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Ask a Book Buyer: Picky Parents, Science Lovers, Lizzie Borden

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 trying to buy a book for a male friend of mine for our high school graduation. He loves science, and he plans on majoring in engineering in the fall. He also loves history, but my fear with purchasing him a history book is that he may have already read it. He's a big fan of NPR, and I know I want to get him a nonfiction book. Any recommendations? –Rachel

A: A great gift for those interested in engineering: 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School by John Kuprenas. This illustrated book gives readers the basic principles of engineering and insight into how the engineering thought process works. Also, due in paperback this month: Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein: Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio. It's the perfect combination of science and history! –Corie

You should also check out The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. It's more about chemistry than engineering, but it's a wonderful, approachable book that any science fan will enjoyit's a wonderful, approachable book that any science fan will enjoy. –Tom

Q: While both highly educated, due to their conservative leanings, my parents read almost exclusively young adult fiction. While there is nothing wrong with this, when it comes to birthdays, Christmases, and Mother's/Father's Day, I try to gift them literary fiction I think they might enjoy that would perhaps expand their horizons a little. However, they are very picky with what they will read (I learned the hard way after I loaned my copies of the Thursday Next series to my mother and ironically enough got them back bowdlerized with whiteout tape). My most recent gifts were Every Man Dies Alone and Gilead, both of which went over very well, but I am low on ideas for what to gift next. Do you have any suggestions for well-written, literary fiction on the lighter side of things? –Remy

A: Try Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Both are well written, and heartwarming without being insipid. Your parents might also enjoy books by Jodi Picoult, who's really the modern master of popular, moral drama — for example, My Sister's Keeper, about a young girl raised to provide bone marrow for her leukemia-stricken elder sister. –Rhianna

Q: I just went to Lizzie, the new Lizzie Borden rock opera playing at Portland Center Stage. I wasn't very familiar with her story, but now I am very interested in learning more. I would like a book about Lizzie. Are there any historical fiction novels out there about her life, her lover (the girl next door), and the murder? –Liz

A: Cherie Priest has a new series coming out called The Borden Dispatches, which you should definitely check out. The first book, Maplecroft, is available for preorder and will be in stores on September 2.

It can be difficult to find copies of the most prized Lizzie Borden research books (by Edward Radin and David Kent, respectively), but enthusiasts seem to like Frank Spiering's Lizzie. –Rhianna

Books mentioned in this post

  1. 101 Things I Learned in Engineering... New Hardcover $16.00
  2. Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to... Sale Trade Paper $7.98
  3. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other...
    Used Trade Paper $10.95
  4. Olive Kitteridge
    Used Trade Paper $7.50

  5. My Sister's Keeper
    Used Trade Paper $1.50
  6. Maplecroft (Borden Dispatches)
    New Trade Paper $15.00

  7. Every Man Dies Alone
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  8. Gilead
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  9. The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook New Trade Paper $29.95

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