How would you describe your job?
I usually just say I take books out of boxes and move them around — it's not a glamorous description or a complete one. But usually as soon as I say I work for Powell's, people freak out a little bit.
Where are you originally from?
The Chicago suburbs.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
I've been working in customer service off and on for a long time while trying to figure out how to get a viable filmmaking career going without moving to LA.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I like coming across so many interesting titles that might not be on my radar if I wasn't receiving 1,000 books a day. I take quick pictures of any books that look intriguing to me and keep an album of them on my phone — I probably won't ever have time to read more than a small fraction of them, but I can dream.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
For me, it comes down to the language itself. While I appreciate a good plot, I'm really interested in beautiful sentences and unexpected phrases and the way ideas are constructed with them. I'm essentially looking for poetry, even if I'm reading prose. I once saw a shelf talker at Powell's describe a book as being perfect for "sentence snobs," and I guess that's what I am. What I'm really looking for, though, is something that grabs me emotionally — it just so happens that words themselves tend to do a better job of that than plots do.
What was the last book you loved?
Extracting the Stone of Madness
by Alejandra Pizarnik.
Walk us through your favorite route when browsing books at Powell’s.
The very first thing I do every time is go to Virginia Woolf
in the Blue Room and see if there are any really pretty copies in stock of any of her books I haven't read yet. Then I'll cycle through a handful of other writers I am interested in — always Nabokov
, lately Shirley Jackson
and Clarice Lispector
. And I always look for Anne Carson
, even though there are rarely any used copies of her books (which makes me happy, actually, because I like to imagine people just don't want to part with them). After that I'll look for old sci-fi paperbacks and work my way back to the Green or Orange Rooms to spend a little more time with any new titles that have caught my eye recently when they crossed my receiving desk. If I have a really tremendous amount of time, I'll eventually make my way upstairs for books on birds, film, photography, and various other things.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
I used to have a hard time picking one favorite book. But then I read The Waves
by Virginia Woolf, and it was clear within the first 10 pages that it was working on a very different level than anything else I had ever read. It's been a few years since then, and I still feel I'm unlikely to come across anything that approaches it as long as I'm alive.