Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review: The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives

The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Write all the books about books you can, I will read them. All of them. Nancy Pearl teams up with Jeff Schwager to interview 23 mostly well-known authors about their reading lives. Most people know Nancy Pearl as the world's librarian and model for the iconic shushing librarian action figure, along with being the author of readers advisory books like Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. Jeff Schwager is less known to me but because the chapters in this book are transcribed interviews, I know he likes Philip Roth and Denis Johnson, and that right there tells you a lot about a person.

The best part of books like this is that I come away with more books I want to read - some I already know I want to read, or have had lingering on my shelves; a few I'd never heard of, a few I felt more interested in reading after hearing what the writer had to say about it (or sometimes, the interviewers.) There is a slight warning I feel I should give - the two interviewers are exuberant about books and outnumber the people they are interviewing. And since the chapters are transcriptions rather than narratives, you can see them cutting people off - I feel they would beg your forgiveness and hope you see it in the light of shared delight rather than competing interests. That is the spirit I have chosen to see it (otherwise it might be annoying.)

A lot of writers share some major authors who have influenced them, often some of the greats, and part of me believes that sometimes we say these authors because we think we should. I'm more interested in the unique books or writers that inspired people. I loved hearing about Amor Towles' project-based book club (wow) and Dave Eggers' experiences as a publisher.

I don't think this will take away from the experience of reading these interviews, so I will share the books I've added (or confirmed) on my list:

From Nancy Pearl's comments:
The Nowhere City by Alison Lurie (in conversation with Jonathan Lethem)
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (in conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen)
A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just, but only after reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene...(in conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen, but I have Ward on my radar from Thomas O.)

From Laila Lalami:
[book of poetry from Tahar Ben Jelloun that doesn't seem to exist in English! darn!]
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

From Luis Alberto Urrea:
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch by John Zada

From Jennifer Egan:
Domestic Manners of the Americans by Fanny Trollope
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (mentioned by others as well)
Night Shift by Maritta Wolff

From T.C. Boyle:
Outside Looking In by T.C. Boyle (oh this is from his intro)
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (I bought this last year for the Back to Classics challenge for a comic novel and never read it)

From Andrew Sean Greer:
Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

From Madeline Miller:
Like Life by Lorrie Moore

From Maaza Mengiste (whose book The Shadow King is currently on my stack):
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Trieste by Daša Drndić

From Amor Towles:
Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? by Harold Bloom
Middlemarch by George Eliot (mentioned by others)
The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

From Louise Erdrich:
Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (sitting on my Kindle, mentioned by others)

From Dave Eggers:
Herzog by Saul Bellow (I've never had him explained to me!)
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (he claims it is her best...)
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (on my shelf!)

From Laurie Frankel:
American War by Omar El Akkad (most mentions I see are lukewarm but her feelings were very strong... I have this on my shelf)

From Siri Hustvedt:
Maybe Esther: A Family Story by Katja Petrowskaja
Pain by Zeruya Shalev
Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno

From Vendela Vida:
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (I've meant to get to this forever!)

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