By the Book, edited by Pamela Paul
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.
By the Book is a weekly feature in The New York Times Book Review. Each Sunday, a new, relatively brief, interview with a writer appears. Pamela Paul started the series in “an effort to satisfy [her] 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.” Definitely, a sentiment and insatiable desire I share.
In fact, let’s just start out with the admission that I really love interviews with writers. One of my favorite series is The Paris Review Interviews. I love those in-depth interviews with the great writers of our time. It comes as no surprise, then, that I love these shorter variations on the same theme. The By the Book interviews are a snapshot of what the featured writer is reading and thinking about at that particular moment. As someone more interested in writers than in rock stars, it’s a crucial glimpse into the lives of my heroes and heroines.
Though one can certainly find these interviews one-by-one as they appear weekly, I love having them all together in a collection. Over sixty interviews are included, in what I hope is only a first volume. The authors range from Malcolm Gladwell, John Irving, and Sting, to Colin Powell, J.K. Rowling, and Donna Tartt. The range is actually one of the things I really enjoyed about this tome. I equally loved reading the answers from my favorite writers and those from writers who were new to me.
The one flaw is that the original publication date of each interview is not to be found. This was very disappointing, as the interviews are, by design, located in a particular moment in time. Take for example, a question that often appears, “If you could require the president to read one book, what would that be?” The answer to the question will most certainly be informed by who, precisely, is serving in that office at that time. The simple inclusion of the date of the interview would have oriented me in the correct time and therefore enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of all of the responses.
Known dates or not, there is great stuff here. I loved this quote from Ian McEwan as part of his response to the question “Do you read poetry?”: “Perhaps the greatest reading pleasure has an element of self-annihilation. To be so engrossed that you barely known you exist.” Or this from Ira Glass in answer to the question, “If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?”: “Edgar Allan Poe. I don’t have a question, but dude just seems like he could use a hug.”
I will delve into this collection again and again. I highly recommend it as something to keep in mind for the writers and readers on your Christmas list. It’s available, starting today!