Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book (Sean Manning – Editor, Ray Bradbury – Foreword)

Posted: December 18, 2010 in Book Reviews
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For an avid reader, the value of a good book can’t be priced.  That’s because a book provides an escape for its reader, acting as a portal to other worlds both real and imagined.  Books teach us about ourselves and enrich our lives through the adventures, misfortunes, and insights contained within them.  They have the ability to connect readers to one another—regardless of whether they ever meet—through a shared experience, despite the fact that reading (generally) is a solitary act.

As Anthony Doerr puts it in his essay about The Story and Its Writer, “We fall, we drift, we lose ourselves in other selves.”  Books are priceless because of the sentimental and associative values they have for us, both of which are intangible and can’t be sold at auction.

The essays that make up Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book insist that books in their physical, tangible form also contain a certain level of value that can’t be equaled by digital versions.  Contributors to this collection share stories about the associations they have with bound editions of books that have impacted their lives in one way or another.  These snapshot essays deliver more than a collective crusade for sustaining books printed on paper; they provide an intimate look of how books as irreplaceable objects have shaped these writers.

In the Foreword, Ray Bradbury reminisces about what lured him into reading Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe: it was the sheer size and heft of the book.  Had the massive tome not piqued his curiosity, Bradbury might not have unlocked the key to his own imagination. For Michael Ruhlman, The New Professional Chef, Fifth Edition changed the way he approaches all tasks he sets out to accomplish.  In his essay, he declares that the book “stands smack in the middle of the divide of who I was and who I am.”

Philipp Meyer reminds us that books stand the test of time.  In his own life, he credits the sight of stacked books his parents kept as the reason for reading the collection, the act of which ultimately resulted in his life-changing 180.  E-books, a Kindle, or a laptop, he says, never would have yielded those kinds of results.  Victoria Patterson’s sentiments on digital books run along the same lines: “On a screen, pages disappear.  For me, e-books are like ghosts of books.  They’re not here.”

Sarah Manguso is nostalgic for the book filled with wacky facts and weird pictures.  Her copy of Believe It or Not! gave her the sense of belonging to an exclusive club, a rite of passage reserved for those who made an effort to seek out bizarre knowledge.  Now, with the ease and accessibility of the internet, that exclusivity no longer exists; oddities are just a click away.

Julia Glass explores the connection between reader and story, while recalling her favorite childhood book.  She used the title of this book, Roar and More, in one of her own novels, and when the time came to get permission from the author, she realized that she couldn’t recall who wrote the book.  That’s because children don’t associate books with their authors; children go to books to read about their favorite characters, and in the case of picture books, to see those characters in action.

We put our books through hell, marking the margins in ink, dog-earring their pages in order to hold our spot, or—in Rabih Alameddine’s case—leaving a copy of The Carpetbaggers at his parent’s home in the mountains of Lebanon, which was bombed and looted during a time of civil war.  Sometimes, they return the gesture in various ways.

Shahriar Mandanipour writes about how his book collection, stowed away at a friend’s house, could have gotten them both killed during the Islamic Revolution; and Xu Xiaobin, who didn’t have the access to foreign titles in communist China, relates how alone and unloved she felt until Emily Dickinson’s work became available to her.  For the artist, Karen Green, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempl provided her comfort and companionship following the suicide of her husband, David Foster Wallace.

In one instance, a writer displays a moment of ambivalence toward the shift from print to digital.  While searching for an e-copy of Another Country—a book that has been, and still is, with him in every stage of his writing career—he was unable to find it in the electronic format.  “This makes me sad,” he says, “and extremely happy.”

Bound to Last isn’t meant to denounce or reject e-books completely; rather, this collection is a reminder—almost a rally—to book lovers from book lovers of books’ importance in printed form.  To hold a book in your hands, smell the must it gives off, see the worn binding, feel the page turn—these sensory perceptions can send you back to a pivotal moment in your life, in addition to transporting you into the world of a great story.  Books, in their digital form, can still give you that world, so long as they’re experienced and don’t get lost in the virtual shuffle.

Da Capo Press
October 26, 2010
$15.95

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