The Sunday Post for August 25, 2019

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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

“Unlikeable woman” is such a (sexist) cliché that I was startled to hear a colleague use the word unselfconsciously, and especially startled to hear him use it to describe Elizabeth Warren. What could be more of a (sexist) cliché than to call wonky, stubborn, I’ve-got-a-plan-for-that Elizabeth Warren “unlikeable”? As a reason not to vote for her?

“I’ve been unlikeable most of my life,” I told him. “I guess that’s why I like her.” Then waited out the awkward silence — because I had just done something quite unlikeable.

Smart women have already dissected the weapon of “unlikeable” far better than I can, but still, I’ve been thinking about the word: un-like-able. Not just “I don’t like her,” not just “she’s hard to like,” but: nobody could like her. She has failed at an essential measure of a woman’s humanity.

As Rebecca Solnit says (I paraphrase): who asked you, buddy?

It’s an ugly word. Much uglier then we mostly acknowledge. Call a woman “nasty,” and we all run out and rage-buy t-shirts. Call her “unlikeable,” and we shrug. We know what you mean. It’s okay to say it.

“Many of the crimes of our age are predicated on a profound dislike of the other,” writes Teow Lim Goh in the essay linked below. “It is not just women who bear the unreasonable burdens of likability.” “Unlikeable” hides “unlike” inside it. This is what she shows in her 2016 book Islanders, poems on the Angel Island Immigration Station during the Chinese exclusion era.

By looking at who we find unlikeable on the page, Teow Lim Goh has something to say about how deadly it can be, to be unlikeable in the world.

The dehumanizing politics of likability
We are in the third year of the presidency of a man who opened his campaign with a pledge to build a wall on the Southern border to keep out the “rapists.” This same man has overseen gross human rights abuses, such as the separation of children from their parents when seeking asylum. At the same time, he is trying to do away with family reunification policies, insisting that we should let in immigrants based on merit only — that is, well educated, highly employable, likable. This rhetoric of “good” versus “bad” immigrants still resonates with many Americans, and I did not want to buy into it.
Other good reads this week

Mark Athitakis on whether book reviewers enjoy reading:

But we people who "write about books/otherwise work in publishing" aren't the only people who behave this way, who read on two levels. Book club readers, people who write thoughtful Amazon and Goodreads reviews for no compensation beyond likes and follow-up comments, people who chat up the clerk at the bookstore counter about books, are also doing that work, no? For any serious reader, professional or no, the act of reading is about both the book itself and the meaning that we make of it.

Leslie Jamison on how we make strangers' stories part of our own (also cited by Mark Athitakis in the newsletter above!):

This man punctures me. I felt like his mother until he said he was a father. I think of all the fear he’s known—the guilt, and loss, and boredom—and how I don’t know any of it. His endlessness is something I receive in finite anecdotes: big desert skies, a little girl poking crabs. Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life—like everyone else’s—holds more than I could ever possibly see.

Courtesy of a late-night reading of Chuck Wendig’s Cormorants, mind-blowing images of gannets diving.

And, finally: Neil Young is not cranky, young NYT writer. He is Neil Young.

“I’m not putting down Mark Zuckerberg,” he continued, his voice taking a turn. “He knows where he [expletive] up. Just the look on his face,” he said, wagging his finger toward a television screen inside Roberts’s living room, where the Facebook chief executive was giving sworn testimony before a panel of lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. “You know, he came to me in a dream the other night, and I felt really sorry for him,” he said. “He was just sitting there sweating and kind of didn’t know how to talk, because he [expletive] up so badly.” There he was, Zuckerberg, on the large-screen TV, sweating bullets.

Whatcha Reading, Ed Harkness?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Ed Harkness is Shoreline-based author of three full-length poetry volumes. His most recent, The Law of the Unforeseen was released in 2018 by Pleasure Boat Studio. our Poet in Residence for August. To the date of this writing, we've published three of his poems: Unable to Waken, Tying a Tie, and Kite, Kaloch Beach.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading several new books by northwest poets. The first is Jed Myers' The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press, 2019), a wonderful collection whose title plays off the 18th century poet William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The poems in Myers' book bridge various kinds of experiences — specific moments in time with more expansive reflections that widen outward in both time and space. My description makes the poems sound abstract, like theoretical physics or Einstein's Second Theory of Relativity. Myers' poems are anything but abstract. They are vivid, always lucid, always moving, as in "Two Men Saying Goodbye," about a son's visits with his father during the father's last days in the hospital. That poem had me in tears at the end.

Another book I'm diving into is Bethany Reid's Body My House (Goldfish Press, 2018). Reid's poems, like Myers', are the works of a mature poet looking squarely at the world, at the aging body, the beautiful — and sometimes unbeautiful — complications of marriage, of being a parent, of being a woman in a world not always friendly to women. A favorite of mine is "Contract With the Body," a poem that begins with "Today I chronicle the pleasures / of the body." It's funny and serious. Some of these "pleasures" include headaches, stubbed toes, the broken car heater, a mammogram. All are, as the speaker says, "evidence of breath," and therefore, cause for celebration. I adore this book.

What did you read last?

This may come as a surprise to SRoB readers. I just read, for the first time (please, no gasps of disbelief), Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre. Not only read it, but read it aloud, to my wife, over about a 6-month span of various long car trip. I tried — and failed miserably — to affect English accents for the novel's various characters. Now, finally, I know what all the fuss is about, why millions of readers have fallen hard for Jane, our feisty young heroine, endured with her and the degradations, upheavals and loves she experiences over several decades of her life. Brontë's language is so rich, her first person narrative so vivid and, at times, heartrending, her descriptions so powerful in pulling the reader into Jane's world, I found myself saying to my wife, not once but several times, and only half in jest, "Why, after Jane Eyre, would anyone even try to write another novel?"

What are you reading next?

Next up for me is a book by another Washington State poet, Derek Sheffield, who teaches at Wenatchee College and is an editor for Terrain.org. Sheffield's book, Through the Second Skin (Orchises Press, 2013) is a new acquisition. I'm familiar with Sheffield's work and am a committed fan. If readers can get their hands on a Sheffield poem called "Song of the Lark," they will know why I hold Sheffield in huge regard.

And waiting is a new collection by much-loved northwest poet, Tess Gallagher, called Is, Is Not. Gallagher lives half the year in her hometown of Port Angeles, and the other half in Ireland. She's a writer of international stature. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Theodore Roethke, who taught verse writing at the University of Washington, had many students who later went on to illustrious writing careers. Among them were poets Richard Hugo, Carolyn Kizer, James Wright and...Tess Gallagher. Tess took one of the last classes Roethke taught before his death in 1964.

The Help Desk: Forget it, Viv, it's adaptation town

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

I’m friends with a prominent Seattle author. Their book has been turned into a movie — a very bad movie. I hated it. “Hated” isn’t strong enough, actually: I wish I could make this movie disappear from human history. The book it’s based on is good, but the movie is poorly directed, badly acted, and it misses the point of the book entirely.

My friend seems kind of proud of the film, or at least proud of the fact that the book was turned into a film, so I suspect they’ll mention it to me the next time I see them. Should I pretend to be happy for them? Should I lie and say I enjoyed the film? Should I tell the honest truth?

Vivian
Hillman City

Dear Vivian,

Three months ago, my upstairs neighbor fell pregnant. This neighbor, a human, is also my tenant (I own a house but prefer the basement because the air has a sad, clingy quality that feels almost like ghost tears on the skin). I was doubly surprised. Up until this point she seemed a contented spinster, like myself, and pets are not allowed, as per our lease agreement.

However, I wanted to be supportive of her choice to spawn. So instead of stating the honest truth – that she was in breach of our lease agreement and I feared my hardwoods would suffer, I sent her a card that said this: "Congratulations. If you put down a pet deposit, the creature can stay."

My point is, if you want to be tactful, tell a flattering version of the honest truth. Like this: "I saw the movie. Your book was much better."

Kisses,
Cienna

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Merge

The Portrait Gallery: Writing motherhood

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a new portrait of an author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know, or see if you can find them in the archives.

Thursday, August 22nd: Writing Motherhood

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.

Criminal Fiction: August of good fortune

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Libby, a newly successful author, takes her young son, Ethan, on a dream vacation to a seven-swimming-pool-strong Florida resort, in Lost You by Haylen Beck (Crown). After struggling with her marriage and tolerating a tepid professional career, Libby figures she deserves nothing less. When she and Ethan cross paths with a jovial couple, Gerry and Charles, the stage is set for a relaxing and semi-indulgent break. Until, that is, Ethan runs into an elevator alone – and then promptly disappears. But this is no mere missing-person mystery: as the resort goes into lockdown with all that situation’s attendant chaos, another story rears its sly, riveting, and thrilling shape. Beck, the pseudonym of the excellent and prolific Stuart Neville, spins a compelling tale with terrific characters, a suspense-riddled narrative, and twists galore. And, on the lighter side of literary delights, there’s a cheeky little cameo of Neville’s debut novel, The Twelve, and a cheerful shout-out in the dedication to his Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers bandmates Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham, and Val McDermid.

In a deeply rural village in Poland, not far from the Czech Republic border, Janina, an older woman beset by various ailments, pursues astrological divinations, looks after her wealthier neighbors’ houses, and assists her best friend, Dizzy, in his translations of William Blake’s poetry. She also has a distinct tendency to assign people nicknames – Big Foot, Oddball, Father Rustle and the like, spikey anointments rather than cute endearments – and prefers animals to people. When the village and its surrounds begin to have a bit of a human corpse problem, Janina thinks she knows exactly what is going on. In between tangling with the police, dallying with an attractive entomologist, and observing the most pain-by-osmosis dentist session ever, Janina – a former bridge engineer and teacher – inhabits a kind of gothic, feminist fairy tale brimming with social and renegade justice. Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Riverhead; translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones), is – by multiple, head-spinning turns – alarming, terrifying, thought-provoking, and very, very funny.

In Fred Vargas’ This Poison Will Remain (Penguin), Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg returns to Paris from an Icelandic sojourn in order to investigate a brutal hit-and-run incident. But even before that particular crime is laid to rest, a new mystery rears its toxic head: it appears that several older men have been succumbing to the venomous bites of the recluse spider. Hercule Poirot had his little grey cells to assist him; Adamsberg has bubbles – “proto-thoughts” – bouncing around his brain that demand his attention and often pop into eye-opening revelations. When the spider-bite mystery is tied to a sadistic former gang of orphans and a critical piece of Adamsberg’s own history emerges full-force from deep within his unconsciousness, the stage is set for a meticulously spun tale that incorporates history, wordplay, and the darkest of human frailties and failures. Meanwhile, Adamsberg – no slouch when it comes to the pastoral care of his team – manages to keep more than one investigative ball aloft as he also tends to the personal and professional needs of his colleagues.

Also returning after a bit of leave time as well as a demotion, Armand Gamache has his hands full: flood waters are rising catastrophically across Quebec, and, unrelatedly, a young woman – a colleague’s friend, in fact – has gone missing. The woman’s husband, an aspiring potter, doesn’t appear to be perturbed by his wife’s disappearance, claiming that she was having an affair; her father, on the other hand, is out for blood. In the cosy – but now very damp – village of Three Pines, Gamache’s friend and artist Clara is trying to cope with an assault on her latest artistic endeavors, while Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, receive welcome family news on the eve of their daughter’s relocation to Paris. An intricate thriller that is also intractably infused with the vagaries of familial relationships, professional conundrums, and the vulnerabilities underlying emotionally charged decisions, Louise Penny’s A Better Man (Minotaur), delivers another pleasurably readable chapter in her Chief Inspector Gamache series.

The mystery at the heart of Chances Are… (Knopf) is not the only compelling element in Richard Russo’s latest novel nor its primary driving force: that, I would argue, lies in the characters and intertwined lives of its protagonist-trio, Lincoln, Teddy, and Micky. But the mystery – what happened to Jacy, the woman they were all in love with more than four decades ago – is certainly a large part of what drives them. When the three men, now 66-years-old, gather for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard – from whence Jacy disappeared after a final, post-graduation hurrah with her friends – the scene is set for reminiscing as well as a spot of sleuthing. Russo’s gimlet-eyed observations of small-community living — whether that might be the year-round realities of a tourist-island town, or the stoic secrets hidden within a wealthy Connecticut enclave — shine through this mystery of a missing-person cold case. But Chances Are… addresses the realities of another kind of criminal venture as well: with this tale of three college buddies who bonded in the 1960s, Russo limns a highly evocative part of America’s soul, the Vietnam War. From a tension-filled draft scene – the so-called “lottery” was televised — to heartfelt conversations between Micky and his father, the overall consequences remain palpable: in war no one wins, particularly not the impossibly young soldiers shipped off overseas to kill other humans.

The Quintessential Interview: Rob Hart

Creepy as all get-out is what The Warehouse is. This new standalone novel by Rob Hart, author of the rough-and-ready PI Ash McKenna series, merges Amazon- and Walmart-like business models into one massive business-and-residence behemoth known as Cloud. Then, Hart juggernauts that concept into its chilling yet logical conclusion: it has everything to do with merging your entire life into your job, very much to the detriment of all our hard-won workers’ rights. Two new recruits, Paxton and Zinnia, join a powerfully air-conditioned Cloud live-work facility; while they find some relief from the climate-change-transformed American landscape, they also find themselves caught in a dystopian, highly recognizable nightmare. Already optioned by Imagine Entertainment for a Ron-Howard-helmed film, The Warehouse shimmers with visual life: elements of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon supply this novel with its muses and precedents, but the narrative voice is all Hart.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Tom Spanbauer's books. My daughter, who makes me want to provide for her, but also imagine a better world. The world itself – most of my story ideas come from getting really frustrated while reading the news. The amazing writing community I'm lucky to be a part of – all those conferences and bookstore signings and writing hangouts do well to recharge the creative batteries. Lately: The BBC show Fleabag, which raised the bar on writing deeply human stories so high, that I need to step up my game.

Top five places to write?

My home office. When traveling: planes, airports, and hotels. Occasionally some friends and I will rent a cabin in the woods and spend a weekend writing (our Broke Hack Mountain retreats). I always prefer my office, as I dislike writing in public –some people are into exhibitionism, and that's fine, it's just not for me. But I do find that I'm incredibly productive while traveling, mostly because there's not much else to do. Stick me on a long flight or in a quiet corner of an airport, and I can do some serious damage.

Top five favorite authors?

Tom Spanbauer — In the City of Shy Hunters is my favorite book. Amy Hempel — no one writes short stories like she does. Ray Bradbury — Fahrenheit 451 made me realize what books could do. Lidia Yuknavitch — she writes with a beauty that is staggering. Chuck Palahniuk — his work was formative for me.

Top five tunes to write to?

I prefer albums over specific tunes, and songs that are light on lyrics and high on atmosphere. So: A Moment Apart by Odesza, Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails, Bach's cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma, or just a chill piano or strings station on Apple Music. Unless I'm writing a fight scene or action scene, then I do have a specific tune: “Name of the Game” by The Crystal Method, loud and on repeat, until I am finished.

Top five hometown spots?

Mamoun's Falafel on MacDougal – best quick-and-cheap eats in the city. Milon on First between 5th and 6th – best Indian food I've ever had; just make sure to go into the right one. Denino's Pizzeria on Staten Island – there is literally no better pizza than this. But L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn is a close second, just make sure to get the square slice. And my favorite dessert spot is Big Gay Ice Cream. I didn't intend for this to be nothing but food recommendations, but it just shows you where my head is at.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The end of The Dreaming

Last week in this space, I wrote a celebratory post about Broadway comics shop Phoenix Comics & Games that was bucking trends for comic stores by expanding into a much larger space next door. That expansion is continuing even as you read this — one wall at Phoenix is now open into the new space and the store is a few weeks away from moving into the bigger space.

But I didn't realize when I wrote last week's column that another Seattle-area comics shop had already announced that it was going to close at the end of this month.

On Facebook last month, Aron Tarbuck, owner of The Dreaming Comics & Games, announced that he would be closing down The Dreaming. Tarbuck said the shop "has been my life for nearly 20 years and I have been incredibly blessed to have had this place in my life for so long."

Tarbuck's post ruled out anyone buying the business, or reopening in a new location. He said the decision to close came from declining business due to "the sale of physical comics and games slowing, and online competition (being in the home town of Amazon.)" This is the second comics closure in the University District over the last few years — the Comic Stop location by the Neptune, which for many years was an outpost of downtown's (also-now-closed) Zanadu Comics — has been shuttered for some time now. The nearest comics shop to The Dreaming is Wallingford's Comics Dungeon, which recently made the transition to non-profit status.

It would be easy to turn this column into a doom-and-gloom elegy for the future of comics shops, but the truth is that some businesspeople are making it work. The healthiest shops in town seem to be those that are diversifying their business model, like Fremont's wonderful fashion-forward Outsider Boutique, or the aforementioned game-centric Phoenix on Broadway, or the pop-culture-stuffed Golden Age Collectables in Pike Place Market. The secret to success seems to involve a wider portfolio of geek-centric products than simply selling comics.

But there's plenty of time to talk about the future of comics. For now, I'd like to praise The Dreaming and Tarbuck for their two decades of comics retailing. Tarbuck is the nicest man in the Seattle comics scene: a genuinely friendly and caring person who seems ready to open his heart to anyone who walks in the door. His passion for the medium is palpable, and it is surpassed only by his downright decency. It was a great run, and the Seattle comics scene was lucky to have The Dreaming for as long as we did.

Book News Roundup: Two novelists enter the Matrix

  • If you're a writer who works in collaboration with visual artists,the Office of Arts and Culture has a unique opportunity for you in the International District:
    The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS), in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), is seeking an artist or artist/artist team* to design, fabricate and install site-integrated outdoor artwork for the park in the Little Saigon neighborhood. The selected artist/artist team will be asked to create a permanent artwork that honors the history, cultures, and current experience of the communities that live nearby. The artist/artist team will work with ARTS, SPR, and community engagement partners that include: The Little Saigon Park Advisory Committee led by Friends of Little Saigon and Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA), that consists of about 18 representatives from the community, plus additional organizations.
  • The above opportunity is only open to one artist or teams of two. The artists should have a connection to the International District. The budget for the project is one hundred thousand dollars.

  • You have likely heard that there will be a fourth Matrix movie starring Keanu Reeve and Carrie-Ann Moss, directed by Lana Wachowski. You may not have heard that the film was co-written by David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon, which is a fascinating pairing. Mitchell is great at sci-fi concepts, while Hemon excels at trauma and the consequences of war.

  • Meanwhile, in Canada:

How Seattle shaped Elizabeth Ames, author of The Other's Gold

Elizabeth Ames's debut novel, The Other's Gold will be released next Tuesday. The book follows a group of four college friends into young adulthood and through the rituals that accompany that transition — marriage, motherhood, careers.

Each of the four women carries a secret that affects the course of their lives — individually and together — in profound ways. Ames has a gift for spinning beautiful sentences together, and The Other's Gold is deeply structurally considered. That structure is important; while many literary novels collapse under the weight of their own aimlessness, The Other's Gold's carefully considered structure keeps the reader intently focused on the characters and its many revelations.

Ames, a former Seattleite who worked with me at Elliott Bay Book Company and took part in a long-running writing group with myself and Seattle Review of Books founding columnist Cienna Madrid, joined me on the phone to talk about The Other's Gold and her time in Seattle.

Though Ames agrees with my assessment that structure is vital to The Other's Gold's success as a book, she says the story "definitely emerged from the characters, as everything does for me." But the structure helped her "map the events of the book so that I could just do what I really love to do, which is just be with and write about characters and people."

That affection for the characters really shows off on the page: Ames writes about friendships between women with a clear eye and an ear for honesty. "I've been observing women forever," she says. "I love women. I am one. I'm really interested in the intensity of their friendships and the roles they play in one anothers' lives over time."

"I have really deep friendships with men," Ames says. "But there's something special about the friendship between women during this stage of life — college through early parenthood, that time of life where you're making so many decisions about who you are and how you want to live."

"I had just had a new baby when I started working on this book," Ames adds, "and so I was really woman-facing in that way too."

Ames, who spent her formative years in the midwest, stops mid-answer to reflect on how odd the whole experience of being interviewed is. This is her first phone interview for The Other's Gold, and it's taking a little bit of energy to get into the right headspace. "It's so hard to talk about my own work because I'm so constitutionally averse to like anything that sounds like boasting." She tries to put on a smug character — "Good job, me!" — before cracking up.

There's no Seattle stop on Ames's debut book tour yet, but she hopes to read at Elliott Bay Book Company for The Other's Gold sometime soon. She worked there from 2005 to 2009, and she still reflects on her time there as vitally important in her life with literature. "I still remember being so intimidated — even before applying, I just loved the store. I was so desperate to spend more time there."

Fresh out of graduate school, Ames found the experience at Elliott Bay to be exactly what she needed. "It was so fun to work with other lovers of books. They always have something to talk about because they've always read so much. You'll have personality differences with your coworkers, but you all have in common this fundamental huge thing that you love."

"I also got to go to readings there and meet writers," Ames says. The experience taught her a lot about what it meant to be a writer in the world. "I was recently talking about Kelly Link coming in to the store to sign and how I was just so gushy with her at the register. I was in total fan girl mode, but she was so warm and kind."

Ames left Elliott Bay for a job at Seattle Arts and Lectures, and that only increased her respect for books and book-lovers. "[SAL curator] Rebecca [Hoogs] is still one of my closest friends, and sitting next to her was a total dream. She's got this big brain I just can't get enough of," Ames laughs.

At SAL, "I got to work with Writers in the Schools. It was really interesting to see the other side of writers' lives on the road — outside of the glamour of huge lectures at Benaroya Hall, there's this other, smaller, intimate classroom visit," in which famous authors share their love of literature with local schoolchildren.

"I chose jobs that kept putting me in touch with the most wonderful people — a bookstore, a literary arts nonprofit," Ames says of her time in Seattle. "I chose pretty well in terms of how to spend time with people who are motivated by a love of reading and books. I couldn't have been luckier in that regard."

Book News Roundup: Bad men you should ignore

One foot in front of the other

Published August 20, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Antonia Malchik’s A Walking Life, Kelly Froh's Walking Uphill, and Susanna Ryan's Seattle Walk Report.

Two new comics look deeply at exploring Seattle on foot. One is a celebration of weirdo grunge-era Seattle and the other is a walking tour of modern boomtown Seattle. Are they even the same city?

Read this review now

Kite, Kalaloch Beach

   
for Clio Hayes Harkness

My job: to hold her kite, the blue one
with a snapping yellow tail, the twine taut,
tugging like a fair-sized cutthroat. Her job:
to sprint around in her underwear on the beach,

aglow in late summer light. Come see
my jelly fish, Poppy, she yells. Hurry!
I lash the twine to a piece of driftwood.
There’s the jellyfish, a glassy blob at our feet.

Will it hurt if I touch it? No, no. It won’t hurt
if you touch it. Poppy, where’s my kite?
I turn to see it sail away, a crazed shirt flailing,
well beyond breakers full of the sun’s late fire.

For some minutes we watch the kite become
a scrap of tissue in the deepening blue, the yellow tail
visible until there nothing to see but the long blade
of the horizon. Waves climb themselves and collapse,

clapping the sand. Eternity, I say, more to myself
than to her. She gazes up with those sea-green
eyes that make me want to weep. I see it coming.
She’s going to ask: Poppy, what’s eternity?

And I’m going to say, Well, it’s like, I don’t know,
like the sky, going on and on forever. Like a kite
flying over the ocean. What do you think?
Is my kite gone? she asks. Yes, I say. It’s gone.

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Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from August 19th - August 25th

Monday, August 19th: Inland Reading

Téa Obreht was a breakout young novelist with her debut, The Tiger's Wife, about eight years ago. That's a lot of pressure on a writer. Now, after she reportedly threw out well over a thousand pages of fiction, she is returning with a new novel — a western, no less! — that is getting rapturous pre-publication attention. Can she beat the dreaded — choke! — sophomore slump? Find out tonight! Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, August 20th: What We Were Promised Reading

Lucy Tan's novel is about a Chinese family that moved to America, realized that was kind of a scam, and then moved back to Shanghai. THey've already started over once. Can they start over again?

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, August 21st: Word Chaser at Cafe Racer

The new reading series features readers Esther Altshul Helfgott and Ann Teplic, with Bryan Linesberry on saxophone. You will want to show up early so you can sign up for the open mic after. Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, August 22nd: Writing Motherhood

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.

Friday, August 23rd: Three Poets

Jed Myers, Tina Schumann, and Heidi Seaborn are all Seattle poets. They all have new-ish collections out now, too. Myers is the author of The Marriage of Space and Time, Schumann's Praising the Paradox is out from the excellent Red Hen Press, and Seaborn's Give a Girl Chaos (see what she can do) was published in March of this year. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, August 24th: I Like Totally Know What You Did Last Summer Release Party

Fantagraphics loves to put on a Saturday book debut, and this one for local cartoonists Sarah Romano Diehl and Brandon Lehmann should be a fun afternoon party, with barbecue and beverages. Their new book is reportedly "terrifying." Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, http://fantagraphics.com/flog/bookstore, 3 pm, free.

Sunday, August 25th: One Day on the Gold Line Reading

This is a "memoir-in-essays" by Carla Rachel Sameth about "a lesbian Jewish single mother raising a black son in Los Angeles." Sameth previously read this week on Thursday at Hugo House. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Writing Motherhood at Hugo House

Books about fathers are a dime a dozen — good fathers, bad fathers, absent fathers, disappointed fathers. But you're unlikely to see a whole lot of pieces written by white men that really delves into the complexities and importance of motherhood, and white men are still overrepresented in the literary world. For that reason alone, if you walk into a bookstore and pull a book from the essay or biography sections out at random, it's more likely to be about daddy issues than what it means to be a mother.

That's why Thursday's themed reading at Hugo House is so important. Five writers are sharing new pieces that explore "how motherhood is rendered in their work, and the impact that motherhood has had on their lives as writers."

The authors are a good mix of local talent: poet Amber Flame, essayist Anne Liu Kellor, medical/health writer Mary Pan, memoirist Carla Sameth, and nonfiction author Samantha Claire Updegrave. The fact that the lineup is majority women of color, too, is likely to add to the experience, as Americans tend to other nonwhite moms in some damning ways.

It's great to see Hugo House present a showcase of writers tackling a specific theme in depth and in unison. Here's hoping this is just the first of a series of feminist explorations of representation in writing; these kinds of events are vital for starting conversations that should have happened decades ago.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 18, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. 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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

Eldorado, Illinois

I’m always wary of writing about drugs — is it going to be preaching, or self-pity? Or all rock-n-roll celebration of the bad boy wild life? Chris Dennis gracefully avoids all of that here. If you can imagine the El Dorado he describes (as a midwesterner, I so easily can), you can imagine the kind of inner weather that invites the shelter of addiction.

There’s a timeline to this, but I can’t get it right yet. I wrote a book. I moved home. I was depressed. I started using drugs. I was arrested. I went to jail. I edited parts of that book while in jail. I’d devoted ten years of my life to writing the book, and then, just before it was about to finally arrive, this thing I had worked so hard to build, I burned my life to the foundation. Why? I wrote a book. I became addicted to meth. I was shooting meth every day. In the bathroom at Walmart. In the bathroom at McDonald’s. In a parked car on a gravel road. In a dozen motel rooms with people I hardly knew. In vacant lots. In abandoned buildings. In strange living rooms in towns I’d never been to before. I was arrested three times in under a year, cut off entirely from all my friends and family, my own son, the people I loved most in the world, and I still just kept shooting meth.
Inmate 76318-054: The Last Days of Jeffrey Epstein

I’ve been spared (or have spared myself) much of the Jeffrey Epstein saga. You probably haven’t — so why read one more article? Well, what’s interesting about this one is that it tracks Epstein’s despair not to the discomfort of being of in jail, but the discomfort of Being In Jail. For a white man with a ton of money and power, the loss of privilege is, apparently, the worst thing that can happen. The details of how he experienced that loss of power, like his attempt to avoid his cell by paying a full-time staff of lawyers to conference with him daily, are telling — and truly batshit.

It is impossible to know why a person takes his own life. But an examination of Mr. Epstein’s last days by The New York Times, gathered from dozens of interviews with law enforcement officials, Bureau of Prisons employees, lawyers and others, suggests that Mr. Epstein’s death came after he started to realize the limits of his ability to deploy his wealth and privilege in the legal system.
11 years of top-selling book covers, arranged by visual similarity

This infographic by (of course) The Pudding is irresistible, especially when you start applying filters to it — books by women vs. men, fiction vs. nonfiction, mix and match. There are probably all sort of cultural observations to discover here, but for those too sleepy on a Sunday morning, it’s also just a lot of fun to poke around in.

Whatcha Reading, Julie Yue?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Seattle Review of Books readers, meet Julie Yue! Julie has just started helping us out behind-the-scenes with some editorial work, but no doubt she'll be out in front as a byline in no time at all.

Besides being my coworker at Textio, where she is a Data Insights Manager, Julie is a life-long literature nerd. She used to study Chinese and British history (and received her MA from the School of Oriental and African Studeies, at the University of London), before transitioning into working with language data. She spends most of her free time cataloging cookbooks, buying obscure condiments, and trying to convince everybody that history is the best. (I suspect she'll find a willing audience here). Welcome, Julie! We're lucky, and glad, to have you.

What are you reading now?

I'm always going through a few books at a time. Right now, I'm reading Norwegian Wood by Murakami — which I have mixed feelings about so I'm hoping the ending will move me. Also, I'm loving the autofiction trend so reading Rachel Cusk's Transit, and My Struggle: Book 4 in Karl Ove Knausgaard's series.

I've also been struggling my way through a decidedly medium Basque history for the last 6 months and I'm only on page 146.

What did you read last?

I just finished Iris Murdoch's Under the Net, and Elif Batuman's The Idiot. They were both excellent. I don't think I'm smart enough to fully comprehend Murdoch. On the other hand, The Idiot was so funny and relatable and I wish it was published before I started college.

What are you reading next?

I'm in two reading circles with some friends so for one of them, we've decided on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland. All three of us realized that we all already had a copy sitting around unread!

For the other, we're starting on Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I need to start on both because deadlines are looming!

The Help Desk: Friends don't let friends write shitty novels

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Cienna Madrid is on a small island with a large drink this week; the following is a re-run of a column from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

My friend self-published a novel. I bought a copy and tried to read it and, well, I’m being charitable when I say it’s not very good. “Unreadable” is a word I’d use to describe it. What do I do the next time I see my friend? He’ll definitely ask what I think of it. I’ve avoided a few social events out of fear that he’ll be there, and I can’t keep living like this.

Thanks,

Jim, Bitter Lake

Dear Jim,

You’ve done your duty – you bought the book. That’s all any person should reasonably expect from a friend or partner: the precious token of affection exchanged when one person expresses a shallow interest in another person’s hobby. When my best friend’s hobby was emotional eating, I learned how to open packets of his favorite foods so that we could enjoy what he called “the couple’s gravy experience.” Now that he is a marathon runner, I offer him milk electrolytes and proteins sold in brick form. But I will not ask him about his bowel movements or split times or any of the other silly shit runners are prone to discuss for hours with each other while jogging in place because my attention span is a finite resource that must be reserved for my own hobbies, like watching spiders commit hate crimes on flies.

So what do you do? The next time there’s a party on the horizon, email your writer friend and ask him if he’ll be attending because you want him to sign your copy of his book. Bring the book (make sure to crack the spine in several places) and don’t give him a chance to ask what you think. Go on the offensive: Say that you really enjoyed the work. You immediately connected with the main character and got swept up in the narrative. Tell him he has a unique voice, reminiscent of TKTKTK (throw out the name of some writer he likes). Then, quickly pivot and begin asking him questions: What inspired him to write it? Has the book been reviewed? Has he been conducting readings around town? What feedback has he gotten from his friends/family/significant other? How thick is his fan club? What project is he working on now?

If he asks you any pointed questions about the work that you can’t answer because you haven’t read it, simply respond with, “I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t quite ‘get’ what you were trying to do there. I think it went over my head. What were you going for?”

When you’ve blown enough smoke up your friend’s ass, pivot the conversation again to your own hobbies with something like, “Speaking of man’s eternal struggle with nature, I’m embarrassed to say I think the spiders living in my home are incredibly racist and I’m not sure how to confront them about it. What are your thoughts?”

Kisses,

Cienna

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Clothes on

Barack Obama joins the Ted Chiang Fan Club

Barack Obama released his summer reading list yesterday, and it featured a local author. Specifically, Obama singled out Seattle-area sci-fi legend Ted Chiang's short story collection Exhalation. (I loved this book, too.)

Other books on Obama's list include everything by Toni Morrison, Maid by Stephanie Land, Inland by Téa Obreht (who will be reading in Seattle next week), Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Lauren Wilkinson's American Spy, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

I will let local treasure Nancy Pearl have the last word on this one:

The Portrait Gallery: Chavisa Woods

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a new portrait of an author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know, or see if you can find them in the archives.

Thursday, August 15th: 100 Times Reading

Chavisa Woods’s memoir in fragments is titled 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism. It’s made up of one hundred stories of sexism and sexual assault. She’ll be in conversation with Seattle writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, whose participation in a reading should be considered an automatic sumbol of quality. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday Comics Hangover: A bigger comic book store? In THIS economy?

A recession is coming — maybe sooner than later — and the sad truth is that a lot of the places you visit for news and information and entertainment are not likely to survive the next downturn. I can pretty much guarantee that, in part because government funding for arts and letters has dried up, Seattle will lose bookstores and media sites and movie theaters in the next recession. And one of the biggest recession casualties I've been fearing lately is comic book stores.

It's been a bumpy time for comics shops in Seattle, even in a supposedly decent economic climate. Downtown's Zanadu Comics closed last year, and Ballard shop Arcane Comics moved north of city limits a few years back, though Ballard did get a new shop last year when Grumpy Old Man's Comics, Art, and Collectibles opened, and Push/Pull Gallery is still going strong.

This week, though, saw some unabashedly good news: Capitol Hill Seattle blog broke the story that Phoenix Comics & Games on Broadway is expanding into the space next door. “This is very exciting as a store owner," Phoenix's Nick Nazar told CHS. "I’m really grateful to our awesome community for backing us."

Yesterday, I congratulated Nazar on the upcoming expansion, and he took me on a little tour of the space, pointing out where new features will be. The expansion will create more gaming space and also put storage space closer to the sales floor. There will also be a larger and more expansive front counter space, and a more welcoming front-of-store experience.

I picked up my usual weekly haul of comics — the latest issue of Silver Surfer: Black is the most beautiful, weirdo-cosmic installment yet — and left feeling good about the future of the shop. Nazar, in his impromptu tour, seemed anxious in the way that small business owners usually are, but he also seemed hopeful about the possibility of welcoming more people into his business. It's enough of an infectious joy that it inspires even the most confirmed cynic to feel a tiny bit of hope in his heart.

Book News Roundup: Captain America strikes back

  • I only met Crosscut managing editor Florangela Davila once, about a month ago. She seemed like a conscientious overseer of the publication, and very grateful for the opportunity to use Crosscut to represent the unheard voices of Seattle. I am incredibly bummed to see that Davila is no longer employed at Crosscut and I stand with the Crosscut Union on this matter:
  • Many protesters were arrested at an Amazon Bookstore in New York City over the weekend. They were, according to one protester, there to "demand...that [Amazon] end its collaboration with ICE." I haven't caught wind of a Seattle protest at an Amazon store yet, but it sure seems like that kind of protest would get a whole lot of attention here in Amazon's home town, wouldn't it?

  • In this New York Times profile, J.D. Salinger's son Matt — who until now was famous for playing Captain America in a terrible 1990 movie that was never released in theaters — has some insight into his father's literary legacy. Is Salinger still relevant? Will ebooks and posthumous releases ensure that kids will still read The Catcher in the Rye fifty years from now? I'm not so sure. Salinger spoke to a generation, but his legacy has been tarnished in the post-MeToo climate, and I'm not convinced his books will survive the next round of critical reappraisals — assuming critical reappraisals are still going to happen in the future, of course.

  • One of the most interesting parts of the New York Times profile is when Salinger unloads on a shoddy biography of his father that was cowritten by a local author:
    While he rarely gives interviews, Mr. Salinger has opened up more about his father recently. He felt compelled, he said, to counter the claims in a 2013 documentary and a tie-in book by David Shields and Shane Salerno, which caused a stir with the revelation that Salinger had left behind five unpublished works, along with instructions to publish them between 2015 and 2020. “So much in that book and that movie were utter fiction, and bad fiction,” said Mr. Salinger, who noted that his father “encouraged us to take our time” and didn’t give a timeline for publication.
  • Oh, what the hell. Here's the trailer for Matt Salinger's Captain America movie:

And now, this fall brings the &Now Festival to Northwest lovers of experimental literature

The weekend of September 19th, people from around the world will be gathering at the University of Washington in Bothell for the &Now Festival, a biannual celebration of experimental literature. The website for &Now says the festival encourages "linguistic and genre transgressions," including "interdisciplinary explorations and conversations with past, present, or future literary concerns and movements."

Amaranth Borsuk, the Associate Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at UW Bothell, has been attending &Now for a decade, following the biannual celebration from Buffalo to Paris and Cal Arts. At its most basic foundation, she says, &Now is "a group of people that reunite on a regular basis to talk about the most pressing questions in experimental writing."

An accomplished poet herself, Borsuk immediately took to &Now because it "offers the chance to get really close to the kinds of writers that you admire." The festival "really feels like a community," rather than the performative fishbowls that other literary festivals tend to offer.

Borsuk admits that she wanted to bring &Now to Bothell and the Seattle area "selfishly" as a fan. But she's also excited for her MFA students to enjoy such close contact with some of the most important writers in the field today. And she believe it's a great opportunity for the region to gain some much-needed recognition: "Although there is a lot of energy and activity around writing and the arts and experimentation here, it can feel like we're a little off the beaten path," Borsuk explains.

This fall's festival theme is "Points of Convergence." Borsuk explains that it's a timely mission statement for "artists and writers who are looking for ways of finding common ground at a particularly disjunctive moment in the literary world."

This year's &Now features three keynote speakers "who do work across medium and genre and who can speak to some of those larger issues," Borsuk explains. They all are working at the convergence between disciplines. LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, the opening night speaker, "writes for the page but also does sound performance," Borsuk says. Friday night features Barbara Browning, "whose fiction really dovetails closely with her own autobiography and blurs the line between art and life" using multimedia components including videos and online installations. The final keynote, Nathaniel Mackey, is "a poet whose work is strongly connected to music and jazz and who has a really deep history of thinking about the ways that race and poetry are imbricated."

Local writers from Seattle (including Anastacia-Renee and representatives from the Seattle Poetics LAB) and Portland will be a part of the full complement of panels, which often include more performance and process conversation than your traditional literary panel discussion. "The panels will not be laced with academic jargon and will by and large not be about analyzing works of literature," Borsuk says, calling &Now more "accessible" than most literary conferences she's attended.

For all four days of the festival, too, there will be a book fair operated by Open Books featuring all the &Now participants. Panels that have been accepted for the conference include a discussion of Asian American speculative poets, a panel titled "Horrors of the Family Romance" with panelists including Rebecca Brown and Brian Evenson, a survey of weird fiction, and a discussion of the surveillance state as it pertains to writing. Other convergences include video and poetry, reality and digital presentations of reality, porpoises and lectures, and futurism through poetry. Borsuk says the full schedule will be online soon. Tickets are available now, and day passes range from $10 to $20.

As a teacher who is deeply embedded in Northwest literature, Borsuk feels that the Points of Convergence theme is a vital one for this place and time. "The concern about forging connection in a moment of political and cultural schism is on the minds of writers here," she says. "Some people are doing that work already in their writing, and others are interested in figuring out how to do that work in their writing." For those who are thinking deeply about these issues, she says, "having the chance to sit in on and be part of these conversations will be enlightening for all of us."

An earnest valentine

Published August 13, 2019, at 12:00pm

Donna Miscolta reviews R Zamora Linmark’s The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart .

Yes, we still need books that tell us love can conquer all.

Read this review now

Tying a Tie

I must be twelve or so. We face the bathroom mirror,
me in starched white shirt, trying not to squirm,
faint frown on my face. He in sleeveless tee,
his chest hair abundant, still dark, the last dots

of shaving soap on his chin. He calls the knot a Windsor,
holds my hands holding the long end on the left,
short end on the right, flipping long over short,
looped around, poked up and over the top

tucked in, pulled down, the triangle tightened
with thumb and forefinger—all simple, deft,
impossible to replicate. He’s not a sad man yet.
I’m in training for the world, for being a man like him,

sad only when I study him in the mirror,
girding for another day at the appliance store,
his hands on the shoulders of his smaller self,
prepping me first so I can see how it’s done,

how to tie the tie in a way that allows me to breathe,
to not fear the squeeze of being choked.
I will, just as he has, come to live with it.
And so I have, now that he’s gone, come to live

with it, to tie my own tie, to accept the discomfort
just as he did, whose reasons for sorrow were many,
to love again the appliance salesman who turns me
to face him as he adjusts the knot at my throat.

Grab your sponsorship slot before they're sold out!

We’ve opened the books — you can now buy sponsorships through January, 2020. Head on over to our sponsorship page if you’re ready to browse what’s available.

The remaining slots for August are only $100! What a great way to sample how a sponsorship could work for you.

Sponsorships are a great, inexpensive way to get your words in front of the best book loving audience in the world. There’s a reason Seattle is a UNESCO city of literature, and why independent book stores are thriving. Seattle loves to read.

So if you have an event that would appeal to readers or writers, or if you have a book you want to put before the most passionate reading audience you can imagine, check out why our sponsorships will be just the thing for you.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from August 12th - August 18th

Monday, August 12th: Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire Reading

I've already written at length about why Michelle Peñaloza's book tour matters, and why her new book is so amazing. This, her last stop on the tour, features authors Cristiana Baik, Dan Lau, and Truong Tran. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, August 13th: Seattle Walk Report

See our Event of the Week Column for more details. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

Alternate Tuesday, August 13th: Poets & Artists for Migrant Justice: Benefit Reading

Because I am participating in the Seattle Walk Report event, and because I hate conflicts of interest, I'd like to suggest an alternate event for your consideration. This alternate event, is a doozy—it's the thing I'd be doing for sure if I weren't committed to host the Seattle Walk Report event at the library. Tonight, readers including Claudia Castro Luna, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Raul Sanchez, Natalie Ann Martínez, Sarah A. Chavez, and Catalina M. Cantú will read new work along with a silent auction of art from Fulgencio Lazo Arte and Jake Prendez and others as part of a fundraiser for Immigrant Families Together and the Fair Fight Immigrant Bond Fund. I've been informed there will be tamales for sale, too. Mmmm, tamales. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, $10 suggested donation.

Wednesday, August 14th: The Making of a Democratic Economy Reading

TOP ONE PERCENT OF THE ECONOMY DON'T READ THIS: Hello 99 percent. You're cute. Did you know that Marjorie Kelly's latest book proposes a new way to organize the economy so that the vast majority of the wealth doesn't go to the top one percent? Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.

Thursday, August 15th: 100 Times Reading

Chavisa Woods's memoir in fragments is titled 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism. It's made up of one hundred stories of sexism and sexual assault. She'll be in conversation with Seattle writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, whose participation in a reading should be considered an automatic sumbol of quality. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Friday, August 16th: Edward Harkness and Bethany Reid

Seattle poet Edward Harkness is our August Poet in Residence and we are so lucky to have him. Bethany Reid will be reading from her second collection of poems, Body My House. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, August 17th: The Oysterville Sewing Circle Reading

In this novel set in Oysterville, Washington, a women come together to sew and heal on an emotional level. Susan Wiggs is a bestselling author, and this looks to be one of her best. tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific. She's come home Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 6 pm, free.

Sunday, August 18th: Ration Reading

Portland novelist Cody T. Luff reads from his newest novel. Ration is set in a dystopian future in which people are starving. They consider taking part in a kind of industrialized cannibalism. Creepy! Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 6 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Walk Report at the Seattle Public Library

I don't mean to brag, but...okay, I totally mean to brag: The Seattle Review of Books published the very first interview with Seattle-based cartoonist Seattle Walk Report about two years ago. Even then, and even hidden behind the name of the strip as a pseudonym, she was very clear about her origins.

"I was born and raised in Seattle, and I’ve never lived anywhere else — even for a second," Seattle Walk Report told me. She'd never had a driver's license, but walking "was not something I found much joy in until very recently."

Suddenly, in 2017, "the pure joy of long, winding, destinationless walks really hit me," she said. "I would wake up on a day off, and I would leave with no destination. And sometimes nine, ten hours later, I would come back, and that was just how I spent my day." She said that "walking really made me reconnect with Seattle, and reconnecting with Seattle made me walk."

Seattle Walk Report's Instagram feed is a total delight — one of the only things that keeps me coming back to the Facebook-owned service on a regular basis. Her cartoons are funny and interesting to look at and full of surprises. She squeezes more delight into a few square inches than just about any cartoonist I can think of.

Tomorrow night, Seattle Walk Report is launching a book full of all-new material from Seattle-based Sasquatch Books at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. Her public identity will be revealed — relax, people, she's not a celebrity or anything — and she'll make her first-ever public appearance. She'll present a short talk about her origins and her process, and then she'll be in conversation with me for a while, and then she'll take your questions before signing books for as long as it takes.

I try to avoid conflicts of interest on this website, but I feel confident in saying that even if I were not a participant, this reading would be the Event of the Week. How often do you see the unmasking of a real local celebrity, the debut of a comic from one of our most interesting local cartoonists, and a celebration of the weird and wonderful things you find on everyday Seattle streets all in one night? The answer is never. You never get to see that kind of thing. This is going to be a special one.

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 11, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. 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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

Dying the Chrstians science way

Carolyn Fraser’s account of the death of her father, a Christian Scientist, from gangrene is gut-wrenching and chilling. As difficult as it is to imagine making the decision to refuse treatment for such a gross physical insult, it’s even harder to imagine encouraging someone to do so. There’s nothing noble about shoring up your own faith through someone else’s extremity of suffering.

Death is never easy, either for the dying or for those left behind. It’s now commonplace for ethicists to lament the ways hospitals encumber or complicate dying, by encouraging hope where there is none, or by refusing to clarify the point at which further intervention may be needlessly expensive or excruciating. But there is something worse than death in a hospital. There’s dying unnecessarily of conditions or diseases for which real treatment or pain management is readily available. There’s dying without help, without pain relief, without care.
The life and death of an American Indie Press

Taylor Moore with the story of Curbside Splendor, a midwestern indie press beloved by everyone but the authors it refused to pay. The overwhelming majority of independent presses get it right; here’s the gritty detail of how hard it is to do what they’re doing, and how much it matters.

This phenomenon—of small business owners getting in over their heads—is not unique to Curbside, said Michael Gross. It’s systemic. As director of legal services at the Author’s Guild, Gross assists authors with contract reviews and publishing disputes, and what’s happened at Curbside is occurring across the country, he says. The rise of e-books and print-on-demand publishing since the turn of the century has made the historically expensive publishing industry more accessible, which is a double-edged sword—it’s easier than ever to get published now, but it’s also easier than ever to get screwed.
Paper books can't be shut off from afar

We don’t trust doctors as much as we used to, and nor should we. The God-like physician trope is one I’m happy to see fade away. But the power of doctors hasn’t faded: medicine is hard, sometimes brutal, sometimes dangerous to the patient — or in the case of the massive antibiotic therapy administered by “Lyme-literate” doctors, dangerous to us all. Here’s Molly Fischer on how a chronic and disabling disease entered modern medicine’s wild west.

You are unlikely to find yourself in this office unless you’re already considering the possibility that you have Lyme disease — perhaps you saw something online or heard something from a friend. Still, a Lyme-literate doctor like Raxlen is the gatekeeper who validates chronic Lyme as an identity. Lyme-literate doctors are often referred to as LLMDs, though the title doesn’t reflect any specific set of qualifications or credentials. ILADS offers a daylong course in Lyme fundamentals and, through its educational arm, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Educational Foundation (ILADEF), a one-to-two-week training program for clinicians. The only prerequisites for the latter are completion of the Lyme-fundamentals course and the ability to prescribe antibiotics.

Whatcha Reading, Michelle Peñaloza?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Michelle Peñaloza is a once Seattle, and now Northern California, based poet. Her latest book, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, was just released. Michelle is in Seattle for a number of events, celebrating the launch of her new book, and you should see her while she's around! Today, August 10 at 6:30pm: Literaoke Book Launch, at the Beacon (Massive Monkey's studio, 664 South King Street), with Quenton Baker, Anastacia Renee, Troy Osaki, and Jane Wong. Sunday, August 11th at 3pm: All-Pinxy All Stars at Estelita's Library (25533 16th Ave S), with Jen Soriano, Dujie Tahat, and Anis Gisele. Monday, August 12th at 7pm: All-Pinxy All Stars at the Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave), with Robert Francis Flor, Emily P Lawson, and Corina Zappia.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading I Think I'm Ready to See Frank Ocean by Shayla Lawson, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl, and randomly thumbing through The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair (it's full of stand-alone pieces that are lovely little anecdotes to start or end the day).

What did you read last?

I've stopped and not finished a bunch of books this summer, but I just finished What My Mother and I Don't Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence edited by Michele Filgate very quickly and before that I read Kenji Liu's thought-provoking collection, Monsters I Have Been, and re-read Gina Apostol's inspiring and inventive novel, Insurrecto.

What are you reading next?

I'm excited to for the next books I've got on the docket: America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo, The Body Papers by Grace Talusan, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD, and Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love by Keith Wilson.

The Help Desk: The books fell in the stream

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

A big-name novelist recently posted on Facebook that he wished people spent more time reading and less time binge-watching TV. Do you think those two things are related, or is he being a huge old grump?

Aimee,
Sunset Hill

Dear Aimee,

It sounds like the kind of thing a smug person would write as a way to subtly confirm the superiority of his own lifestyle, but I wouldn't know for certain because I don't use Facebook. If only people spent more time reading and less time throwing up judgy Facebook posts. Sigh.

There are some really fantastic teevee shows out with compelling narratives and strong character development (Patriot and Dirtbag come to mind). Those are also qualities people treasure in books. Binge watching teevee doesn't have to mean you're not a reader, just as chanting "Bloody Mary" three times in my bathroom mirror doesn't have to mean I'm superstitious. It might also mean I want another drink.

Kisses,
Cienna

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Scorpions

Portrait Gallery: Toni Morrison, 1931 - 2019

I have always found it difficult — if not impossible — to write about Toni Morrison. Hers was a once-in-a-generation talent. Her thinking was so clear and precise, her writing so free from the encumbrances of cliche, that writing about her with my clumsy prose always felt insulting, somehow. There's nothing I can say about her passing that hasn't already said, and better than I could ever say it. Many of us alive now never knew what it was like to read a brand-new book by James Baldwin, or Virginia Woolf. Nobody alive ever witnessed the new publication of a novel by Dostoevsky or Melville. But until this week, we lived in a world where Toni Morrison was alive, and writing, and publishing. We were lucky. — Paul Constant

Book News Roundup: Seattle Public Library wins big, King County Library speaks out against ebook price-fixing, Seattle has a new Civic Poet

  • Seattle voted to approve the Library Levy in a landslide! You'll start to see benefits from the levy, including longer hours at local branches and no more late fees, starting next year. Thanks to the nearly 75 percent of you voters who made this possible. SPL Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner published a thank you note on SPL's site.
  • In other library news, King County Library System Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum published an essay at Geekwire calling out Macmillan's ludicrous plan to limit library access to ebooks.
    Macmillan Publishers, one of five major publishers in the United States, recently announced a new lending model that limits public libraries to only one copy of newly-released titles in digital formats, followed by an eight-week embargo on purchasing additional copies. For the King County Library System, with 50 libraries serving more than 1 million residents, the announcement is especially troubling.
  • Jourdan Keith was announced as Seattle's latest Civic Poet yesterday. Her first appearance in the role — which serves as a cross between Poet Laureate and goodwill ambassador for the literary arts — will be at the Mayor's Arts Awards on August 29th. We hope to publish an interview with Keith here on the Seattle Review of Books soon.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Comics will break your heart, and maybe your nose

Bad Weekend is a slender hardcover crime comic from the tried and tested comics team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. It's about a young man who's hired to chaperone a jaded old cartoonist around a comic book convention. Theft and assault and other crimes are on the menu, and the book serves as a kind of Dante's Inferno of the comic industry's seedy underbelly.

The character at the center of Bad Weekend, Hal Crane, is an exhausted old cartoonist who has been burnt so many times by the comics industry that he's basically a pile of ash. Even now, as nerds try to pay homage to him, he's distrustful of their approval and disdainful of all the people who never bothered to give him the time of day when he was a hungry draftsman looking for a steady gig.

I don't think you can parse Hal one-to-one with any single cartoonist from comics history, but he's sure assembled from a bunch of different anecdotes. Pretty much every kid who grew up reading comics in the 1980s is very familiar with the seedy old bitter cartoonist, and how they barely tolerated our adoration. It's all so undignified that a life of crime seems downright classy by comparison.

Listen: are there any other comic teams working today with as smooth a symbiosis as Brubaker and Phillips? Just as old married couples are said to resemble one another, Brubaker's prose has become clearer and more striking, to match Phillips's art. The character work, both in writing and in art, is impeccable.

Bad Weekend doesn't have the heft and the haunting rage of some of Phillips and Brubaker's other work — Kill or Be Killed is, to my mind, one of the best comics of the decade — but it is perfectly clever and fun all the way through. It's maybe the closest thing to an Elmore Leonard novel I've read in comics form — and that's a pretty goddamn high compliment. Maybe Hal Crane can't find anything to love about comics anymore, but — thanks to Brubaker and Phillips — I sure can.

Are we doing the best we can do?

At last night's Reading Through It Book Club, several members admitted that the selection, Thi Bui's memoir The Best We Could Do, was the first full-length comic they've ever read. That's a pretty steep learning curve to expect from a reader: Bui is a brilliant cartoonist who employs a wide array of comics techniques to tell the story of her family's flight from Vietnam to America. It's kind of the equivalent of expecting someone to jump directly from the first Harry Potter book into William Gass's The Tunnel.

But these novice comics readers more than handled the challenge. Most members of the book club enjoyed Best and found Bui's family history to be engaging and more than a little heartbreaking. We could have spent the whole hour discussing technical details, such as the way Bui masterfully employed the black-and-white book's single color — an orange whose many shades evoked a number of story elements including carrot juice and the red soil of Vietnam. And several people found new levels of enjoyment from those discussions.

But there's so much more to discuss. By zipping forward and backward in time, Bui illustrates the true cost of intergenerational trauma that all refugee families have to pay. Bui's new baby hasn't experienced the Vietnam War or the heartbreak of losing everything to start over in the United States, but those factors will still play a huge role in the child's life. No generation is ever truly free of the hardships delivered on the generations before.

I wrote at length about The Best We Could Do a few months ago, when it was selected as the Seattle Reads book. But reading it in the context of our current-events book club, which aligns the story of Bui's family against the concentration camps along the southern border of the country today, casts the book in a different light.

I couldn't help but wonder as I read The Best We Could Do for a second time what kind of memoirs future readers would be reading twenty years from now. How will those books cast those of us who called ourselves Americans? What color will the cartoonist choose to stain the pages? What are the tragedies unfolding now that future generations will carry?

Lunch Date: Taking Elliot Reed's A Key to Treehouse Living out for beer

(Once in a while, we take a new book out to lunch and give it half an hour or so to grab our attention. Lunch Date is our comment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today?

A Key to Treehouse Living, a novel by Elliot Reed.

Where’d you go?

Never good at the principles of successful dating, I offered Treehouse Living the Saturday equivalent of a sad desk lunch. We went to Fremont Brewing and found a corner seat where we could hide from the crowds, if “hide” means “sit in the middle of a seething mass of drunk-by-noon humanity.”

What’d you eat?

We paired a tomato and parmesan croissant from Sea Wolf Bakery with a Dark Star imperial stout. Actually, it was half a croissant left over from brunch, which made 1.5 croissants total for the day.

How was the food?

Excellent. Sea Wolf Bakery is a working bakery that supplies bread to every restaurant you can’t afford, so they don’t mess around. Today they sold the last nectarine croissant right before I got the register. Sad! But their savory croissant at the moment is lightly roasted tomatoes sandwiched between herbs and finely grated parmesan cheese. Sweet, salty, fresh, and the kind of buttery layers that’d make Paul Hollywood blush.

As for the stout — you could put Dark Star in a ring with every piss-colored IPA in Seattle, and Dark Star would still walk out untouched

What does your date say about itself?

From the publisher’s promotional copy:

A Key to Treehouse Living is the adventure of William Tyce, a boy without parents, who grows up near a river in the rural Midwest. In a glossary-style list, he imparts his particular wisdom on subjects ranging from ASPHALT PATHS, BETTA FISH, and MULLET to MORTAL BETRAYAL, NIHILISM, and REVELATION. His improbable quest ― to create a reference volume specific to his existence ― takes him on a journey down the river by raft (see MYSTICAL VISION, see NAVIGATING BIG RIVERS BY NIGHT). He seeks to discover how his mother died (see ABSENCE) and find reasons for his father’s disappearance (see UNCERTAINTY, see VANITY). But as he goes about defining his changing world, all kinds of extraordinary and wonderful things happen to him.

Unlocking an earnest, clear-eyed way of thinking that might change your own, A Key to Treehouse Living is a story about keeping your own record straight and living life by a different code.

It seems unlikely that Treehouse Living would describe itself in any such way, but publishers do what they have to do.

Is there a representative quote?

Sure, let’s try something from CAMPFIRE: “A fire built outside. Thisis very important: you build a campfire outside, never in. It may be cold in the treehouse, and you may build a fire in there to stay warm, but believe me, you will regret it.”

Will you two end up in bed together?

Yes. This book and I have been meaning to meet up for a while now, and I’m glad we finally got together. I'm addicted to the format — every glossary entry is a small story, and there're hints at something bigger and sadder that are perfect date fodder. Who can resist the sad, mysterious ones? I hope that the "real" storyline doesn’t dominate, though, because a lot of the charm is the way the book wanders. Hints at William's losses and gains aren't any more or less important thanhis observations about how good puppies are at bonding or the real difference between balloon dogs and balloon giraffes. As a date, Treehouse Living knows how to connect without taking over the conversation, and I’d buy it a beer again any time.

The discomfort of memoir: a conversation with cartoonist

German cartoonist Ulli Lust's new comic from Fantagraphics, How I Tried to Be a Good Person, is a memoir about a relationship. But this is anything but a love story. After the reader grows to care for a younger Lust as she establishes a free-range open relationship, they can't help but watch uncomfortably watch as Ulli ignores all the red flags and marries a Nigerian man who slowly draws her into a cycle of horrible abuse. Person isn't afraid to ask complicated questions about race and power and love and identity. It's a prickly book, but a beautiful one.

I met up with Lust last month as she was preparing for the Hot Off the Press street fair at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. Person is the second of Lust's books that Fantagraphics has translated and published in America, and the love between publisher and author is palpable. What follows is an edited transcription of our conversation.

I love the new book.

Great to hear.

I first would like to ask a very dumb question that I've always wanted to ask a cartoonist with a book like this, a black-and-white comic that's accented only by one single color through the book. May I ask how you chose the color for the single color?

I always ask, 'what is the vibe of this story?' It's not a very big choice. You don't have so many options for a second color. It has to be a not-too-intense color. It has to be a bit light. And sp then, what do I have? I have and warm and cold, like blue or pink.

For the first book I wanted something more military, adventurous. That's why I went with green. For the new book I needed something warm, tender. Pink is also very fleshy. So it was the perfect match for a love story.

You write about yourself in a way that feels very honest. At this point, do you think twice about sharing details of your life or is it something that just happens?

The question is not, 'Do I share details of my life?' The question is, 'Are these details interesting? What do they add to the story?'

My life is like the source. I'm not really interested in myself. It's just I'm a woman living in this time. Because it's my experiences, I have access to the inner thoughts, and reflections of the person in this story, and I use them.

I am just the model. And if I tell about myself I don't need to care about personal rights. I can tell everything, as long as I am okay with it. My interest as an artist is to be honest and intense.

There's a lot of literature which follows this model. And my main goal is not to look good, but to be a good author. And these are two very different targets.

In America and in Canada, there's a tradition of autobiographical cartoonists like Joe Matt and Seth, and Julie Doucet.

Yeah, big inspirations.

You write about a lot of the same subjects as them, but it feels there was something in those books to me that felt like there was a little bit of a moral edge to their work, an 'oh, I'm being so bad,' sort of transgressive vibe to their work that I think is missing from your work.

I'm happy to hear that!

Do you agree with that assessment? Not to call anybody out by name, but do you think there's a performative aspect to memoir comics in recent history?

I really like those Canadian guys. They are a big inspiration. I really like how Joe Matt talks about himself.

But there was a confessional vibe to earlier comics that doesn't show up in your books. Your work doesn't feel confessional to me, in that way.

I am not interested in the confession aspect. No, no.

I'm inspired by these type of autobiographic comics, but in the end, I'm much more inspired by literature. Like the Beat poets. They are very old but their attitude is great, you know? All these artists from the '60s, '70s were very open about their mindset. That's what I find inspiring.

That's why my books are big, also, because I'm more inspired from the novels more, than from the comics actually.

You also think a lot about rhythm, right?

Yes, rhythm and comics are bound together.

You're doing something different in this book than your earlier work, where you have these beautiful, usually silent splash pages that pause the story.

One interesting aspect for me with new stories is always to think about, 'How can I bring this work to life? How can I materialize it?' Maybe the changes are small between the first and the second book, but they are very targeted. I think about which type of coloring and layout fits the best to this story. Every author or cartoonist or filmmaker is thinking about how to do that.

But I really enjoyed it, that aspect, in this book.</p>

You've always been a very good artist, but it feels like you were able to do a little more illustration, does that distinction make sense at all?

I get better with the drawings all the time. But I don't do illustration anymore, because it sucks.

Why does it suck?

It sucks to do jobs drawing images which other people would love to draw themselves. Then they tell you what to do, and then they are...

[Here, Lust makes a face that's exasperated and more than a little annoyed.]

Yeah, I just want to draw whatever I like.

Some artists enjoy very much to just develop a beautiful image, but I am not interested in the aesthetics that much.

Really?

I am, of course, because it's part of the language. But not only to make a beautiful picture, you know?

But the splash page in this book with the giant penis—I thought that was very beautiful. It's a beautiful illustration.

That's because it has a big energy for the story. You have to get this energy, so you need the beauty, of course. The beauty is in service of the story.

Okay.

Sometimes I do some short projects where I can experiment. Like at the moment, I'm doing a project about the Berlin Mauerpark. It is a park in Berlin where there was the Wall, and now you have a lot of street musicians, and parties, and colorful people. And the project is to blend in the past with the present. And the pictures are quite interesting.

It seems like that would be very good for comics, too.

Yeah. At the moment it's a serial. You can observe it at Instagram. It's called "Ghosts on Mauerpark," and it's just a fun project to do something short on the weekends when it's too tight for to make a comic. You know, comics take a lot of time, and also concentration. It's difficult always, with the comics.

Something I wanted to ask about, specifically in the art that has always interested me about black and white comics, is the illustration of different races. It seems difficult to depict multiple races in black and white comics.

Yeah, it's very difficult. It's very difficult to draw black people in black and white because any line you put in the face, it makes an expression. And you need to add color, you have to make the face dark, but it suddenly creates a sinister atmosphere. It's just a visual problem with light and dark.

The way you dealt with that I thought was very good. Kim's face was completely white at certain points when you needed to see the expressions and things like that, but it didn't feel artificial.

I'm happy that you say that, because it was a big struggle. I realized later that if I would have put only a gray tone, that would have made it more easier.

Do you think? Because I've seen that before, and that feels not quite right. You know, and I've also seen very tight hatching and that just comes across as a little visually static. The way you handled it was very good, but depicting nuances of race in black and white comics has always been difficult and I think it makes covering racial nuance difficult, I think, for a lot of artists in the form.

Very, very, very, very difficult. Yes. I was afraid of the racist aspects, that there would be something wrong or that people would be upset. But people understand that this figure is not speaking for all black people in the world, but for himself as an individual. So it worked out well. I was a bit afraid because it's tricky.

I think having that space helped. If it were a 12 page story it would be very different, but you established the character.

Yeah, and I was in love with him, so I hope that this comes through too. Some readers said 'oh, I hated this guy from the beginning.' But I didn't.

Was it difficult or enjoyable to get into the headspace of a very passionate young woman in that way?

It's just nice to relive intense times. I didn't like to draw the violence part. I'm not good with beating and I'm not good with fighting, drawing fighting, you know?

The dynamic action things?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to like it. And I don't. So this cost me a lot of energy.

Does the translation process take a lot of time or a lot of work?

Actually the English translation is the only one which I can control. Because the other translations — I don't speak Spanish or Finnish, or whatever. But the English one I can read and I found a lot of mistakes, because German is also a very complex language, and some words change their meaning when they are put on another spot or something. It's tricky to get the right meaning. So I had to send some corrections.

The most exciting thing for me is to be published in America.

Oh yeah?

It's just fantastic, because iI feel like a, you know, like a newcomer from somewhere in the outback. And they think I'm my work is good enough? That's just cool. That's really cool.

Yesterday, when Eric Reynolds was telling me, how much he likes my book, I'm just like, 'Oh my god. This guy knows so much about comics!'

It's funny because they started out as the young punk radicals, and now it feels like they're the mainstream.

I mean, they do so many good comics.

The promise in your pocket

Published August 6, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Margaret O'Mara’s The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America .

A new book by a UW professor tries to tell the story of Silicon Valley without all the hagiographies and histrionics.

Read this review now

Unable to Waken

           

And the echoes began
their wings broken
and glaciers wept themselves to sleep
their towers fallen

their wings broken
and the seasons unraveled
their towers fallen
and the seas rose higher

and the seasons unraveled
their webs no longer woven
and the seas rose higher
their currents misguided

their webs no longer woven
and the songbirds migrated toward silence
their currents misguided
and their forests flared all summer

and the songbirds migrated toward silence
their routes disrupted
and their forests flared all summer
their biographies unwritten

their routes disrupted
and rivers wandered the desert
their biographies unwritten
and starlight appeared in daylight

and rivers wandered the desert
their salmon lost in the ocean
and stars appeared in daylight
their warnings disregarded

their salmon lost in the ocean
and glaciers wept themselves to sleep
their warnings disregarded
and the echoes began

Sponsorships are now open!

We've opened the books — you can now buy sponsorships through January, 2020. Head on over to our sponsorship page if you're ready to browse what's available.

Sponsorships are a great, inexpensive way to get your words in front of the best book loving audience in the world. There's a reason Seattle is a UNESCO city of literature, and why independent book stores are thriving. Seattle loves to read.

So if you have an event that would appeal to readers or writers, or if you have a book you want to put before the most passionate reading audience you can imagine, check out why our sponsorships will be just the thing for you.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from August 5th - August 11th

Monday, August 5th: A City Made of Words Reading

Paul Park is a novelist who has written across genres, though you likely know him from his best-known A Princess of Roumania series of sci-fi novels. His latest is a collection of short stories about belief and magic. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 6:30 pm, free.

Tuesday, August 6th: Hollow Kingdom Reading

Local author ira Jane Buxton's long-awaited new novel is about a domesticated crow who loves Cheetos. Then, the world ends all around him, and he's forced to try to make things right again. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, August 7th: Majd Mashhawari

Majd Mashhawari was going to speak at Elliott Bay Book Company earlier this year, but she had visa troubles. (Funny how there are so many of those lately, huh?) Today, she'll finally talk about her solar power kit with a Seattle architect named Rania Qawasma, Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, August 8th: Raised in Captivity Reading

Chuck Klosterman definitely doesn't hurt for a platform. Klosterman has gone from a beloved magazine feature writer to a beloved writer of books to a kind of pop cultural wise man over the last couple decades. His latest is a series of thought-provoking short fictions that are written in the style of non-fiction. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, August 10th: Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Massive Monkees Studio, 664 S King St,251-1524, http://www.openpoetrybooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, August 11th:

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Estelita’s Library, 2533 16th Ave S, https://www.facebook.com/events/2089635727813422/, 3 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Come out for Michelle Peñaloza's book launch extravaganza!

When I talked with poet Michelle Peñaloza last week, she explained that she wrote much of her debut collection of poetry, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, here in Seattle. Even though she moved away to northern California two years ago, she knew she wanted to celebrate the launch of her new book here in town.

"I'm happy to be having my literary launch in Seattle because it does still feel very much like literary home for sure," she told me. Peñaloza is very happy in California, but she misses "just how literary the community [in Seattle] is, and how many good people I had and still have there."

She's celebrating her book's release with three big events starting this Saturday with a "literaoke" celebration at Massive Monkees Studio in the International District. Peñaloza admits she's "stealing" the literaoke idea from Kundiman, which has hosted readings with karaoke at AWP for many years now.It's exactly what it sounds like: a book party with readings and audience karaoke.

"Two of my favorite things are our poetry and karaoke," Peñaloza explained, "and you'd be surprised how many poets love karaoke. I think there's something cathartic about it."

For the other readings, beginning at Estelita's Library on Beacon Hill on Sunday and continuing at Elliott Bay Book Company on Monday, Peñaloza has something else in mind. "I wanted to have an all-Filipinx lineup. it was important for me to be intentional about that and ask other Filipino-American folks to participate in that with me and make it all about us."

It's thematically tied to the book, too. Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire is in part about what it means to be a Fillipinx-American — the historical, cultural, and geographical implications of everything that it took to get her to this place in this planet at this time. At Estelita's, Peñaloza will be joined by Anis Gisele, Jen Soriano, and Dujie Tahat. At Elliott Bay, she'll be reading with Robert Francis Flor, Emily P. Lawsin, and Corina Zappia.

Onstage, Peñaloza will be celebrating with some of the finest Fillipinx authors this city has to offer. If you have a really big moment in your life like a poetry book launch, why wouldn't you spend it with the people you most want to celebrate?

Massive Monkees Studio, 664 S King St,251-1524, http://www.openpoetrybooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Estelita’s Library, 2533 16th Ave S, https://www.facebook.com/events/2089635727813422/, 3 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 4, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. 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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

The launch

There is so much detail that goes into the most mundane bits of life — we are wandering around like idiots most of the time, biting mindlessly into apples, for example, with no awareness of the batshit cataclysm of biology and finance and competition that lie behind each tart bite.

About an hour outside Wenatchee, a man named Dale Goldy, who was once in charge of scouting new varieties for the apple giant Stemilt, gave me a tour of his nursery: thousands of young trees growing in long, straight lines; stacks of new saplings waiting in the dark, frigid warehouse where he keeps three-quarters of a million mostly custom-ordered young trees of various kinds. Some were labeled with their variety and rootstock, but others were identified only in code. “So when people like you walk through the tree storage, you don’t know what you’re looking at!” laughed Goldy. It was a scary, competitive world out there, he explained: “We can’t relax for a second. If we don’t have something new to offer and create customer excitement, we’ll be run over by the other stuff.”
The promise and price of cellular therapies

Another awesomely geeky story, this time about stem cell transplants, and how the immune response between guest and host went from threat to therapy. And — what happens then, when human cells become a commodity?

Thomas flew to Seattle. On August 12, 1960, Barbara was sedated, and her hips and legs were punctured fifty times with a large-bore needle to extract the crimson sludge of her bone marrow. The marrow, diluted in saline, was then dripped into Nancy’s bloodstream. The doctors waited. The cells homed their way into her bones and gradually started to produce normal blood. By the time she was discharged, her marrow had been almost completely reconstituted. Nancy emerged as a living chimera: her blood, in a sense, belonged to her twin.
Networked dream worlds

Augmented reality! Smart cities! Free wifi for all! 5G is big tech’s miracle drug of the moment. Shannon Mattern has an excellent (and very readable) explainer of the technology behind the buzzword, digital redlining, and the battle between financial titans to control this Next Big Thing.

... while these 5G speculations suggest a world of possibility and profit, they elide lots of potential risks and alternative futures. They also, unsurprisingly, fail to ask about the wisdom of entrusting the telecom industry (which has a long history of unscrupulous, monopolistic business practices) and the tech industry (newly under fire for similar reasons) to build what is purportedly _the_ critical infrastructure for a planned global transformation.

Whatcha Reading, Kira Jane Buxton?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Kira Jane Buxton is a Seattle-based writer whose debut novel, Hollow Kingdom is being released on August 6th. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, NewYorker.com, McSweeneys, and many others. Join Kira for the Hollow Kingdom launch, August 6th at the Lake Forest Park Third Place Books, at 7pm. Also, she'll be appearing in conversation during Oyinkan Braithwaite's visit, August 2nd at the Elliott Bay Book Company starting at 7pm, where a copy of Hollow Kingdom will be raffled off.

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading Timothy; Or Notes On An Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg which has been on my TBR list for years. It’s a novel narrated by a tortoise who lived in the 18th Century English garden of the naturalist Gilbert White. It moves at a refreshing and appropriate pace for a tortoise-narrated novel, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the existential perspective of a philosophical female tortoise named Timothy because we humans hadn’t figured out how to properly sex a tortoise back then. Timothy has many erudite and profound musings about humanity and I’m loving this novel’s poetic celebration of the natural world.

What did you read last?

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which is an utterly enchanting debut fantasy novel by Alix E Harrow. It’s the story of a girl named January Scaller who lives as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke in a museum masquerading as a mansion of unusual artifacts. January finds a mysterious book that tells a strange and wondrous story and leads her to other worlds through magical doors. Alix E. Harrow writes beautifully and as I read it, I felt a Narnia-esque sense of wonder. It’s quite lovely

What are you reading next?

I am deciding between two delicious reads (the story of my life). One is Bunny by Mona Awad, which I have been very impatiently waiting for. It’s been described as “The Secret History meets Heathers with a dash of Mean Girls.” I’m ready for this satirical fever dream. The second is Underland by Robert MacFarlane, an exploration of our earth’s subterranean spaces through an environmental lens. I love a conflation of nature writing and poetry. I read nonfiction about the natural world voraciously and have become particularly obsessed with reading about moss because of the wonderful writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer, and of mushrooms through mycologist and author Paul Stamet’s work (naturally, I am the life of the party).

July 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

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 July's posts.

July's Theme: Just Read The Last Post-it

Till now I’ve focused on post-its selected by my family, but July’s were chosen by my friend Francesca (Brief Overview: we’ve known each other since childhood; Fun Post-it Fact: her baby featured in one published last October). When I suggested she consider advance parameters to help narrow down from 4,000 existing post-its to just 4, I suspected I’d have to offer some guidance — but I was wrong. She texted back immediately: “I would like to choose half from the year you moved back to Seattle, and half from the current year.” The text continued, “Just feeling so grateful that I have gotten to be in close proximity to you these last several years, through ups and downs, big life changes, and the day-to-day. It would be neat to try to give these years a sort of virtual hug by choosing post-its on either side!” This renders me speechless with gratitude and love, and I don’t know how to be clever in writing about it. (Separately, the JOY/RELIEF of having someone in my life who shares my unfashionable propensity for wordy text messages!!) It makes me bashful to print such things, but I want to save this text forever and publishing it seemed like a decent preservation method. When I moved back from England 9 years ago it was sudden, awful. The prior reality got torn apart in ways I couldn’t control; a heavy-handed melodrama I didn’t recognize was apparently, bafflingly, real life. The stupid stupid reality of it was just my everyday, all the time. Nowadays I know I’m better off in this 2nd version of adulthood, the other years shrinking into a shorter and shorter percentage of my whole. But in that first year just a few things could give me solid sense of that fact: a spectacular kid (I wouldn’t have met her had I not needed money/a nanny gig so urgently), my new studio (my perfect years-long studio, my studio I now have to vacate), and Francesca. Just a week in, stunned and no idea what to do with myself, I could still tell how wonderful it was to finally live in the same city as each other again. (In my studio heyday, we went to the nearby noodle house so frequently together the owner demanded “where’s your girlfriend?” when I went in without her.) My parents also took care of me—I was so grateful and embarrassed—I still am—above all grateful. There’s something when they still call me the nickname they always used, my body relaxes like I can live in every time at once, like it’s my real name, ungendered and short-haired. I think she chose the fortune cookie because she liked the realism, but I find it comforting—it’s from a trip to Ballard Mandarin, finding that the same family who owned the long-gone favorite restaurant of my childhood were still running the same kind of place, somewhere else. It’s nice when past loves stick around—or at least scoot to Ballard and get reborn, still brusquely thrusting me extra fortune cookies as ever. The last one is Francesca’s parents’ house; we both thought for a moment it was her kid’s birthday party, but looked at the date and saw we were wrong. It’s a different story, a different much more vulnerable baby, I’d rather keep that one to myself right now. The words in the art are what I wanted to say.

The Help Desk: You can't teach winning

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com. This column is a re-run from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

I’m a published novelist who makes a fair amount of income teaching writing classes on the side. And I have a secret: the truth is that most of my students will never get anywhere because they don’t work hard enough. I mean, I tell my students that working at writing is the most important part, but they don’t seem to listen. Too many things — work, social life, video games — get in the way.

I always want to be flat with them and say that if they’re not willing to put in the time at writing, they shouldn’t bother taking my class. But this is how I get paid. So instead I offer encouraging words and watch while they flush their dreams down the toilet by playing Halo 46 until three in the morning or whatever. Many of these students are more talented than I am, but I just can’t get the idea that writing a lot is the secret to writing well through their heads. Do you have any advice for me?

Seamus, Port Townsend

Dear Seamus,

I hate to break it to you but that doesn’t qualify as a secret. Most writers know that their odds of “getting anywhere” are slim, just as they instinctively know the sun is an attention hog, gravity’s a drag, and vegan bicycles are the most insufferable type of bicycle. That’s not the point. As I see it, there are two main motivators for taking a writing class:

  1. Being around other writers, and getting the chance to read their work, pass judgement, and get feedback on your writing.
  2. Having artificial deadlines imposed on your work.

People also enroll in your classes for the same reason I line my underwear with lottery tickets: there’s hope embedded in the ritual. Which means your job — as a successful writer, mentor to other writers, and gatekeeper of hopes and dreams — is to impose those artificial deadlines, give good feedback, and facilitate discussion. Keep in mind that being a successful writer isn’t like being an astronaut or child bride — there are no age restrictions. Students who are dedicated Halo drones today can develop the discipline it takes to finish a manuscript five or ten years from now. So tell them the truth but don’t belabor the point: great writing takes time, discipline, and talent. Then smile, take their money, and invest at least half in underwear lottery tickets. Odds are you’ll regret it but just think: what if you don’t?

Kisses,

Cienna

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Baby steps

The Portrait Gallery: Herman Melville

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a new portrait of an author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know, or see if you can find them in the archives.

Herman Melville was born two-hundred years ago today. Happy birthday Herman!

Have you ever noticed how great Melville was at naming? Moby Dick, or course. But Tyee? Omoo? White Jacket? Bartleby, the Scrivener?

Hey fans of meta-post-modernism! Did you know that Melville published The Confidence-Man on the day it was set? And what about that opening of Moby Dick? "EXTRACTS. (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian)"? Better than a David Foster Wallace footnote.

Happy second century, Melville. An American original, a financial failure during his life, and now, amazingly respected, and two-hundred years old.

Kissing Books: Assertive contact

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? And if you're still not sated, there's always the archives.

In the sleek modern lobby of the HarperCollins offices in Manhattan is a Chandler & Price letterpress from 1905. The metal is dark and lustrous, the wood gleams; it’s that kind of historical artifact whose heavy presence seems appropriate to its significance. I like it because I love letterpress, which shows us that printed books are the result of applied geography.

To print text in a press, you need to bring paper, ink, and metal type into assertive contact. There’s a moment where those three elements occupy the same geographic space—when the metal forces ink into the fibers of linen or pulp—and that’s the moment that creates something new: a handbill, an illuminated poem, a part of a novel. It is so tempting to think of stories as nebulous mind-things, ethereal dream-pictures as fluid and untouchable as thought.

But thoughts escape us. Texts remain.

Even in modern printing, which these days is largely digital, it’s useful to trace the geographical movements. Manuscripts written by authors are sent to New York for acquisition and editing, sent out to presses for printing (with paper largely from China and Canada), collected in warehouses, then shipped to bookstores where finished volumes pause briefly on store shelves before coming to rest on the tottering nightstand stacks of hopeful readers. Or, if the books don’t catch a reader’s eye, being sent back to be remaindered or pulped and turned into other, less refined volumes further down the recycling chain.

In this field of movement, New York sits on the history of American publishing like the proverbial bowling ball on the rubber sheet. If you’re not working with it, you’re working around it, and you’ll still be affected by how it shapes the gravity of the industry. For a century and longer, hopeful young writers and editors moved to New York to try and get closer to the great, beating heart of the whole system. The history of American writing is layered over and within New York’s physical geography. For example, I am writing this two blocks away from the Algonquin Round Table—though sadly not with a properly Parkeresque martini to hand.

Amazon is a second, newer bowling ball, growing heavier and heavier with every acquisition and upsetting the once-predictable path of everyone’s orbit. (Well, semi-predictable. For a given value of predictable. Publishing is very, very weird.)

Amazon specifically breaks the book world’s established geographic chain: in the corporation’s earliest incarnation, it was mostly there to facilitate the movement of books directly to the customer, no matter where book or customer was located. Until the company got a market toehold. Now, as its domain grows every more Lovecraftian—horrifically vast, inhuman, tentacles *everywhere*—it has brought down huge chain bookstores, and is reaching out into other industries to similarly turn them into fiefdoms (movies, groceries, and fashion, to name just a few).

It’s a fact that cracking the gatekept New York pipeline made possible opportunities for people the book world has long left behind: Black and brown genre writers, queer writers, disabled writers, people who can’t afford New York’s cost of living. That in addition to tastes and trends that publishing can never perfectly anticipate, and which in earlier decades might never have had a chance to reach readers. Amazon was right to make self-publishing easy and accessible. We get to hear a lot more voices now than we did before.

Amazon did not do this as a favor, or because it was right. Amazon did this for money, and power, and the company’s attack on geography is continuing. It will not be satisfied with New York. Amazon fought not to pay sales tax, demanded customer information from public libraries in exchange for Kindle loans, turned South Lake Union into a gentrified faux-place, demurred to support Seattle-based charities, overloaded public transit routes, sent neighborhood rents skyrocketing, and runs a network of warehouses that are horribly both Orwellian and Dickensian.

Even the vaunted self-publishing revolution comes with squicky parts. Scammers are gaming bestseller lists with boxed sets and ghostwriters and paid reviews, bots are offering absurd algorithm-generated prices for hard-to-find texts, and getting plagiarists and unlicensed copies of your work taken down is a fiendish stall the likes of which not even Kafka could dream up.

When you list it all out like that, it starts to look pretty evil.

It’s high time geography got a little of its own back.

This month, I’m asking you to find time to support local businesses, bookstores, libraries, and presses. Pick a title from the current IndieBound list, or use the site to find a bookstore near where you live. You can find indie bookstores that are romance-friendly on this crowdsourced map. August 17 is also Bookstore Romance Day, a day when indie bookstores and romance authors come together for mutual squee and swooning.

This month’s books are heavy on the geography theme: we have a couple of urban planners, rival dating site executives, a couple escaping family troubles by touring Cape Town, two women falling in love below stairs, and a Regency romance with a castaway cannibal hero (yes, you read that right). Geography may be destiny, as the historians say—but we all know destiny is no match for true love.

Recent Romances:

One Day to Fall by Therese Beharrie (Carina Press: contemporary m/f):

Category romances have long prided themselves on transporting readers to glamorous, vivid, and memorable locales—Greek-set romances are their own subgenre at this point (I really should look into who’s been studying those academically!)—and I’m hoping this tradition makes it ever easier to expand English-language romance settings beyond the US and UK. Certainly certified Rising Star Therese Beharrie is making a strong showing of doing just that, writing South African characters with local expertise and sensitivity. It’s not a tourist’s perspective, even when her lovers are dodging difficult family moments by visiting tourist sites. The reader gets the sense not just of having visited Cape Town, but of what it feels like to live there.

One Day to Fall does precisely what it promises: two strangers escaping from families in crisis resolve emotional issues and fall in love during the course of a single day. Beharrie’s books are dialogue-rich and in-depth about her characters’ baggage. The humor sucks you in and then oh no, there are so many feelings! We learn so much about how Angie and Parker think and feel, and how they’ve come to think and feel that way, that it never feels forced or rushed when they decide at the end of that single day that they’d like to try being a couple. Sure, it’s only been twenty-four hours, but we have more than enough information to know how they’ll cope with a shared future. Building that kind of depth in the swift, sleek category form is just—woof, I have no idea how Beharrie does it, but let’s let her keep doing it as often as she wants.

She frowned. Had his eyes always been that colour? A deep brown that contrasted the lighter brown of his skin? And had he always looked so young? There wasn’t a line on his face; nothing giving away that he was her age or older. She was only twenty-six, but there were lines on her face. Perhaps the gods had seen into her soul and identified her as the raggedy old bitch she was.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Avon Books: contemporary m/f):

There’s a strain of romcom shenanigans that delights in extensively mortifying a perfectly ordinary heroine. You’ll find none of that nonsense here.

You will find the heightened reality and tropey goodness you’re hoping for. There’s no real road map for smart choices when you end up fake-dating your one-night stand so your rival online dating sites can milk the publicity. Heroine Rhiannon is smart and ambitious and makes a lot of very understandable mistakes: she clings to her trauma coping mechanisms, she is prickly and suspicious, she has real baggage imperfectly wrestled with at the start of the story. But the narrative is not interested in punishing her for these faults, the way some romcoms might be (looking at you, Bridget Jones).

Rhiannon is one of Rai’s signature heroines: a mix of banter and broken edges, always human and relatable and deeply, deeply loveable. The quintessential best friend, the one you root for even when she’s kind of fucking it up.

Our hero, strong, steady former pro football player Samson, has plenty of wounds of his own—deep losses that still hurt and that call him to prevent other people from suffering in similar ways (family members lost to CTE and ALS). It’s a brilliant contrast with Rhiannon in so many ways: she was attacked by someone she loved and trusted who proved predatory, while Samson has had one loved one after another taken from him by accident and illness. Both characters wade into the waters of grief, but they’re approaching it from different sides of the river. It’s an extraordinary, subtle fountain of conflict that is almost more than the romance can bear.

Almost being the important word. As with Rai’s fiercely tender Forbidden Hearts series, so many of this book’s characters are all trying to take care of one another as best they can: a listening ear, a grounded focus to stem a rising panic attack, thoughtful advice and support at the lowest moments. Rai crafts a space of kindness and acceptance to offset an often vicious world: her protagonists don’t have to change their essential nature, they only are pushed to find better ways of being in the world. There’s a sharp meta edge to the story, an awareness of the way our culture frames romance and the ways in which that either buoys or fails us. There’s an extended dialogue on the definition of fuckboy that alone is probably worth the price of the book.

“Find me the empty soul who doesn’t get emotional over While You Were Sleeping.”

A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian (Avon Impulse: historical f/f):

Back in January I predicted that 2019 was going to be a banner year for sapphic romance, and I have never been more delighted (and, let’s be honest, a little smug) to be proven right. Avon released their first f/f romance by Alyssa Cole (and then their first f/f historical, by me!), Courtney Milan’s elderly lesbians gloriously burned everything down, Berkley announced they’ll be publishing a contemporary f/f in 2020, and Rose Lerner just revealed the cover for her upcoming f/f Gothic The Sea May Burn.

And of course, this new perfect miniature gem from Cat Sebastian, loosely connected to her Turner series.

A Little Light Mischief may be the most aptly titled novella I have ever read: if it were any fluffier, it would float right off my tablet and into the ether. You could devour the whole thing in one gulp during a night of anxious insomnia (ask me how I know!). The prose-to-profanity ratio, though, is gratifyingly high for such a short book: we are dealing with working characters in the Regency, women with calloused hands and frank vocabularies and few scruples when it comes to putting food on the table.

Molly is a buxom self-described lightskirt and erstwhile thief, and I adored her. Alice is a shaken, self-effacing vicar’s daughter who was thrown into the street when her father blamed her for being assaulted by his benefactor’s horrible nephew. Both Alice and Molly are working for the wealthy Mrs. Wraxhall, whose eccentricities include being kind to her servants and not caring too much about their checkered pasts. Cat Sebastian couples are almost always a study in contrasts, and this story holds true to the tradition: Molly’s flexible morals and open lustiness hides a heart more tender than she lets on, and Alice’s shy, pale exterior and grey gowns are supported by a spine made of pure, tempered steel. The plot is better enjoyed than described, and the prose flowed so sweetly and beautifully along that at the end I was still hungry for more — this is more the amuse-bouche for a full-length novel than a meal unto itself. It’ll have to hold us until October and the next book, and I‘m left feeling shamefully greedy and impatient until then.

Alice was momentarily taken aback. Justice was in the same category as diamonds and gold—utterly unavailable to her, and therefore not worth thinking about. She was rather surprised that Mrs. Wraxhall still believed in it. But then again, people clung to stupid ideas long past the point of reason. She glanced at the parcel in her hands. Hope was one of them.

Playing House by Ruby Lang (contemporary m/f):

My dad was a real estate appraiser by trade, back when that was an independent profession and not something you were supposed to take on faith from the same big realtors who were selling you the home they fixed the value of (I have Opinions about real estate that go way back). He’d married into my mom’s family, who are handy in a way that goes beyond basic home maintenance and into things like construction, remodeling, and parts manufacture. The plot of land on a backwoods lake purchased by my great-grandfather was intended as a camping spot but too many of us got interested in improving it as a side hobby—it started with a concrete foundation, then a one-story house, then a two-story house, with wraparound deck, then a dock and beach, then a landscaped garden.

All of this is just to say that I am definitely the target audience for this thoughtful, grounded novella about two urban planners seducing one another by describing historic architecture, apartment design, and city development. It’s a lot of nerdery for a short book, but it goes a long way toward showing us our main couple’s shared passion and suitability. If you’re the kind of person who cruises apartment listings for fun even when you have no plans to move, this will be your kind of catnip.

Oliver Huang and Fay Liu are both career-focused, but in distinctly different ways. They tumble into the romcom situation of posing as a couple to tour high-end homes just for the fun of it, but the real conflict is about where they’re headed in life and what kind of partner they need for the journey. Fay is fresh off a divorce from a man who couldn’t keep up with her ambition and resented her for it; Oliver has been out of a job for a few months and is worried that the freelance life makes him too much like his feckless, absent father. They’ve known each other for a while but not well, and it’s pure pleasure watching them fall headlong as they deal with family stress, future plans, and a possible working relationship. The sex scenes feel juicy and lush but in a very modern way, like the kind of fashionable hand-knotted floral-patterned rug they sell for too much money at Anthropologie: somehow both cutting-edge and comforting at once. The main couple is just plain likeable, even when they’re bogged down in their issues, and the book builds to one of the best last lines I’ve seen in romance in a while. Count me in for this and for book two, the teaser for which gives us a hilarious peek into how our couple’s ruse really appeared to one of the realtors they were fooling.

He sank down into the couch with his eyes closed. “In love again?” Oliver asked.

“Of course. The boy of my dreams. He’s got dimples. And a cleft chin. He’s just bulges and depressions in all the right places.”

“Is he a man or is he a topographical map?”

“He’s the valleys and the mountains, and I’m going on a long hike along the trails—all the trails, baby.”

This Month’s Beach Book Featuring A Castaway Cannibal Hero and Yes You Read That Right

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly (Harlequin Books: historical m/f):

Oceans of ink have been spilled trying to define the elusive concept of a “beach book.” I prefer to define it as something you get along with a “beach body,” as in: do you have a body? Do you have a book? Great! Let’s go to the beach!

Summer reading should be all about stretching out, catching up, sinking in to something you might not have time for during the rest of the working year. If you want to sprawl in a lounge chair with Sandman or Melville or, famously, a doorstop biography of America’s first treasury secretary, that’s just fine. Ditto for pure escapist fluff, too, because life is hard and death comes quick and you deserve some time for just feeling good things about made-up people. And if you’re looking for a uniquely charming Regency, with long stretches of tropical golden sand, dramatic shipwrecks and rescues, a sweet romance between a castaway sailor and a botanical illustrator, and some gorgeously creepy scenes about having to eat other people in order to stave off starvation, then have I got the book for you!

Beau Crusoe is hands-down one of the strangest historical romances I have ever read. It sticks to the ribs of the mind. Many angsty historical heroes have backstories of abuse, betrayal, or wartime injury—but this book’s hero James Trevenen is angsty because he knows what people taste like and he has trouble forgetting it when he’s, say, sitting down to a meal with a bunch of well-fed aristocrats. It’s like Jane Austen’s Snowpiercer, full of surreally tinted dining scenes and night terrors and visitations from the ghosts of devoured sailors past. Also toucans in the foyer, the benefits and risks of civilization, and a sincerely adorable plot moppet. It’s sweet and strange and un-put-downable—in short, a perfect book for the long, hot days of summer.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Meet your new friends

The easy thing to say about the collected edition of Little Teeth, the comics collaboration between Seattle cartoonist Rory Frances and ZEAL Magazine editor Jae Bearhat, is that it's a comic about relationships. But if that brings something like an Archie comic to mind, with love triangles and neatly summarized plots, you are about to have your mind blown.

Little Teeth drops you into a group of anthropomorphic friends who live in a big city, and then it trusts you to figure everything out. You're not told the characters' names, or their relationships to each other. The story doesn't begin so much as continue around you on the first page. In a lot of ways, it perfectly mirrors the experience of starting at a new school in the middle of a school year, or moving to a new city and falling into a new group of friends. You have to figure out from context who's fucking who, who hates who, and why.

But please don't interpret that to mean that Little Teeth is a lot of work. In fact, it's a delight. These characters are fun; you want to get to know them all. They're humanized skunks and cats and dogs and mice, and they're queer and poly and curious and adventurous.

The characters in this book move from hot tubs to bars to dumpy living room couches, and they talk to each other a lot — about their feelings, about their relationships, about each other — but the pages aren't dialogue-heavy or a mess to navigate. In fact, Little Teeth feels breezy and light. Frances draws with a light line, and the book's neon pink highlights give the story a summery, youthful vibe.

Little Teeth in many ways has the vibe of an early Fantagraphics book — in particular, the punky in-your-face-ness of Love and Rockets. These are fallible, decent characters trying to make their way in a world with no adult supervision. It's better, and worse, than they ever imagined it could be.

Lunch Date: Taking Sylvia Plath out for Hawaiian food

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today?

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom: A Story by Sylvia Plath. Yes, that Sylvia Plath.

Where’d you go?

Super Six, the Columbia City outpost of the Marination chain of restaurants.

What’d you eat?

I had the Loco Moko ($14), a Hawaiian classic meal featuring a hamburger patty on top of a couple mounds of white rice, covered in brown gravy and a couple of eggs.

How was the food?

Positively delightful. At 11 am, after skipping breakfast, few meals perfectly sate your hunger like a Loco Moko. I'm a fan of everything that Marination does, but Super Six is my favorite of their restaurants, and while there are plenty of great meals on the menu, this is the one I keep coming back for.

What does your date say about itself?

From the publisher's description:

Never before published, this newly discovered story by literary legend Sylvia Plath stands on its own and is remarkable for its symbolic, allegorical approach to a young woman’s rebellion against convention and forceful taking control of her own life.

Written while Sylvia Plath was a student at Smith College in 1952, Mary Ventura and The Ninth Kingdom tells the story of a young woman’s fateful train journey.

Is there a representative quote?

"Lulled by the clocking rhythm of the train wheels, Mary stared out of the window. In one of the corn fields a scarecrow caught her eye, crossed staves propped aslant, and the corn husks rotting under it. The dark ragged coat wavered in the wind, empty, without substance. And below the ridiculous figure black crows were strutting to and fro, pecking for grains in the dry ground."

Will you two end up in bed together?

I mean, it's a ten dollar, 40-page book with immense font size and huge spacing between lines, so I read it all over lunch. Unfortunately, it's not good. And it's not really a surprise that it's not good: Plath wrote the story in college, so it's all full of heavy symbolism and bad writing and on-the-nose descriptions. It honestly feels very exploitative to read this book, and while juvenalia has its place, I wish this story had been collected with some of Plath's other work, to remind us that she eventually became a great writer. For completists only.

Letting Michelle Peñaloza ask the questions

Two years ago, I interviewed poet Michelle Peñaloza as she prepared to move from Seattle to northern California. Peñaloza gave the best excuse for leaving Seattle: "I’m moving for love," she told me.

There are all kinds of love: romantic love, a love of place, a love of art. Peñaloza left to be closer to a person she loved, but it's her love of poetry that's bringing her back to Seattle next week with a brand-new book. Much of Peñaloza's first full-length poetry collection, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, was written here in Seattle, and she's coming to town for four events to launch the book into the city where it was born. (You can read more about the events — ranging from a traditional Elliott Bay reading to a karaoke banger — on Peñaloza's site for right now, but we'll be talking more about them on the Seattle Review of Books in days to come, too.)

Possessions is a beautiful, deeply personal collection of poetry, though on the phone Peñaloza seems reticent to accept that description. "I always hesitate to call poetry personal," she tells me.

"I think that the hesitation comes from the way that people conflate poetry with autobiography," she explains, "while fiction is fiction — someone's making that up, it's something that's created. But poetry we think just comes from one's journal, and it's not a crafted thing."

Of course, Peñaloza's poetry isn't personal like someone dumping a diary entry onto the page and messing with the margins a bit. What I mean by the word "personal" in this context is that it's deeply considered, and it's delivered with an intimacy that feels striking, as though she's in front of you, staring you in the eyes.

"What I was hoping would happen in this book is an engagement with that further intimacy," Peñaloza says, "but trying to play with it on a micro and macro level." In Possessions, she hopes to "make these big connections between something that in history happened hundreds of years ago that is still reverberating in the horrible phone conversation you have with an ex or something."

These poems examine huge questions of history and geography and race and power, and then they bring those examinations back to a more intimate level. Peñaloza reckons with and navigates the Philippines' long history of empire and sexism and faith and violence. (She writes, "We are a people built for disappointment/for tragedy and pain.")

The book is punctuated with a series of devastating poetic investigations printed in white on a solid black background. "A lot of my life I've spent as a woman of color in very white spaces," Peñaloza tells me. "And there are lots of questions that are asked, at least in my experience, of Brown bodies in spaces where they're perceived to not belong — i.e. white spaces. And so I think that that form came out of me just being annoyed by people's questions."

The first Q&A poem addresses those questions — or one question in particular: "where are you from?" Peñaloza always answers truthfully: she's from Nashville. But then comes the inevitable reply: "I hate, hate, hate, hate — I fucking hate — the follow-up," she says. To relate the question, she adopts a coy voice: "No, I mean really where are you from? But, I mean, like where are your parents from?"

These Q&A investigations set the tone for the rest of the book, and it's clear that Peñaloza isn't facing this self-interrogation for anyone else but herself. "Those were just really hard questions for me to answer. And it made me think, 'where is a way I can get to the truth through song or through lyric while answering these? So it became kind of like a call and response for myself, which was kind of cathartic."

A pause.

"But also fun."

There’s something about Boswell

Published July 30, 2019, at 12:00pm

Levi Stahl reviews Leo Damrosch’s The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Ag .

Why can't we kick the 18th century?

Read this review now

How to Use Safety Pin to Punch Richard Spencer in Four Steps

Step 1. Show up on Inauguration Night
Leave your pretensions at home this time,
you will not be saving anyone here.
There is a surge of black-clad bodies that will quickly take your stubborn
Berniecrat and I’m With Her shirts out of fashion.
You have a bleeding heart
pinned to your sleeve by a safety pin

Huffington Post told you to wear it
Your well-meaning aunt told you,
with the force of a whole rich neighborhood association’s facebook group behind her, that this
tiny piece of metal
will save the poor and wretched
welcome them to your teeming shore —

No.
Don’t get caught up in pretensions.

Step 2. When you see notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer being interviewed by the news,
make sure your safety pin is visible.
Wait for a poor, victimized Person of Color to approach you for help.
You’ll grow so tired
of waiting for an opportunity to show off your allyship you might learn something.

Step 3. Here is the hard part
While Richard Spencer is talking about the Pepe the Frog pin on his lapel
his face
will be interviewed by a fist instead.
He, all bigotry, hair gel, and bloated pride
stumbles from the well-placed blow, lands on the concrete a couple yards away

Suddenly, the assailant’s fist is Lady Liberty’s torch, blazing a trail for us to march on.

Suddenly
we are all the fist
humiliating white supremacy at its own inauguration.

In the universe of this small victory,
no one is president.
No cop tear gasses a restaurant without resistance
and bigotry
bleeds from biting its own eager tongue again.
Someone punches Richard Spencer and hope blooms a tangible thing in me.
Hundreds of miles away
I breathe just a little easier

so before you yell,
“just sign a change.org petition!”

Think of how long we have been waiting.
How you say,
“we’ll survive these four years”
as if we
have not been trying to survive for centuries.

Think of you love watching us swallow when we want to spit.
Pressure hosing a panther and reprimanding her when she bites.

Think of how you pulled the nine inch knife out six inches, stared at the wound, and called the bleeding progress.
Think of where you were
when an islamophobe tore off her hijab on the bus,
and you did not do anything.
Think of the community centers that shook with death threats
and you
did not do anything
Think of the cops that gunned a black kid
into memory and you
did not
do
anything.

Step 4.
I will not come to you for help.
Take off the safety pin.
Know that fascism does not arrive with a name tag,it arrives as your friend.
It arrives as Richard Spencer, well-manicured and well-behaved, speaking poison into cameras spinning it acceptable.

Do not allow this by any means necessary
Leave your pretensions at home.
Practice
making
a fist.

Time after time

Our thanks to Doug Walsh for sponsoring The Seattle Review of Books this week. Seattle author Walsh has released not one but two books this year: The Walkthrough: Insider Tales from a Life in Strategy Guides, and Tailwinds Past Florence, a time-travelogue that's really a love story that's really a thriller.

We're intrigued by Walsh's work. He's noted that writing these memoir-ish books came after the last major publisher of strategy guides closed, presumably leaving him free to tell stories he might not've otherwise. It's fascinating to think about how you might construct a story as you walk through a video game — which is itself a story — and how what you learn might translate to an original tale.

Tailwinds Past Florence promises to be a compelling and twisty piece of work. It's built on the bones of reality (Walsh's own globe-trotting bike trip), and the couple at the center of it were Walsh's companions from the Pyrenees to the Indian Ocean. But they're distinctly different from Walsh and his wife — not least because one of them is a time-traveler.

Check out chapter 1 on our sponsor feature page this week only. Then pick up a copy here.

Did you notice the long line of cars leaving town? It's almost August, Seattle's favorite season for campaign, beach-ing, and road-tripping. It's the perfect time to put your book in front of this city of avid readers. Grab one of the last sponsorships of the season and make sure you're in every duffel, backpack, or beach bag in the state.

The State of the Site: Year Four

Last Saturday was the fourth anniversary of the launch of the award-winning Seattle Review of Books. Four years! If the site were a president, its first term would be over. Were it a dog — say, a Greyhound (a dog I pick at random for no obvious reason) — it would be thirty-three. Were it a human, it would be starting to develop a rich cognitive model of self, something to carry it forward into its kindergarten years.

Anthropomorphizing a website is ridiculous, of course. We could pick plenty of four-year-old things that might portend a horrible future — but still, the exercise is interesting if we want to look outside ourselves, and think about what you could have been. It helps cast things in a different light.

The past year, since my last update, has been a busy one, both for the site and behind the scenes. Site co-founder Paul Constant is now a published comic book writer, and his debut series Planet of the Nerds has had a wonderful reception into the world (it's really good). Site Associate Editor Dawn McCarra Bass has started a company, and continues the great work of the Pocket Libraries program. My extracurricular activities have been less outward — I've been tinkering in the basement (more on that in a minute).

It has been our honor this year, as in those before, to report on the world of Seattle literature, to review books that shape and change that world, to comment, listen, and offer a platform to many who are working on so many important issues, using books as their platform.

Thank you, as always, to the writers and columnists that are our public voice. We couldn't do it without you, and we are so honored to be where you choose to shine. To Olivia Waite, Nisi Shawl, and Daneet Steffens, who cover our "genre" columns with such ease and aplomb, to Christine Marie Larsen, Aaron Bagley, and Clare Johnson whose visual work shows each week on the site. To Cienna Madrid who taught us so much about maternal sexual attraction to spiders. To our reviewers, and people who pitch us ideas: thank you. It is humbling to see your talent each day.

Also, there's a new face behind the scenes. Julie Yue (my day-job coworker at Textio) has just started helping us with some editorial work. There is no doubt you'll see her name more as we go, and we'll give her a proper introduction when the time is right, but I wanted to be sure to mention her in this note, and mark our appreciation at the start of her time with us.

I'm going to take a nerdy sidebar here for a minute: in December, our CMS broke. CMS is an acronym that means "Content Management System", or, the place we put all our junk that spits out the webpages you're reading right now. Since our launch, we were publishing on a scrappy system built by a small handful of devs, called Webhook. It was a nicely designed system that didn't find any commercial traction, so the founders went to work for other people. The site kept plugging along until December, when a service the site relied on was deprecated and we were unable to log in and use the service.

Hopefully, you didn't notice this. Right away, we started publishing manually. Back in 1995, I learned how to build websites by publishing hand-written HTML. I went back to my roots for this, and since then we strung together a temporary solution using Airtable, Github, and a few other handy services combined with old-fashioned hand edited HTML. It's still a manual process, but a manageable one.

Then, with a huge amount of invaluable help from my friend, compatriot, and one of those frontend dev/designer combos that make it all look so easy, Chris Drackett, we've been rebuilding the site.

When we launch the new version later this year, I'll explain more about what we did and why, but it's taking a while because we're addressing some issues with the way we structured data originally, and trying to make the site more friendly, more usable, and more extensible. We're taking the opportunity to build it better.

If you have noticed anything awry this year (our RSS feed, for one), this is why. We apologize for that, and if it were 1996 I'd put a little gif here, probably of a little stick man working with a shovel. I'm so glad it's not 1996 anymore.

It's been a good lesson, hand-writing HTML. It reminds me why we build CMS', what they are good for, and how we use them poorly. We evaluated dozens of replacement options, some of which we eliminated from consideration right off, some that we prototyped and played with before ending up on our solution of a Django backend, and React front-end.

There is a craft element to building websites that it is easy to forget with modern development techniques. We are building with craft in mind, but also relying on modern technologies to make the site easier to expand and update in the future. We'll say more when the time is right.

Four years. Four years! Four years of daily publishing. That's something, isn't it? An independant media voice in a city whose arts reporting has been woefully diminshed, at a time when the city is more populous and richer than ever. We find this unacceptable.

This time, next year, the election to remove the elephant in the room (the one that's sitting on the chest of the entire country making us gasp for breath) will be underway. Amidst this chaos (frends, it's gonna be nasty) the five-year state of the site message may be full of news of SRoB, but we hope to report a past year full of growth and expansion.

Friends, the state of the Seattle Review of Books is strong, but we are working on the foundation. We are workshopping the future every day, and can't wait to show you what we think it could be.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from June 29th - August 4th

Monday, July 29th: Lawn Boy Paperback Release Party

I loved Jonathan Evison's blue-collar novel about a landscaper on Bainbridge Island. I thought it was a terrific change of pace in an industry that is way too obsessed with wealthy white families that are miserable deep down inside. Now that Lawn Boy is out in paperback, you have no excuse. Don't miss out on this. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, July 30th: Clarion West Presents Ann Leckie

Clarion West brings a wide array of sci-fi authors to town every summer, and they traditionally always feature at least one big blockbuster of a reading. Tonight is that night. Ann Leckie, of the wildly popular Ancillary series of sci-fi novels, will make a rare Seattle appearance tonight. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 31st: The Every Other

Seattle poet and novelist Doug Nufer's new reading series brings a pair of European experimental writers to town. Françoise Canter represents French Oulipians, and Italian writer and oceanographer Paolo Pergola stands for Italy. Local musician Greg Kelley will play a little jazzy tune or two on a trumpet. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 8 pm, free.

Thursday, August 1st: The Vexations Reading

Caitlin Horrocks' first novel, The Vexations, is about Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Suzanne Valadon. Expect Horrocks to discuss artistic rivalry and community and heartbreak With Seattle author Donna Miscolta, who will be doing the moderating honors tonight. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Friday, August 2nd: My Sister, the Serial Killer Reading

Oyinkan Braithwaite's novel is something of a sensation — a family drama that isn't afraid to get a little sensational.It's about a pair of Nigerian women, and the habit one of them develops: she can't seem to stop killing herboyfriends. This one has been nominated for a ton of awards. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, August 3rd: Ashenfolk Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, August 4th: How It Feels To Float Reading

In her new YA novel, Helena Fox writes candidly about mental illness. Tonight, she'll be interviewed by Seattle author Joy McCullough. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 3 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Ashenfolk reading at Elliot Bay Book Company

When you look up the description of poet Joseph Mosconi's new book Ashenfolk, this is what comes up: "Subject matter: chiropteric burglary, miscast spells, sentient AI, elvish folklore, heavy metal, counter-hippie cybernetics." And then: "A comment on genre and latent form as a type of minimalist poetry."

I'm not entirely sure what that description means, exactly, but it somehow seems about right. This is a book of poetry that seems to absorb influences from everywhere and mash them all together into something new, like the product of a particularly adventurous taxidermist. I'm especially fond of the page that reads "THERE"S NO SUCH THING AS A PRIVATE ONTOLOGY," with the word "THING" typed out in a garish 1950s monster-movie font.

Ashenfolk is a collection of booklets and postcards assembled into one edition. You can read it in any direction, or at any pace. It's narrative, but it's also against narrative. It's poetry, but it's also something more. Or less. I don't feel equipped to talk about it, but I also can't stop thinking about it.

To celebrate Mosconi's new book, he's doing a reading on Saturday at Elliott Bay Book Company with two of my favorite living readers of poetry: Sarah Galvin and Robert Lashley. These two turn any reading into the best kind of catastrophe — the kind of thing where you're howling with laughter or pain throughout. I mean, good lord.

This is the kind of event where you might leave unsure of what just happened to you. That might sound uncomfortable to you. Fair enough. But I can guarantee you one thing: you will be thinking about it for weeks and months to come.

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for July 28, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. 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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

The crane wife

“To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work,” says CJ Hauser, while calmly, patiently, eloquently detailing the disintegration of an almost-marriage and what she found in the aftermath.

In the mornings we made each other sandwiches and in the evenings we laughed and lent each other fresh socks. We gave each other space in the bathroom. Forgave each other for telling the same stories over and over again. We helped Warren when he had trouble walking. What I am saying is that we took care of each other. What I am saying is we took pleasure in doing so. It’s hard to confess, but the week after I called off my wedding, the week I spent dirty and tired on the gulf, I was happy.
Archaeology of the 99%

Courtesy of Jason Kottke: This interview with archeologist Jeremy Sabloff details a tectonic shift (sorry) in the field of archeology: away from rich people telling the story of the rich people of the past, and toward a broader historical picture. Looking at the 100% (instead of the infamous 1%) can drastically change what we thought we knew about, for example, Mayan civilization.

We’re used to (though wary of) the page being a biased record. Turns out what we unearth can lie, too. This is a fascinating way of thinking about the historical record, especially when applied to the recent history of the United States.

Until the middle of the 20th century, much of archaeology was also carried out by people of wealth. The makeup of the field changed significantly after World War II, and its practitioners became much more middle class. One reason is there were a lot more jobs available, particularly at state universities. And you started to be able to get grants for fieldwork that wasn’t based on looking for objects or spectacular finds. All of this is related to the switch from the 1 percent to the 99 percent ...
Paper books can't be shut off from afar

In 2010, Amazon pulled 1984 and Animal Farm, apparently with no sense of irony, from Kindle devices, awakening an angry public to the fact that they did not own the books they’d bought. Sadly, the public went to sleep again quite quickly in the wake of Prime Day and Prime Delivery and Prime Amazon Everything.

Maria Bustilla takes a look, almost ten years later, at the current Kindle TOR. Things are of course vastly improved. I’m not saying don’t buy digital — but don’t buy only digital, in case the the tech elite moves to that island they keep talking about. You’ll need something to read.

My Fahrenheit-451-paranoia was fanned into a giant flaming ball of fear-napalm when I looked into the personal ownership of the files and books on my own Kindle. And things have only gotten a lot worse since then.

Whatcha Reading, Joy L Wiggins?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Joy L Wiggins is a Bellingham-based speaker, writer, scholar, and faciliator who promotes racial and gender justice. She is the co-author, with Kami J Anderson, of From Sabotage to Support: A New Vision for Feminist Solidarity in the Workplace. Dr. Wiggins will be appearing this Monday, July 29th at 7pm, at the Elliott Bay Book Company to talk about her book. Anybody interested in learing about their internal biases, and how biases in the workplace lead to unwitting sabotage between white women, black women, and women of color, will no doubt find this talk fascinating and informative.

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading, Dissident Friendships: Feminism, Imperialism, and Transnational Solidarity by Elora Chowdhury (Editor), Liz Philipose (Editor).

What did you read last?

I am usually in and out of books, so I would say I read many simultaneously. It's rare that I actually read one from start to finish. So I am usually reading several at a time, but I always tend to go back and forth between Pema Chodron's Taking the Leap: Freeing ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race , and various children's books and educational texts for my classes at Western. I teach the Culture, Equity and Advocacy class in the Education department so I am constantly finding new texts and resources to incorporate.

What are you reading next?

I will be reading more about indigenous women with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz's book, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States and more reports from the American Association of University Women Annual report on the Gender Wage Gap.

The Help Desk: Outside the lines

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com. This column is a re-run from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

I’m a bookseller at an independent bookstore in Seattle. (No, not that one.) I’m used to people having bad taste when it comes to books, but every time someone buys an adult coloring book from me, I become irrationally mad. It’s getting so I can’t even look them in the eyes anymore. I think they’re a disgusting fad for rich people with way too much time on their hands. On the other hand, sales of adult coloring books are putting a roof over my head, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much. How do I choke down this bile?

Juliet, Interbay

Dear Juliet,

I think adult coloring is supposed to sassy and therapeutic, like playing adult kickball or attending your coworker’s cosplay divorce party. But I don’t really get it either. I’ve received two adult coloring books as gifts and have had to fight the urge to say, “thanks but this isn’t a real book.” I suppose I know now how those “one man, one woman” marriage purists feel.

What I’m saying is, since we’re losing this battle we might as well try to understand its appeal. Coloring seems to be therapy for adults who don’t know how to address conflict with their words, so this week, I jotted down a few phrases that I said while in conversation with my neighbor and spiders, respectively, that I could tell irritated them but they were too polite to call me on.

Then I drew pictures of the phrases and gifted them to the offended parties, along with some chewed crayons I found. So far, neither has colored their drawings but I’m sure once they do, they’ll feel much better. And they will thank me for it.

I encourage you to try it, Juliet, and see if it helps with your bile issues. I’m including copies of my drawings for you to practice on. Enjoy and remember: Get sassy with it! Those breasts don’t have to be chicken colored, they can be any ol’ color you choose!

Kisses,

Cienna

P.S. For all you eagle-eyed art connoisseurs out there, yes, that is a Georgia O’Keeffe vagina on the back of that heifer.

P.P.S. And yes, several spiders already pointed out that I don’t know how to spell “heifer.”

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Ciggie

The Portrait Gallery: Hot dog!

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a new portrait of an author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know, or see if you can find them in the archives.

Friday, July 26th: Touch ’Em All Reading

Travis Parker Smith’s new book is about his attempts to see a baseball game in every single Major League ballpark. This reading comes with hot dogs cooked out on the bookstore’s patio, which is perhaps the most summer-y reading I’ve ever heard of. Queen Anne Book Company, 1811 Queen Anne Ave N., 284-2427, http://qabookco.com, 7 pm, free.

Criminal Fiction: Summertime crime

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

X Marks the Calendar Spot

Steve Cavanagh, whose Thirteen just won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, will be visiting Seattle on August 20 to discuss his award-winning novel.

And a little further north, Louise Penny is Booked at the Baker in Bellingham on August 30 with her latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery, A Better Man.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

In Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake (William Morrow), suburban housewife Maddie Schwartz decides to leave her marriage, forge out on her own, and create a new career path for herself at a local newspaper in mid-1960s Baltimore. Two corpses later, she’s sleuthing her way, incrementally, to a reporting spot, but this is by no means just her story. The narrative, reminiscent of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology and Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, unfolds through a chorus of the city’s voices – cops, waitresses, columnists, baseball players, bartenders, kids – delving into the hopes, ambitions and sometimes shattered dreams of its inhabitants, and throwing society’s structured racism, sexism, and political corruption into stark relief. But Maddie’s determined digging also brings to vivid life the inner workings of a metropolitan newsroom, as well as the compassion, focus, and curiosity that drive excellent journalism. Mesmerizing, compelling, and utterly humane, Lippman’s latest is also movingly bookended with the names of the Capital-Gazette journalists murdered in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28, 2018: Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters.

Kevin Moore, once a highly respected lawyer – ‘The Courtroom’s Clooney,’ no less – is slinging luncheon meat in the aptly named SUBstitution fast-food joint, temporarily disbarred and on probation for drug use, in The Substitution Order by Martin Clark (Knopf). Then, a palpably villainous dude slinks into his life, a “chubby Draco Malfoy sans the Slytherin blazer,” as one colleague puts it, and Moore’s life goes from bad to worse. (Or, as his best buddy puts it accurately and succinctly, Moore racks up “an accumulation of unwelcome shit….”). Clark’s trademark witty prose and mind-bending legal plotting get a welcome workout in this engaging thriller in which blackmail, financial derring-do, technical wizardry, a canny bit of pet training, and a bucolic rural Virginia setting converge in a pleasurably heady mixture.

It's murder by wine bottle – and a very expensive one, at that – in Anthony Horowitz’ second PI Daniel Hawthorne investigation, The Sentence Is Death (Harper). Hawthorne is aided, abetted, sometimes unknowingly undermined, but never outdone by his sidekick Anthony Horowitz – yes, you read that correctly – who is meant to be recording Hawthorne’s true-crime adventures for posterity. In between polishing scripts for his TV series Foyle’s War and getting gently snubbed for his commercial-rather-than-literary career choices – everyone gets the proper name of Horowitz’ Alex Rider series wrong – the not-so-fictional Horowitz does indeed scribble his copious notes on Hawthorne’s progress, as the real-life author pokes loving fun at Golden Age detective novels while cunningly crafting one of his own.

Across the Void (Skybound Books/Atria), S.K. Vaughn’s space-based, future-set, camera-ready thriller kicks off with Commander May Knox emerging from a medically induced coma on the Stephen Hawking II, a NASA research vessel. What knocked her out? And what happened to her crew? As Knox struggles to repair her disintegrating ship, engineers back home — including her estranged husband — work to re-open communication with her; once that channel is established, however, even more hell breaks loose. Vaughn, no slouch when it comes to thrills-a-minute rides — as Shane Kuhn, he’s authored The Intern’s Handbook, The Asset, and Hostile Takeover — peppers his narrative with entertaining tips-of-the-hat to multiple thriller-focused elements, from James Bond and Die Hard, to 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Abyss. Galactical pyrotechnics aside, the story is propelled by very — for now, at least — Earth-bound concepts: the horrifying corruptibility of power, the interfacing of humans and artificial intelligence, and, of course, the indisputable power of love.

In Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger (Putnam), FBI profiler Nell Flynn returns home to Suffolk Country, Long Island, to mourn her father’s death with his police-department colleagues, to scatter his ashes, and to settle what’s left of his estate. And, having left a decade earlier without a backward glance, Nell is eager to complete the practicalities and get the hell out of Dodge. But when her father’s former partner on the homicide team involves her in the recent local murder of a young Latina, Nell finds herself tangling with sharp-eyed reporters, questionable investigative processes, and a truly timely, ripped-from-the-headlines tale of exploitation, abuse, and corruption. Tautly wound police-procedural-thriller aside, Alger’s novel is a smart, searing indictment of just one of the many contemporary examples of the haves vs. the have-nots.

The Quintessential Interview: Kate Mosse

With her Languedoc trilogy – Labyrinth, Sepulchre, and Citadel – Mosse limned that region’s rich history, melding narratives of contemporary characters with those of medieval, 19th, and 20th Century France into vibrant time-slip thrillers. The Burning Chambers (Minotaur) is the electrifying start of a new series which follows the diaspora of the Huguenots from France to new homes in London’s East End, Amsterdam and South Africa. The first novel, while set firmly in 16th Century France during the Wars of Religion which pitted French Protestants against French Catholics, palpably echoes our own timeframe – the propaganda machines, the language, the intolerance, the resistance to losing long-held power and privilege – a potent literary reminder that history is not the past.

Mosse is also the co-founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, one of literature’s most prestigious and high-profile recognitions.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

The most significant character in all of my fiction is landscape. So, I walk in the footsteps of the great writers of the past who put the spirit of place at the heart of their storytelling: novelists Emily Brontë, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton, poet T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets remains the sequence of poetry that means the most to me – and Ian Rankin's Rebus novels, where Edinburgh just leaps off the page.

Top five places to write?

After years of research and preparation, when I sit down to write a first draft of a new novel I always take myself off to an anonymous hotel (usually in the Canary Islands!). There, I can dream and think, be utterly removed from my everyday life, just spend time getting to know my characters. After that, it is Carcassonne all the way – all my historical-fiction novels are love letters to that city in southwest France – as well as my study at home in England, Chichester in West Sussex. The second novel in my 'Burning Chambers Quartet' is set mostly in Amsterdam, a city I love and am inspired by. Finally, New York: there, that timeless running together of days and nights is great for writers like me who work mostly in the very (very!) early morning….

Top five favorite authors?

See answer 1 - and add to the mix Agatha Christie, Madeline Miller, Guy de Maupassant, the multiple authors of The Bible, and Emily Dickinson.

Top five tunes to write to?

I write in silence...I need to hear the whispering of my characters and the stories of the past, so music would drown that out.

Top five hometown spots?

For 30 years, Chez Félix in the Bastide of Carcassonne and the Café Trouvère in the heart of the medieval citadel; the Bishop's Palace Gardens by Chichester Cathedral, nearly 50 years spent thinking and wandering those pathways; in the Cafe Hoppe on the corner of Spui in Amsterdam, next to the extraordinary former convent of Begijnhof behind the grand canals; and the iconic bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank in Paris overlooking the mighty flying buttresses of Notre Dame.

Thursday Comics Hangover: All-new, all-different

Yesterday, comic book stores around town quickly sold out of what might be the year's mainstream superhero breakout hit: House of X #1. It's the first issue of a reimagining of the X-Men franchise by superstar writer Jonathan Hickman, who previously wrote gigantic franchise reinventions of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.

If you've read a Hickman comic before, you probably know what to expect: a giant cast of characters, a story with a huge scope, and pages that are just beautifully arranged sprays of text. If you haven't read a Hickman comic before, the closest analog I can summon is this: imagine a dense five-volume series of novels about the X-Men by Isaac Asimov, only you can only read it one chapter per week.

The X-Men are a concept that needs to be reinvented every twenty years or so. The last time the series was shaken up was by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. They amped up the book's horny soap-operatics, and they readjusted the mutant metaphor: being a mutant was no longer about race in America: Morrison made it more a statement on what it meant to be gay in America in the early 21st century. Under Morrison, the X-Men were fashionable and cool and more than a little angsty.

I'm not quite sure what Hickman's central mutant metaphor will be, but I suspect that climate change is factoring into it all. House of X immediately sets up a new paradigm that finds the X-Men teleporting all over the planet, bringing weird flowers everywhere they go. They're not based out of a mansion anymore; now they live in paradise, and they want to be themselves. They're negotiating with the nations of the world to be left alone as equals, and they are bargaining from a position of power.

Of course there's a lot more going on here. All the cheesy drama you remember from the classic X-Men run written by Chris Claremont are here in one form or another. Professor Xavier and Magneto have some weird interpersonal relations going on. The world hates and fears the X-Men, and a thousand subplots seem to be unfolding all at once.

The art by Pepe Larraz similarly calls back to classic X-Men comics of the past. Over a few pages, his version of Cyclops resembles the versions drawn by Walt Simonson, John Byrne, and Marc Silvestri. The art never feels retro or overly dense with homages; in fact it kind of shimmers through X-Men history, with each panel practically vibrating with influences and energy.

Of course, it's impossible to tell where all this is going. Hickman's stories tend to be grand and long and intricately planned. I assume there are any number of twists and turns coming over the next three months of weekly comics laying out his new take on the franchise. But as a debut issue, House of X certainly promises something at once new and true to the long history of the X-Men series. It's time to reimagine the X-Men again. But are we getting the X-Men we need, or the X-Men we deserve?

Book News Roundup: Your ballot has arrived, so now vote for the library

Exit Interview: Gary Luke turned Sasquatch Books into the finest regional publisher in the nation. Now he's retiring.

In his role as editorial director, Gary Luke has guided Seattle press Sasquatch Books across some of the most turbulent years the publishing industry has ever seen. He helped develop a small ancillary publishing concern into one of the very best regional presses in the nation. As Luke prepares to retire from his role at Sasquatch, we called him to see what he's learned and what's next.

Hi! Happy retirement.

Thank you.

And how long have you been at Sasquatch?

It will be 25 years.

Can you talk a little bit about what you were aiming to do when you started Sasquatch and maybe how it's changed over the years?

Well, first of all, I didn't start the press, it was started by David Brewster-

Right! Yes, sorry, of course. I knew that. I just like to start all my interviews with a huge mistake.

So it was started by David Brewster at the [Seattle] Weekly, and it had been running for a couple years. I knew Skip Berger from junior high school, and we stayed in touch while I'd gone off to New York. He called one day and asked if I would ever consider moving back to Seattle, because they were looking for an editorial director for Sasquatch. It was basically about the only job I could have imagined moving back to Seattle for. And so I did that.

I used to say when first starting out that Sasquatch should aspire to be the Random House of the Pacific Northwest.

Kind of ironic.

I know. And up to that point, Sasquatch's great successes had been all around the Best Places travel guide books, and things like that. So I think the goal was to test the boundaries and the possibilities of regional publishing.

In retrospect, it seemed very smart for an alt-weekly to have a publishing arm, especially with books like Best Places. When I moved to Seattle in 2000 I had my Best Places guide with me, and it incorporated a lot of that alt-weekly feel — the reviews and the voice-y familiarity with the city. What was the relationship between the Weekly and Sasquatch like? I just can't think of anything contemporary that exists like that.

I'm sure it exists somewhere, but we operated pretty separately. I think that the connection to the Weekly manifested in the writers who were there. Oe of the early ideas that I had was I wanted to do a biography of Mount Rainier. And so, I just walked down the hall and sat down in [then-Weekly writer] Bruce Barcott's cubicle and asked if he wanted to do that, and fortunately he did. And that book is still in print, The Measure of a Mountain.

Do you think that there's a model for regional publishing beyond Sasquatch? Every region has a publisher, although I would say that most of the places where I've lived, those regional publishers have not been of Sasquatch's quality. It seems like the regional publishing model is either changing drastically or it's going extinct.

I think that it was possible to thrive as a regional publisher in the Northwest because we have a very healthy bookstore ecosystem. In other parts of the country, you don't have that. Like in Los Angeles for example, they don't have stores like Powells, and Elliott Bay, and Village Books, and Third Place. They're, I think, predominantly served by chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble. So that's a big piece of the ecosystem that has to be in place in order for regional publishing to survive.

How did you as an editor work to capture the flavor of the region so well, especially one that went through as many changes in the last 25 years as Seattle and its surrounding areas did?

Well, first of all is to meet writers who self-identify as regionalists. In doing that you get a sense of what this ecosystem is like Obviously you have to read every publication that comes out. And then once the Internet was invented there were all those other doors that opened up.

Of course you love all your babies equally, but are there any books or experiences that stand out particularly as you're rounding the bend to retirement?

Certainly I think of Bruce's book, The Measure of a Mountain. And Nancy Pearl's books, Book Lust and all of the others, those were a blast to publish. Nancy was a friend of the press, and creating that book and the way it resonated with people... I think we thought it would sell at about as far as the KUOW radio signal went and it just kind of went viral.

Then there's a new author that I've published over the past couple of years, a naturalist named Leigh Calvez, and she wrote a book called the Hidden Lives of Owls, and another one called The Breath of a Whale. She writes about nature and she covers the science stuff, but she also brings out and explores the spiritual side of nature. [Spirituality] used to be forbidden territory to go into [in nature writing] and now I think there's this opening, and I think she does it really well.

Of course, fairly recently, you shepherded Sasquatch's transition when it was bought by a big New York publisher. It seems to me that you kept the voice intact, which is very impressive. I think a lot of people, maybe even me, when they first saw the announcement that Sasquatch had been bought by Penguin Random House, were a little skeptical that the books would lose what made them unique. Can you talk a little bit what the transition looked like and if you had any guidelines for keeping keeping the press's essential Sasquatch-ness?

Well, that's what they wanted. That's what they acquired, a regional publishing company. During the transition, the phrase that kept coming up, was 'we don't want to mess with the magic.' So they offer market intelligence and guidance in terms of the business end of things. But as far as the publishing program goes, that's really up to us. And we don't have to call them and say, "Well, I'm thinking about acquiring a book about Capitol Hill."

That seems maybe not unique, but at least a little special in terms of print. So what have you been doing to prepare for the lack of you?

Well, we hired a new editorial director, Jen Worick, about a year ago. It's been a year-long period of taking over the management of the editorial team here, and she's doing a great job of it. So, there are projects that I have here that I'll hand off to people and they're fully capable of running the place without me. I don't think it's going to be a huge transition at this point. I think the important task was to get a good editorial director in place. We also have other strong editors.

So, I mean, what are your plans? Are you just out? Or are you going to be doing other things in the literary world?

First of all, I'm going to read already-published books. I've got a whole wall of them and I keep thinking that one day I will read things that have been out for longer than six months.

Is there anything you've been dying to read?

Right now I'm reading Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It's a very funny novel of manners, and marriage, and divorce in New York. And then I'm also reading The British Are Coming, but I think it's going to take me until the end of the year to finish that, it's such a massive book.

Both books have nothing to do with the region.

And so what else are you going to be working on?

I hope I'm going to find some way to connect. I have a certain level of expertise, I think, and I'm going to find some way to plug myself into the literary/writing/book world here. I haven't figured it out yet.

And I'm going to work to get Elizabeth Warren elected.

What is that going to take the form of? Volunteering?

I don't know. Volunteering and donating every time I get — well not every time I get an email.

They send a lot of emails. Oh my God.

Yes, they do.

Well, I hope that you'll be in touch when you do find your new way to plug into the book world. And I think that, as I've gotten to know Sasquatch staff over the years, it seems like the people you have now are pretty exceptional. I think you are leaving it in good hands. They're just really capable, and fun, and smart. Building an organization that can survive your passing is a big deal. And I think you've got a good crew there.

Yes, they are great book people. And the designers, who you probably have never encountered, make our books look great. We have production editors who are so careful, and are obsessed with squeezing every error out of a book so they're perfect. That takes a lot of dedication and professionalism, and I think that we have that here.

The walls of language

Published July 23, 2019, at 12pm

Paul Constant reviews Elisa Chavez’s Miss Translated: A Benefit for the New Sanctuary Coalition .

Elisa Chavez's new chapbook features deeply political poems written in English and Spanish. But these translations don't live in harmony: they're arguing and fighting and persecuting each other.

Read this review now

The Citizen

apologies to Wallace Stevens

one must have a mind of silly putty
acquiesce not
interrupt          combust at 35      one leaps
the other lies        deciding’s not for us
one must have a mind
of anecdote not data point        must
never mind the grope
one must have a mind of
antelope        one must have a mind
of wind        of pantyhose        one mustn’t
mind the mess or make a fuss
must mine the hive        believe the lies
one must have a mind      at least one
must

Twentieth Century Captain

You know Ivan Schneider. He’s one of our most prolific reviewers and writers. Now, he’s become a sponsor of the site, as well! In his spare time, when not hunting for canine clues in Cervantes, he undertook a great project. Ivan sat with his 97-year-old father, and documented the stories of Leon Schneider’s notable and amazing life. Then, he turned those stories into a concise, engaging volume called Leon: a Life.

He wanted to make sure Seattle Review of Books readers knew about this — he knows our readers love a compelling, engaging story well-told, full of adventure and heart. Visit our sponsor’s page to read more about this work, or to find out how to procure a copy — for 20% off this week! — at a local store, or find other ways to view and purchase online.

You’re part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. We’re about to release our block of fall and winter dates, so after you’re done with (hopefully) a nice vacation, or at the very least a dip-of-the-toes into an alpine lake, get ready for the fall book season by making sure book lovers in Seattle know more about yours. Reach out to us for details, and to find out availability!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 22nd - July 28th

Monday, July 22nd: Shapes of Native Nonfiction Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, July 23rd: Mostly Dead Things Reading

Kristen Arnett's long-awaited debut novel about Florida and taxidermy and family, Mostly Dead Things, is mostly here. Arnett is an Extremely Online person with a huge Twitter following, and the book appears to be living up to the hype. Tonight, she's in conversation with Seattle novelist Richard Chiem. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 24th: Jade War Reading

Fonda Lee, a sci-fi novelist who wrote a great guide here on SRoB for friends and family of novelists who have recently published books, will read from her new book Jade War. In the book, clans do battle over a world in a fantastic universe. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, July 25th: Noir at the Bar

The mystery-themed reading series hosted by Nick Feldman returns for a reading in the Alibi Room with local mystery/thriller authors like Danny Gardner, Frank Zafiro, Roz Ray, Renee Patrick, Baird Nuckolls, Colin Conway, and Michael Fowles. Alibi Room, 85 Pike St #410, 623-3180, http://seattlealibi.com/, 8 pm, free.

Friday, July 26th: Touch 'Em All Reading

Travis Parker Smith's new book is about his attempts to see a baseball game in every single Major League ballpark. This reading comes with hot dogs cooked out on the bookstore's patio, which is perhaps the most summer-y reading I've ever heard of. Queen Anne Book Company, 1811 Queen Anne Ave N., 284-2427, http://qabookco.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, July 27th: Wizard Girl Reading

Karen Eisenbrey's new novel Wizard Girl is about a young woman who wants to become a wizard in a world where women are forbidden from wizardry. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347 http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, July 28th: Introduction to Jung

Dr. Bette Joram is the co-president of the Seattle branch of the C.G. Jung Society. This event is sponsored by the Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club. I had no idea there was such a thing as the Seattle CG Jung Society or the Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club, and I feel better about the city knowing that both groups exist. Seattle Public Library, Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave S, 684-4711, 1:30 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Shapes of Native Nonfiction reading at Seattle Public Library

For many years, Elissa Washuta was a Seattle author. She published her first memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules, here and she also published a second shorter memoir, Starvation Mode before she eventually left in pursuit of a career in academia. Washuta represented the forefront of a generation of Seattle writers: funny, introspective, unwilling to be constrained by genre. Her launch party was held at the Hugo House, and she participated in any number of readings around town.

But perhaps you know Washuta from a Twitter thread she started after Sherman Alexie faced allegations of sexual misconduct last year. Washuta, a Native American author, listed dozens of novels and memoirs and story collections and books of poetry by Native authors for audiences who may not previously have read beyond Alexie:

Tonight at the downtown branch of SPL, Washuta returns to Seattle with a project that feels like a natural progression of that Twitter thread, even though it's likely been in the works for much longer. Edited with Theresa Warburton, Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays By Contemporary Writers is a collection of new and familiar Native authors, including Stephen Graham Jones, Terese Marie Mailhot, Eden Robinson, and Kim TallBear.

It's hard to believe that nobody has produced a book quite like Shapes of Native Nonfiction before, but finally it's here. Library Journal raved about the book, calling it "a must for any library." It's the kind of book that seeks to highlight a specific group of people by demonstrating how varied their writing can be.

Washuta didn't grow up here in Seattle, and she doesn't live here now. But Seattle is where she staked her claim, where she demanded that people pay attention to her. And because of that, the city shares a special relationship with her. On this, the evening of her latest book's triumphant publication, we should show her that Seattle still cares for her.

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for July 21, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. 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 submissions@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

Cosmic fruit

Intricate and startling, this short essay by Anca Szilágyi is a delight. It’s about strawberries, or violence, or strangeness, or the sweetness and sorrow and difficulty of love — all of these, tied up in a tangle of history, agriculture, and the fantastic.

The “Olga and Beyond” brochure produced by the Olga Strawberry Council of Orcas Island relates the story of Higgie the Kodiak bear. As a fifty-pound cub, Higgie was given by a Mrs. Higginson to a Mrs. Rice in 1910. The bear grew rapidly to 1,100 pounds and often escaped its pen to gorge on nearby orchards and livestock; Higgie “met its fate while enjoying Sam Lightheart’s garden” in June of 1913. Poor Higgie, snout red with strawberry flesh.
My books

On retiring (and the corresponding relocation), Ian Patterson sold off an enormous library of books until the collection fit his new, geographically smaller life. Unlike the sweetly ephemeral strawberry, we expect books to stay. Their longevity is reassurance of our own, their loss, a loss of some version, or many versions, of our self.

... each time I pulled a book off the shelf, I remembered when and where I’d bought it. The day I’d finally handed over 25 shillings for Spinoza’s correspondence. The Bergson with Hubert Bland’s bookplate that I found in a jumble sale. The complete run of C.K. Ogden’s journal Psyche which he’d bound himself in quarter vellum with his butterfly insignia on the spine, and all the volumes of the Psyche Miniatures I’d picked up here and there over the years. Books by friends and books by people I disliked. Books full of my notes or jottings on the backs of envelopes. Books bought in Cambridge from the libraries of Raymond Williams, Dadie Rylands, Tony Tanner, Jack Lindsay and other luminaries. Even the most unassuming books prompted recollections. They composed a sort of biography, each one acting like a door in an advent calendar, opening on to some moment in the past.

Still, they had to go.

The weird magic of eiderdown

The lyricism of this piece is less in the language, more in the circumstance. Edward Posnett (in an excerpt from his forthcoming Harvest) follows the relationship between Iceland’s eider, the farmers who gently harvest the bird’s down, and the Artic fox, whose treatment at the farmers' hands is much less gentle.

Some things that are wonderful: the eider plucks its own breast to make the warmest nest for its young. The Arctic fox has tiny, furred paws that must help with running on snow. Eider feathers look like fractals on LSD.

Some things that are difficult: finding a balance between humans and the many kinds of wild that cannot be so easily upset.

Watching the whales’ spouts rise and dissolve in the distance, it was easy to believe this place a rural utopia, a place where eiders could nest in peace and children roamed alongside geese, rabbits, puffins and horses. Around us life exploded from the water, the skies and the crevices in the rocks. All one had to do was to observe it, wait patiently and gather eiderdown. But then we were met by Tása, the family dog, whose job it was to catch any mink that swim over from the mainland. “She’s a gentle family dog,” Alexíus said, “but when she meets the mink she goes apeshit. It’s quite messy when she gets it. She starts one end and breaks every bone.”

Whatcha Reading, Elissa Washuta?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Elissa Washuta is a once Seattle-based, and now Ohio-based, member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a nonfiction writer. She is the author of Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. With Theresa Warburton, she is co-editor of the new anthology Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Capital, Artist Trust, 4Culture, and Potlatch Fund. Elissa is an assistant professor of creative writing at the Ohio State University.

Join Elissa and Theresa Warburton, along with contributors Laura Da' and Ruby Murray, at the Central Library this Monday, the 22nd, at 7:00 pm for a launch celebration of Shapes of Native Nonfiction.

What are you reading now?

The Crying Book by Heather Christle, a full book-length essay (is that how she would describe it? That's what it looks like, anyway) coming out from Catapult in November. I became familiar with Heather's poetry when I lived in Seattle and got The Trees The Trees from Octopus Books at, I believe, the APRIL festival bookfair at Hugo House. Now I'm in Ohio and Heather has become an Ohio friend, although she's about to leave for Georgia. So far, one thing I love about this book is that Heather is bringing her distinctive poetic voice and strangeness to prose fragments, but she's using the essay-book structure so well, making movements and shifts on a different scale and at a different pace than would fit a (shorter) poem, I think.

What did you read last?

Unpublished manuscripts. Other people's, and my own. I feel like I've just been reading my own writing for eons, since I am finishing writing a book and also just celebrated the launch of Shapes Of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays By Contemporary Writers, a book co-edited with Theresa Warburton. Anyway. The last finished book I read was Ndn Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt. Oh my god, his first book This Wound Is A World is the book I've read the most times. It is necessary for me as a Cowlitz/Cascade person living a life of estrangement, loneliness, and pain in an occupied place.

Here's the blurb I wrote for NDN Coping Mechanisms:

“This brilliant book is endlessly giving, lingering in tight spaces within the forms of loneliness, showing the contours. These poems do the necessary work of negotiating with the heart-killing present from which we imagine and make Indigenous futures. Every line feels like a possible way out of despair.”

What are you reading next?

I'm out at Centrum at the Port Townsend Writers' Conference, and I swore I wouldn't buy any books because I truly have no room in my luggage for them, but things happen. I bought Wild Is the Wind by Carl Phillips and Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal, so I expect to be reading one of those on the plane back to Ohio.

The Help Desk: Please only check out the books

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Cienna's volunteering this week at a camp for young spiders from broken webs, so this colun is a re-run from April of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

Do you have any opinions on sexy-librarian porn? I’m kind of flattered by the trope, but I also wonder if maybe it doesn’t raise expectations to an uncomfortable level with my prospective girlfriends.

Annie, Admiral

Dear Annie,

I’m glad you asked! I have stronger opinions on porn than all the right hands in Gary Herbert’s public health department combined. Generally, I’m pretty positive about the sexy librarian trope, and here’s why: People who objectify librarians find their brains as sexy as (if not more so than) their physical appearance. Librarians are intellectuals. Gatekeepers of knowledge. Curators of imagination. Smart people pant over stuff like that. They swoon. And isn’t that a refreshing change in porn?

Of course, if prospective girlfriends are making you uncomfortable with their objectification – if they demand you collect late fees while wearing a ball gag or read them Goodnight Moon while sitting on their face (and you’re not into it), I suppose that’s problematic. Maybe you should remind them that you’re not just a sexy brain stuffed inside a sexy body with the entirety of modern thought harnessed at your fingertips, you’re a real person with nonbookish interests who sometimes wants to sit in sweatpants, eat Muddy Buddies and watch Real Housewives punch each other in the Fake Tit.

Kisses!

Cienna