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Powell’s Q&A: Susan Casey

Describe your latest book.
The Wave is about the quest to encounter one of nature's most powerful forces: the 100-foot wave.

Extreme waves are fascinating, in part because (as with many things in the ocean) we understand them so poorly. For decades and even centuries, a startling number of large ships have vanished without explanation — even now, on average, two dozen ships larger than 500 tons disappear each year, often without so much as a final Mayday. Giant waves were long suspected as the cause, and some clues pointed squarely in this direction, but by the rules of linear physics, they shouldn't have been able to exist. Recently, however, new technologies have proved they do, and in startling numbers. "Scientists Baffled by Giant Walls of Water," the New York Times reported; "Existence of 100-Foot Waves Confirmed." And as climate change brings increasingly volatile ocean conditions, as the global population clusters along the coastlines, and as commercial ships venture into every last corner of the sea, we will be reckoning far more often with what the great explorer Ernest Shackleton ...

Powell’s Q&A: Sara Gruen

Describe your latest book.
Ape House is about a family of language-competent bonobo apes who are kidnapped from their home and mysteriously reappear a few months later as the stars of a reality TV show being filmed in a remote town in New Mexico.

Their main caretaker at the Great Ape Language Lab, Isabel Duncan, has an easier time relating to animals than she does to other humans. And she's not alone. We live in a world full of the faux intimacy that reality television and sites like Facebook have created. We have all this very superficial contact with and information about other people, and yet all this increased information has made it more difficult to form actual relationships. Isabel does not know how to connect. But all that changes when an explosion rocks the lab and her ape family is taken from her. She's set on a collision course with the human race, mostly in the form of a very married journalist who sees her ape family's abduction as the story of a lifetime.

I structured Ape House like a thriller ...

Powell’s Q&A: Jennifer Vanderbes

Describe your latest book.
Strangers at the Feast tells the story of two families, one white and one black, connected by a crime on Thanksgiving Day. My first novel, Easter Island, was about people defining themselves by traveling to a faraway land. This novel looks instead at how people define and defend their sense of home. Each character in the book is hiding a personal misstep or sin which emerges throughout the course of the narrative — wrongdoings that, collectively, lead all the characters toward a very particular tragedy.

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Maybe Philip Carey from Of Human Bondage. I'm a sucker for a man with a club foot. And after the way Mildred treated him, I think he'd be quite receptive to me.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
A few years ago in a London bookstore, I bought a novella called Chess ...

Powell’s Q&A: Allegra Goodman

[Editor's Note: Don't miss Allegra Goodman's reading at Powell's City of Books on Tuesday, July 13, at 7:30 pm. Click here for more information.]

Describe your latest book.
The Cookbook Collector is a novel about two sisters: pragmatic Emily, the CEO of a successful Silicon Valley start-up, and romantic Jess, who works for an antiquarian bookseller named George. Set during the dot-com boom and bust, the book is about hunger: for money, for material things, for food, for fame, for knowledge, for companionship, for love.

Which fictional character would you like to date, and why?
I have a few ideas, with some requirements for each character. I'd like to date Mr. Darcy, if he'd take yoga. Mr. Rochester, if he'd get a divorce, install smoke alarms, and read Cold Comfort Farm. Lydgate, if he'd leave Rosalind and apply for a tenure track job.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Croissants with butter and jam in a small hotel in Paris on a trip there with my family ...

Powell’s Q&A: John Connolly

Describe your latest book.
My latest book, The Whisperers, is the ninth in a series of books featuring the private detective Charlie Parker; it concerns a group of disaffected Iraq war veterans who commence a smuggling operation and find that there's something sinister about their cargo. Like a lot of my work, it has a supernatural element to it, which gets up the nose of the more conservative elements in the mystery genre.

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Cathy from Wuthering Heights, if only because I've always imagined her looking like Kate Bush, and I've had a crush on Kate Bush since I was a kid. If you're reading this, Kate, the flame is still burning...

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was, for a time, in charge of all of the parcels being sent from Harrod's department store to the great and the good of England, at a time when some of my fellow countrymen were very interested in blowing up the great ...

Powell’s Q&A: Adam Ross

Describe your latest book.
Mr. Peanut tells the story of David Pepin, a successful video game designer who may or may not have killed his wife, Alice. He's being investigated by two detectives, Sam Sheppard and Ward Hastroll, and as the procedural proceeds, you not only learn about the marriage of the prime suspect but also about the marriages of the two detectives. I like to say it asks whether marriage can save your life or is the beginning of a long double-homicide. In other words, it's a tragic comedy.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
The summer before my freshman year of college, I did field research for NASA on shark hydrodynamics. I was part of a team helping the Navy build quieter submarines that made an amazing discovery about mako shark physiology: they have micro-scales that create an effect called laminar flow, which further reduces drag and contributes to their astonishing speed. But what made the job interesting — maybe insanely exciting is more accurate — was how we caught the sharks. We rigged ...

Powell’s Q&A: Aryn Kyle

Describe your latest book.
In general, I think that authors are probably the last people who should be describing the content of their books. I have a very difficult time separating myself from my work enough to be able to discuss it intelligently. It feels a little like being asked to describe my neuroses or my fantasies or my fear of bridges (yes, bridges).

But I'll take a crack at it.

My new book, Boys and Girls Like You and Me, is a short story collection. I feel kind of strange referring to this book as "new" because many of the stories were written and published years ago &mdash the oldest story in the collection was written when I was 22. Because most of the stories were written long before I realized they would one day have to live together inside a book, it wasn't until the collection sold that I began to think about how they related to each other or worked together to create a larger arc. The consensus from the world seems to be that the book is about women and girls, about their choices (mostly poor), and their desires (mostly dangerous), and their decisions (mostly ruthless).

Most of the stories do focus on women and girls, but now that I can look at the book as a whole, rather than just an assembly of pieces written over a period of time that represents approximately one-third of my life, I have a slightly different sense of how they all add up. To me, what almost all my characters have in common — more than gender or poor decision-making skills — is a longing for intimacy. I think that what connects these stories to each other is the characters' desire to connect and the (often misguided) choices they make to achieve such connection, connection which almost always comes to them in unexpected ways from unexpected sources and is, across the board, fleeting. Because intimacy, true intimacy, is — I think — almost always fleeting. Which is what makes it so valuable, so desirable, so worth the risk and the pain and the wreckage.

Powell’s Q&A: Katie Crouch

Describe your latest book/project/work.
Men and Dogs is a novel about a broken family in South Carolina. One day Buzz, the father, goes fishing and never comes back. Everyone other than Hannah, his daughter, believes he's dead, but she holds fast to her belief that he is still alive and waiting to return. What follows is a story about faith, love, and family.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"So the story creeps to an end."
Grace Paley

How do you relax?
I fill up the tub with hot water, pick up a good book, then soak and read until my fingers are pruney.

Powell’s Q&A: Greil Marcus

Describe your latest book/project/work.
When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison is what it says it is. It's somebody listening to Van Morrison and listening for those moments all across his career where he seems to break through the boundaries of ordinary communication and go into a realm of both ecstasy and revelation. He can't do this whenever he wants to; it doesn't happen according to plan. Sometimes you can hear him try and fail, but what he's aiming for can be just as vivid in his inability to reach it as it can be when he does reach it. It is a book that goes back to 1965, to the time of his very first record, right up to the present, leaping all around his music trying to find affinities between songs and performances rather than tracing any false notion of growth, development, or evolution. He has always been on a musical quest and that quest hasn't changed.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
In 1976 Francis Coppola bought City magazine in San Francisco and he told me he wanted me to review every movie on TV every week. This was pre-cable so there weren't hundreds of channels, but there were still between 100 and 200 movies a week. Some of them were on incredibly dodgy low-fi channels. They would buy packages of B-movies from the '30s and '40s that were either totally unheard of or completely forgotten and they'd program them all day long. I sat down with many reference books and movie guides and I reviewed every movie every day on every TV channel for a year. I never had so much fun in my life as a writer, both because a lot of it I had to make up, but sometimes in a week there'd be parallels, like five movies about someone who killed his uncle. There'd be this running theme between France, the United States, the '30s, the '50s — you could see some sort of universal mind at work.

Powell’s Q&A: Yann Martel

Describe your latest book.
My latest book is a novel, Beatrice and Virgil. It tells the story of the encounter between a writer, Henry, and a taxidermist. The taxidermist has a shop that's like a lost world. He's also an aspiring playwright and he shows Henry the play he's been working on for many years. It features two characters, Beatrice and Virgil. The taxidermist is a difficult man, distant and nearly rude. But Beatrice and Virgil call to Henry, and he keeps coming back to see the taxidermist. That's the plot. The theme is the trauma of the Holocaust and how to represent it.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Dante. His Divine Comedy. An Italian classic from the 14th century. Sounds boring and stuffy? It's not. It's a road trip through hell, purgatory, and heaven that makes Mad Max look like a fairy tale. It's elegant, entertaining, and fiercely moral.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I've been sending the Prime Minister of Canada a book every two weeks with an accompanying letter for the last three years to show him what he's missing out on by not being a reader (and what Canada is missing out on by having a politician with such a narrow vision). So I'm always searching for good books that show him what the artful word can do. Recently I read Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. It's an absolutely brilliant novel on colonialism in Africa.

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