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Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.

 

Ask a Book Buyer: The Answer Is Robin Hobb (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 askabuyer@powells.com. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

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Q: I flew through Codex Alera and loved it. I got hooked on The Iron Druid Chronicles but am waiting for the next book. I stumbled upon and devoured Blades of the Old Empire (again, waiting on the next book). I am on the waiting list at the library for The Name of the Wind but am getting antsy for a good read. Can you suggest a series that isn't in fashion — an oldie but goodie, perhaps?
–Jeremy B.

Q: I just finished hate-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I need that bad taste out of my mouth. I wouldn't mind starting a new series, but I'm at a loss here. I want to read something epic. I've not read much fantasy, but I do kinda like it. So... what do you think? (And don't say A Song of Ice and Fire because I've already started in on those.)
–Megan


Lorrie Moore: The Powells.com Interview

More than most writers, Lorrie Moore has devoted readers who fervently await each of her new publications with something approaching reverence. With the release of her last novel, A Gate at the Stairs, Jonathan Lethem declared himself one of those fans: "Moore may be the most irresistible contemporary American writer....On finishing A Gate at the Stairs, I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately." Bark, Moore's latest work and first book of short stories in 15 years, showcases her razor-edged humor, her dazzling skill with language, and her incredible psychological precision. Reading Bark, I realized that as much as I love her novels, I'd been missing the irresistible pull of her stories terribly without knowing it. Kirkus agreed in a starred review: "One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act, with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph....In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision."

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Jill Owens: How did this new collection, Bark, come together? Had you been working on some of the stories while writing other things?

Lorrie Moore: Bark is a collection of stories written over 10 years, from the period of 2003 to 2013. They are arranged more or less in chronological order. During that time I was also working on a novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which was published in 2009. Though there has been some commentary that this is a slim collection, it is my second longest. I think the bound galley made it look smaller than it was. There are eight stories, as there were in my second collection, Like Life. Do I sound sufficiently defensive?

Jill: Did you know that the longer stories — "Wings" and "Debarked" — would remain stories rather than become novels?

Moore: Actually I imagined "Debarking" would be shorter and that "Wings" would be longer, perhaps a novella. But they were never destined to become novels.

Jill: What do you like about working in those different forms (short stories and novels)?


Required Reading: 25 Great Comic Novels

It's spring! The sun is shining. The flowers are in bloom. The Blazers are winning (fingers crossed). We're in a good mood. So for our latest round of Required Reading, we lined up our 25 favorite funny novels. Whether biting, riotous, savage, or slapstick, each of these books consistently makes us laugh.


Beyond the Headlines: Reading Russia, Ukraine, and the West

If you're a news junkie like me, there are times when even the cornucopia of journalism available isn't enough to sate your curiosity or answer all of your questions. It's just too hard to fit the history of the Cold War or the shifting boundaries of Eastern Europe into a six-minute news segment on NPR, or even into the more lavish spread of a newspaper or magazine article. The escalating tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the West are haunted by the complex specters of the Tsarist Empire and Soviet Russia, with their attendant histories of annexation, persecution, and battling ideologies both within their borders and with the West. If you're feeling lost in the news, or simply want to learn more, try one of the excellent books below.


The Work of Jerome Rothenberg

I have no hesitation in saying that Jerome Rothenberg is one of our greatest living poets and that his latest book, Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, is among the top books published last year. Eye of Witness, published by the relentlessly pioneering Black Widow Press, is a huge, 580-page tome that encompasses the entirety of Rothenberg's vast and many-hued career.

Rothenberg's terrain is the intersection of language and culture. He explores how the two mesh, in different times and places, to produce works redolent of both beauty and horror, pieces that can be prophetic or starkly pedestrian and coolly informative. It is in this meshing, this coming together, that his poetry is rooted.

A large part of the book is dedicated to his translations or versions (he calls them "variations") of the work both of great historical figures, such as Pablo Neruda and Tristan Tzara, and the mythic utterances of native and ethnic traditions arising, for example, out of Judaic or shamanistic experience. These pieces are in turn disturbing and challenging. They rise up before you, like a mighty golem of the imagination, ...


A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire

Readers trying to understand the complex origins of World War I must begin in the Balkans, and in the fading, somnolent court of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph I. Why? Because the Great War — as the First World War would shortly be known — could not have begun anywhere else, or through any other agency than Vienna's. There had been great-power crises in Morocco, Libya, and elsewhere in the years before 1914, but none had flared into war. Even a succession of Balkan crises had failed to ignite war. But the July Crisis of 1914 did, precisely because of the German and Austrian gamble that Vienna had to fight that summer or go under.

Vienna in 1914 was Europe's real "Sick Man." Although the Ottoman Empire had claimed that title since the 19th century, the Turks had revived themselves with the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and shored themselves up for the long haul. (The militarized Turkey of 1908 is still around today.) Even Constantinople's defeats in the two Balkan Wars (1912-13) had paradoxically strengthened the Turks by testing their reformed army and shearing off restive provinces in the ...


The Mormons and Me

I spent two years with Mormon people, with Mormon books, and embraced by Mormon history to write American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church. People constantly ask me: Well, what did you think of them? What were the Mormons like?

I respond that I started this project mildly prejudiced in favor of Mormons. More to the point, I'm mildly prejudiced in favor of organized religion. I attend church fairly often, and — even though Mormons often describe their own religion as "weird" or "peculiar" — I regard the Latter-day Saints as part of the American religious mainstream. I've never had a (significant) beef with some of the stretch points of the Saints' beliefs, to wit, the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the "golden tablets" which contained the Book of Mormon. My own religion, Anglicanism, isn't exactly, well, rational.

I also like to say that I ended this project with a mild, pro-Mormon bias. But it's true that a great deal happened in between.

There are about six million Mormons in the United States, and ...


Anthony Doerr: The Powells.com Interview

For months before I read it, coworkers would rave during meetings, send me glowing emails, or stop me in the hall to tell me how much they loved All the Light We Cannot See. We couldn't keep advance reader copies in the office for more than a few hours. I had long been a fan of Anthony Doerr, for his extraordinary short stories in The Shell Collector and Memory Wall and his previous novel, About Grace. His newest novel, set during World War II, tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl living in occupied France, and Werner, an 18-year-old German soldier who was conscripted from an orphanage due to his extraordinary mechanical abilities. A missing, possibly cursed jewel known as the Sea of Flames; scale-models of neighborhoods in Paris and Saint-Malo made by Marie's father to teach her how to navigate; a secret ocean cove with snails and mussels — Doerr's remarkable story is filled with gorgeous, almost magical imagery you might not expect in a war novel.

Jess Walter gushes, "All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the ...


Shit Rough Draft

I was sitting in a British and Irish romantic drama class my last semester in college when the idea for Shit Rough Drafts hit me. I was working through a humor piece for the school paper and was in the midst of a rough draft. My deadline was in a few hours, and instead of paying attention to the class, I was in turmoil over the shit state of my 500-700 word humor column for the George Mason University Broadside. The idea I had was funny, but the draft was rough, and I was cursing my deadline, wondering why I had ever agreed to it.

I was staring at the rough draft in front of me that looked like the ravings of a lunatic. There were cross-outs and curse words, doodles and arrows, and then more curse words. It was an absolute mess and I felt defeated. I knew it was just a rough draft, but it was still my work, and it was bad. It was in that moment of defeat that I thought about other writers' suffering. I wasn't the only one who had shitty drafts. ...


Room to Write

Tell us about the places you have written. The actual place where you set up your writing desk. Were there windows you looked out of? What did you see?

Faraway Places was written at 211 East Fifth Street, Apt. 1A, in Manhattan. My apartment was a studio about nine feet wide and not a lot longer. I got the apartment for free and $400 a month for being the super of three buildings on East Fifth. There were two long, narrow windows facing East Fifth Street, but I always had the rust-colored Levolors closed. My first computer was on a small table that butted up against a larger dinner table. From where I sat, I could reach out and touch the kitchen sink. Behind me was one of the only two places in the studio where two people could stand. Right behind me was the bathroom door. You had to move the chair to get into the bathroom. In the loft bed above the bathroom I had a black and white TV with a coat hanger for an antenna. I could only get PBS and for some ...


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