By the Book

I love the New York Times By the Book column, which appears in the Sunday Book Review.  A friend and fellow passionate reader recently shared one with me with the note that it would be awfully hard to answer the questions.  Then I thought: this would be fun to try.  The questions vary slightly week to week, but the gist is the same. I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, too, if you are so moved!

What books are currently on your night stand?

Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein (I am in a difficult work period, and not much reading is happening)
The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson (these essays by possibly my favorite writer are dense, beautiful, and too smart for me; I’m dipping in and out)
The Book of Awakening
by Mark Nepo (permanently on my bedside table)

What’s the last great book you read?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (I wrote about it here)

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I love memoir, poetry, and some fiction.  I almost never read historical fiction (which is part of why I was somewhat resistant to  All the Light We Cannot See – which I eventually adored).

What’s the last book that made you laugh?

 Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

What’s your favorite poem?

The Real Work by Wendell Berry.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Hero/heroine: Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter (Harry Potter), Lyra Belaqua (His Dark Materials Trilogy), Eve (Paradise Lost), Charity Lang (Crossing to Safety).
Villain is harder.  Nobody comes to mind.

What kind of reader were you as a child? What authors and books stick most in your mind?

I was an avid reader, devouring lots of books of all kinds of genres.  I remember loving the pantheon of great female heroines in that stage of books: Meg Murry in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet in Louise FitzHugh’s Harriet the Spy, Karana in Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins.

I also loved Bridge to TerabithiaI am absolutely certain that I would have been a passionate fan of Harry Potter and his world if it had existed when I was a child.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

This is very hard to answer, but I think I would cite the work of the three poets on whom I wrote my senior thesis in college: Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, and Maxine Kumin.  That year was the first time I dove into what would become a central theme of my life, the intersection of motherhood and creativity and the ways in which they both enrich and detract from each other.

What author living or dead would you most like to meet, and what would you like to know?

I wish I had known Oliver Sacks and Paul Kalanithi, and I would love to meet Atul Gawande and Abraham Verghese.  I am fascinated by the doctor-writers, and by both spheres in which they live their lives (and, as many people know, I wish I was a doctor).

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I just could not get into Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.  I really wanted to.  I really tried.  So many people whose book recommendations to me are infallible suggested I read it.  It simply did not hook me.  I’m sorry!

Whom would you want to write your life story?

Katrina Kenison.  Nobody shows the way ordinary life shimmers with meaning the way she does.

What do you plan to read next?

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature by Meredith Maran.

I’d love to hear your answers to these!

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  1. Posted February 10, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    You know I love these kind of posts so much. And I adore By The Book. It is the first thing I read in the weekend paper. I haven’t blogged in ages and have been looking for a way back in. I think this might be it. And When Breath Becomes Air was the first thing I read this week when my time and mind opened back up. What an amazing book. And I started Lucy Barton yesterday. There is one paragraph early on that will make you hold your breath. I wondered if I should read on. I’m forging forward and am so glad I am. I can’t wait to hear what you think.

    admin Reply:

    Please share your answers here! I’d love to hear them. xo

  2. Posted February 10, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Wow–you did it! I’m impressed! I think this would be hard to do too. But it gives me something to work at mentally, and maybe, eventually…

    admin Reply:

    I’m eager to hear your answers!

  3. Posted February 10, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Lindsey! I cannot get into the Ferrante series either! Doesn’t it seem like we should with the title and the enthusiasm alone? ARG!

    admin Reply:

    We TOTALLY should!!! But I cannot!

  4. Posted February 10, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    It took half of the book (My Brilliant Friend) for me to get into it. And then in the end I was feeling very “meh” but yet I still ordered the second one right away. I don’t really know why 😉 There’s just something about it!

    admin Reply:

    I may just have to try again … xo

  5. Posted February 11, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I know I’ve told you this before, but I’ll say it again, you are one of my Go To sources for reading recommendations. While at the library, I’ve pulled up your blog many times to see what I’ll read next. xox

    admin Reply:

    Makes me so happy to hear that. Thank you!

  6. Posted February 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I love these questions! I adored Amy Pohler’s book and enjoyed The Gift of an Ordinary Day – which I discovered form you!

    admin Reply:

    Now that I know I have helped one person discover Katrina Kenison’s luminous writing, I believe my work here is done xox

  7. Posted February 11, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t wanted to write for a while. I’m going through a terribly sad divorce. So much to share — and it feels weird to share it over the internet – and yet that’s the only place I know you. I only know you in this arena, and yet — it’s still real. It’s still friendship, though long-distance on every of level.

    I’m still reading your blog. It comes to my inbox. I’m still thinking about your kids and all the similarities we have, and of course, the differences. I laughed when I read you were reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest book of essays – the Givenness of Things, which I LOVED. I bought it and devoured it. So many good essays. We would enjoy a book club together!

    And yesterday I checked out Crossing to Safety and decided to finally read it, thinking of you, wondering if I could find something that would soothe my weary heart. And I have. It’s wonderful and deep and the way the voice in my head reads it absolutely brings calm to me.

    I got an email the other day from a girl who read my first novel that was published, in which she boldly proclaims that my writing has changed her life. It made me smile and of course, I cried. There’s nothing like knowing our writing is actually making an impact, is there?

    I’m seeing this man who started reading Harry Potter to me at night before he goes home. It’s the most endearing thing I’ve ever experienced – and for some reason it made me think of you.

    Your before-the-last-post on how life is hard right now resonated. My life is absolutely difficult in every way right now. Nothing is easy, except maybe this relationship with the guy reading Harry Potter to me. He’s a theology professor — which suits me.

    My kids are figuring out how to live in America again. How to go to school again. How to have parents who aren’t together. I wrote about it in my latest post.

    This is becoming a novel — or a really public letter! Anyways … EASE. Your word. You will find it this year in a deeper way than ever, but not without a cost.

    Much Love to you,


  8. Dianna
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Ha! My husband gave me The Givenness of Things for Christmas and he asked me how it was going last night – I told him very slowly – I’m taking it one paragraph at a time!

  9. Posted February 23, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Hi Lindsay,
    Usually I just lurk and admire your writing and openness, but I was surprised out of silence when you mentioned you admire doctor-writers and would have liked to be a doctor.
    I’m a doctor-writer. From what I know of you from your writing, your open heart and your work ethic, you would be a terrific doctor-writer too. It’s hard to maintain the empathy every second, but I’m sure it is for everybody.

    Tina, love your post and your Harry Potter-reading man. Sounds like a keeper. Thanks for sharing your stories with the world.