Clare Kemmerer (2nd-year Winner)
The Only Crush I Have is the Crushing Weight of My Sins (Love and Faith in Christian Literature)
I began my collection after moving to New York in the fall of 2016 to begin studying at the New School in New York City. By happy circumstance, my apartment was just down the street from East Village institution East Village Books, a small, hole-in-the-wall bookstore that became a central feature of my life some months later. Though my intention had been to study sociology, I took a first religion class – Saints and Sinners, focusing on martyrdom in the Early Christian and Medieval periods. I fell in love with religious studies, and my childhood love of medieval literature and language came flooding back. Always an avid buyer of books, I, finding myself alone in a new city, filled my time with trips to EVB, as well as to the famous Strand bookstore, to street-side sellers, and to other stores scattered through New York, eager to supplement my school books with other religion books – especially those geared toward my specific interests of book history and women in the medieval era.
Soon after my love affair with East Village Books began, I received some sad news – the Religion department at the New School was downsized, and I came to the realization that I needed to change universities if I wanted to pursue the subject I loved. Unfortunately, the downsizing of the university meant that one of my professors and closest friends was also leaving. I was lucky enough to attain much of my collection from his office, both as a commemoration of our friendship and a representation of the subject we both love. I spent the rest of my time in New York fleshing out my collection with a rapid-fire tour of bookstores around the city, and continued to build when I returned home to the Bay Area for the summer, where I was studying Ancient Greek at Berkeley. There, for a time, I was a regular at Moe’s Books and Half Price Books, while frequenting Kepler’s in Menlo Park and City Lights, Dog- Eared and Green Apple Books in San Francisco, as well as assorted smaller bookstores.
I began collecting texts about religion when I moved to New York in part because I had been removed from religious life for a long time – while I had studied classics and religion in secondary school some years before, my time in high school had been largely secular, and I used book collecting as a way to independently build my knowledge in my field, and, through reading said books, to help find my way in a field I was very new to. Texts that explored visual culture in the context of religion, including The Face of Jesus and The Book of Bibles, are among my most prized possessions, both for their physical beauty and their function as a representation of the intersections between two things I care about very much – the book as an art form and significance of visual culture to religion. For much the same reason, the ‘religious fiction’ portion of my collection – including The Power and The Glory and Silence – are valuable for their ability to offer a portal into religious worlds, as I believe that fiction acts as a tool of empathy that bridges religious and secular spaces.
The excerpt of my collection of religious texts that I have chosen to present for the Booker prize is intended to display the breadth of the religious thought and text that has profoundly influenced both my faith and my academic life in the past year. I chose love as a theme for the collection, beyond religion, because it is my love for accounts of the journeys of love and faith of others that has inspired me in my academic path, a path that, convoluted as it is, is best" told through my books. As my books represent something that I care about so deeply and have devoted such attention to these past years, I felt it only correct to theme the collection around that devotion, and to attempt to portray the diversity of ways in which religion has served as a medium of love through time.
When I finally came here to Chicago in the fall of this year, ready to resume my education in religious studies, my books came with me, at the time largely a collection of Greek language and early Latin texts. Browsing Myopic Books, Seminary Co-op, 57th Street Books, and Powell’s, as well as the Hyde Park book sale, I filled out the shelves of my new home with texts concerning medieval art and biblical studies. In the future, I hope to expand my collection especially of art books, those that reflect the visual culture of the histories my collection already represents. I would also like to expand my collection of religious texts further into religions outside the Abrahamic tradition."