On Collections

Note: This is a cross-post from a prompt that caught my eye recently at the iAnthology, a small community of pretty committed National Writing Project teachers. In true Writing Project fashion, every week begins with a prompt open to all participants. This week’s Writing into the Week had to do with collections.

I have been feeling more compulsion to write a lot lately, more than normal. Some of it is even making it to online spaces.


When I was a kid my mother used to always declare, with a certain degree of ironic exasperation, that I collected collections. I suppose there was a grain of truth in that, although I am not sure how much complicity that she had in that observation.

As a child, I was very much into complete sets or series, action figures, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, trading cards, comic books, and more were to my liking. It was as if some advertising executive was thinking of me when the phrase “collect them all” was coined. I even remember trying to convince my parents to keep going to Burger King, just to get all of the Star Wars collectable glasses with each film release.

As I grew older, my tastes changed, but my urge to assemble sets did not. I still have a few sets from my youth, stored somewhere in boxes. All of my the toy cars are packed neatly into two of those carrying cases with the plastic mesh trays, with a slot for each car. I even have a few boxes of comic books, each individually packaged in a plastic sleeve with an acid-free cardboard backer.

I often wonder why I hang onto all of it, especially after having purged all kinds of stuff each time I have moved. Every once in a while, I still marvel at how much crap kind of naturally collects while I wasn’t paying very close attention.

Now while it might seem as though there still are a few collections of collections in my house, it really all comes down to books and music. I have a lot of books and CDs, too many really. My penchant for sets has never really ebbed, I guess. Amidst the overflowing shelves I have accumulated, are some revealing runs of musicians and authors.

There is every novel by Hemingway, from my post high school binge, between ages eighteen and nineteen, after I read The Sun Also Rises in a senior humanities class and fell in love with it. To this day A Farewell to Arms remains one of my favorite novels of all time. It is a book that so much affected me it took threats from my wife to ensure I would be present for the delivery of our first child. Of course, I am glad she insisted.

There is every CD that Paul Weller has ever made, another adolescent affair. Aren’t nearly all of our great musical love affairs sparked when we are our teens? The British Modfather has never really caught on Stateside, but he started banging out music as a nineteen year-old in 1977 with The Jam and has kept making music ever since. Last count that meant over 30 discs bought by this fan.

There is every novel written by Neil Gaiman, the cult fantasy writer, who I discovered in the aftermath of his Sandman success, despite vaguely recognizing the name. While that collection didn’t start until I was already well into adulthood, it still draws heavily on my young connection to the comic book genre, which where he made his name first. Of course, I have very slowly endeavored to go back and read those early Sandman stories in trade paperback, although I don’t have all of them just yet.

Then there is the many near sets that litter my house’s office space. They include runs from names that I have most but not quite every single title.

In music, these are the likes of Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, and Eric Clapton, just to name a few. My wife laments that we cannot ever simply shuffle my iPod on long trips because every third song is likely going to be a Weller, Earle, or Springsteen single.

Amongst the bookshelves, that now overflow into almost every room in the house, are mainly subject sets, including double-digit counts on soccer, teaching, and increasingly dated web development books. In fact, I also have so many theatre books form my undergraduate days that I would need to have an entire, exclusively devoted  shelf system if I wanted to display them all. This is on top of Narnia, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and more series that I look forward to rereading with my kids when they get a bit older.

By the way, my less-than-guiltless mother, who complained of the mess from all the collections, would later buy me a complete set of Star Wars figures when they were re-released with the second set of movies, all because she forced me to get rid of it all as a kid. This was when I was in my thirties. I still don’t even know where to put it all.

Interestingly, it all goes back to childhood and adolescence for me. It may have started with toy cars and Star Wars figures but it morphed into music and books. You can tell so much about people by what they collect. Perhaps, in writing this I am frightfully learning that I have never really grown up. Although I am not sure that’s true, it probably lets on more of a wistful need for nostalgia.

One revealing moment does still remain in my mind, however. I still vividly recall attending a party when I was in high school. It was a birthday party for a girl whose name has long vanished. She lived in a beautiful, large, old house with far more rooms than my parent’s tiny Cape Cod. Most amazing to me was the fact that this house had a library. I got lost in that library, away from the party, for most of the evening, staring at the leather-bound series of Great Books, as well as the hundreds of other titles packed on exquisite, cherry built-in shelves. There was even a small section of music, vinyl, cassettes, and an impressive number of CDs for all of their newness at the time. I was mesmerized by it all.

The nameless birthday girl, whose face eludes me too, found me in that room surrounded by all those books at one point. Before beckoning me back to the action, she commented, “Yeah, my dad reads a lot,” with a leaden heaviness emphasizing “a lot.” Literally, it was at that party, a prescient moment occurred. It was then that I thought, “I want to have library when I grow up,” and I began saving my books and music ever since. My grandest of collections was born right then.

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