New York Times: By the Book

Recently, I happened upon a By the Book column. In it, the editor of the NYTs Book Review asks authors or other people questions about what they're reading, what they like, what they've liked, pretty much just the right amount of questions to get the inside scoop on their inner workings. It turned into a binge reading session, and I highly recommend that you do the same!

Here's the archive.

A couple of my favorites are:
Emma Thompson
David Sedaris
Lena Dunham
John Grisham
Colin Powell
Joyce Carol Oates
JK Rowling
Anne Lamott
Terry Pratchett
Gabrielle Hamilton
David Baldacci
Caroline Kennedy
Alice Hoffman
E.L. Doctorow
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Michael Connelly
Tom Perrotta
Amy Tan
James Patterson

Here's a great chat with the question selector / interviewer / editor, Pamela Paul.

If I were to answer some of these questions (even though it's written, not an interview, sorry Pamela!), here's how it would go:

What book is on your night stand now?
The Minaturist, I have a backlog of library books I need including Yes, Please, and A Song for Issy Bradley.

Where and when do you like to read?
All the time and everywhere, but especially at this little coffee shop in Boston after my 6 am workout before I head to work at 8:30--it feels like stolen time. In the summer I love to read at the beach in front of my mom's in the starting-to-cool-down temps of late August with no plans for the day beyond the book in my bag. I grew up reading with a flashlight under the covers and am glad I'm now grown up and can stay up as late as I want reading books.

What was the last truly great book you read?

This is a hard question because what makes a book great? And beyond that, truly great? I loved Astonish Me, which I read over the summer and I would venture to say is truly great.

Where do you get your books? Are you a downloader, online shopper, borrower, browser of used-book stores?

I get my books at the library. I worked at Random House and amassed a collection of books that I grabbed from the giant shelf outside the cafeteria where everyone gives their extra books and galleys away. My collection didn't... speak to my tastes. I started buying books, but was spending far too much money on  books I didn't love. So now, I take books out from the library and buy books I love in hardcover. Everything from Bridge to Terabithia to The Handmaid's Tale to Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Now my books reflect what I love, which makes me happy. My favorite place to purchase is The Book Shop of Beverly Farms, where I worked in high school and college and love the owners and workers since they're my friends.

What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from one of those books? Is there one book you wish all children would read? 
Oh man. All of them. I was such an engrossed reader that I rarely heard if someone tried to interrupt me--even while saying my name. This lead to one, awful instance, of someone calling me a flake that I can recall to this day with the pang of almost tears. But, it turns out, that was their loss. Being lost in a book is the best place to be.

Blueberries for Sal. Our neighbor once took us blueberry picking in her cool red Jeep Wrangler. It left an impression. Pipi Longstocking, I think I did a book report on that book for three years in a row. Loved her. The Night Before Christmas read by my dad--when my parents divorced I used to hide in my closet on Christmas Eve and read it to myself (and possibly get a smidge teary) even though I was too old for picture books. I loved Nancy Drew--she had strawberry blonde hair too! My mom had a collection at her parent's house and I couldn't wait to get there to read them. The Babysitters Club. I wanted to be Claudia. And of course,  Matilda. Miss Honey was the ultimate teacher. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and any other Joan Aiken--I still love Victorian-ish stories. The Little Princess. Charlotte's WebThe Giver. My Side of the Mountain. How could I almost forget Narnia?! Also, starting in 4th grade, I was an avid fan of Shakespeare. Such an odd duck. So many great books to read as a child. 

I think any book that interests a child is a valid choice for them and hopefully inspires a lifetime of reading.

Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?
All of the above!

Do you tend to keep books, lend them out, throw them away?
Keep them. I sometimes lend, but I've had so many that haven't been returned that I'm reluctant now! I also invested in a stamp that says "PROPERTY OF KZM!" so people know who to return them to.

What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
Fiction. Any and every fiction. And as for guilt, when I was at the Columbia Publishing Course, Sessalee Hensley (the buyer for Barnes & Noble) told us that each book has value--a mystery, a Pulitzer-winner, a pink book, a dime book. And I loved that. I subscribe to it fully!

What’s the best love story you’ve ever read?
Love Story by Erich Segal. Smart girl and entitled boy fall in love + so much more. PREPPY!!!! 

What’s the best book your mother ever gave or read to you?
Mom read me so many books. The one that sticks with me is Bridge to Terabithia. She'd read a chapter to me each night. I was wandering past her bathroom as she was taking a bath one evening and heard her crying when we were getting close to the end. A couple years later, I read the book myself, only to find out that the ending was very different that the one she described. She wanted to protect me from that kind of deep sadness. Isn't that so sweet?

What was the best book you read as a student? 

Love in the Time of Cholera in Love and Imagination in Literature, taught by Professor Boylan at Colby. Close contenders would be A Prayer for Owen Meany in AP English with Mr. Averill senior year, Boys Life in freshman English with Mrs. Wansong in high school, and the Giver in eighth grade English with Miss Tanner.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
Ugh. Anna Karenina. I tried. I REALLY TRIED. But to no avail... I just couldn't get into it. 

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?  Have you ever written to an author?
I haven't written to an author, but I have been a fan girl at Random House--when I saw Ina Garten, Markus Zusak, and Rebecca Stead I melted into a puddle all three times. I'm not sure who I'd want to meet. I like being under the spell of their writing and don't want their personality to ruin it (something that happened to me in college with a certain mystery writer I enjoyed and met and he was... not my favorite). Maybe Sloane Crosley because I think we'd be friends.

What are your reading habits? Do you take notes? Do you read electronic or paper? 

No notes. I try and keep the book clean. I read voraciously and sometimes late into the night.

What was the last book you gave to someone as a gift? And to whom?
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton, to my friend's 3 month old Chiass. I plan on giving more at Christmas.

What do you plan to read next? 
My list, as always, is determined by the answer to one question. What's due at the library next? Next on the list is Belzhar by Meg Wollitzer.

It looks like this column has been turned into a hardcover--a print collection of the columns. What a great idea!
 (And Christmas present...)


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