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Original Essays | July 22, 2014

Nick Harkaway: IMG The Florist-Assassins

The three men lit up in my mind's eye, with footnotes. They were converging on me — and on the object I was carrying — in a way that had... Continue »
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    Nick Harkaway 9780385352413

The Powell's Playlist | June 18, 2014

Daniel H. Wilson: IMG The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson

Like many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs... Continue »


Powell's Q&A

Siri Hustvedt

Describe your latest project.
My most recent book is Mysteries of the Rectangle, published by Princeton Architectural Press. It is a collection of nine essays on painting I wrote over the course of a decade about pictures and artists I love. The book begins with a meditation on The Tempest by Giorgione, an artist who died early in the sixteenth century, and ends with thoughts on the work of the contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. What distinguishes these pieces from much writing about art is that they are personal, not impersonal, and they investigate the significance of paintings, not as historical artifacts, cultural fetishes, or examples of so called "high art," but as compelling and mysterious images that tell us something about what it means to be human.

  1. Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting
  2. What I Loved
    $5.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    What I Loved

    Siri Hustvedt

  3. The Enchantment of Lily Dahl
    $8.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

  4. The Blindfold
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    The Blindfold

    Siri Hustvedt

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
As a young reader, I fell for both Emily Bronte's Heathcliff and Jane Austen's Mr. Knightley, so go figure. It may be that the perfect man has a bit of both characters. Now that I think of it, I believe I married a man with a bit of both.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good place to start.
Henry Miller is a famous writer, whose work has fallen out of fashion, but I strongly recommend that readers who don't know his work pick up a book and experience this writer's zealous, crazy, inventive, funny, sexy, often delirious prose. I'd start with either Tropic of Cancer or Tropic of Capricorn.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I have just finished the wonderful new novel by Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown. The bound galleys were sent to my house, and so, I picked up the book and read it.

Why do you write?
Writing isn't a job so much as a compulsion. I've been writing since I was very young because for some strange reason, I must write, and also because when I write I feel more alive and closer to the world than when I'm not writing.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, indistinguishable in mire. Horses scarcely better: splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
—Charles Dickens, from the first page of Bleak House

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
After I published my last novel, What I Loved, I was on book tour and found myself in Iowa. After the reading, a woman came up to me and said how much my book had meant to her and to her father. The book's narrator, Leo Hertzberg, is a seventy-year-old Jewish man, who fled Germany with his parents in 1935 and ended up in the United States. This experience of exile is essential to the novel and to Leo's voice. The woman's father had also fled Germany with countless other Jews in the thirties, and he sent a message for me with his daughter, which was: "Tell her I am Leo." Had I not pulled myself together, I would have started crying on the spot.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I've been deeply influenced and impressed by visual artists, many of them not discussed in my recent book. Years ago, when I was in Siena for the first time, I saw the works of Duccio, whose deeply emotional painting from the thirteenth century has never left me. Pontormo, Cranach, Zurbaran, and El Greco have all left their marks on me as artists who are vividly idiosyncratic and who have in some way have altered the way I see the world. I've long been a fan of Joseph Beuys, an artist who at his best was able to plumb the murky parts of the unconscious. I saw Joseph Cornell's lyrical work for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in the late seventies and have internalized many of his boxes. Bruce Nauman and Kiki Smith have also made works of art that stay with me. What all these artists share is the fact that I don't fully understand their work or why I'm so drawn to it. That's the pleasure in all art; it keeps coming at you and you keep discovering new pieces that eluded you the first time around. spacer

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