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.