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And So It Goes: Revisiting Iraq

Reading the newspaper these days feels a little like time traveling. After eight years of war in Iraq and (let's be honest) at least three years of societal amnesia, it's startling to wake up to headlines about sectarian violence and the president's requests for resources to fight ISIS, the radical Islamic organization conquering vast swathes of western Iraq, with devastating humanitarian consequences. Haven't we been here before? Didn't we win? And didn't we leave?

The reports remind me of a college class I taught on war literature a few years ago. One of the things that intrigued me was my students' disinterest in learning about Iraq. For them the war was their growing up, just part of the din of the adult world that has no meaning in childhood, like mortgage payments or tax reform. Sure, they had political opinions about the country — what American doesn't? — but no real knowledge of Iraq or the second Gulf War. And, in trying to refute their apathy, I realized to my embarrassment that I didn't either.

Many excellent books have been written on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ...


In Praise of Rejections: Why I’m Glad It Took Me 10 Years to Publish This Darn Book

When I see my name in print next to the phrase "debut novel," I can't help but picture my hardcover yanking at an ill-fitting cotillion dress that keeps falling off its shoulder. The descriptor seems off somehow — it's right, but not quite that. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is my first novel, but I wrote it 10 years ago, in 2003, and in 2013, I completely rewrote it again. In this 10-year span, there have been other works of writing — bound manuscripts too sprawling to deserve any other moniker than "mess," short story collections, unwieldy essays — but none of them ever showed as much promise as my first book, which, instead of "debut novel," I like to think of as "born again."

When I first wrote I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, I was 24 and living in Paris, and I hadn't been writing for some time. Mired in a bad relationship with a Frenchman who had a penchant for drama (he once launched all of my belongings out of our fifth-story apartment, and when he remembered I ...


Ask a Book Buyer: Tales of the Home Front, the Sea, and Overseas

Ask a Book BuyerAt Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for a vegetarian who loves Radiohead and Flight of the Conchords? Email your question to askabuyer@powells.com. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

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Q: I'm traveling to Dublin and Barcelona this summer and would love some recommendations for books that take place in these locations. I'm open to different genres but something funny would be good. –Megan

A: Dublin settings? Anything by Roddy Doyle, but the funnier ones would by Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Snapper, and The Commitments. They are gritty but very funny. Tana French writes excellent mysteries, all set in Dublin featuring different members of the Dublin Murder Squad. They are excellent and very evocative of the city and the social system there. In the Woods is the first in the series and a good place to start, but they all also function as stand-alones. –Kathi

You absolutely must get The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It's a literary mystery that takes place in Barcelona from the 1920s to the 1950s, and it's one of the most beautifully written things I've ever read . Read it before your trip and you won't be able to wait to get to Barcelona. –Tom

Q: I am looking for a book that takes place on the U.S. home front during World War II. Growing up, I loved reading the "Molly" American Girl books. Is there anything with a similar setting for adults? –Molly


Josh Weil: The Powells.com Interview

Dima and Yarik are twin brothers in a Russia set in a slightly alternate universe, in the city of Petroplavilsk. The city is in perpetual daylight, thanks to the Oranzheria — a "sea of glass" greenhouse built over farmlands lit by mirrors in space. Though inseparable in childhood, Dima and Yarik begin to take radically different paths as they navigate adulthood, family, responsibility, and ideology. The Great Glass Sea, the first novel by "5 Under 35" winner Josh Weil, is steeped in Russian folklore and fable, and is a moving and ingenious tale of familial love. Library Journal calls it "resplendent and incandescent," and Lauren Groff exclaims, "The Great Glass Sea is our world made uncanny: the Russian countryside of folktale and literature turned darkly luminous, menacing, and brittle. I was intoxicated by this novel's brains and I fell hopelessly in love with its heart. Josh Weil is a spectacular talent." We were so impressed with it, we chose it for our Indiespensable Volume 48.

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Jill Owens: In your first book, The New Valley, you write very movingly about rural Virginia; it plays a huge part in those novellas. ...


So Many Books, So Many Writers

I'm not a bookseller, but I'm married to one, and Square Books is a family. And we all know about families and how hard it is to disassociate yourself from them even if you're happy within their bosoms. I do have some bookseller cred: I worked for two years at the old Savile Bookshop in Washington when Richard and I were trying to learn the business, and I helped open the store here in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1979, working for a while when the staff was just Richard, his mother, his aunt, and me. Eventually Richard fired us for a real staff — one that didn't talk back, have lots of opinions about improvements (flowers, rugs, expanding the bridge book section, getting a bookstore kitty), and could make change in under five minutes.

Until Square Books got on its feet, somebody had to pay the bills, and I had a handy library degree (UNC Chapel Hill, '77) so I went to work as a reference bibliographer (you know — the person you used to go to for information before there was Google) at the University of ...


The Other Vampire

It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches — a hideous creature with long fingernails and eyes that shine like polished tin. The girl wakes up, but is too terrified to flee as the vampire breaks the glass and enters the bedroom. He seizes his victim by the hair, drags her onto the bed, and bites her neck.

The story is probably familiar, but the vampire may not be: this is a summary of the opening chapter of Varney, the Vampyre. Written between 1845 and 1847, probably by James Malcolm Rymer, Varney is a forgotten work from the "penny dreadful" genre. A far cry from Dickens and Eliot, the penny dreadfuls were racy, sensational serials, aimed at an urban, working-class audience with limited time to spend reading. They provoked suspicion from Victorian moral authorities, who feared that the tales of crime, violence, highway robbery, and cannibalism might incite class warfare, or encourage the young in antisocial behavior.

Vampires had entered English literature at the beginning of the ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson

The Powell's PlaylistLike many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs do eventually get tangled up with certain characters. My novel Robogenesis is a techno-thriller that largely takes place in the country, pitting high-tech machines against decidedly low-tech human beings. As a result, my playlist ends up being a strange mix of golden-age country songs and chest-throbbing dubstep/trap electronic music. Whichever you prefer (and both is a good answer, too), these are the songs that congealed in my mind as I created Robogenesis in Portland's coffee shops and with the kiss of rain on the nape of my neck as I walked the streets.

1. "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard
I went and licensed these lyrics from Sony to put inside the novel, as they perfectly explain the journey of the cowboy Hank Cotton as he descends into madness and worships a false god. Hank's mother told him to never pray to a devil, but he disobeys… and for that he will pay a ...


Handpicked: New Cookbooks for June

With Memorial Day under our belts and the hot summer fast upon us, we're already in the thick of barbeque season. To be honest, I've yet to fire up my sturdy Weber, but I've been doing some hearty armchair reading of recent releases. June is turning out some fine BBQ titles.

There's nothing like a carnivorous visit to a Brazilian churrascaria, but if you don't have one in your town, try Brazilian Barbecue and Beyond. The cooking techniques are simple and basic, and the way-south-of-the-border zing is what makes this meat-focused grilling fresh and new. Also, banana upside-down cake! Why have I never thought of this amazing creation? Likewise, chicken fried in a coating of tiny matchstick potatoes? Genius! From cover to cover, this book is a color fest of modern Brazil.

I love food on a stick, so The World's 60 Best Skewers... Period is right up my alley. Most BBQ books have filler recipes of sides and drinks, but this is nothing but skewers. Cooking techniques are both over a flame and over an indoor grill, which is nice for our unpredictable PNW summers. Amidst ...


Why Living Hard Is Way Easier Than Writing Hard

Lately I've found my job requiring me to do frightening things — bouncing around in small planes, jumping off ropes courses, rafting through Class IV rapids, poking away rattlesnakes. In these cases, I was a teacher in charge of students — undergraduates, graduates, writing retreat folk, and so unlike other scary endeavors I get myself into for my own writing (interviewing meth addicts, say), I'm supposed to be the brave and confident one, the one who shows equanimity and grace and leads by example. I'm supposed to have my chin up and my eyes calm.

Well, ah, let's just admit that I can poker face as good as anyone (and we are all very good at it, methinks), and also, adrenaline-based activities aren't really my natural path. Or, as the Greeks say, "Everything in moderation and save thyself" (okay, I made that last one up). Or at least, those are my mantras when the world starts spinning so fast that it nearly flings itself out of orbit, or when vomit seems lodged in the same tube that is designed to carry oxygen to my lungs — which are ...


Of Books on Baguettes

I was chatting idly with my best friend the other day, and as usual, we ended up talking about books and food (this is doubtless a big reason why we are friends in the first place). Sometimes it's one, sometimes it's the other, but in this particular case, it was both of them combined.

"I love book clubs," he said.

"Oh, me, too," I agreed. "A bunch of people sitting around, preferably with a glass of wine in hand, talking about books. What could be better?"

"But there has to be food," he insisted. "There always has to be food at any kind of party. So what food would you serve that would be as stimulating, nourishing, and satisfying to a group of people with different tastes, as whatever book you all had gotten together to read?"

The query instantly made me fantasize about my very own perfect book club party.

It would be on a hot summer's day, cooling down then with just enough of a breeze to wake up the curiosity of the readers involved in the discussion. And the talk itself would be held under some trees in a shady meadow, around five in the evening. There would be wine for those who wanted it — red, white, and a lot of my favorite rosé. There would be sparkling water, with lemon and lime slices, for those who wanted that. There would be discreet little bowls of olives and roasted nuts and cloves of pickled garlic, for those who wanted a bit of a lagniappe before supper.


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