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Powell's Q&A

Susan Orlean

Describe your latest project.
My Kind of Place is a collection of travel stories I've written over the last decade or so — bearing in mind that my idea of a travel story is any journey I've taken as a writer, rather than, say, a review of the best place for shish kebabs in Istanbul. The pieces I've included in the book range from a visit to a taxidermy convention in Illinois to a search for the elusive Keiko the whale in Iceland to a visit to the African record store that's the center of the African diaspora in Paris.

Why do you write?
First of all, I'm an excellent typist. Secondly, I have no discernible skills other than writing, so I don't have much choice. Thirdly, I love — no, I'm addicted to — the experience of being curious, of finding out about something and then telling about it, especially if it's something I don't think people will otherwise know about or care about. I suppose it's a bit of missionary zeal — that desire to draw people into stories that I think are important or intriguing but usually overlooked, and through which I think they'll feel some new sense of delight or surprise about the world.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
My favorite shoes are a pair of bright red Japanese-made pointy-toed flats with huge rhinestone buckles, which probably need little further description to explain why they are better than the rest. However, I should say this all in the past tense, because the shoes are no longer in my possession. The fact is, they were utterly impractical and, more importantly, not my size, but I fell so totally in love with them that I bought them anyway, and frequently, throughout the year after I bought them, I would remove them from their box, admire them, put them on for a moment or two, put them back in the box, and then spend about an hour trying to figure out what flash of insanity had possessed me when I bought them, given that they were virtually unwearable and didn't even fit. Still, I loved them to pieces. They were weird and beautiful. Finally I decided that the relationship wasn't going anywhere, and I sold them on eBay. It was, in a way, a very happy ending.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin. Duh!

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands, and why did you read it?
I usually travel equipped with reading material and a DVD player so I have plenty of distraction. On my last trip to Los Angeles — a long flight to begin with — I happened to miss my plane, so I had even more time to fill. While I was waiting in the airport I finished the book I had brought, and when I decided to watch a movie I realized I had forgotten to charge the battery of the DVD player. This left me no choice but to browse the airport bookstore — never a promising opportunity, unless you read mysteries (I don't) or romance novels (never). Lucky for me, this particular airport had a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, which I'd heard was worth reading and had the added attraction of being about a dog (sort of), which appealed to me as a dog lover. It is a wonderful book: I almost missed the next flight because I was so absorbed in it.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
It was in a funky little diner called the Busy Bee: hands down, the all-time best pancakes and bacon of my entire life; great coffee served in chunky white diner china; squishy leatherette banquettes; slightly hostile waitresses, as one expects (and almost hopes for) in a great diner. The trouble is, I can't remember whether it was in St. Paul, or Missoula, or Cheyenne, or Wichita... and, as a result, I've spent many years trying to retrace my steps so I can go back and get another amazingly good short stack with a side of bacon and a pot of joe.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Married him. spacer

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