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.
Ben Goossen ’13 won the A. Edward Newton Student Book Collection Competition for the fourth time this year with his collection “The Hobbit: A Journey from Tolkien to Us … And Back Again.” The exhibit of his winning collection is on display on the second floor of McCabe where it will remain until the end of May. Second place in the competition, which is the longest-running collegiate book collection competition in the nation, was awarded to Paul Cato ’14 for his collection, “Tales of American Royalty: An Exercise of American History.”
Ever since avid book collector A. Edward Newton established the competition in the 1930s, student book collectors have submitted collections of at least 25 books, handed in with one page essays and annotated bibliographies in the hopes of winning a cash prize.
“The essays are lovely. They really are personal and wonderful,” said Pamela Harris, head of references at McCabe Library. Harris is the coordinator of the competition and also serves on the committee of judges. She has been at Swarthmore for fifteen years, and while the competition received only one submission during her first year at the college, the judging committee has since received six to 18 each year.
The winning collections are chosen by a committee of students and faculty who carefully review the submissions. This year’s committee consisted of History Professor Bob Weinberg, past winner Joan Huang ’15, College Librarian Peggy Seidan, and Anna Goslan, technical service specialist for media and metadata.
“Some years there are hot debates in the committee. One year someone was convinced that a student had submitted textbooks and you aren’t supposed to submit a lot of textbooks. The student had taken classes at NYU [New York University]—and we even went and researched the syllabi of the NYU classes […] We take it very seriously,” Harris said, describing the committee’s deliberation process.
Harris has been present for the remarkable four year reign of Goossen, ever since his first year as winner of the competition. “When he was a freshman he said to me, can I apply every year? And I said, sure—if you have enough book collections,” she said. Evidently, Goossen did indeed. “He has four very distinct collections and the three for which he won first place are truly phenomenal and also very reflective of Ben as a person,” Harris said.
Goossen, who has been collecting books in some form or another since he was ten years old, came in third place in the competition as a freshman with “History of the Future: The Literary Evolution of Science Fiction.” As a sophomore, he won with a collection called “Art and Illustration: The Art of N.C. Wyeth,” the very first collection he had ever created. The next year, he put together a very personal submission, “Faith and Family through Four Centuries: Books of Mennonite History.” Finally, in his senior year, Goossen submitted an entire collection based upon his favorite book, which is also the first book he ever read: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.
“I first heard The Hobbit when I was seven years old and it has been my favorite book ever since then. I read it every year. I have a pretty special connection to Tolkien’s world,” Goossen said. His collection is divided into four subcategories: Editions and Translations, Commentary and Scholarship, Art and Illustration, and Related Works.
Included in his collection is a series of Goossen’s own illustrations that will one day represent every scene in the novel. “The idea is that eventually I will finish illustrating The Hobbit. I have done the first 12 chapters. It is about three illustrations per chapter and I’ve done about thirty or forty.” On display along with a sampling of his drawings is the embossed cover Goossen purchased in Morocco that will adorn the illustrated copy of The Hobbit he hopes to produce himself.
The Newton competition has changed how Goossen approaches book collections, even though he is already a natural book collector. “What’s cool about a collection to me is that it isn’t particularly focused—there is a theme, but it spirals in all directions. It leads to all sorts of interesting paths,” he said. “The guidelines suggest that you subdivide your collection into different subcategories which makes you think about how different books explore the topic from different directions.”
As Goossen’s career at Swarthmore comes to a close, so does his experience with the Newton competition. “I’ve really enjoyed it and it has been wonderful to work with all the librarians who set it up and the other winners who have done it in past years. Talking about all my collections with my roommate Chris Geissler [’13] has been particularly wonderful, and he was a winner in the past,” he said.
For Paul Cato, this year’s second place winner, the competition brought to light the possibility that his love since childhood of collecting books could be a serious pursuit. “Before I came to Swarthmore and first entered the competition, I had never considered my tendency to buy books any sort of hobby and I had never considered myself a collector. I simply liked buying books. [The Newton competition] helped me realize that this was more than just a spending habit and that book collecting truly was a hobby of mine,” he said.
Cato’s collection on the Kennedy family is divided into Myth, Memory, Narrative, and Artifact. “I’ve been collecting books on the Kennedys since age seven when my dad gave me a copy of a book from his childhood on JFK’s World War II heroics,” Cato wrote in an email. “My collection began to take shape after a visit to the JFK Presidential library when I was in high school.”
Cato continues to work on what he describes as “a collection of books related to colonialism, specifically Colonial Africa. I intend to add to this collection over the Summer and the Fall and will probably submit a new entry to the Newton competition next year,” he said.