Driving up Route 9 in southern New Jersey earlier this summer, I stopped at an antique shop, which I do every time I see one. Amid the old china and scarred furniture, a book cover featuring a broad gray porch with tall columns caught my attention. I love porches, as you can tell from the photograph on the home page of this website. To me, porches are the quintessential living space. They offer a nook of privacy in the vast outdoors and yet are open, as if to invite in the rest of the world. While similar in that they are attached to houses, they can be different from each other in every other way and are as distinctive as the personalities of the people who occupy them.
The book I found in the antique shop, appropriately entitled The Front Porch, is a collection of photographs showing a variety of porches from Victorian verandas to rustic and country structures. The author, Ann Rooney Heuer, says porches originated in ancient Greece, but have functions that are even more important today. Energy conservation, for example. Porches, particularly those with awnings, keep the sun’s rays out of the house and lower air-conditioning use in the summer. They also tend to pull people away from the televisions, computer screens, and electronic devices that occupy so much of our time.
In my opinion, a porch’s most important function is bringing people together. When the weather is right, everybody from the oldest grandma to the youngest child wants to be on the porch. And they all manage to stay there together. A close second in importance, however, is curb appeal. Any house looks better with a porch on the front. Put me on any street, and the house that I’ll immediately be attracted to is the one with a porch. That space, whether small or large, is an open invitation to come in and sit a spell. Good manners dictate you must be invited to go inside somebody’s house, but you can stroll up on a porch where somebody is sitting anytime.
Since I’m an avid reader and writer, thinking about front porches makes me think about beginnings of books. After all, it’s really the same principle. Whether it’s built of sentences or boards, it’s the first thing you see. Maybe instead of curb appeal, with books it’s aisle appeal or table appeal. Will the first paragraphs people read make them want to read the whole book? Like porches, beginnings can be different—funny, sad, mysterious, provocative—but the good ones are all inviting. They make you want to come in and sit a spell. What’s your favorite kind of porch and your favorite book beginning?