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Author Archive: "Dave"

Finding John Irving: The Powells.com Interview

[Editor's note: The following is a reprint of our 2005 interview with John Irving, whose new novel, Last Night in Twisted River, has just come out in hardcover. Click here to get signed editions while they last!]

John IrvingOn one list are the books you like to recommend. You want to turn someone on to your favorite unknown author or introduce them to the season's latest, greatest novel. If you've read widely enough over the years, you'll match reader to occasion. The list comes to include something for just about anyone in any setting:

Funny books and smart ones; easy and hard; books that teach and those that entertain; pages best turned at the beach, on a plane, or sick in bed; a pick for the woman you want to impress or the friend who reads mostly in ten-minute bursts between cab fares; dry, plotless affairs that ease you toward sleep or blazers that set your mind racing, keep you up late into the night...

A much shorter list contains the sure bets — the ones that work for just about any reader, young or old, anywhere, at any time. A Prayer for Owen Meany may be the only book on my second list.

You get OWEN MEANY'S SQUEAKY VOICE into a person's head and the worst they'll ever say is they loved it. Without fail, they will thank you. [See our guarantee.] Three people I've given it to, years and oceans apart, reported back that it had become their favorite novel of all-time.

"Which one do I read next?" they all ask, so swiftly converted. (Often they're not even done with the book and already they're planning ahead. Anxiety has set in, a debilitating abandonment neurosis symptomatic of the last hundred pages.) Tell them, "Take your pick." The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire, A Widow for One Year...

This summer, John Irving will publish Until I Find You, possibly his most personal book to date. "Here it is my eleventh novel," he considers, "but I think this character, Jack Burns, is more fully developed than any character in any novel I've written."

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Dave: The Fourth Hand offered a much more abbreviated vision of its characters' lives than we typically see in your books. We don't meet Patrick and Doris until they're adults.

John Irving: The Fourth Hand was a novel that came from twenty years of screenwriting concurrently with whatever novel I'm writing. It was a vision of a book, like a movie, that did not have the passage of time as a major or minor character. For that reason, it was more manageable, shorter.

That Old Cape Magic

Fans of Richard Russo's hilarious novel Straight Man will rejoice upon learning that the Pulitzer winner has once again trained his sights on academia. Most of That Old Cape Magic takes place off-campus, however, as Jack Griffin reckons with his parents' failed marriage and the rapidly deteriorating state of his own. No matter, Russo still draws plenty of laughs in this reliably sharp and introspective domestic drama.

The Powells.com Interview with David Small

Winner of a Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Medal, and two Christopher Awards, David Small is one of the most acclaimed graphic artists in his field. David Small

After illustrating more than forty books for children, now he has turned his attention to his own childhood, creating one of the most visceral and arresting (not to mention gorgeous) memoirs of the decade.

In the apt words of Jules Feiffer, Stitches is "a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem."

At the age of eleven, Small developed a growth on his neck. His parents, without explanation (and clearly not lacking for money or access), withheld treatment for more than three years. Two surgeries later, at fourteen, the young boy was left with a rash of stitches up his neck and a missing vocal cord that rendered him unable to speak.

"Something remarkable has happened because of [Stitches], already," Small mentioned just before our phone call ran its course. He then proceeded to share one of those incredible anecdotes that, as the person conducting the interview, you can't believe you almost missed capturing. "If nothing else happens with this book," he concluded, "it would be worth doing it just for that."

The author was kind enough to follow up our conversation by sharing further thoughts about several subjects of particular fascination. His email is copied at the bottom of this post.

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David Small: I'm thrilled that Powell's has chosen Stitches for Indiespensable.

Dave: We'll be sending the book, in its custom slipcase, to 850 subscribers. This is the 13th title we've picked for the program, but it's the first that's not a traditional text narrative. We think Stitches will be a good introduction to illustrated narratives for readers who are less familiar with them.

Small: Before I made this, I wasn't a graphic novels fan, by any means. I just hadn't found anything that struck me. I do read a lot of fiction. I keep rereading Flaubert, James, Tolstoy... So I was curious about graphic novels, and I'd looked at some. I was impressed with Maus, both volumes. Chris Ware's artwork has always impressed me.

Then, about four years ago, Sarah and I were in Paris. A very close friend, a Parisian illustrator, had a son who was working on a graphic novel. We went over to his apartment. Pierre showed me work by Nicholas de Crécy, and a book that he did with Sylvain Chomet, who had done The Triplets of Belleville. That made me perk up. They used to work together. They apparently went to art school together and developed very similar styles.

They did a series of books that were compiled into something called Léon La Came: Laid, Pauvre et Malade (Ugly, Broke and Sick). It's a comic treatment of some very serious themes. Very French. Neo-Nazis are always hovering in the background. I think collaborationism comes into question. It's all treated the same as Triplets. Anyway, then he showed me work by a couple other artists, as well. There was a cinematic quality to the ones I was attracted to. The French are great cinephiles.

I was in college in the sixties when movies really got good. I'm a fan of Bergman and Hitchcock and Polanski and Antonioni. Those are my gods. I've studied those films closer than anything, aside from the classical artists I liked back in grad school.

Sarah and I came back to Michigan, and I guess it had been fermenting in my mind for a couple weeks. She tells me that I started coming home from the studio in the evenings, and I'd fix myself a martini, sit down at the kitchen table, and draw like crazy on this memoir. It just started pouring out.

Dave: After working on more than forty books for kids, you've created one about yourself, for adults. Had you been meaning to tell the story for a long time?

Small: I had. About ten years ago, I sent my agent a chapter of a story. I didn't know if it was going to be autobiography or fiction, but it came from a real incident, that scene in the hospital corridor where little David discovers the homunculus in a jar. That really terrifying incident had stayed in my mind all my life, and that's how I had begun a memoir-like work.

Holly got very excited about it. [Editor's note: Holly McGhee is Small's agent.] She also loved a little drawing of myself that I'd sent along with it. She said, "This is going to be your book," but I always knew, in the back of my mind, that it was never going to be a book if I had to do it in prose. I'm not a writer. I know a lot of writers; I know a handful of really excellent, great ones, and I know what they're like. They are in love with language. They're obsessed with it. Even if their thoughts aren't more special than anybody else's, they have a way of putting them into words that makes them sensational. And I knew that I'm not that kind of writer.

So I knew that I was never going to write a novel, but the idea had been there for a long, long time. And, besides, I couldn't remember anything except that one incident, specifically. Then when I started drawing it out, that's what was so exciting: Once I started drawing and bringing all those ghosts back, I was amazed at the files that were in my head and accessible. Unbelievable. This wasn't stuff I wanted to revisit, but it became just as exciting as anything else I was doing to see how much more I could remember.

Here I am getting older — I'm supposed to be forgetting — and I could remember more than I'd ever thought possible. It's funny what will come to you. I don't know where I found it, but there's a quote by Sylvain Chomet that goes, "The memory improves the more you lay burdens on it." So contradictory to what everybody thinks.

Powells.com Interview: In Shop Class (and Beyond) with Matthew Crawford

The New York Times calls Shop Class as Soulcraft "a beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America." Kyle here at Powell's calls it "an accessible, carefully reasoned examination of work and America's evolving ideas about it." The author, himself, explains, "I want to suggest we can take a broader view of what a good job might consist of, and therefore what kind of education is important."

“I belong in a field, next to a gate.”

Excerpts from an interview with Gerbrand Bakker, author of The Twin (the 11th selection of Powell's Indiespensable program): "When I started The Twin something else happened. I sat down and wrote the first sentence. Later that sentence ('I've put Father upstairs.') was praised by all kinds of critics, but it just rolled out. Tick-tick-tick and there it was one morning...."

Powells.com Interview: Jim Lynch Makes Landscape Art… Out of Text

If Carl Hiaasen set one of his novels on a residential stretch of boundary line between British Columbia and Washington, or if Richard Russo's characters had relatives in the Pacific Northwest, the result might be something like Jim Lynch's Border Songs.

James and the Giant Peach

Magic green pills spill, accidentally, onto the ground beneath a peach tree. A peach appears overnight, the only fruit the tree has ever produced; by morning, it's swollen to the size of a houseboat, and soon enough James Henry Trotter is climbing aboard for the ride of his life. If John Lennon had written a full-length children's story instead of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," this would be it. Even the ending is true: The English orphan boy finds happiness in a home near his magical friends in New York's Central Park. I love this book: the story, the drawings [by Lane Smith], the characters, and most of all the adventure.

The Divorce Party

Laura Dave is such a natural stylist, and so good with emotional detail, that it's easy to miss (or take for granted) how smartly constructed her novels are. Inviting, observant, full of great dialogue and not without a hearty dose of humor, The Divorce Party should introduce a legion of fans to her work — even before the feature film based upon it, optioned by Universal for Jennifer Aniston and Kristin Hahn's production company, Echo Films.

Border Songs

If Carl Hiaasen set one of his novels on a residential stretch of boundary line between British Columbia and Washington, or if Richard Russo's characters had relatives in the Pacific Northwest, the result might be something like Border Songs. Northwest native Jim Lynch earned a legion of fans with his bestselling debut, The Highest Tide. Border Songs is the rare sophomore effort that lives up to — arguably even exceeds — its lofty expectations.

Powells.com Interview: The Complete (Published in Book Form So Far) Works of Reif Larsen

Twelve-year-old T.S. Spivet draws maps of train routes and water tables, maps of loneliness, the resilience of memory, even a map of his sister shucking corn. Author Reif Larsen notes, "I think I'm gently expanding the definition of the word map."

Reif LarsenAnd about those maps: Larsen, the son of two artists, created them himself. "I got almost all the way through the draft before I realized that we needed to see T.S.'s maps and his diagrams," the novelist explains. "That's the territory of his heart."

When T.S.'s work is honored by the Smithsonian — the institute naturally assumes that T.S. is an adult — he runs away from home in Divide, Montana, and hoboes his way to Washington, D.C. An adventure story, a family saga, and a format-busting beauty (T.S.'s drawings appear on more than half the pages, mostly in sidebars and cutaways alongside the main body of text), The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is a revelation. "Read it and marvel," Bookpage recommends.

"Here is a book that does the impossible," Stephen King commended. "It combines Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Little Miss Sunshine. This book is a


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