By the Book

Monday, August 18, 2014

By the Book
Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the New York Times Book Review
By Pamela Paul

How did I not know about this New York Times column before now?!?! The series started in 2012 and features a new individual each time. Sometimes it’s an author, like David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, or Jhumpa Lahiri; other times it’s an actor like Emma Thompson or Bryan Cranston. No matter who it is there are answers filled with a love of books and the joy they hold within their covers.
Each person is asked questions about their reading habits, favorite books, etc. We learn what’s on their nightstand, what they loved to read as a child and what books have made them laugh or cry. This sounds like a simple enough Q&A series, but it’s the eloquent answers that make it so wonderful. Keep in mind that the interviewees are usually highly intelligent people and accomplished authors. Their answers are sometimes beautiful insights into who they are as a person. 

“The joy of reading is in the rereading; this is where you get to know the world and characters and deep and rewarding fashion.” 

I loved reading a few of the Q&As at a time. I could easily dip into the book at any point and then set it back down. The book itself includes an illustration of the individual being interviewed, which was a great addition. It also has a few compiled lists sprinkled in between the interviews with compiled answers on different topics. For example there’s a sidebar with half a dozen author’s thoughts on reading James Joyce.

One of my favorite parts was compiling my own list of books based on the authors' recommendations. There are so many new books that I’m planning to check out. I also loved seeing their guilty admittances of what they haven't read yet or what they didn’t like. It was reassuring to realize even the most incredible authors have books that just don’t work for them. 

I was surprised by the number of overlaps between interviews. There were some common themes that kept popping up in different interviews. Many authors cited A Wrinkle in Time or the Encyclopedia Brown series as a childhood favorite. There were also quite a few that said The Grapes of Wrath, Hilary Mantel, St. Aubyn’s Melrose novels, and Proust were wonderful and they couldn’t stand reading Ulysses. 

BOTTOM LINE: I just loved these interviews. I felt like I was part of a wide-reaching community of book lovers that rises above profession or background. I was introduced to new authors I will definitely be trying soon and I will keep my eye out for this column in the future! 

“Every time I watch the curtain come down on even a halfway decent production of a Shakespeare play and feel a little sorrowful that I'll never know the man, or any manner such warm intelligence.” Ian McEwan

**I received a review copy for an honest review.


Sandy Nawrot said...

This sounds awesome! I'm going to see if my library carries it. I love to get a little insight into these people, BUT that whole book recommendation thing is a slippery slope. In my book club we've had authors call in and some of their recommendations were NOT GOOD! LOL

JoAnn said...

I love that column, but didn't know that had been compiled into a book! Must see if I can find it...

annieb said...

I read this book also as an early readers copy from Library Thing (which I joined when I started reading your blog) and loved it! I thought I would dip into it a little at a time, but alas, I couldn't put it down and read it from cover to cover in a few days. I am a sucker for books about books and reading and this one was especially good.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - So true, I have learned that the very best author might have completely different book tastes from me.

JoAnn - They did a lovely job lining the interviews up so one led to the other in a great way. One author would talk about their love of Joyce and the next interviewee would talk about why they can't stand him. It was well balanced.

annieb - That's awesome! I felt the exact same way. I thought I'd read a couple and then I couldn't stop.

Brona said...

I haven't heard about this book...I wonder if it's available in Australia yet? A little research project for moi at work tomorrow as this sounds like my cup of tea:-)

Anonymous said...

OH, love that Ian McEwan quote. I can see why YOU liked it, too.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona - I hope you can find it!

bkclubcare - Ha, I might have a bit of a Shakespeare obsession! His work just comes so alive when you see it performed!

Rob said...

This sounds perfect for me! I've added it to my wishlist and will be eagerly awaiting October.

Reminds me a bit of Nick Hornby's books in which he compiled his 'what I'm reading' column into 4 or 5 books. They're a detailed view of one man's reading habits rather than an overview of many peoples' habits, but I think they'll scratch the same itch.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Rob - Yes! It reminded me of Hornby's books as well (which I love) but even better. It gets into the reader's habits and favorite childhood books too.