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Powell's Q&A

Eric Weiner

Describe your latest project.
Eric Weiner, a self-described mope, is a veteran foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. Over the past two decades, he has covered a multitude of catastrophes and maladies from over 30 countries. For his book The Geography of Bliss, however, he decided to tell the other side of the story by visiting some of the world's most contented places. Indeed, his tale signals the arrival of the next great category of literary nonfiction: the philosophical self-help humorous travel memoir. Using the ancient philosophers and the much more recent "science of happiness" as his guide, Weiner takes the reader from America to Iceland to India — and beyond — in search of happiness. Many authors have attempted to describe what happiness is; fewer have shown us where it is, and what we can learn from the inhabitants of different cultures.

  1. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump
    $9.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Part travelogue, part personal-discovery memoir and all sustained delight, this wise, witty ramble reads like Paul Theroux channeling David Sedaris on a particularly good day....Fresh and beguiling." Kirkus Reviews

    "In the end, Weiner's travel tales — eating rotten shark meat in Iceland, smoking hashish in Rotterdam, trying to meditate at an Indian ashram — provide great happiness for his readers." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I once operated the Ferris Wheel at an amusement park in Ocean City, Maryland. One day, I (inadvertently) left two people stranded 100 feet above the ground while I took my lunch break. I knew then, with great clarity, that my career in the amusement-park business would be short-lived.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Neil Postman, the late, great social critic. He was a humanist who could step back and see his own culture — a rare and precious trait. He was a learned academic who wrote without even a hint of pomposity or obfuscation — an even rarer trait. My favorite of his works is Technopoly.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
True — and not just for writers of fiction. Writing is, by its nature, an act of imagination. An exquisite lie. But I might be making that up.

How do you relax?
I don't. See my book, pages 1–329.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Blueberry pancakes at Rick's American Cafe in Doha, Qatar — the tiny Persian Gulf nation. I have a rule about breakfast: The farther you travel from your home country, the more you crave your favorite breakfast food (in my case, blueberry pancakes) and the better it tastes. Breakfast is the one meal that doesn't travel well. I mean, we Americans love sushi, but have you ever tried a Japanese breakfast? Case closed.

Why do you write?
Because I am incapable of doing anything else that could possibly put food on my table.

If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
Louis Fischer, the New York Times correspondent who wrote the definitive biography of Mahatma Gandhi. He accompanied Gandhi on his famous salt march and broke bread with a giant of history. On the world stage, there are no more giants to report about, only dwarfs.

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

Five Travel Books I Wish I Had Written:

Holidays in Hell by P.J. O'Rourke

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater

Anything by Jan Morris

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Eric Weiner, an award-winning foreign correspondent for NPR and a former reporter for the New York Times, has written stories from more than three dozen countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. His commentary has appeared in the New Republic, the International Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and he writes the popular "How They Do It" column for Slate. He has lived in New Delhi, Jerusalem and Tokyo.


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