Every great library starts with a single book. For Senior Assistant to the Provost Mark Maier, it was only a matter of time before one signed copy of poet Paul Mariani’s book grew into a 3,000 book collection.
When Maier studied English at Hillsdale, he frequented the visiting writer series run by Professor of English John Somerville. There, he met Mariani. Ever since, he has been hooked on the hunt for collectable books.
“I really enjoyed interacting with Mariani,” Maier said. “I started seeking out opportunities to get books signed by various people and I have never stopped since then.”
Signed first editions of novels are his particular area of interest, especially 20th and 21st century American literature.
“They’re the easiest to get,” Maier said. “If you’re collecting 18th century or earlier, you run into issues of not only cost but also condition. Also, part of the fun of collecting more contemporary stuff is anticipating which authors are going to be around for a long time.”
Maier tends to haunt bookstore aisles as well as attend author signings, but he is also part of a niche club run out of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi.
“It is really nerdy,” Maier said with a laugh. “It’s a signed first edition club. Each month, they send you a book. Typically, the books they choose are the sort of things I would seek out anyway.”
Through shopping around and the help of the club at Square Books, Maier’s collection has steadily grown. Some might even say it has grown too steadily.
“My wife would tell you I kind of have a problem,” Maier said.
His goal has always been to have 3,000 books in his collection, following the example of the eccentric 18th century writer Samuel Pepys. Maier has kept this number in mind as a sort of soft goal, but as his wife has noticed, he has surpassed even Pepys’ numbers.
“I’ve run into the place where I’m very much out of space, so I’m trying to cull the collection to make room for more,” Maier said.
Though some books will sadly have to leave his shelves, some are treasures that will not be parted with. Maier’s favorite author is Walker Percy, a 20th century southern gothic novelist.
“I have all of his books signed first editions except for his first two, “The Moviegoer” and “The Last Gentleman,” both of which are pretty expensive. I don’t know that it’s likely that I’ll ever get them.”
He also dreams to one day own a signed Flannery O’Connor novel. One of his very favorites in his collection is not particularly marketable but is very special to him.
“There is an author I really like named JF Powers. A few years back, when he died, his library was sold,” Maier said. “He had a first edition copy of an Evelyn Waugh novel, “Vile Bodies.” My wife somehow found the collection and bought me JF Powers’ copy of “Vile Bodies.” I love both authors and it is a nice way of connecting the two. It has a place of pride in my collection.”
Maier hopes his collection will be passed on as well. He told a story about an experience he had while working as a librarian.
“Ten or so years ago, I had somebody approach me to say their father had passed away and they needed to give away all his books to the library collection,” Maier said. “I realized at the time that I’ve been amassing this huge collection myself and this student had no interest in the books at all. It would break my heart if my children didn’t value these things the way I do.”
Maier has a sneaky plan to make them care, however. He often gets books signed in the name of one of his sons so they have to keep at least a portion of his collection.
“I’m hoping they’ll take a vested interest,” Maier said.