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Question and Answer: Liesl Schillinger

Book Reviewer for the New York Times

Michael Orbach

Issue date: 2/8/07 Section: Knight Life
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Q. As one of the Book Review regulars, what's your background and how did you end up working for the Book Review?

A: My father is a Russian literature professor and my mother taught journalism, graphic design, global Marxism (etc). I grew up in mid-western university towns in a busy, somewhat raucous (two brothers) household where food, books, conversation and entertaining were very important. Because of my dad's job, I was allowed to study French and German at the university, and spent summers in France, from the age of twelve, which kicked off a fascination with all things trans-Atlantic. I was a paper girl, edited the school newspapers, and was a high school debater. At Yale I majored in comparative literature, and learned Russian and Italian. When I graduated, in pre-internet days, I was hired as a fact checker at The New Yorker at a time when phone calls to collapsing, post-Soviet Eastern Europe were integral to the job. That job was more than marvelous. It gave me a firm foothold in a matchless literary community, and gave me the time to write extensively on the side. I soon started writing for The New Yorker, and when Chip McGrath left the New Yorker for the Times Book Review, he assigned me my first review in 1995. I continued writing book reviews and other pieces while working at The New Yorker. When Sam Tanenhaus came to the Review in 2004, he asked me to write more frequently. In 2004 and 2005, I wrote so much for the Times that I at last left The New Yorker to devote all my time to writing. I am thrilled to have a forum where my impressions are welcome to be part of the ongoing cultural discussion.

Q. How do you write a review, and how long does it take you?

A: I read the book as long as possible before the review is due, to give me time to ponder the other books, movies, or other influences it might suggest. When I feel it's important to the review, I read (or watch) those other books/poems/movies. (Sometimes the book itself is enough.) I sit with these thoughts for a day or two, then write. I write in one sitting, then I give myself a little pause, and come back to the piece, and see if was on the right track. When necessary, I then tweak, or rewrite. (I often have two separate leads, and decide at the last minute which one is the better starting point.) And then I hit send.
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