Monday, December 06, 2010

Bound to Last

At the risk of offending some, let me begin by saying that a multitude of readers question whether an e-book can really be called a book at all.  In the minds of avid readers, those who simply have to read a certain number of pages every day in order to feel whole, e-books are little more than electronic files stashed somewhere on the drives of those little e-reading gadgets they carry when traveling.  And they only use those gadgets because they cannot figure out how to carry comfortably a dozen books while on the road.  They know e-books are a poor substitute for the real thing, but e-books, after all, do beat back pain.

If you recognize yourself in any of what I have said so far, you really need to get your hands on Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book.  This little volume, edited by Sean Manning, explains precisely why e-books can never compare to the real thing.  All of us, I suspect, have one or two favorite books on our shelves, books that we are as much emotionally attached to as anything else we own.  But, think about that for a second.  One’s favorite books, the ones carried around during a lifetime of relocations, are not necessarily favorites because of what is between their covers.  They are just as likely to be favorites because of all the memories attached to their acquisition, or where they were first read, or what family member owned them first, or because they were a gift from a favorite teacher, relative, or long lost friend.  As the back cover of Bound to Last puts it, we love this kind of book “because of its significance as a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable object.”

Following Ray Bradbury’s foreword and Sean Manning’s introduction, thirty diverse writers share their feelings about the one book in their lives they most cherish.  The actual book choices range all the way from The Bible to The Carpetbaggers, with stops along the way to hear about emotional bonding with copies of many of the classics, favorite children’s books, anthologies, a biography, modern novels, and even one cookbook.  Remember, it is not necessarily their contents that make these books so special to their owners.

For Philipp Meyer, author of one of my favorite recent novels, American Rust, that book is For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Meyer, a high school dropout, was fortunate to grow up surrounded by books.  He was lucky, too, that the books were hardbacks and paperbacks, books he could browse at leisure as he developed his reading skills.  Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls for the first time changed him forever.  Suddenly, he recognized the difference between popular novels and what the best books have to offer.  Meyer says that he “recently donated that copy to the library at my graduate writing center.  It’s forty-five years old, and tattered, but it continues to be read.  Whereas my Kindle, forty-five years from now, will be buried in a landfill under approximately eleven million other Kindles.”

For Jim Knipfeel the book is Mason & Dixon, not so much because of its contents but because it is the last book he “was able to read in normal fashion.”  Knipfeel went blind while reading Mason & Dixon and had to finish the last 60 pages of the book via its audio version.  For him, “it will always be The Last Book, in more ways than one.”

For West African Chris Abani, that book is James Baldwin’s Another Country, the book that inspired him to become the writer he is today.  Abani discovered the book on his parents’ bookshelf when he was ten years old and he still recognizes the coffee stain he placed on page 72 back in 1992.  Abani recently read this copy of Another Country for the twentieth time and he says that it was a struggle to keep it from falling apart.  Recognizing that it was time to acquire another copy, but not wanting to replace his relic with another paper copy, Abani searched everywhere for an electronic copy for his iPad.  He reports that his search was unsuccessful and that “this makes me sad and extremely happy.”

These are my favorite pieces in Bound to Last, but they are just the beginning of what this book has to offer.  This is one that book lovers will want to read more than once – a book that deserves a place of honor on their bookshelves.  Come on, you know who you are.

Rated at: 5.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. When you posted your preliminary thoughts on this book a while back I got to wondering what book I had that I would be most attached to. To be honest, I had to pick my Winnie The Pooh book! I had so many happy hours as a kid imagining I lived in the Hundred Acre Wood. Then, when I held my own kids in my lap and read those stories and looked at the pictures, it was such a joy to share those childhood memories with them! We have read all of the stories several times together and love them just as much every time!

    Next in line would have to be The Chronicles Of Narnia. There again, I loved sharing those stories with my kids!

    But it's really hard to pick the best of the best!!

  2. I'll be looking for it! Thanks for the review.

  3. Great story, Andy, That's what it's all about.

  4. It's fun, Annie, and reminds me a bit of some of our old discussions about the difference between real country music and "new country."