Sarah Goldstein has always been a lover of literature. Even as a child, it seemed apparent to everyone that books would be her life. So when the Atlanta local decided on a whim to major in film at Emory University, it sent shockwaves through her friends and family. “My high school AP lit teacher sent me a scathing email saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re throwing your life away majoring in film. You are an English major,’” Sarah recounts with a laugh.
Book Tours: Sarah Goldstein’s Collection
Much to the relief of her community, Sarah’s sojourn into film didn’t last long. After graduating, she worked briefly for the Atlanta Ballet. But while she loved the arts, she quickly realized she needed to find a career that better suited her passion for literature. “I went through this process of trying to find where my passion truly lies, and of course, it was with books. I didn’t want to work for Barnes and Noble, so something told me to look up rare booksellers. It was almost serendipitous.”
This search yielded Sonny Ideker, a local antiquarian bookseller. “There’s no other bookseller like Sonny in the Atlanta area. Nobody else has that kind of presence. There was no position open [online], and there was no application. I just sent him an email and he said ‘Come in tomorrow.’”
Sarah recalls the moment she first entered Sonny’s store. “It was like something out of Harry Potter. There are these giant shelves and it’s very twisty and turny.” She knew immediately she was home. “It was my dream job,” she says. Thankfully, Sonny agreed. That first day the pair spoke for two hours and he immediately hired her.
As their social media coordinator, Sarah gets to explore their collection and share it with the world. “I take these rare, 500-page volumes, and make them interesting to the modern reader,” she says. “Every day there’s a new book on my desk. We just sold a three-volume Dante set from the 1700s yesterday.”
Working at Sonny Ideker not only indulged Sarah’s love of literature but sparked a new passion for book collecting. “I’ve burnt a hole in my pocket working there. I was going through a box of books one day and found a first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay, who is my favorite poet of all time. I instantly purchased it and it’s sitting on my shelf now,” she says proudly. “I’ve also found rare editions of my main men, Thomas Hardy and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ivan Turgenev.”
Sarah received an Easton Press edition of The Great Gatsby as a Hanukkah gift and was off to the races. “From there I started collecting boutique publishers, art editions, or just ones with nice covers. Gatsby is probably a huge chunk of my collection. This whole wall behind me is Fitzgerald,” she says gesturing to the multiple rows of books sitting behind her. “I’ve read every single word the man has ever published and I think Gatsby is actually only the beginning of his brilliance, not the summit. You read This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night and he just gets better and better.”
“That’s how I started collecting classics, and I realized that I wanted other people to read [my books] but I didn’t want to lend my fancy copies. So I decided to have a lending copy, just a basic paperback, and I keep my fancy copies at home.” By separating books for reading and books for display, Sarah can indulge in her love for beautiful editions, while still having the tactile, messy reading experiences so many love. “My first copy of Madame Bovary is actually ripped in half, it isn’t a whole book anymore because I’ve read it, highlighted it, taken it to school, and on the train. I just can’t throw it out, it’s been loved too much.”
“I love old books and antique books, but I’ll collect any edition that appeals to me,” she says, pulling out an abridged version of Little Women with charming illustrations. “I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a certain edition, but I’ll also see little eye-catching cute ones and add that to the collection too. For me, books don’t need to be old, they don’t need to be expensive, they just need to appeal to me.”
One thing that is important for Sarah, however, is that she collects books she has actually read. “If I haven’t read the book I don’t believe in displaying it on the shelf. It’s a personal pride thing. When I want to read a book, I’ll pick up a copy, and if I like it, that’s when I start searching for other editions. For example, I love the French author Collete, and she wrote this great novella called Mitsou. It’s very hard to find in English, so I have my little English paperback, but I decided it wasn’t good enough for the shelf so I bought a beautiful German edition from the 1920s. My mother was like ‘Why are you buying a German book? What’s the point of owning this?’ The point is that it is a book I’ve read and loved. I would never buy a book that I haven’t read yet, but I’ll buy a book in a language I don’t speak,” she says with a laugh.
Only collecting books that she has already read does not mean that Sarah’s collection is fixed. Collecting is, after all, a verb. And a collection is a living, changing entity. “I keep a list in the notes app on my phone of what books I have and what new editions I want,” she says. “I’ve been searching for a solid year now for a really fancy edition of Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils. I have the paperback, but I need something else.”
For Sarah, this process of search and discovery is half the joy of collecting. “If it’s a book written in a foreign language, in this case, French, I’ll go to French dealers,” she says. “That’s how I find the rare editions that you’re not going to see in America. I love scouring the globe from my little chair trying to find what I want.”
Check back in for part 2 of Sarah Goldstein's Book Tour!