Three Win Prize For Book Collecting

Undergraduates honored for breadth, depth of personal libraries

Finals period is almost upon us, but some Harvard undergraduates won’t have to make the trek to Widener to find sources for their research papers.

Three undergraduates were recognized this week for the outstanding quality of their personal book collections, ranging in subject from Beat literature to standards of American etiquette.

Loren J. Bienvenu ’07 and Brian J. Distelberg ’05 tied for first place in the competition for this year’s Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting. Katherine G. Ward ’05 received third-place honors.

Distelberg’s collection was inspired by a paper he wrote in his junior year that led to an interest in Patrick Dennis (a pseudonym for Edward Everett Tanner III). His collection, titled “‘An Interesting Trio of Writers’: Books By and About Edward Everett Tanner III”, contains about 30 books.

As his interest in Tanner began to grow, Distelberg said, he decided to seek out as many of Tanner’s works as he could—even those that were out of print. “I realized that building as complete a collection of Tanner’s work as possible would be necessary in coming to an understanding of him,” Distelberg, who is also a Crimson editor, wrote in an e-mail.


After reading a substantial portion of Tanner’s work, Distelberg said he has come to regard this unique writer with great respect. “I think Tanner presents a really intriguing way to examine the complexities of popular culture and sexuality in the mid-twentieth century United States,” he wrote.

When asked for the one book from his collection that he would recommend to others, Distelberg replied “Little Me,” a satire of celebrity autobiographies. “It’s available in Widener,” he wrote. “And it has pictures.”

Bienvenu’s collection, “Shining Through the Ashes: A Collection of Beat Literature”, was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, which Bienvenu read in high school.

“Beat Generation books are often about crazy journeys, so I like to find books that are old and beat up, and have gone through crazy journeys themselves,” Bienvenu wrote in an e-mail.

Of the 40 books in his collection, Bienvenu said his personal favorite is Neal Cassady’s autobiography “The First Third”. But he recommended Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” to other readers. “I think it provides the best account of the San Francisco Renaissance,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But it was Ward who was inspired at the earliest age for the theme of her collection. Entitled “Women’s Spaces and Social Safety: American Etiquette and Lifestyle Manuals 1846-Present”, her collection began at age 12 when she was given an etiquette manual as a gift.

“I was incredibly drawn to [the manual],” Ward said, adding that she has continued building her collection ever since.

The Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting was established in 1976 by the Harvard Board of Overseers, and is awarded every spring.

A total of 16 students entered the competition this year.