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the Complete Review
the complete review - anthology

Bound to Last

edited by
Sean Manning

general information | review summaries | our review | links

To purchase Bound to Last

Title: Bound to Last
Author: various
Genre: Anthology
Written: 2010
Length: 221 pages
Availability: Bound to Last - US
Bound to Last - UK
Bound to Last - Canada
  • 30 Writers on their Most Cherished Book
  • Edited by Sean Manning
  • With a Foreword by Ray Bradbury
  • With contributions by Chris Abani, Rabih Alameddine, Anthony Doerr, Louis Ferrante, Nick Flynn, Karen Joy Fowler, Julia Glass, Karen Green, David Hajdu, Terrence Holt, Jim Knipfel, Shahriar Mandanipour, Sarah Manguso, Sean Manning, Joyce Maynard, Philipp Meyer, Jonathan Miles, Sigrid Nunez, Ed Park, Victoria Patterson, Francine Prose, Michael Ruhlman, Elissa Schappell, Christine Schutt, Jim Shepard, Susan Straight, J. Courtney Sullivan, Anthony Swofford, Danielle Trussoni, and Xu Xiaobin
  • Several of the pieces have been translated from foreign languages

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing variety of book-reminiscences

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
PopMatters B+ 1/11/2010 James Williams
Time Out (Chicago) B 24/11/2010 Jonathan Messinger

  From the Reviews:
  • "To its great credit Bound to Last does not sound an alarmist note, does not suggest that new technologies of reading will render printed books moot, thereby transforming readers into spiritual simpletons or ignoramuses. Rather, it is interested in how printed books have and will continue to be an essential part of our lives. (...) The underlying theme of the collection is that the form of a book and its content -- its body and soul so to speak -- are inseparable and that the real significance of a given work is born out of complex communion between reader and object. (...) In any case, it should be noted that at seven to nine pages on average individual pieces are not so much sustained meditations as anecdotal vignettes." - James Williams, PopMatters

  • "The authors, as you’d expect, reveal much about themselves in these essays. But is there really a better way to talk about a book, than to source its influence on your life ?" - Jonathan Messinger, Time Out (Chicago)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bound to Last collects thirty piece in which writers write about 'their most cherished book' (actually its thirty-one: Ray Bradbury's 'Foreword' is hardly that, but fits in among the other pieces). The approaches vary, but the selections tend to be of a specific title, usually first encountered in childhood or adolescence, -- and a specific physical copy of it, too. So the pieces don't focus solely on the text and its significance, but also the book-object itself -- often read (literally) to pieces (Sigrid Nunez's volume wound up being: "not just a book: it was a memento of childhood, a holy thing"), and often no longer accessible. Many of the authors also write more broadly about their reading -- again: usually from their childhood or adolescence.
       There's considerable variety, and among the most amusing entries are the more unlikely-seeming choices -- Terence Holt on the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy or Michael Ruhlman on The New Professional Chef (specific editions of these, in each case). Sarah Manguso has a nice bit on a 1929 Ripley's Believe it or Not !, and the most creative piece is Ed Park's, on the Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax , a guide to the game 'Dungeons & Dragons' by one of its creators. Among Park's observations: the influence of Appendix N, "Inspirational and Educational Reading", where: "Gygax lists 28 authors who had the biggest influence on the creation of D&D" -- many of whose books Park later sought out, though he notes: "The titles were enough. Playing D&D could create the adventures like the ones contained in those novels." (Amusingly, Park also notes he didn't actually play the game that much -- but that the book about it so fascinated him.)
       Park also has a nice observation on the lingering influence of such influential works read in youth:

I keep meaning to read Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual. But I don't, maybe because I want it to be the Dungeon Master's Guide.
       The foreign experiences -- including, Chinese writer Xu Xiaobin discovering Emily Dickinson, Shahriar Mandanipour and his volume of Marx in Iran, and Rabih Alameddine on Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers in Lebanon -- add some welcome variety, too.
       A bit of an odd fit is Karen Green's piece; the book she writes about is The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, but most of the interest here is purely voyeuristic (which Green largely satisfies). As she notes:
     I was asked to contribute to this anthology because I am the widow, via hanging, of the writer David Foster Wallace
       A few of the authors do speculate what the transition to reading in electronic form means, such as Philipp Meyer:
     It is hard to imagine that I would have had anything remotely resembling this relationship to literature if my parents had all their books on a Kindle, laptop, or other electronic device.
       Fortunately, there is not too much of this: most of the authors make their point with their descriptions of the books that were so meaningful to them, and their reading-experiences generally. One interesting variation is Jim Knipfel, whose choice -- Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon -- already stands out because it wasn't a childhood-read, but rather: "was the last book I was able to read in a normal fashion" (as his eyesight failed) -- and, unable to get through it before his vision went, he 'finished' it by listening to the audio-version.
       Bound to Last is an enjoyable collection, though it is telling that, despite all this book-passion directed at specific titles, none of the pieces made me particularly eager to seek out or re-read any of these book-selections: these pieces are more bits of biography than anything else, and the choices -- text and object -- truly personal, pieces of these authors' lives. Still, it's nice to read about what books were so influential and/or meaningful in their various lives, and why.
       (Unforgivably, however, for such a would-be bookish book, the title of Joyce's Finnegans Wake is misspelt (as Finnegan's Wake) .....)

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 December 2010

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© 2010 the complete review

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