Sybil’s List: Publishers Weekly Book Reviewer Sybil Steinberg’s List of Reads

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We love a good booklist to peek our interest and inspire us to read more. Westport Connecticut resident Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly puts together a list of her favorites several times a year and recently she presented her July 2017 picks to a standing room only crowd at the Westport Library. I had a chance to catch up with Sybil and ask her a few questions…

BookTrib: Your list of recommendations is so long, what is your favorite genre and how much do you read?

Steinberg: Books are my passion. I read three or four books a week. I try to keep a balance between fiction and nonfiction. I’m an avid reader of memoirs, many of them written by obscure authors whom I happen to enjoy.

BookTrib: Where do you get all the books and how do you choose what to read?

Steinberg: Since I was editor of fiction reviews at Publishers Weekly before I became editor of the entire review section, editors and publicists continue to send me their literary fiction. Also I request books from publishers’ catalogs, so that I usually have a huge pile of books vying with each other to be read. My postman probably regrets that I receive as many as eight or nine books each week, some of which I’ve requested, and some sent to me with a plea for a review.

BookTrib: Are you currently working?

Steinberg: I’m still a contributing editor to PW, where I review several books each month, most of them literary fiction. I’m grateful for my long association with PW, which I joined in 1978. My first title was Interviews Editor. I interviewed or assigned an author interview every week for 52 weeks. I’ve edited three volumes of PW Interviews, called “Writing For Your Life.” They were published by Pushcart Press, and later reissued by Reed Publications under their new title, “Writers and Their Craft.”

I became PW Fiction Editor in 1983 and Forecasts Editor (the entire book review section, minus Children’s reviews) in 1991. I loved my job! I retired in 2001 because my husband was not well and the commute was beginning to take its toll. PW still buys a badge for me to attend the annual BEA Convention, where I catch up with old friends and cast an eye on upcoming books. I no longer write reviews for any other publication, although in the past I contributed to the Washington Post and some periodicals.

BookTrib: Are you developing a new list?

Steinberg: I keep updating my List (I’ve read 11 books since I spoke at the Westport Library). I’ll deliver a new List in November at Kendal on Hudson, where I speak every year, and then another updated List in Longboat Key, Florida, where I spend three months each winter.

We thank Sybil Steinberg for sharing her for books with BookTrib. Below find Sybil’s List for the Westport Library July 2017. To see her previous lists visit the Westport Library.


Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, published by Faber & Faber June 2016

Golden Hill Francis SpuffordIn 1746, a stranger comes to tiny New York City from London, with a secret mission and a fortune to spend.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy, published by Penguin India June 2017

Brilliantly written but challenging, this is a drama of India torn apart by sectarian violence and political chicanery.

Marlena by Julie Buntin, published by Henry Holt & Co. April 2017

In a rust-belt rural community in Michigan, a young girl becomes involved in the drug-taking milieu of desperate teenagers.

The Underworld by Kevin Canty, published by W. W. Norton Company March 2017

A fire that sweeps through a silver mining town in Idaho wipes out working class families, loved ones and dreams.

The Locals by Jonathan Dee, published by Random House August 2017The Locals Jonathan DeeIn a small town on the economic skids, blue collar characters realize they can’t achieve the American dream.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, published by Riverhead March 2017

A brilliant evocation of the world-wide refugee problems, seen through a young couple who flee violence in their homeland.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, published by Random House April 2017

Characters mentioned in My Name is Lucy Barton are described with masterful insight and compassion.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, published by Random House February 2017

On the night of his beloved son’s burial, Lincoln visits the cemetery, observed by the souls who hover there.

House of Names by Colm Tóibín, published by Viking May 2017

House of Names Colm ToibinRevenge and murder animate this retelling of the Greek myth that begins when Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia.

Valiant Gentlemen by Sabina Murray, published by Grove Press November 2016

Irish diplomat Sir Roger Casement, who was hanged as a spy in 1916, had a long friendship with an artist and his wife.

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, published by Text Publishing July 2016

Belgium is the setting of this haunting story of a man’s poverty-stricken life, artistic aspirations, and service as a soldier in World War I.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux February 2017

A group of British characters brave the indignities and reduced vitality of old age with bravery and apprehension.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett, published by Little Brown and Company May 2016

Imagine me Gone Adam HassettHow the specter of mental illness affects a family, seen from the point of view of a father, mother, daughter and two sons.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, published by Viking January 2017

The rollicking adventures of a teenage Irish refugee and his equally impoverished lover in the American west during the mid-1800s.

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, published by Alfred A. Knopf February 2017

A stand-up comedian’s act in a seedy Israeli nightclub turns into a wrenchingly sad recital of the tragedy of his life.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, published by Harper September 2017

Two Americans who never meet each other experience epiphanies on a visit to Israel as each move along a path of self knowledge.

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2016

The Fortunes Peter Ho DaviesThe lives of four Chinese-Americans, three of them real historical figures, followed over several decades.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, published by W. W. Norton Company August 2017

A haunting story of a universal subject: the thrill of finding a best friend and the heartbreak when the relationship ends.

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, published by Hutchinson March 2017

Bristol, England in 1792 is the setting where an idealistic young woman gradually realizes that her marriage was a tragic mistake.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, published by Custom House June 2017

When a mythical serpent seems to have returned to the Essex River in 1893, a young widow up from London is fascinated.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, published by Dial Press March 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley The eponymous anti-hero is a criminal who goes straight to raise his beloved daughter but cannot escape the violence of his past.

Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato, published by St. Martin’s Press March 2017

Edgar is an albino boy born to Lucy, a reluctant, careless mother.  When he is kidnapped, many secrets are revealed.

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass, published by Pantheon Books June 2017

When a renowned author of a children’s book suddenly dies, the executor of his estate discovers the secret of his childhood.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, published by Scribner March 2017

Raised in a remote Chinese village, in a minority sect called the Akha, a young woman gives up her daughter born out of wedlock.

The Patriots by Sana Krasikov, published by Spiegel & Grau January 2017

The Patriots Sana KrasikovA foolishly idealistic young woman from Brooklyn goes to Russia in 1933 and is trapped there during Stalin’s terrible regime.

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga, published by Picador June 2016

Two boys raised by their abusive father in Mumbai to become members of an elite soccer team face daunting choices.

Mother Land by Paul Theroux, published by Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin May 2017

The mother from hell raises her seven children to compete with each other in order to win her love.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, published by Viking – Pamela Dorman Books May 2017

An endearing story of a woman who has difficulty in social settings finally coming to terms with her life.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman, published by Penguin Press March 2017

The Idiot Elif BatumanA smart but clueless daughter of Turkish immigrants enrolls in Harvard in this subtle send-up of an adolescent’s understanding of the world.

Chemistry by Weike Wang, published by Knopf May 2017

The parents of a Chinese-American woman consider her worthless unless she achieves her Ph. D. in chemistry.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, published by Viking July 2017

Due to her pale complexion, an African-American woman raised by professional parents feels an outsider in every social setting.


The World To Come by Jim Shepard, published by Knopf Publishing Group February 2017

Stories that range over an amazing span of time and place confirm Shepard’s status as one of our most prestigious short story writers.

Trajectory by Richard Russo, published by Knopf Publishing Group May 2017

Trajectory Richard RussoVenturing away from his familiar blue-collar characters, Russo creates middle-aged professionals who face turning points in their lives.

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux October 2017

Ten beautifully written and satisfying stories whose plots grow out of character development rather than dramatic revelations.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published by Grove Press February 2017

These Vietnamese refugees try to find an American identity while wrestling with sadness and guilt.


On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, published by Tim Duggan Books March 2017

Subtitled: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, it’s a must-read.

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul, published by Henry Holt and Co. June 2017

My Life with Bob Pamela PaulBOB stands for Book of Books, where the editor of the New York Times Book Review discusses the books that marked chapters in her life.

The Lowells of Massachusetts by Nina Sankovitch, published by St. Martin’s Press April 2017

Prodigious research and a lively narrative style make this history of the prominent New England family fascinating.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, published by Knopf April 2016

In a captivating memoir, Jahren describes the arduous path she had to follow to become a geobiologist.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy, published by Random House March 2017

Why would a 38 year-old, newly pregnant woman accept an assignment to do a story in Mongolia?

Charlotte Bronte by Claire Harman, published by Knopf March 2016

Charlotte BronteClaire HarmanNewly available material adds to our knowledge of the fiercely ambitious woman writer who was ahead of her time.

Between Them by Richard Ford, published by Ecco May 2017

Ford evokes his parents’ ordinary though difficult lives during the Great Depression.

The World Broke In Two by Bill Goldstein, published by Henry Holt and Co. May 2017

The subtitle of this literary narrative is: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature.

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Jennifer Gans Blankfein is a freelance marketing consultant and book reviewer. She graduated from Lehigh University with a Psychology degree and has a background in advertising. Her experience includes event coordination and fundraising along with editing a weekly, local, small business newsletter. Jennifer loves to talk about books, is an avid reader, and currently writes a book blog, Book Nation by Jen. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two sons and black lab.

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