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Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.

 

Eli Gottlieb: The Powells.com Interview

Eli Gottlieb has done something unusual — he's written two novels, 20 years apart, from opposing but connected perspectives. The Boy Who Went Away, his first novel, draws from Gottlieb's own childhood to chronicle a young boy's coming of age in a family with a severely disabled, classically autistic brother. It won the American Academy's Rome Prize for Fiction, and Phillip Lopate called it "shockingly, electrically alive." Gottlieb went on to write two critically acclaimed literary thrillers, The Face Thief and Now You See Him, which was devoured by our CEO, Miriam Sontz: "I read it for an hour at lunch and then finished it the same night right after dinner, when I heated up leftovers so I wouldn't have to spend time away from this book."

His newest novel, Best Boy, written from the perspective of a middle-aged autistic man who's been living in institutions most of his life, tells the other side of the story from The Boy Who Went Away. Walter Kirn calls Best Boy "A literary experience of piercing, invigorating, profound humanity," and Andrew Solomon raves, "Amid the flood of books about autism in childhood comes ...


Felicia Day’s Playlist for You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

The Powell's PlaylistThese songs go along with some of the chapters in my book You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Hope you enjoy!

1. "Sooner or Later" by Madonna
As a kid I grew up in major isolation, so I never was crazy about boy bands like kids my age should be. I was obsessed with movies from the 1940s. And Madonna. So when the Dick Tracy soundtrack came out and combined my two loves, I was obsessed. I played it on my cassette tape over and over until the tape ran out. For those of you who don't know what a cassette tape is: Yes, I'm old.

2. "Havanaise" by Saint-Saëns
I was a violin prodigy, at least by Southern Mississippi standards. I got a scholarship to college at 15 and had a lot of pressure on me to be the best. Which I lived out in the most neurotic way possible (see book). The piece that I won several competitions with was "Havanaise" by Saint-Saëns. I always gravitated towards showy, slightly skanky pieces. Depth wasn't my strong suit as a ...


Ask a Book Buyer: Post-Apocalyptic Delights

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 askabuyer@powells.com. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

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Q: As you can imagine, I've been flying through books this summer while trying to avoid the heat wave. I've been really digging anything semi-post-apocalyptic. I'm more than halfway through Megan Abbott's The Fever and loving it. I've also recently read The Girl with All the Gifts and loved that one as well. Know of any more recent books that fit this genre? – Kelle

A: The Well by Catherine Chanter, which came out in May, is well-written and post-apocalyptic. It includes a creepy/intriguing religious cult plus a rather heartbreaking mystery. It's worth checking out! – Jill

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife is a near-future look at what happens when the Southwest runs out of water. Bacigalupi is definitely worth checking out; his books are carefully plotted, well-written, and absorbing, and they contain just the right amount of biting social commentary. Stay cool and keep reading! – Mary Jo

Etiquette for an Apocalypse (published a few years ago) is not only post-apocalyptic but also set in Portland. It's as fun as the apocalypse gets! – Tom


Powell’s Q&A: Alice Hoffman

Describe your latest book.
The Marriage of Opposites is a novel about the mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, set on the island of St. Thomas and in Paris.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
A secretary at a university sex clinic.

What was your favorite book as a child?
Magic or Not? by Edward Eager.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West.

What scares you the most as a writer?
Not having enough time to tell all the stories I want to write.


Voices in the Ocean

In 2010, the year dolphins came into my life, I spent my days working in midtown Manhattan, on the 36th floor of a big, impressive office building. I had a big, impressive job. At a glance, my situation was wonderful, enviable. Below the surface, however, the story was different. I was numb. I dragged myself around, and I wondered if I would ever feel happy again.

Eighteen months earlier, my father had died of a massive heart attack. I was often alone, but I never felt lonely because my father was only a phone call away. He was always there, dispensing wisdom and humor and love — until suddenly, he wasn't. I felt as though the ground had opened up and swallowed me and no matter how much time passed, I would never make it back to daylight.

The one place that seemed to offer solace was Maui. I'd lived there briefly, on the island's blustery north shore, while reporting my book, The Wave. Even when the trade winds were howling the air felt softer in the middle of the Pacific, far from the scouring energy of ...


10 Best Books by Writer-Illustrators

As a child who loved books I was fascinated by the illustrations just as much as the text. The same is true for me today, and I'm happy to be among a group of writers who also illustrate their own works. There's a rich tradition of writer-illustrators spanning time. All 10 of these books are fantastic examples of their work. There are countless others I could have included (e.g., William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair or Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories), but these 10 are my absolute favorites.

 

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1. Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. Blake is the patron saint of author-illustrators. No list would be complete without him. Writing and painting are part of the same holy effort for him.

 

William Blake


Readerly Term No. 067: Perfictionist

War and Peace? Could have been more ambitious. Ulysses? Derivative. To the Lighthouse? It took too long to get to said lighthouse.

Perfictionist

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Have you invented a Readerly Term of your own? Email us at readerlyterms@powells.com with the word and definition, and we'll consider including it in our Compendium. Browse all the terms here.


Powell’s Q&A: Jesse Ball

Describe your latest book.
I woke up one day from a sort of daydream with an idea for a book's structure, and for the thread of that book, one predicated upon the protagonist's loss of memory. In many cases, such memory losses are accidental or undesired, but in this case, it is an asked-for amnesia. And what if there existed a department of government whose sole purpose was to offer this service?

If society is a ship, it appears to many to be firmly at anchor in moral waters. Perhaps this isn't so. If we take certain extraordinary situations, we can better see basic truths about the ordinary. The events of A Cure for Suicide take place in a near future. The lives that the characters live are ordinary lives, but because of some extraordinary developments, their lives become emblematic of certain troublesome human directions.

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Chased Out with a Broom, Chased Out with a Newspaper: Life of Jesse Ball, Vol. 2, 1983-1985.

If you were trapped in an elevator, what fictional character would you want with you?
In ...


“You Want Me to Smell My Fingers?”: Five Unforgettable Greek Idioms

The word "idiom" originates in the Greek word ídios ("one's own") and means "special feature" or "special phrasing." Idioms are peculiar because, by definition, something that is one's own is impossible to translate or share. Idioms point to ideologies inherently foreign and strange. Taken word for word, they are often ridiculous and hilarious.

But translating idioms verbatim is also a poetic exercise that reveals how language can build a universe and retain a history particular to a people. Idioms are vivid, rich, linguistic artifacts, and they are responsible for my early love of language.

Here are five Greek idioms that might "change your lights," too.

1. "You want me to smell my fingers?"
As a statement, might appear as "Θα μυρίσω τα δάχτυλά μου."
Also phrased as "Θα μυρίσω τα νύχια μου," meaning, "I will smell my nails."

The English equivalent is akin to "I'm not a mind reader" — but this isn't something I understood as a kid, and I couldn't figure out why my father was asking if he should smell his fingers. Did he want us to smell them, too? What was on them, exactly, and why was anybody ...


You Are… Who?

Writing a book is an unnatural act of communication.

Speaking to a person, or even to an audience, is an interaction. Very different styles are suited to an expert, a curious layperson, or a student on assignment... or to a one-on-one, a salon, or a lecture theater. When we do those things, we get feedback — including lots of nonverbal feedback — in real time, and we tailor our message accordingly. Often the most important feedback comes from the look of the audience. We see whether we are engaging their interest, making them laugh, or putting them to sleep.

Writers, on the other hand, do their basic work in solitude. An author directs his or her message to... umm — well, the answer to that question is a crucial decision, which shapes the process of creation. In my new book, A Beautiful Question, I came to answer that question in an interesting and unusual way, as I'll now explain.

A Beautiful Question evolved from something fundamentally different, namely a public lecture. The original lecture was titled "Quantum Beauty," and it was delivered at Darwin College, Cambridge University. It was ...


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