April 9, 2020, at 11am
"Afternoon drills are probably the most important part of the day – it’s the only time that our entire company comes together, all 200 first years, 100 second years, and 50 third years. The most accomplished third years lead the drills under the guidance of the drill sergeant. FL Stewart is a notable exception to this rule. He’s only a second-year but also sometimes leads the afternoon drills, in addition to our morning drills. Like today."
Last week, I alerted you to a creative new distribution plan to save comics shops and the monthly print comic model. That plan crashed and burned mere hours after my column was published. Nobody has come up with a better idea in the week since.
The big publishers aren't putting out new comics, and the whole industry is on pause. So what now? Well, if you can, you should buy comics direct from the creators. And a Pacific Northwest cartoonist just so happens to have a new collection that's worth your time.
Last year, I interviewed Portland cartoonist Sarah Mirk about her project to create and publish one zine a day for a year. "I’m really trying to get away from perfectionism and feeling like things have to be pretty, or things have to be perfect," Mirk told me.
"It’s about the process of making something every day and sharing it with the world — good or bad," she explained. "And part of the point of it is to show people that you can do this too. You can make things and put them out in the world."
Now Mirk has collected the best books from the project in a $12 oversized paperback book called Year of Zines! You can buy it directly from Mirk online. I received my copy in the mail yesterday, and it's just the thing to scratch my new-comics itch.
Most of Year of Zines! is made up of traditional non-fiction comics: Mirk shares her thoughts (on being a tall woman, on the personalities of public transit systems, on how to bail out detainees) and etiquette tips (like how to take a compliment and how to talk to people who are going through bad times) in short comics essays.
But there are other comics here that are more experimental: Mirk makes some collage comics that condense the whole Sunday New York Times down into a few panels (including a fictionalized Bari Weiss essay about cheese mites that is likely more informative than any column Weiss has ever actually written) and she collects self-portraits she's drawn over the years into a kind of reflexive autobiographical zine.
Mirk's enthusiasm for zines is palpable; she spends much of Year of Zines! encouraging the reader to make zines of their own. It's a book that celebrates creation — imperfect, unjealous creation — as its own good. That's an attitude that we could use more of in our self-quarantined lives.
April 8, 2020, at 11am
"Professor Munger paces before the class, the brass on her chest flashing. 'A quarter of you will one day command squadrons or even fleets of individuals whose vaunted mission is to protect the interests of the United States. You will oversee men and women trained to kill, and who are eager to exercise their training. In this class, you will learn how to identify the enemy, be it abroad or at home, and lead your forces to neutralize all threats – both active and passive. You will learn how to put aside your personal values and beliefs and act in the best interests of the country you serve.'"
Friends, do I have a book recommendation for you. No matter who you are, no matter what your reading tastes, I can assure you that Bainbridge Island writer Jon Mooallem's brand-new book, This Is Chance!, will speak directly to you at this moment in time.
Chance! is the deeply reported account of three days surrounding an earthquake that struck Anchorage, Alaska in the spring of 1964 — the largest earthquake in recorded history. Mooallem centers the story on a young radio host named Genie Chance who talks Anchorage's citizens to safety, disseminating information, coordinating rescue efforts, and sending messages of hope to and from people spread across the broken city. It's a story with the happy message that when the worst things happen, humans get together to do their best.
You can see where I'm going with this. Human beings around the world are right now sheltering in place in an effort to protect our weakest and most vulnerable neighbors from coronavirus. Some of us are on the front lines. Some of us are working jobs that two months ago would have been considered non-essential but are now the backbone of our civilization. We're all communicating, and we're all trying to get by. It's a slow-motion disaster that will leave all of us changed. Chance! reminds us that the change that is happening to many of us right now will be for the better.
Mooallem is taking some big swings in this book: the structure and themes of Chance! are deep in conversation with no less of an American classic than the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, which happened to be playing at the big theater in Anchorage at the time of the quake. This conversation encompasses the biggest topics we're all facing right now: mortality, optimism, impermanence, loss, and the uneasy feeling of being swallowed by the tremendous scope of the universe.
I talked with Mooallem on the phone earlier this week about his remarkable book, what it feels like to have a book launch get squashed by a global pandemic, and his race against the clock to preserve living history at a time when many witnesses to the Anchorage earthquake are passing away. What follows is a lightly edited and trimmed transcription of our conversation.
After Trump was elected, I spent a long time waiting for the first post-Trump book, the first book that felt like an adequate response to Trump's election. I don't remember one breaking out from the pack. But when I was reading your book, it felt like I was already reading the first post-coronavirus book, because—
I thought you were going to say it was the first post-Trump book. Which, in some ways, actually might have been right. Because I think it was really after the election that I sat down and really tried to do the proposal [for This is Chance!]. I feel like that was probably where my state of mind was — an unimaginable disruption.
That's interesting. So was this book about you trying to find a happy place after Trump's election?
Oh, no, I wouldn't say that. I had been collecting research about Genie, and about the quake, for a few years before then. This theme of unanticipated, very violent-seeming disruptions, was always what drew me to it. And I think we can all relate to that in a personal way — that our own personal worlds sometimes take these swerves.
So, it wasn't that suddenly the election happened, and I had this new way to approach this story. That was just very much in the air then, just as it is now.
It's funny, because there's a part of the introduction that I keep seeing people taking pictures of on social media. It's that last bit that says, "A terrible magic can switch on, and scramble our lives."
I remember writing that in early 2018, and thinking that, "this reads like I'm talking about the election." And now, it reads like I'm talking about Coronavirus.
Your book is a one-stop shop for terrible disasters. So, I guess it's an evergreen.
Yeah. Like how every Christmas they play It's a Wonderful Life, maybe every time there's a disaster, people can read this.
I haven't actually yet spoken with an author whose book launch was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. How are you doing? It seems like your publisher must have had a pretty big plan in mind for the launch.
Yeah. Definitely for me, it felt like it was going to be a big launch. I think I was supposed to go do eight or nine different events, the last of which would have been this week up in Alaska.
I really have struggled to find a way to talk about it, because the honest truth is, I don't even really feel like I've grappled with any of that on the emotional level. Partly because I'm doing the very healthy thing of just being grateful for what I have to be grateful for, and then, also — less to toot my own horn — because it's just so frickin' confusing right now. My kids are home, so I just haven't had the mental capacity, I guess.
I think at some point, I'm probably going to end up feeling resentful about it. I guess something was taken away from me. But I don't really have any cogent feelings about it just yet.
It's definitely true that there's been a lot more media interest, I think, than there maybe would have been – just because it feels so timely, in a weird way. But this is a moment that I've been looking forward to for years, literally. And it's great that I still feel like people are finding the book, and reading it. But it would have been nice to have just a little moment where I could feel like I was celebrating it, unabashedly.
Were you aware, fairly early on, that things were going to not happen? These launches from New York publishers are planned out way in advance.
So, you probably had a plan in your head for months.
Yeah. They set the pub date last April, I think, and events were all worked out, I think, by the end of last year.
The weird part of that was being where we live [in Washington state, which was hit early by the coronavirus pandemic], and talking to people in New York in late February, early March. There was a big disconnect between my concern and growing pessimism and the view in New York, which was, "Well, nothing's happening here. We're all fine — let's just take it day-by-day."
And that's not to fault them, but it did make it strange. And in retrospect, I don't know even if we had two extra weeks, when I started worrying about it, to come up with some kind of Plan B. I don't think we would have had any real substantive differences anyway. So, it's a wash. But that was definitely a very strange few weeks.
And then, there was just one day when I got this cascade of e-mails that everything was canceled, one by one.
We're not getting preview copies from publishers right now, so I bought your book from Third Place Books. I loved it, and I thought it was actually the perfect book to read right now.
But it's also very impressive on a technical level. The fact that you interact with the structure of Our Town so thoroughly in This Is Chance! is a hugely brave thing. There are nine ways this book could have failed and one way that it could have worked, and I think you found the one that worked.
Oh, thank you.
When, in the course of writing the book did the structure of the book become apparent to you? I can't separate the story from the structure in my mind, which means you did it well. How did that take shape?
Wow, thank you so much. That's what every writer wants to hear. I guess I don't really know how to answer that.
I think that the Our Town thing is just like it's described in the book: I really had done a lot of research, and met a lot of people, and been up to Anchorage. I knew a lot by the time I finally brought myself to read Our Town — for a number of reasons. One is because I didn't think it was going to be that cool; I thought it was just this hokey play.
So, when I did finally read it, and I got to that first part where the stage manager character just offhandedly tells the audience that this kid that's on stage delivering papers is going to die in a war, I was gobsmacked by it, because that was the experience I was having reading about all these accounts of the time. I was just Googling people, one-by-one, and not to be crass about it but there's a body count that you just see pretty starkly. Like, "Okay. He's dead. She's dead." And you see how they died, and you just get the ending to all these stories.
So, I felt like that stage manager is really the only representation I've ever seen of this phenomenon that I'm having, and what luck that it also happened to have a place in the story itself.
So, I think I knew right away that I could do that in the story, that there'd be something really powerful about just quickly flashing forward and seeing, "Where are they now?"
Honestly, I was a little ignorant. Some of the parallels did escape me. It didn't even occur to me until pretty late that I was telling a story that took place on three different days, and Our Town was a story that took place on three different days.
You're asking me about mechanical things that, I think, it's easy to articulate after — you can come up with reasons why they work. But I don't know. It just seems like it should be that way, and then you try to do it that way in the best way you can. And then hopefully, it works.
It didn't work for everyone, I can tell you that.
Sure. It's a pretty bold move, so, of course, there are going to be people who are going to take issue with it.
I think the trick is it didn't seem bold, because it just seemed like the best way to do this.
I don't talk about writing a lot so it's hard for me to know if I'm making any sense.
It makes total sense to me. In the first few pages, you introduce a couple of characters and then explain how they were going to die, many years in the future. It was a little jarring at first, but there's also something very tender and intimate about having that information right off-the-bat. And reading a book about a disaster and knowing that these people don't die because of the disaster is a little bit of good news, too. It was really striking. And I didn't realize how much that experience of reading mimicked your research for the book until you just said that.
The bit you're talking about is with these two radio broadcasters. One of them is Ty Clark, a very suave Don Draper figure of the station. And right after I tell you that he dies, the next thing that happens is, he's on the radio, ecstatically calling this dog race.
I felt like there was an emotional thing that happened to me when I held those two facts up next to each other in my mind, and that really seemed to be the emotions that people were having after the earthquake, too.
There's this feeling after disasters, and I think some people are having it now too, where you just look around at things that you took for granted, and realize that they're fleeting, and that they're precious, and that they're unimportant. But they're so vital.
I think you get that same thing when you consider a single person's life in its entirety. It's a feeling I was trying to write about, because people felt this at the time of the quake, and I felt in the process of researching it. And so I just want to get people to feel it as they're reading, too.
Was Genie always at the center of the story?
Yeah. 100%, absolutely. She was definitely the center, and if anything, she became less central to this story as I learned about other people that I wanted to include, and other storylines I wanted to follow.
I learned about the quake and about Genie, I think, almost at the same time. I found this report that she'd compiled after the quake, where she collected people's experiences: They would just say what happened during those four-and-a-half minutes of the earthquake for them.
And I knew that she had been on the radio all weekend because this was written up in her little bio with the report. And it also said that her family had recorded some of those broadcasts. And that was what set me off, was just trying to find those tapes. As someone who writes true stories, any time that you have an inkling that there's some big cache of detailed material, you want to go chase it.
This story is not quite at the edge of living memory, but it's getting there. Somebody trying to write this book in 20 years would have had a much more difficult time than you had, obviously. Did you feel at any point like you were racing against time to get these stories for the book?
Yeah, I felt that almost every day. It was very unsettling, actually, for two reasons. One is, because you feel the story slipping away. Literally, people were dying as I was writing the book. There were definitely two very important interviews that I did, and those two men did not live to see the book finished.
There were others as well. I had the experience in Anchorage where I was having coffee with a really important source for the book, the son of Bram, the owner of KENI. I said, "I'm really desperate to find contemporaries of Genie, if there's any left — any people who knew her as equals." And he said, "You might try Ermalee Hickel." She was Wally Hickel's wife; he was a big Alaskan businessman and politician.
I wrote the name down, and the next morning I woke up in my hotel, I went downstairs to the lobby, and on the front page of the newspaper was an obituary for Ermalee Hickel. She had just died the previous day.
There were definitely uncanny experiences like that.
And then, even when I would find a lot of these people, I would often have much more detailed knowledge about what they had done and said during the earthquake than they could remember. Because I had these interviews that they had done at the time, these very exhaustive interviews with sociologists, for example, or the interviews that Genie had done.
It's not because they're 85 that they can't remember, it's because it was 50-something years ago. They could have the best memory in the world, but they're not going to remember what time they showed up at the police station on a Saturday morning.
So, it did feel like the story was slipping away. And then, also, to be totally honest it made me uncomfortable to feel that. Because it almost felt like hubris: like, "if I don't tell this story, it's going to be lost forever!" That kind of thing. And that didn't sit well with me, either.
When you were talking to somebody and they were countering their own narrative from before, did you feel the need to correct them, or did you let them go? Do you let them live with the version they have in their head?
Oh, that's interesting. No, I don't think there was ever a scenario where I was ruining something for anyone. I think mostly they just didn't remember. So, I would tell them, and they'd go, "huh." Or, "Okay, sure. If you say so."
There definitely were cases where people told me things that they remembered very clearly that I could prove were not true. And I guess in those cases, I didn't push it. Because also, maybe I am wrong. But there wasn't anything of such great consequence, where I felt like I was robbing anything of anyone.
I should also say that those people were really still valuable people to talk to, because they could tell me just about what life was like in Anchorage, even if they didn't remember particular details about the narrative. I learned so much from them about what it was like to live there at that time, what it was like to live in the four-and-a-half minutes of the quake. Which everyone remembered perfectly.
Independent audiobook service Libro.fm is looking to hire ten laid-off booksellers to bring to their team for roles including sales, proofreading, and experts-in-residence in kid's books and fiction. They are accepting applications through tomorrow.
If you're looking for something unique to read, you should know that Push/Pull in Ballard has put a lot of its inventory online. It's now a very large online storefront full of zines, small-press books, artwork by local artists, pins, and more.
Our thoughts today are with Barnes & Noble warehouse workers in New Jersey, who are currently striking to demand increased workplace protections against coronavirus.
Chloe Aridjis's novel Sea Monsters is the winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The judge's statement praised the book as "a stunning exploration of the ways its brilliant teenage narrator’s interior and exterior worlds are both fluid and in opposition. This dreamlike near-fable of equal parts philosophical and intellectual vigor is a book unlike any other; a true standout and a gift for these times in which we are all craving escape.”
April 7, 2020, at 11am
"“Let’s go around the table,” my new friend Ryann is saying when I approach our regular group for dinner. Like Zelda, Ryann is an orphan. The government must have some orphan recruitment initiative. “Who would each of you choose, if you were given the choice?”"
April is National Poetry Month. Normally, we run a Poet in Residence during April. But given the situation in the world, with millions of people staying home, we thought doing something more democratic might be interesting.
We're asking poets to submit works about the coronavirus, however you might interpret that (in fact, our last Poet in Residence, Arianne True, left us with one such poem). We want work that you have written while being stuck at home.
It's worth acknowledging that being at home does not make one productive. Many have responded to the stress and anxiety of this time by not producing art, and that's an okay response. We hope you are safe and taking care of yourself.
But for those of you are channeling your experience into your craft, we'd like you to share. Thank you for entrusting us with your work.
If all that sounds acceptable to you, please submit your work here. Thank you!
Sponsor Sophia Gallegos has brought her harrowing retelling of the July 16, 1918 overthrow of the last Tsar of Russia. In Mashka: the Unlocked Secrets of an Imprisoned Teenage Royal, she turns her narrative eye to the Tsar's middle child, Maria Nikolaevna.
Just nineteen when the revolution came, her father was taken into custody and the family was sent to a residential prison ruled by the vengeful Ural Soviet. Inside the Ipatiev House, the family struggles to adapt, and survive.
Gallegos has captured the last hours of the infamous family through the eyes of Maria, casting a narrative, fictional light on mysterious events that have been speculated on for a century.
It's thanks to sponsors like Gallegos that keep independent outlets like the Seattle Review of Books running. If you're interested in how you could become a sponsor, you can find out more here, including our weekly rates.
April 6, 2020, at 11am
"That night, I don’t sleep. Part of it is excitement. I’m also terrified that if I fall asleep I’ll wake up and my leg will be gone. So I spend the night beneath thin sheets, running my right foot up and down its new mate, toes dancing on graphene-coated bone and memorizing the curves of the blade."
Catherynne M. Valente's sci-fi comedy "about an intergalactic battle of the bands " found a place on Seattle Public Library's list of uplifting books to read during quarantine because it "is perhaps operatic in scope (in a comic vein, at least) but is more rock than opera."
Theo, a bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books, says this first novel by Adam Ehrlich Sachs reads "like a deliriously convoluted yet impeccably timed joke"
Laura at Elliott Bay Book Company says Ursula K. LeGuin's collected novellas "span multiple genres and, taken together, make a great introduction to the career of an incredible writer."
If you have some yoga experience, King County Library recommends the audio version of Shiva Ree's Yoga Sanctuary" A Guided Hatha Yoga Practice for Home and on the Road because it's "a great advantage not to have to look at a screen while balancing your poses!"
Open Books's Gabrielle Bates asks in her recommendation for José Olivarez's poetry collection: "What and who is home? What and who is lineage? How to navigate the in-between spaces of nationhood, body, and cultural identity?"
Wendee at Queen Anne Book Company says Ross Gay's collection of 102 short essays about delight is just what you need: "These days, who wouldn’t appreciate a collection of essays that makes us feel good," she asks?
We return once more to the Seattle Public Library's uplifting books list for new author Cat Sebastian's The Soldier's Scoundrel, in which a "familiar Regency opposites-attract romance becomes something freshly seductive."
Over on our Instagram page, we’re posting a weekly installation from Clare Johnson’s Post-it Note Project, a long running daily project. Here’s her wrap-up and statement from March's posts.
I am living for 3 months at an artist residency in Memphis, Tennessee. People in the arts abound here, all of whom I’ve known only a matter of weeks. This moment confuses me. Who do I ask to choose post-its? Which of these myriad artistic strangers should peruse my pages of suddenly exposed intimacies, peer into my brain’s late-night privacies, where are our boundaries in a place like this. It’s fine with you—I’m not standing next to you—I don’t see you seeing me. But all this is an illusion because that was when I sent these off for publication at the beginning of March, now I’m still in Memphis but no one is in my vicinity, this place all closed-up. Back in the time of being-here-pre-pandemic I dealt with my boundaries conundrum by asking 4 different people to each choose a single post-it. While fancier and fussier, this method also somehow seemed lower pressure. I asked the people I’d spent the most time with, not other residents—rather locals, casual colleagues who were delighting my days with random banter, sudden honesty, strange commonalities, smiling generosities, punches of laughter, the occasional 1997 made-for-TV musical. Ash at the closed-for-now cafe makes visual art and co-owns a video store / music venue across the street; something about her moody-humor-witchy-movie-nerd vibe made my mid90s-teen-queer-in-Seattle self feel like I understood where I was. Her since-high-school buddy Tori works the morning shift at the cafe and is trying to find her way back into art making, after years focused on her kids. She returned in the evening during Ash’s shift to choose post-its; Tori stating immediately that she would definitely choose the snails but also needed to see every single one anyway, Ash following along for a time till settling confidently, pleasingly characteristically, on demons. After picking carefully through all of 2019 and up to the present, Tori kept her word and stuck with the snails, I’m learning a love of snails really brings people together. Ash said, “this is perfect, I’ve been thinking about my demons a lot.” She and Tori then admitted they are very different kinds of witches, we all laughed, Tori’s powers are only for other people. When I made that post-it I’d misread the usual “confront” somewhere as “comfort” and was so sad to find it was no one’s genius, just my eyes’ mistake. I wanted to keep the mistake forever, nothing about me wants an argument. COMFORTING IS EVERYTHING; my demons are anxious. But then I get on the plane and land somewhere else, in wintry Idaho to suddenly visit a cousin as the case may be, transitions never as terrifying as the night before, and look where I find myself. We’re all hidden all over the place. Joy chose that one at the end of the night, she said she’d explain why later, and then everyone left. Joy does public engagement for the arts organization and writes fiction and leads clever free Saturday art workshops and talking with her incited the most expansively pummeling waves of aforementioned laughing. That laughter was STEALTHY and SERIOUS, ALL-CONSUMING and a LITTLE BIT DANGEROUS because I’d often stop by her desk when I meant to be on my way to the bathroom. Danielle, who curates projects at the adjacent high school where I was working, chose first and fastest, earlier that afternoon. Danielle is an amazingly helpful facilitator of all things arts, while also maintaining an air of elusiveness that pulls off the hilarious (to even herself, I think) trick of being both low-key and ironclad. She wanted to see the smallest number post-its, just the month that I’d been there at that point, laughed at several, grabbed the wrong horoscope. I think that’s where I’ll choose to disappear.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
Hello! I am feeling very helpless at the moment with all the coronavirus pandemic unfolding around me. I still have a day job, I can work from home, and my housing is secure, so I acknowledge my privilege here.
I want to use that privilege to help others, but every time I open my social media feeds I feel like I'm getting a firehose of desperation right to my face. Everybody needs money right now, and not just the usual charitable organizations. Every bookstore I shop from needs money. The booksellers at those bookstores need money, and many of them have been laid off. Local artists need money. Local charities need money. Local arts organizations need money.
I don't have that much money to give, but I've got some. I've already bought big gift certificates from a few local businesses as investments into their future, but I just don't know if I'm doing the right thing. Is it better to spread what I have around, or should I be looking to make the biggest impact? Should I be giving to arts organizations, or should I be giving to charities that are actively saving people's lives?
Just tell me what to do, please, Cienna.
Sheltered in Place
Take a deep breath, make yourself a quarantini (two shots of hand sanitizer steeped with your favorite Tic Tacs) and try to unpucker yourself.
It's true: people are exceptionally needy in these uncertain times. Unless you've been preparing for global catastrophe for years – unless you've got a bunker full of wedding dresses purchased online from bitter divorcees that can be reconstituted as toilet paper OR as wedding dresses for the farm animals you've also been hoarding in your bunker and need to see married off ASAP because NO ONE lives in SIN under your dirt roof NO SIR!!! – well then, you might be shitting exclamation points right about now.
Me? I am living my best underground life. As a child, I was given boxes full of honeybees for Christmas. It taught me resiliency and to never shake presents.
Take another deep drink of that quarantini. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Now then: what you're doing is great. Continue buying gift certificates to book stores. Consider donating to an arts relief fund. Or an emergency relief fund to help restaurant employees (and restaurants). The thing to remember is, there is no donation too small. Just find a cause that feels right to you and support it.
And remember: money is precious but so is your time. There are many people in the world who aren't thriving in a bunker, wondering if it's unethical to marry a horse to a goat without either of their consent. (And arguing with herself about who makes the prettier bride.)
Chances are, you know at least one person who is suffering in isolation, who is stir crazy or lonely or scared or depressed at the news they can't seem to stop reading. Call your friends. Send them books. Reach out. Write them letters!
Money is not always the solution, sometimes your time means more.
Or, you know, bee boxes are fun.
I have a friend whose 28th birthday is in early April, and her boyfriend broke up with her in January, so she's been sheltering in place on her own. What's the best book to send as a gift for someone who will likely be entirely alone as she enters her late 20s?
That depends – is she still weepy about it or did she think to herself "that fucker beat me to it"?
If she's sensitive and needs an uplifting read, I suggest:
Fly Girls, a nonfiction book on five women who made aviation history, which might be a nice change of scenery during social isolation.
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. Read about her life and wallow in the shameful knowledge that some days it's too hard to put on pants that button.
If your friend is in a bitter-but-funny headspace, here are a few fun options:
April 3, 2020, at 11am
"Medic 13 is attached to the hospital. I dread it. Not because the therapists are terrible or anything, but I’m usually the only person in there, unless someone has twisted an ankle or something minor. It’s quiet, cold and lonely. I’d even take Shanna’s resentful presence next to me at this point."
Happy 215th Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen! Born today in 1805, the prolific Danish writer is best known for his re-telling of fairy tales, Andersen wrote novels, and many forms of non-fiction.
"There was a proud Teapot, proud of being made of porcelain, proud of its long spout and its broad handle. It had something in front of it and behind it; the spout was in front, and the handle behind, and that was what it talked about. But it didn't mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was riveted and full of defects, and we don't talk about our defects -- other people do that. The cups, the cream pitcher, the sugar bowl -- in fact, the whole tea service -- thought much more about the defects in the lid and talked more about it than about the sound handle and the distinguished spout. The Teapot knew this."
— from "The Teapot"
Every month, Olivia Waite pulls back the covers, revealing the
very best in new and classic romance. We’re extending a hand to
you. Won’t you take it?
Olivia is on break this month, so we're using this time to re-run one of her early columns. In fact, it's her very first from 2017. Enjoy!
Every first Thursday, this column will showcase four new romance releases and one revered classic or foundational influence from years past. All five books will end with a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now. (HEA and HFN for short — and now you’re in the know.) Many of these romances will be historicals; many will be LGBTQ; many will have a paranormal or SFF setting. Sometimes we’ll have all those things in one book, because I like all those things and romance is generous and full of gifts. Some books will be sugar-sweet with a single delicate kiss at the end; others will be hot enough that just cracking the cover will set off all the smoke alarms in a three-block radius.
No children will be imperilled, no women assaulted simply for shock value. The dogs will always live.
It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve loved this genre all my life. I stole my first romance novel from my mom’s shelf at the age of five – a kinky space opera romp by Johanna Lindsey. Imagine Jupiter Ascending starring Slave Leia and Conan the Barbarian, and you’ll have the general idea. Mom, appalled, took the book away when I was only halfway through. It took me ten pre-internet years to find another copy and get to that happy ending, but I did it. Romance readers: we’re unstoppable.
And I kept going. I read Julie Garwood in high school, Julia Quinn in college, and Jeannie Lin in grad school. I sold my first romance manuscript a year after graduating, watched my publisher go down in flames five years later, and started self-publishing my backlist in between writing longread analyses of individual books. You know, for fun. I have more romances on my shelves than I can possibly ever read, and more ideas for romance novels than I can ever write.
A mystery is at heart about justice, just as a science fiction story is about envisioning the future and fantasy is about imagining worlds profoundly different than the one we inhabit. Romance is the only genre whose formula is specifically and exclusively about people: the characters are strangers at the beginning and lovers at the end.
Romance novels are important because people are important.
And romance novels are at the center of a lot of people’s lives. Last week, on the farther coast, two thousand romance authors and industry professionals gathered for the Romance Writers of America’s annual national conference. This is not a fan event, but a professional one. Authors bought old friends rounds at the bar and swapped marketing tips with editors and self-publishers. They are mostly women, and along with all the craft and business workshops, they talked about feminism, about race and systemic bias in publishing, about disability and queerness and gender and religion. They have a great deal to say about women’s place in history, in literary culture, in the modern world and in the future.
Romance novels are good fun, and romance novels are big business. It’s a fascinating tangle of passion and money and meaning, and I’m so happy to be here to talk about it.
The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian (Avon Impulse: m/m historical)
Lord Courtenay is appallingly gorgeous, shockingly lewd, and socially outcast. Julian Medlock is upright, prim, and polished within an inch of his life. Each man openly loathes what the other stands for — so it’s a good thing for the romance that they’re both such frauds. This is a story about peeling back layers, about the walls people put up to defend their too-squishy hearts, about taking risks and making mistakes and trying again. Also the best example of sex-scenes-as-character-twist I’ve seen recently. If you like discovering the nurturing side of a Byronic hero, or watching a priggish accountant-type verbally cut someone to ribbons in his lover’s defense, this is your book.
Julian felt about Courtenay’s looks the way radicals thought about money: that it was deeply unfair and problematic for one person to possess such a disproportionate share.
Rogue Desire anthology by Adriana Anders, Dakota Gray, Amy Jo Cousins, Emma Barry, Stacy Agdern, Jane Lee Blair, Ainsley Booth, and Tamsen Parker (self-published: contemporary, various heat levels).
If you’re looking for escapist fluff you won’t find it here — the tone of this resistance-themed anthology is unsubtle, raw, anxious, and fierce by turns. Future historians and critics of romance fiction will make much of the way a certain orange malevolence lurks unnamed in the subtext. At times this book, so viscerally of-the-moment, poked too hard at wounds that are still raw and tender. At other times, though, the sublime gleams through. High points include Jane Lee Blair’s true-hearted pastor hero who cusses with sailor fluency, and Tamsen Parker’s sharp-sweet final story featuring a Jewish heroine whose working title was, no joke, “Hate-Pegging Conservative Josh Lyman.” Anthologies are always useful for testing out new-to-you authors, whether you like your books heavy on the sizzle (Dakota Gray) or populated by policy nerds (Emma Barry, who provided the advance copy. She knows my weaknesses far too well).
There was no excuse not to hold on with both hands when you found love. They’d work the rest out. First, though, they had to get through the sedition.
Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (self-published: erotic contemporary).
Rebekah Weatherspoon writes some of the best sex scenes around (and now has the Lambda Award to prove it). Her latest is the story of a smart-mouthed Manhattan fashion buyer and a surly, bearded tree of a mountain man: bonded by a shocking tragedy, they try to work out their tangled emotions through dark, beautifully nasty sex. It’s a terrible idea and everyone knows it, including our hero and heroine. This is BDSM romance for the advanced set, by an absolute mistress of the genre — the sex is certainly kinky, but the real danger is in the feelings. This couple’s story is like watching an avalanche in slow-motion: grand, strangely beautiful, and terrifying. I have read more extreme scenarios (Tiffany Reisz, anyone?) but never had my heart in my mouth quite this much. Readers in search of what slinks in the shadowy corners of the heart (and associated organs) will find this memorable and satisfying; those in search of less-intense fare should check out the candy-coated Sugar Baby novella trilogy or the juicy, queer-centric, pulpy fun of the Vampire Sorority Sisters series. (Rebekah created WOCinRomance to promote books written by women of color; I am both a Patreon supporter and a member of the monthly book club.)
“Push back turning you on?” she says as she slips on her bra. “A little bit.” “I mean, I can make today a living hell for you, you just say the word, Master Shep.”
Hoodwinked Hearts by Ainslie Paton (Carina Press: contemporary)
Everything in this heist romance is dialed up to eleven. Imagine a thousand Leverage fanfics piled up high, covered in glitter and set on fire. Hero Cleve Jones is a master burglar and lifelong conman. Heroine Aria Harp is the one person he’s never lied to: his mentor’s rebellious daughter, a shaved-headed, scorpion-tattooed identity thief (!) with a mile-high chip on her shoulder. The story is brief and fiery and rough as a striking match. The prose is hyperbolic and luxurious with occasional sharp shocks of electric truth. At one point there is an extended theft-and-fart-joke scene that does for flatulence what Wodehouse does for hangovers. Ainslie Paton may well be allergic to literary restraint, but let’s not offer to cure her until she’s written a few more books.
Cleve didn’t duck. He said the words Aria warned him not to say, “I love you,” then he stood there like a stone monument to men too smart to know better, so she swung at him and connected with his jaw.
Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase
This was the first Loretta Chase I read and it upended all my thoughts on what heroines could be/do in a Regency romance.
Even if she’s embroiled in some light scandal, the typical Regency heroine is virginal, earnest, and morally above reproach. Francesca Bonnard is none of those things. Not since her titled husband broke her heart, ruined her name, and divorced her by act of Parliament. Now Francesca is a notorious courtesan in Venice, seducing the crowned heads of the Continent and wearing spectacular jewelry and low-cut gowns to the opera five nights a week. Her first POV line is a showstopper: “Penises. Everywhere.”
Due to the scandal of divorce, Francesca is an exile, and she pines for the glitter and social whirl of London lost. It’s as though she’s grieving the loss of the romance-novel story of her first marriage — the ballrooms, the aristocratic suitor, the dazzling courtship. Francesca is an ex-heroine as much as she is an ex-wife.
Nevertheless, at the novel’s end, Francesca is once again wedded, wealthy, titled, and planning parties for the height of the Season. She is, after all, still the heroine of this romance novel. The text never punishes her for her sins or forces her into a humiliating repentance: instead, everything that British society holds against her (manipulating callow young royals, seducing the hot jewel thief next door, refusing to let men boss her around) helps her get to this second, better HEA. She may be a fallen women, but she’s neither broken nor weak.
It’s downright inspiring.
April 2, 2020, at 11am
"Every cadet on campus is assigned a job – upper cadets get the plumest jobs. They are campus guards, teacher assistants and drill sergeants in training. Nobody’s quite sure what us rookies will be stuck with. Maybe I’ll be emptying trash cans after all."
Yesterday, comic shop point-of-sale software developer ComicHub announced a plan to save the brick-and-mortar comic book store model. (And as Heidi MacDonald noted at The Beat, the plan was not an April Fool's gag.)
The idea is rough at the moment, but it would involve customers buying print editions of comics from their local comics shops, which would then be delivered once the distribution and printing mechanisms went back to work, post-coronavirus. Buying those print editions would give the customers immediate unlimited access to digital editions of the books, hosted on ComicHub. So, basically, customers would be buying print editions of comics on credit while getting digital access to comics immediately, and the revenue streams for comic shops would stay open.
Of course, there's a lot of questions about this plan: Can it scale to satisfy global reader demand? Can ComicHub convince every shop and publisher in the industry to agree to this model? Will the reading experience be enjoyable enough to keep people's interests? Will brick-and-mortar retailers — typically a pretty tech-phobic bunch of people — shy away from the possibility of training their customers into reading digital comics? It seems like if the answer to any of these questions is "no," the whole emergency model falls apart in a huge way.
It's noteworthy that bookshops aren't having this problem. I ordered a new release from Third Place Books last week and got it in the mail within two days — in part because unlike comic shops, bookstores enjoy the capacity to order and receive books from multiple distributors.
The one distributor to every comics shop in the country, Diamond, announced this week that they'll be unable to pay the money they owe to various small comics publishers. This could cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the comics industry from the bottom up. Can a digital distribution model created from scratch in a few weeks make up for Diamond's collapse? Unclear.
But at this point, it's pretty clear that the comics industry as we know it won't survive unless the people in power get creative about the basic problem at the heart of everything right now: how to get a comic book from creators to publishers to readers, with as little friction as possible. Without that elemental part of the equation solved, everything else will fall apart.
Short Run is posting short coronavirus-themed comics (many by local cartoonists) on their Tumblr. Here's hoping this is the first step toward a Coronavirus Comix anthology in time for this year's Short Run Festival.
Seattle City of Literature has assembled a list of coronavirus-related resources for the literary community.
Tomie dePaola, the author of the Strega Nona series of children's books, passed away yesterday at the age of 85.
At least Dolly Parton will read bedtime stories to us for the next ten weeks.
April 1, 2020, at 11am
"After a few minutes, they break us into groups of 50 cadets, each assigned to a wrestling ring. The rules are simple: two plebes enter the ring; first one who crosses the line loses. Unlike at the hospital, though, the winner stays in the circle and keeps choosing their opponents until they’re beaten. 'Then the champion of the rings will each compete until we have a winner,' FL Stewart explains to the crowd. 'And that winner will receive a prize.'"
Last month, Melbourne bookseller Ellen Cregan came to Seattle as part of a bookseller exchange program founded by Melbourne City of Literature and supported by Seattle City of Literature. Cregan, who is the marketing and events director at Melbourne's Readings bookshop, worked at Third Place Books for a weeklong residency. Unfortunately, the timing of her trip left a little to be desired; Cregan had to return home early due to the global coronavirus pandemic. I had the pleasure of meeting Cregan briefly while she was here (albeit from a social distance) and found her to be an enthusiastic and thoughtful ambassador for her city. This interview was conducted over email after Cregan had returned to Australia.
How did you get interested in bookselling?
Like many other booksellers I know, I studied Arts at university (in my case, it was literature and creative writing), and working in a bookshop seemed like the perfect retail gig to take me through my undergrad. I started off at a very small independent book shop with a slight Black Books vibe, but after a year there, I moved on to my current employer, Readings. I don’t actually work on the shop floor anymore -- my current role is in our marketing department. But this move to behind-the-scenes has allowed me to learn about a totally new side of bookselling.
Why were you interested in Seattle as a destination? Did you have any expectations of the city's literary life?
Initially, I decided on Seattle as a destination because I wanted to see how indie bookselling worked in a place where Amazon is so huge. In Australia, the threat of Amazon looms but it hasn’t really taken off (yet). When I did a bit more research about Seattle, I was also amazed by the number of small and specialty booksellers in the city: I figured that any place able to sustain that number of indies was bound to have a super vibrant literary scene, and that cemented my decision.
Can you talk a little bit about the plan for your visit was?
Pre-pandemic, the plan was for me to do all sorts of things in the shop, including sitting in on and hosting some events, visiting some local literary conferences, and spending some time with Third Place’s schools outreach person to see what younger readers are into in Seattle. I was also going to check out some Libraries and other bookstores. And then beyond my week in Seattle, I had also planned to visit bookstores in other parts of the US.
And obviously, you landed just as the pandemic was really getting out of control here, and coronavirus's spread here and at home cut your visit short. What were some of the other effects—were you not able to do anything that was on the itinerary that you were looking forward to?
The timing was really horrible on my trip! When I boarded the plane in Melbourne to head over to Seattle, the Australian PM was on the news telling everyone it was still safe to go to the football, essentially saying it was business as usual. By the time I’d arrived in the US, the conversation in Australia had completely changed — people were getting really scared, and things were shutting down. I was really sad to not be able to see any literary events. This was something I was really looking forward to, and it was a shame that my timing was so bad with regards to this!
Further afield, the thing I’m really into that isn’t book-related is music, and I was really keen to go out and see some local bands play while I was in Seattle. I was also excited to go and visit art galleries and museums and all of those fun, touristy things.
What were some highlights of your trip?
I was still able to go on a (limited) tour of Seattle’s booksellers, guided by the very excellent Stesha Brandon from Seattle City of Literature. This was definitely the main highlight. And it was actually very interesting seeing how booksellers were adapting to not being able to trade normally — The Book Larder in North Fremont were closed to customers, and only operating as an online store, but they were also using their demonstration kitchen to cook meals for local frontline healthcare workers. That was really nice to see. I also got to go on a lot of really nice walks -- I’m extra glad I chose Seattle for my visit, because nature is everywhere, and the lockdown didn’t extend to the walking trails.
Bearing in mind that you didn't have the full experience, were there any big differences between bookselling in Seattle and bookselling in Melbourne?
There seems to be much more positivity from booksellers in Seattle than in Melbourne. I met so many enthusiastic career booksellers at Third Place, and that’s sadly not something I see so often in Melbourne. Seattle booksellers seem more hopeful about the future, despite recognising the challenges faced by the industry. And the Seattle booksellers I met were much more willing to be nerdy in a wholesome and unrestrained way — bookselling in Melbourne feels like more of an outwardly trendy pursuit.
Did you find any new books from your trip here?
I bought so many books on my trip, especially after I learnt I was going home early. I got some great recommendations from Third Place booksellers (The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was an amazing balm for my long and stressful flight home), and I also just bought a bunch of things from the new releases table that I hadn’t seen yet at home. As well as this, I bought some zines from Left Bank Books, which is something I like to do in any city I visit -- I think zines give such a great little portrait of the local literary/arts community.
Were there any experiences that you didn't get to in your trip that you'd like to get around to on a return trip?
I definitely want to come back and see some literary events happen! And also see the libraries in action -- everyone I met in Seattle spoke so highly of the city’s library system.
Is there anything you'd like Seattle's literary community to know about you? About Melbourne?
Well for me: I was so impressed by the city, even as it was operating under a pandemic! And for Melbourne: it’s far away but worth a visit. I think Melbourne and Seattle actually have so much in common (lots of bookstores, a deep love of coffee, temperamental weather) and many Seattlites would feel right at home in Melbourne.
Are there any authors from your home that you're particularly proud of that you want us to fall in love with, too?
Well first of all, that Australian (and Melbournian) writing is really excellent. Australians hold onto a lot of cultural cringe, and can tend to be quite self-deprecating, so the fact that we produce so much great writing can get lost under our own negative chatter. Some of my absolute favourite Aussie writers are: Robbie Arnott, Jane Rawson, Krissy Kneen, Jamie Marina Lau (whose book is coming out in the US via Coffee House Press very soon!) and Jennifer Down.
March 31, 2020, at 11am
"The comms band is how they keep track of us. It’s also how they communicate with us and how we can communicate with each other. (It also tells time, so I wasn’t totally wrong.) It still feels weird to wear it, though. When we went to war with China, it became patriotic to hate technology, since they made all of it. Once their government began using our phones like homing beacons for their bombs, the smashing parties started."
This country has a way of forgetting
the dead. Of making me forget, too.
I read about other places
where dead are visited and headstones washed,
places where altars bring them home to us
once a year or always. Growing up, I heard
not to breathe passing graveyards – or what?
No one ever said. I’ve only stopped doing it
this year. I don’t know where my three
gone grandparents are, not their remains.
The fourth wants to be ash on the ocean.
I have never been to the grave of someone
I knew and we have no place in our homes
for our dead. They find places to come anyway,
out and around, Chloe chuckling at me on a bus
over the University Bridge, Kim-An by my desk
or driving out of town. Mark and Ed, Nadine.
We have no idea what to do with the bodies.
They end up chemical in corners by the highway
with the soft feet of caretakers, the held breath
of passing children. It is most of a forgetting.
We left the dead behind to come here. My people,
too. A decade on foot, guns and graves at our backs,
graves at our feet, who visits them?
I haven’t yet. And the tall northern villagers who
came on steamships, the bodies, flowers, songs
now an ocean away. My dead lie trailside and across
the salt ocean, becoming lands I have never walked.
Don’t have the right names for. Hope to tread,
and will tread with reverence. Will breathe
when I pass, and will pause. Will trust the hands I feel
at my back, dozens, almost solid where
they make contact. Of course we have broken
how to be with death when the old earth
of their bodies is too far to fall to. Nowhere
to kneel and keen. Sometimes no names to
call, or the wrong words to call them in. Losses
we can’t name in the language they happened.
Today, I am scared for names I know, loss I’m afraid
to become fluent in. Under which tender bodies,
whose palms I have pressed to my lips, graves may open.
But this week, after months of blue fingertips,
there is just enough warmth in the damp spring
to leave the window open a breath at night
and wake up every morning, when we do wake up,
Sponsor Handheld Press has re-issued Vonda N McIntyre's debut novel from 1975, The Exile Waiting. It establishes the world made famous in her beloved novel Dreamsnake, a post-apocalyptic world, following the thirteen year-old sneak thief Mischa, struggling to support her addicted and complicated brother and uncle.
Also included is a reproduction of McIntyre's short story "Cages", first published in Quark 4, in 1972.
Whether you dip in to re-read a favorite classic, or to discover the early work of one of SF's most unique and powerful voices, The Exile Waiting will show exactly why McIntyre won both the Nebula and Hugo for her writing.
We've published a full chapter on our sponsor's page, so read before you purchase, if you would like.
But Handheld Press also wants to support our stores, and would like you to consider purchasing the book from Island Books, on Mercer Island. Support a local business, and receive a copy of a wonderful debut novel by one of Seattle's most influential and unforgettable writers.
The Book Larder has started to post recommendations on Instagram, including the new cookbook Bakerita: 100+ No-Fuss Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Refined Sugar-Free Recipes for the Modern Baker by Rachel Conners.
Janis at Queen Anne Book Company calls EJ Koh's memoir The Magical Language of Others "Gorgeous, lyrical, painful, poignant and hopeful."
Paper Boat Booksellers is closed for the next few days, but on Instagram, a Paper Boat bookseller called The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai "my latest obsession," adding that it's "a really great book to read over this time home."
Vel, "employee number one" at Ada's Technical Books on Capitol Hill, recommends James Gleick's great biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. It's a stunning and accessible portrait of a troubled pioneer in quantum mechanics.
"Llewellyn likes to collect small, ordinary things," Ravenna Third Place Books bookseller Halley writes about In a Jar, a children's book by Deborah Marcero. "One day, while collecting the cherry red syrup light of a sunset, he meets Evelyn and together they collect feathers and buttercups, the sound of the ocean, and the long shadows of summer."
Rachael at Elliott Bay Book Company praises a new edition of Dodie Smith's classic coming-of-age novel I Capture the Castle for its " immersive experience" and "very witty writing style.
Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique features Abbott, a comic written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivela about "Hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott" who investigates the supernatural circumstances of her husband's death.
March 29, 2020, at 11am
"They give me a roommate and a leg, but neither is quite what I wanted. The leg is a simple plastic peg-like thing that straps to a girdle-like harness I wear around my waist. I’m disappointed; it is nothing like the intricate machinery of First Lieutenant Stewart – or FL Stewart, as I hear others call him. I can’t run with this leg."
March 28, 2020, at 11am
"'You,' she says, pointing at me. She motions to the chair. I’m irritated – this is the worst possible day to be late to PT."
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I read once that books made in the twentieth century with cheap pulp and bad glue would fall apart much sooner than old books, using good paper and good bindings.
What books will you miss most when they're gone, and which ones would you read that stuck around, if the book apocalypse ever comes?
Sandor, University District
The book apocalypse is here. It rode in on the shoulders of COVID-19, closing libraries and other "non-essential" businesses like bookstores across the country. (Do not get me started on the "essential-ness" of certain businesses. Marijuana stores are about as essential as Tweeze Parlors and Pottery Barns.) You can't even return library books in my town. They don't want their filthy sneeze trappers back.
So here I am, without any new reading material, self-isolating with a thousand pessimistic spiders. Any time I am hungry or bored, they tell me to eat my young. And thanks to a nation of wildly misplaced concern, I am now out of toilet paper. (That includes my diploma from Prepper U, which was also printed on toilet paper.)
If you'd like me to put sprinkles on this turd and call it dessert, the one upside is that I have the time to dig through my library and revisit old favorites. Here are a few upbeat ones I'd recommend right now:
If you have human children you have not yet consumed, I also recommend:
March 27, 2020, at 11am
"In the five or so months I’ve been in PT, some patterns have emerged. For instance, you can tell when the brass is scheduled for a walk-through because the floor becomes slick with clean, and even the handprints on the walls look slightly buffed. This morning is one of those mornings. It amazes me that so many years after the war, the hospital is still so full. Many are vets with shaky hands and haunted eyes, but many others are young, like me. And their wounds are fresh, like mine."
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page
A horribly damaging Madoff-style Ponzi scheme gyrates at the heart of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf). Mandel’s follow-up to her terrific Station Eleven circles around the lives of two siblings navigating the world of haves and have-nots: Vincent is a woman who manages to reach a pinnacle spot in the monied world; Paul struggles to find any kind of perch for himself, finally doing so by dubious means. But nothing stays in place in this immersive read, and the various characters who interact with Paul and Vincent, impacting inexorably on their individual destinies, are so vividly drawn that the novel has the feel of a character-collective approach rather than being solely protagonist-driven. From a super-savvy investor to the nefarious investment manager and the employees who enabled his financial swindling, and on to Vincent’s so-called best friend during her wealth-infused days, it’s the interconnections and interactions between Mandel’s characters that give this novel its pliability and its spirit, while myriad moody settings – including a desolate containership and a forest-hidden, super-luxe hotel – contribute to its densely-layered atmosphere.
Peter Swanson does deceptively dark mysteries really well – especially when they contain gleeful elements of cosiness in their structure. In Eight Perfect Murders (William Morrow), one Malcolm Kershaw, a bookseller and crime-fiction fan, finds himself neck-deep in his own mystery: someone appears to be using a list of, well, eight perfect murders that Malcolm penned in an off-the-cuff moment on his bookstore’s blog years earlier. The round-up included grisly and twisty classics such as Malice Aforethought, The ABC Murders, Deathtrap, Strangers on a Train, and The Secret History, and someone appears to be taking great pleasure in replicating or referencing those fictional killings in real life. Propulsive, perplexing and highly satisfying through to the final nail in the coffin – so to speak – Eight Perfect Murders offers a tantalizing piece of pretty much near-perfection in page-turning book form.
In Olen Steinhauer’s The Last Tourist (Minotaur), on a 30-hour ferry across from the Canary Islands to Spain, CIA analyst Abdul Ghali listens to an outrageous, conspiracy-level tale, huge chunks of which encapsulate “a story from the dark side of capitalism.” Abdul’s been sent to find out what Milo Weaver, former CIA agent extraordinaire, knows about a shadowy organization known as Massive Brigade as well as its connections to other internationally-flung mercenaries. Deftly sandwiching one timeline within another, Steinhauer paints a chilling picture drawn straight from contemporary headlines: over the days that I read the book, I sometimes had trouble separating circumstances in The Last Tourist from the real-life news, primarily because they actually appeared to be converging in an alarming fashion. A brainy, brilliant, multiple-thrills-a-minute chase across the globe – and across some of our most hallowed infrastructures – will have you eyeing tomorrow’s news with a different, discerning mindset.
Two nifty little mysteries lie at the center of Andrea Camilleri’s The Safety Net (Penguin), nimbly translated by Stephen Sartarelli. During a manic period in the life of Vigàta, all the townsfolk are madly hunting through their Super-8 films from the 1950s in order to provide potential footage and imagery to a visiting film crew from Sweden. One man, Ernesto Sabatello, discovers an oddity in his attic: every year on a specific day, at a specific time, his father filmed the same patch of wall. As Inspector Montalbano ponders these celluloid artifacts, he also gets involved in a school shooting: no one is hurt, but the motivations of the armed invaders prove elusive. In the latest instalment in his entertaining Montalbano series, Camilleri, who died last year, applies his old-school detecting to the modern mysteries of social media and the ways of young teenagers, while rhapsodizing philosophically on the various forms of protection that people provide for themselves or demand of others.
In the opening pages of The Red Lotus (Doubleday) a nurse, Alexis, and a hospital administrator, Austin, meet kind-of-cute during one chaotic Saturday night in the ER. Well, apart from the bullet in Austin’s arm that is – and apart from the fact that in a Bohjalian book, the course of most things, including true love, rarely run particularly smoothly. Six months down the road, Alexis and Austin, still in their honeymoon phase, are on a biking trip in Vietnam when Austin goes missing. Alexis, a formidable woman who readily applies her ER nursing skills to deciphering the sudden mystery, quickly becomes the most compelling voice in this story: with each of her discoveries, the central puzzle both deepens and expands. As always, Bohjalian creates a mesmerizing tale, a timely socio-political-business story with human frailties, illusions, dis-illusions, and strengths firmly at its center.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
Top five places to write?
Top five favorite authors?
Nope. Forgive me. I have too many writers who are friends. But I will tell you that among my top five dead writers might be:
Top five tunes to write to?
I write in utter silence. But five songs that can inspire me are:
Top five hometown spots?
March 26, 2020, at 11am
"From there, I graduate to squatting, hopping, lunging. They strap me into machines meant to stretch and strengthen the mangled quad and hamstring of my stumpy leg. I push up. I pull up. I sit up until my abs feel torn in two. I am given two small breaks for eating. On Sundays, I get a shower."
Yesterday, my home-base comics store — that's Phoenix Comics & Games on Broadway — shipped me the last week of new comics that will be available in America for a while, along with a gift certificate that I can use when it's eventually okay to leave the house again. I can't review any of the books, obviously, since they're on their way to me now, so it seems like a good time to look around and see how the comics world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Valiant Comics is releasing downloadable PDFs of trade paperbacks and first issues for free in an ongoing Twitter thread that updates every weekday. You might want to check out the first issue of Doctor Mirage, enjoy Juan José Ryp's beautiful art in Rai #1, or check in on fan-favorite character Faith.
If you buy a gift card from your local comics shop, Vault Comics will send you electronic preview versions of the first issue of two of their new titles, Hundred Wolves #1 and Heavy #1.
The new publisher AWA is offering the first issue of its first book, The Resistance, for free to readers. I like the way they've put some thought into how to read the comic on a web interface — rather than just dividing it up into pages, you scroll downward, losing a sense of the book as a physical thing. Unfortunately, the plot of the book, written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr., might be too much for readers right now: it's about a pandemic that wipes out 95 percent of humanity, leaving the rest with powers.
No doubt there will be more free and promotional books in the weeks to come.
At the moment, the whole comics industry is waiting to see if publishers will abandon comics shops and go digital-only distribution for the next few weeks and months while shops are closed, and whether customers will follow if they do. I hope they don't; at the moment the only real digital comics retailer is Comixology, which is wholly owned by Amazon. It wouldn't be smart for comics to go from one monopolistic distributor to another, and there are too many good retailers who would not be able to survive that business transition. As with everything else right now, we have to wait and see.
SRoB tipper Alex let us know about #coronavirushaiku, a series of haiku shared by the Twitter handle Worker Writers School, which is an organization that provides creative writing classes to workers.
This one by Paul Hlava is especially moving:
Today’s #coronavirushaiku is from Paul Hlava, a medical technician in Seattle, Washington. Thanks to writer and union organizer @alexthegb for helping to spread the word about this project in the Seattle area. #coronavirus #covid_19 #seattle #washingtonstate #poetry @PENamerica pic.twitter.com/NZbfKR0KSM— Worker Writers School (@WorkerWriters) March 17, 2020
It seems to me that the weird time-bending qualities of this coronavirus quarantine are particularly suited to haiku: days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like years, but moments are still moments. Maybe if we make enough of the moments, if we really appreciate them for what they are in all their agony and beauty, time will start flowing again.
Now that Washington state is sheltering in place, Seattle's independent bookstores have taken their acts online. It's a particularly cruel twist of fate for our booksellers, who pride themselves on their personal touch. There's nothing like a bookstore, after all, for meaningful human interactions that remind us what's best in life.
But they soldier on. Just yesterday, I snuck in one last phone order in to Third Place Books and I placed an online order at Elliott Bay Book Company — both including large gift certificate purchases that count as investments in the future of Seattle's bookselling community. It struck me as I was buying the books that coronavirus has thoroughly affected my reading tastes, changing my patterns in deep ways. My purchases yesterday were cookbooks and escapist fiction, while just a few weeks ago I couldn't read enough current events titles.
I'm not alone; in the few weeks between coronavirus's intrusion into Seattle's daily life and today, our city's reading life has abruptly changed course. I was talking with some booksellers over the past month about how their customers have adapted and reacted to the long periods of solitude.
At Secret Garden Books, the last real moment of normalcy was March 3rd, the launch day for Hilary Mantel’s much-anticipated The Mirror & the Light. Secret Garden's events manager, Suzanne Perry, described a clamoring of customers that evoked memories of Harry Potter book launch parties, with people bunching up and ignoring the new pleas for social distancing in order to buy the final novel in Mantel's Cromwell trilogy.
Third Place Books managing partner Robert Sindelar told me coronavirus has affected the reading habits of the store’s customers in some not-so-subtle ways. “You probably don't want to read [Emily St. Mandel’s harrowing pandemic novel] Station 11 right now,” he laughed. Instead, Sindelar has been encouraging customers to check out James McBride’s new novel Deacon King Kong, which he read and loved. “It’s full of heart and it’s funny and it’s about community — a great escape book.”
Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company, told me the expanding coronavirus fears have inspired interest in books about domesticity and comfort. Alison Roman’s simple-but-satisfying cookbook Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over has been a self-quarantining bestseller, along with Jenny Odell’s manifesto for slow living, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
“I’ve been selling more fat books than usual,” Phinney Books and Madison Books owner Tom Nissley told me. Vasily Grossman’s enormous novel about life in Russia during World War II, Life and Fate, has proven popular for hunkering down for a few quiet weeks. “People need a book right now that will take them somewhere else—even if it's Stalingrad,” Nissley said.
No doubt our tastes will continue to evolve as the disease eventually recedes and we can emerge from our houses again. I can't predict what will be an un-cocooning bestseller once these weeks — or months? — have passed. But I know that, like you, I'll be turning to Seattle's booksellers for their guidance on what to read next.
Artist Trust has launched a COVID-19 relief fund that is open to Washington state artists. You can see if you qualify on their submissions page.
Beloved Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney has contributed an excellent hand-washing guide to the Washington Post. It makes use of Forney's greatest talents: her friendly and explanatory style, her wondrous sense of economy, and her gorgeous illustrations of hands. Now that Steve Ditko has passed away, Forney has a claim to the greatest illustrator of hands in the business today.
Last night, Governor Inslee announced that all non-essential businesses in Washington state will close tomorrow for at least two weeks. He closed his speech by paraphrasing a passage from Whitman's "Song of Myself." Watch here:
I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalk’d in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you;
How he follow’d with them and tack’d with them three days and would not give it up,
How he saved the drifting company at last,
How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from the side of their prepared graves,
How the silent old-faced infants and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men;
All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.
March 24, 2020, at 11am
"When I open my eyes, the ceiling is smooth and bright white and I think: Prison can’t be this clean. Vivian is sitting next to me when I turn my head, which confirms I am in purgatory, not prison. I hurt and something is wrong, but it’s a faraway feeling, like shouts heard down the street."
sliced flightless swapped skyline
a swabbing tongue of
cheap vinyl spilling foam
newborn neon faded
she aches like a new mouth
her ears crack old teeth
sky blue shreds of once red crescent
flag over the open room dust
still falls and sprawls on sills
sidewalk ferns howl loud in the cold
(fiddles sprung in splits of city)
(grown even in ices white and divisive)
March 23, 2020, at 11am
"The soldiers have motorcycles. My soldier – his PO badge says “Franks” – slides on his bike and tells me to climb on, so I do. When I wrap my arms around his waist, his badge skims my wrist. I’ve never been on a motorcycle, just like I’ve never been to a farm, and I’m a bit thrilled at the adventure of it."
Kimberly at Queen Anne Book Company recommends Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, calling the story of two teens from disparate backgrounds who forge a friendship "Funny, awkward, sweet and empowering."
Jesse, who's been selling books at Elliott Bay Book Company since before I started there in the year 2000, recommends Madison Smartt Bell's All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti. He calls this novel set during the only successful slave rebellion in modern times "One of my all time favorite novels, and the best historical novel I've ever read."
Sarah at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park recommends We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, a children's book written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac. She singles the book out for spotlighting "the Cherokee practice of giving thanks as a family and as a community."
Did you know that Seattle cookbook store The Book Larder has a podcast? In the most recent episode, writer Lukas Volger talked about his new cookbook, Start Simple, which offers a bunch of recipes that all draw from the same pool of eleven simple ingredients.
Tom, the owner of Phinney Books, calls Tressie McMillan Cottom's book Thick: and Other Essays one of his favorite books from last year. He says it's packed with "funny, paradigm-shifting commentary about, among other things, the brutal cost for a black woman of being presumed incompetent and the rationality of the 'irrational" spending of the poor."
Open Books booksellers Alexander praises Donna Stonecipher’s poetry collection Transaction Histories for its obsessive attention to objects and the freewheeling association of museum exhibits.
Becky at Secret Garden Books loves Julia Baird's biography Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, a celebrated biography which follows the life of the Victorian Age's namesake.
March 22, 2020, at 11am
"I need to get close to a Peacekeeper but I don’t know how to make a Peacekeeper need me. Hell, I don’t know how to make my own family need me. My brother and sister definitely don’t need me, and Pops only needs me when he thinks I’m my dead sister."
March 21, 2020, at 11am
"Eventually, the quiet of the street returns to normal – a soft quiet comprised of sighs and whispers instead of the deafening quiet of fear. My toes, my calves, my thighs are pulsing with the insistent throb of limbs about to go on strike, so I move to stand. The runner grabs my arm and jerks me to the ground."
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Cienna is busy reading the latest installment of Road Runner, so today's question is a re-run from 2016. Send your questions to email@example.com.
I’m friends with my local used bookseller. She recommends books to me, and I recommend books to her, and I sell books back to her, and everything is pretty great, for the most part. I know I’m lucky to have such a wonderful bookseller in my life.
But the other day, after I brought a big haul of books in to sell to her, my bookseller friend left a note on my Facebook wall that said, and I quote, “Stop dog earing your books!” Please bear in mind that this note came after she gave me over a hundred dollars in store credit for those books. She didn’t mention the dog-earing at all during the entire transaction while I was in the store.
It’s true that I dog-ear my books, Cienna, and I know it’s not okay. It’s a bad habit, like pulling out your own eyebrows or picking at pimples. But I feel a little hurt by the public shaming, especially considering that she’s never brought this up to my face.
Now I don’t want to go into the bookstore anymore, and I know that’s reactionary of me and more than a little silly. How do I salvage this relationship? Or should I only buy used books online from now on?
I assume your bookseller friend is a decent person because all used booksellers I’ve ever met are much better people than me – the kind of people who don’t try to lure neighborhood children into their basement just to prove what bad parents they have.
Nevertheless, even booksellers can be cowards when it comes to interpersonal confrontations. Most of us would prefer to avoid the emotional feedback we receive – the hurt, confusion, embarrassment – when we tell someone we care about something that they probably don’t want to hear. So we email them our criticisms. We text. We Facebook. And while that eliminates the special hell of an awkward interaction, our victim doesn’t get the reassurances that physical feedback provides – tone, eye contact, a smile, maybe a hug. The mostly nonverbal cues that let people know they are valued, even when being criticized.
Receiving criticism via social media feels like a slap you didn’t see coming, even if it is well-intentioned. I know the urge is to respond in kind digitally, but I don’t recommend it. I recently did this and it cost me two friendships – one human, the other a spider I had named after my friend, who I had to ritualistically kill, dismember, and mail to my ex-friend in 11 tiny envelopes.
It takes guts to confront someone about their behavior. It’s hard. But that is how strong friendships are built – in person, not over social media or texts. So this is what I suggest you do: Visit your favorite used bookstore like normal, buy a few books, and when your bookseller friend is ringing you up, say something like, “I think you owe me a happy hour drink.” When she asks why, explain to her that you were a little embarrassed and offended that she chose to criticize you over Facebook for dog-earing your books, and that in the future, you’d prefer it if she talked to you in person about the physical state of the books you bring in for trade. But that she can make it up to you with that drink.
March 20, 2020, at 11am
"The streets are quieter now, aside from the occasional rooster. A tired hush settles over shadows that seemed alive mere hours before. Under a street lamp, I catch eyes with something. At first it looks like a feral cat, the eyes are so low to the ground, so intense. Then I see the hand. He’s a thin man with no legs, just a torso propped on the ground, one large hand reaching out and pointing at me accusingly. I jerk back a little and clutch the shoes tighter, then feel ashamed. He won’t be taking my shoes."
Our bookstores have been with us for years, whenever we need them. Now, they need us — look at our list of ways that you can support local bookstores, and our list of things local comic book stores are doing as well, and find a way to give back and make sure they're around when we're able to visit them again in person.
LANGSTON is proud to partner with Ijeoma Oluo, Ebony Arunga, and Gabriel Teodros in support of the Seattle Artists Relief Fund. We are providing administrative support and are part of the oversight committee for the funds. We are working together to ensure artists will be paid out from the Fund as quickly as possible. If you are a Seattle area artist in need of some help please read through the link and apply via the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-artists
Now steel yourself for bad news.
When we closed our doors, we also closed off the vast majority of our business without any prospect of it returning soon. As a result, we have been forced to make the unthinkable decision to lay off the vast majority of you in the coming few days. Many people have spoken publicly demanding we pay our employees and extend health insurance for the duration. No one can possibly know how much I wish I could make that happen. We are simply not that kind of business – we run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another. We have worked hard over the years to pay the best possible wages, health care and benefits, to make contributions to our community, to support other non-profits. Unfortunately, none of those choices leave extra money on hand when the doors close. And when the doors close, every possible cost must stop as well.
We are disappointed to cancel the events, but we are currently working on ways to surface the important conversations and civic dialogue that take place during the Crosscut Festival. We will be following up with more details in the days ahead. We also plan to be back bigger and better than ever in 2021!
March 19, 2020, at 11am
"The only reason I caught Peasant the first time was because I was snooping. Sick of the view from my room, I wander into hers late one night to see what alley views the backyard holds. Instead of my sleeping 13-year-old sister tucked in her bed, I spy her out the window. She looks both ways and opens up the rusted chain link gate."
Every Wednesday, customers pour into Seattle's comic shops to buy their favorite titles from the week's shipment of new comics. This week, that ritual became the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the Seattle area's comics shops are open for business and welcoming customers; we don't encourage that you browse these shops. Quite simply, a new comic is not worth the life of the most compromised person in your life. But almost all of the comics shops in the area are offering shipping, curbside pickup, and other amenities to keep you stocked in new comics for the duration of your self-quarantine. Here's a list:
Arcane Comics & More is offering $5 flat fee shipping.
Comics Dungeon is also offering mail order.
Fantagraphics Books' free shipping sale ended yesterday, but they will did provide a few nifty pandemic reading lists for everyone — from escapist fare to apocalyptic books for those who want to just roll around in the doom of it all.
Golden Age Collectables is happy to mail you any comics, games, toys, or movie memorabilia your heart desires.
The Grumpy Old Man's Comics, Art, & Collectables is offering shipping and doorstop pickup.
Outsider Comics offers curbside pickup.
Phoenix Comics & Games is offering mail order, curbside pickup, and courier delivery.
Push/Pull gallery in Ballard offers online orders and has a handy guide to helping the store at the bottom of the website – something every comics store should consider right now.
If you can, please patronize a few of those stores. The next few weeks are going to be tough for them, and the comics business is famously unprofitable. Our spending right now is more than just about keeping us entertained; it's about choosing what kind of a city we want to find when we emerge from this quarantined coma. A Seattle without comic book stores wouldn't feel like Seattle at all.
Brendan Kiley wrote last night for the Seattle Times that the city of Seattle has put over a million dollars toward coronavirus relief funding for artists, in addition to rent relief and other programs. And meanwhile, Ijeoma Oluo's fundraising efforts for Seattle artists is going phenomenally well. This won't come close to solving all the problems Seattle's arts community is facing, but it's a strong start.
Published March 18, 2020, at 11am
"I remember when roosters used to crow at dawn but now they crow at dusk. You can hear them start up in the late afternoon, like warbly trumpets that clash with the rhythmic buzz of the cicadas. Day or night, their message is the same: Get up! the roosters say. Now is the time when things happen."
Last Friday morning, when the Seattle area was just beginning to realize the impact that the coronavirus would have on all our lives, the workers of Elliott Bay Book Company announced that they had formed a union, and that Elliott Bay's store management immediately agreed to recognize the newly formed Book Workers Union. (Full disclosure: I worked at Elliott Bay from 2000 to 2008, both as a bookseller and as a manager.) It was a watershed moment in the history of the bookstore, in the middle of a full-blown economic crisis that is still unfolding now. I talked with Sam Karpp and Jacob Schear, two members of the union, on Monday. Schear and Karpp both helped organize the union, but they note that since the organization is so new, there is no internal structure and so they hold no special titles or unique roles within the union.
So first of all, congratulations! I have to aJS, first, about the day you announced the union. It was the day that the nation was really coming to terms with the idea that coronavirus would be breaking down normal life on almost every level. I can think of one or, at most, two other days in my lifetime, the first being 9/11 and the second being, maaaaaaybe, the first day of the financial collapse in 2008, that would be a worse news day to announce something like this. In terms of earned media, it was pretty much the worst day to get attention. So can I aJS you for a little bit of information about the timeline, and whether you considered world events when you were announcing the union?
SAM KARPP: It was pretty much all we talked about for the weeks leading up to [the announcement] as we were trying to get everything else ready. We had just about every conversation possible, from whether it was the right time to move forward to, like you said, what the press would be like given the situation.
Ultimately, we decided that given the precariousness of the situation, it was actually more important than ever that we move forward despite the decreased press and everyone else's attention being on other things at the moment. Both because the situation has really made visible things that are always present but not always as visible, like the precariousness of small business and the people who work in small business, but also I think we felt like everyone needed something positive to latch onto in this moment and we thought we could maybe be a part of that.
JACOB SCHEAR: We're very happy and confident with our decision to have gone public when we did. We're entering into a moment...I don't know if you have heard this, but the store has just closed [the physical store but stayed open for phone and internet orders] through [March] 31st.
I saw that announcement just before I called you.
JS: We're entering into this moment of precarity, both for ourselves and the store, and we feel that being mobilized and organized as workers we'll be best able to ensure that the bookstore makes it through whatever comes next. We have so many ideas for how to keep the store running through this. Our coworkers have so many great ideas, and we really think that we can put those to work because we have a collective voice at work.
When I worked at Elliot Bay — I don't know if this is still true or not, so you'll have to fact-check me — Peter [Aaron, Elliott Bay's owner] did annual or twice yearly staff meetings where he went through the finances on a pretty granular level. It was certainly more detailed financial information about the running of the company than in literally any other job that I've ever had. He talked about the money that was coming in and the money that was going out and where it was going and all that. Is that something that's still going on or is that something that you were hoping to have more of a hand in?
SK: He does still do, usually twice a year, the financial rundown of the store.
One of the impressions that I always got from those meetings was that there wasn't a whole lot of extra money floating around. There's the old cliche about how nobody got into the book business to get rich. What kind of benefits do you think that the union can give to its booksellers, knowing that the pool of profits is relatively small, if it's there at all?
SK: I think given the extenuating circumstances of our moment, things like wage increases are going to take a little bit more of a back seat, at least immediately. We want to push for things like making sure that employees are taken care of throughout the COVID-19 emergency: Things like having a sick bank, increasing sick hours that are available for employees. We have already seen direct action taken by the store for cleaning protocols, things of that nature. Those are the emergency negotiations with management that we're pushing for immediately.
JS: I'd like to preface this by saying that Jacob and I have both been involved in the organizing pretty centrally up to this point, and we understand our role as having been to basically get us to this point — to win the union. At this point it's going to be time for all of our coworkers to step forward and articulate what it is exactly that they're looking for, which we have some ideas about.
I think one thing I'd suggest is that there are a lot of things that have to do with the conditions of our labor that has to do with the extent to which, or the channels through which, our incredibly talented and passionate coworkers are able to express their voice in the store. And ultimately what that means is that people want the freedom and creativity to do what they love, which is sell books. We do think that there is a possibility for gains in terms of things like wages and benefits. But for a lot of people, the main point was that freedom to determine the conditions of their work and to be able to express themselves at work.
SK: I think of the employees having agency and a voice in the workplace as ultimately truly benefiting Elliott Bay by being able to retain employees who love what they do, love being at the bookstore, and making it into a viable longterm job for people.
You did not know that management would necessarily recognize the union when you were getting ready to announce it, is that right?
Were you surprised they did?
SK: Yeah, we were extremely surprised, but extremely pleasantly surprised. We came forward with very, very strong support both within staff — just percentage-wise — and also with strong community support as soon as we were public on Thursday. So I think that those things contributed. I also think that it's worth applauding management and Peter Aaron, the owner of the store, for not taking the extremely anti-democratic steps that they could have taken to try to prevent us from forming our union — [steps] that they are legally allowed to take, given the state of labor law.
JS: And I think that our message has always been one of positivity — of wanting to ensure the long-term success and longevity of Elliott Bay. And I know that's something that they've made clear that they really appreciate. I think we do have a lot to gain by working together.
SK: Given that we all share common interests, which is maintaining Elliott Bay and continue making it even better, I think it was really wise on their part to be able to see that common interest.
Did you talk with other bookstores with collective arrangements? Like, I know that Powell's has unionized, and Left Bank Books in the Pike Place Market has been worker-owned for decades, since it was first formed. Did you talk to either of those two, or any others?
JS: We didn't really talk with anyone directly. We definitely did research and looked at other places. We have someone who in fact did work at Powell's who was part of our organizing committee who shared her experience working in a unionized bookstore, but we didn't have a whole lot of direct communication with other unionized booksellers.
SK: But we did look to other bookstores that had unionized, and the kinds of things that they were doing.
Early on we spent a lot of time with a wonderful Masters in History down in Portland, who wrote their thesis on the Powell's unionization drive. So we learned a lot from studying that. Totally fascinating read.
Can you talk through just a little bit — somebody else will write the master's thesis I'm sure — but just an overview of what it was like to organize the store?
SK: So it's a long way to think back, but I guess the main answer is that we took a lot of time to make sure that we were thinking about how we're going to reach out to people, spending a lot of time talking to them, hearing their concerns. We already have, and we're blessed to have, really strong social connections. A lot of our coworkers are our friends, which makes it a lot easier to talk about this stuff. Over the course of many, many months, we were able to get to a point where we had a little over 80 percent support.
JS: I would just say, from the get-go, everyone who was involved was just very, very committed, and consistent. So we had a weekly meeting that we just rigidly stuck to, and plans for each week that were stuck to. And I think there was just a lot of follow-through from everyone. Everyone was deeply committed to it from the start.
Do you know what it's going to look like now? Will you be involved in weekly meetings with management? Are you in the war room and doing crisis management as this pandemic goes on?
JS: One of the things that we were able to get as a result of our formation and announcement on Friday was that management agreed to sit down with us immediately to negotiate about what we were going to do with the COVID-19 situation.
I don't want to go too far into the details of the kinds of things we were negotiating about, but basically we were concerned with how people were going to cope in the event of having to close or reduce hours. But also a substantial portion of what we wanted was basically the creation of channels to reach out to staff and let them produce ideas that would help us get through this. We've had a wealth of creative ideas come in from our coworkers that we will be expressing to management as soon as possible — possibly later today.
Long term, we will sit down and negotiate for a contract, which will probably involve more regular meetings and such. But at the moment it's a crisis and all our focus is on this.
Was there anything else that you wanted to say to our readers?
JS: I would say the most important thing that you can do, both for the union and for the bookstore, is to please order a book online during this time. We're trying to find creative ways to reach out to our customers and working on a number of different ways to engage with our community. But we'd appreciate whatever you can do right now, whether that's ordering a book online or doing a pre-order, or re-tweeting us, or buying a gift card. I think people are looking for a community during this time and we're going to do whatever we can to try to make that happen for people.
SK: I think that we're going to show through this process that workers and small businesses can both benefit from workers organizing.
I realize it's a difficult time, but I think that we all want to encourage anyone who's thinking about this kind of stuff to talk to your coworkers — even if it's not forming a union, you have the right to talk about this kind of stuff and work together to make the world a better place.
These are abnormal times. People are working from home, people are homeschooling their children, people have been laid off from their jobs. People are scared, and uncertain, and it's pretty clear that things are unreliable, and weird, and we're in uncharted waters.
We know a lot of readers of the Seattle Review of Books have a little more time on their hands right now than they maybe would like to have. Recently an author came to us with an interesting proposition to fill your time.
Bianca Brutaldo — not their real name — recently completed work on a YA novel titled Road Runner. It's set in an America not too far in the future — one in which the safety net has failed and national pride has taken a beating. It stars a remarkable young woman who is capable of more than she could ever imagine.
Bianca believed — and we agree — that this is a story Seattle could use right now. So, because these are unusual times, we decided to embark on a little experiment: Starting today at 11am, we're going to publish Road Runner in a serialized format. Each morning, we'll publish a chapter of 1,000 or so words until the end of the story. We'll leave the whole book up for a while, and then we'll take it down. It will just be around for as long as we need it.
Of course, serialized novels are an old tradition in publishing. This seems like a time to reinvestigate some of the old pleasures, to see if there's still joy to be found there. We're proud to present Road Runner, and we hope you'll let us know what you think.
I find Jenna Fischer to be a charming and charismatic comedic performer. I've never aspired to any kind of an acting career, but I found her craft-based memoir, The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide to be a fun and interesting bit of realism about what it means to be an actor in the world of film and television. (I especially recommend the audiobook, which she reads herself.)
That said, yesterday Fischer screwed up on Twitter. Here's a screenshot:
Fischer was retweeting Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, who said "Fake news is free. Real news is behind paywalls. Take down the paywalls during #coronavirus please." Fischer amplified that message by adding "Yes!! @latimes and @nytimes - Most stories on your sites I can’t read!!"
The most refreshing thing about the tweet was the replies, which were largely friendly reminders to Fischer that journalists should be paid for their work, and that a paywall protects the right of journalists to be paid.
Please bear in mind that virtually nobody was yelling at Fischer that she should be cancelled, nor do I believe they should have been more vitriolic. They were just reminding her that her seeming act of populist concern for the dissemination of information carried with it a very real price.
So far as internet dust-ups go, this is all very mild. I credit the calmness of the backlash with Fischer's online presence, which feels very authentic. But it's noteworthy because it reminds us that if you can afford it — if you're an actor who makes royalties from The Office, or if you're a tech bro who created Donald Trump's favorite social media platform — you should definitely pay for your journalism.
It's an easy thing to forget! Paywalls are obnoxious, and we are biologically driven to dislike barriers. But this is a model example of how to gently remind others when we forget about the very real human cost of writing.
you spread grass for
clover slow like parting
a lover your fingers
shorter than I thought
hold flowering tops
point at eagles, cleavers
yellow-striped necks slip
their shells off logs
ripple duckweed, water lilies
my boiled hands point you
to spiderwebs thick with pollen
blown down from cottonwood
the webs move like dress hems
when the lake breathes out
the first thimbleberry
of summer collapses
on your palm and you
speak to me soft as its
stem and downed leaves
across the inlet
can you hear hawks
call from branches
full of crows
If the coronavirus pandemic hadn't happened, author Stephanie Land would be reading her runaway bestseller Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight. Instead, I encourage you to listen to Land read the book in the audiobook version, which you can buy from Libro.fm and kick some of the sales back to Elliott Bay Book Company. In her own voice, the story feels even more vibrant and emotional and compelling.
See our Event of the Week column for more details.
In Laura Munson's brand-new novel, "Three women, from coast to coast and in between, open their mailboxes to the same intriguing invitation" from a dying woman. It brings the strangers all together in a way that changes all their lives.
One of the definite negatives of audiobooks is that nobody has figured out how to do a graphic novel version of them. So you should order your copy of Tait Howard's new comic The Sunken Tower from Third Place Books, which was originally going to host this reading and is now offering free shipping on all purchases for the rest of the month.
Neither of the readings that were going to happen tonight have audiobook versions that I can find, so while you're ordering The Sunken Tower from Third Place Books, you should make sure to order a copy of The Course of All Treasons, an Elizabethan mystery with intrigue and adventure, from them too.
Did you know that The Poetry Foundation hosts audio files of hundreds of poets reading their own work, for free? This World Poetry Day, I'd encourage you to go find a poet you like and then click around the site until you find a new favorite poet.
Today would have been a fundraiser for the excellent women's writing organization Hedgebrook, which offers women writers a beautiful place to be alone and write and celebrate each others' work. That fundraiser was canceled for obvious reasons, but if you love the work of Hedgebrook writers like Ruth Ozeki, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth George, and Sarah Waters, you should kick them a few bucks.
Everything that I said last week about readings in the time of coronavirus is just as true this week: we can't in good conscience recommend that you attend a reading in this environment. Even if you're healthy, you are risking the health of others if you gather in groups right now.
But we need books now more than ever. And authors, publishers, and independent bookstores could use our support right now, too. So I want to direct your attention to a big event on Tuesday: Local author Matt Ruff is publishing his latest novel, 88 Names.
Usually, a rollout from Matt Ruff would be a big damn deal: he's one of Seattle's finest writers, a polymath who never writes the same kind of book twice. Our own Nisi Shawl published an advance review of the video-game-centric thriller just last week, raving that...
...In Matt Ruff’s calm and crafty hands, mystery gets interwoven with the survival imperative, and dedicated play leads to consequential discoveries.
But we can't go out and celebrate Ruff's latest the way he deserves right now. So we have to do the next best thing: Let's all agree, in one of two social-distancing-approved ways, to buy the hell out of this book.
The audio version of 88 Names will be available on Libro.fm on March 17th, and like all Libro.fm purchases, you can devote a part of the proceeds from your sale to your favorite neighborhood indie bookstore.
Or, if you prefer physical books, Ballard bookseller Secret Garden Books is Ruff's home store, and they're selling autographed copies. If you give them a call, they'll ship you a fancy first edition or have a copy waiting for you at the counter to pick up with no physical contact necessary.
One day — hopefully not too far in the future — we'll all be able to get together and throw a big party to celebrate Ruff's latest novel the way it deserves. But for now, it's important to come out and give the book some financial support, to show that Seattle takes care of our own.
We must stay home, we must flatten the curve. Vulnerable members of our community need it, your friends and family need it. This is a once-in-a-century moment, and we must rise to the collective occasion and care for our community.
We also want to support our favorite local indie bookstores during this unprecedented moment. The loss of business is huge, and we want to weather this storm with our favorite stores intact.
Here's what local indie stores are doing — support them, and make sure they have income when things are so hard:
Island Books on Mercer Island does free delivery on the island, curbside pickup, and free delivery. Store owner Laurie Swift Raisys also wrote about her experiences trying to sell in this time on Slate.
Golden Age Collectables — the world's oldest comic shop! — is closed temporarily. If you have a box with them, they will still get subscriptions, and can mail comics, with free shipping for orders over $50. If you’re a walk-in customer, you can setup a temporary box to make sure you don’t miss out. Best way to contact them is via email
Know of more stores we should be listing? Send us a tip and we'll look into keeping this list updated.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
Let's step into writer Molly Young's office to sync up for a deep dive into corporatespeak. She finds more than a few pain points in her biting takedown of so-called garbage language and an exploration of its origins and raison d'être. Read this if you'd like to laugh out loud at her one-liner barbs aimed at corporations and feel uncomfortable about what lies at corporatespeak's foundation: anxiety about meaningless work and an attempt to package nothing into something, like turning maple syrup into all-natural, low glycemic-index sports fuel.
Our attraction to certain words surely reflects an inner yearning. Computer metaphors appeal to us because they imply futurism and hyperefficiency, while the language of self-empowerment hides a deeper anxiety about our relationship to work — a sense that what we’re doing may actually be trivial, that the reward of “free” snacks for cultural fealty is not an exchange that benefits us, that none of this was worth going into student debt for, and that we could be fired instantly for complaining on Slack about it. When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem. Empowerment language is a self-marketing asset as much as anything else: a way of selling our jobs back to ourselves.
If you've ever read any article online, you've probably seen the low quality pay-per-click ads that appear beneath or adjacent to the content, typically with frightening pictures and copy like "Minnesota women hate this mom" or "Seven weird tricks for losing eighty pounds." And if you've seen those, you've probably seen the one touting a "gut doctor" who is absolutely "begging" you to stop eating a certain vegetable. Vox goes on a hunt to find the doctor and his vegetable. I'm so thankful that someone is finally answering the question of which vegetable we should throw out, so I don't have to click on the ad!
There is a gut doctor, and he begs Americans: “Throw out this vegetable now.” This news is accompanied by a different image nearly every time. This morning, the plea appeared at the bottom of an article on Vox next to a photo of a hand chopping up what appears to be a pile of green apples. At other times, it has been paired with a picture of a petri dish with a worm in it. Other times, gut bacteria giving off electricity. The inside of a lotus root. An illustrated rendering of roundworms.
As everyone already knows or is coming to realize, there are very few silver linings during a pandemic, which has already exacted a heavy toll in human lives and economic uncertainty. One small consolation is that some of us (it's me: I'm some of us) might be able to use the socially isolating weeks ahead to free ourselves from the fear of missing out and the worry that someone somewhere is having fun without us.
On Friday, as I finished up my second day of working from home, I realized something strange. Even though a severe virus was spreading throughout the city I live in, I felt a sense of calm about the weekend ahead. Not because of any diminished concerns about COVID-19—I’m closer to a hypochondriac than a finger-licker on the health anxiety spectrum—but because of the virus’s social consequences here in Seattle. Namely, that fewer people would be out and about on Friday and Saturday nights, doing exciting things and meeting exciting people, and thus making me feel less lame.
Reading Through It is the book club that the Seattle Review of Books started in 2016 directly after the election of Donald Trump to president of the United States. We started it with Mark Baumgarten, then of the Seattle Weekly, and parterned with Third Place Books in Seward Park. Last week was the final Reading Through It lead by the Seattle Review of Books, but the group will continue under the leadership of the wonderful South Seattle Emerald.
For over three years, over 40 books, we tried to understand the cultural moment that lead us to elect such an incompentent, boorish, narcissistic, racist, unprepared and underserving man to lead our country. We covered racism, class, technology, environmentalism, sexism, hoaxes, economics, trans issues, and sociology. Did we learn? I did. I can't say we ever squared the circle, but we sure did a lot of filing on it. I want to thank everybody who came and talked, and sought answers with us. There were some startling good discussions, laughs, and every month, community. That was one way we found to fight back.
What did you read last?
December: Hillbilly Elegy, by JD Vance.
January: Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine.Her's our preview of the evening. "Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric first caught America’s attention when a young African-American women named Johari Osayi Idusuyi read it at a Trump rally in late 2015. Idusuyi, who was seated directly behind Trump in a video feed of the rally, pulled out Citizen and started reading it after she realized exactly the kind of event she had attended."
February: Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit.Here's a preview of the evening, and here's our review. "But there’s something banal about Bush when compared to Donald Trump. Bush was just the mediocre son of a president who accidentally rose to power. Trump, at this early date in his presidency, is at best a chaos agent and at worst a complete and utter moron. He could likely be a Russian puppet. He is unfit to be president on multiple levels, and he has surrounded himself with white supremacists who seem eager to actively tear down America as an institution. While we’ve had incompetent presidents before, we’ve never seen anything like Trump. At some points, reading Hope in the Dark feels almost like a reminder of a more innocent time."
March: Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.Here's our review. "I’ve always wondered why Republicans vote so clearly against their own interests — why people from poor states vote to diminish the safety net until it’s barely a cobweb, why cities that desperately need infrastructure and education reform vote to slash taxes on the wealthy. I could never figure out their motivation, and that always bothered me."
The book also made an appearance in a Lunch Date column.
April: What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians.Here's our wrap-up. "This is not to say that the current situation is not grim. As book club attendees pointed out last night, Trump’s policies are causing incredible damage to foreign relations, to the environment, to the very idea of truth. But perhaps the realization that Trump is an inept and hateful president is at least a little more comforting than the pre-inauguration fear that Trump was a brilliant and hateful president. He can still cause a lot of damage — he can still destroy the world, even – but he is not a planner, and he is not a rational thinker. An identifiable challenge is always preferable to an unknown challenge."
May: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.Here's our wrap-up. "But the thing is, The Righteous Mind is an incredibly difficult book to discuss. Haidt digs deep into theories of division and supposition and morality. With remarkable clarity, he explains why we believe what we believe. But when I try to explain what Haidt proves in the book, I’m left repeating bland platitudes: You must find common ground in order to bridge political gaps. Our beliefs aren’t constructed solely on logic. We place ourselves in ideological bubbles, and we use confirmation bias to “prove” our beliefs to ourselves."
June: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen.Here's our wrap-up. "But it’s highly unlikely that Putin expected Trump to win the presidency, and it’s very likely that now Trump is president, Putin is improvising and trying to make as much trouble as possible. In this scenario, Trump is still an unwitting pawn, but Putin is just as flabbergasted and confused as the rest of us as he tries to navigate this new world he unwittingly helped to create."
July: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer.Here's our review. "For all the hundreds of billions they’ve spent in their efforts to not pay taxes, all the Koches have really won is a slowing of the clock of progress. Their goal is to turn time back to the 1950s, to destroy the progress made by people of color and women and minorities. Really, though, all they can do is stall for a while before they’re outnumbered yet again."
August: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.Here's our wrap-up. "Aside from the refreshing lack of Donald Trump talk, I most enjoyed how the conversation about Evicted was rooted in local current events. We discussed Seattle’s checkered history with low-income housing and the city’s inadequate response to homelessness and rent spikes. Most of us agreed that the answer was not to simply stick ugly low-income housing off in a corner of the city, but to incorporate housing into all parts of Seattle, to create a city where poor and rich live side-by-side, so they can better understand each other."
September: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, by Naomi Klein.Here's our wrap-up. "In fact, the book club’s discussion of No Is Not Enough seemed to come from two diametrically opposed poles. Some folks thought that Democrats needed to encourage a slate of big, bold policies like free college and universal health care in order to win votes. Others thought that Democrats would have to be much more pragmatic to win. Some were uneasy with Klein’s full-throated support of Bernie Sanders. Others argued that Sanders was the only template for future Democratic candidates."
October: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, by Noam Chomsky.Here's our review."Just about everyone at last night’s book club had a complaint about Requiem. Many were upset with the way the book continually referred to the 1950s as a golden age for America, when in fact the comfort of the middle class at that time was constructed on the backs of minorities. I hated the fact that Henry Ford was unapologetically cheered in the book as a positive force for the American worker, when in fact Ford was an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer. Some resented the fact that the book criticized contemporary political economy without offering solid solutions."
November: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson.Here's our review. "I tried to explain the ignorance of my white upbringing with a story: I had friends who, three years ago, earnestly asked “why are police officers shooting so many black people all of a sudden?” It never occurred to them that they were just now hearing of an ongoing epidemic because social media made those voices impossible to ignore; as far as they knew, this rash of shootings had never existed before they heard of it. They never could’ve guessed it from the media and the culture that they had consumed their entire lives. "
December: Tales of Two America, edited by John Freeman.Here's our wrap-up. "People talked a lot about feeling hopeless. And that’s to be expected — this first year of Trump’s presidency, with Congress and the Supreme Court tilted in his favor, was bound to make us feel powerless. But at the end of this year, as we tilt into 2018 and its midterm elections, we have to shake off that feeling of powerlessness and embrace our own capacity for change."
January: Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil.Here's our wrap-up. "So for the record, an algorithm is just a process — often a tedious repetition of a formula — that plays out in a fraction of a second. It’s often used as a filter, or an interpreter, or a solution to a problem. But like any tool, algorithms can be used for good and bad purposes. And algorithms are always the creation of humans, and they always contain some very human flaws."
February: Economics in Wonderland, by Robert B Reich.Here's our wrap-up. "Speaking as someone who has interviewed Reich and reviewed many of his books, I think some of those complaints miss the mark. Reich is interested in building an economic vocabulary for progressives, to give them an array of cohesive ideas through which they can understand and explain the world. He’s an educator first — his preferred title is “Professor Reich,” not “Secretary Reich” — and not a journalist. He is a gifted lecturer and a top-tier economic thinker, and he’s devoting his talents to explaining middle-out economics to a broad audience."
March: Janesville: an American Story, by Amy Goldstein.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "Janesville stars men and women from every one of Janesville’s myriad economic layers. Some of the laid-off factory workers have the resources to find new work. Others grab onto any job they can, because their lives literally depend on it. Teenagers plan for a future that is more tenuous than expected. Paul Ryan is a character in this book — his time as Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 election earns special attention — and his concern for the citizens of Janesville feels earnest and real. Not all of these people will survive until the end of the book. All of them will be profoundly changed. "
April: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, by Angela Nagle.Here's our wrap-up. "But are the men who call themselves men’s rights activists and gamergaters and white separatists online really “transgressive?” If you take them at their word, in fact, they’re regressive: they want to return to what they imagine to be the glory days in America, when white men were at the top of the pyramid and everybody else was considered to be a second- or third-class citizen. "
May: The Line Becomes a River.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "He’s trying to get good at his job, he tells his mother. He’ll figure out what it means later, he insists. But his dreams are trying to tell him what it means now. A wolf haunts his sleep with the threat of impending violence. He is grinding his teeth to bits. He is anxious from lack of sleep. After one particularly violent dream, he realizes he must make peace with the wolf, and he addresses him as “brother.” "
June: Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.Here's our wrap-up. "But even those who disagreed with Dunbar-Ortiz’s methodology agreed with many of her conclusions. Gun culture in the US simply is different than everywhere else, and it’s really remarkable how many of the institutions we simply assumed always existed are fairly new inventions. (The concept of a police force, for instance, is much newer than most people think.)"
July: Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann.Here's our wrap-up. "Members of the Reading Through It Book Club had a lot of great insights about how Killers relates to our modern era — particularly in the methods that white looters used to attack the Osage. The grifters and murderers understood instinctually that the way to attack and to dehumanize a people is by breaking their families to pieces. These are the same methods that the Trump administration is using on the border today: they’re targeting an entire culture by dividing families and othering them while they are weakened and mourning. "
August: The View From Flyover Country, by Sarah Kendzior.Here's our wrap-up. "As we talked through this member’s concerns, some of the shine came off the book. We agreed that Kendzior tackled serious, important issues lyrically and with great verve and passion, but if she had offered greater historical context around some of her topics, or perhaps had framed this collection more as essays than journalism, it could have preempted some of the holes in her arguments. "
September: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, by Kurt Andersen.Here's our review. "I would have appreciated if Fantasyland touched more on the systemic causes of these mass delusions. Economics and demographics have no place in this book. Andersen’s tirades about the increase of LARPing and video games among adults, for instance, ignore the increase in disposable income among American adults, or the decrease in birth rates, or the increase in four-year college attendance, or any of the thousand other factors that led to the proliferation of renaissance faires in America. Instead, he cites the increased neediness of American adults as just another piece of flotsam in the river of American delusion, no different than the rise of anti-vaccination protesters. "
October: The Nordic Theory of Everything, by Anu Partanen.Here's our wrap-up. "Our conversation at the book club last night veered toward the cynical. We had a big discussion over whether one person’s actions — particularly in an overwhelmingly liberal city like Seattle — can make a difference in the country. Every time we talked about the possibility of choosing a better system, an ugly truth would rear its head. "
November: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind., by Yuval Noah Harari.Here's our wrap-up. "Along those lines, one big takeaway from the book was the way Harari tries to demythologize the human race. We are not the end result of millions of years of evolution, nor are we the pinnacle of life on earth. But the very thing that makes us special — our ability to cooperate through shared communication and stories — also convinces us of our own supremacy as a species. We are gods in our own minds, Harari argues, and he implies that it might be best if we let go of that arrogant assumption. "
December: Call Them by Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit.Here's our wrap-up. "'Patriarchy unbuttoned' is a pretty great turn of phrase for the current moment, with Kavanaugh bellowing and Lindsay Graham shrieking and basement warriors everywhere whining about men’s rights. It’s two words that distill everything, a pure display of Solnit’s power. "
January: Fight Like a Girl, by Clementine Ford.
There was no wrap-up for this book.
February: We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival, by Jabari Asim.Here's our wrap-up. "There was much to discuss in Asim’s book. The essays are not just gorgeously written; Asim placed them perfectly in relation to each other. The first essay is about the importance of truth and the lies people tell; it immediately framed Asim as someone who cares deeply about honesty. The second essay is about the pleasures of strutting, of feeling comfortable and happy in your own body, and the joy that Asim takes in lyrically describing his own tendency to strut is infectious. "
March: Unpresidented, by Martha Brockenbrough. Martha was kind enough to join us for this discussion.Here's our interview with her from before the group met. "But if you look at it another way, not a lot of stuff has changed with Trump — not since he was a little boy writing poems about winning at baseball and loving the cheers of crowds. I wanted to set up patterns: his father’s business practices, his business practices, his grandfather. I wanted to identify the patterns and see what those told me about Trump and the things that drive him. Once you do that and identify the fact that here’s a guy who’s long been entangled with Russia, here’s a guy who’s long broken the law and cut corners with business — once you establish those patterns, then all the breaking news headlines are frankly more of the same. "
April: Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.Here's our wrap-up. "Many members of our book club felt overwhelmed by Care Work. That’s understandable — the book is a collection of essays intended for a few different audiences — in one piece, Piepzna-Samarasinha is talking directly to other disabled activists, in another she’s aimed at a more general audience. Someone at the book club said that Care Work was the equivalent of taking a 301-level course without taking the 101-level first. "
May: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, by Kevin Young.Here's our wrap-up. "One of the best observations at last night’s book club was the recognition that a simple lie isn’t enough to make something a hoax. It’s not enough to spread falsehoods to make a true hoax: you have to generate a mistrust in the truth, too. By creating an atmosphere in which everything could be false, the most confident liar gets to dictate the reality. It worked for Barnum, and it has worked thus far for Donald Trump. "
June: The Mueller Report.Here's our wrap-up. "As the world saw in his quietly outraged public appearance last month, Mueller has a profound sense of right and wrong, but even his G-Man morality is nothing compared to his devotion to the law. Mueller announced that he could not indict a sitting president, and that he would have cleared the president of indictable offenses if he could. The inference, of course, is that President Trump committed indictable offenses, but Mueller is bound by duty to not say that out loud. "
July: Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity, by Thomas Page McBee.
There was no wrap-up for this book.
August: The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review "Best is a refugee story, a story of war and suffering and hope. Bui narrates as her family flees Vietnam and makes their way to America. Her parents aren’t heroes — her father is a downright cruel parent, subjecting his kids to fear and confusion. But Bui’s compassion for him allows her to find a path toward, if not acceptance, then at least understanding. "
September: This America: The Case for the Nation, by Jill Lapore.Here's our wrap-up. "But patriotism used as a weapon isn’t true patriotism. Unlike the hatred of nationalism, patriotism is a positive force — a common understanding of who we are and where we’re going. Is it even possible to bring together Americans under the guise of patriotism anymore? Would a reinstatement of a robust civics curriculum help, or perhaps two years of mandatory community service for all young Americans? Is there any way to restore something we can all experience in these hyper-personalized times? "
October: Drawdown: The most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken.Here's our wrap-up. "One of the most interesting avenues of discussion had to do with the way that the book centered white men — it’s edited by a man, and it features essays largely by men, and the chapter on how policies benefitting women could help the environment mostly consisted of reproductive rights, as though bearing children is the only value women possess. Thunberg has helped decentralize the conversation from a masculine frame, and so Drawdown already feels regressive, though it was only published last year. "
November: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, by Sarah Smarsh.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "This is the book you wished Hillbilly Elegy could have been. Smarsh remembers her poor upbringing with a delicious, wistful ache. The book is not dipped in nostalgia, and it’s not playing up the poorest Americans as pure-blooded saints, either. It’s a canny observation of the way that macro-level systems can affect the tiniest portions of our lives — often without our even noticing. "
December: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "As robust as Winners Take All may be, it seems only the tip of the iceberg. By book’s end, it was clear that Winners Take All offered just a glimpse into the influence of market-driven approaches to solving societal problems. Giridharadas claims to be something of a reformed MarketWorld participant, a born-again public servant perhaps. But I wonder which topics he excluded from the book, intentionally or not, courtesy of his own proximity to the subject. "
January: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier.Here's our wrap-up. "You’ve likely heard many of the arguments against social media, and you likely still use social media. Maybe you feel guilty about it. Perhaps you recall a time when you were off social media and you felt more relaxed and engaged and generally happier, but you still find yourself numbly refreshing your feeds, desperately looking for something new. The mechanics of this are simple meat and chemistry: the dopamine hits, the fear of missing out, the boredom of waiting in line at the grocery store. "
February: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "The absence of the grand imitation-Baldwin gesture in Coates’s personal reflections make him an organic, fluid character in Eight Years in Power, one with the right voice to tell the complex story of Barack Obama’s presidency and Coates’s (and so many people in Black America’s) failed waltz with the idea that America might be better than its grievous sins. For Coates, a hardscrabble wit from the streets of Baltimore, the reverie is short lived. Yet throughout the book, he doesn’t discount it, or Obama’s power or meaning to black people and the price they and he paid for Believing in White America far, far more than white America wanted to believe in them. "
March: Good and Mad: the Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, by Rebecca Traister.Here's our wrap-up. "We talked with admiration for Traister’s remarkable book — Good and Mad rushed out of her in a handful of months, accompanied by a wave of catharsis that easily spreads to readers — and its many epiphanies. We discussed how the book ably identified the schism between white women and those who don’t enjoy the same privilege as white women — women of color, LGBTQ women, disabled women. We talked about what it means to relax into your anger, and how that’s freeing; that women who learn how to be okay with their anger do not broaden into a lifetime of anger. Instead, when you learn how to be angry in a healthy way, it removes anger from your life. "
What are you reading next?
Next month, the South Seattle Emerald takes over hosting duties; their first Reading Through It title is Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, although please check in with Third Place Books to see if the group will go on, given the current social distancing due to coronavirus.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
My friend says there's no such thing as a good dirty book. She hates all sex writing, and thinks the curtain should fall to "protect the privacy of the characters."
I'm a total narrative voyeur, though, and I want to know everything about them. That kind of intimacy is largely why I read fiction!
She says I'm creepy. I think she's prudish. What do you think?
Sexit, Phinney Ridge
It’s really all in how you are able to read and comprehend a book. For instance, Hemingway believed in the Iceberg Theory of writing – that the deeper meaning of a story shouldn’t be evident, it should be implicitly revealed through the writer’s careful crafting. His story "Hills like White Elephants" about a young woman struggling with her boyfriend’s pressure to abort their baby is a classic example of this, as is "Fuck Me Faster," wherein another young woman struggles with her best friend’s father’s thrusting speed – a metaphor for aging and, ultimately, his mortality. When he comes, they both cry, as will you.
Perhaps your friend just has intimacy issues. It's perfectly ok; most people do. But the way to address them isn't avoidance; it is acceptance.
As a good friend, I encourage you to track down the classic A Time to Bone by Lug Gruntwood, and gift it to your friend. It is both a celebrated history book and an erotic classic. You'll know it by it's detailed cover art – a somewhat shy-looking penis pointing at the mysterious opening of a shaved anus.
The protagonist, an archaeologist, takes readers deeper into that proverbial cave, one filled with meaning and a certain sweet sadness, when he hires a new assistant, a young man of questionable scientific background who fails to follow protocol in handling both artifacts and anuses. Your friend will laugh, she will cry. She will learn something about archeology and just how wide an anus can be stretched when handled with delicacy and care.
Last night, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office announced that all Seattle Public Library locations will close at 6 pm today and not reopen until at least April 13th.
This is the right thing to do for the city, and for our library employees. High-traffic public locations like this can't be properly maintained to the hygiene standards necessary to combat coronavirus. The return date on all physical loans out at this time will be extended through April 13th, and the digital collection will still be available to patrons.
As I said, this is a perfectly reasonable decision. The city simply can't ensure the safety of patrons and staff, and so the libraries must be closed.
What is unacceptable, though, is what this means for the city's unhoused population. Here's the paragraph of the release pertaining to our unsheltered neighbors:
Many vulnerable populations, including people living unsheltered, rely on community centers and libraries to provide critical hygiene services. That’s why Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) will continue the shower program for those in need at Delridge, Green Lake, Meadowbrook, Miller and Rainier community centers, and all [Seattle Parks and Recreations] bathrooms and handwashing stations will remain open.
This city simply doesn't have enough safe and clean places for homeless individuals to go. I can attest from personal experience that it's possible to walk for literal miles between public bathrooms in Seattle, and the huge distance between available showers is laughable.
Of course our librarians shouldn't be on the front lines of this city's housing crisis. But we've allowed the situation to atrophy to the point that my first thought when I read that the libraries were closing was that homeless people will die because of this decision.
Through years of neglect and austerity, Seattle has finally hit bottom: there's almost nowhere for our unhoused neighbors to go. Coronavirus has revealed who this city cares for, and who it doesn't.
As we explained in our Your week in reading column, we're not supposed to gather. As part of social distancing, it seemed irresponsible for us to recommend readings for people to attend. Instead, we're offering different audiobooks every day, many tied to readings that would have happened. Stay home, stay safe, and let's slow the spread of this pandemic so that our health system can take care of the people who need it the most.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.
My first viral Tweet was an admonition to all and sundry to wash their hands. I included my rationale for getting taken seriously: “This is a science fiction author talking to you.” Why? Because SFFH trains us to think about this stuff before it happens.
Global pandemics are standard genre scenarios. Horror overflows with zombie-inducing microbes such as those featured in Mira Grant’s delicious Feed and Amelia Beamer’s adorable The Loving Dead. Science fictional apocalypses have switched in living memory (mine) from nuclear war aftermaths to eco- and medical catastrophes. One of my favorite combinations of these last two currently fashionable tropes is James Tiptree, Jr.’s very brief yet typically mordant short story “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain.”
It’s been said that Horror is not so much a premise as a point of view. Stephen King’s fourth book, The Stand, is a science fictional premise fleshed out by a horror author: weaponized influenza kills 99.4% of Earth’s human population. The flu plays a more positive role in my 2016 novel Everfair: exposure to a milder variant of the virus inoculates people of color in that country and along air canoe trade routes between Africa and East Asia. This makes them less prone to catching the deadly 1918 mutation — and thus puts them in a better position to prevail against colonialist manipulations.
That historic 1918 flu pandemic has served as a model for many a nasty imaginary one. For example, the fever in the Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel Life by Gwyneth Jones causes civilization to stutter nearly to a stop. Diseases in Frank Herbert’s The White Plague and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man selectively infect genders, a reflection of how the 1918 flu’s fatalities skewed toward the young.
The lessons SFFH authors have learned from history are many. Reading Zone One or Clay’s Ark or The Year of the Flood or any of the dozens of their stories about infectious diseases of the future will give you easy access to these lessons. What can be learned from them about how to proceed here and now?
For starters, support transparency. Lies, even those told for citizens’ own good, inevitably backfire in these dystopian and apocalyptic imaginaries. Hiding an infectious disease’s origins, vectors, fatalities, symptoms, spread, or other facts simply makes a bad situation intolerable; likewise lying about them.
Next, we’re taught the virtue of anticipation. No use sitting stuck in motionless traffic after the shoulder lane of the highway out of an infected area has filled up. No use providing the anecdote proving that containment measures need ramping up. Extrapolating to the next data point on an infection’s incidence graph depends on knowing where the previous ones fell, so transparency comes first. But then we have to act on the knowledge that our world is changing, has already changed.
Washing hands is avant garde, not old fashioned. Fist bumps are no longer ghetto chic; they’re mainstream. Adapting to the new normal is one of all SFFH’s most basic lessons. Genre immersion helps us understand that there’s no use pining for the way things used to be. Youth is no prerequisite for this understanding; a more important qualification is love of what scholar Darko Suvin calls “cognitive estrangement,” known to fen as “sensawunda.” Can you accept a rapidly developing reality, or is your mind stuck inside the parameters of the former status quo? How much uncertainty do you dig in your literature? Would you like to acquire a taste for more?
Finna (Tor.com), the neat new novella by Nino Cipri, starts and ends in uncertainty, and spends the majority of its 136 pages in worlds where anything could happen. Low-seniority retail associates Ava and Jules are sent through their IKEA-like store’s endemic wormholes to rescue a customer. As they execute their minimum-wage mission they encounter and overcome large-mammal devouring easy chairs, blood-slurping cash registers, and city-sized socialist submarines. Cipri’s briskly funny treatment of the heartache these two also endure (they’ve recently broken up as a couple) combines with his edifyingly clear insights on how to escape hive minds and other dangers, to produce an adventure both lighthearted and substantial--a thought-provoking romp.
Otherwise Award (formerly James Tiptree, Jr. Award) winner Matt Ruff’s latest, 88 Names, depicts another facet of the new normal: virtuality. Ruff’s protagonist, John Chu, is a "sherpa," a paid guide to game worlds. Chu heads a crew of five with various talents: tanking, or absorbing in game violence dealt by the customer’s opposition; healing; and dps-ing, or handing out “damage-per-second” blows to player and non-player characters. A glossary at the book’s end helps non-gamers sort out the terminology, and along with each chapter’s epigrams paints an easily comprehensible background for the novel’s action.
That’s crucial, because most of the action takes place in the World-of-Warcraft-like MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Call to Wizardry, with side excursions to the CIA Factbook’s simulation of South Korea, an outer space shoot-em-up game named Alpha Sector, and an ancient text-based tour of a fantastical circus’s midway. Chu pursues clues to the identity of his mysterious new client Mr. Jones through a couple of real life locations too, but his main theater of operations is online.
Currently there’s very little policing of the internet, and thus no sure way to know the age, gender, or race of those you interact with there exclusively. The same applies to the internet of 88 Names. As you’d expect from the author of Lovecraft Country and Set This House in Order, that’s less a bug than a feature. In Matt Ruff’s calm and crafty hands, mystery gets interwoven with the survival imperative, and dedicated play leads to consequential discoveries.
Supposedly I was going to be one of Fogcon’s two Guests of Honor last weekend. A few days before I was scheduled to fly there, I canceled in tears. I’m 64, and with my many health issues I find myself in a high-risk group when it comes to COVID-19 exposure.
Gathering together with others is probably not a good idea right now for anyone. I participated in Fogcon virtually, courtesy of Zoom, an online conferencing software product. It’s not the only one: there’s the ubiquitous Skype, for instance, and the allegedly revamped Go to Meeting. Warning: Listening to non-virtual participants while Zooming my panels was suboptimal; they sounded as if they were talking through the anuses of dead frogs. A better microphone may be in order, or a phone passed round with accompanying squirts of hand sanitizer. Or a Second Life-like venue created by congoers and those who love them.
If the coronavirus pandemic had not happened, tens of thousands of people would have been cramming into Washington State Convention Center for Emerald City Comic Con today. Cancelling the event was the right thing to do; it's our duty to avoid large groups to protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations. But ECCC is a huge financial component of many peoples' lives — artists, comics shops, publishers, writers — and the loss of that income could be catastrophic for them.
This weekend, a few enterprising folks are doing their best to bring the ECCC experience to you, giving a chance to directly support the artists who've been hit hardest by this cancellation.
The Very Very Shopping Network debuts at 2 pm on Twitch this afternoon. It's an ECCC-flavored riff on the QVC Shopping network, allowing people to buy comics and merchandise from the comfort of their own couches, hosted by Seattle cartoonist Jen Vaughn and Jazzlyn Stone (who also designed the graphics) and produced with Aaron Oak, Julie Wagness and the staff of Very Very Spaceship.
For three straight days, the VVSN will present eight hours of programming with authors and cartoonists who were slated to appear at ECCC, including Cat Rambo, Kate Leth, and Kel MacDonald, and comics publishers who had planned to present new books at the show, including Dark Horse Comics, Oni Press, and TKO Presents. There will be flash sales, giveaways, and other unique opportunities to connect with comics creators. Here's a calendar of VVSN events:
At roughly the same time, indie comics publisher Iron Circus will be presenting Pajamacon on their own Twitch Channel, with guests including Steve Lieber and Chris Robeson.
Other ECCC-related sales happening online that you should know about:
Oni Press is selling a bunch of its ECCC merchandise for 10% off, including a totally sweet Achewood tote bag.
You can find a virtual Artist's Alley online at Tumblr, full of prints, pins, and other merchandise for you to buy.
Other artists and publishers will be getting in on the act, too, using the #ECCCOnline Twitter hashtag.
Obviously, nothing can replace the meatspace-y thrill of making a real human connection with a beloved creator. But these virtual comic conventions do provide the other big benefit of physical comic conventions: the opportunity to discover exciting new creators and publishers. If you were to just devote half of the money you were going to put toward ECCC into the artists who are taking part in the virtual convention going on this weekend, you'd be changing lives for the better.
In America, the sad fact is that artists are among the most economically vulnerable citizens. Those artists who are brave enough to make a living of their work are often one big event away from financial destitution.
From the cancellation of Emerald City Comic Con to the endless slate of canceled readings around town, the coronavirus has hit Seattle's arts community very hard. Dozens of writers and singers and artists have lost out on events that could have supported them financially for months, and there's no safety net for artists — no sick days, no family leave.
Thankfully, Seattle artists are looking out for their own. Local bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo has launched a GoFundMe to raise $100,000 to support artists affected by coronavirus. She writes:
I know that so far every speaking engagement I had for the next month has been cancelled or postponed, and I’m in the very rare and privileged position to be able to weather this financially. Many are not. We’re seeing canceled events through the end of this month and it's probably going to continue to grow. A large percentage of artists supplement their incomes with part time jobs often in the service industry which is another industry that is being hit hard. ...This fund is aimed at helping those in the greater Seattle arts community who have been financially impacted by cancellations due to COVID-19, with priority given to to BIPOC artists, transgender & nonbinary artists, and disabled artists - but we will try to help as many artists with need in Seattle as we can.
I know that everyone is asking for money these days — perils of living in a hugely unequal country where the majority of people are one paycheck away from disaster — but this is a very worthy cause, and if you have anything to give, you should give it. Oluo has done artist fundraisers like this in the past, and she's about as trustworthy a cultural figure as we have in this town. Your money will absolutely be put to good use.
Likewise, if you, or an artist you know, has been hurt by coronavirus cancellations, please apply for some of these relief funds here. Don't be afraid to ask for support; if you're a writer or cartoonist who contributes to the cultural life of this city, Seattle owes you a debt. It's okay to reach out to your community when you need help.
If you're in the music scene, you likely know Kelton Sears from his influential band, Kithkin. If you're an artist in Seattle, you remember Kelton Sears from his short but mighty stint as the young and vivacious arts editor at the Seattle Weekly in the months just before the paper's collapse. If you're in the Seattle comics scene, you know Kelton Sears by his boundless love for the Short Run Festival and his incredible animated comic Trash Mountain.
The point is, if you participated in virtually any Seattle arts scene over the last decade, you know Kelton Sears. His passion for the city and his energy for the arts scene seemed unstoppable, which is why I was shocked to hear that late last month, Sears had left Seattle and moved to New Orleans.
Sears arrived in New Orleans late last week. I spoke with him yesterday on the phone as he was watering tomato plants in his new New Orleans home. What follows is an edited and condensed transcription of our conversation.
May I ask why you decided to leave Seattle?
My girlfriend [photographer Allyce Andrew] and I have been together for seven years. She is super-Cajun — like, her grandma's first language is Cajun French. She grew up in Lafayette and Louisiana — the heart of Cajun country.
She moved up to Seattle right after she graduated college in Louisiana, because she really liked Sasquatch and she liked the music scene. But after seven years she just really missed the culture and her family. And I think she was also starting to experience the same old story you hear about Seattle a bunch now: she went there looking for a really fun, vibrant arts community, which is still there and was there. But a few years after she got there, people started leaving for LA and New York and the neighborhoods started changing.
And as a photographer, probably around 2017 or 2018, she was just like, "man, there's not really much I want to photograph anymore." Because her whole thing was photographing shows and artists that she liked. And for me, the Weekly had fallen through by that point. I had loved being a big cheerleader for the Seattle art scene — I really appreciated and relished that role over at the Weekly. It was really fun to seek out local music and try to show it to as many people as possible.
I think after the Weekly fell through and my girlfriend started talking about wanting to go back to Louisiana, I just realized I'd been in Seattle my whole life — my family moved to Washington from Texas when I was four — so I've never really lived anywhere else.
And the few times I've been in New Orleans, I loved it. It's really messy, but in a great way. The thing that sold me was one time we were walking down the street and there was just a four foot hole in the sidewalk, but they just put stakes around it and a bunch of beads. It was like a big celebration: "Look out for this hole!"
So we just started talking about [moving to New Orleans] more and more. It was sad for me, because I love the Northwest. I have a Cascadia tree tattooed on me and in Kithkin, a lot of that music was about being in the Northwest and what that meant. And I loved covering Northwest artists and being really rooted in a place. At first it was kind of scary to me, but now, being here, I really love it and I think we made the right decision.
Is there anything that you think Seattle could specifically be doing better to support its artists?
Besides the friends that I had made in college and I had already made through Kithkin, I started to feel a lot more isolated there. I think part of it is just because there aren't as many sort of gathering spaces now. [Pauses.] Maybe that's not true — I think they're just further on the edges of the city. There's cool things happening in Beacon Hill and in South Seattle and I think there's still fun, cool DIY stuff happening way up north. The structure of the city just started to feel atomized, I guess.
[After the Weekly,] I started working at DigiPen, which I loved. So I'm not going to sit here and trash-talk tech, because I think tech is really cool. There's a lot of kids doing really awesome freaky stuff at DigiPen, and I love that. But it is true that I'd walk around Capitol Hill and look around and be like, "this didn't use to be here. And I don't know any of these people."
Again, it's that same old story. As far as what Seattle could do differently, I don't know. I was talking to my dad about it the other day and he was reminding me that Seattle's always been a boom-and-bust city, and it's in a boom right now and that makes it harder for freaks, but it's great for other people.
But who knows? Maybe once we finally start taxing Bezos and the rest of them, maybe it'll bust and then the freaks will come back. I am really reluctant to trash-talk tech, but I'll trash-talk Bezos all day.
One thing that really attracted me to New Orleans was this artist called Geography of Robots. He incorporates these South Louisiana landscapes into this alternative-future video game set here called Norco. And seeing that people here are interested in making freaky digital art really attracted me to this place. Because it does have that messy, wild vibe to it.
Coming here from Seattle, I'm really interested in how the internet can be messy and wild again, too. I feel like there's only, like, three websites that any of us go to anymore. I'm really interested in doing some web stuff inspired by this place.
I think that tech-versus-art conflict is kind of a false binary. It's more of a class issue.
Absolutely. Yeah, that's absolutely true.
But Americans will look anywhere other than at class, right? It's the one thing that we don't talk about.
Yeah. Obviously New Orleans isn't immune to that. I'm not going to also pretend that this is some amazing paradise, because I know they've got a whole big problem with Airbnb pushing everyone out of these neighborhoods, and gentrification and stuff.
But already being here a few days, just as soon as we moved in all of our neighbors came out and were shaking our hands and saying hi and, "Hey, come to our fish fry." That wouldn't happen in Seattle.
I remember way back when I was still at The Stranger and you started writing for the Weekly, I told my bosses at the time that I thought you were the future of arts journalism in the city. I loved what you were doing with gif recaps of events and your coverage of teeny-tiny indie acts, and I was encouraging them to find room to hire you. And of course, they went a different way, eventually getting rid of most of their arts staff.
And then you took over the arts coverage at the Weekly, and then that fell apart, and City Arts closed. And I don't know if there is a future of arts journalism left in Seattle. Do you have any thoughts on media and arts coverage based on your experience?
It's such a bummer. I grew up in Seattle reading The Stranger. I grew up reading you. And one of the reasons I was really passionate about comics and newspapers — a big part of that was Short Run, but another part of that was just like reading Tony Millionaire in The Stranger. I was 12 going, "This is nasty! What is this?"
It's kind of funny, now, that all the Weekly boxes are full of Pet Connection Magazine. I like pets, they're great. But it is also really sad, just because there's a lot of people who are still doing great stuff in Seattle, and they just don't get covered. No matter how much sort of scrappy, independent spirit you have, at some point you want some sort of recognition from people outside of your basement.
That's just a human thing. And I feel like the state of art coverage in Seattle right now is still so focused on the obvious major players. There's this upper tier of artists in Seattle who have broken through, one way or another, and they're known entities. And a lot of papers just only cover them.
There's just so much amazing music being made in — not even just Seattle but Tacoma, Bellingham, Olympia, too — that doesn't get covered, but which I think is so crucial to the real identity of the region. That was something that I really wanted to make a point of at the Weekly: we're only going to cover local stuff, and of that local stuff I'm going to really try to focus on the things no one's talking about.
With City Arts gone and the way The Stranger is — I mean The Stranger still covers freaky art stuff, but you know everything that's going on with The Stranger: it's definitely very, very different. — I think for people trying to be freaky [in Seattle], you can't afford to be there and no one wants to cover you. It's a bummer.
Coming to New Orleans, there's a great alternative paper called Antigravity. It's full of comics. It's got horoscopes. They're always covering weird bands here. They always put little bands playing in a basement on the cover. It's all black and white. It is very scrappily put together, but it's great. I picked it up the other day in a coffee shop and saw a bunch of shows I want to go to. On Thursday, we're going to go to a show that was in Antigravity.
That's how it should be. Newspapers should be this thing you can pick up and immediately hook into your community, instead of just reading about what Allen Stone is doing this week.
So say somebody is talking to you and they're making the opposite trip. Say her girlfriend's moving to Seattle to take a job, and she's going along for the ride. She's a poet and musician. What advice do you give her, if she doesn't know the scene, but she wants to make the most of it?
I think the key in any place, but especially Seattle, is just to try your best to find the community. If you're a poet, go to the Hugo House. If you're a musician, find those DIY spaces quick. I think my fondest memories of Seattle were when I was really, really plugged into the community there. And I think that's still possible. There absolutely is still an arts community there that is thriving, even if they're not getting media coverage.
I think in Seattle, that's especially important because it is so easy to kind of get in that rhythm: you go to work, you come home, it's dark and rainy outside, so you're like, "well I'll just watch Netflix and stay in."
After we finish setting up all our furniture, we're trying to go out and meet people. I think it's maybe a little harder in Seattle — if you aren't already a part of that established community, it can be a little scary just because I think people are a little less warm in general.
So just find your people and really rely on them and try to support them. As an artist in Seattle, I feel like when you are in a community, people are so quick to celebrate you and hook you up, and I just think that's so important. The community that I had there was amazing and I think if someone was going there, I'd say just try to put yourself in the places where that would be.
What are you going to work on now? Are you doing any new art now that you're out there?
I'm working on my next big GIF comic. It's actually set in the west coast still, so I haven't left Seattle completely. It's about two trees. You're going to start at the bottom of the website and scroll up instead of the other way around. It's all one single panel stacked on top of another — just one giant column and the panels are really tall, following these two trees talking to each other, and you're scrolling up their trunks as they chat, and time is passing behind them.
Wow, that sounds amazing and I can't wait to see it. Did you have any messages you wanted to send Seattle?
Cherish the trees. The trees there are so cool. We have pictures of Northwest forests up in our apartment. I love the trees here — they're great. But it's just different out there.
I'm sure there'll be plenty of people here who would be willing to send you photos of trees if you get homesick.
I hope so.
The biggest selling point of a neighborhood bookstore will always be that it is in your neighborhood. We don't expect the bookstore down the street to carry every single book in stock — we expect it to stock interesting books, to host interesting events, and to have a personal relationship with us — to be our bookstore.
But right now, with Seattle in the thrall of a coronavirus outbreak, we can't expect everyone to visit their bookstores. If you're feeling ill, you shouldn't leave the house. If you have at-risk people in your lives, you shouldn't go to crowded public places unless you can help it.
For whatever reason you can't leave the house, Third Place Books has got you covered. For the next four days, TPB is offering free shipping on any online orders. If your self-quarantine is leaving you alarmingly low on new books, this is a welcome development and you should take TPB up on their offer immediately.
Meanwhile, Elliott Bay Book Company is doing something a little more intentional and long-term to deliver books to your home. This week, the Capitol Hill bookstore announced (sub)TEXT, a bimonthly poetry subscription box. For $125 per year, Elliott Bay will send you a care package every other month containing:
- a book of poetry chosen by a bookseller who loves it
- a handwritten letter about what makes each title notable
- a custom bookmark
There may be other items, like prints or other exclusive items, included with certain boxes. This isn't exactly a new endeavor for Elliott Bay; the bookstore has for nearly two decades offered the Maiden Voyage subscription program, which sends first-edition debut novels to members six months a year. But it's interesting that they're throwing their weight behind another program now — another sign that the next frontier for neighborhood bookstores just might be your home.
you cut paper to stars shape
my fingers to tent poles and place
them under the night to hold up
those carved constellations
all of this like my palms don’t try
to sweat you out like my eyes will
forget your mouth laughing had you
meant to rest your arm on mine
so I felt your heat when you left
Returning sponsor Northwest Associated Arts is bringing Fran Lebowitz back to Seattle! Writer, iconic New Yorker, fashion icon, and brilliant mind, Lebowitz keeps audiences on their toes with her quick wit and delightful contrariness.
The evening will be hosted by Seattle’s own writer and wit, David Schmader. Information on how to grab tickets for the April 19th appearance is on our sponsor’s page.
It is sponsors like Northwest Associated Arts that keep The Seattle Review of Books running and paying writers. Why not take a look and see if a sponsorship is right for you, too?
MONDAY, MARCH 9TH
Gretchen Sorin, author of Driving While Black, is scheduled to read from her new book at Town Hall tonight. It tells the true-life story of the Green Book, a travel guide for Black Americans who needed to know safe paths through America at a time when they would be lynched for being in the wrong place at the wrong time of night. The book connects the burgeoning world of automobile travel in mid-20th century America to the rise of the civil rights movement.
TUESDAY, MARCH 10th
None of the readings I could find tonight had a related audiobook, so instead I thought I'd recommend the audiobook I'm most excited to listen to this month: Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth. It's the story of two rogue egg inspectors who decide to steal a million chicken eggs, and the post-apocalyptic chicken-based future that their actions may or may not cause.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11th
In a coronavirus-free world, we would urge you to go listen to E. Latimer read from Witches of Ash & Ruin at Third Place Books Seward Park tonight. Instead, we're asking you to consider buying the audiobook instead. It's a coming-of-age story of a young bisexual woman who is coming into her own as a witch, in a world of serial killers and gods and inter-coven drama.
THURSDAY, MARCH 12th
Black Brother, Black Brother is Jewell Parker Rhodes's latest novel. It's about two brothers — one who passes for white, and one who passes for black. Their disparate stories provide a bracing example of how different the experiences of Black and white Americans are.
FRIDAY, MARCH 13th
Poet Cathy Park Hong's new book of memoir and cultural criticism, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, is about "her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and female friendship." The minor feelings of the title relate to the inherent contradiction of what it means to be an American when you're subliminally told all the time that Americans are white.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14th
You likely know Laurie Halse Anderson for her deeply personal book Speak. Now, she's back with a bookend to Speak, titled SHOUT. Written in free verse, SHOUT touches on the recurring themes of Anderson's work — surviving sexual assault, fighting against patriarchal power structures, building a new path forward — with a new energy and rage inspired by the #MeToo movement.
SUNDAY, MARCH 15th
One of the things I loved most about Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is that it cut up and rearranged the classic novel, recontextualizing it for a new generation and finding new ways to add drama to a well-known narrative. If you watched the movie and haven't yet read Alcott's original novel, Libro.fm has an unabridged version for sale for $4.99. Now that you're in self-isolation, you have time to devote to Little Women, to find out why it's a cornerstone of American literature and why it was a sensation for young women at the time — maybe the first time that many American women recognized themselves in a character.
Every Monday here on the Seattle Review of Books, we recommend one literary event — usually a reading, but sometimes a sale or another kind of function — for every night of the week. But advising people to gather in public places is a tricky proposition, given that Seattleites are being urged by King County to not gather in groups of 10 or larger due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Public health workers are some of our favorite people, and we respect their guidance. The whole point of being a good neighbor and a good citizen is caring about everyone's health. Even though many of you reading this are healthy, able-bodied people who would no doubt shrug off coronavirus, there are also thousands of members of your community — the elderly, the immunocompromised — who are at risk. So we can't in good faith encourage you to leave the house and gather somewhere that puts people at risk.
Then, too, there's the problem that events all over Seattle are being canceled at a rapid clip as travel becomes more and more constricted. We can't necessarily promise that a Thursday event we're telling you about today will still actually happen on Thursday.
But at the same time, we want to support local bookstores, and those bookstores are having a really tough time of it right now. Sales are slumping precipitously due to coronavirus, and they're not likely to climb back to normal levels for at least a couple of weeks.
So instead, we're going to try something different: we're going to recommend an audiobook by an author for every day of the week. Generally, but not always, the author will be one who was scheduled to appear in Seattle this week. And then, we'll link to the audiobook on Libro.fm, which allows you to direct a portion of your sale to the independent bookstore of your choice. That way you get a great new reading experience, you get to support a local indie bookstore, and you don't have to leave the house.
Nothing will ever replicate the joy of attending a great reading with a room full of like-minded book lovers, but for an outbreak-inspired compromise, we think this is about as good as it gets. Check back here at noon to find seven recommendations for your week in readings.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
This Sunday, three fascinating examples of storytelling with data and charts, from literary geographies of well-known authors to mapping time in Antebellum American history books:
My dream is to be multi-talented enough to work for Pudding.cool, but alas, I am just a devoted reader for now. This data story uses geographical information from the author’s life and the settings of their books to find out which authors really “write what they know,” down to the mile. It also does deep dives on prominent authors like Kazuo Ishiguro, a product of early emigration to Britain, writing about the preserved Japan of his childhood, and Toni Morrison, who uses her hometown of Ohio to represent an escape from the ghetto. I would say read on, but really you’ll want to click around:
Ishiguro’s family immigrated to Britain from Japan when he was only five years old. In his wonderful 2017 Nobel lecture, he outlines his experiences grappling with his identity in relation to his geocultural roots, both as a child and an adult. He cites as a pivotal moment in his literary career the night he found himself “writing, with a new and urgent intensity, about Japan” after a few weeks of attempting to set a story in Britain. That night sparked a journey that would turn into his first novel A Pale View of Hills. The book, he says, was his way of preserving a Japan that was borne of and existed only in his mind, “to which (he) in some way belonged, and from which (his) drew a certain sense of (his) identity.”
Fairy tales were just bright, musical Disney films until I received a hardback version of Grimm’s when I was eight. They were...grim — I didn’t like them. In college, I read Robert Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre, and learned that the reason these stories felt so dark was because they were first and foremost morality tales designed to scare young children into submission. Apparently an early version of “The Little Red Riding Hood” ended with the Wolf persuading the child to get in naked in bed with him — yikes! Lapham’s Quarterly traces all fairy tales back to just four archetypes:
Emma Willard, a feminist educator, pioneered the visual display of history, and her beautiful, though teleological, timelines turned history into cartographies. Here’s a great essay from one of my favorite online magazines that considers at the ways in which her sense of history — a march of progress, showed up in those thoughtful, curious timelines that influenced a generation of American history books:
All of North America’s colonial history merely formed the backstory to the preordained rise of the United States. The [Tree of Time] also strengthened a sense of coherence, organizing the chaotic past into a series of branches that spelled out the national meaning of the past. Above all, the Tree of Time conveyed to students a sense that history moved in a meaningful direction. Imperialism, dispossession, and violence was translated, in Willard’s representation, into a peaceful and unified picture of American progress.