Bright Young Things: Zhenya Dzhavgova

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Zhenya Dzhavgova, proprietor of ZH Books in Fremont, California:

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

ZD: My entering the rare books business was a bit accidental. Where I am from people do not generally buy and collect antiquarian books--not because they do not love books, but because they do not have the means to enjoy books as objects of art. Seven years ago, when I came to the US, I was absolutely astonished to find out how easy it is to purchase literary items and build a collection. I have been fascinated with books from a very early age and I have always loved to read, so I had amassed quite a library, including many reference and foreign language books, when I  stumbled upon some very interesting and uncommon books and ephemera at an estate sale. I decided to try to sell them and ZH BOOKS was born.

NP: Where are you from originally and what brought you to the States?

ZD: I am originally from Bulgaria and I came to the US seven years ago. There were many reasons as to why I decided to emigrate. Incidentally, when I was on my way to the airport to get on a plane to San Francisco, I saw a graffiti scrawl on a building, which summed up my reasoning for leaving nicely: "I love my land, but I do not much like the country." In other words, I loved the people and the beauty of Bulgaria and I missed my family and friends, but there were no opportunities for young people there and life was very hard. I have built a new life for me here in the US, but I will always go back to visit and I will always be Bulgarian at heart.
NP: When did you open ZH BOOKS?

ZD: I established ZH BOOKS in August of 2010.

NP: What does ZH Books specialize in?

ZD: I specialize in antiquarian Eastern European literature and Slavic languages materials. Last year I started out dealing in more general inventory, although I had the notion of utilizing my language skills into a narrower specialty one day in the future. The turning point was this past summer in Colorado Springs, where I was fortunate enough to attend the esteemed Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar on a full ABAA scholarship. The faculty members agreed I had found my special niche in the bookselling world.

NP: Since you specialize in Slavic language books, what languages can you speak and read?

ZD: I read, write, and understand most Slavic languages including my native Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Ukrainian and so on.

NP: Do you source your books from Europe or from within the States?

ZD: I have been sourcing my books from venues and dealers here in the US, although I am planning a trip to Bulgaria to visit my family and to go on a few scouting rounds. In the meantime, I have been cataloging an amazing Slavic collection, which I got through a contact I made at the Colorado Seminar. He was also the person who encouraged me the most to pursue a career dealing in Eastern European literature. The books had belonged to a prominent university professor and author. The collection is comprised of impressive Soviet era humanities, linguistics, and children materials and I am very excited to be working with them.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

ZD: I love every aspect of my job. I enjoy the hunt and trepidation of finding a truly precious book. I admire my colleagues for their dedication to the profession. I am especially impressed by the willingness of renowned dealers to help and guide the new generation of booksellers. Last but not least, I can honestly say my job is not "just a job" but something I know and love doing.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book you've handled?

ZD: Years ago I found my great-grandfather's textbooks from the 1800s, piled on some rafters in a barn. Amazingly enough, they were in great condition. My parents still have them and I am happy to hold them, open them, and read them every time I go back home.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ZD: I have been collecting copies in different languages of Pippi Longstocking. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I taught myself to read on Pippi when I was 4 years old and there were times when I knew the whole book by heart. Since it has been translated into more than 70 languages and reprinted and reissued in countless editions I always find interesting additions to my collection.

NP: Any thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ZD: My impression is that the bookselling trends have been rapidly changing in the last few years. With print-on-demand and e-readers gone are the days when one could list any book and sell it in hours. On the other hand, there will always be people who enjoy the feel of old pages and polished calf bindings, so the book trade is here to stay. It might be that booksellers will focus even more intently on specializing and narrowing the scope of their inventories, in order to be competitive and adaptable to the demand for printed books.

NP: Tell us about your first catalog and how to get a copy:

ZD: Indeed, this interview coincided with the release of my very first catalog, which was out the door and in the mail a couple of days ago. It was entirely comprised of Slavic languages books and most of the items in it were from the professor's collection I mentioned earlier. The compiling and issuing of the catalog has been a very ambitious project and I am glad I have attempted and completed it. For anybody interested in receiving a copy, please contact me by phone at: (510) 395-1651 or by email at: and I will be happy to mail you one.