Don’t get us wrong: we love talking to authors about their books. But you know what’s almost more fun? Talking to them about other people’s books. This year, at the annual Portland book festival Wordstock, we rounded up some amazing artists on the OPB Pop-Up Stage to ask them: was there a book that changed your life?


"How astonishingly lucky I was to have been born right then at that moment in this place," said Richard Russo on the New York mill town he grew up in. "It was an America that has been, for the last 25 years, vanishing before our eyes. And at 21, it looked unimportant.” That is, until he read Richard Yates.

How astonishingly lucky I was to have been born right then at that moment in this place,” said Richard Russo on the New York mill town he grew up in. “It was an America that has been, for the last 25 years, vanishing before our eyes. And at 21, it looked unimportant.” That is, until he read Richard Yates.

Roxy De La Torre/OPB

Richard Russo - 1:24

The books of Richard Russo are practically synonymous with small town American life. They tell stories of working-class folks in falling-down mill towns in upstate New York, but they could take place practically anywhere in the U.S. Russo’s 2001 novel, “Empire Falls,” won the Pulitzer prize and was made into a mini-series on HBO. His 1993 novel, “Nobody’s Fool,” was made into a movie starring Paul Newman and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and this year, Russo is back with the sequel, “Everybody’s Fool.”

Russo picked two volumes of short stories by Richard Yates: “Eleven Kinds of Loneliness” and “Liars in Love.” Best known for the novel “Revolutionary Road,” Yates wrote about everyday people with small dreams who nonetheless failed to attain them.

“Looking back on it now, these stories amounted to almost permission to write,” said Russo. “It was the fact that, in some ways, Yates’s subject matter was so modest, and yet he had turned it into literature of the highest order, something about that spoke to me as a not terribly confident young writer.”


Nikki McClure wrote her book "Waiting For High Tide" literally on the beach, penning stream of consciousness until the tide would hit her toes. Then, it became all about the editing, as she whittled 20,000 words down to 1,000.

Nikki McClure wrote her book “Waiting For High Tide” literally on the beach, penning stream of consciousness until the tide would hit her toes. Then, it became all about the editing, as she whittled 20,000 words down to 1,000.

Roxy De La Torre/OPB

Nikki McClure - 15:31

Nikki McClure’s trademark paper art is now iconic in the Northwest. She makes images of children and families engaging in work, experiencing the wild, and making the world better in small ways. She has an illustrator’s eye for animal and plant life, and an exquisite touch for the details of a child’s face. Her latest book is “Waiting For High Tide.” She chats with April Baer about books that deeply resonate with her: “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey and the collective works of Tove Jansson.


“To be able to be so articulate about unspeakable experiences is something that books can do that other forms can’t represent that same way,” Karen Russell told OPB's Aaron Scott at Wordstock.

“To be able to be so articulate about unspeakable experiences is something that books can do that other forms can’t represent that same way,” Karen Russell told OPB’s Aaron Scott at Wordstock.

Roxy De La Torre/OPB

Karen Russell - 25:56

Karen Russell’s writing takes your imagination hostage, whisking you into worlds where the children of werewolves get schooled by nuns, vampires pucker their fangs on lemons as a temporary fix, and girls elope with ghosts, only to be left at the alter. Her book “Swamplandia” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and she’s a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Her most recent works include the e-book “Sleep Donation: A Novella” and the short story collection “Vampires in the Lemon Grove.”

Russell tells Aaron Scott how Carson McCullum’s 1940 novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” electrified her when she was a teenager. “To be able to be so articulate about unspeakable experiences is something that books can do that other forms can’t represent that same way,” she says.


The puns and prose of Lewis Carrol seeps through Jonathan Lethem's language in lines like "Bruno might be dead already and not know it. If he was dead, he could live with that” — a line in "A Gambler's Anatomy" that could've been penned by the Mad Hatter.

The puns and prose of Lewis Carrol seeps through Jonathan Lethem’s language in lines like “Bruno might be dead already and not know it. If he was dead, he could live with that” — a line in “A Gambler’s Anatomy” that could’ve been penned by the Mad Hatter.

Roxy De La Torre/OPB

Jonathan Lethem - 37:44

Jonathan Lethem’s novels take us to fabulous places. His writing style interweaves humor, charm, mystery, and stylish prose to create delightful page-turning epics. The recipient of a MacArthur grant and a National Book Critics Circle Award, Lethem also writes great essays and short stories. His latest novel, “A Gambler’s Anatomy,” has garnered praise for its mysterious Bond-like hero and it’s magical spin on reality.

Lethem discusses how “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was the first book he read where he felt like he could actually hear the voice of the author — a voice full of puns and secret references that inspired his own voices in books like “Motherless Brooklyn.”