November 14, 2010
DH: Bound to Last is a quirky anthology of thirty essays on a favorite book. The essays are not necessarily by fiction writers although there are several very distinguished names, like Julia Glass and Francine Prose to be found here.
As for Sean Manning’s Introduction, I don’t know. I wanted to fight against it and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the idea that I am being told that I should be feeling a great deal of sentiment for something. Even if I do feel it, I don’t want to be told what my feelings should be.
In this case. it’s feelings about owning particular physical books, as opposed to e texts, how they become “family” or part of your history. I feel the same way about my friends. I don’t want to explain to you why like them and you shouldn’t care anyway. But I’m going to confess to a strange book-love story of my own at the end of this post, so Manning wins.
Bound to Last is a book that’s an ‘I am as you desire me.” type of read. I don’t think you’re likely to read every essay. You’ll read the ones that speak to you, perhaps because you’ve aways loved the book the essayist wants to discuss or because you’ve never read it and always wondered about it and want to talk to one of its lovers. And believe me these readers do everything but sleep with their favorite book under the covers.
Victoria Patterson, one of my favs and a friend of this blog, writes about the massive Collected Stories of William Trevor, which have now become Volume One since a Volume Two has been released. I’ve never read Trevor but have always meant to, the massive extent of his 30 year storytelling both attracting and repelling me.
I felt awe for VP when she mentions that she’s gotten halfway through the stories and is still going strong. And then she does that miraculous thing that writers can do after they read great art, she turns them into stories of her own. Trevor’s stories become a manual, toolbox, a talisman, of the stories that Patterson will write, inspiring her forward, a personal compass of her own originality. I love how she tells us about her notes: how has Trevor done that? Look at how he introduced that character! I don’t think there is a single story in the massive Trevor volume that doesn’t get annotated by Patterson, every stain and battering of her stalwart trade paper edition reminding VP of a personal story she can tell.
My own book-love story is about a set: The American edition of The Great French Romances published in 1900 in 20 cloth volumes of which I have 19. I found volumes at the Strand in New York and managed nearly to complete the set by browsing at Powells in Portland one fine and exceptionally sunny morning in October. The set contains novels by Daudet and other wonderful French writers that most Americans have never heard of. But the 20th volume is an edition of Madame Bovary with an introduction by Henry James and I’ve never found it. But that’s okay, I’ve only been looking for it off and on for about 30 years. It’s my Maltese Falcon.
Since I always look at the books on bookshelves in movies, I’ve spotted volumes of this set, with their trademark quadruple fleur de lis bindings topped with a crown, in Melvyn Douglas’ library in Ninotchka and on the shelves of George Burns and Gracie Allen’s home in their great old 50’s sitcom. But I’m not in a position to ask Greta Garbo or Gracie if the Flaubert is among them.
So yes, Sean! I’m guilty! Guilty! I love my e reader. It’s indispensable. But I’m also obsessed with the physical book. If you love the feel of cloth or even trade paper, you should buy a physical copy of Bound to Last and fall in love with the book all over again. You’ll find some inspired lovers within its pages. And yes, it’s also available as an e text.