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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Start Here: Read Your Way into 25 Amazing Authors by Jeff O'Neal and Rebecca Joines Schinsky (Ed)

I'm a regular reader of the the blog Book Riot. I am also a book lover, so books about books are obviously one of my favorite things. When the editors of Book Riot announced that they were publishing a book about books I knew that I would have to read it.

Start Here: Read Your Way into 25 Amazing Authors is a collection of essays that are meant to be suggested reading lists to get into authors whose backlists are often perceived as overwhelming. It is an admirable goal. For example, there is an essay on Herman Melville. Many people never read Melville because their instinct is to start with Moby Dick, but in Start Here blogger Nicole Perrin suggests you begin with Benito Cereno because it is a “faithful taste of the author” but of a less intimidating length.

Some of the the essays or “pathways” are quite obvious and a few of the essays were, I felt, superfluous. Do we need someone introducing us to Edgar Allan Poe as Linda Fairstein does here with “The Raven”? Is Zadie Smith really an author with a daunting catalog (she has only published five books)? Putting aside the few essays that fail, most read as enthusiastic recommendations, and there are some that really shine. Joe Hill's essay on Bernard Malamud made me want to read absolutely everything both authors have written. In fact, I immediately purchased copies of Malamud's The Assistant (Hill's recommended first step to Malamud) and Horns (Hill's 2010 novel about a man who sprouts horns after murdering his girlfriend).

This essay collection is a great way to build a To-Be-Read list - I defy you to read this collection and not come away with a tottering stack of books to buy and read, but it is best in creating a sense of community around each author. Part of what makes Book Riot such a great blog is the community around it; reading is absolutely a solitary pursuit, but it does not happen in a vacuum because we are never the only one experiencing these works. Start Here not only added immensely to my on TBR list, but it made me reflect on some of my favorite authors and the books that introduced me to them. This is a book for all readers and I can only hope that the editors choose another 25 authors who deserve the same treatment.

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