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Our Favorite New Favorites of 2014

Every week, we gather together a small pile of newly released titles that we agree should be on everyone's radar. We deem these titles our New Favorites (check out our recent picks here). Now that the year is winding down, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the standouts, in case you missed them the first time around. Thus we present to you our shamelessly superlative Favorite New Favorites of 2014!

Mixtape and Mashup — A Brief Guide to Books Born from Other Works of Art

Fade in on the Mission Dolores, the fictional gravesite of Carlotta Valdes in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

One block away, two writers with their first jobs teaching creative writing (okay, it was us!) decide to collaborate on a book of short stories that respond to classic and cult movies. We try — and fail — to watch every film in The Criterion Collection over the course of a single year. What begins as the kind of writing exercise we might assign to our students — write something connected with an unforgettable moment in a film you love — first becomes a bundle of pages, then a manuscript. The process is addictive, dislodging stories and what ifs. Working together on this project breaks the loneliness that cannot be avoided in the artistic process. The movies themselves become our muses, speaking through us as much as we speak through them.

We love the way that images, dreams, stories, and cultural history weave together when we go to the movies. Everyone has a secret life in the movies. We turned our personal moviegoing experiences into a book centering on our lives as the ...

Powell’s Q&A: Ron Rash

Describe your latest book/project/work.
Something Rich and Strange is a collection of selected stories, including three stories previously unpublished in book form.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Donald Harington is as underrated as any America writer I know of, and I'd suggest starting with his novel With.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"My mother is a fish." – Faulkner

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands, and why did you read it?
I was on a panel with Richard Flanagan. I've always admired his work and after our event I had him sign his new novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It's the best novel by a living writer I've read in the last decade.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yeats' castle in Ireland.

Writing as Puzzle

I loved books, loved stories, loved being read to at an early age and then reading for myself — that's true for most writers. But looking back, I can see a parallel interest, one I never considered related to all of that reading I did.

We lived near my mother's parents, and once or twice a week we'd go to my grandparents' house for dinner. Afterward, the adults would play cards. My sister and I would watch some TV (Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color), but our grandparents liked to have the Lawrence Welk show in the background, and that usually drove us to other pursuits. My grandparents didn't stock games for us (there was always a spare deck of cards), but the hall closet held two jigsaw puzzles. If my memory is correct, one was a picture of Quick Draw McGraw, a cartoon horse-turned-sheriff, and his sidekick, Baba Looey; the other was a picture of Howdy Doody. They were each missing a few pieces, but with nothing better to do, we assembled them, broke them up, and assembled them again.

New Cookbooks for October and November: Potluck Time!

October/November is a favorite time in our offices. These are the months when scads of cookbooks are released, a deluge of cookbooks, a tornado of cookbooks. To judge by my desk, it's a perfect (or, rather, imperfect) storm of cookbooks. I have over 50 newly released books piled up, with another pile of yet-to-be-released titles crammed into what little space remains. When better to have a grand work potluck than now? We pulled 10 books out of my desk mess to cook from, each of us bringing in at least one dish to share. We gleefully stuffed our faces and documented it all for you! Here are our potluck reviews, featuring some guest writers from our staff.

Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts

The '80s rocker turned pastry chef, Brooks Headley, writes recipes the way a punk rocker writes poetry: intentionally wrong, in your face, meant to be played LOUD, and yet sometimes hitting the sublime. Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts is a cookbook you want to read, not with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace; you'll want to read it wherever the F' you want, maybe while listening to some hardcore punk music. (Although, not me; I'd listen to the ...

Beyond the Headlines: Lena Dunham and Millennial Feminism

First, a confession: I hate-watched the first two seasons of Lena Dunham's Girls. Every situation and character on the show made me cringe. Most scenes involve unpleasant people having unpleasant sex, or scheming to have (unpleasant) sex, or dealing with the discomfort of trying to avoid or distance themselves from earlier, unpleasant sex. Sure there are scenes about how hard it is to be a fragile young writer/aspiring curator/alluring nanny, but everyone's so vile that their antics elicit more schadenfreude than sympathy. And yet Girls has a brash truth underpinning all its awfulness. As the White House report on rape and sexual assault made clear this year, most young women find themselves in sexual situations that feel out of their control; many blame themselves for these situations (or are blamed by others); a lot of girls and women still believe sexuality forms their primary identity and negotiating tool; and too many of us aim to please regardless of whether or not doing so means shuttering our inclination to say no, or yes, or anything we want without fear of censure and dismissal. One of the reasons ...

The Hot Sex Tip Cosmo Won’t Tell You

Cosmopolitan Magazine recently released an article titled "28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions." Where was this vital information when I was a teenager? How much more fulfilling would my young life have been if I had known about "The Rocket," "The Kinky Jockey," or "Defying Gravity," a position in which one receives oral sex while performing a handstand?

The answer is easy. I turned 17 in 1992, the year 638,527 Oregonians voted for Ballot Measure 9, a ballot measure that classed homosexuality with pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality. If passed, it would have banned gays from state employment and work with children. Almost 44 percent of the state voted yes.

In the months leading up to the vote, gays and lesbians were shot, beaten, stalked, and harassed. Offices for the No on 9 campaign were ransacked. In the capitol, 20 minutes from my home, a black lesbian and her gay roommate were firebombed.

I was 17, out, and lonely in a way that changed the very composition of my blood. I also had some peculiar ideas about lesbians because I didn't actually know any. For one thing, I had a ...

Puppies for Sale? Read This First

Shake Puppies contains an almost unsettling amount of cuteness. There is a good chance after looking through its pages you will get puppy fever and be thrown into an unwavering quest for your next pet. Here is my sound advice if you are indeed afflicted by this condition:

Rescue your next dog! Hear me say it. Hear me say it in a self-righteous and possibly annoying voice. Picture me holding a picket sign in front of any pet store that sells dogs. A sign that reads "IF YOU SHOP HERE, YOU SUPPORT PUPPY MILLS," and I'm screaming at you like a zealot with spit flying this way and that.

Put on some headphones blasting Sarah McLachlan and walk into the Oregon Humane Society. If you don't start freaking bawling and wanting to take every animal home, then register with the local authorities as a bona fide sociopath. Cruise Petfinder like a dog creep and email profiles to your family while you are supposed to be finishing that TPS report.

Think about the time in your life you were most down on your luck, down on life, ...

Miriam Toews: The Interview

Some people are compelled by a restlessness from within; others are shaped by the unwieldy forces around them. In Miriam Toews's poignant new novel following two sisters raised in a small Canadian Mennonite community, siblinghood is a bond strengthened by this dynamic. Elf is now a world-famous concert pianist with a happy marriage, while her sister, Yoli, is a scattered, stalled writer in the middle of her second divorce. Yet it is Yoli who serves as protector for her fragile and impulsive older sister, a woman so crippled by depression that she repeatedly tries to take her own life. Says The Guardian's Stevie Davies, "I can think of no precedent for the darkly fizzing tragicomic jeu d'esprit that is Miriam Toews's sixth novel." Daring, propulsive, and deeply affecting, All My Puny Sorrows is indeed in a class of its own. We're honored to have chosen it as the featured title for our 50th volume of Indiespensable.

Jill Owens: You're known for drawing from your own life in your earlier work, and All My Puny Sorrows sounds like it's very autobiographical as well. Can you talk a bit about how this book came about?

Miriam Toews: Yes, it's ...

On Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured

I'm always sorry to finish a book, to let go of characters I love, people I've struggled to understand for years, people who evolve before me. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, I've never had the sense I was "making up" a character. It feels more like watching people reveal themselves, ever more deeply, more intimately. When a central character in The Binding Chair committed suicide, I moped for days, maybe even weeks. I cast my eye back over her past, reviewed the life she'd lived — the one I'd written — the trials she'd endured, and what hints she'd given me as to the state of her soul. She'd always been willful and impulsive. Though her life took her far from the childhood she endured, she'd remained captive to the torments of her early years.

After she died, I said to myself what people always say at such times: that I should have seen it coming, that I wished I'd done something, that hers was an unbearably tragic end, that I was sorry I wouldn't ever again look at the world through her eyes. It was strange ...

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