To the Former Owner of Andersonville

Dear Jack,

I recently obtained what was previously your copy of Andersonville. I just wanted to express how thankful I am that you (or your heir, perhaps) gave this book to The Book Cellar, where I added it to my stack of purchases. I have wanted to read Andersonville since high school when I first discovered Gone with the Wind. Although Mackinlay Kantor’s novel is much grittier than Gone with the Wind, it is likewise a Pulitzer-winning Civil War epic and therefore captured my interest as I imagine it did yours.

I dislike buying new prints and prefer used bookstores when possible, so my search for Andersonville spanned nearly a decade. At last, the bookseller at The Book Cellar (did you love this pun too?) presented me with my long-sought treasure: a beautiful, first edition copy. When I cracked it open to sniff its pages, I saw your name on the inside cover. As I read, I often wondered what you thought as you (who knows how many years before) read this book for the first time. Did you imagine Ira Claffey as I did? An agnostic bound by certain innate morals? Did you love Eben Dolliver best of all the prisoners? Like Eben, I live in Iowa and adore birds. Perhaps you felt more kinship with the Michigander characters. Did you cheer aloud when a certain two characters finally professed certain feelings? (I am very near to spoiling the romance!)

Overall, I was most impressed with Kantor’s nuanced consideration of justice. As is usual in accounts of the Civil War, there were good men from the North fighting evil in the South. But did you notice how this straightforward portrayal of good vs. evil was rare in the novel as a whole? So many Northerners were selfish, opportunistic, and as prejudiced as their Southern counterparts. And yet, deeply flawed as these men were, they fought for a unity and justice. Similarly, many of the Southern characters sought to live rightly and humanely from within an unjust system. It struck me to see just men living as faithfully as they could within a broken system and unjust men taking advantage of others even while fighting for equality. Isn’t that interesting? And relevant?

As I suspected it would be, Andersonville has become one of my favorite novels. This is a bold statement, as I have read and enjoyed and benefitted from so many great books. Did you feel the same and surrender it to a used bookstore only after you’d finished reading and, perhaps, living? Or did you not like it as I did? Did you yourself trade it in, happy to clear space on your shelves? I hope it was the former. It lends enchantment to reading to think that someone before you has traversed the same pages with equal fervor.

Yes, I believe you must have loved this book, and that the ghost of your enjoyment lingers in its yellowed pages. I am glad to have read your book and to have, through the story we both loved, enjoyed your imaginative company. Thank you.



One response to “To the Former Owner of Andersonville”

  1. […] I’ve been wanting to read this Civil War epic since high school, but was determined to find a vintage copy in a used bookstore. Finally, my hunt was rewarded. The Book Cellar in Grand Haven, Michigan had a beautiful copy and I eagerly dove in. Although nearly a thousand pages in length, I devoured this beautiful, grotesque, heart-wrenching novel in a weekend. I cannot recommend it highly enough, as shown my my post “To the Former Owner of Andersonville.” […]


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