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Powell's Q&A

Charles Baxter

Describe your latest project.
The Soul Thief is the story of one person taking over the identity of another. It is also a love story with some mayhem in the background. The novel begins in the old, industrial America (Buffalo, New York), where things were once manufactured, and ends in Los Angeles, where imagery — and only imagery — is the central product. In this book of identity theft, no one is quite the person he (or she) seems to be, places are slightly hallucinatory, and love, in its truest form, tries to escape from sentimentality into truth.

  1. The Soul Thief: A Novel
    $6.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Soul Thief: A Novel

    Charles Baxter
    "[A] ravishing twilight tale of breakups and breakdowns, stories pilfered and reclaimed, souls stolen and liberated." Booklist (starred review)
  2. The Feast of Love
    $5.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    The Feast of Love

    Charles Baxter
    "The best book I've read this year....[B]eautiful, sly, bawdly and wondrous..." Detroit Free Press
  3. Saul and Patsy
    $1.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Saul and Patsy

    Charles Baxter
    "[A] mesmerizing novel of delightfully plausible contradictions. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Even though she's married to Levin in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, I'd still like to date Kitty. She's warm and sensual and intelligent. I'd also like to date Natasha in War and Peace, just so I could meet her in person and see her face.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Oh, everybody should read William Maxwell, a great and under-read American author. So Long, See You Tomorrow is a good book of his to start with. It's exciting and beautiful and profound, and you can read it in almost one sitting, though it will stay with you for the rest of your days.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
Writers may be practiced liars on the page, but they usually have a great respect for inner truths. There are, of course, exceptions, many of them famous. But writers tend to respect the truth of things and the otherness of other people, which makes them very poor liars. Very few writers are successful sociopaths. This is not the case with literary critics, who are often very good at lying.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes. I once went to Roethke's greenhouse in Saginaw, Michigan, the homeplace of the poet Theodore Roethke. I asked about him there. The clerk, annoyed, asked me if I were writing a term paper, and I said no, I was just curious. She disappeared up a flight of stairs and then reappeared two minutes later. "The old lady upstairs said he used to work here," she said.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Good health, love, meaningful work, freedom from hunger, peace.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Sex.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
One of my readers once called me up and said she wanted to take me out for lunch. This was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She said that one of my stories, "Gryphon," had pulled her out of a clinical depression; it had made her laugh for the first time in a long time. So she took me out to lunch and paid the bill, and since then, I've never fallen victim to the illusion that literature does nothing and has no effect on people and makes nothing happen.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

One of the ways I relax is by listening to music, and I like to read about music, too. Music is notoriously difficult to write about, of course, but some of the best books about music and musicians are fascinating, because musicians tend to have nervous temperaments and interesting personalities.

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross

The State of Music by Virgil Thomson

A Working Friendship, the letters of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal

For the Love of Music by Michael Steinberg and Larry Rothe

Stravinsky by Stephen Walsh

Europe Central by William Vollmann

÷ ÷ ÷

Charles Baxter is the author of eight previous works of fiction, including Saul and Patsy, The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), Through the Safety Net, and Believers. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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