Bright Young Collectors: Jessica Jordan

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Jessica Jordan of Palo Alto, California, who recently won the second annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for women collectors aged 30 and younger.

1. Where are you from / where do you live?

I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, and I currently live in Palo Alto, California.

2. What do you study at University?

In college I was a triple major in English, Theater, and Classical Civilization. After graduating (Wesleyan, Class of 2013), I worked a little bit in publishing and little bit in bookstores before applying to graduate school. I am now a PhD candidate in literature at Stanford University.

3. Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in?

This is a surprisingly hard question to answer! Thinking about it has made me realize I have a number of micro-collections in my library. Having run the gamut of book careers - each providing ample opportunity for nearly unrestricted book acquisition - I have a little bit of all kinds of things. I am always excited when I find interesting editions of books I've done academic work on, and working at a bookstore in the literary-rich greater Boston area allowed me to grow a fairly substantial collection of signed contemporary literature. My most cohesive areas of collecting are probably works related to artists Leo and Diane Dillon and editions of Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare.

4. How many books are in your collection?

I have right about 100 items in my Leo and Diane Dillon collection and 25 editions of Tales of Shakespeare.

5. What was the first book you bought for your collection?

I don't actually remember. My fascination with the Dillons began when I was very young, looking at their artwork on the covers of Wisechild by Monica Furlong and Sabriel by Garth Nix. It was only when I got older that I started learning more about them and began seeking out their work intentionally. My childhood copies are still part of my collection.

Examining different editions of Tales of Shakespeare began as a final project for a class. I wanted to examine how the Lambs' preface - which emphasizes that Tales should not replace reading the original Shakespearean plays and suggests the prosification might be particularly helpful for young girls - moved through time. Tales of Shakespeare has never been out of print for over two hundred years! I already had a few copies I had picked up because I thought the idea of rewriting Shakespeare was so odd, and have since added to my collection whenever I run across a copy.

6. How about the most recent book?

One of the fun things about collecting the work of Leo and Diane Dillon is that there is no bibliography to work from. They've illustrated everything from picture books to record sleeves to science fiction magazines - and there's no list, as far as I've been able to find. It turns collecting into a process of discovery. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Leo Dillon was an illustrator for Galaxy Science Fiction, but there is no list of issues that contain his work. The magazines themselves aren't that hard to find online - but you have to physically flip through them one at a time to see if there is any Dillon art in them, and finding them in person is more unusual! I just found seven issues at a book sale with art by Leo Dillon I'd never seen before - March 1957, August 1957, September 1957, October 1957, August 1959, October 1959, and February 1960. A real goldmine! The careers of Leo and Diane Dillon have spanned over fifty years, so it's really interesting to look at that early work.

I also recently found a fourth edition (in two volumes) of Tales From Shakespeare, from 1822. William Blake did the engravings for the first edition in 1807, and they were still using the same plates fifteen years later, which is pretty cool. The plates are unsigned, so many people don't realize that Blake did the illustrations.

7. And your favorite book in your collection?

I actually got the chance to meet Diane Dillon last summer at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. I was able to speak with her and get her to sign a few things, including her recent picture book, I Can Do Anything! Don't Tell Me I Can't (her first book since Leo's death in 2012). That was a really special experience.

8. Best bargain you've found?

I found a Dutch religious text from 1681 - De Waere Kercke Triumpherende Over De Valsche - last summer at a yard sale. It was in a box with some early twentieth century books; I think they were five for a dollar. I picked up a few things that looked interesting, not paying too close attention. I was studying for my qualifying exam, so this was mostly a short sojourn to take a break from my work. I didn't realize what it was until a few hours later, when I was airing the books out (I think they had been in someone's basement for a while). It had been rebound in cheap, unmarked black boards - I think everyone just assumed it was an old (but not that old!) Bible.

Is it cheating that that's not a Leo and Diane Dillon book? I also once found a copy copy of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears signed by them for .75.

9. How about The One that Got Away?

A few years ago, when it was revealed that J.K. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, I happened to find out the news pretty early, before a lot of people had heard about it. I did some quick online ordering and I have a first American edition of the book, but I didn't think to do a search for the UK edition. If I had, I could have gotten a first edition - perhaps even a signed copy, there were a few floating around - for list price. About twelve hours later I realized what I had done, but it was too late.

No Leo and Diane Dillon books or unusual editions of Tales of Shakespeare have ever escaped my grasp. Since my book collecting happens in the relatively low-rent spaces of thrift stores and library book sales, I don't usually second-guess my impulse to buy.

10. What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I don't think I have a Holy Grail. Maybe that's a good thing - once you'd found it, everything else might seem a bit anticlimactic.

11. Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I have two favorite bookstores - McKay's Used Books and CDs, which is my local book haunt in Knoxville, and Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I used to work.

12. What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

I can't really imagine a scenario in which I didn't collect books, but probably ephemera - old letters and things.