Betty Rosenberg's First Law of Reading was "Never apologize for your reading tastes." So, I'm a reverse reading snob. It doesn't surprise me one bit that the authors I couldn't relate to in By the Book were the more literary ones. Every Sunday readers of The New York Times Book Review turned to Pamela Paul's "By the Book" feature to see what author she interviewed about their reading interests. Now, sixty-five of those columns are collected in this fascinating book.
"What book is on your night stand right now?" "What were your favorite childhood books?" "If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be?" Guilty pleasures? Most of the authors do not apologize for their reading taste. Paul had the opportunity to interview Colin Powell, Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark, Carolyn Kennedy, John Irving, Neil Gaiman, James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell. Paul said she had a "genuine desire to know what others, smart people, well-read people, people who are good writers themselves - were reading in their spare time."
Some of the authors' answers just delighted me. David Sedaris was the first author interviewed. When he was asked about his favorite books as a child, he mentioned "a series of biographies with orange covers in my elementary school library." Orange covers! Those books were wonderful. I read all those biographies with orange covers when I was a kid.
When Colin Powell was asked what author he'd like to meet, he answered, "J.K. Rowling". I loved Caroline Kennedy's answers, so many with humor. I could tell we're about the same age. Asked about her favorite childhood character, she answered with one of my favorites, "the Country Bunny, from The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward. I see her now as a woman who reenters the workforce after raising a family..." And, her answer to "If you could meet any character from literature, who would it be?" was "I was in love with the Scarlet Pimpernel for a pretty long time, but I don't know if I would want to meet him now. The moment may have passed for us."
Anna Quindlen loves Georgette Heyer's Regency romances. And, Jo March from Little Women was an inspiration for a number of female writers. A Wrinkle in Time was a favorite of girls who were loners.
If you have a "genuine desire" to discover what writers are reading, what authors and books matter to them, check out By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review. It's fun, interesting, and thought-provoking.
By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9781627791458 (hardcover), 314p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.