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 editor of the Book Review, and here she brings together sixty-five of the most intriguing and fascinating exchanges, featuring personalities as varied as David Sedaris, Hilary Mantel, Michael Chabon, Khaled Hosseini, Anne Lamott, and James Patterson. The questions and answers admit us into the private worlds of these authors, as they reflect on their work habits, reading preferences, inspirations, pet peeves, and recommendations.

By the Book contains the full uncut interviews, offering a range of experiences and observations that deepens readers’ understanding of the literary sensibility and the writing process. It also features dozens of sidebars that reveal the commonalities and conflicts among the participants, underscoring those influences that are truly universal and those that remain matters of individual taste.

For the 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.

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Madeline, NonFiction

Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion and Film by Marc Spitz, 352 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/25/2014

New York Times, Spin, and Vanity Fair contributor Marc Spitz explores the first great cultural movement since Hip Hop: an old-fashioned and yet highly modern aesthetic that’s embraced internationally by teens, twenty and thirty-somethings and even some Baby Boomers; creating hybrid generation known as Twee. Via exclusive interviews and years of research, Spitz traces Generation Twee’s roots from the Post War 50s to its dominance in popular culture today.

Vampire Weekend, Garden State, Miranda July, Belle and Sebastian, Wes Anderson, Mumblecore, McSweeney’s, Morrissey, beards, artisanal pickles, food trucks, crocheted owls on Etsy, ukuleles, kittens and Zooey Deschanel—all are examples of a cultural aesthetic of calculated precocity known as Twee.

In Twee, journalist and cultural observer Marc Spitz surveys the rising Twee movement in music, art, film, fashion, food and politics and examines the cross-pollinated generation that embodies it—from aging hipsters to nerd girls, indie snobs to idealistic industrialists. Spitz outlines the history of twee—the first strong, diverse, and wildly influential youth movement since Punk in the ’70s and Hip Hop in the ’80s—showing how awkward glamour and fierce independence has become part of the zeitgeist.

Focusing on its origins and hallmarks, he charts the rise of this trend from its forefathers like Disney, Salinger, Plath, Seuss, Sendak, Blume and Jonathan Richman to its underground roots in the post-punk United Kingdom, through the late’80s and early ’90s of K Records, Whit Stillman, Nirvana, Wes Anderson, Pitchfork, This American Life, and Belle and Sebastian, to the current (and sometimes polarizing) appeal of Girls, Arcade Fire, Rookie magazine, and hellogiggles.com.

Revealing a movement defined by passionate fandom, bespoke tastes, a rebellious lack of irony or swagger, the championing of the underdog, and the vanquishing of bullies, Spitz uncovers the secrets of modern youth culture: how Twee became pervasive, why it has so many haters and where, in a post-Portlandia world, can it go from here?

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Madeline, NonFiction

Celia: A Slave by Melton A. McLaurin, 192 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/20/2014

Celia was an ordinary slave–until she struck back at her abusive master and became the defendant in a landmark trial that threatened to undermine the very foundations of the South’s “Peculiar Institution.”

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Humor, Informational Book, Madeline, NonFiction

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan, 157 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/15/2014

Straight from the library–the strange and bizarre, ready to be checked out!

From a patron’s missing wetsuit to the scent of crab cakes wafting through the stacks, I Work at a Public Library showcases the oddities that have come across Gina Sheridan’s circulation desk. Throughout these pages, she catalogs her encounters with local eccentrics as well as the questions that plague her, such as, “What is the standard length of eyebrow hairs?” Whether she’s helping someone scan his face onto an online dating site or explaining why the library doesn’t have any dragon autobiographies, Sheridan’s bizarre tales prove that she’s truly seen it all.

Stacked high with hundreds of strange-but-true stories, I Work at a Public Library celebrates librarians and the unforgettable patrons that roam the stacks every day.

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline, Romance, Teen Books

The Swiss Affair by Emylia Hall, 384 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/10/2014

From the highly acclaimed author of The Book of Summers comes a tale of love, lies and innocence lost.

For Hadley Dunn, life has been predictable and uneventful. But that is before she spends her second year of college abroad in Lausanne, a glamorous Swiss city on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lausanne is imbued with the boundless sense of freedom Hadley has been seeking, and it is here she meets Kristina, a beautiful but mysterious Danish girl. The two bond quickly, but as the first snows of winter arrive, tragedy strikes.

Driven by guilt and haunted by suspicion, Hadley resolves to find the truth about what really happened that night, and so begins a search that will consume her, the city she loves, and the lives of two very different men. Set against the backdrop of a uniquely captivating city, The Swiss Affair is an evocative portrayal of a journey of discovery and a compelling exploration of how our connections with people and with places, make us who we are.

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, 195 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/05/2014

We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two), but what poverty is truly like—on all levels.  Frankly and boldly, Tirado discusses openly how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why “poor people don’t always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should.”

05. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, 256 pages, read by Madeline, on 11/01/2014

“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

27. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Thriller/Suspense

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke, 368 pages, read by Madeline, on 08/15/2014

A murder case with ties to a convicted serial killer leads a young defense lawyer and an NYPD homicide detective into parallel investigations with explosive and deadly results in this superb mystery.

The latest story dominating the tabloids – the murder of psychotherapist Helen Brunswick-couldn’t be further from Carrie Blank’s world handling federal appeals at an elite Manhattan law firm. But then a hard-charging celebrity trial lawyer calls Carrie with an offer she can’t refuse: Anthony Amaro, the serial killer police blamed for the murder of Carrie’s older sister, Donna, has new evidence related to Brunswick’s murder that he believes can exonerate him. Determined to force the government to catch Donna’s real killer, Carrie takes on Amaro’s wrongful conviction claim. 

On the other side of Amaro’s case is NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, who, along with her partner, JJ Rogan, is tapped as the “fresh look” team to reassess the investigation that led to Amaro’s conviction. The case is personal for them, too: Ellie wonders whether they got the assignment because of her relationship with the lead prosecutor, and Rogan has his own reasons to distrust Amaro’s defense team. 

As the NYPD and Amaro’s lawyers search for certainty among years of conflicting evidence, their investigations take them back to Carrie’s hometown and secrets left behind there. And when Carrie falls victim to a brutal attack, it becomes clear that the young attorney got too close to the truth.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Business, Informational Book, Madeline, NonFiction

The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor, 288 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/29/2014

From a cutting-edge cultural commentator, a bold and brilliant challenge to cherished notions of the Internet as the great leveler of our age

The Internet has been hailed as an unprecedented democratizing force, a place where all can be heard and everyone can participate equally. But how true is this claim? In a seminal dismantling of techno-utopian visions, “The People’s Platform” argues that for all that we “tweet” and “like” and “share,” the Internet in fact reflects and amplifies real-world inequities at least as much as it ameliorates them. Online, just as off-line, attention and influence largely accrue to those who already have plenty of both.

What we have seen so far, Astra Taylor says, has been not a revolution but a rearrangement. Although Silicon Valley tycoons have eclipsed Hollywood moguls, a handful of giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook remain the gatekeepers. And the worst habits of the old media model–the pressure to seek easy celebrity, to be quick and sensational above all–have proliferated online, where “aggregating” the work of others is the surest way to attract eyeballs and ad revenue. When culture is “free,” creative work has diminishing value, and advertising fuels the system. The new order looks suspiciously like the old one.

We can do better, Taylor insists. The online world does offer a unique opportunity, but a democratic culture that supports diverse voices and work of lasting value will not spring up from technology alone. If we want the Internet to truly be a people’s platform, we will have to make it so.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense

The Code of the Hill by Nancy Allen, 480 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/22/2014

To uncover the truth, she’ll have to break the code of the hills …

In the Missouri Ozarks, some things aren’t talked about … even abuse. But prosecutor Elsie Arnold is determined to change that.

When she is assigned to prosecute a high-profile incest case in which a father is accused of abusing his three young daughters, Elsie is ready to become the Ozarks’ avenging angel.

But as Elsie sinks her teeth into the case, everything begins to turn sour. The star witness goes missing; the girls refuse to talk about their father, who terrorizes the courtroom from the moment he enters; and Elsie begins to suspect that their tough-as-nails mother has ulterior motives. To make matters worse, Elsie receives gruesome threats from local extremists, warning her to mind her own business.

While Elsie swears not to let a sex offender walk, she realizes the odds—and maybe the town—are against her, and her life begins to crumble. But amidst all of the conflict, the safety of three young girls hangs in the balance …

A powerful debut, with the haunting atmosphere of Winter’s Bone and the page-turning suspense of Alafair Burke’s thrillers.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Madeline

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, 278 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/20/2014

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, 384 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/17/2014

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted stateside, she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation, Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story that reads like a modern-dayTwo for the Road.
 
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
 
One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny by Laura Schroff, Alex Tresniowski, Valerie Salembier, 274 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/14/2014

Stopping was never part of the plan . . . 

She was a successful ad sales rep in Manhattan. He was a homeless, eleven-year-old panhandler on the street. He asked for spare change; she kept walking. But then something stopped her in her tracks, and she went back. And she continued to go back, again and again. They met up nearly every week for years and built an unexpected, life-changing friendship that has today spanned almost three decades. 

Whatever made me notice him on that street corner so many years ago is clearly something that cannot be extinguished, no matter how relentless the forces aligned against it. Some may call it spirit. Some may call it heart. It drew me to him, as if we were bound by some invisible, unbreakable thread. And whatever it is, it binds us still.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Madeline

Bletchley Park: The Code-breakers of Station X by Michael Smith, 184 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/12/2014

‘Station X’ tells the true story, as it has never beeen told before, of the amazing achievements of the codebreakers working at Bletchley Park in the Second World War.

In 1939 several hundred people – students, professors, international chess players, junior military officers, actresses and debutantes – reported to a Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire: Bletchley Park. This was to be ‘Station X’, the Allies’ top-secret centre for deciphering enemy codes.

Their task was to break the ingenious Enigma cypher used for German high-level communications. The settings for the Enigma machine changed continually and each day the German operators had 159 million million million different possibilities. Yet against all the odds this gifted group achieved the impossible, coping with even greater difficulties to break Shark, the U-Boat Enigma, and Fish, the cypher system used by Hitler to talk to his generals.

‘Sation X’ is also the story of the people involved from leading codebreakers such as Alan Turing, father of the modern computer, to the female operators who intercepted the messages. Through interviews with surviving members of Bletchley Park, Michael Smith has discovered what life was like there. In this chaotic and isolated environment they found time for drama performances, music recitals, orchestras and love affairs.

Not only did these people shorten the war by several years – they were essential to victory in the Atlantic and North Africa and to the masterminding of the D-Day landings – ‘Station X’ was also the birth place of the world’s first programmable computer and the successful Anglo-American intelligence partnership.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Madeline

Warburg in Rome by James Carroll, 384 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/10/2014

David Warburg, newly minted director of the U.S. War Refugee Board, arrives in Rome at war’s end, determined to bring aid to the destitute European Jews streaming into the city. Marguerite d’Erasmo, a French-Italian Red Cross worker with a shadowed past, is initially Warburg’s guide to a complicated Rome; while a charismatic young American Catholic priest, Monsignor Kevin Deane, seems equally committed to aiding Italian Jews. But the city is a labyrinth of desperate fugitives, runaway Nazis, Jewish resisters, and criminal Church figures. Marguerite, caught between justice and revenge, is forced to play a double game. At the center of the maze, Warburg discovers one of history’s great scandals—the Vatican ratline, a clandestine escape route maintained by Church officials and providing scores of Nazi war criminals with secret passage to Argentina. Warburg’s disillusionment is complete when, turning to American intelligence officials, he learns that the dark secret is not so secret, and that even those he trusts may betray him.

James Carroll delivers an authoritative, stirring novel that reckons powerfully with the postwar complexities of good and evil in the Eternal City.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, NonFiction

I Forgot to Remember by Su Meck, Daniel de Vise, 288 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/07/2014

In 1988 Su Meck was twenty-two and married with two children when a ceiling fan in her kitchen fell and struck her on the head, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury that erased all her memories of her life up to that point. Although her body healed rapidly, her memories never returned. 

Yet after just three weeks in the hospital, Su was released and once again charged with the care of two toddlers and a busy household. Adrift in a world about which she understood almost nothing, Su became an adept mimic, gradually creating routines and rituals that sheltered her and her family, however narrowly, from the near-daily threat of disaster, or so she thought. Though Su would eventually relearn to tie her shoes, cook a meal, and read and write, nearly twenty years would pass before a series of personally devastating events shattered the normal life she had worked so hard to build, and she realized that she would have to grow up all over again.

In her own indelible voice, Su offers us a view from the inside of a terrible injury, with the hope that her story will help give other brain injury sufferers and their families the resolve and courage to build their lives anew. Piercing, heartbreaking, but finally uplifting, this book is the true story of a woman determined to live life on her own terms.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh, 302 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/05/2014

The Dane family’s roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn’t keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy’s few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri’s necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri’s death could be linked to her mother’s disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

02. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast, 240 pages, read by Madeline, on 07/01/2014

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman, John Shiffman, 324 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/29/2014

The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Timesdubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.”
 
In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.   
 
Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.
 
In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments.
 
The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.
 
By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities. He says the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what is worth more –a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried into battle? They’re both priceless. 
 
The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners.  The smuggler who brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat.  The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man.  The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington’s hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he’d filched.
 
In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all. 

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense

Suspicion by Joseph Finder, 387 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/25/2014

When single father Danny Goodman suddenly finds himself unable to afford the private school his teenage daughter adores, he has no one to turn to for financial support.

In what seems like a stroke of brilliant luck, Danny meets Thomas Galvin, the father of his daughter’s new best friend, who also happens to be one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin is aware of Danny’s situation and out of the blue offers a $50,000 loan to help Danny cover his daughter’s tuition. Uncomfortable but desperate, Danny takes the money, promising to pay Galvin back.

What transpires is something Danny never imagined. The moment the money is wired into his account, the DEA comes knocking on his door. Danny’s impossible choice: an indictment for accepting drug money that he can’t afford to fight in court, or an unthinkably treacherous undercover assignment helping the government get close to his new family friend.

As Danny begins to lie to everyone in his life, including those he loves most in the world, he must decide once and for all who the real enemy is or risk losing everything—and everyone—that matters to him.