Collector Profile: Nina Soni collects Children’s Literature

Close your eyes and cast your memory back to you as a child, reading the book that roused your imagination the most. Which books from your childhood do you hold dear? For me it was C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series read umpteen times. The travels, adventures, empathies, the infinite possibilities a child can experience in the world of children’s literature can be life-changing. Nina Soni, a born and bred Londoner for the past 40 years, is a very successful corporate lawyer in the strange land of global banking. Not exactly the first place you would expect to find literary treasures for kids, but the place where they might do the most good perhaps!

MOLAM: Welcome Nina. Can you tell us how long you have been collecting children’s books and what motivated you to start collecting?

NS: I’ve been collecting for almost 20 years. I wanted to capture the immediacy of my childhood. My childhood were my halcyon days, I was very fortunate to live with grandparents (a grandfather with knowledge which had no boundaries, whom I listened to for hours on end and a ‘news junkie’ or in politer terms, passionate about news in terms of watching, listening and obviously reading!) I was surrounded by unconditional love and the thing that will live with me forever was that I was never refused, when I said I wanted to buy a book or any reading material for that matter. Buying the Sunday Times was never questioned even at the age of 10!

Thinking back which one do you consider your luckiest/happiest find?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, it’s the first book that was read to me in middle or infant school at the age of 5. Also, it was my first ‘collector’ purchase. The Alfred A. Knopf, 1964 US edition preceded the UK edition by 3 years. It’s octavo, original red cloth, with dust jacket and illustrated by Joseph Schindelman. It was £1,500 in 1992.

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the collection of Nina Soni

Do you have a collecting criteria that you stick to? Any titles that you covet?

First editions is a pre-requisite. Actually, I’m currently looking for a signed copy of Roald Dahl. (So readers, give us a shout if you see any on your travels!) I honestly do not have a list of books that I’d like to have, want or need, some in my collection are duplicates and some triplicates of the same title. Being envious is not in my character, so no coveting from me!

Which is your favourite and why?

I have read all of the books (in paperback form!) during childhood that now feature in my collection. My personal favourite is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. The story of the joys of childhood, a hark back to a simpler time with poignant and humorous moments which we can all identify with. My favourite line from the novel basically sums up the innocence of childhood (from Chapter 8): “The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time.”

Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer from the collection of Nina Soni

Anywhere in the world, what is your favourite place to find books?

Peter Harrington Books in London and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association catalogue. I’ve attended seminars at the Association to gain further knowledge and being a member does add a little more gravitas to my ability to buy from other ABA members or recommended establishments, but to be honest the pleasure in collecting titles is more personal for me.

Do you keep up with the market value of the titles in your collection? Any surprises for you there?

A couple of them I have to get valued annually for insurance purposes. Particularly Roald Dahl’s The Twits. It’s trebled in value as the illustrations were by Quentin Blake.

Roald Dahl’s The Twits from the collection of Nina Soni

How many books do you have now, and are you still actively collecting?

I have 30 titles/books in my collection and am actively collecting. I try and purchase twice a year, either at Christmas/New Year or in April, after my appraisal at work! Mainly because of indulgence, ‘my present to me’ and I buy after my review as then I can justify the expenditure at an appropriate time, again as a gesture of indulgence to myself! Hopefully one day I can give them all as a collection to someone who will appreciate and enjoy them as much as me.

Not many people know I collect books, my parents only found out a few years ago, and a few of my close friends know. Possibly a few more will now know after this article!