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Author Archive: "Susan Orlean"

My Back Pages

I keep forgetting to mention my unique connection to Powell's — I started my writing career in Portland, back when Powell's was a very nice store but hardly the monument to the written word that it is today. That was also back when Portland was the town that time forgot — a land of bowling alleys and pancake diners and little things made out of wood. What a difference a few thousand years makes! I left in 1982, but I try to go back to Portland at least once a year — my sister and one of my best friends live there, and it's a wonderful place to tool around for a few days, regardless. And these days, going to Powell's is a book person's heart attack-maker. I mean, don't you just want everything? Some years back (I might be wrong, but I think this is true) the biggest bookstore in Cleveland (my hometown), went out of business, and all of its stock was boxed up and shipped out to Powell's. Just like me, I guess — although, for me, being boxed up and shipped from Cleveland to Portland was not a result of going out of business, but rather


Rabbit’s Foot

I was signing books the other day after a reading in Cleveland, and one of the people waiting in line said he wanted to pay me a big compliment. I'm always open to compliments, so I perked up my ears. I thought he might tell me that he admired what I was doing with my hair these days, but instead, he told me that he goes to lots of readings because he likes having books signed by authors, but that he doesn't actually read very much — he just likes having signed books. The compliment was that he liked the lecture enough that he was considering breaking with tradition and actually reading my book. I was flabbergasted. Why would you want signed books if you don't read? And yet — I don't think this guy is really such an exception; books are objects as well as forms of communication, and some people just like them as objects, I guess.

I'm sentimental about some old copies of books in which I've scribbled notes, and I love beautiful books, but I'm not a book-as-object person, particularly. On the other hand, I have several books that I use as rabbit's feet — good


In a Perfect World…

...I wouldn't have anything to do today but read and listen to music. It's a drizzly day here in Boston; the sky is gun-metal gray and the light is flat. It's not an awful day, but it's dark and dreary. Which makes it, in my opinion, a perfect day to screw off — to sit in the most comfortable chair in the apartment and pile up the books and the CDs (and food products — I'm thinking Newman's Own Champion Chip chocolate chip cookies, personally, because I finished all the pecan tarts my mom gave me to bring home after Thanksgiving) and dig in. Here's what I'm reading right now:

  • Little Children by Tom Perrotta — funny, sharp, and (for the attention-impaired) easy to read in small pieces.
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett — beautiful. Hypnotic. Requires attention but worth it.
  • What to Expect in the First Year — everybody warned me off these What To Expect books, but I kind of enjoy them. And they are actually useful, although on occasion the tone ("your baby should certainly be done using a bottle by the time he is one!") is



Well, teaching the baby Chinese didn't quite work out — not his fault, of course; he's clearly a brilliant child, but I was focusing on Szechzwan dialect and my guess is he is more of a Mandarin kind of guy. And the grocery shopping didn't take nearly as long as I had hoped. So here I am, alas, facing my empty computer screen again.... At least I like my first sentence for the piece. It includes the word bunny, and I always like to start a story with at least one word I like a lot. Let's hope the New Yorker doesn???t insist on changing that to rabbit — it just doesn't have the same feel as bunny, does it? And yes, I know the story is about pigeons, not bunnies, but... well, if I ever get the story written, you'll see why bunnies fit in.

Of course, today, it's not a matter of Creative Procrastination: it's a JACKHAMMER outside my window that's been chewing up the concrete for the last three hours. I work at home these days — I have an office at the New Yorker, but since I'm living in Boston, my New Yorker office exists mostly



Editor's note: When we decided to ask an author to kick off our weekly guest-blogging spot, we knew exactly whom to ask. Longtime Portland residents may remember Susan Orlean as a contributor to the city's alt-weekly, Willamette Week. Loyal Powells.com readers will recall that the New Yorker columnist has twice been interviewed for the web site. (More recently, she completed our INK Q&A.) Our staff simply knows Susan as one of our favorite writers. Look for more from her on the blog each day this week.

Stuffed... Me, that is; post-Thanksgiving. We just got back from the holiday and I'm sort of surprised the plane was able to get off the ground — the entire passenger load looked a little... how shall I put this?... well-larded. Of course, after four days of non-stop feasting, I have returned to an apartment that is supplied mostly with 1) mustard; 2) Equal; and 3) past-expiration-date Yo-Baby yogurt, so I guess at some point this afternoon I'll be heading to the grocery store. This will constitute Item Number One of my Creative Procrastination Task List for the day (or week or month or year, depending on how creatively I procrastinate). The


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