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PowellsBooks.Blog

Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.

 

Author Archive: "Shawn Donley"

Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview

The American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry not only received the most votes for April's Indie Next list, it received the most votes ever in the history of the program. You don't, however, need to work in a bookstore to fall in love with this book. The story is an affirmation of the important role books play in our lives and the ability they have to transform us all.

In a starred review, Library Journal commends The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: "Funny, tender, and moving, it reminds us all exactly why we read and why we love." Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, raves, "Gabrielle Zevin has written a wonderful, moving, endearing story of redemption and transformation that will sing in your heart for a very, very long time."

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Shawn Donley: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a bit of a departure from your previous books. What inspired you to write about a small independent bookstore?

Gabrielle Zevin: You can't avoid it these days. Ten years ago when I published my first book, it was like publishing in a completely different universe. There was no Twitter, no Facebook. In a way, publishing in 2005 was similar to publishing in 1950. Nobody kept blogs; that was still optional. I didn't even have a website then.

This is my eighth book in about a decade. I've published during a time of enormous change in the industry. I wanted to write a book that reflected a bit on issues of why we should shop locally versus online, the rise of ebooks versus print. But even more than that, I think the book is about the pleasures of a reading life.

Shawn: As a longtime bookseller, let me say that you did a wonderful job of capturing all the joys and challenges of working at a bookstore. What type of research did you do while writing this book?

Zevin: I'm like a unicorn; I'm a midlist writer who hasn't done anything else but write. But because I wasn't amazingly famous, I didn't become Stephanie Meyer, or even a huge literary name like a Jonathan Franzen or a Joshua Ferris.

I'm very privy to the way bookstores work, and I think a lot about the ecosystem that my books have been published in. I think it's great to be aware of how publishing works.


The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

Tom Rachman has an uncanny ability to create well-developed and fully realized characters. His debut novel, The Imperfectionists, was a staff favorite here, and I have no doubt that his follow-up, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, will prove just as popular. It has a wonderful sense of time and place ('88 Bangkok, '99 New York, and '11 Wales) and a great cast of characters (Tooly, Venn, Humphrey). On the last page, I felt lucky to have met these newfound friends but sad to say goodbye.


Peter Stark: The Powells.com Interview

It's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years after Lewis and Clark's successful crossing of the continent, New York businessman John Jacob Astor organized and financed an expedition to establish the first commercial settlement on the West Coast. Two advance parties made up of 140 members set out on the long, arduous journey to the Pacific Coast. Three years later, nearly half of them had died. In Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, author Peter Stark recounts this captivating tale of madness, starvation, and survival under extreme hardship.

In a Starred Review, Kirkus calls Astoria, "a fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death." Laurence Gonzalez (author of Deep Survival) raves, "Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head."

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Shawn Donley: This attempt to establish the first commercial settlement on the West Coast is a fascinating part of American history. How did you first become aware of this story?

Peter Stark: My previous book is called The Last Empty Places. It profiles four really unpopulated areas of the country. Five or six or seven years ago, I happened to be driving my car through Eastern Oregon down a long, lonely road. There was no habitation for miles and miles around. I pulled into a town after dark called John Day. You Oregonians are probably familiar with that town. I spent the night there. The next morning I got up and said, "Why is this town called John Day?" I started doing some research.

It turns out John Day was one of the original Astorians on the huge Overland Party sent from New York by John Jacob Astor. He endured incredible trials: starvation, being left behind, being accidently poisoned. He was helped by some Indians but then stripped and sent naked out into the wilderness by others. He was traumatized by the experience.


Daniel James Brown: The Powells.com Interview

The Boys in the Boat is one of those stories that I can't believe hasn't been told before. At the 1936 Olympics, nine college students from Seattle — working-class sons of farmers, loggers, and longshoremen — rowed against the best in the world. To compete at this highest level, they had to first beat their rivals at the University of California - Berkeley and then crews from the elite Ivy League schools. At the Olympics in Berlin, they went up against a British boat filled with the best from Oxford and Cambridge and a powerful German team rowing under the watchful eye of Hitler. The guts and determination of these underdogs captivated millions of Americans during the depths of the Great Depression.

Daniel James Brown has crafted a wonderful piece of narrative nonfiction that is filled with both drama and passion. In a starred review, Booklist calls The Boys in the Boat, "a book that informs as it inspires." David Laskin raves, "History, sports, human interest, weather, suspense, design, physics, oppression and inspiration — The Boys in the Boat has it all and Brown does full justice ...


Jerry West: The Powells.com Interview

Jerry WestBefore there was LeBron, Kobe, Jordan, or Magic, there was Mr. Clutch, Jerry West. His list of accomplishments is mind-blowing: MVP of the NCAA tournament, co-captain of the 1960 Olympic gold-medal team, 14-time NBA All-Star, 1972 NBA champion, and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee both as a player and as front-office executive. The NBA even uses a silhouette of a fast-breaking Jerry West on its iconic logo. Yet, despite all his success, he remains a flawed and tormented individual. For West, basketball was a way to escape from his abusive childhood in West Virginia and the despair he felt for the loss of his beloved older brother in the Korean War. In West by West, West tells his story, describing the highs and lows of the 50-plus years he's been deeply involved with the game of basketball. Author and journalist Gay Talese raves,

West by West is a rounded, honest, and moving exploration not just of West's life under the arena spotlights, but his passages through his darkest hours. With remarkable clarity and courage, West explores his flaws and ghosts, his glory on the court and

...


Christopher McDougall: The Powells.com Interview

Christopher McDougallSometimes the simplest of questions can send us on the most complicated quests. For Christopher McDougall, the question was, "Why does my foot hurt?" The story of his search for an answer is the entertaining and inspiring bestseller Born to Run, which has something for everyone — travel, adventure, history, science, and sport — and includes a whole cast of eccentric characters.

McDougall met with exercise physiologists, evolutionary biologists, and endurance athletes who think nothing of running a hundred miles or more in a day. Ultimately, his search led him into the depths of Mexico's Copper Canyon, where he sought the help of a reclusive runner nicknamed Caballo Blanco ("the White Horse") in the hopes of being introduced to a tribe of super athletes, the Tarahumara. By the end of the book, the Tarahumara are running against American ultramarathoners in a race to end all races.

The Denver Post called Born to Run, "A tale so mind-blowing as to be the stuff of legend." NPR raved, "McDougall recounts his quest to understand near-superhuman ultrarunners with adrenaline-pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice....he never lets go from his impassioned mantra that humans ...


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