The first copy of To Kill A Mockingbird I bought for myself is a Random House Vintage Future Classics edition. I bought it from a bookshop in Hampstead, London where I was volunteering for four months in my gap year between high school and college. For one of the ice breakers at my organization, we were asked to put something in a box that was meaningful to us. Everyone knew that the book belonged to me.

So goes my general explanation when people ask me about To Kill A Mockingbird and its connection to my family: “Well, my dad wanted to name me Calpurnia and my sister Scout but my mom shot him down. It’s kind of a family thing.”

So USUALLY DOES NOT GO my general explanation: “Well, I was really bored in high school and complaining about not having things to read and my dad handed me this book and I loved it. I didn’t love it as much as I loved Catch-22, which he also handed me during a similar complaint, but I did love it. I didn’t start collecting until college though.”

So RARELY IF EVER goes my explanation, especially in explaining the collection, but here I am, explaining it to the world for the first time: “I was lonely in London, even though I was surrounded by amazing people, and I missed my family a lot so I bought it. And then I was lonely in college, even though I was surrounded by amazing people, and I missed my family a lot. When I found out that collecting books was a thing people did, I went out and bought two copies of To Kill A Mockingbird, like I could bring my family closer to me through collecting copies of a book that I associate with my family. Sometimes you get lonely and retail therapy helps. Sometimes retail therapy gets out of hand and then you win an award for it. And with the prize money you build a collection so big that you’re rarely lonely again, if only because having such a collection is a great icebreaker.”

and so on.

vintage future classics

2008. (Please forgive the quality — I’m still sorting out my camera.)


4 thoughts on “First.

  1. Camden, I totally understand how a book can and can’t be an anchor in a time of loss and alienation. I guess you can tell that I took refuge in the old books we worked with in 241, but at the time it would have been “unprofessional” of me to tell the class how much things seemed to be going wrong in the department. Now that I’m retired, I really should get back to those books again even if they cannot bring back all I lost when I stopped teaching. But life just keeps throwing change and loss at us, and Lee’s successful (to us!) attempt to recapture her own youth in a time of crisis is a great illustration of how the book can call back lost time for its author and for her readers. Bless your dad for having the good taste to send Heller and Lee to you when you were bored by life. They are fine company. I still love poor Major Major Major, whose dad might have named him “Drum” or “Sergeant,” but instead chose the fatal redundancy that led to his inevitable promotion and all the rest.


    1. I hope you do return to those books! I remember doing descriptive bibliographies for some of them before school started – it really gave me a bug for old books. I’m glad you understand what I mean. I have trouble putting to words what went through my mind when I started collecting (and why I continue to do so), so it’s good that you understand what I mean.

      I have to thank my dad for a lot of things, but To Kill A Mockingbird and Catch-22 are big ones! I don’t know what I’d have done in high school without Yossarian and company.


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