This month’s recommended title, By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review, is one from a subcategory of books I collect about reading, writing, libraries, bookstores, book collecting, and related subjects. Many of these books reside on my shelves at home while others are in the branches of our Pioneer Library System. (Yes, I understand that I don’t personally own the library books, but I consider them mine just the same. I just don’t have room for all of them to live with me.) The books about what other readers and writers enjoy are among my favorites because they give me insight on their choices and preferences and because I inevitably discover new titles to add to my “must read” list.
I understand that I don’t personally own the library books, but I consider them mine just the same. I just don’t have room for all of them to live with me.
It took me some time to read By the Book, but that didn’t diminish 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) author responses to many of the same questions. 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 to the question “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be”? from Gary Shteyngart: “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.”
Added Note: Pamela Paul, who edited By the Book, has recently released a new title: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. Bob is Paul’s journal, her “book of books” in which she has recorded every book she has read from high school forward. Those of us who record our books in journals or on Goodreads will be interested in the long list of titles, but even more so in the relationship between the Paul and the books she has read. I have added this title to my own “must read” list.
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