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Finding Intellectual Center at Powell’s Books

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From the Philip Gourevitch reading at Powell's

From the Philip Gourevitch reading at Powell's

I’m still in cultural shock living here away from the thriving pulse of an urban center. So everytime I’m in Portland, I find an excuse to go to Powell’s Books. I’ve ordered obscure used books from them online since college, but only since moving here did I enter the temple to all things literary on West Burnside.

Even my parents, who were like why are we wasting a precious Portland day in a bookstore, were enthralled once inside.

Powell’s schedule of nightly author readings is perhaps what most tempts me from here in Corvallis. I did get to hear Philip Gourevitch, editor of the Paris Review, recently read from the quarterly’s new collection of interviews. His harrowing account of the Rwandan genocide is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read.

In these times of journalistic distopia, it was heartening to hear Gourevitch’s defense of reportage. “Mainstream American fiction underwhelms in it’s ability to dramatize the same level of human experience,” Gourevitch said.

But amid economic collapse, fiction is still a seductive escape. I’m anxious to read Marilynne Robinson’s Home after her interview in this Paris Review.

The author interview is an under-appreciated art. As an English major alienated by lit criticism, an interview with author Can Xue in China set me on a path, for better or worse, towards journalism.

Written by baltimoregon

December 18, 2008 at 1:09 am

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