'The Yellow Birds' Author Kevin Powers Picks His Favorite Books
Out this week in paperback, Kevin Powers' debut novel of the Iraq War, "The Yellow Birds," was one of the most celebrated books of 2012: It won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Guardian First Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award and was among the New York Times' 10 Best Books of the year. Before the critical raves started pouring in, we got Powers to tell us about the books that have inspired him.
Bookish: What book do you recommend to others most frequently?
Bookish: What's the best book recommendation that you've ever received--who was it from, and why was it great?
KP: When I was overseas [serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq], my mom mailed me "One Hundred Years of Solitude." It was really great--one, because it was an amazing read, and it was also great because it was long enough that I could keep going back to it. I didn't have all that much time to read--you had a couple hours to yourself before you went to sleep. It probably took me 10 times as long to read as it would have if I had been at home, but I appreciated it nonetheless. And it was also great because it was from my mom.
Bookish: What book makes you laugh?
KP: "True Grit."
Bookish: What book makes you cry?
KP: That moment in "The Dead" where there's that realization that [the main character is] competing with a ghost for the love of his wife, and he will never win. That destroys me every time that I read it.
Bookish: What book do you find addictive?
KP: I go back and read Dylan Thomas' "Collected Poems" once a month or so just because it was one of the first books that I really had a connection with. I've been reading that book probably six times a year since I was 13.
Bookish: What book do you find the most inspiring?
KP: I think any of the books that I've mentioned are inspiring in some ways. Any book where I admire what the author was doing--it'd be hard to pin down one. Just seeing the good work that other people are doing is really inspiring to me.
Bookish: What do you hope that readers will feel when they read your book?
KP: I hope that they're moved. I'm not sure that I have a particular direction in mind.
Bookish: What book do you think is the most underrated? That is, you love it, but when you mention it to other people, you get blank stares.
KP: I would probably say "Meditations in Green" just because I don't think that many people are aware of it.
Bookish: What's the book that no one would have expected you to have read, but you love it?
KP: I know that some people have been surprised that "Housekeeping" is among my three or four favorite books ever. It's about women, and women sometimes surprise us.
Bookish: Is there an author, living or dead, who has been an unconscious influence on you? That is, you realized only after you finished writing something that you've been influenced by someone else.
KP: I think it's hard to identify the unconscious influences. There are certainly writers like José Saramago--I have, at different times, consciously tried to figure out how I could write like him, with varying degrees of success. Saramago is probably one where I've looked up and realized that I was essentially just trying to write like him. The first book of his that I read was "Blindness," and I was just like, "Oh, I should probably write like this because this is f*cking amazing."
Kevin Powers joined the army at the age of 17, later serving a year as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. After his honorable discharge, he enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University, where he graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. "The Yellow Birds" is his first novel.