Inside the Chronicle: The Sand and the Sea

This series gives readers an inside look into the scholarly articles that grace the pages of the Princeton University Library Chronicle.

The following is excerpted from the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue; Volume LXXVIII, No. 1.

The Sand and the Sea: An Age of Sail Library in Rural New Mexico, by Samantha Yosim

This essay won First Prize in the Elmer Adler Undergraduate Book Collecting Prize for 2016. —Editor, PUL Chronicle

IN MY HOUSE, you can find any kind of book you want, assuming you know where to look. There are paperback novels in the short, deep bookcase in my sister’s room and collections of poetry, short stories, assorted memoirs, and some popular nonfiction in the upstairs hallway. In my parents’ bedroom, a shallow set of shelves holds detective novels and foreign fiction, some history, and even encyclopedias of gardening. The living room houses the religious books, unshelved in stacks around the fireplace. Every room hosts its own cohort of books, somehow thematically related: art books on one shelf and equine books on another, one corner for books we received as gifts and another for books my dad liked in college.

I was seven when we moved to New Mexico from the suburbs of Erie, Pennsylvania, and what the literary organization of our previous house was, I can hardly remember. In New Mexico, the books have remained in a state of flux; long after we ridded ourselves of the last cardboard box and crumpled ball of packing tape, the books remained unsettled, cycling from one room to another. All of Kurt Vonnegut collected for a few brief weeks in my sister’s room, then dispersed again into bookcases in a half dozen other places. Even the volumes of a used encyclopedia, bought on a whim, spread from room to room until reaching equilibrium. 

Capture of La Gloire, a French warship, by the British Royal Navy in 1795. Special Collections Department, Princeton University Library.

Our books don’t gather dust, literally or figuratively. When I was young, my own room was a shape-shifting mass of schoolbooks and paperbacks, library books and books I was borrowing from friends. Stephen King was stacked on Intro to Cartoon Drawing, the Harry Potter series interspersed with Insects of the Southwest and a modest collection of children’s books with surrealist illustrations. I have always liked my books alive and kicking, water-stained and dog-eared, with ticket-stub bookmarks tucked in their back pages and inscriptions inside their covers. When I love a book, I give it away.

And so it was almost by accident that I formed my first collection. It was the summer of 2003, and I had just turned ten. I saw the summer’s Disney blockbuster—the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean series—once, and then again and again until my allowance ran out. Like many ten-year-olds, I found the movie irresistible. Like few ten year- olds, I was transfixed not by the swashbuckling adventures of the charming protagonists, but by the depiction of the British Royal Navy.

Read more about the Elmer Adler Undergraduate Book Collecting Prize and how to apply. Winners' essays have the honor of representing Princeton University in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, organized by the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA).

About the Princeton University Library Chronicle
The Princeton University Library Chronicle is an interdisciplinary journal sponsored by the Friends of Princeton University Library since 1930. Its mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Library (PUL). The Chronicle welcomes submissions of articles relating to all facets of the collections. We also welcome articles relating to the history of the University and the Princeton region. The entire archives of the Chronicle (1939-) and its predecessor, Biblia (1930-1938), are available, open-access, full-text on JSTOR.

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Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications


Published February 28, 2022.