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By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  786 ratings  ·  175 reviews

Sixty-five of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them

Every Sunday, readers of The New York Times Book Review turn with anticipation to see which novelist, historian, short story writer, or artist will be the subject of the popular By the Book feature. These wide-ranging interviews are conducted by Pamela Paul, the ed
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Renate Flynn Julie's got it. Is There No Place on Earth for Me is written by Susan Sheehan and was recommended by David Sedaris. No other author mentions the book …moreJulie's got it. Is There No Place on Earth for Me is written by Susan Sheehan and was recommended by David Sedaris. No other author mentions the book in By The Book(less)

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Alok Mishra
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an outstanding collection of interviews with the authors we often read, praise and want to know their views on literature, other authors and books they appreciate. Yes, a few questions were redundant or too many times repeated. However, the book's worth doesn't demean just because of that. It is for those readers who want to know about the literary opinions of the favourite authors from the USA. If you are seeking book recommendations, it's not for you.
Elizabeth A
Sep 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays, 2015, non-fiction
10/6/15 edit: A friend asked me why not a higher rating. My response: I found myself skimming through many of the interviews as I was not particularly interested in the question asked and answered, and I thought some of the questions themselves rather silly. I did really love the interviews with some of my fave authors, but like all anthologies, there were many interviews that did not hit the mark for me.


The New York Times Book Review has a weekly By the Book feature in wh
Dec 18, 2016 rated it liked it
This has been my comfort book for the past couple weeks - I read a couple of the columns each night before bed. Several of them I remembered from the NY Times Book Review, but "By the Book" contains the expanded versions. Some of the authors resonated more with me than others, some I skimmed over, but overall, reading about what authors like to read is the perfect way to end the day.
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was interesting…

Of course I was drawn to it by the cover, color cartoon caricatures of famous best selling authors? Talking about their favorite books? SOLD!

I was sorta hoping to get some good book recs from this, but in the end it was way more of a who's who, who's reading who sort of thing to feel genuine. I won't argue with the fact that when people are talking favorite books, a lot of classics are going to come up. Some of my own favorites include Dickens, Steinbeck, Austen, and so on
Julie Ehlers
Great! Lots of excellent book recs. I'd read another volume of these, although Pamela Paul should cut the nonwriters (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the obvious nonreaders (Bryan Cranston), and the hacks (Dan Brown) and include a few more female writers to even things up.
Jolanta (knygupe)
May 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-reading
Extremly boring...and WTF I'm reading in goodreads book description: ''sixty five of the world's leading writers...'' Schwarzenegger, Sting....?...
This is a book every booklover needs to own. For who wouldn't be interested in Donna Tartt's opinion on overrated books? Who wouldn't like to know what Neil Gaiman considers guilty pleasure? And who wouldn't like to find out which fictional characters were J. K. Rowling's childhood heroes, since she herself has created so many of our childhood heroes?

I know I would. And so, I read this over a few days, enjoying a brief glimpse of Ian McEwan's reading life, Zadie Smith's favorite books, and the
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I read a bit each morning while eating my breakfast and was quite engaged. I often go to author readings or events (shout out to Powell's and Annie Bloom's BEST BOOKSTORES EVER) because, duh. I like to ask them what they are currently reading and who their favorite authors are and this book asks the same questions and a bit more. One of the questions asked of the authors was something along the lines of What is the worst book/most over-hyped book you've read? It was s ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not the easiest book to read straight through, but if I didn't it likely would sit on the shelf and never get read (But it would look pretty at least. I love the caricatures of the interview subjects.)

This collects the Times' "By the Book" columns from 2012 to early 2014. The Times' archives don't go back any farther, so I'm guessing this is when they began. It is still an ongoing feature of the NYTBR as of this writing. The interview subjects are all types of authors including the occasional ac
I have been reading By the Book for some time, but that hasn’t diminished 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 decis
Jan 10, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
The most surprising thing about this book is that I found it boring. I’d never have expected that — because like any other person who would spend money on this, I LOVE books about books. In fact, I have put off reading it for years because I was saving it as a special treat. And now I find myself skimming. I may dip into it from time to time. Or not.

Asked of Colin Powell: What was the last truly great book you read?
Sorry, can’t answer. I find some greatness in almost every book. It’s like askin
Courtney Lindwall
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All readers
Shelves: 2015, 5-stars, non-fiction
As part of my 100 book challenge for this year, I thought it'd be appropriate to start with this wonderful collection of interviews with literary figures about their own reading habits. Consequently, my to-read shelf has expanded tenfold.

While the questions were somewhat repetitive, I didn't mind. I'll be returning to this book all year. I got to know the profiled authors a bit better (or at all, many I wasn't familiar with), and received a mini-literary education by reading about their favorit
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book took itself way too seriously and often felt pretentious was also very white (only 9 out of the 65 authors came from diverse backgrounds). Some of the authors' answers were more interesting/funny than others, but quite a few were either boring or felt like you were talking to that person at the cocktail party afraid of looking stupid so they drop book names like Ulysses and Moby Dick or they casually bring up that they're currently reading- for fun - The Complete Histories of Byz ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Surprisingly dull. The sort of one-dimensional interview where a set of simplistic questions are provided with no follow-up questions to further illuminate interesting answers — not that there were many of those. Frequent wincing when authors referenced their own books in the replies to questions like “What book last made you laugh/cry?”

From an editorial standpoint, I was flabbergasted that dates weren’t appended to the interviews, since the authors/celebrities not infrequently made reference to
Lee Kofman
Dec 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was mostly a good read. I got quite a few exciting book recommendations there (especially Patrick Melrose novels) and some interview answers were simply hilarious. The question of what writer the interviewees would have liked to meet and what they’d like to ask them particularly drew terrific answers, sometimes mini-stories about what such a 'date' would entail. I think the book would have been even better without some of the lighter questions, such as ‘where do you like reading’, and most ...more
Anna Louise Kallas
Oct 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The lengthy and glorious blurb on the back of BY THE BOOK will make any book lover giddy with anticipation for all that awaits inside. But really, it’s those last two lines that really made my inner book nerd swoon: “If you are a devoted reader, BY THE BOOK is a way to invite sixty-five of the most interesting guests into your world. It’s a book party not to be missed.”

In case you didn’t know, BY THE BOOK is part of the New York Times Book Review – it’s debut column was on Sunday, April 15, 2012
Erika Bobka
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating glimpse into the reading lives of some wonderful writers. I just wish that she had included the dates that each of the interviews appeared in The New York Times Book Review for context.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you are invited to someone’s house for the first time do you ever catch yourself picking through your host’s bookshelves and subconsciously judging their taste based on the selection of books on those shelves? I’ve done it! Even though reading preferences cannot be the only criteria for understanding someone, they could certainly tell you a lot about a person.
I enjoy asking people about the books they’ve read, reread or never finished reading. So does Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York T
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another book I just finished included the line, "I like talking about books with people who like talking about books."

If that's you, this book is for you.

"By the Book" features The New York Times Book Review interviews with 65 celebrities, mostly authors. The questions range from "What book is on your nightstand right now?" to "If you could meet any author, who would it be?" to "If you could suggest a book for the president to read, what would it be?"

The answers give such insight into the minds
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, books, 2016
This book made me wonder if it's possible to vomit and yawn at the same time as I increasingly felt like doing both as the book progressed. I really like the concept of a column featuring a different writer talking about their reading predilections each week; I wish there was something similar in a major Australian newspaper. But this was so damn boring! Every writer was a rehash of the one before and after, to the extent that I formed a view very quickly that the American literary scene is incr ...more
John of Canada
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
There were some writers recommended who I was unfamiliar with and am now interested in reading.I now have an even larger tbr list which is exactly what I need:(
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Boring. Everyone tried to sound interesting, but they all wanted to meet Shakespeare.
Paula Dembeck
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
In this book editor Pamela Paul, well known for her regular column on books that appears every Sunday in the New York Times, has gathered together what she judges is some of her more fascinating interviews. They include a diverse group of authors with a few non writers such as muscle man, actor and politician Arnold Schwareneggar, musician Sting and actors Lena Dunham and Bryan Cranston. The collection was intended to be a conversation about books, literature and the literary life but it turned ...more
cardulelia carduelis
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
So I picked this up because I saw the the tag on youtube and wanted to read the original column. The book is nicely arranged and the portraits of each subject are welcome. It's pretty much exactly what I expected.
So why 3 stars?
Well, to be frank, most of the people interviewed don't really seem to be that into reading. I lost count of the amount of times people said they only read for work, or only read non-fiction. And the only author anyone wanted to meet was Shakespeare, more than 80% of tho
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a collection of "By the Book" interviews (writers and other famous people talking about their favorite books and reading habits) from the New York Times, edited by one of my favorite journalists, Pamela Paul.

I simply love hearing about what people are reading and what their favorite books are. I keep a journal in which I note (both famous and not famous) people's favorite books as I reason that if a book has earned such a lofty place in someone's memory, logically it will have a bet
Most of the writers in this book, I have not read. Though interesting to read their take on reading and what they read, I found I had nothing in common with most of them. I hadn't read their books and hadn't read any of the books they had read. No meeting of minds here. As for the book itself, there was a lot of repetition, outtakes from each interview repeated between interviews which padded the book and added nothing to it...I do not need to reread something within minutes of having read it. I ...more
Lisa Hamm
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love this weekly column in the New York Times Book Review; it's a great source for literary inspiration. Nice to have a collection to glean from. One thing that alternately amuses/annoys me about this column is the decidedly snarky/put-out tone the authors often take in response to certain of the (standard) questions. And the way they express their book likes and dislikes too frequently comes across as self-consciously demure, wise-cracky, or off in some other way. But when the writers get to ...more
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well, it took some time to finish, but that was done on purpose. I so enjoyed dipping into this book. It was like meeting a friend for a drink and chatting about books or taking your time with a really delicious piece of dark chocolate. You want so much for it to last, and when it’s over, there is definitely a loss there. I just loved being immersed in this collection. This may be a reread...or maybe just something to dabble in from time to time. Loved it.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for books about books and I had the luxury of a long train ride to read this one in its entirety. I enjoyed the interviews with both the people I had heard of and the people I hadn't. Got a lot of great (well, I hope) recommendations out of it that I've added to my to-read list.
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For the few weeks it took me to make my way through these sixty-five interviews, By the Book was like a secular book of hours. I found myself turning to it throughout the day, even if it was just to read a page or two.

When readers/writers get busy or overwhelmed with work, it can feel frustrating to only spend ten minutes with Anna Karenina, but devouring a listicle ("Fifteen Ways You're Screwing Up Your Quinoa") often makes me feel even worse. By the Book was a great compromise. Does reading ab
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Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and oversees books coverage at The Times. She also hosts the weekly Book Review podcast. She is the author of five books, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, By the Book, Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to T ...more

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