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

Hardcover(First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781627791458
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/28/2014
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and the author of My Life with Bob, By the Book, Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. She and her family live in New York.

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

Walter 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

Customer Reviews