- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (October 28, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1627791450
- ISBN-13: 978-1627791458
- Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.59 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review Hardcover – October 28, 2014
See the Best Books of the Month
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the month in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
“Invaluable.” ―Vanity Fair
“The effect is like being at a very well-attended cocktail party, or peeking onto the nightstand of a favorite author… At times delightful and always entertaining, this book can be taken in large gulps, or small sips. Reading it will surely result in a monstrous and fascinating reading list.” ―Library Journal (starred)
“A captivating hodgepodge of literary musings.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and the author of Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. She and her family live in New York.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
There are many really interesting quotes and opinions here, and anyone who likes the form is urged to read a sampling from the reviews here or glance through Amazon's sampling of the pages.
The single best entry for my money -- and the competition is incredibly intense and reasonable readers can certainly disagree -- is by Dick Cavett.
Attached are a few of his memories from his television interviewing days: I've linked to some of my personal favorite books that he mentions.
Robert C. Ross
revised July 2015
The author of "Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks" is a great fan of rereading. "We'd all have been better off to have read half as many books. Twice."
Which books are currently on your night stand?
The capacious night stand holds John Lahr's stellar biography of Tennessee Williams; an old collection of New Yorker short stories; Richard Zoglin's fascinating new Bob Hope bio; a Gladwell or two; the great "Zen in the Art of Archery"; Jean Stafford's Pulitzer Prize short-story collection; and for some reason, three copies of my own "Brief Encounters." Also, friend Roger Welsch's wonderful "A Life With Dogs"; another friend, Eric Metaxas' "Miracles"; and for whatever earthly reason, an ancient copy of "Peregrine Pickle." Go figure.
The best book about television?
I read it many moons ago. Make that years ago. Can't trace it. I could swear on a stack of television evangelists that it was called "The Glass Furnace." If not, it should have been. Sadly, Googling for it produces only sources for real glass furnaces. Did I hallucinate it? Was it the merest chimera? (Inadvertent internal rhyme?) Even Amazon couldn't help me. Can you? There's a shiny quarter in it if you can.
Who are your favorite comic writers -- in print and on-screen?
The passel of the great ones, naturally, all virtually unknown to the know-little-if-anything-before-your-birth, tweeting and Facebooking and iPhoning "awesome"-addicted young: Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Fred Allen, Dorothy Parker, H.'L. Mencken, George S. Kaufman, Ring Lardner, S.'J. Perelman, Richard Armour, to name most of the greats. And Groucho Marx, who would have preferred to be remembered for his extensive writings than for anything else. A book edited by Robert Bader contains a treasure trove of Groucho's writing, going back to pieces signed "Julius H. Marx" in early New Yorkers. More recently, Dave Barry, the other Allen -- Woody -- Calvin Trillin, Dave Hill, Andy Borowitz and too few others.
Which of your talk show guests did you most enjoy discussing books with? And what were the best conversations about literature you had on your show?
Cheever, Updike, Capote, Mailer, Burgess, Auden and others were great, with Vidal the best. A trap with authors: finding yourself on the air with a favorite producer of lyric, mellifluous prose who can't talk for .'.'. whatever.
Burgess recounted how, diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor, he rapidly dashed off four novels in succession to support his family. Upon learning he'd been misdiagnosed, he claimed he was "vaguely disappointed. All that hard work for nothing." Cheever on drinking while writing? "I can detect a sip of sherry in a paragraph." Gore on Truman Capote's death: "A brilliant career move."
What are your literary guilty pleasures? Do you have a favorite genre?
Mrs. (yes) Dorothy Parker once wrote a piece beginning, `I am usually a friend to pornography. .'.'.'" I've found only one masterpiece in the genre, and Mnemosyne disappoints again. It was decades ago, and the title was, approximately, "Memoirs of a Victorian Gentleman," and it reliably aroused. I read it avidly. And then I lost it. The book, I mean.
What was the last book to make you laugh?
Out loud? My friend Dave Hill's "Tasteful Nudes." You too will laugh. Just a fact, not an opinion. And for an instant cure for the blues, the great Robert Benchley most frequently supplied the most recent laugh. Who else could have reported that the plays of William Shakespeare had, in fact, not been written by William Shakespeare at all, but by someone else of the same name? Or that you can divide people into two groups: those who divide people into two groups and those who don't? Or called one of his books "No Poems"? And when being reread, perhaps my all-time favorite comic novel, Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim," provides that most recent laugh.
And though not a book, Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" teaches much about writing while doubling you up with laughter.
What's your favorite book of all time?
Easy. "Huckleberry Finn." Need I name the author?
Twain heard that a blue-nosed lady librarian had removed "Tom" and "Huck" from the shelves as dangerous for children. He wrote her that she was wise and that he wrote them both for adults, and cautioned her not to leave them lying around near a Bible. Suppose children should get hold of that!
"Huck" is a great illustrator of "Vlad" (I didn't actually know him) Nabokov's admonition that there is no such thing as reading. Only rereading. Try it with a book you read and think you know. It's as if the thing's been rewritten and filled with gems that you missed the first time. Try it, even with a few pages you've just read. We'd all have been better off to have read half as many books. Twice.
What kind of reader were you as a child? What were your favorite childhood books?
When I was a tiny boy, my dad read to me, and year after year I demanded "Treasure Island." Also, there were all the Pooh books; "The Hound of the Baskervilles"; "Tom Sawyer"; and that neglected comic masterpiece by Booth Tarkington, "Penrod." And wouldn't the P.C. crowd have a ball with its two small black comic brothers, Herman and Verman? Oh, dear. Let's not forget Holmes. Sherlock, of course, not O.W. The cases are a little less thrilling than when one is young and they are new. I raced through the complete tales, from morn until "lights out," as fast as I did years later with "War and Peace," laid up with the measles. The tales still make great reading at night by a fireplace. Sometimes Doyle gets off a marvelous line, as with: "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius."
Presumptuous, maybe, but as his editor I would have deleted "instantly" as not needed.
By the age of 3, I was reading to myself and adored "Rufus M.," by Eleanor Estes. I've assumed it and she were long gone, and it pains me to learn that she lived well into my later life. And that I might have met her. Damn.
Rufus was a hilarious kid. He planted beans for his not-wealthy family's dinner table. Unfortunately, he also dug them up every day to see how they were doing. The book lives, and you can get it. It's for kids, but certainly not only.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?
Definitely. Yes. A book in the Lincoln, Neb., public library. Amusingly called "Modern Judo," since it was from 1943.
It contained a chokehold so lethal that repeated fatalities caused it to be banned from competition. In a fight on the sixth-grade playground, my friends stepped back in horror when I clearly killed my classmate Herbert Langhus with it. He turned gray, a tear came down -- and then he stirred and was helped inside. He's fine. What can we learn from this? Keep your kids ... out of libraries.
The layout of the book lends itself to reading about three, four, or ten (the reader’s decision) authors’ responses to many of the same questions in a session. 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, from Gary Shteyngart: “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be”? “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.”