Bound to Last (ed. Sean Manning)

Tempted by Steven’s review, and drawn to books about books, I ordered Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Books. On receipt I glanced over the contents with despondency. Somewhat of a dilettante reader, my acquaintance with living writers is patchy, and I recognised few of the contributors to Sean Manning’s compilation of essays. Aside from Ray Bradbury, writer of the foreword, I recognised only Francine Prose and Xu Xiaobin, though I’ve read neither.

Initial misgivings aside, after fifty pages the essays had charmed me, and I read the remainder with enjoyment.

In some cases, the writers have not even read the books they hold dear. Joyce Maynard writes ruefully of her father’s Bible, given to “the girlfriend”:

All my life my father had urged me to read the Bible. Knowing I had never done this, he quoted from it as liberally as a lawyer might invoke the constitution. But in the end, it was not I, his well-loved daughter, but this strange interloper who had taken off with his most precious book. Maybe he’s given up on my ever opening it.

In this collection, books are celebrated as objects, often annotated, frequently well-travelled, occasionally dropped in the bath but each a well-loved container of words. The essays are of mixed quality but each possesses a certain charm.

Though none of the essays tempt me to read the books they describe, or attract me to any of the authors, I was compelled to read Poe’s short story The Cask of Amontillado, that Bradbury recalls from his childhood.

“Reading the Girls” List Version 1.3

About a fortnight ago I asked for help. In response to writer Maureen Johnson’s convincing polemic against the way that publishers and critics present female writers I asked, “Can you add to the list of female writers I ought to be reading?”

Johnson listed several that revealed new possibilities:

Edna Ferber, Diana Wynne Jones, Kate Chopin, Patricia Highsmith, Miles Franklin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Virginia Woolf, Marianne Robinson, Lorrie Ann Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary McCarthy, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edwidge Danticat.

In the comments to my post, readers made some great suggestions. These are too good to be buried in comments, so I list them below. There’ll be some we know and love, and others that offer an opportunity for discovery.

  1. Annie Dillard
  2. Francine Prose
  3. A. S Byatt
  4. Zora Neale Hurston
  5. Nicole Krauss
  6. Valerie Martin
  7. Helen Oyeyemi
  8. Marilynne Robinson
  9. Zadie Smith
  10. Eudora Welty
  11. Clarice Lispector
  12. Catherine Rey
  13. Nadine Gordimer
  14. Simone de Beauvoir
  15. Aphra Benn
  16. Phillis Wheatley
  17. Herta Muller
  18. Sigrid Undset
  19. Katherine Anne Porter
  20. Shirley Jackson
  21. Shirley Hazzard
  22. Shirley Ann Grau
  23. Baroness Blixen (Isak Dinesin)
  24. Rebecca West
  25. Beryl Markham
  26. Elspeth Huxley
  27. Jennifer Egan
  28. Elinor Lipman
  29. Georgette Heyer
  30. Gail Scott
  31. Lydia Davis
  32. Aimee Bender
  33. Carole Maso
  34. Ingeborg Bachmann
  35. Marguerite Duras
  36. Rosalind Belben
  37. Amelie Nothomb
  38. Olive Moore
  39. Evelyn Scott
  40. Helen DeWitt
  41. Joanna Scott
  42. Alice Munro
  43. Cynthia Ozick
  44. A. M. Homes
  45. Janice Galloway
  46. June Akers Seese
  47. Marguerite Young
  48. Susan Daitch
  49. Rikki Ducornet
  50.  A.L. Kennedy

Thank you so much for those suggestions: Kevin of Interpolations, wrappedupinbooks, Jen of Being in Lieu, verbivore of Incurable Logophilia, Emily of evening all afternoon, Steven Riddle of A Momentary Taste of Being and jaimie.