Genderqueer soprano birds? Oh my! : interviews with the winners of the Newton Book Collection Award

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Opera, birding, and lesbian and transgender identities: the three winners of this year’s A. Edward Newton Prize for the Best Student Book Collection represent a wide variety of ways in which students interact with books outside of the classroom. Their collections are currently being displayed in the lobby of McCabe.

Micaela Baranello ’07 won first prize for her collection “Opera: History, Performance, Theory (and Humor),” which she described as “a fairly broad selection of books about opera… it’s a medium which you can write about in a lot of different ways.” Her collection spans a wide range of periods and repertoires, although “Mozart is my favorite opera composer.” A stuffed Mozart and Wagner are included in her display cases, as well as ticket stubs and programs from the operas she has intended–look at the prices, because her ability to get opera on the cheap is something she’s proud of!

When asked about her favorite book, she said, “I have some really useful books that are reference books that I use a lot, but I like some of the historical things best because they’re the most fun to read.” Baranello particularly recommends “Great Operatic Disasters” and the “Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time” if you’re looking for an operatic laugh. She also likes “books about the production aspects of opera… I like looking at it as something that is staged.”

How has she acquired the thirty-odd books in her collection? Although the first book dates back to eighth grade, “the majority were acquired through my years of going to the Ithaca Book Sale… most of them I got used.”

Used book sales are crucial to building a book collection as a poor student, and Baranello will be that student for at least another few years. “I’m going to graduate school to study musicology, so I’m sure I’ll get many more books for my collection as textbooks… it’s possible I’ll have to read some of these as textbooks later on.” She particularly looks forward to expanding her selection of opera theory as she moves forward in her studies.

Second-place winner Bradford Taylor ’07 carries on a family tradition with his collection, “The Bird Watcher’s Way of Life.” In an e-mail, he wrote: “My whole family loves birds, my brother in particular. Whenever we travel we are sure to have our field guides in tow. I’m just carrying on a family obsession, I suppose.”

Many of his books have been gifts from his parents, and some of the older ones are actually family heirlooms. He’s also purchased many of his books at library book sales. One of his favorite books is the majestic 1878 first edition of the Jasper “The Birds of North America,” which he thinks was once used as an ornithology textbook. As he writes on the display label, “if this was indeed a textbook, then by the look of its cover one could imagine it as required reading at Hogwarts.” Another favorite has sentimental value: “the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America, which was given to me by my brother. It was the first field guide that belonged to me.”

Taylor explained that he generally gets chances to expand his collection when he travels. “I’m going to
Eastern Europe this summer, so I’m on the lookout for a good guide in English. Now that I can read French, I want to get some local guides for the Alps. When I was there last, I saw tons of beautiful guides.” He also hopes to acquire more old books, “since I just find them interesting to piece through now and again.

These two collections, in addition to a third-place collection of “Lesbian and Transgender Books,” will be displayed in McCabe through April 2nd, and the opening reception and associated talks will take place on March 28th at 4:15 in the McCabe reading room.

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