October 2, 2017
And the award for Best Book Collection goes to…
by Stephanie DeLuca
Is there an award for “Best Award?” Because if so, the clear winner would be New York City’s Honey & Wax booksellers for their Book Collecting Prize, a brand-new, annual award of $1,000 recognizing an exceptional book collection curated by a young woman under the age of thirty.
The inaugural winner, as Rebecca Rego Barry reports over at Fine Books & Collections Magazine, is Jessica Kahan, a public librarian in Ohio, for her 300-copy collection “Romance Novels of the Jazz Age and Depression Eras,” all still in their original dust jackets.
Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, booksellers at Honey & Wax and the prize’s judges, praised Kahan for collecting “with an eye to creating a bibliography of fiction often dismissed as frivolous… We loved this collection’s breadth and depth. Kahan’s refusal to condescend to her subject helps us see how a genre famous for its rigid conventions bends to reflect the changing lives of American women.”
O’Donnell and Romney conceived of this award in order to encourage more young women to get involved in the art of book collecting and the rare book trade. When the famous collector Mary Hyde Eccles said that in order to collect a person must have resources, education, and freedom, she noted that “only a few women have had all three, but times are changing!” The existence of the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize signifies that this change has indeed been made, while also encouraging the growth and future of the book collecting world.
And they’ve made a feminist statement by choosing a collection of romance novels as their winner. Romance novels are often derided and mocked; sure, they can be problematic, but so can highbrow literary novels getting rave reviews from major media outlets. To be blunt, romance novels have been historically considered unimportant because they deal with women’s issues, showcasing the emotions and lives of women. “Real” readers and reviewers (aka white men) don’t care about that. Kahan’s collection not only compiles 300 books focusing on women, but is drawn from a period of history when women were not yet given agency over their own lives and bodies — in the US, they had only just won the right to vote. While it was still taboo to be seen in public kissing a man who wasn’t your betrothed, these books told stories about women falling in love and women having affairs, women getting jobs, women moving to the big city, and women finding their independence. This award preserves and legitimizes these books, while also recognizing Kahan for being super fucking cool.
If you’re looking to add some vintage romance novels to your life, Kahan blogs about them at her website thegoodbadbook. (*Adds to Bookmarks*)
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.