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

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

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

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 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.

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. 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.

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.

Featuring Conversations with . . .
Lena Dunham
John Irving
Elizabeth Gilbert
Ira Glass
Junot Díaz
J. K. Rowling
Ian McEwan
Jared Diamond
Alain de Botton
Katherine Boo
Sheryl Sandberg
Isabel Allende
Anna Quindlen
Jonathan Franzen
Dan Brown
James McBride
Jhumpa Lahiri
Christopher Buckley
Malcolm Gladwell
Donna Tartt
Ann Patchett
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Chang-Rae Lee
Gary Shteyngart

. . . among others

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250074690
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 977,886
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and oversees books coverage at The New York Times. She is also the host of the weekly podcast, Inside The New York Times Book Review. Her books include My Life with Bob, By the Book, Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, she was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist; her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, and Vogue.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Pamela Paul

We all want to know what other people are reading. We peer at strangers’ book covers on an airplane and lean over their e-books on the subway. We squint at the iPhone of the person standing in front of us in the elevator. We scan bestseller lists and customer reviews and online social reading sites. Asking someone what she’s read lately is an easy conversational gambit—and the answer is almost bound to be more interesting than the weather. It also serves an actual purpose: we may find out about something we want to read ourselves.

When I launched By the Book in The New York Times Book Review, it was an effort to satisfy my own genuine, insatiable desire to know what others—smart people, well-read people, people who are good writers themselves—were reading in their spare time. The idea was to stimulate a conversation over books, but one that took place at a more exalted level than the average watercooler chat. That meant starting big, and for me that meant David Sedaris. Who wouldn’t want to know which books he thinks are funny? Or touching or sad or just plain good?

In coming up with the questions for David Sedaris, and then for those who followed, I decided to keep some consistent—What book would you recommend to the president to read?—while others would come and go. If you’re going to find out what books John Grisham likes, you’ve got to ask about legal thrillers. When talking to P. J. O’Rourke, you want to know about satire.

Similarly, the range of writers for By the Book had to sweep wide, to include relative unknowns and new voices alongside the James Pattersons and Mary Higgins Clarks. That meant poets and short story writers and authors of mass market fiction. And while the most obvious, and often most desirable, participants would be authors themselves, I didn’t want to limit the conversation to book people.

For that reason, I went to Lena Dunham (not an author at the time) next. I asked musicians like Pete Townshend and Sting, scientists and actors, the president of Harvard, and even an astrophysicist. Cross-pollination between the arts—and the sciences—is something many of us haven’t experienced since our college days, and I wanted to evoke some of that excitement of unexpected discovery—in the subjects, in the questions, and in the answers.

Once the ball got rolling, an unexpected discovery on my part was the full-throttle admiration our most respected public figures have for one another. Colin Powell marveled over J. K. Rowling’s ability to endure the spotlight. Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Donna Tartt were all consumed by the Patrick Melrose novels of Edward St. Aubyn. (He, in turn, was reading Alice Munro.) Writer after writer extolled the reportorial prowess of Katherine Boo. And then Boo, who told me she read the column religiously, praised Junot Díaz and George Saunders and Cheryl Strayed when it was her turn.

When I’d meet writers at book parties or literary lunches, they’d thrill over what other By the Book subjects had said about their work. In her interview, Donna Tartt told me how much she looked forward to reading Stephen King’s new novel—before he’d raved about The Goldfinch on our cover. In a world that can feel beset by cynicism, envy, and negative reviews, By the Book has become a place for accomplished peers to express appreciation for one another’s art.

Then there are the humanizing foibles. The books we never finished or are embarrassed never to have picked up, the books we hated, the books we threw across the room. It’s not just us. Many writers confess here to unorthodox indulgences (Hilary Mantel adores self-help books) and “failures” of personal taste (neither Richard Ford nor Ian McEwan has much patience for Ulysses).

Reading the interviews gathered together for the first time, I found myself flipping back and forth between pages, following one author to another, from one writer’s recommendation to another’s explication of plot, like browsing an endlessly varied, annotated home library in the company of thoughtful and erudite friends. I learned about mutual loves, disagreements, surprise recommendations, unexpected new voices, forgotten classics. Let the conversation begin.

Copyright © 2014 by Pamela Paul

Table of Contents

Foreword by Scott Turow xiii
Introduction by Pamela Paul xvii
David Sedaris 2
Lena Dunham 6
Neil Gaiman 10
Mary Higgins Clark 16
Drew Gilpin Faust 20
Carl Hiaasen 24
John Irving 28
Elizabeth Gilbert 32
Richard Ford 36
Colin Powell 40
Dave Eggers 44
Sylvia Nasar 48
Ira Glass 52
Junot Díaz 58
Joyce Carol Oates 64
Nicholson Baker 70
Emma Thompson 74
Michael Chabon 78
Jeffrey Eugenides 82
J. K. Rowling 86
David Mitchell 90
John Grisham 96
P. J. O'Rourke 100
Anne Lamott 104
Ian McEwan 108
Lee Child 112
Arnold Schwarzenegger 118
Francine Prose 122
Jared Diamond 126
Alain de Botton 132
Dave Barry 136
Katherine Boo 140
Marilynne Robinson 144
Sheryl Sandberg 148
Caroline Kennedy 152
Isabel Allende 158
Anna Quindlen 162
Jonathan Franzen 166
Hilary Mantel 170
Walt er Mosley 176
Khaled Hosseini 182
Jeannette Walls 186
Dan Brown 190
Dan Savage 194
Christopher Buckley 198
Curtis Sittenfeld 202
James McBride 206
James Patterson 210
Jonathan Lethem 214
Jhumpa Lahiri 218
Richard Dawkins 222
Sting 228
Andrew Solomon 232
Malcolm Gladwell 238
Scott Turow 242
Donna Tartt 246
Ann Patchett 250
Amy Tan 254
Bryan Cranston 260
Michael Connelly 264
Neil deGrasse Tyson 268
E. L. Doctorow 274
Chang-rae Lee 280
Gary Shteyngart 286
Rachel Kushner 290
acknowledgments 295
index 297

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