If you're depressed about the future of the written word, Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book is your Prozac. The anthology fairly pulses with admiration for the printed word (yes, only printed — sans electronic conveyance).
Bound to Last features a familiar cast of literary archetypes: the hero, identified by hardback covers, bibliophiles, nostalgia for the golden ages of print; and the villain, identified by e-book readers, the tsunami of mediocrity, and the loss of literature's cultural impact.
The thirty writers in this anthology stick pretty close to that script, but manage enough narrative variations to make the journey a thrilling one.
Some of my favorites:
- Shahriar Mandanipour, who picked Das Kapital, tells about the subterfuge necessary to harbor the book during the Iranian revolution, and how he shuttled it around various safehouses. The penalty for its discovery, of course, would have been a long prison sentence, which gives his story such weight against the sometimes sentimental associations of Western writers.
- Terrance Holt, who wrote the short story collection In the Valley of the Kings (paperback released this year — ties in Greek mythology with medical erudition and philosophical conundrums, and is so very good) picks a strange title — The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, eighth edition — and uses it not only to predict his father's death but his own.
- Karen Green, the former wife of David Foster Wallace, paints an intimate portrait of her former husband in what she calls "The Year of the Fucking Widowhood." She's selling her house and must disclose to the buyer that "Former husband committed suicide on master bedroom patio via hanging." It's a testimony to her skills that she manages to make parts of the essay quite wry and funny as she find solace in The Collected Works of Amy Hempel.
- In one of the most heart-wrenching pieces, Jim Knipfel writes about the last book he read before he went blind. I'm not going to tell you what book. Besides, what book is almost beside the point. The point is the palpable love he communicates about the written word.
The anthology as a whole is just a wonderful hymn to the impact physical, tangible books have upon our lives.