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"Godforsaken Idaho": A Q&A with Shawn Vestal and Jess Walter

VestalShawn Vestal has worked for many years as a journalist and editor at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. His stories have appeared in McSweeney's and Tin House, among many other publications, and his new collection, Godforsaken Idaho, comes out today.

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, one book of short fiction, and a new story collection, We Live in Water. His most recent novel, Beautiful Ruins, was named the best book of 2012 by Esquire and NPR’s Fresh Air.

JW: Let’s start with the title, Godforsaken Idaho. You grew up in Southern Idaho. How much does the setting play a part in these stories, and in you as a writer?

SV: Idaho is so deeply a part of me that I probably don’t even recognize the ways it emerges in my writing. I never set out to write about the state in any direct way—but on some level, I am probably always writing about Idaho, or my childhood and family and everything else that is tied up in Idaho for me. It’s a place I love and a place that drives me crazy and, most of all, a place that I know.

JW: “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death” is such a funny, original, matter-of-fact depiction of the banality of afterlife. How did that story come about?

SV: I wrote the first lines with no idea of what might lie behind them: “The food is excellent. The lines are never long. There’s nothing to do with your hands. These are the first things I told my son. Then we don’t talk again for something like 200 years.” I think the voice and the story’s conceit were built into those lines, and I spent a lot of time extracting the story from them.

JW: “About as Fast as This Car Will Go” has flashes of autobiography. What do you do when you a story approaches the details of your own life?

SV: I usually recognize it only after the fact, strange as that may seem given how obvious some of the connections are. I never set out to write about my life, even indirectly. But I always find, through the roundabout operation of the imagination, that I’ve returned to the same few preoccupations: absent fathers, criminal fathers, regretful fathers—they’re everywhere in my fiction. Not much mystery there: My own father went to jail, and then prison, when I was a boy. Yet nothing that happens in “About as Fast” happened to me. My father committed different crimes, and my family situation is much, much different, and I—crucially, I’d like to think—did not follow him into a life of crime. So far.

JW: These stories often deal with the mythology and hypocrisy of religion, even its mystery. How did your lapsed Mormon faith figure in these stories?

SV: More in the lapse than the faith, probably. Like a lot of people who have left a religion, probably, I was focused for a long time on the hypocrisy of the faithful and the failures of religion. But that is such a standard, clichéd pose—as if only the faithful are hypocritical or ignorant or deluded or weak. I wanted to write about doubters, denouncers, heretics. Though I have left the church, Mormonism is my heritage, and using the materials of Mormonism’s stories to write new ones—even stories that might seem heretical to some—became a way of keeping possession of this heritage.

October's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

For great books at a low price, browse this month's 100 Kindle books for $3.99 or less, a diverse offering available all month. These deals expire on October 31, 2012. Here's a selection of our favorites from October's great collection:


Literature & Fiction 

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald, $3.99

When It Happens to You--A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald

General Nonfiction 

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, $2.99

  All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Kids & Teens 

The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick, $1.99

  The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick

Mysteries & Thrillers

77 Days in September by Ray Gorham, $1.99

  77 Days in September by Ray Gorham


Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland, $1.99

  Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland

Science Fiction & Fantasy 

American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Enhanced Edition) by Neil Gaiman, $3.99

American Gods--The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Enhanced Edition) by Neil Gaiman

Biography & Memoir 

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez, $0.99

The Master of Disguise--My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez

Kindle Book Collection Bundles

We know every Kindle reader appreciates a great deal, and, with this in mind, we're excited to offer a collection of six new Kindle book bundles.

These bundles include critically acclaimed literary fiction, top-rated romance novels, best-selling thrillers, young adult favorites, and more by acclaimed authors such as Alice Walker, Eileen Goudge, David Housewright, and Patricia Rilley Giff. Each collection features at least three great reads grouped together at one substantially discounted price (up to 66% off, when comparing the cost of the collections to buying each Kindle book in the collections individually):

The Color Purple Collection by Alice Walker

The Color Purple Collection--The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of JoyBringing together the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Color Purple with The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy, this collection follows a cast of unforgettable characters as they are drawn into confrontations filled with landmark historical events brought to life on a deeply personal level.



The Carson Springs Trilogy by Eileen Goudge

The Carson Springs Trilogy--Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come TrueThis addictive series of romance and suspense centers on a small California town.





The Holland Taylor Trilogy by David Housewright

The Holland Taylor Trilogy--Penance, Dearly Departed, and Practice to DeceiveIn this gripping thriller trilogy, private investigator Holland Taylor deals with murder, abduction, and revenge in the dark corners of Minneapolis, Minnesota.




 The Dr. Robert Cole Trilogy by Noah Gordon

The Cole Trilogy--he Physician, Shaman, and Matters of ChoiceFor fans of historical fiction, this acclaimed series is the perfect read: It spans a thousand years as it follows the lives of one family with an uncommon gift for healing.




 The Polk Street Mysteries by Patricia Reilley Giff

The Polk Street Mysteries, Books 1-4--The Mystery of the Blue Ring, The Riddle of the Red Purse, The Secret at the Polk Street School, and (Polk Street Mystery)The beloved second-grade sleuth, Dawn Bosco, must put her detective skills to the test in these four mysteries unfolding at the Polk Street School. 




 Five Volumes of Spiritual Wisdom by the Philosophical Library

Five Volumes of Spiritual Wisdom --The Wisdom of the Torah, The Wisdom of the Talmud, The Wisdom of the Koran, The Wisdom of MuhammadThis enlightening collection gathers words of ancient wisdom from some of the world’s most seminal texts.





Pre-Order "The Trinity Game" for $2.99

TrinityGameCoverLooking for a new edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller? Look no further. Referred to as “The Da Vinci Code meets The Dead Zone” by New York Times best-selling author, Joseph Finder, The Trinity Game offers thriller fans equal amounts deception, intrigue, and excitement. For a limited time, you can pre-order a copy for just $2.99 on Kindle.

In Sean Chercover’s The Trinity Game, Vatican investigator Daniel Byrne’s job is testing and debunking claims of miracles from around the world. He’s been successful 721 times. Job number 722, however, is going to be murder. The Atlanta reverend claiming to speak in tongues and see the future happens to be Byrne’s estranged conman uncle, Tim Trinity. But after a lifetime of grift, Trinity and his new talent actually appear legitimate.

With the mob, FBI, and a new Vatican enforcer after Trinity for knowing more than he should, uncle and nephew flee to New Orleans to find the source behind the reverend’s sudden talent. But when Trinity receives a vision, Byrne will have to fight to keep his uncle alive long enough to find the truth.

Take advantage of this special offer through July 30, 2012.

May's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

100 Kindle Books for 3.99 or Less banner

From great literature to inspiring cookbooks, May's selection of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less has something for everybody. Here are a few of our favorites:


Literature & Fiction

CursesCurses! by J.A. Kazimer, $3.99

This hilarious and witty romp through the twisted fairy-tale world of New Never City follows "ugly stepsister" princess Asia as she tries to figure out who killed her sister, Cinderella. Asia enlists the help of the villainous R.J., a.k.a. Rumplestiltskin, who's suffering from a curse to only do good deeds.


Mystery & Thrillers

KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope by Darryl Wimberley, $1.99

Jack Romaine's addiction to speakeasies and cards turns him into an unwilling recruit for a Cincinnati gangster wanting to recover his stolen cash and railroad bonds. The trail leads south to Kaleidoscope, a "beddy" for freaks when carnival season over. Unfortunately, Jack's competition is a sadistic killer.


Biographies & Memoirs

As Seen On TVAs Seen On TV by Lucy Grealy, $2.99

Whether she's discussing promiscuity, The New Testament, or learning to tango, Lucy Grealy's writing seduces and surprises at every turn. Wit, unflinching honesty, and peerless intelligence are the hallmarks of this essay collection.



Holy WarsHoly Wars: 3000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land by Gary L. Rashba, $3.99 

Today's Arab-Israeli conflict is merely the latest iteration of violence in the Holy Land. Gary L. Rashba sheds light on this unending history of conflict by focusing on pivotal battles to describe the region's 3,000 years of war, from the Israelites' capture of Jericho to Israel’s assault against Lebanon.


Kids & Teens

What Color is My WorldWhat Color Is My World? by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, $3.99

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar champions a lineup of little-known African-American inventors in this lively, kid-friendly book. Filled with engaging profiles, Abdul-Jabbar gives a nod to the inventors whose perseverance made our world safer, better, and brighter.


More Great Deals

Fast, Fresh and GreenFast, Fresh, and Green by Susie Middleton, $3.99

This go-to reference for all things vegetable holds more than 100 recipes for appetizers, snacks, entrees, and side dishes. Perfect for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike, the book also features a veggie shopping guide.


Be sure to browse May's entire selection of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less to discover great fiction and nonfiction titles catering to all ages.


Note: Deals expire on the last day of each month. Individual books may have additional territory restrictions, and not all deals are available in all territories.

February’s Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less


100 Kindle Books for 3.99 or Less banner

For the shortest month of the year we’ve put together a great list of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less.

Here are some of our favorites we want you to know about:

Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains by Jon Krakauer, $3.99
Eiger Dreams by Jon KrakauerNo matter what the actual temperature may be, several pages into this collection of stories examining the climbing subculture you will begin to shiver. The various heroes, risk-takers, incompetents, and individualists captured here are more than colorful as Krakauer explores the addiction of risk and intense effort.

The Sweetest Thing by Barbara Freethy, $1.99
The Sweetest Thing by Barbara FreethyFreethy’s charming writing style and expert plotting perfectly explore what happens when matters of the heart become complicated for entrepreneur Alex Carrigan after he invites his eccentric grandfather and precocious 12-year-old daughter into his home and a beautiful redhead into his love life.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, $2.99
God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt VonnegutAn influential classic of satire and dark humor by one of the best, Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater presents Eliot Rosewater, an itinerant, semi-crazed millionaire wandering the country in search of heritage and philanthropic outcome.

The Good Neighbor Cookbook: 125 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Surprise and Satisfy the New Moms, New Neighbors, and more by Suzanne Schlosberg, $2.99
The Good Neighbor Cookbook by Schlosberg and QuessenberryForget about the same old boring pasta salad or tuna casserole when you need to bring dinner to exhausted new parents, care for a friend recovering from surgery, or contribute to a business breakfast. Schlosberg and her coauthor Sara Quessenberry uniquely divide this excellent cookbook by occasion rather than food category.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming, $2.99
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-FlemingFleming’s page-turning debut follows the trials of Virginian Clare Ferguson, who has left her tough past as an army helicopter pilot to become an ordained priest in upstate New York. Things become chilling after a baby is left on her doorstep and a community-shattering murder investigation follows.


Be sure to visit our complete list of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less and browse through the other 95 gems we’ve chosen for February; from adventure anthology to science fiction, this month’s selection has something for all reading tastes and moods.

Note: Deals expire on the last day of each month. Individual books may have additional territory restrictions, and not all deals are available in all territories.

Featured Author: Deepak Chopra on "War of the Worldviews"

War of the WorldviewsThere really is a war of two worldviews that most people are not aware of, even though who wins will determine a great deal about the future. One worldview is scientific, the other spiritual. But those two words conceal a good deal, as my new book, War of the Worldviews, uncovers. Spirituality isn't the same as religion, and science isn’t the same as being anti-spiritual.

This comes out decisively when the topic is God. As we all know, God has become the hottest topic as we struggle to understand how the cosmos works. The arguments against belief in God have been stridently raised by a small band of scientific atheists--their avowed leader, Richard Dawkins, has called God a delusion. In our book, however, my co-author, Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow, doesn't pursue the atheist line. His worldview is scientific, but Leonard holds a position that is much more defensible than atheism:

“While science often casts doubt on spiritual beliefs and doctrines insofar as they make representations about the physical world, science does not--and cannot--conclude that God is an illusion.”

I believe that spirituality can take hints from modern science to actually support the existence of God. Some of these hints have emerged from quantum physics, which long ago showed that the seemingly solid, convincing world of matter and energy actually derives from a highly uncertain, invisible realm that existed before time and space. Is this the domain of God? If so, it can't be the God of Genesis, a human-like figure sitting above the clouds who created heaven and earth in seven days.

I think a new and expanded spirituality can deliver a God that is the same as pure intelligence, creativity, and consciousness. Such a God is our source without being human--a source from which all possibilities emerge and flow. Quite a number of credentialed scientists are thinking in the same direction without necessarily being religious. It would explain a lot about the cosmos if we fit into a living, conscious universe.

The point of spirituality is to transcend the ordinary world and reveal something invisible, unknown, and yet part of ourselves.

Q&A with Juan Williams, Author of "Muzzled"

Muzzled NPR fired you last fall because you said you get nervous when boarding a plane with passengers dressed in Muslim garb. Do you regret saying what you did?

Absolutely not! I honestly expressed my feelings. 

In the course of a real debate with Bill O’Reilly about the lingering antagonism toward Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, I told him about my misgivings. Millions of people who heard the conversation can tell you that I admitted to my feelings while making the argument that such feelings cannot be the basis for public policy. America celebrates individual rights and responsibility. We embrace religious diversity. We did not blame all of my fellow Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh. Similarly, we should not paint all Muslims with one damning color. This was all said at the time, so I have no regrets over what I said.

Is Muzzled just sour grapes? It seems like people are debating the issues all the time, and anything goes on the airwaves these days. Why then are you claiming that we’re muzzled?

No sour grapes; it is more like making lemonade out of lemons. As a result of the intense national attention to my firing, I heard from people all over who said they, too, feel muzzled. The real issue is that sincere, thoughtful people feel they will get in trouble for saying how they feel, expressing ideas that are not politically correct, and sometimes stating the obvious. This book is the start of a necessary discussion about the degraded state of debate in this country. We are all caught in an arbitrary web of political correctness, speech codes, and fear about what we can and cannot say. It is stifling our ability as a nation to deal with big issues--finding solutions to our problems. This is much bigger and separate from the issue of people making outrageous, stupid statements to bring attention to themselves on a radio or TV show.

Can you give examples of some public figures who deliberately try to shut down debate?

The billionaire George Soros putting big money into Media Matters is a good example. Media Matters, by its own admission, is engaged in a war on conservative news outlets. They take statements out of context in an effort to demonize strong conservative voices and shut down debate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the group that took my comments out of context and launched an Internet campaign against me, including suggestions of bigotry. They don’t want anyone to talk about the obvious connections between Islam and the terrorist threat facing the world.

On the right, the National Rifle Association has shut down reasoned debate of gun policy in this country. Similarly, Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, has a “no new taxes” pledge he forces Republican candidates to sign. That kind of litmus test for being a good Republican inhibits reasoned discussion of tax policy and again undercuts the power of debate--an open marketplace for all ideas and points of view that allows the best ideas to win. And, by the way, good ideas often include synthesis or compromise. That is the opposite of refusing to hear the other side because you are operating under a pledge that stops you from joining the debate and using your brain.

Isn’t the right more guilty of this than the left?

Both sides are guilty--it is just a matter of different strains of the same disease. The left gave us Political Correctness. The right gave us what Bill Maher calls “Patriotic Correctness,” where anyone who questions the war in Iraq is questioned about his or her patriotism. I’ve also seen the right use morality and religion to shut down debate on abortion and same-sex marriage. But this is all poison. It kills the vigorous debate that is essential to a healthy body politic.

You were known as a liberal, but you are now a regular on the Fox News Channel. What side of the political divide do you see yourself as being on?

I have worked for the Washington Post, CNN, Fox, and NPR. They all appreciated my ability to report and analyze the news from all points of view. On a personal level, I grew up as a Democrat and I am registered as a Democrat. But if you ask dyed-in-the-wool liberals about me, they will tell you I am a conservative. And if you ask doctrinaire conservatives about me, they will tell you I am a liberal.

From the liberal perspective, I can point out that I have written bestselling books on the Civil Rights movement and a biography of the first black man on the Supreme Court. From a conservative perspective, I’ve also written a bestselling critique of black leadership in the country. My goal is not to fit into any preordained box on the left or right but to report and analyze the news honestly and tell people what is going on.

What can we do to begin to fix this problem?

We can call out the special-interest groups, the politicians, and the provocateurs and hold them accountable for making it difficult to have a real conversation on the hot topics. There are too many people who benefit from the paralysis that comes from the lack of debate. They use the status quo of political polarization and demonization of opposing views to profit from the anger it generates among people. On the most basic level, we have to get back to talking with and listening to people who don’t simply affirm our preexisting bias. It is fun to think for yourself, to admit other people have good ideas, and to take pleasure in solving a problem with the best idea.

New to Kindle: Sociologist Peter Berger

The Social Construction of Reality Readers of social science, religious studies and philosophy take note: for the first time, four titles by Peter Berger are now available on Kindle. Berger’s The Social Construction of Reality, written with Thomas Luckmann, is widely lauded as a breakthrough in the field of sociology, revolutionizing how we as individuals construct a shared, collective reality. Tapping subjects such as social behavior, science, propaganda and art, this seminal work can be instantly downloaded and explored by the curious-minded.

Also by Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy is a concise, radical look at the often-ironic relationship between religion and science, and A Rumor of Angels is Berger’s thoughtful reflection on religion in the modern world. Also, after much demand, the definitive, wide-ranging sociological text, Invitation to Sociology, is now up for download by students and learners worldwide.

“There are few jokes about sociology (psychologists win hands-down in that department),” says Peter Berger.

“A doctor tells a patient that he is probably going to have only one year to live. After an understandable moment of great shock, the patient asks whether the doctor has any suggestions.

Yes. Marry a sociologist and move to North Dakota.

Will this cure my disease?

No. But the year will seem much longer.”

Peter Berger continues, “I can testify to the fact that sociology need not be boring at all.” We agree. Explore the ebooks of Peter Berger here.

Introducing Kindle Singles--Compelling Ideas Expressed at their Natural Length

Kindle Singles Selected for being incisive, provocative, hilarious, or heartbreaking, Kindle Singles offer a vast spectrum of reporting, essay, memoir, humor and fiction--at a length best suited to the ideas they present. Typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, each Kindle Single is intended to allow a single killer idea--well researched, well argued and well illustrated--to be expressed at its natural length.  Today, Amazon is introducing the first set of Singles to the Kindle Store.

Nowhere else will you find a Hollywood memoir which manages to merge sex clubs, murder and Mary Tyler Moore. You’ll also discover The Real Lebowski--an intimate profile of the Hollywood icon and Coen brothers inspiration by Vanity Fair contributing editor, Rich Cohen; The Invisible Enemy--on-the-ground reporting from inside the terrorist war in Congo by the award-winning novelist, Jonathan Littell; Lifted, Wired and New Yorker writer Evan Ratliff’s riveting yarn of a failed Swedish bank heist; and Leaving Home--Short Pieces an original offering by best-selling novelist, Jodi Picoult.