HALLIE: Okay, how I wrote it--"1001 Books for Every Mood" was written at a dead run. Six months, start to finish. My husband donated an old library card catalogue box (see photo) to the effort, and I started with the moods. "For a Good Laugh" and "For a Good Cry" were quickly followed by "For a Wallow in a Slough of Despond." Then "To Behave." Followed of course by "To Misbehave"--entries for that one include "Fear of Flying," "Moll Flanders," "Wicked," and "Where the Wild Things Are."
Of course they include my personal favorites, but the truth is, most of the books I've read I wouldn't include because I wanted (as Miss Jean Brodie would have said) the creme de la creme. For months I carried around 3x5 cards and asked everyone who had the temerity to be carrying a book--people on trains and busses, in restaurants and on street corners. I got some pretty strange looks, but most of the time people are delighted to be asked. I also asked booksellers and librarians and book groups.
I jotted each title on a card, and gave the ones I hadn't read my unscientific "sniff test"--I read the opening, sampled more pages, and then checked out all the book reviews and readers' comments I could get my hands on. If the book "passed," I found a mood for it and added it to the file box.
HANK: So it just got bigger and bigger? I love organization--files and charts and lists. So I think the process sounds like so much fun, and like putting together a wonderful jigsaw puzzle when you don't even know yet what picture it's making. (But then, I don't have a deadline.)
How did you decide to use all the icons? Knowing in one glance if a book is provocative, or funny, or a page-turner--it's like a Michelin guide for books, you know?
How did you decide literary merit, if you can reveal it? And how did you do the quizzes? And oh, was there a book that everyone wanted? That came up again and again? And you said you included your favorite..will you tell?
Ah, reporter me can't stop with the questions. You can see I think this book is fascinating. Not only the result, but the process.
HALLIE: Yup, it grew like Topsy. My pile of discarded titles is about 500-strong.
You're right, Hank, I sort of thought of this as a Michelin or Zagats for books...hence the icons. How many stars to give for literary merit? It was easy if the book won book prizes, but otherwise I based the rating on the excerpts I read, the book reviews, and reader comments.
Yes, there were favorites that kept coming up over and over. But once you get past Austen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner (yes, there are people who can read Faulkner), and Stephen King. there's a surprising diversity among the books people suggest. That's because there's no one "reader" out there--there's the occasional omnivore, but there are also those who read only literary fiction, or history, or mystery, or romance, or sci-fi, or sports or ... That's why there's such a range of titles in there.
Okay, okay -- here are some of my favorites:
- The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon)
- The Thurber Carnival (James Thurber)
- A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
- Rootabaga Stories (Carl Sandburg)
- Alice, Let's Eat (Calvin Trillin)
And I had a great time putting together the quizzes. Here are some opening lines. What books are they from?
- Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
- Amerigo Bonasero sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
- In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.
- In a country such as Amerika, there is bound to be a hell-of-a-lot of food lying around just waiting to be ripped off.
No cheating by looking them up! Titles will be posted Friday.