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By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review

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Sixty-five of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them Every Sunday, readers of The New York Times Book Review turn with anticipation to see which novelist, historian, short story writer, or artist will be the subject of the popular By the Book feature. These wide-ranging interviews are conducted by Pamela Paul, the ed Sixty-five of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them Every Sunday, readers of The New York Times Book Review turn with anticipation to see which novelist, historian, short story writer, or artist will be the subject of the popular By the Book feature. These wide-ranging interviews are conducted by Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review, and here she brings together sixty-five of the most intriguing and fascinating exchanges, featuring personalities as varied as David Sedaris, Hilary Mantel, Michael Chabon, Khaled Hosseini, Anne Lamott, and James Patterson. The questions and answers admit us into the private worlds of these authors, as they reflect on their work habits, reading preferences, inspirations, pet peeves, and recommendations. By the Book contains the full uncut interviews, offering a range of experiences and observations that deepens readers' understanding of the literary sensibility and the writing process. It also features dozens of sidebars that reveal the commonalities and conflicts among the participants, underscoring those influences that are truly universal and those that remain matters of individual taste. For the devoted reader, By the Book is a way to invite sixty-five of the most interesting guests into your world. It's a book party not to be missed.


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Sixty-five of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them Every Sunday, readers of The New York Times Book Review turn with anticipation to see which novelist, historian, short story writer, or artist will be the subject of the popular By the Book feature. These wide-ranging interviews are conducted by Pamela Paul, the ed Sixty-five of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them Every Sunday, readers of The New York Times Book Review turn with anticipation to see which novelist, historian, short story writer, or artist will be the subject of the popular By the Book feature. These wide-ranging interviews are conducted by Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review, and here she brings together sixty-five of the most intriguing and fascinating exchanges, featuring personalities as varied as David Sedaris, Hilary Mantel, Michael Chabon, Khaled Hosseini, Anne Lamott, and James Patterson. The questions and answers admit us into the private worlds of these authors, as they reflect on their work habits, reading preferences, inspirations, pet peeves, and recommendations. By the Book contains the full uncut interviews, offering a range of experiences and observations that deepens readers' understanding of the literary sensibility and the writing process. It also features dozens of sidebars that reveal the commonalities and conflicts among the participants, underscoring those influences that are truly universal and those that remain matters of individual taste. For the devoted reader, By the Book is a way to invite sixty-five of the most interesting guests into your world. It's a book party not to be missed.

30 review for By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alok Mishra

    This was an outstanding collection of interviews with the authors we often read, praise and want to know their views on literature, other authors and books they appreciate. Yes, a few questions were redundant or too many times repeated. However, the book's worth doesn't demean just because of that. It is for those readers who want to know about the literary opinions of the favourite authors from the USA. If you are seeking book recommendations, it's not for you. This was an outstanding collection of interviews with the authors we often read, praise and want to know their views on literature, other authors and books they appreciate. Yes, a few questions were redundant or too many times repeated. However, the book's worth doesn't demean just because of that. It is for those readers who want to know about the literary opinions of the favourite authors from the USA. If you are seeking book recommendations, it's not for you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth A

    10/6/15 edit: A friend asked me why not a higher rating. My response: I found myself skimming through many of the interviews as I was not particularly interested in the question asked and answered, and I thought some of the questions themselves rather silly. I did really love the interviews with some of my fave authors, but like all anthologies, there were many interviews that did not hit the mark for me. ----------------------- The New York Times Book Review has a weekly By the Book feature in wh 10/6/15 edit: A friend asked me why not a higher rating. My response: I found myself skimming through many of the interviews as I was not particularly interested in the question asked and answered, and I thought some of the questions themselves rather silly. I did really love the interviews with some of my fave authors, but like all anthologies, there were many interviews that did not hit the mark for me. ----------------------- The New York Times Book Review has a weekly By the Book feature in which writers are asked about the books and authors they love. This book collects sixty five of these interviews. I've dipped into this book over the course of a couple of weeks and enjoyed it. It's like meeting up with a reader friend over drinks and talking about books, so if that's your thing too, you'll enjoy this one as well. An unexpected pleasure was the the wonderful author sketches by Jillian Tamaki. I've found loads of book recommendations to add to my TBR list, and I wish the author had added an appendix with a summary of authors and their recommended books; you know that only book lovers are going to pick this up, and you know this is going to fatten up our TBRs, so why not make it easier on us?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This has been my comfort book for the past couple weeks - I read a couple of the columns each night before bed. Several of them I remembered from the NY Times Book Review, but "By the Book" contains the expanded versions. Some of the authors resonated more with me than others, some I skimmed over, but overall, reading about what authors like to read is the perfect way to end the day. This has been my comfort book for the past couple weeks - I read a couple of the columns each night before bed. Several of them I remembered from the NY Times Book Review, but "By the Book" contains the expanded versions. Some of the authors resonated more with me than others, some I skimmed over, but overall, reading about what authors like to read is the perfect way to end the day.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenbebookish

    This was interesting… Of course I was drawn to it by the cover, color cartoon caricatures of famous best selling authors? Talking about their favorite books? SOLD! I was sorta hoping to get some good book recs from this, but in the end it was way more of a who's who, who's reading who sort of thing to feel genuine. I won't argue with the fact that when people are talking favorite books, a lot of classics are going to come up. Some of my own favorites include Dickens, Steinbeck, Austen, and so on This was interesting… Of course I was drawn to it by the cover, color cartoon caricatures of famous best selling authors? Talking about their favorite books? SOLD! I was sorta hoping to get some good book recs from this, but in the end it was way more of a who's who, who's reading who sort of thing to feel genuine. I won't argue with the fact that when people are talking favorite books, a lot of classics are going to come up. Some of my own favorites include Dickens, Steinbeck, Austen, and so on and so on. They are classics for a reason, after all. Buut. After reading through the first 10 authors and processing their choices, it was clear that I would hardly be coming across any new or undiscovered gems, but rather am simply reading the books that famous authors (and a few famous actors/artists.musicians) want to tell the world that they are reading or have read. Understandably so I guess. People in the spotlight are in the spotlight. They want to seem smart and interesting and all that and of course have to be concerned with how their choices make them look rather than just going ahead and being truthful about things like: What is on your night stand right now? What is the last book you read? What books changed your life? So in terms of did this book deliver what I wanted it to deliver- Book suggestions? No, not really. You can only read about this oh-so-intelligent person who's favorite book is Ulysses, or who's favorite book is a collected works of Shakespeare for so long before you start rolling your eyes and going, okay okay I get it. You are intelligent and well-read and high brow and anything else you want to seem to be by citing difficult ad complex works of literature. It all just seemed a little bit too insincere for my liking, a tad bit…showy. So in that sense, clearly, it wasn't what I thought it would be. BUT. They did ask other questions aside from just having authors list their favorite works, so I enjoyed that element. A lil bit of humor from people like Lena Dunham and Neil Gaiman made the book a lil better than tolerable, but I do have to admit that when I came across people I don't care about-or who's taste or opinions on literature I don't care about-such as Sting or Arnold, I skipped right on thru. Tho, ironically, I did visually skim Sting's collections and he seemed to have some of the more regular, authentic choices out of everyone. I know I definitely liked him the better for his choices, and even stopped to read a few of his blurbs afterwards instead of skipping him entirely. I still don't care about his opinions, but they still happened to be good ones;) But for ex: I mean come on J.K. Rowling. Shakespeare, really? I mean, I know you are now one of the richest women in the world, it's a great rags to riches story, some lady on the system nearly homeless writes a book that changes the world of children's literature as we know it, and all that is good and dandy there's no denying you are brilliant in your own right…but a collected works of Shakespeare book. That's what you would take with you on a deserted island? And I know I'm biased because I am just absolutely NOT a Shakespeare fan, but come on. From the mind that created Hogwarts and that whole world, and you couldn't get more creative than that? It's just soo cliche. Shakespeare doesn't even particularly say "smart and interesting" to me. He doesn't really say anything to me other than maybe…common. Everyone and their mothers and brothers and sisters and friends have read Shakespeare! Shakespeare was a hack. Tsk Tsk Tsk I expected more from you J.K.! So all and all it was a fairly interesting read. Definitely the sort of book you could flip thru rather than read cover to cover like I did, but whatevs. If I would have approached it more like a book of interviews about people in the literary world, I would have liked it better, but expecting what I did; Settling down with the book and a pad of paper, prepared to take notes about all the endless books I would be adding to my TBR. I only ended up disappointed. But to credit people like Lena Dunham, Donna Tartt, Neil Gaiman, their humor carried what would be an otherwise boring, even affected book. Pick this up at a bookstore and flip thru it, or check it out at the library. It's not worth owning. Actually…maybe for a coffee table book. Or even the sort of book you put in one of those cute baskets in the bathroom containing magazines or newspapers or funny books, sometimes crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Now that'll make you seem smart! Stick this supposedly literary book in the shitter, and people will be like "wow. He is even literary when he's on the toilet. How wonderrrrrful."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    Great! Lots of excellent book recs. I'd read another volume of these, although Pamela Paul should cut the nonwriters (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the obvious nonreaders (Bryan Cranston), and the hacks (Dan Brown) and include a few more female writers to even things up. Great! Lots of excellent book recs. I'd read another volume of these, although Pamela Paul should cut the nonwriters (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the obvious nonreaders (Bryan Cranston), and the hacks (Dan Brown) and include a few more female writers to even things up.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jolanta (knygupe)

    Extremly boring...and WTF I'm reading in goodreads book description: ''sixty five of the world's leading writers...'' Schwarzenegger, Sting....?... Extremly boring...and WTF I'm reading in goodreads book description: ''sixty five of the world's leading writers...'' Schwarzenegger, Sting....?...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rikke

    This is a book every booklover needs to own. For who wouldn't be interested in Donna Tartt's opinion on overrated books? Who wouldn't like to know what Neil Gaiman considers guilty pleasure? And who wouldn't like to find out which fictional characters were J. K. Rowling's childhood heroes, since she herself has created so many of our childhood heroes? I know I would. And so, I read this over a few days, enjoying a brief glimpse of Ian McEwan's reading life, Zadie Smith's favorite books, and the This is a book every booklover needs to own. For who wouldn't be interested in Donna Tartt's opinion on overrated books? Who wouldn't like to know what Neil Gaiman considers guilty pleasure? And who wouldn't like to find out which fictional characters were J. K. Rowling's childhood heroes, since she herself has created so many of our childhood heroes? I know I would. And so, I read this over a few days, enjoying a brief glimpse of Ian McEwan's reading life, Zadie Smith's favorite books, and the guestlist of Emma Thompson's ideal literary party. The questions asked the prolific authors were well-chosen – equally funny and interesting. The only thing I'd wish for were a more well-chosen variety of authors. Obviously, the book contains the most popular contemporary authors of our time, but it also contains the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sting, Lena Dunham (not yet an author when interviewed), and several law professors and politicians who only talked about non-fiction and recommended textbooks. While it certainly may appeal to some, it didn't appeal to me. All in all, I really enjoyed this book, but as I read it I skipped a few interviews along the way. It's only a matter of personal interest, I guess.

  8. 5 out of 5

    reading is my hustle

    I really enjoyed this book. I read a bit each morning while eating my breakfast and was quite engaged. I often go to author readings or events (shout out to Powell's and Annie Bloom's BEST BOOKSTORES EVER) because, duh. I like to ask them what they are currently reading and who their favorite authors are and this book asks the same questions and a bit more. One of the questions asked of the authors was something along the lines of What is the worst book/most over-hyped book you've read? It was s I really enjoyed this book. I read a bit each morning while eating my breakfast and was quite engaged. I often go to author readings or events (shout out to Powell's and Annie Bloom's BEST BOOKSTORES EVER) because, duh. I like to ask them what they are currently reading and who their favorite authors are and this book asks the same questions and a bit more. One of the questions asked of the authors was something along the lines of What is the worst book/most over-hyped book you've read? It was sort of fantastic to read those who thought nothing of bashing a fellow author and those who were far too mannerly to castigate one of their own. This would be a great gift for the bibliophile in your life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    Not the easiest book to read straight through, but if I didn't it likely would sit on the shelf and never get read (But it would look pretty at least. I love the caricatures of the interview subjects.) This collects the Times' "By the Book" columns from 2012 to early 2014. The Times' archives don't go back any farther, so I'm guessing this is when they began. It is still an ongoing feature of the NYTBR as of this writing. The interview subjects are all types of authors including the occasional ac Not the easiest book to read straight through, but if I didn't it likely would sit on the shelf and never get read (But it would look pretty at least. I love the caricatures of the interview subjects.) This collects the Times' "By the Book" columns from 2012 to early 2014. The Times' archives don't go back any farther, so I'm guessing this is when they began. It is still an ongoing feature of the NYTBR as of this writing. The interview subjects are all types of authors including the occasional actor or musician who have also written things (Sting, Bryan Cranston.) Questions vary a bit from subject to subject, but some common ones are: • What is on your nightstand right now? • What book had the greatest impact on you? • What was your favorite book or book character as a child? • What’s a book you consider overrated, disappointing, etc.? • If you could meet any writer living or dead, who would it be? And so on. The results are illuminating and often charming. Some of my favorites, who were not necessarily people I read, were Gary Shteyngart, James Patterson (I don't read his books, but he always seems like such a cool guy), Colin Powell, Bryan Cranston, David Mitchell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emma Thompson, Chang Rae-Lee, Junot Diaz, P.J. O'Rourke, Carl Hiaasen and David Sedaris. People I thought would be contentious, like Richard Ford, were thoughtful and pleasant. Jhumpa Lahiri surprised me by coming across as dour and hectoring. Most writers didn't want to name a book they didn't like (David Mitchell put it best when he says," I'd rather not put the boot in publicly--it spoils my day when it happens to me.") Those who did mostly favored deceased authors (I kind of love that Ulysses comes up a lot.) John Irving spends too much time hawking his own wares (John, you've made it buddy. You don't have to work your titles into every response.) Khaled Hosseini is a Big Lebowski fan. It's fun to get a glimpse at the reading tastes of others We all know this because we're all on Goodreads. Getting a glimpse of what the pros like is even more fascinating. I enjoyed this and it would be great gift material.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I have been reading By the Book for some time, but that hasn’t diminished my pleasure in it. It’s the kind of book that is best taken in small bites; to do otherwise would be, for me, like eating the entire Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting. (I do like turkey and look forward to leftovers. Any perceived implication that authors’ opinions should be compared to helpings of turkey is entirely coincidental). The layout of the book lends itself to reading about three, four, or ten (the reader’s decis I have been reading By the Book for some time, but that hasn’t diminished my pleasure in it. It’s the kind of book that is best taken in small bites; to do otherwise would be, for me, like eating the entire Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting. (I do like turkey and look forward to leftovers. Any perceived implication that authors’ opinions should be compared to helpings of turkey is entirely coincidental). The layout of the book lends itself to reading about three, four, or ten (the reader’s decision) authors’ responses to many of the same questions in a session. Some typical questions include “When and where do you like to read?”, “What were your favorite books as a child?”, “Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like and didn’t?”, “If you could require the president to read just one book, what would it be?” I found that reading about three authors’ responses was what I could absorb without getting them confused. Of course, it helped when an author like David Sedaris followed someone like Colin Powell. Special sections included compiled responses on subjects such as “My Library”, “On Poetry”, “On Not Having Read”, and “Laugh-Out-Loud Funny”. Sixty-five authors were interviewed for the book, including several of my favorites: Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, Marilynne Robinson, Hilary Mantel, Khaled Hosseini, James McBride, Ann Patchett and others. I will end with my favorite response, from Gary Shteyngart: “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be”? “Definitely Don’t Bump the Glump by Shel Silverstein. It’s about how a great many creatures you encounter will try to eat you, even if you start acting all bipartisan.”

  11. 5 out of 5

    Antonia

    The most surprising thing about this book is that I found it boring. I’d never have expected that — because like any other person who would spend money on this, I LOVE books about books. In fact, I have put off reading it for years because I was saving it as a special treat. And now I find myself skimming. I may dip into it from time to time. Or not. Asked of Colin Powell: What was the last truly great book you read? Sorry, can’t answer. I find some greatness in almost every book. It’s like askin The most surprising thing about this book is that I found it boring. I’d never have expected that — because like any other person who would spend money on this, I LOVE books about books. In fact, I have put off reading it for years because I was saving it as a special treat. And now I find myself skimming. I may dip into it from time to time. Or not. Asked of Colin Powell: What was the last truly great book you read? Sorry, can’t answer. I find some greatness in almost every book. It’s like asking which is my greatest kid. What do you plan to read next? Sigh. That’s a problem. I keep sending new books to my e-reader, and I don’t know which one I’ll read next. Asked of Richard Ford: What was the last book that made you cry? My own book Canada made me cry the last time I read it. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? A book of mine. What else? Asked of Caroline Kennedy: Any guilty pleasures? Books about the Inquisition and the Crusades are a guilty pleasure because I feel guilty reading bad things about the Catholic Church. . . . (Yikes!) Asked of John Irving: What book is on your night stand now? I don’t read in bed, ever. As for the main character of my novel In One Person, Billy Abbott is a bisexual man; Billy would prefer having sex with a man or a woman to reading in bed. WHO CARES???? ’nough said.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Lindwall

    As part of my 100 book challenge for this year, I thought it'd be appropriate to start with this wonderful collection of interviews with literary figures about their own reading habits. Consequently, my to-read shelf has expanded tenfold. While the questions were somewhat repetitive, I didn't mind. I'll be returning to this book all year. I got to know the profiled authors a bit better (or at all, many I wasn't familiar with), and received a mini-literary education by reading about their favorit As part of my 100 book challenge for this year, I thought it'd be appropriate to start with this wonderful collection of interviews with literary figures about their own reading habits. Consequently, my to-read shelf has expanded tenfold. While the questions were somewhat repetitive, I didn't mind. I'll be returning to this book all year. I got to know the profiled authors a bit better (or at all, many I wasn't familiar with), and received a mini-literary education by reading about their favorites. I've always been fascinated by the correlation between reading and writing habits— do we like the styles we write in ourselves? do we appreciate the types of books we know we could never write? what stories did we read as kids that pushed us to love the written word? It's just all so inspiring to me, that there's an unending list of wonderful books and authors always available to discover. This book also reminded me of how ignorant I am to a huge majority of well-respected and important writers. On one hand, it's sad how little I've truly read and on the other hand it's so exciting that I have so many voices and perspectives yet to experience. I just want to live surrounded by piles of books in my warm apartment with coffee and my dog, ok?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    This book took itself way too seriously and often felt pretentious ...it was also very white (only 9 out of the 65 authors came from diverse backgrounds). Some of the authors' answers were more interesting/funny than others, but quite a few were either boring or felt like you were talking to that person at the cocktail party afraid of looking stupid so they drop book names like Ulysses and Moby Dick or they casually bring up that they're currently reading- for fun - The Complete Histories of Byz This book took itself way too seriously and often felt pretentious ...it was also very white (only 9 out of the 65 authors came from diverse backgrounds). Some of the authors' answers were more interesting/funny than others, but quite a few were either boring or felt like you were talking to that person at the cocktail party afraid of looking stupid so they drop book names like Ulysses and Moby Dick or they casually bring up that they're currently reading- for fun - The Complete Histories of Byzantium Soldiers: Volumes 1-17.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Surprisingly dull. The sort of one-dimensional interview where a set of simplistic questions are provided with no follow-up questions to further illuminate interesting answers — not that there were many of those. Frequent wincing when authors referenced their own books in the replies to questions like “What book last made you laugh/cry?” From an editorial standpoint, I was flabbergasted that dates weren’t appended to the interviews, since the authors/celebrities not infrequently made reference to Surprisingly dull. The sort of one-dimensional interview where a set of simplistic questions are provided with no follow-up questions to further illuminate interesting answers — not that there were many of those. Frequent wincing when authors referenced their own books in the replies to questions like “What book last made you laugh/cry?” From an editorial standpoint, I was flabbergasted that dates weren’t appended to the interviews, since the authors/celebrities not infrequently made reference to something requiring a date for clarity, e.g., “the President.” How was this overlooked?!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lee Kofman

    This was mostly a good read. I got quite a few exciting book recommendations there (especially Patrick Melrose novels) and some interview answers were simply hilarious. The question of what writer the interviewees would have liked to meet and what they’d like to ask them particularly drew terrific answers, sometimes mini-stories about what such a 'date' would entail. I think the book would have been even better without some of the lighter questions, such as ‘where do you like reading’, and most This was mostly a good read. I got quite a few exciting book recommendations there (especially Patrick Melrose novels) and some interview answers were simply hilarious. The question of what writer the interviewees would have liked to meet and what they’d like to ask them particularly drew terrific answers, sometimes mini-stories about what such a 'date' would entail. I think the book would have been even better without some of the lighter questions, such as ‘where do you like reading’, and most importantly – the interviewee list could have been better if it was limited to serious writers. The ‘outliers’, such as some screen celebrities, didn’t add an interesting spark to the book (with the exception of Sting) but rather gave mostly pedestrian responses (such as, ‘I don’t have much time for reading’. So??? Why are you in this book?).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna Louise Kallas

    The lengthy and glorious blurb on the back of BY THE BOOK will make any book lover giddy with anticipation for all that awaits inside. But really, it’s those last two lines that really made my inner book nerd swoon: “If you are a devoted reader, BY THE BOOK is a way to invite sixty-five of the most interesting guests into your world. It’s a book party not to be missed.” In case you didn’t know, BY THE BOOK is part of the New York Times Book Review – it’s debut column was on Sunday, April 15, 2012 The lengthy and glorious blurb on the back of BY THE BOOK will make any book lover giddy with anticipation for all that awaits inside. But really, it’s those last two lines that really made my inner book nerd swoon: “If you are a devoted reader, BY THE BOOK is a way to invite sixty-five of the most interesting guests into your world. It’s a book party not to be missed.” In case you didn’t know, BY THE BOOK is part of the New York Times Book Review – it’s debut column was on Sunday, April 15, 2012 and featured David Sedaris. In her BY THE BOOK column, Pamela Paul interviews novelists, historians, short story writers, and artists. All the interviews contain many of the same questions — so it’s neat to see similarities and differences in responses — but she always changes her questions up a bit to make things interesting from week to week and also to ask relevant questions to specific people. At first I thought BY THE BOOK would be a book I would dip into, read a few interviews and then pick up something else to read. However, once I got started, I had trouble putting it down! It’s so fun to get the scoop on the reading and writing habits, among other things, of the people Pamela Paul interviewed. And a most lovely result from reading all the interviews is I discovered a lot of great new authors and books along the way — my wish list is much longer now! BY THE BOOK is highly recommended reading for those who love the “books on books” genre.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Erika Bobka

    A fascinating glimpse into the reading lives of some wonderful writers. I just wish that she had included the dates that each of the interviews appeared in The New York Times Book Review for context.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Larisa

    If you are invited to someone’s house for the first time do you ever catch yourself picking through your host’s bookshelves and subconsciously judging their taste based on the selection of books on those shelves? I’ve done it! Even though reading preferences cannot be the only criteria for understanding someone, they could certainly tell you a lot about a person. I enjoy asking people about the books they’ve read, reread or never finished reading. So does Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York T If you are invited to someone’s house for the first time do you ever catch yourself picking through your host’s bookshelves and subconsciously judging their taste based on the selection of books on those shelves? I’ve done it! Even though reading preferences cannot be the only criteria for understanding someone, they could certainly tell you a lot about a person. I enjoy asking people about the books they’ve read, reread or never finished reading. So does Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review. This is why I didn’t hesitate to buy the collection of interviews conducted and compiled by Pamela Paul in the beautiful hardcover edition By the Book, published by Henry Holt & Co in 2014. This book includes interviews with sixty-five interesting personalities such as writers David Mitchell, Jhumpa Lahiri, J.K.Rowling, John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini, John Irving, actors such as Emma Thompson or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and singers like Sting. It is fascinating to learn their reading preferences, their likes and dislikes, and the books which have had the greatest impact on them as individuals and professionals. I learned that Jane Eyre remains a favorite literary character for Amy Tan; that of all the people in the world, Malcolm Gladwell would prefer to meet Shakespeare’s wife; that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland had the greatest impact on Joyce Carol Oates; that James McBride has never read “the great Russian writers”; that the first and last horror book Dan Brown has ever opened was The Exorcist and that Sting is absolutely ignorant of self-help books. Oh! And Nicholson Baker likes reading diaries. Even a devoted reader might have a few titles which they consider as “guilty pleasures” or a book, which would be just so alien, that it feels like they don’t belong to one’s shelf. Imagine writers have those too! You will feel better if you know that there are books everybody is supposed to like, but the writers didn’t; or books everyone had read in the childhood but famous people did not. And of course, some celebrities might also have secrets: “Nothing can be compared to the excitement of a forbidden book”, admits Isabel Allende, who “discovered the irresistible mixture of eroticism and fantasy reading One Thousand and One Nights inside a closet with a flashlight”. I wasn’t familiar with all the writers in this collection, even less so with the books they talk about. Needless to say, I now have a long to-read list and I can’t wait until my next visit to the library.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Another book I just finished included the line, "I like talking about books with people who like talking about books." If that's you, this book is for you. "By the Book" features The New York Times Book Review interviews with 65 celebrities, mostly authors. The questions range from "What book is on your nightstand right now?" to "If you could meet any author, who would it be?" to "If you could suggest a book for the president to read, what would it be?" The answers give such insight into the minds Another book I just finished included the line, "I like talking about books with people who like talking about books." If that's you, this book is for you. "By the Book" features The New York Times Book Review interviews with 65 celebrities, mostly authors. The questions range from "What book is on your nightstand right now?" to "If you could meet any author, who would it be?" to "If you could suggest a book for the president to read, what would it be?" The answers give such insight into the minds of John Grisham, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Barry, Colin Powell and the others. Many, many of the answers surprised me, which I truly loved. One surprise, in particular, came from James Patterson when discussing the first Alex Cross book, "Along Came a Spider." He said a movie studio would have optioned the book, and all he had to do was make one change: Make Alex Cross a white man. You'll find many more gems like that in "By the Book," an absolute must for any book lover. You can hear my interview with editor Pamela Paul on November 12 at Anne's Book Blog.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emkoshka

    This book made me wonder if it's possible to vomit and yawn at the same time as I increasingly felt like doing both as the book progressed. I really like the concept of a column featuring a different writer talking about their reading predilections each week; I wish there was something similar in a major Australian newspaper. But this was so damn boring! Every writer was a rehash of the one before and after, to the extent that I formed a view very quickly that the American literary scene is incr This book made me wonder if it's possible to vomit and yawn at the same time as I increasingly felt like doing both as the book progressed. I really like the concept of a column featuring a different writer talking about their reading predilections each week; I wish there was something similar in a major Australian newspaper. But this was so damn boring! Every writer was a rehash of the one before and after, to the extent that I formed a view very quickly that the American literary scene is incredibly insular (well, that reflects America in general, doesn't it), incestuous (everyone's reading and gushing over each other's books) and incapable of recommending anything remotely interesting for non-Americans to read. We don't care about your presidential or political histories or the Great American Novel written by, for and about dead white men. Yawn. And it was a bit of a sausage fest. Vomit. The only good thing that I got from the collection was a list of questions to guide reflections on my own reading, which seems far less driven by keeping up with the boring literati and more concerned with reading anything and everything, guilt-free.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John of Canada

    There were some writers recommended who I was unfamiliar with and am now interested in reading.I now have an even larger tbr list which is exactly what I need:(

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    Boring. Everyone tried to sound interesting, but they all wanted to meet Shakespeare.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paula Dembeck

    In this book editor Pamela Paul, well known for her regular column on books that appears every Sunday in the New York Times, has gathered together what she judges is some of her more fascinating interviews. They include a diverse group of authors with a few non writers such as muscle man, actor and politician Arnold Schwareneggar, musician Sting and actors Lena Dunham and Bryan Cranston. The collection was intended to be a conversation about books, literature and the literary life but it turned In this book editor Pamela Paul, well known for her regular column on books that appears every Sunday in the New York Times, has gathered together what she judges is some of her more fascinating interviews. They include a diverse group of authors with a few non writers such as muscle man, actor and politician Arnold Schwareneggar, musician Sting and actors Lena Dunham and Bryan Cranston. The collection was intended to be a conversation about books, literature and the literary life but it turned out to be more a series of questions and answers. Some of the questions Paul has chosen to ask, readers might question as they in no way lead to an intriguing conversation about books or reading, which according to Paul’s introduction was her intention. Some of the questions are simply dead ends, such as “What book is currently on your night stand?” One interviewee answered, “I don’t have a bedside table” while John Irving answered by saying simply: “I don’t read in bed, ever.” A couple of authors (Curtis Sittenfeld, David Savage and Chris Buckley) appear to have taken the exercise more seriously and reveal more than others who appear to be just tolerating the interview process as a bit of a joke. It all makes for a very uneven collection. Those interviewed say little about their writing process and although it is believed that you can tell something about someone by the books they read, I had no sense of that through the questions asked and the answers given. When questioned about their favorite book most chose one of the classics with Shakespeare and Dickens predictably coming out on top. Several say they wanted to read “War and Peace” or “Moby Dick” but never got to them. Interestingly, Leo Tolstoy was not mentioned as it seems he has not yet caught enough of their imagination to be placed in the “want to read” pile. Some writers one would have expected them to mention such as Hemmingway garnered opinions that swayed sharply one way or the other; they either really liked him or they didn’t. Some revealed they didn’t like Ulysses as much as they were supposed to. Malcolm Gladwell admitted to liking books with the word “spy” in the title and some interviewees even pleaded guilty to going for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. When asked what living writer they most admired, most were reluctant to respond, not wanting to offend those who expected to be mentioned but would not be if their response was honest. There was a similar roadblock when asked about living writers they disliked. Once again they verbalized a wish not to offend, acknowledging that “writing is hard work”. It was interesting to hear that not everyone wants to meet a writer they enjoy, admitting that writers are not always the best company. They would rather just read their work. Most read a mix of paper books and e-books, the later appreciated for their ease during travel especially when flying. The former were most enjoyed for the feel of pages with text in their hands. When asked to identify with a literary character, Mark Twain was often mentioned and surprisingly even Peter Pan got a nod more than once. As readers, these writers have extensive book collections but most admitted they were poorly organized although they insisted they could put their hands on any book when they wanted to. Paul has presented this book as a collection of her “most intriguing and fascinating exchanges”, however I did not find any of them either intriguing or fascinating. There was little depth to any discussion of the reading habits of those interviewed. I may have taken the wrong approach. Perhaps this was a book that was not meant to be read cover to cover which is what I did. Maybe it was meant for the reader to choose a few selected chapters or skim the entire book rather than read it deliberately from cover to cover with intention. However, whatever its strengths or weaknesses, it simply did not meet my expectations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    cardulelia carduelis

    So I picked this up because I saw the the tag on youtube and wanted to read the original column. The book is nicely arranged and the portraits of each subject are welcome. It's pretty much exactly what I expected. So why 3 stars? Well, to be frank, most of the people interviewed don't really seem to be that into reading. I lost count of the amount of times people said they only read for work, or only read non-fiction. And the only author anyone wanted to meet was Shakespeare, more than 80% of tho So I picked this up because I saw the the tag on youtube and wanted to read the original column. The book is nicely arranged and the portraits of each subject are welcome. It's pretty much exactly what I expected. So why 3 stars? Well, to be frank, most of the people interviewed don't really seem to be that into reading. I lost count of the amount of times people said they only read for work, or only read non-fiction. And the only author anyone wanted to meet was Shakespeare, more than 80% of those interviewed at least. So it's not a terrible premise at all, I just wish they'd interviewed more interesting people. Even the writers that are invited to the column are all from the same style of literary/SNL-skit style. There were no sci-fi readers, no adult comic-book readers - where were all the writers that didn't come through the Ivy League or live in New York? What about writers from different countries? It was all a bit too samey. And, just as with the shakespeare question, I don't understand why they didn't drop 'what would you recommend the president read?'. Because most of the contributors are just like: oh my I could never recommend a book to someone so great as the president, what could I possibly tell them? Yawn. I didn't read these back-to-back but over a few months, dipping into the book on the weekend. And still this is the impression I was left with. In many ways, By the Book is the literary equivalent to Desert Island Discs but where that show triumphs in its warm host and the variety of guests, this column fails. It does look like the guests get a bit better after this book, I see Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie appear, so maybe there's hope. Overall, this is a matter of personal taste - nothing wrong with the book itself, it just wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This book is a collection of "By the Book" interviews (writers and other famous people talking about their favorite books and reading habits) from the New York Times, edited by one of my favorite journalists, Pamela Paul. I simply love hearing about what people are reading and what their favorite books are. I keep a journal in which I note (both famous and not famous) people's favorite books as I reason that if a book has earned such a lofty place in someone's memory, logically it will have a bet This book is a collection of "By the Book" interviews (writers and other famous people talking about their favorite books and reading habits) from the New York Times, edited by one of my favorite journalists, Pamela Paul. I simply love hearing about what people are reading and what their favorite books are. I keep a journal in which I note (both famous and not famous) people's favorite books as I reason that if a book has earned such a lofty place in someone's memory, logically it will have a better-than-average chance of being worth reading and these interviews are a rich source of material for said journal. And besides that, there is something so wonderful and inspiring about books on books. They make me want to read even more (and also cause some anxiety over the fact that perhaps I should be using the time spent reading this book on reading the books that said book-about-books is talking about).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karen-Leigh

    Most of the writers in this book, I have not read. Though interesting to read their take on reading and what they read, I found I had nothing in common with most of them. I hadn't read their books and hadn't read any of the books they had read. No meeting of minds here. As for the book itself, there was a lot of repetition, outtakes from each interview repeated between interviews which padded the book and added nothing to it...I do not need to reread something within minutes of having read it. I Most of the writers in this book, I have not read. Though interesting to read their take on reading and what they read, I found I had nothing in common with most of them. I hadn't read their books and hadn't read any of the books they had read. No meeting of minds here. As for the book itself, there was a lot of repetition, outtakes from each interview repeated between interviews which padded the book and added nothing to it...I do not need to reread something within minutes of having read it. I read her first book and it was fabulous and I have already re-read it within six months and will likely read it again. I buy a lot of books about readers and how they feel about books. Maybe the problem is...this is a book about writers and what they read. I am not a writer. On the other hand, for this book I read on my Kindle I used the note taking feature to save stuff I liked ...so there was some stuff I liked very much...like raisins in rice pudding.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Laureano

    I love this weekly column in the New York Times Book Review; it's a great source for literary inspiration. Nice to have a collection to glean from. One thing that alternately amuses/annoys me about this column is the decidedly snarky/put-out tone the authors often take in response to certain of the (standard) questions. And the way they express their book likes and dislikes too frequently comes across as self-consciously demure, wise-cracky, or off in some other way. But when the writers get to I love this weekly column in the New York Times Book Review; it's a great source for literary inspiration. Nice to have a collection to glean from. One thing that alternately amuses/annoys me about this column is the decidedly snarky/put-out tone the authors often take in response to certain of the (standard) questions. And the way they express their book likes and dislikes too frequently comes across as self-consciously demure, wise-cracky, or off in some other way. But when the writers get to talk about what they're truly passionate about in literature, they soar, and the joy is palpable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Well, it took some time to finish, but that was done on purpose. I so enjoyed dipping into this book. It was like meeting a friend for a drink and chatting about books or taking your time with a really delicious piece of dark chocolate. You want so much for it to last, and when it’s over, there is definitely a loss there. I just loved being immersed in this collection. This may be a reread...or maybe just something to dabble in from time to time. Loved it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    I'm a sucker for books about books and I had the luxury of a long train ride to read this one in its entirety. I enjoyed the interviews with both the people I had heard of and the people I hadn't. Got a lot of great (well, I hope) recommendations out of it that I've added to my to-read list. I'm a sucker for books about books and I had the luxury of a long train ride to read this one in its entirety. I enjoyed the interviews with both the people I had heard of and the people I hadn't. Got a lot of great (well, I hope) recommendations out of it that I've added to my to-read list.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mirabella

    For the few weeks it took me to make my way through these sixty-five interviews, By the Book was like a secular book of hours. I found myself turning to it throughout the day, even if it was just to read a page or two. When readers/writers get busy or overwhelmed with work, it can feel frustrating to only spend ten minutes with Anna Karenina, but devouring a listicle ("Fifteen Ways You're Screwing Up Your Quinoa") often makes me feel even worse. By the Book was a great compromise. Does reading ab For the few weeks it took me to make my way through these sixty-five interviews, By the Book was like a secular book of hours. I found myself turning to it throughout the day, even if it was just to read a page or two. When readers/writers get busy or overwhelmed with work, it can feel frustrating to only spend ten minutes with Anna Karenina, but devouring a listicle ("Fifteen Ways You're Screwing Up Your Quinoa") often makes me feel even worse. By the Book was a great compromise. Does reading about Alain de Botton's devotion to Proust actually make me better-read? Not at all. But does it make me feel like sometime, in the near or distant future, I could become that person who's read Proust? Absolutely. It seems silly to say it, but I think keeping this book near at hand has improved my reading habits-- or at least elevated my reading aspirations. In addition to being a little pick-me-up throughout the day, By the Book lengthened my TBR list by at least ten books. More importantly, it introduced me to books I'm not sure I would have found-- or acknowledged-- on my own. Random Family Love Drugs Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx, which I noticed a while ago but dismissed as "not my cup of tea," got shout-outs from Katherine Boo, Anna Quindlen, and Andrew Solomon-- more than enough to make me reconsider my first, hasty dismissal. Buying By the Book felt like an indulgence at the time-- a hardback with the potential to be a hodgepodge of literary gossip, or worse, congratulatory back-thumping-- but it turned out to be much more important than that. This isn't a book to sit down and read all in one go, I don't think; it's much better to turn to it when you need to hear someone like Donna Tartt admit that she doesn't feel like reading Hemingway either, but she hears Kate Bernheimer's new book is worth picking up.

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