Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Nora Benedict who collects Argentine printing and publishing history. Nora recently won honorable mention in the Honey & Wax book collecting contest.
Where are you from / where do you live?
I'm originally from Pennsylvania, but am currently living in New Jersey.
What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers I focused on the relationship between literature and the plastic arts. An initial foray into printmaking during my early years in college led me to develop an interest in the book as a physical object, and I was fortunate to take several graduate courses on bibliography as well as a few Rare Book School classes to help fuel my research. Broadly speaking, my work centers on twentieth-century Latin American literature, descriptive bibliography, book history, and questions of access and maintenance surrounding both digital and print cultures.
I recently finished my Ph.D. in Spanish literature at the University of Virginia and started a job a few months ago as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University. In the CDH I'm working on building a database and creating a series of network analysis visualizations surrounding one specific publisher in Argentina: Victoria Ocampo. I also am working on a book that examine Borges's engagement with the physical form of the book through his varying jobs in the publishing industry and how each of these positions influenced not only his formation as a writer, but also the overarching shape of Argentine literary tradition.
Please introduce us to your book collection. What areas do you collect in?
The central theme that connects all of the various books in my collection is Argentine printing and publishing history. I started off by acquiring multiple editions of Jorge Luis Borges's Otras inquisiciones (Editorial Sur, 1952; Emecé Editores, 1960) for a specific project, then branched out to other works that he wrote as well as those that he edited, anthologized, translated, or prefaced. This subtle bifurcation has led me to focus on publishers' catalogues, printers' specimen books, and unique series and collections (some without any connection to my beloved Borges!). In recent months I've been inspired to collect all of the books produced by one particular Buenos Aires firm, the Editorial Sur, which might take me the next few decades.
Just about 150 books.
What was the first book you bought for your collection?
Jorge Luis Borges's Otras inquisiciones (Emecé Editores, 1960).
How about the most recent book?
George Santayana's Diálogos en limbo (Editorial Losada, 1941).
And your favorite book in your collection?
There is something special about each and every book in my collection, but I've become increasingly obsessed with my nearly complete run of the "Pajarita de papel" series produced by the Editorial Losada. Aside from the unusual grouping of authors in the collection, each volume has artsy endpapers, original illustrations, and unique type ornaments that make them stand out from anything else I've seen from contemporaneous publishers.
Best bargain you've found?
A while back I managed to track down a first edition of Borges's translation of Kafka's Metamorfosis (Editorial Losada, 1938) for just around $20 (USD)!
How about The One that Got Away?
When I was still very focused on all things Borges, many, many desirable books slipped through my fingers (mainly because I was operating on a limited, graduate-school budget). Now that I've turned my attention to focus on Argentine publishers and printers more broadly, I've suffered a lot less collector's heartbreak!
What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?
While acquiring a complete run of Borges's works is still high on my list of (long-term) priorities, I also have been in search of Emecé Editores' Catálogo general perpetuo (v. 3-7) for some time now.
Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?
From the perspective of a researcher-collector in Argentina, the Librería Alberto Casares in Buenos Aires holds a special place in my heart. Alberto was an immense help to me while I was researching for my dissertation, and he frequently let me sit and leaf through his own collection of publishers' catalogues and rare Borges gems. That said, there are an incredible number of uniquely impressive bookstores throughout Buenos Aires -- like El Ateneo and Eterna Cadencia -- that make it exceedingly difficult to pick just one. From the perspective of a collector in the States, Daedalus in Charlottesville, Virginia, is always a personal favorite.
What would you collect if you didn't collect books?
Matchbooks. My grandfather had a small collection of matchbooks from all of the places he visited throughout his life, and I always liked the idea of small mementos of one's travels.