"People As They Really Are"

Do you have a favorite book? If not a favorite, one you recall vividly or read again and again? Perhaps one that changed you in some way? In Bound to Last Sean Manning has assembled the accounts of 30 writers on their most cherished book.

Manning begins by launching a salvo against e-readers, that those who love reading will never find an equal pleasure in reading a digital book as they do with the tactile sensation of turning a page with a book in hand or the sight of that odd little bookmark that makes its journey through the tattered pages of a well read book. Some of the contributors also had less than a kind word or two to say about e-readers.

Regardless, the delight in reading Bound to Last comes from the recollections of its contributors. I read the book skipping around from one writer to another depending on my knowledge of the book they wrote about. I started with Danielle Trussoni’s appreciation of Nabokov’s Speak Memory that I was trying to get through at the time.

I love the physicality of the book, and all the markings I’ve made upon it…Rather he writes that he is devoted to the thematic structures of his life, to those events that have the marvelous aspect of the timeless…

Then I skipped over to Anthony Swofford’s account of Camus’ The Stranger.

Books mean different things each time we read them. I go back to The Stranger every year or so, sometimes twice a year if I need a quick fix, a reminder of a youthful angst and hatred that are fashionable when young but that wear out as one ages.

Philipp Meyer wrote about Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, a book I have read more than once.

I also wanted internal struggle. Reading Hemingway, showed me what the best books do: they describe people as they really are—as people—rather than fairy-tale heroes….Books in the end, are such an advanced technology that we have begun to take them for granted…Your books, unlike your laptop, e-Reader, or whatever magic device they think of ten years from now, will always be there.

Perhaps the most moving account in Manning’s volume was that of Shahriar Mandanipur, a highly regarded Iranian writer whose works are banned in Iran and currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

I miss my library at my home in Iran. There are books there about which I could write beautiful memories. Where I bought them, where I read them, and what pleasures and sorrows I experienced from them. But I can’t go home. I’m a writer in involuntary exile.

In commenting on the Viking Portable Dorothy Parker volume Courtney Sullivan wrote,

Books are like family members, like friends. They go with you, and more than a couch or a quilt, they represent home, the familiar. Dorothy Parker is the human expression of wit and spunk and strength and rebellion.

Finally Victoria Patterson wrote appreciatively of William Trevor’s The Collected Stories.

We understand that books—especially a great book like William Trevor: The Collected Stories—have the affirming capability of shrinking anxieties, not by ignoring fears and doubts of making light of death, or even by appeasing uncertainties, but by witnessing and connecting, letting us know that we’re not alone.

Regardless of your preference for a printed or e-book, Bound to Last is a collection of deeply felt personal essays by writers who love their books. Over the years, I’ve collected a great many books I cherish. Perhaps the first was the two volume Dialogues of Plato, translated and annotated by Benjamin Jowett. I was given this classic when I decided to major in philosophy and they have always followed me in my wanderings from one end of the country to the other.

If you have a favorite book or one that means a great deal to you, I would enjoy hearing about it.