Neil Strandberg is Shelf Awareness's technology and operations director. His book career began in 1988 at San Francisco's A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books but many are more familiar with his 23 years at Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store. In 2012, Neil joined the American Booksellers Association as its director of technology, and then relocated to Seattle in 2015 in order to join Shelf Awareness. Neil and his family enjoy exploring the mountains of Washington State and, when not blissed-out on a soggy bicycle or while running, he can sometimes be found reading. Slowly.
On your nightstand now:
The nightstand collects books I haven't finished but which interested me enough that I want them near at hand for when the right moment finally strikes. Today, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Stoner by John Edward Williams, The Recognitions by William Gaddis, The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (so short and I still didn't finish. Oy.) and Independent People by Halldór Laxness are waiting for the stars to align. The book I'm currently reading, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, is one such example: it had been on the nightstand for years, after I put it down in 2010 having read only 30 pages. On this second attempt the chemistry is right.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I could say the World Book Encyclopedia. During my elementary school years, I would feign illness or exaggerate symptoms in order to stay home from school and spend time with the 20-some volumes that comprised it. There were exceptions, though: in fifth grade, I really enjoyed John D. Fitzgerald's The Great Brain and Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown series. To this day, clock radios still remind me of the critical clue in one of the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries.
Your top five authors:
No such thing, say I, and it changes over one's reading life, but I've gone back to Raymond Chandler, Iris Murdoch, P.G. Wodehouse, Jim Harrison, Jane Gardam, Charles Dickens and Neal Stephenson, to name seven. And what to do with singularly meaningful books? Setting aside how many of an author's books I haven't read, I can't help but mention my excitement with Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor and Clarice Lispector's Near to the Wild Heart.
Book you've faked reading:
I don't think I've misrepresented what I read but in college I did not do justice to Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook or Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.
Book you're an evangelist for:
None. It makes me uncomfortable to even think about. My enthusiasm for a book is the product of private alchemical processes which have no relevance to the outside world. This might seem odd for a bookseller but since we all find our own way from one book to the next, my approach to bookselling had always been to learn as much as I could about the reader's needs in order to use my expertise to lead that person to good choices for their own alchemy. Or whatever: what anyone else should read still has nothing to do with me.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I could say all of them but that's only slightly incorrect. I'm a sucker for bigger books--a trade size paperback over 500 pages? I like it already!--and I'm methodical about choosing what to read next, which includes look and feel. As I see it, if one is going to hold the damn thing for hours and perhaps carry it outside of the house, one had better enjoy the acts of both holding and seeing it. For me this definitely means I'm often making my final decision based upon: These are all great but I sure like how this one looks.
Book you hid from your parents:
My parents never uttered a word about my reading, but they didn't need to; I self-regulated more effectively than any parent might have. As a high school freshman, I spent lunch breaks in the library and deliberately read The Catcher in the Rye on such breaks, believing that I'd receive a dangerous mark in a permanent file were I to check it out. At about this same time, I secretly read (okay, maybe not the whole thing, I was looking for particular things) the copy of Judy Blume's Wifey my mother brought on a family vacation. I didn't hide the book in either case, but I did make efforts to conceal my reading.
Book that changed your life:
Don't they all, just a little bit? Isn't that the point? That said, I didn't really understand just how much books were preferable to people until I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in close succession in or around the sixth grade. This realization, more so than the books themselves, was life-changing.
Favorite line from a book:
My memory for sentences is exactly the same as my memory for jokes: by the time it reaches the end, I have forgotten the beginning.
But in keeping with the spirit of the question, a passage from Renata Adler's Speedboat rolls around somewhere in my head pretty much every time I leave the house: "At six one morning, Will went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk. A tourist bus went by. The megaphone was directed at him. 'There's one,' it said. That was in the 1960's. Ever since, he's wondered. There's one what?"
"There's one" nailed my insecurities so well that I have had to remind myself on more than one occasion that the tourist bus megaphone wasn't actually directed at me in real life.
Five books you'll never part with:
I was never one for collecting, I don't scribble in the margins, and early in my career I successfully trained family to stop buying books for me as gifts. So books don't hold much in the way of sentimental value and, now that I've moved across the country twice in a short period of time, I have learned that I can part with all of them.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
None. The closest I come to this idea is a thought I had at 20-something that reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov as an older man might be really different from reading it as a younger man. Thirty years, two marriages and a couple of kids later, I've been thinking about picking it up again.