I also purchased a signed ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for $6 at another local used bookstore. I could hardly believe my luck.
How about The One that Got Away?
I was once offered to buy a Flannery O’Connor galley proof for a price that, at the time, seemed far too much for me to spend. It was one of those situations where I had to make a decision without research or price comparing and so I passed. After I returned home I looked up similar items online and realized the amazing opportunity I had just waved away then immediately reached out to the seller in email. I received an email back after two weeks of waiting which informed me that he had sold it minutes after I walked away!
What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?
This is a difficult question. My favorite of Faulkner’s works is ‘Light in August’ so a signed Fine/Fine copy would certainly be a treasure. I would argue it as one of the greatest American novels, and the artwork on the dust jacket is very striking. Shelby Foote called it Faulkner’s “greatest novel as novel,” and I would agree. I haven’t yet made the plunge into Twain, but there are certainly several books among his canon that I foresee hunting for a lifetime.
Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?
Knoxville does not have a stand alone rare book store and so I have to travel or shop online for anything specific. Nashville’s Yeoman’s in the Fork is a fun gallery for anyone passing through the area and I sometimes call them if I have a question. I have also made friends at conventions who sell online without a storefront and I contact them with inquiries.
What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?
Split cane fly rods have a long history with their own celebrities and dignitaries. I think it would be interesting to collect and preserve some of the work of those master craftsmen.