Have you ever wanted to know what your favorite authors like to read and what kind of books keep them up late at night? Any bibliophile is likely to be excited by the content of By the Book. This collection is based on Pamela Paul’s column in The New York Times Book Review (for which she serves as editor) where she interviews novelists, historians, short story writers and artists every Sunday. While Paul keeps most of the questions consistent in each interview, she changes a few to better fit the profile of her interviewee, making each interview unique. Paul gets to know each guest from a literary perspective, asking insightful questions that revolve around individual reading and writing habits and about recent books that make each writer laugh, cry or get angry.

You’re not alone if you have those certain books that, try as you might, you just can’t seem to ever finish. Our favorite writers are no exception. Ulysses doesn’t get much love from Elizabeth Gilbert, Donna Tartt or Ian McEwan. What about genres that they “can’t be bothered with”? J.K Rowling doesn’t read any science fiction or fantasy, and she doesn’t normally go to poetry for company or solace. When it comes to questions such as “if you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?”, Neil Gaiman naturally suggests that he would recommend the president to read one of his books (“Look, JFK made the James Bond franchise by talking about how much he liked the books. I can dream”). Jeannette Walls believes memoirs make the best self-help books as “it’s easier to have perspective on someone else’s life than your own.” The writers’ personalities really shine through these conversations and some of the answers might surprise readers or give them something to contemplate.

As Paul points out, reading By the Book is almost like venturing into others’ home libraries, and we get a glimpse at what’s on the reading list and nightstand of each writer. Who doesn’t want to get book recommendations from some of the greatest authors in the world? Serious book addicts might have to watch out for their savings accounts. What motivates these people to write? What are some of their pet peeves and their writing process like? What book do they think is overrated? And most importantly, what are they planning to read next? The Q&A format makes it easy to read and feels like a big book party with these writers. Less helpful are the small sections interspersed throughout the book. Each section focuses on different topics such as “I’d Love to Meet…,” “Childhood Idols” and “The Ideal Reading Experience,” which are a little redundant as the excerpts are all pulled from the interviews.

All in all, By the Book is a rather delightful read that’s worth returning to over and over again. You might not want to finish all the interviews in one go, but the short and sweet interview makes it a great pick-me-up over a cup of coffee or tea. If you’ve been a fan of this particular New York Times Book Review column, you might have found pieces that were left out in these uncut interviews, but what Paul has collected here is thorough and compelling. For those who love to read, By the Book is a gateway to greater literary insight.

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