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Original Essays | August 21, 2014

Richard Bausch: IMG Why Literature Can Save Us



Our title is, of course, a problem. "Why Literature Can Save Us." And of course the problem is one of definition: what those words mean. What is... Continue »
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    Before, During, After

    Richard Bausch 9780307266262

Interviews | Today, 10:19am

Jill Owens: IMG David Mitchell: The Powells.com Interview



David MitchellDavid Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
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    The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell 9781400065677

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Powell's Q&A

Jonathan Lethem

Describe your latest project.
Men and Cartoons is my second collection of stories. It spans ten years, and makes a kind of survey of what, during that period in my life and in my reading and in my writing, fascinated and infuriated and beguiled me. In this way a story collection is more intimate than any single novel — by reading all these stories I think you can really glimpse my mind at work, for better or worse. Of course, several are precursors to my novel, The Fortress of Solitude. Others were written as breaks from that book, and a couple were written afterwards. With that book they share themes — male friendship, childhood, childhood male friendship, and the yearning for the solace of romance, conversation, sex, community, and comic books.

  1. Men and Cartoons: Stories
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    Men and Cartoons: Stories

    Jonathan Lethem

  2. The Fortress of Solitude
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    The Fortress of Solitude

    Jonathan Lethem

  3. Neighbors
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    Neighbors

    Thomas Berger

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good place to start.
Everyone should read Thomas Berger (the dedicatee of Men and Cartoons), the great poet of menace in American fiction. His book Neighbors is the ideal place to start: a furious and hilarious and breakneck episode in the life of a typical suburban couple when they encounter an unexpected challenge to their complacency in the form of a pair of new next-door neighbors. Berger builds scenes with a shifting Kafkaesque dream-logic, and his stories unfold with uncanny, disastrous grace. His language is an intoxicating collision of high diction and low vernacular, and his books are impossible not to read compulsively once you've picked them up.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
Writers are better liars (perhaps) not because their lies are more persuasive but because they've dedicated themselves to eradicating the difference between the truth and lies. Well, not so much eradicating as filling in the space between — building a network of meaning between the truth and lies, a span of language so firm it can be crossed like a bridge. Writers are where the truth and lies go to be reconciled, to lay down arms.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"Be ordinary and bourgeois in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." Gustave Flaubert

What section of the newspaper do you read first?
I like the sports section, particularly during baseball season. The statistical dramas are enacted in a realm somewhere between life and art, with the narrative pleasure of the latter and the homely and unpredictable texture of the former. Baseball is a realm of symbolic struggle so much more honest and absorbing than the rest of the newspaper, where politicians and pundits and critics struggle to blunt the nuances of everyday reality and the striving of human beings to express themselves and be free into a debased symbolic form ("good v. evil"; "realism v. the fantastic") that resembles sports.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
Don't you think the relationship of humans to shoes is fundamentally tragic? My favorite pair is always one which briefly resembles some perfect lost shoe of the past — a pair of Beatle boots I once found at a stoop sale in Park Slope, or the first and freshest set of blue Converse All-Star high-tops I ever owned, or the best-fitting and slickest-looking wingtips. When I wear new shoes out into the world they're always briefly my favorite again, but the interval between backache- and blister-inducing stiffness and the day when they sag and fade and are destroyed always seems smaller and smaller. The great era of shoes is some time in the past.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
In German hotels they serve nothing but cold cuts — sausage and cheese and smoked turkey and thinly-sliced ham, and then, as if to apologize, lots of fruit salad and yogurt. I could eat a German hotel breakfast every day for the rest of my life. spacer

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