In honor of National Library Week we’ve been asking people to tell us what resides in their personal libraries. Here, Porter Meadors tells us a little about his favorite authors and why he collects books.
My life as a bibliophile began with a single novel. I think most readers will discover, at some point, a certain book that resonates with them in a way that is inexplicable. In my case, this book was Pat Conroy’s novel The Prince of Tides, which I read in 10th grade. In addition to being a great story, the book shaped my perspective of what a novel could convey and the various ways it could succeed, from its textured characters to the deft touch of Conroy’s language. Oddly, for its many singular gifts, the novel seemed to me greater than its constituent parts and left me wondering how it could be as good as it seemed. When I put the book down, I read Conroy’s other books to see how each one informed my understanding and appreciation of his collected works. At the same time, I read essays Conroy had written in various magazines, interviews he had given and even introductions he wrote for other books like Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River. In spite of my efforts, I was still unable to pinpoint what made me love the book so much, but knowing that there were other great books out there, I kept reading.
After Conroy, I repeated the process with other authors, and I can trace, even over twelve years, the course that my interests followed in the names of the authors whose books line my bookshelf. Next in succession was Robert Penn Warren, whose All the King’s Men still ranks among my favorite books of all-time and is matched, among Warren’s other works, only by his poetry. Then came Thomas Wolfe, who seems to me still the most committed of American modernist writers- well deserving of Faulkner’s claim that he was the greatest among the American novelists of the 1920s and 30s. Then came Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, David Foster Wallace, Leslie Marmon Silko and Cormac McCarthy, all authors of works so different that the only common thread they share is my appreciation for them. When I began collecting rare editions of these authors’ books as an eighteen year old, it was out of a search for something tangible to embody the ideas and characters that each book contained. An inscribed book could attest to the authenticity of a writer’s creation like a letter signed by its sender. A first edition, by contrast, represented the literal birth of a particular character or idea, carrying special significance in instances where a book was challenged in its early printings by censorship or the initial lack of interest from the populace. When the question arises, whether at Bauman Rare Books on Madison Avenue, at Books & Books in Miami or at Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, ‘what type of books do you collect?,’ I can only respond by saying that I am drawn to the books that I love by the writers I love, and I think my bookshelf is a reflection of that collecting philosophy.
In the ever-growing collection of rare books that resides in a special bookcase in my living room, there is a condensed personal history of the characters and ideas I have known through reading. There are books that serve as symbols for a certain time and place in my life, such as the first edition of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which I had Wolfe sign for me following a lecture in Lee Chapel during my junior year at Washington and Lee. There are also books that serve as significant milestones for the authors whose works I most admire, like the first edition of Pat Conroy’s debut novel The Boo, signed by both Conroy and the book’s subject, a now-dead colonel from the Citadel. In looking at my library as a whole, I see in retrospect how my appreciation for a novel is often shaped not only by the words on the page but also by the frame of reference that I bring to it as a reader. When I look at a shelf of books, I am both reminded of all the people and places I have met and been transformed by in reading, and at the same time excited by all the places that I might go in the books yet to be read, and the things I might learn along the way.