28 January 2010

The Book Brahmins Speak Wisely

The free daily newsletter Shelf Awareness is fun to read and stuffed with news and gossip about the book biz. One of their most popular – they call it “wildly popular” – features is the occasional interview with a “Book Brahmin,” who answers nine itchy questions concerning their personal taste in books.

In the dictionary a Brahmin might be “a person who is intellectually or socially aloof” among other definitions.

When I sent out the same questions to Words on Books subscribers, I quickly heard back from no fewer than 15 readers, all Book Brahmins in their way, none of whom could be described as intellectually aloof. Quite the opposite.

So far I have responses from Todd Walton, Hank Lewis, Betty Barber, Elizabeth Morrison, Paul Takushi, Matty Goldberg, Raven Deerwater, Johanna Wildoak, Mark Hannon, Katy Tahja, John Fremont, Jill Hannum, Russ Harvey, Joel Crockett, and Paul McHugh, whose new book “Deadlines” was favorably reviewed here last week.

The first question is “On your nightstand now?” and the best way to share the response, I think, is to list everything that everyone said, along with a few comments.

So, deep breath, here’s what your neighbors have stacked up to read:

“The Dream of Scipio” by Iain Pears, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Deadlines” by Paul McHugh, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder & “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver; Graham Greene, “The End of the Affair,” John Varley, “Red Thunder;” Richard Preston, “The Wild Trees;” Guy Kuttner, “Tales of the Dolly Llama;” Alexandra Horowitz, “Inside of a Dog,” “Lose Your Mother, by Saidiya; “Blind Descent,” about people who climb the deepest caves on earth... like a MILE deep... and live to talk about it; “1491" by Charles C. Mann (excellent), “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver (first book by her that disappointed me); “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes, “The Bill Simmons Book of Basketball,” “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” by Eduardo Galeano, Michael Chabon's “Maps & Legends” and “I.O.U.” by John Lanchester; “What The Dog Saw,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Al Capone Shines My Shoes,” “Prince of Persia,” “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much,” “Benjamin Franklin” by Edmund Morgan and about 50 others; “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” Sean Carroll; Dr. Don Hahn's “Change and A Good Laugh;” George Lakoff's “Political Mind,” the New Yorker; “Die Blechtrommel” (The Tin Drum); and “Brazil,” a fabulous anthology of Brazilian short stories from Whereabouts Press.

Russ Harvey mentioned “‘The Frozen Rabbi,’ plus ‘A Truth Universally Acknowledged,’ because I want to know why everyone else reads Jane Austen, and an as yet un-started mass market thriller from the $.50 pile at work. I'm not even sure which one. I just need some popcorn.”

The remaining eight questions are:

Favorite book when you were a child?
Your top five authors?
Book you've faked reading?
Book you're an evangelist for?
Book you've bought for the cover?
Book that changed your life?
Favorite line from a book?
What is the book you most want to read again for the first time?

Finally, some of your favorite first lines:

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” (Conan Doyle, from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”).

“As the egg from the fish, as the fish from the water, as the water from the cloud, as the cloud from the thick air, so put forth, so leaped out, so drew away, so fumed up the Soul of Teshoo Lama from the Great Soul.” (Kipling, “Kim”).

“Whether I will be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will fall on someone else, these pages will tell.” from Dickens’ “David Copperfield” AND John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules.”

I have to end with Jill Hannum’s favorite line, because it’s mine, too: “Once upon a time there was a ...”


The trade newsletter Shelf Awareness has been publishing a daily email for five years.

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