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Archive for the 'Q&A' Category

Powell’s Q&A: Amy Tan

Describe your latest book.
After eight years, I finally have a new novel: The Valley of Amazement. The title comes from a painting I saw in a museum in Berlin, which depicted a landscape with an ambiguous tone. When I first saw it, I thought it depicted sunset after a storm. But then it appeared to be sunrise before a storm. Or was it sunrise after the storm? The shifting sense of it reminded me of the ambiguity of who we are in changing circumstances. I had only recently learned that my grandmother might have been a courtesan. If so, what circumstances led to that, and how might life in the flower world have changed her attitudes and how she saw herself? My stories have often centered on repeating questions that have to do with our sense of self. How much is ingrained by society — or mothers? If few choices are available, how does this affect our attitude and beliefs? In this novel, the questions play out in the intertwined lives of two women. One is an American, Lucia, who rebels and runs away from San ...

Powell’s Q&A: Wally Lamb

Describe your latest book.
We Are Water is a multi-voiced story about a family and a nation in transition. It's 2009. Barack Obama is in the first year of his presidency, the state of Connecticut has recently legalized gay marriage, and Orion and Annie Oh's 27-year marriage has ended because Annie, a successful outsider artist, has fallen in love with Viveca, her champion in the art world and her bride-to-be. As the wedding approaches, it elicits a variety of responses from ex-husband Orion, a university psychologist, and the Ohs' three grown children: earnest do-gooder Ariane, her born-again twin brother Andrew, and the twins' wild-card younger sister Marissa. Likewise, the impending ceremony pries open a Pandora's box of toxic secrets that have festered beneath the surface of the Ohs' lives. In this, my fifth novel, I explore the themes of class, race, evolving social mores, and the origins and purpose of art. As were my earlier novels, this story is an exploration of power and powerlessness and their effect on flawed but humane characters.

What is the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
One summer when I ...

Powell’s Q&A: Ben Dolnick

Describe your latest book.
My latest novel is called At the Bottom of Everything, and it's about two men in their mid-20s, one of whom goes off the rails and disappears in India, the other of whom tries to find him and bring him home.

What fictional character would you like to date and why?
I'm pretty sure the fictional character I've been most attracted to, ever, is Viv from Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. That book meant a huge amount to me when I was in high school, but now just about the only things I retain from it are a vague impression of Pacific Northwest weather and a scene in which Viv plays footsie with her brother-in-law around a campfire.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
One I have up on my bulletin board is from a George Saunders story called "CommComm": "When that wall cracks, there's another underneath." In the story this line describes a visualization exercise the narrator uses to calm himself down, but I take it more as a mantra about writing, and about life: there's always ...

Ask a Book Buyer: Borges, Klosterman, and More

Ask a Book BuyerAt Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for a vegetarian who loves Radiohead and Flight of the Conchords? Email your question to We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

Q: Can you suggest some books on food and travel writing similar to Anthony Bourdain's work? – Joseph

A: Marco Pierre White (The Devil in the Kitchen), Bill Buford (Heat), Adam Richman (America the Edible), Ruth Reichl (Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone), Michael Ruhlman (The Soul of a Chef). If you're not already familiar, you may also want to check out The Best American Travel Writing and the Best Food Writing series, published annually and very popular. –Jeremy

Jeffrey Steingarten's books, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must've Been Something I Ate. Also, Luisa Weiss's My Berlin Kitchen. And I heartily second the recommendation for Bill Buford's Heat. –Mary Jo

Q: I need to buy a book (or multiple books) for my nephew for his birthday. I know he is a big Annie Dillard fan and devours anything by Chuck Klosterman. He was also a religious studies major in college and still rereads Eliade, Otto, and books on medieval Christian mystics. I know that's a pretty eclectic sampling, but what would some suggestions be? –David

Powell’s Q&A: Susanna Daniel

Describe your latest book.
My second novel, Sea Creatures, spans one summer in the lives of Georgia Quillian, her parasomniac husband, Graham (more on parasomnia later), and their three-year-old son, Frankie, who has recently stopped verbalizing. Like Stiltsville, my first novel, Sea Creatures is set partially at a house built on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay, where Georgia works as a personal assistant for a reclusive artist named Charlie Hicks. As Graham's new work and personal limitations pull him away from them, Georgia and Frankie come to depend on Charlie's steadfast attention and Stiltsville's remote beauty. Also, there's a really big hurricane.

Why do you write?
I've said before that I believe writers are, for the most part, hermits at heart. I live with two young children and another adult, my husband, and I adore all of them — but if I didn't hole up in my office and write for hours at a time, how would I justify spending so much time alone with my private obsessions and daydreams?

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I've really loved Rome, Friday ...

Ask a Book Buyer: The Divine Comedy, Crime Fiction, All That Jazz, and More

The Powell's PlaylistAt Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for a vegetarian who loves Radiohead and Flight of the Conchords? Email your question to We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

Q: The last two books I read were The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie... loved them both. What should I read next? – Annie

A: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud or Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. – Shawn

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Q: I'm wondering what my best choice is for Dante. I'm willing to purchase more than one book if necessary. What I'm looking for: 1) "best translation" (whatever that means) of The Divine Comedy, 2) illustrations by Gustave Doré, 3) if possible, decent footnotes, 4) pocket size (kidding!). – Jason

A: A ...

Powell’s Q&A: Kate Christensen

Describe your latest book.
Blue Plate Special is the autobiography of my first half-century of life, with food as the subject. I wanted to write a food book for many years, partially in homage to the great M. F. K. Fisher, whose books had sustained me through dark and lonely times. As I started to write about food, my own life became the scaffolding and structure, since food and memory are as intertwined for me as food and language.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
In 1990, when I had just arrived in New York City as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-something girl from Arizona, I spent a year or more working as the personal secretary and secret ghostwriter to an American-born countess in her apartment on the Upper East Side. She was terrifying, fascinating, maddening, and glamorous; I was hapless, hung over, scruffy, and ambitious. That job became the inspiration for my first novel, In the Drink.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"In your memoir, no one should look like an asshole but you." – Rosie Schaap

How do you relax?
After ...

Powell’s Q&A: Peter J. Steinberger

Describe your latest book.
I am a political philosopher by training and profession. All of my previous books have been scholarly monographs written not simply for an audience of scholars but a pretty narrow audience of scholars at that. I have now written something completely and entirely different, namely, a book — The Problem with God: Why Atheists, True Believers, and Even Agnostics Must All Be Wrong — that's intended for a general readership and that's on a topic about which I am truly an amateur. It's not at all a "spiritual" book — that's not my thing — but it's nonetheless a very personal book in that it puts in writing some thoughts I've had for a very long time, indeed decades. From the perspective of this particular amateur, the so-called God debate of recent years seems to have missed something both pretty obvious and pretty important, maybe even staggeringly important. It's something I've been looking for in literature, but it just doesn't seem to be there. So I thought I'd write it up, throw it out into the world, and see what happens.

What's the strangest or ...

Powell’s Q&A: Michael Marder

Describe your latest work.
When I started working on Plant-Thinking in 2008, I had no idea that the project would turn out to be as broad as it did. In fact, a philosophy of plant life is a multivolume undertaking. Besides Plant-Thinking, it will include a book titled The Philosopher's Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, slated for publication by Columbia University Press next year; a text on the ethics and politics of vegetal life, under the title Plant-Doing; and an attempt at imagining a phenomenology of and for plants, titled Phyto-phenomenology.

For the next book, I have been collaborating with a fantastic French artist, Mathilde Roussel. Mathilde is beautifully illustrating the "intellectual herbarium," which consists of chapters ranging from "Plato's Plane Tree" and "Augustine's Pears" to "Kant's Tulip" and "Heidegger's Apple Tree." The idea is to introduce the thinking of some key figures in Western philosophy through the prism of a particular plant they either mentioned in passing or focused on in their writings. Leafing through the pages of the intellectual herbarium, readers will learn about the theories of these thinkers, as well as their take on plant life. This ...

Powell’s Q&A: Augusten Burroughs

Note: Augusten Burroughs will present his new book at Powell's City of Books on Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m.

Describe your latest book.
This Is How is a guide of sorts for showing people how they can survive, overcome, achieve, or free themselves of things they think they can't. The book arose from the single question I have been asked more than any other: "How did you survive...?" Because as readers of my six nonfiction works know, I've been knocked around the block a few times and survived pretty well. This Is How isn't a step-by-step, process-oriented book. Rather, it's conceptual and broad so that the approaches in the book can be applied to any issue, even those not mentioned.

This Is How speaks to what I believe is the most essential component of survival or achievement: seeing the actual, rock-bottom, elemental truth and accepting it. But because truth can often be cloaked in what we assume or believe or have been told is "true," being truthful with respect to our circumstances isn't as easy or as obvious as it may appear.

As just one example, I was ...

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