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Powell's Q&A

Jeff Gordinier

Describe your latest project.
X Saves the World takes a look at Generation X — that ornery, sarcastic, dark-horse demographic made up of Americans who were born in the '60s and '70s — and the surprising ways (from Nirvana to Google, from Quentin Tarantino to The Colbert Report) that the Gen-X sensibility has made an impact on our world.

  1. X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking
    $5.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "I loved this book...it's impassioned, very quick on its feet, dense with all the right allusions, funny, and in the end, actually very moving." Nick Hornby, The Believer

    "This is the passionate defense that our much-maligned generation deserves." Neal Pollack, author of Alternadad

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I'm really fond of a British writer named Geoff Dyer. His work is witty and erudite without being the least bit snooty or overbearing, but so far he hasn't achieved a great deal of commercial traction here in the United States — in part, I think, because he's always switching topics. He won't stay put. He's perpetually wiggling out of pigeonholes. He probably drives his agent crazy, and I mean that as a compliment. Dyer has written one of the most illuminating books about jazz (But Beautiful) and one of the most poignant books about World War I (The Missing of the Somme), but my own solipsism leads me to suggest that you start where I started: with his savagely true and hilarious Out of Sheer Rage, an entire book about Geoff Dyer's slackerish inability to write a different book about D. H. Lawrence.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
You can flip open at random any book by Joan Didion and you will find yourself reading a series of outlandishly exquisite sentences. But since I went to high school in Southern California, why don't we let ourselves bask in this perfect paragraph from an essay of Didion's called "Los Angeles Notebook," which you can find in Slouching towards Bethlehem:

I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called "earthquake weather." My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.

How do you relax?
I have tried. Nothing works.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
That would be The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. I'm pretty sure that Satan gave it to me.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes, I am one of the countless dorks who went to Morocco and made a point of bothering poor Paul Bowles at his apartment in Tangiers. This was in 1988. He was ill, coughing, and he stayed in bed, under the covers, while I sat in a nearby chair and peppered Mr. Bowles (the author of The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, and some of the most chilling short stories in the English language) with absurdly collegiate questions about "the creative process." He was a gracious, old-world gentleman, but, yes, it dawned on me at some point that I was annoying him, and I decided to leave. He thought that was a good idea. In his courtly way he told me that if I wanted to learn something, I should travel deeper into Morocco instead of sitting in an apartment in Tangiers chatting with a bedridden old man. I took his advice.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
I'm a Capricorn. As I'm sure you know, no Capricorn would ever settle for any other sign.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
Any vision of the ideal life can only begin at the moment when you realize that an ideal life is impossible. That said, if olive oil is not involved, neither am I.

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

Five Books That Will Make You Question the Wisdom of Ever Falling in Love — Probably While You Throw Yourself Headlong into It Anyway:

Crush by Richard Siken

Love Poems by Anne Sexton

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

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Jeff Gordinier is the editor at large of Details magazine. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as in the Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies.


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