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Author Archive: "Jill Owens"

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

I come across many, many cookbooks and more often than not take them home to try them out. This cookbook has quickly become one of my favorites. Every recipe — really, every one! — that I've tried so far has been excellent — not just good or successful, but above and beyond what I expected. There's no shortage of material, either; this cookbook is huge, is sturdy, and will last a lifetime. Most recipes are very easy, and I love Madison's clarity (at the beginning she tells you what size carrot, onion, or garlic she assumes). The introduction is thorough and relevant for cooks at any level, bringing cooking back to its essence: experimentation, fresh ingredients, and pleasure. And, as Madison states on the cover, you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy these recipes; you could add meat to many, and the book is worth keeping for its extensive section on vegetables and side dishes alone. If I had a kitchen fire, this is the cookbook I'd rescue.

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Andrew Solomon's gorgeous prose is always a pleasure, and this book, 10 years in the making, is his masterpiece. With empathy and grace, Far from the Tree explores the lives of people who are significantly different from their parents and often the rest of society. A fascinating read that will make you more human.

The Circle

In Dave Eggers's latest page-turning novel, Mae Holland is ecstatic to get a job at the Circle — an Internet company that's like Google, Facebook, and Apple combined and on steroids. Thrilling and sinister, The Circle explores issues of connectivity, privacy, and democracy that our world is hurtling toward.

Donna Tartt: The Interview

Donna Tartt has a lot of devoted fans among the Powell's staff; I think I got more requests for advance copies of The Goldfinch than any other upcoming book. And for those lucky enough to get one, the reviews were unanimous: we loved it, and it was well worth the wait. The Goldfinch is a masterful novel. An epic coming-of-age story written in brilliant, illuminated prose, and a mesmerizing portrait of friendships and unconventional families, Tartt's third novel has been rightly called Dickensian for its sweeping themes, colorful characters, and extraordinary attention to detail. Stephen King raved, "The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction." We absolutely agree, which is why we chose it as Volume 43 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: How did you choose the painting, Fabritius's The Goldfinch? What about that particular image resonated with you, and what's your history with the painting?

Donna Tartt: Actually, I did consider a couple of other paintings, briefly, though I always knew it was the one. I first saw it as a copy at Christie's Amsterdam — I loved the painting the instant I saw it, and the more I found out about it, the more enthralled I became. The Goldfinch is a tiny painting — not much bigger than a child's school notebook — and a greatly beloved and unique little work; in all the Golden Age of Dutch art, there's nothing quite like it, and it also has a fascinating history that plays into the plot of the novel. The painter who made it, Carel Fabritius — who was the pupil of Rembrandt and the teacher of Vermeer, and who was greatly celebrated in his own day — died very young in a tragic accident, the explosion of a gunpowder factory in Delft that destroyed most of the town. This little painting is one of Fabritius's very few works that survive.

Mark Slouka: The Interview

Mark Slouka is a marvelous essayist, short story writer, and novelist and a frequent Harper's magazine contributor; he's written about everything from Chang and Eng to cyberspace and the nature of reality to why exactly George Bush needed all that brush clearing. His latest novel, Brewster, takes him closer to home; it's a dark and spare coming-of-age story, a portrait of a small New York town in the late '60s, and a moving depiction of an intense and loving friendship. The book follows Jon Mosher, a 16-year-old with a difficult family life who befriends an outsider named Ray, a rebellious fighter with an abusive ex-cop father. When Ray falls in love with a new girl in town, Karen, the dreams — and the fates — of all three friends hinge on getting out of Brewster.

Jennifer Egan raves, "The dark undertow of Slouka's prose makes Brewster instantly mesmerizing, a novel that whirls the reader into small-town, late 1960s America with mastery, originality, and heart." And Colum McCann writes, "Reading Brewster is like entering the very heart of a Bruce Springsteen song — all grace, all depth, all sinew. Slouka — one of the great unsung ...

Matt Bell: The Interview

Matt Bell's debut novel is set, as its title suggests, in a remote area next to a lake in a forest. The cast of characters includes a giant bear, a foundling, a fingerling, a woman who can sing whole worlds into being, and her husband, who wants nothing more than to lead a quiet life and — most importantly — raise a family. Things don't work out as planned, though, as pregnancy after pregnancy ends in tragedy. As the story unfolds, and the couple's dreams of a simple life unravel, the sheer force of Bell's prose and the mythic, underworldly power of his characters' fates grip the reader by the throat.

Jess Walter (National Book Award finalist and author of Beautiful Ruins) tried to capture the experience: "This is a fiercely original book...that sent me scurrying for adjectives, for precedents, for cover." That about sums it up. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is as difficult to describe as a dream. This onslaught of primordial imagination will confound, confront, and absolutely amaze you. We loved it so much, we chose it for Volume 40 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: What was the genesis of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods? I will note, I love that title, but it might be the hardest title to remember ever.

Matt Bell: It's a lot of title! [Laughter]

I'm not necessarily an idea person. I don't start off with an idea ahead of time. It's weird, the way these things work. I had just finished my last book, and I was trying to find the next thing. I was writing a lot of starts every day, trying to get some traction.

The first thing I wrote was a passage that's not in the book, of the husband watching the wife singing. He's seeing these things that she could potentially one day create with her voice, which isn't something that happens in the book anymore. But that was the initial seed of it.

Claire Messud: The Interview

Claire Messud's new novel, The Woman Upstairs, is fiercely intelligent and urgently intimate, written with precision, humor, and an incredible command of language. Nora Eldridge, an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is living a life of quiet desperation after her mother's death when she meets the Shahids — Sirena, a successful and enchanting Italian artist; Skandar, a brilliant professor of the ethics of history; and their charming son, Reza, a child in Nora's class. Nora falls in love with them all, in varying ways, and these relationships bring her ecstasy, artistic freedom, and, eventually, shattering pain and fury.

In a starred review, Kirkus called The Woman Upstairs "an astonishing feat of creative imagination: at once self-lacerating and self-pitying, containing enough truth to induce squirms....Brilliant and terrifying," and in another starred review, Booklist raved, "Messud’s scorching social anatomy, red-hot psychology, galvanizing story, and incandescent language make for an all-circuits-firing novel about enthrallment, ambition, envy, and betrayal. A tour de force." The Woman Upstairs may be the renowned author's finest work yet.

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Jill Owens: What was the genesis of The Woman Upstairs?

Claire Messud: There were several, I think. If you'll bear with me, I can tell you a few.

One impetus was a feeling as a reader that I had all my life read and greatly appreciated the ranting voices of misfit, dissatisfied, or antihero men, but I didn't know of any female equivalents. So part of me wanted to write in the voice of a woman whose voice had not been heard.

Another aspect for me was the whole question of the interior life. I think that's something that is absolutely universal. In Chekhov's "The Lady with the Little Dog," the protagonist — who's had many affairs but who has for the first time fallen in love with his mistress — reflects on the fact that what is most important to him, only he knows. It's completely secret, and nobody around him is aware of the things that matter to him most. Then he has the apprehension that this is true for everybody, so that all around him, he doesn't actually know what's most important to all the people he thinks he knows.

Anthony Marra: The Interview

Anthony Marra's debut novel is a marvel. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena describes, in astonishingly beautiful prose, five days in a rural village and bombed-out hospital in Chechnya during wartime. As the characters — including a doctor, a hunted child, a historian, and an informant — try to adapt and survive, their histories, connections, and desires are unveiled. Marra has created a breathtaking work of haunting, evocative fiction.

Ann Patchett calls A Constellation of Vital Phenomena "Simply spectacular....If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go," and Maile Meloy declares, "You will finish it transformed." We are proud to have chosen A Constellation of Vital Phenomena for Volume 39 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: The first sentence of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena sets the tone immediately. "On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones." Was that always the way the book began?

Anthony Marra: No, actually. That was one of the final sentences I wrote. It had a different opening paragraph for the first five drafts of the ...

Domenica Ruta: The Interview

Growing up in an Italian-American family in Danvers, Massachusetts, Domenica Ruta had a life filled with violence and poverty but also imagination and love. Ruta's mother, Kathi, who "believed it was more important to be an interesting person than it was to be a good one," cycled between welfare and great wealth, helped get her daughter into a prestigious boarding school, and gave her Oxycontin. In gorgeous, inventive prose, Ruta chronicles her coming of age, relationships, and struggles to define herself outside of her family. Darkly funny and painfully honest, With or Without You is an essential, necessary work.

We whole-heartedly agree with Amy Bloom's assessment: "In the world of memoir, Mary Karr's and Geoffrey Wolff's exceptional books burn and brighten, like actual stars among strings of tinsel. With or Without You is like that. I will read whatever Domenica Ruta writes."

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Jill Owens: How did With or Without You come about?

Domenica Ruta: I started toying around with the idea of writing a memoir. My initial idea was to write linked short essays but not an actual memoir — short essays about my life, but not with any kind ...

George Saunders: The Interview

George Saunders fans have long been stalwart champions of his work, recommending CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia to anyone who would listen, pushing copies of In Persuasion Nation and The Braindead Megaphone into the hands of the unconverted. He's always had critical praise, from no less than Thomas Pynchon ("An astoundingly tuned voice — graceful, dark, authentic, and funny") and Tobias Wolff ("Scary, hilarious, and unforgettable....George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality"). He's also won a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. But with the publication of his first collection of short stories in six years, Tenth of December, Saunders has produced a most unlikely work: a wildly popular short story collection.

Jennifer Egan says, "Tenth of December shows George Saunders at his most subversive, hilarious, and emotionally piercing. Few writers can encompass that range of adjectives, but Saunders is a true original — restlessly inventive, yet deeply humane." And Dave Eggers raves, "You want stories that are actually about something — stories that again and again get to the meat of matters of life and death and justice and country? Saunders. There is ...

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