Princeton University Press has started a new series called Writers on Writers which thus far includes Phillip Lopate on Susan Sontag and C. K. Williams on Walt Whitman. The most recent entrant had its genesis when a fifth-grade boy was reading under the covers during a thunderstorm with some sweets and an Orange Crush.

“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” I shivered with fearful pleasure, scrunched further down under my thick blanket, and took another bite of my Baby Ruth candy bar, as happy as I will ever be.

The Hound of the Baskervilles “left its teeth marks in me and seriously aroused my then still slumbering passion for reading”; it was “the first ‘grown-up’ book I ever read—and it changed my life.” This last claim is not the exaggeration it might seem since the boy grew up to become the scholarly literary journalist Michael...