Jan Craig Nelson doesn’t have much time to read these days. As a child support magistrate for Redwood and 10 neighboring counties, he spends a lot of time out on the road and in the office.
But when he gets the chance to read, he’s got the books to do it with.
Spread out in his home and old downtown law office, he’s got over 100 leather-bound books, “the vast majority of which I’ve not yet read,” he said last week.
In high school in the late 1960s, Nelson didn’t have much time for reading — a farm boy, he was too busy doing chores.
Nelson’s interest in leather-bound books began in 1982, when he was the Redwood County Attorney.
“I had an interest in the presidency as an institution,” he said.
Although it started with the presidents, Nelson’s interest grew toward the books themselves. Why leather bound books?
“I’ve always been interested in the workmanship and quality,” he said. “They’ll last hundreds of years.
“A cheap paperback conveys the same words. It’s something you can read and gain knowledge from, but it’s not something you can save and pass on at some point.”
Because the goal is finding books that will last, Nelson looks for classic words that have stood the test of time.
Among his works of fiction are “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Moby Dick”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, “Ulysses”, and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
Non-fiction includes books about wildlife, law, and card games.
A subsection of Nelson’s collection is a series of books by or about every U.S. president. He recently got his collection to the point where he only needs an Obama book to be complete.
Nelson’s personal politics have nothing to do with which presidents he collects. He’s got both parties represented.
One of Nelson’s newest acquisitions is a autographed copy of “An American Life” by Ronald Reagan, part of a limited edition created for Reagan’s presidential library.
“To have that book, signed in a special edition, is probably one of my greatest treasures,” Nelson said.
(Reagan is also the only president Nelson’s seen in real life. In1980, when Reagan was running for president, Nelson accidentally stumbled across a Reagan fundraiser while looking for a car show at the St. Paul Civic Center. Nelson poked his head in out of curiosity.)
Nelson also has two autographed books by Jimmy Carter, and others by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Among Nelson’s other autographed books are those by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest.
Page 2 of 2 - In recent years, Nelson’s slowed down the collecting.
“I have enough reading material at this point, but if the right book came along....”
“Not a lot of companies still make leather-bound books,” he said. “The competition today is with ebooks and paperbacks. The knowledge is in the words, and can be acquired electronically, but there’s still nothing like holding a leather-bound volume in your hand.”