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Five Memorable Train Journeys

Some train journeys I don't remember. Thankfully not for the same reasons as the protagonist of The Girl on the Train — in my case, I was simply too young to recall the first time I ever got onto a train (a trip from Durban to Umhlali in South Africa, I'm told). I don't remember my first truly dramatic journey either, from Milan to Lake Como on a family holiday when I was four. Some train journeys, though, stick in the mind.

1. Rabat to Meknes, Morocco
When I was 18, I traveled to Morocco, where I was to spend three weeks working and traveling with other students, a kind of cultural-exchange program. I flew to Rabat, where I boarded a train to take me to Meknes. I was alone at this point — I hadn't met up with any of the other students — and I was nervous, still very much in European mode, not comfortable squeezing myself into an already-crowded carriage. But over the course of the three-hour ride, creaking slowly along a track which runs between the Atlas and the Sahara, I started slowly to adjust ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Ned Beauman

The Powell's PlaylistI did have a playlist that I listened to over and over again while I was writing Glow, but three years on I'm a bit bored of those songs, which got their final blast at my book party in London last year. So here are the B-sides, so to speak: other good songs by the same artists.

1. "MTI" by Koreless
This is an extraordinarily simple song that feels like it could carry on into eternity. Koreless was right at the top of my playlist, and with them I managed to achieve a sort of Pavlovian response to put myself into the right mind set.

2. "Far Nearer" by Jamie xx
I deliberately didn't specify what kind of music is being played at the raves in the book, but in my imagination it's futuristic and unbound by genre, just like this song. The last time I went clubbing in London was to see Jamie xx DJing at Dance Tunnel in Dalston.

3. "Obedear" by Purity Ring
I noticed that BJ Novak also put a song from this album on his playlist. Perhaps it has ...


From Musician to Novelist

I was asleep on the floor of the magicians' apartment. Not one, but three magicians lived there, and their mysterious, mischievous, and sometimes macabre props surrounded my living-room floor futon. A straitjacket hung on the coat rack, a mini-guillotine sat over the fireplace, a mechanical monkey poked out from behind the couch, and an artificial arm lay casually on the coffee table. On the bookshelf were Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic and all five volumes of Roberto Giobbi's Card College.

This was back in the spring of 2013; I was living in London and commuting twice a week to Bath where I lectured in the university's music department. When I needed to stay overnight in Bath, my friends Gia, Gaz, and Simon, all magicians, were nice enough to let me sleep at their place. It was there, still an hour before my alarm was set to go off, when my phone rang. 6 a.m. It was my agent. "Are you awake?" she asked.

"Yes," I lied.

"Good," she said. "Because I have amazing news."

This was how I was joyfully shoved into the bizarre and wonderful world of ...


Required Reading: Books That Changed Us

Required Reading We tend to think of reading as a cerebral endeavor, but every once in a while, it can spur action. The following books — ranging from inspiring biographies to evocative fiction to instructional guides — motivated us to step out of our comfort zones and make significant, lasting changes in our lives.


The Powell’s Playlist: Mary Helen Specht

The Powell's PlaylistMigratory Animals is mostly set in Texas during the first years of the most recent recession, when the cast of characters — an eclectic group of college friends now in their 30s — are coming to the realization that, in a world of shrinking resources, a good education is no longer enough to ensure an escape from one's origins. This playlist is chronological, not necessarily from release date but rather from when the songs become important in the characters' lives.

1. "Papa Noel" by Brenda Lee (1958)
This is one of the songs on the curated cassette tape entitled, "Larry Blevins' Christmas Bluegrass Jamboree" that Flannery and Molly's father plays on car trips to Dallas in the novel's flashbacks. Despite the fact that West Texas is not "on the bayou," Flannery always loved this song because it reflected what Christmas was like in the mostly snowless South.

2. "Cannonball" by the Breeders (1993)
The Breeders' show in Lubbock was Flannery's first concert when she was in high school. This band's songs walked the line between catchy and indie while also demonstrating how ...


On Trimming Roses

Gardens do not wait. Weeds grow and flowers wilt. In the days and weeks following my father's death, my parents' garden continued to flourish and demand our attention, for plants do not know grief.

When it came to our garden, my parents were a team. My father — dyslexic, spatial thinker, and dreamer — looked at the two-thirds of an acre covered in weeds that was our original backyard and envisioned a patio, a Japanese-style pond with a waterfall, a rose bed, a vegetable garden, and more. My father literally moved the earth to landscape it into the shape he saw in his mind's eye. My mother — precise, patient, disciplined, lover of beauty — planted seedlings, attacked the weeds, and pruned the roses, and then the garden became reality and became a world.

The garden reflected my parents' life together. When my mother became extremely ill over 30 years ago, the weeds got the upper hand. My father was not a weeder and while my mother was in the hospital, he wandered around the house, in a state of suspended terror. My mother recovered partially. I, now 10 years ...


Five Hundred Mountains Destroyed for a @*&%$! Allegory!

I found a hole in the perimeter fence on a Sunday when the haul trucks were idle and I could work my way up the shoulder of mountain undetected. About 100 yards from the site rim, I came into a collar of dying trees — leaves dusted with grey mountain gilings, a forest floor of scattered flyrock.

I reached the brim of the place and looked out over a landscape of total devastation. Miles of raw, broken hardrock where a tract of mountains had once been. Flat buttes of exposed grey slag with black coal seams at the bottom. Cairns of rubble with haul truck tracks crosshatched between them. A black lake filled with some obsidian ooze. At the far end, on a remnant hill, was a last frieze of orphan trees, standing proud and defiant as the mountain around them had been blown up, hauled off, and pushed into a hollow to level the land.

It was my first look at a mountaintop removal mine and it made me want to throw up.


Jill Maxick of Prometheus Books: The Powells.com Interview

For decades, Prometheus Books has put out titles we both love and respect. Prometheus is the leading publisher in the United States of books on free thought, humanism, and atheism — as well as many more titles that serve to fire up the human mind. In fact, that almost seems to be the sole reason for their existence: to initiate thought and consideration over weighty issues.

We caught up with Jill Maxick, vice president of marketing for Prometheus Books, and asked her a few questions about the press and about their books, plans, and worldview.

÷ ÷ ÷

Chris Faatz: It's a pleasure for me to speak with you about Prometheus. One of the nice things about your press is that I know, even when I don't agree with what you publish, you guys would take that disagreement as seriously (and with as much delight!) as you would all those books that I accept wholeheartedly.

When did Prometheus get started, what did you see as your mission at that point, and what kinds of books overall do you publish today?

Jill Maxick: First, thank you (and Powell's) for being a fan of our press and a ...


Most Popular Cookbooks of 2014

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these are the 2014 top-selling cookbooks at Powell's. Our number one bestseller: Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. Not only does Ottolenghi have THE bestselling cookbook at Powells — he has three cookbooks in the top 10. My favorite, Jerusalem: A Cookbook, has been a bestseller since its release in 2012.

Local regional cookbooks (Portlandia, Pok Pok, Toro Bravo, The Bar Book) represented! The Portlandia Cookbook was just as humorous as I expected it to be, but surprised me by having good recipes as well. I mean, no offense to authors Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, but you guys are known for good music and for being funny, not for your delicious Wild Mushroom and Artichoke Tartines.

DIY cookbooks (Preserving by the Pint, One-Hour Cheese) also held sway in the top 10, which is unsurprising as DIY is as Portland as the aforementioned Portlandia. Additional bonus Portland points awarded to Preserving by the Pint author Marisa McClellan for being Portland-raised, and to One-Hour Cheese author Claudia Lucero for being a current Portlander.

Continue »


35 Seconds

Late at night on September 22, 2014, at a housing project basketball court in Brooklyn, a white cop pushes a black man against a chain link fence. They stand face-to-face, the black man, Lamard Joye, a little taller than the cop, William Montemarino. Joye wears a hooded sweatshirt, printed collage-style with pictures of the Notorious B.I.G.; Montemarino's in a short-sleeved NYPD uniform, his round stomach stretching the fabric. Both men are bald.

"Look," Joye says with his hands dutifully raised in the air. "Look. You see this? You see this?"

He is talking not to Montemarino, but to the person behind Montemarino, the person recording everything on his cell phone. Two months earlier, a much more famous cell phone video recorded a different white cop choking an unarmed black man to death on a Staten Island sidewalk. On the night of September 22, Joye couldn't know that a grand jury would later fail to indict anyone for that death, but I imagine when he did find out he was filled with disgust but completely unsurprised, or perhaps I'm just projecting my own feelings here.

"You see this?" he ...


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