NYTimesBookReviewMore often than not, the Sunday New York Times Book Review contains a passage that you wish you’d written, or that you’d like to save somewhere to inspire yourself about the importance of books, reading and libraries.

For example, this was part of a July 5th interview with Anthony Doerr. By the Book is a recurring feature in which writers are quizzed about their reading life. Here’s an excerpt:

“Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?

Gosh, I’m not sure. Last year I bought an Eliot Weinberger essay collection to my son’s lacrosse practice and took a wayward ball to the shin because I was sitting too close to the field. I did read “The Sheltering Sky” when I was 11 or 12 years old. (“Mom, what’s hashish?) But I don’t think I got in trouble for it.  On the contrary, I was incredibly blessed because neither my mother nor the local librarians ever said ‘This is outside your age range, Tony.  You can’t handle this.’  They trusted us to make our own paths through books  and that’s very, very empowering.”

From Anthony Doerr: By the Book, New York Times, p. 8, July 5, 2015.

Or sometimes, it hits a little close to home. To quote Judd Apatow:

“My buying-to-actually reading ratio is 387 to 1. …I have actually convinced myself that buying books is the same as reading…”

This is in answer to the question: “Whom do you consider the best writers – novelists, essayists, critics, journalists, poets – working today?,” he says, “I am the last person you should ask because I don’t read that much.”

From Judd Apatow: By the Book, New York Times, p. 7, June 14, 2015

I intend to browse through back issues at the Main library, and look for Carl Hiaasen, Neil Gaiman, Anne Lamott, Alain de Botton, Marilynne Robinson, and Michael Connelly, among others (you can also browse the archives online to see a list of featured authors).  These are folks that I’m guessing are going to be both witty and not so very full of themselves.

So, how would you answer the By the Book questionnaire?

to kill a mockingbirdOn February 3, 2015, the literary world was shocked to learn that Harper Lee would no longer be a One Hit Wonder. In July 2015, her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled to be released.

Go Set a Watchman is the sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird and is set twenty years later.  An adult Scout Finch lives in New York and is back visiting her father, Atticus Finch, in Maycomb, Alabama. According to the publisher, Scout “is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

While Harper Lee may be leaving the One Hit Wonder Club, that still leaves other authors that will remain in the One Hit Wonder Club forever.


wuthering heights Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights was published in London in 1847 by Ellis Bell.  The passion and violence in the book led people to believe that a man wrote Wuthering Heights.  Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis on December 19, 1848 at the age of thirty without knowing how popular her novel would become.


Black Beauty Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

It took Anna six years to write Black Beauty.  She was so sick while she wrote it that she dictated a lot of it to her mother.  Considered a children’s classic, Sewell wrote the book for people that worked with horses.  Sewell died on April 27, 1878 five months after her book had been published.


gwtw Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

It took Margaret Mitchell three years to write her famous novel and it took an additional six years before she showed  it to anybody.  In 1936, Gone With the Wind was published making Mitchell famous.  The movie release in 1939  only heightened her fame. Mitchell did not care for the spotlight which may be the reason she never wrote  a sequel.  In 1949, she was hit by a car and died five days later.


bell jar

 Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath was a published poet when she wrote her semi-autobiographical novel about mental illness.  In January 1963, The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.   Plath died less than a month later on February 11, 1963.


catcher in the rye J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger had published several short stories but The Catcher in The Rye made him famous in 1951. The attention made him reclusive and he published his short stories and novellas less frequently. Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010.


Book of Madness and cures

For Dr. Gabriella Mondini, there is no other option besides following in her father’s footsteps into a life of medicine in Regina O’Melveny’s debut, The Book of Madness and Cures.  She is passionate about healing the citizens of Venice. For a woman residing in this part of the word in the late 16th Century this proves to be a challenging feat.  In the male dominated Italian medical society, Gabriella gains credibility with her father’s colleagues by assisting him with research on “The Book of Diseases.”

A few years prior, Gabriella’s father, the elder Dr. Mondini, disappeared unexpectedly with only an occasional letter as to his whereabouts.  In addition to the sporadic correspondence, his writings are cryptic and give little clue to Gabriella and her mother of his condition, which has a tendency to gravitate toward madness.  With the prospect of continuing her medical career in jeopardy without her father’s guidance, Gabriella, her maid and a few additional servants embark on a journey to solve the mystery of what happened to her father.  The journey takes them across Europe to France, Germany, England, Spain and south to the tip of Morocco, all the while encountering danger while traveling and encountering locals who met her father and are able to provide clues to the group of travelers.

While in Morocco, Gabriella finds out the shocking truth about her father, his nearly completed book on diseases and her own future.  O’Melveny’s debut provides a rich look at late 16th century day to day life, the logistics of cross continent travels and the lives of women during this time.

Fall of the SparrowFresh on the heels of Elizabeth Berg’s visit to the Quad-Cities, comes Robert Hellenga, author of many best selling novels. He is the keynote speaker Thursday, June 25th at Midwest Writing Center’s annual conference. This year, events are held at St. Ambrose University.

My favorite novel by Robert Hellenga is The Fall of the Sparrow, which is partially set at a liberal arts college in Galesburg (the author is a Knox College  literature professor), and partly in Italy.  Though there’s a insider feeling of intimacy when you’re familiar with the local references; the novel resonates with many themes. The main character is a classics professor  and the reader learns about Latin, Greek, Persian rugs, as well as the blues,  and shares Woody’s deep appreciation of Italian culture.

bergBarnes & Noble and the Moline Public Library snagged a pretty big fish; the Quad-Cities should be proud! Berg read from Home Safe and answered wide-ranging questions from a full house at the Moline Public Library Tuesday afternoon.

We learned that both daughters are writers (one professionally and one potentially), she’d like to serve tea to E.B. White and have a drink (vodka) with Marilyn Monroe (this in response to a question about who Berg would most  like to have tea with). She said she’d be too nervous to drink tea with White, so would rather serve him and a guest.

We learned also that the Oakbrook, IL author was a nurse before she was an author, was involved in a Second-City type of drama group in the Twin Cities, and likes to quilt but doesn’t think she is good at it.  The book she recently recommended to NPR was Beat That by Ann Hodgman – a cookbook that is just fun to read.

She talked about how devastating her experience with writer’s block was and how this led to her current book. Her daily routine of writing all morning (she normally writes till early afternoon in her pajamas and said her Fedex man must think she had a very long-lasting case of flu). She talked about her dry spell with her daughter, who suggested that she write about it. Home Safe is about Helen, a well-known novelist, who is unable to write after husband of many years dies suddenly. Helen gradually “fills her well” with life experience, such as teaching a writing class of disparate individuals (a high point of the novel). All of Elizabeth Berg’s  fans are grateful that her daughter’s suggestion was successful.

The end of the year always brings an avalanche lists and awards – winners for being the “best” in various fields and lists of the “Top 10” of just about everything. In that spirit, the Davenport Library is joining in with our own end-of-year list. Here are the favorite books that our Blogging Librarians read in 2008.

Lynn’s favorite was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett about the Queen of England taking up reading. It had great insight into the life of the Queen and the (sometime subversive) value of reading. Read her description of it here.

Bill liked Red White and Brew : an American Brew Odyssey by Brian Yaegaer. Follow Yaeger cross-country as he explores the brew pubs and small breweries of America.

Rita recommends following the Harlan Coben mystery series on CD. With great characters and interesting puzzles to solve, you’ll want to read/listen to them all.

Rebecca loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, about a boy who runs away with the circus. Rebecca says this was one of those rare books that is life-changing, making you stop and see the world from an entirely new perspective. She blogged about it here.

Tana’s favorite was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Tana wrote about it before Oprah picked it for her bookclub, predicting that this was a book that would take the country by storm. Read her blog post here.

My choice is So Young Brave and Handsome by Leif Enger, a poignant coming-of-age story set at the end of the Wild West era. Full of adventure and emotion, I wrote more about it here.

Those are our picks – what about you? What was your favorite book that you read in 2008?