You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

Jessica Jordan’s book collection is prizeworthy.

May 2022

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Photo of Jessica Jordan standing in front of a book shelf loaded with books

Photo: Max Adelman

Libraries are great, e-readers are convenient, but for Jessica Jordan, a doctoral student in English, nothing beats owning an old-fashioned book. Just about every chair and table in her apartment is weighed down by stacks of them.

“Books have that tactile, humane, personable effect as physical objects,” she says. “I’m susceptible to that.”

They’ve also made her something of a competitive juggernaut. Jordan, who estimates she has about 20,000 books, is the reigning champion of the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, the first Stanford student to be so honored.

Jordan’s NCBCC title recognized her collection of works by the illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon.

If you didn’t know such a competitive arena existed, neither did Jordan before 2017, when she saw a flier for Stanford’s own Wreden Prize for Collecting Books and Related Materials. Like many contests for young collectors, it rewards interesting curation and analysis rather than the amassing of rare and expensive books. Jordan entered a collection of 31 science-fiction advanced reading copies (pre-published copies typically sent to reviewers), along with an essay on their importance, and took second place and $1,000.

She followed with a series of top finishes in contests around the country. Her NCBCC title recognized her collection of works by the illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon, a trailblazing interracial couple whose art first caught Jordan’s eye when she was 10. The win came with a $2,500 check. Her Dillon collection has won other contests, including the 2018 Honey & Wax Prize for women collectors under 30, which has a $1,000 award. It also secured Jordan another Wreden Prize, with a $2,000 award. All those winnings could buy a lot of books. Or maybe pay for movers to haul them next year, when Jordan anticipates finishing her PhD.

Sam Scott is a senior writer at Stanford. Email him at

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