I’d been happily reading along in Sean Manning’s Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book, dipping in and out, choosing random essays depending entirely on my mood.
But then came Once Upon a Time season, and I found myself noticing that there are six essays in this collection which are perfect for this event.
Francine Prose writes about Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Joyce Maynard writes about The Bible, Ed Park writes about Dungeon Masters Guide, Sean Manning writes about Ulysses, Karen Joy Fowler writes about The Once and Future King, and Sigrid Nunez writes about Mythology.
Perfect, aren’t they? There’s a taste of each below.
“One winter day, three years ago, I was overcome by the sudden desire to read, or perhaps just hold in my hands, my childhood copy of Anderson’s Fairy Tales.”
Francine Prose’s piece is all about a very specific edition that she has as a child, but it resonates with any reader who has had a particular attachment, especially as a young reader, to a certain volume. She refers to individual stories (including “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Marsh King’s Daughter”) and considers the value of the illustrations (and the artist, Arthur Szyk).
“In all my lifetime of reading, there may be only one book I have ever hungered to possess as a physical object. I don’t own this book, and I haven’t laid eyes on it for thirty years. Still I doubt it would be an exaggeration to say that at least once a week, the wish that I could hold this book in my hands and turn its pages comes over me. And when it does, I’m struck by a sharp wave of sadness and regret. The book is my father’s Bible.”
Joyce Maynard is mostly unsentimental about possessions, books or otherwise, but her father’s Bible is an exception. She does speak about the book itself, about its illustrations, and about her father’s relationship with the text, but the most powerful part of the piece rests in the way in which her memories of the man are interwoven with her memories of his connection to the book.
“The truth of the matter is that though I thought a lot about D&D, and read the books from cover to cover — there were three then four main hardbacks when I was a kid — and subscribed to Dragon magazine and longed for various game-related products, I didn’t actually play the game that much.”
Above all, Ed Park was attracted to the words in the books that drove the game. One of his favourite parts of the guide was Appendix N, which listed books that could be inspirational and educational. The list included H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock and of course this list leads to more reading.
“I suppose settling on Ulysses as my most cherished book has to do with it fast approaching a decade since my arrival at New York and stint at The Strand…”
Sean Manning’s piece is charming for its description of working at this famous NYC bookshop (well, the bookish will think it’s charming, but anyone else would think it onerous work); there really isn’t any talk of myth as it relates to the heroic inspiration for Joyce’s novel, but The Strand is mythic in its own way.
“I’d found The Once and Future King while panning in the public library. Because I’d found it on my own and not with my father’s guidance, he couldn’t completely approve. I was perhaps fourteen years old when I first read it. It launched me on an Arthusian quest from which I have never come home.”
Karen Joy Fowler’s essay is half bookishness (with some talk of Narnia and more talk about The Wind in the Willows) and part memory, as in Joyce Maynard’s piece, about her relationship with her father, partly a letter of love to the work and partly to her father, and a display of a particularly poignant inscription.
“How old was I when I first read Mythology? I think around eleven or twelve. It was a natural step from the fairy tales that had been some of my favorite reading before. The book could just as well have been called Everything You Wanted to Know. How the world came into being; who rules heaven, earth, and hell; the origins of the seasons, stars, waters, winds; why night follows day; where dreams come from; what makes a person fall in love; where we go when we die — they had it all figured out, the Greeks.”
Sigrid Nunez begins with talk of her mother’s copy of Edith Hamilton’s now-classic text. She took it with her to college, for entertainment but also for reference, and even after her copy had started to crumble and flake, she kept it on her bookshelf (in a baggie).
This bookish volume is lovely for dipping in and out of as it is, but unexpectedly appropriate for the Once Upon a Time un-Challenge.
What have you been reading with this challenge in mind?