At Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for a vegetarian who loves Radiohead and Flight of the Conchords? Email your question to [email protected]. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.
Q: Desert island books as they occur to me at random: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Winter's Tale and Refiner's Fire by Mark Helprin, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I love apocalyptica, familiar essays, and anything very imaginative, so long as I can picture what's going on based on the writing. What next? –Becky
A: Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose is a lush immersion of a novel that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
I'm currently reading and enjoying the heck out of Red Hill by Jamie McGuire, a character study set in a quiet and disturbing vision of a zombie apocalypse. –Tracey
As far as apocalyptica goes, I really enjoyed Etiquette for an Apocalypse. I'm perhaps skewed by the fact that it's written by a Portland author and set in Portland (with even a mention of Powell's in it!), but it was very entertaining with wry humor mixed in and edge-of-your-seat moments. –Tom
If you like apocalyptic fiction, there may be no finer book in the genre than José Saramago's Blindness. It's dark, unsettling, and gorgeously composed! –Jeremy
My favorite apocalyptic title is Earth Abides by George Stewart. This is a classic rebuilding story published in 1949... there are no monsters or aliens here! –Corie
Q: I am drawn to nonfiction books that incorporate 1) a sense of place (geography), 2) a sense of time (history), and 3) a sense of synthesis (journalism). What intrigues me is the intersection or synthesis where history, geography, sociology, journals, science, oral history, archaeology, and travelogue all come together. I am interested in many things — maybe too many things — and I would appreciate your recommendations for additional reading along these lines. –Mark
A: Anything by Pete Hamill. My favorites: Downtown: My Manhatten, A Drinking Life: A Memoir, and a work of historical fiction (and possibly one of my top 10 lifetime favorites), Forever a Novel. –Tracey
Even though he mostly writes fiction, you should try out Sherman Alexie. His breakout book was The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He's Native American and his stories are very evocative of Indian (his word) life in the U.S. in late-20th and early-21st-century America. –Tom
Q: I'm taking the train cross-country to NYC and will have 60 hours of no internet to read, read, read. What are some good books for reflective journeys through the heartland? –Ben
A: John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley is a stunning work recounting his 1960 cross-country trip — with his dog and keen observational insights in tow. Also, the nonfiction works of Edward Abbey are particularly poignant, especially Desert Solitaire. While many of Abbey's books focus on the Southwest, they are still reflective, funny, and timeless. If you enjoy fiction, you may also consider Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. –Jeremy
Q: After a few recent health scares in the family, I've started giving a lot of thought to life/death and the mortality of my loved ones (more specifically my parents). I'm wondering if you could recommend a book that will help me understand, accept, or worry less about the fact that one day they will not be with us. –Bryan
A: I think you might find comfort in Roger Rosenblatt's beautiful memoirs about the grieving process, Making Toast and (perhaps more importantly for you) Kayak Morning, which is a reflection on why and how we grieve.
I also recommend A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. Regardless of whether or not you're a fan of his spiritual work, Lewis's struggle to rediscover meaning after the death of his wife is exquisitely rendered and universal. –Rhianna