BY THE BOOK by Pamela Paul


Writers on Literature and the Literary Life From the New York Times Book Review
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A hit-or-miss collection of Q-and-As, posed mostly to writers in the New York Times Book Review’s “By the Book” page.

Current Book Review editor Paul’s introduction is somewhat pretentious: “The idea was to simulate a conversation over books, but one that took place at a more exalted level than the average water cooler chat.” Well, Q-and-A sessions are hardly “conversations,” and some of the questions—e.g., “What are your reading habits? Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? Do you snack?”—aren’t even worthy of the snack machine, let alone the water cooler. Inevitably, there is a good amount of solipsism: When asked, “What was the last book that made you cry?” Richard Ford replies, “My own book Canada.” Some answers are wacky. “What book is on your night stand now?” John Irving: “I don’t read in bed, ever. As for the main character in 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.” Some are stuck in a rut. “What book is on your night stand?” Sylvia Nasar: “Two biographies of Frances Trollope.” “Last truly great book you read?” “The Widow Barnaby, by Frances Trollope.” “Book you wish you could write?” “I’d love to write biographies of Frances Trollope.” However, there are some choice tidbits, too. “Being a native German-speaker, Hayek strings together railroad sentences ending in train wreck verbs,” deadpans P.J. O’Rourke. Donna Tartt wants to have a dinner date with Albert Camus: “That trench coat! That cigarette! I think my French is good enough. We’d have a great time.” Still, for the most part, clinkers outweigh the gems. Lee Child and Arnold Schwarzenegger want Barack Obama to read Churchill; Colin Powell wrote for money; and Rachel Kushner avoids “books that seem to conservatively follow stale formulas.” There’s a tip to remember. Other contributors include Jhumpa Lahiri, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jonathan Lethem and E.L. Doctorow, among many other luminaries.

Better scanned on the website.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62779-145-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2014


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