Published November 19, 2019, at 12pm
Reviewing Chanel Miller's Know My Name, Julie Letchner is a clear lens for anger and a clear voice for women.
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We remitted my father this year to the nameless earth,
where no gods churn the ground with their invisible hands
and no resurrected form yet retains his strange acuity. We eulogized him
then went about our business, dazed for a time, then made a vow
to spread his ashes where he and his wife had left
their disparate passions. The business of the living is to return
the memories of the dead to a verbal corpus and to return
their myths to a physical place on the earth
and perhaps find some measure of comfort in what is left
after their ashes are wind-borne. My hands
tremble at this thought, the emptied vessel, the vow
to ascribe meaning to a meaningless death, to vow to forget in him
a terrible iniquity and thus a childhood lost: yet also to find in him
such boundless joy among the Aspen and evergreen, the return
to the garden, before the temptation and Adam’s vow,
before he rose up from God’s cruel breath and the earth,
before his own trembling hands
had limned the contours of his nakedness, and hers. All that is left
is this jar of desiccated dreams, all that is left
of my father is a thimbleful of questions. I still see him
when I dream, driving an empty bus, his hands
curled around the door handle like Charon on his return
from the River Styx, ferrying me and my daughter from the earth
across the threshold. Sometimes he vows
we will be safe on our journey; in other dreams, he vows
nothing, but is consigned to the end, rolling onto his left
side in silence like St. Lawrence on hot coals, the earth
finally collapsing in around him.
He was a martyr even among the living, and in return
we grieved at his every step downward, our hands
bound by his prophecy, knowing his hands
were summarily free to fashion his end. Yet I vow
that this is not his end, and that in these words he will return
if only for a moment from the edge of that darkling plain, where he left
Blake and Arnold to confer with him
under the shadow of the Earth.
This is my wish, to return his voice to the living; to feel his hands
once more upon my shoulder as I walk the earth, and to vow
this is not all that is left of him.
Seattle-based sponsor Orson's Publishing is a small-press that puts out "gutsy books for gutsy readers."
Like Wounded Tongue — this novel by Garrett Dennert takes place in a future world without electricity, a total blackout. Masked tribes war over pockets of the new world.
A middle aged-scavenger in Waco, Texas meet Vitri, a hearing-impaired orphan. They agree to travel east together, into the darkness of their world.
It's sponsor's like Orson's that make all the content you read this week possible. We've got some prime spots available in the coming weeks before the holidays — make sure your winter event, or book, is in the hands of people looking for great gift ideas for their literary loved ones.
Susanah Calahan's book The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness is about a study in which sane people in the 1970s tried to get themselves committed to mental institutions. At the time, the study revealed some uncomfortable truths about our mental health system, and now Calahan is unveiling some uncomfortable truths about the study. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.
The latest reading for the new book about our beautiful, life-giving body of water features Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman, Mindy Roberts from the Washington Environmental Council, and Les Purce from the Orca Recovery Task Force. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.
Doug Nufer's newest reading series presents great Seattle authors Thomas Walton and Jeff Encke, along with solo saxophone by Scott Granlund. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 8 pm, free.
Naomi Tomky is a gifted food writer. This is the latest stop on her tour to celebrate the release of her new book, The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook: Salmon, Crab, Oysters, and More. The book contains some 75 recipes for curries, appetizers, main dishes, and more. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.
In the Hugo House's latest Literary Series outing, writers Hannah Tinti, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Richard Chiem will read new work along the theme of "Taking Liberties." Amber Flame will perform music that meets the theme as well. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, $25.
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Phinney Center, https://www.phinneycenter.org/calendar/holiday-bookfest-2019/, 3 pm, free.
"Seattle’s longest-running prose and poetry reading series" celebrates a new anthology that collects a few of the many craft talks that are a signature of the series. The book's editors, Esther Altshul Helfgott, Peggy Sturdivant and Katie Tynan, will be joined by Bethany Reid, John McFarland, and Susan Rich. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 3 pm, free.
Look, you can only pretend that the holidays aren't coming for so long. Eventually, the calendar makes you pay for your procrastination. With that in mind, why not get your friends and family autographed books this year? And also, why not get all your holiday shopping done in one Saturday afternoon?
The Holiday Bookfest at Phinney Center features readings, signings, and other book-related events with an enormous collection of Pacific Northwest authors in one place. It's been going for a decade, and it benefits local organizations like Pocket Libraries and the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Why wouldn't you go?
Here's a list of authors who'll be attending:
If you can't find something for everyone on your holiday gift list this year in that lineup, I don't know what to tell you.
Phinney Center, https://www.phinneycenter.org/calendar/holiday-bookfest-2019/, 3 pm, free.
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 email@example.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
Seattle winters are long and dark and wet, and I sympathize fully with anyone who dreads them. I’ve had my own years where the dark winter got inside me, and years when the first clear and sunny day brought tears of surprised relief.
It’s not helped by the current atmosphere of generalized apocalyptic shitstorm (“GAS”). Social media carries some of the blame for that, but then there’s simple reality: our government currently is a shitstorm, and we’re generally trying like hell to avoid an apocalypse.
Crisis of this magnitude calls for heroics, but it also calls for small, good things. Keeping your mind clear of the enemy, making sure the tenor of your being (with thanks to the friend who’s loaning me that term) pushes the dark away instead of bringing it closer. For example…
Jenn Fields shares her joy in Jean-Jacques Megal-Nuber’s tiny home bookmobile. “Au Vrai Chic Littérère” is jam-packed with books and somehow still bright, comfortable, and calm. Megal-Nuber travels with the bookmobile through rural Alsace, sleeping in its miniature loft at night and opening the doors during day to villagers who no longer have bookstores in their town.
Dreamlike, and full of dreams.
[The] tiny home-turned-library is gorgeous on the inside. The light-colored pine throughout, including the bookshelves, gives it a bright interior.
“I wanted a little feeling of a cabin and an aura of a small bookstore, which both evoke a lot of dreaming,” Pauline Fagué, a designer at Maison qui Chemine, told Architectural Digest of the design.
Depression and anxiety are tricky things, and it takes more than a shift in attitude to shift the black dog. But, Jason Kottke found, accepting the presence of a smaller, seasonal dog can make room for a little light.
Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings.
I have a friend, a woman with a lovely, curious mind and a deep sense of courtesy, who will only return library books to the branch where she checked them out. Her graciousness toward the librarians who wrangle returns, and her desire to protect each branch’s collection, are admirable if eccentric.
But: what’s more library than circulation? And not just the movement of books from one shelf to another, but from hand to hand, across the city and across social strata. Libraries aren’t perfect, and they aren’t the greater levelers of society, but they’re closer than almost anything else we have. They’re a refuge and a respite and a place where we learn about each other, from the page and from the person. A place where when you have to go there, they almost certainly will take you in.
The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.
Alexander Chee cuts brilliantly to the heart of white writers who want advice for writing about people of color, or straight people who want to write queer. Instead of a diatribe, or anger, he brings to the table some straightforward and strengthening advice: write the stories only you can write. His approach is clear and respectful without giving ground — an antidote, if you’ll pardon the trite close, to the apocalypse of anger that has overtaken what we are, collectively, together.
Given all the excellent writing about the challenges of rendering otherness, someone who asks this question in 2019 probably has not done the reading. But the question is a Trojan horse, posing as reasonable artistic discourse when, in fact, many writers are not really asking for advice — they are asking if it is okay to find a way to continue as they have. They don’t want an answer; they want permission. Which is why all that excellent writing advice has failed to stop the question thus far.
Jazno Francoeur is a polymath: after a career in visual effects for Walt Disney Animated Features, he moved north to teach animation at DigPen in Redmond, where he's also headed the department. He's travelled the world helping DigiPen open new programs in Singapore and Bilbao, and also teaching in Thailand, China, Lebanon, and Japan. He's a musician, photographer, and poet. He's currently our Poet in Residence for November — we've published two of his poems so far: "Via Sacra", and "Fireweed".
What are you reading now?
I am currently reading Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems.
What did you read last?
My last read was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan by Zack Davisson.
What are you reading next?
My next read is What the Ice Gets by Melinda Mueller.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm really struggling right now. What book have you read that made you feel most hopeful about humanity?
I'm sorry to hear that. Many of my human friends struggle. Some have been struggling for exactly the last three years; some struggle every winter. Like you, many have turned to me for help. At first, I tried making them Cactus Patch dolls to encourage them to be less needy, as my own mother did for me as a child. From this I learned that not everyone's face is as heavily calloused as my own, and that even people who brag about how much they "love nature" are not as grateful as they should be when receiving such a present.
You're wise to ask for a book. Unfortunately, I can't point to one book that makes me feel hopeful about humanity. The act of reading makes me feel hope. Within books you find more imagination, emotion and vulnerability than people are conventionally allowed to express in our daily lives. Even if many books fail at being a complete triumph, all books are an intense labor of love. That should make you feel hopeful.
But if cactus hugs and basement philosophizing don't make you feel any better, try these books:
One-hundred and sixty-eight years ago today, in 1851, Moby Dick was published. Melville wrote one of the great romances of our time, as Ishmael wakes for the first time with Queequeg.
Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade—owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times—this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.
Jimi Hendrix sang us the truth over fifty years ago in “Up from the Skies,” one of his many SF songs. This world is burning. Just ask California. Burning. Deny it all you want, or all our corporate would-be masters want, but science says the planet’s climate has changed, warming suddenly and significantly due to industrial activity. Long a plot device driving fictional futures imagining extraterrestrial colonization, ecological crises are real, here, now.
Admitting that takes a certain audacity. It’s a species of boldness Octavia E. Butler displayed in her Earthseed books--especially the first, Parable of the Sower. In Sower, members of a vanishing middle class hunker behind the walls of gated communities, increasingly the prey of roaming homeless have-nots, eventually heading northward to escape heat and drought. When Butler wrote the books in the 1990s they were set in the near future of the 21st century’s early decades. Our present.
What’s next? Much of the SFFH I most admire is about moving on from the status quo. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 novel New York 2140, NYC is flooded but not abandoned. Like Venice, its buildings’ upper stories are inhabited, and water transport is the norm. The city’s inundation is shown to have positive points for the wealthy, as when eating certain types of seafood conveys higher status. The art scene, of course, is located in its damp and dangerous lower stories. And yet, despite depicting literal and blatant stratification of this kind, Robinson supposes ways for his wide spectrum of characters to get the best of capitalist oppression.
In Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz, humanity adapts worldwide to the new geography of global climate change. Submarines and reclaimed tundra make corporate expansion into formerly frozen wastelands profitable. Likewise, Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising showcases the potential for exploiting oil deposits uncovered by melting polar ice. Buckell also raises the possibility of remediating the mess climate change is making of his not-too-far-distant future, though said possibility is fraught with danger.
Hopeful takes on the outcome of current ecological trends are now viewed as a SFFH subgenre. It’s called solarpunk. The first solarpunk anthology, Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável was published in Brazil in 2012, and in an English translation in the US in 2018. The 2017 solarpunk anthology Sunvault collects work by me, Daniel José Older, Kristin Ong Muslim, and other up and coming authors. There’s a pertinent Australian anthology as well: Ecopunk!: Speculative Tales of Radical Futures.
Of course people talk about solarpunk novels, too; some of that talk is meant to repurpose books that predate the literary classification solarpunk, including titles I’ve named here, such as Sower and Arctic Rising. Some of it is commentary on more recent works consciously identifying as solarpunk. And some of it’s about bias against the category.
A couple of decades ago I worked as a slush reader for the Science Fiction Book Club. One of my contacts at Baen Books told me their company had a secret policy against publishing books in which climate change was a given. They swore up and down that though Baen would deny it publicly, any manuscript which treated global warming as a scientifically proven theory was summarily rejected. While Baen has a lot of good things going for it — such as a free online library stocked with dozens of books — it’s not doing much to support solarpunk. Then again, neither are any of the other major publishing houses, despite that wistful quotation about capitalists selling us the rope to hang them with. Time to braid our own and tie it into optimistic nooses.
This Is How You Lose the Time War (Saga Press) by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is many things at once: a romance, a time-travel adventure, a spy thriller, a paean to the dying art of letter writing. The authors’ winged prose perfectly captures the exhilarating giddiness of loving and being loved, as Red and Blue, agents working for rival empires, hide honeyed messages for each other in the ashes of their warring operations. Tenderness, danger, daring, wit — Time War has them all. Plus birds, berries, seals, skeletons, and extracts from Mrs. Leavitt’s Guide to Etiquette and Correspondence, a volume sadly nonexistent — in this universe at least. In other words, these pages are strewn with myriad delights.
Just as wonderfully, renowned Bangladeshi author Saad Z Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday gleefully mashes up fantasy and science fiction in a way I’m coming to expect from cultures outside the genre’s historical borders. When melting glaciers free a cranky djinn, he teams up with a lone-wolf soldier to trouble the too-calm tenor of a Kathmandu both post-apocalyptic and techno-Utopian. The djinn, the titular Lord of Tuesday, wants to party really, really hardy. As in, to the destruction of automated bars and the depletion of months’ worth of alcohol stocks. Ostensibly the soldier (aka the Gurkha) wants to help the djinn accomplish that mission, but he also has his own agenda involving an investigation of the supposedly incorruptible AI keeping score of inhabitants’ “karma” points. Relating the pair’s exploits with charmingly brisk humor, Hossain depicts inevitable human weaknesses mingling with surprising human strengths, then blends the resultant melange with his other sfnal ingredients — believable new weapons, perpetually resuscitated desires, catastrophic loss of breathable atmosphere, and more — to achieve a refreshing vision of a future beyond labels.
I’m only going to talk about one con this column: Arisia. The year’s earliest of the two big Boston-area SFFH conventions, Arisia aims to be its regions most inclusive as well. A look at their website’s write-ups about 2020’s Guests of Honor affirms their success. There’s Arthur Chu, anti-Gamergate activist and Asian-American commentator on fandom’s racial divides; Kristina Carroll, initiator of the Month of Love and Month of Fear challenges, which have reached out to numerous artists and inspired amazing new work; and Cadwell Turnbull, a rising star of an author whose acclaimed first novel, The Lesson, is set in his native US Virgin Islands. Support coolness! Join! Attend!
Printed in a deep muddy brown ink on cream-colored paper, Seattle cartoonist Kelly Froh's latest comic, The Downed Deer, looked different than every other book at Short Run this year. The cover, featuring Froh peering into a mass of branches and vines, evokes something darker than most of Froh's work — more complicated, more serious. This cover is not lying to you.
The Downed Deer begins with Froh and her real-life partner, cartoonist Max Clotfelter, driving through rural Florida. They see something strange — a disheveled man running into the woods — and they keep driving. Then, Clotfelter has to go into the woods to pee. He doesn't come back out.
As Froh camps by the side of the road in a vigil for the missing Clotfelter, she becomes a bit of a media sensation. The police investigate his departure, and find no leads. Froh appears on TV news and local women bring her food. She sits there staring into the dense vegetation of roadside Florida, trying to will Clotfelter back into the world. Then, more menacing things start to happen.
When I picked up The Downed Deer at Short Run, Froh told me not to flip through the book; she said seeing some of the later pages would ruin the book's surprise. Now that I've read The Downed Deer all the way through, I see what she means. But even knowing that the ending is surprising doesn't sap the book of its impact.
The indicia on the inside front cover of The Downed Deer makes it clear that the book "is a work of fiction." But Froh has been drawing herself in autobiographical comics for so long now that her "character" feels familiar to us, and so the horror of the book strikes a little deeper than it would with all-new characters created just for the story. Despite the clear and up-front insistence that the book is fiction, Froh's regular readers, who have grown accustomed to the cartoon Froh standing in as a one-to-one avatar for the cartoonist herself, can't help but wonder how much of the story is true.
Adding to the impact, too, is the book's blending of styles. As usual, Froh's self-portrait is just made up of a few lines — one big rounded mass of hair, no differentiation between her eyes and her glasses, a plain t-shirt and jeans. But Froh (the character) camps out on the fringes of the dense forest, which Froh (the artist) illustrates in deep detail: the leaves on bushes could also be a reptile's scaly skin, the branches of trees could be people waving off in the distance. Are those snakes or switchgrass? It's unclear, and thrillingly so.
It's been a while since I've read a horror comic that worked as elegantly as The Downed Deer. It's unsettling from beginning to end, and the book builds to a crescendo worthy of a classic Twilight Zone episode. It's dark and menacing and wondrously effective comic storytelling.
More than pretty much any award or publication date announcement, the annual event we most look forward to every year in the literary calendar is the release of the VIDA count, which tallies the gender identification of authors at literary magazines for the previous year. (We spoke with Nicola Griffith right at the launch of this site about the importance of counting voices, if you need a refresher.) This year, VIDA has demonstrated a little progress toward gender equity: "For the first time since the beginning of the VIDA Count, not a single one of the 25 literary magazines counted in the [Larger Literary Landscape] had fewer than 40% of women writers in their total publications." But VIDA still names names of bad actors, identifying the "feckless five" sites that are still overwhelmingly male.
Representation of nonbinary writers is still vanishingly small. Hopefully their inclusion in this count can begin to move the needle. We also missed data on race and ethnicity this year, but the rationale — VIDA is taking time to re-think their Intersectionality Survey in response to feedback from their community and their own team — is a good one. Still, we look forward to seeing a more nuanced view return next year. We also hope to see the new and improved intersectional component better ingrained into the initial gender conversation, rather than as a separate index.
Seattle poet Don Mee Choi just won the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for translating Kim Hyesoon's collection Autobiography of Death from Korean to English. In the announcement, the prize's judges say that "Don Mee Choi’s translations deftly activate a visionary poetry of great speed, volume, and vision. The collaboration between Hyesoon and Choi continues to energize and challenge contemporary world Anglophone poetry into a zone beyond borders."
I interviewed Seattle author Paul C. Tumey last month about his book Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny at Elliott Bay Book Company. The book is an anthology of some of the earliest pioneers of comics art from the funny pages, and Tumey is a fantastic guide: he can explain the nuances of comics as well as just about anyone, and his passion for the classics of the funny pages is infectious.
Pretty much every film buff knows that the early years of cinema is a wasteland of lost art, as very few of the first silent films were archived. When I told Tumey that I feared the same was true of comics, he had some good news: in the middle of the 20th century, America's public libraries were eliminating their archives of old newspapers, but "before they did, they photographed them for microfilm," Tumey explained.
Granted, the switch to black-and-white microfilm means that the vibrant colors of many old Sunday comic strips have been lost forever, but Tumey is grateful that most of it exists at all. "It's amazing that this stuff's still accessible," he says. "It's only about a hundred, 120 years old. That's not too long in the span of things, but in America, that's forever."
But to make Screwball!, Tumey couldn't just rely on digital archives of old newspapers. "In addition to the five years of research [on the book,] I also spent five years looking at eBay," he laughs. Tumey would bid on classics of the form, and he'd frequently get outbid by one of the handful of comic strip collectors out in the world. For those strips that he couldn't dig up through internet bidding, Tumey says the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library at Ohio State University is "a tremendous, resource for books like this and for comics scholars." After he gets his hands on the strips in the best condition he can find, Tumey says Photoshop ensures that he can "clean this stuff up so it doesn't look too bad."
One aspect of these early cartoons that has been lost to time is the actual process of cartooning. I asked Tumey about the density of the jokes on these giant pages — one large Sunday page could have four dozen visual gags going on in the background. Were they all drawn out in elaborate detail, or were the artists winging it as they went along?
"I do have an original by Clare Victor Dwiggins, who was notorious for crowding background details," Tumey says. "You can see that the main figures are penciled. However, he may have just drawn the background gags in with an ink pen."
Part of the vibrance of the early cartoons comes from their immediacy. "They had to create one of these a day," Tumey says. "The dailies were just a few panels, but the Sundays were big. This was a lot of work, and some of them were doing two and three strips at the same time. So, I don't think they spent a lot of time on them—it's very spontaneous."
It's important to note that Tumey didn't collect Screwball! to archive the past. He wanted to create guideposts for the future. Tumey has been a part of Seattle's comics community for decades, and he thinks these classic cartoons are "a vital art form and a part of our lineage." Tumey wanted to put the book together so "modern cartoonists could look at it and go, 'hey, this is kind of similar to stuff that I do or stuff some other cartoonist does.'"
"For me this stuff is as fresh as a comic that was created last week," Tumey says. "So I wrote about it from that perspective and I deliberately avoided a stuffy academic tone."
But this isn't just a reference for cartoonists. Tumey thinks that we could all use a little screwball in our lives. "Most humor these days has an undertone of irony and cynicism," he says. "One of the things I love about the humor in these comics is it's not ironic, it's just silly for being silly's sake. The undercurrent of screwball comics is a sense that the world is absurd, that things will fall apart. These comics are tributes to the second law of thermodynamics, which is that things fall apart eventually." So if everything's falling to chaos and ruination, you might as well have a good laugh about it.
Do you know about sponsor Noveltease Theatre? They adapt classic books into neo-burlesques: good-natured parodies of great books to reclaim and rework the canon from a sex-positive, queer, and feminist standpoint.
Their latest production is Jane Austen's own Northanger Abbey, and they're putting it up this Friday and Saturday night, November, 15th and 16th. Some tickets are still available, but grab yours soon to make sure you get a seat. Head over to our sponsor's page to read more about the what and where of the event: the why is obvious. Good fun!
If you want to reach our readers, like Noveltease and other sponsors do, great news! We've got some great deals on upcoming weeks in the primetime of the holiday season. Check out our sponsorship page for more information, or if you're ready to book, check out dates and prices!
Published November 12, 2019, at 12pm
Artemesia Gentileschi is having a moment right now in the Pacific Northwest, appearing in young adult novels, plays, and the Seattle Art Museum. A new comic from Fantagraphics looks to contextualize the Renaissance painter for a new generation.
The Short Run Comix and Arts Festival this year looked a lot like Short Runs past: there was a tremendous bake sale; more zines, comics, and books than any human being could read in a lifetime; an animation project; activities for kids; speakers and art shows; legendary local creators and brand-new young cartoonists with their very first books. It's a convivial celebration of hand-made art — the kind of art that is made for its own sake, to represent a perspective that doesn't get time and attention in the mainstream media.
Short Run is, in short, always one of our very favorite events in the Seattle literary calendar year. Most years, it winds up being our single favorite event. It's all about balance: there's a mix of young and old, familiar and new, fun and serious. Short Run is meticulously planned, but it still feels like a really good afternoon hang with all your friends. This should be impossible, but somehow it works.
But there was something different about Short Run this year: it was packed. Every Short Run in the history of the festival has been crowded. But this year's Short Run felt, from beginning to end, almost besieged with comics and zine fans. Some publishers we talked to said they were selling far more books than in festivals past, and a few cartoonists said they were seeing more people take interest in their work. More than one person worried that the fire department might be called to shut the show down for overcrowding.
That said, the crowding didn't feel dangerous. Everyone was polite as they tiptoed around each other to get to a mobbed table. Children were given wide berths and watched after affectionately by strangers. People, in short, weren't assholes about it: we were all there for a common purpose, after all, and that purpose ultimately boiled down to fun.
In our first circuit around the floor, we checked in with many of our perennial favorite local Short Run attendees. A short overview, though you'll likely be hearing more about many of these books in the weeks to come on this site:
We can't wait to dig in to all these books. Stay tuned for reviews as soon as we can devour them.
Over the last year, Ezra Claytan Daniels has rocketed from relative obscurity to become the king of indie comics. His sci-fi thriller about the quest for eternal love, Upgrade Soul, has been nominated for just about every award in comics. The afterlife quest comic he wrote for cartoonist Ben Passmore, BTTM FDRS, has been a bestseller for Fantagraphics Books. And we were excited to get our hands on a copy of his new polemic, Are You At Risk for "Empathy Myopia?" A Thought Experiment for Privileged Readers, which he described to us in an interview last month. Daniels is pitching the comic as a way to resolve the broken political discourse in this country — is that all? — and when he handed us the book, he had a suggestion: "Make sure to give it to your most problematic family member," he laughed.
In the world of New Fears, the circuits are miswired. Flip on the light, and you disappear; take scissors to your hair, and a dark gash appears across your eyes. In four precise squares per square page, in sharp black, cyan, and coral, Anuj Shrestha draws subtle nightmares that subvert the expectations of illustration. An illustrator with work in the New York Times, Wired, and more, Shrestha owns the art of small stories, and the chills he invokes with the macabre translate quickly to the pragmatic: a world where dinosaurs become jets become ocean, where perspective transforms child staring through a fence into children staring out. He's drawing out our fears — which are rapidly becoming old.
Moniker Press (Vancouver, BC) is about small runs (ahem) and ephemera, and especially collaborations between writers and visual artists.fol.ci shows how multiple artists can transmute an idea, batting it back and forth like two cats with a mouse. Viorica Hrincu's short series of poems approach a loss of something considered essential to beauty, which is essential to being loved. While Hrincu’s measured verse plays out, page by page, Melissa Soleski's illustrations build crazed, uncertain stairways, host strange hair-creatures, weep and discover the brightness of flame and flower.
One thing we noticed at Short Run this year: Riso printing is so hot right now. The sheer number of gorgeous, hand-printed books was through the roof compared to Short Runs last. Simply put: people's work looked really, really good. It's still hand-made, but there's a professionalism and an artistry to risograph printing that mass-produced paperbacks simply can't touch. The inclusion of so much riso printing definitely drove up the per-item average cost at Short Run to heretofore unprecedented levels — this kind of artistry doesn't come cheap — but it made the show even more beautiful than ever.
We're always glad to run across Laura Knetzger at her table. After falling hard for her series Bug Boys a few years back, we make sure to check out what's new in her world. The big news, of course, is that Penguin Random House is putting out a collected Bug Boys in February, so that is something to look forward to in the new year.
Sadly, that meant no new update of the ongoing comic this year. Instead, we picked up the first issue of her new Kaleidoscope, a book with three original medium-length comics. Unlike Bug Boys, these stories carry adult themes, and use magic and fantastical situations, in what feels like the "real" world, to explore the power in relationships, sexuality, and earnest desires — both unfulfilled, and perhaps, in one case, better left unfulfilled. They are about showing another being your feelings, and discovering where their's may, or may not, join with yours.
Like Bug Boys, they are thoughtful, sweet, and tender in a kind of vulnerable way that Knetzger uniquely embraces, instead of playing it down with irony or other tricks of removal. It reinforces the thought that Knetzger is a truly brave writer — not in the autobiographical sense of inviting you into her personal minutia, but in the sense that the themes she explores appear to be the things that engage and concern her, both philosophically and in her interpersonal relationships. She's like the fantastical Iris Murdoch of Seattle's indie comics scene, and we're lucky to have her.
A nine-year old traveling with us was quite taken with The Galactic Contest, a mini-comic from Fredrick Dobler, from Olympia. Not only that, but Dobler, and his tabling companion, sat and asked the nine-year old about his own comics making, and engaged him in a conversation where they took him seriously and listened to what he was creating. Very kind and appreciated, and the comic is good fun — about an earthling abducted by aliens and placed into a contest to save humanity.
We stopped by the Compound Butter booth to see co-creators Jaya and Jessie Nicely, who travel up from LA to visit Short Run each year. Their delightful quarterly food magazine explores food through cultural and community lenses. The Fall 2019 issue has many delights, including a photo series on the Artist's Diet (artists include Georgia O'Keefe:"Chili Verde with Eggs and Garlic Oil in her breakfast room at Ghost Ranch", and Marcel Proust: "Strong Black Coffee, Boiled Milk, and a Croissant in his bed with his mail delivered on a silver tray"), and many other pieces grouped around the theme of Tradition. If you love food content and writing, and haven't checked out Compound Butter yet, you are in for a real treat.
Dear Lois is a magazine subtitled "in the company of growing women", and intended for a teenage girls who might be seeking guidance from adult women on the complications of being a young woman in today's world. "Dear Lois is the older cousin who won't make fun of you for asking 'dumb questions'", is how it's put in the intro to issue 1.
The brainchild of Seattleite Mariah Behrens, Dear Lois is another indie magazine (like Compound Butter, mentioned elsewhere in this article) that raises the bar for indie work. It's absolutely gorgeous — printed in Vancouver at the storied Hemlock Press, with thoroughly considered design and illustration. It feels relevant and cool enough to reach its intended audience, while carrying no advertising that might minimize or twist the message. Sections like "Advice pages", "Your body", "Your ambition", "Your character", and "Your community" speak plainly and artfully. It's wonderful work, and all the more impressive as the mission of a single person.
Tory Franklin's work is graphically rich and technically breathtaking. We walked by her table and looked at her oversized short-edition book Vasilissa the Brave. We thought about it throughout the rest of our stroll through the hall, so we went back and bought a copy to take home.
The truth is, some expensive pieces will haunt you, and it's our firm belief that if you are haunted by a comic, you should pay the ghost heed with an offering, which has the added benefit of supporting the artist in their making. Buying the work turns the specter into a real book you can hold and carry with you and even write about after the fact.
This big (approximately 19.5" by 11"), but not long, book is screen printed and hand-painted, in the style of Russian Lubok prints. A re-telling of a famous Baba Yaga story, Franklin's version, with large walnut-ink colored type and a ten hand-colored pages, is the kind of artist's book we'll put on our tallest shelf, and pull out many times over the years just to appreciate how something as commonplace as a book can feel both magical and humane at the same time. Our yearly Short Run splurge, and we don't regret it for a second.
Magda Boreysza's children are becoming — becoming wolves, becoming foxes, becoming tigers. And wolves, foxes, and tigers are becoming girls, from the outside in. Wakeling: How to Transform is a gorgeous reversal of all those fairytales in which young men have the privilege of flight (why would anyone stop being a bird?) and young women are foxy seductresses. Boreysza's girls practice hard, wear masks in the hot summer sun, give their human skin and bones over to win fur and feathers and claws. Instead of growing up, they take on real power. What's stunning about these transformations is that they're only possible on the page, where one thing can be two, or three, or more, without ever not being one. In the same way a book can be more than a movie, these drawings demonstrate how far special effects still have to go.
Serendipity is a great joy of Short Run — the unexpected pairing. Here's one: Nature Is Not My Favorite (Rebekah Markillie), with Vantage #3 (Eroyn Franklin). Nature Is Not My Favorite is the antidote to waldenponding: a short (about the size of a hand of cribbage) essay questioning Northwest nature-worship: "When the world burns, will I have missed some cataclysmic truth by not walking on the same dirt path thousands of other feet have trudged across?" It's true: like the infamous Everett photo, we are all celebrating transcendence we don't, for the most part, experience. Check out Markillie's zines + things; we could have bought everything at the table.
Just as we're hanging up our hiking boots, Eroyn Franklin jumps into the fray. Since 2012, Franklin (co-founder of Short Run — thank you, Eroyn!) has documented a handful of long walks in her Vantage series. Vantage 3 captures a multiplicity of journeys in a disorientingly intricate origami piece — a paper fortune-teller where each future opens from micro to macro. It's a celebration of the long-distance tromp, spent staring at your feet until the world startles you by being bigger than you are.
We are big fans of cartoonist Sarah Mirk, and we were very excited to finally score a copy of her polyamorous sci-fi comic Open Earth at this Short Run. But the real star at her table were the literal hundreds of zines she's made this year — one new zine made for every single day of 2019. We dug through boxes, scanning for five or ten titles that appealed to us, and we came away with a variety of comics: Proud to Be a Socialist, Parts of the Vulva and Vagina That Are Named After Dead Men, Transit Systems as Fictional Characters, and more. In the midst of her most prolific year yet, Mirk is demonstrating the true spirit of Short Run: communication for the sheer exuberance of it, in a populist, mass-market format that is at once low tech and high empathy.
As always, the Seattle Review of Books left Short Run with our collective pockets a few hundred dollars lighter, but with a renewed enthusiasm for Seattle's world-class cartooning community. The joy of it all is to see the infinite variations that artists can enact with just ink and paper, and this year's haul is a wide-ranging collection of work that serves as a testament to art for art's sake.
About that overpopulation, though. We couldn't help but wonder if this is a crossroads year for Short Run. We heard from multiple exhibitors that they struck up conversation after conversation with customers only to hear that they'd traveled from far away to attend the show — some from California, some from the Midwest, some from the East Coast. Short Run, in short, is becoming a destination.
Of course, it was only a matter of time. I don't think there's any other convention that offers table space at such low prices to cartoonists and that doesn't charge an admission fee for attendees. Short Run is meant to be as affordable and accessible as possible, and the cartooning community has risen to that challenge with joy and enthusiasm. That means a lot of people have embraced Short Run as a community, and like anything that you love, those cartoonists have talked about their community to friends, and the friends want to take part in the community now.
So can Short Run grow any bigger while still remaining Short Run? Moving to a bigger venue would probably require the festival to charge more. Adding days to the floor show might strip some of the fun for the exhibitors. Charging a set fee at the door might turn away some of the starving artists who need the show most. It's possible that Short Run can keep going at the same size for the foreseeable future. But the problem is that it's such a beloved festival, with such dedicated fans, that it's hard not to envision more and more people wanting to take part.
We worry because we care. Short Run is simply the best party we can imagine, and a party isn't a party without that small-but-nagging concern in the back of your mind that it's going to end. We want it to go on forever, and we want everyone to know the exuberance and enthusiasm and pure love that we have enjoyed for so long at the show. Is that too much to ask?
In spring, fireweed sprouts around Puget Sound,
rose-tipped cairns that lure a flock of seagulls
downward, winter-worn, to make a hill’s crown.
In the mouth of the bay, a tugboat’s hull
severs the slack water like black fabric,
the shape of the prop-wash a dull green trail
that opens as a fan. The captain flicks
his cigarette butt against the ship’s wheel
and turns south to the beach, taking a fix
on the basalt cliffs at the shoreline’s rim,
their chalk-white shelves collapsed above the rocks.
He charts a constellation on his arm,
the face of a hill which blooms in a rash
the birds now spiraling upward like ash.
Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus was a bestselling crowd-pleaser of a novel. Her newest is a love story involving pirates, a secret book, mysterious organizations, and lots of adventure. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.
This is a reading to celebrate a new anthology about the beloved sea mammals. Contributors to the anthology, including Sarah DeWeerdt, Bob Friel, Paula MacKay, Brenda Miller, Adrienne Ross Scanlon, and Jill McCabe Johnson will all read.
Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.
Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth has written a new biography of Stan Lee that examines Stan Lee's legacy in full, including his controversies and his failures. Lee has been praised to the heavens, so it's nice to get a little perspective on the man in full. Fingeroth will appear in conversation with local cartooning expert Paul C Tumey Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
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.
Johanna Stoberock's much-praised new surrealistic novel is about four children who live on an island that contains all the world's garbage. They live in a kind of harmony on the island with trash-eating pigs, but then things get weird. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
To celebrate an environmental installation by architectural artist Oscar Tuazon, Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna presents a poetry workshop to discuss and consider water in all its forms. Poems written in this workshop might be included in the Tuazon exhibition. Henry Art Gallery, http://www.henryart.org/, 2 pm, $10.
In this free workshop, Seattle sci-fi author (and Seattle Review of Books columnist) Nisi Shawl teaches how to write fiction about people who have different gender, race, and abilities than you.
Seattle Public Library, Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave S, 684-4711, http://www.spl.org/, 2 pm, free.
At a time in their life when many kids are focused on having fun or getting into the best colleges, Garfield High School senior Azure Savage has written and self-published a book. That level of concentration and motivation in any young person is admirable; my teen years, at least, were packed full of unfinished novels that I worked on for a few hours before quitting in disgust.
But Savage has not just written a book; they've written and published a memoir that doubles as a work of journalism. Even more impressive, the book is highly critical of Savage's own public school experience. You Failed Us: Students of Color Talk Seattle Schools features Savage's own story alongside dozens of other Seattle Public School students. It's a scathing indictment of our public school system.
Savage recounts their own experiences in Seattle Public Schools, starting with a kindergarten teacher who lumped children of color together in a group of "bad" kids and the white kids as "good" kids. You Failed Us recounts personal stories of institutional racism and sexism and ableism that many students have endured.
Savage has been reading around town this fall, but this Thursday is kind of a big deal: they'll be presenting the book at Elliott Bay Book Company in conversation with Seattle journalist Marcus Harrison Green, who founded the South Seattle Emerald and is a columnist at Crosscut. It's another remarkable milestone in a remarkable year for a remarkable young Seattleite. Let's give them our attention and try to do better.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
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 email@example.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
This week, three pieces about bodies: the mortal in a stark piece of Chinese non-fiction, the political in a stirring Brazilian poem, and the insane in a magical English short story.
I found this story while researching Chinese literature on bodies for my Hugo House writing class (Winter term class catalogue available tomorrow!). Originally published in 2005 and translated into English in 2019, Ma Jinyu explores the art of corpse preservation in Shanxi mining towns in this piece of creative nonfiction. The detail is astonishing, you can almost smell the oil cakes and mutton, the bitter fragrance of a Chinese medicine counter, the stark nihilism of the villagers. You’ll shudder at the mention about the scalding water where the morticians bathe the bodies of dead miners, cough at the dust rising up with the motorcycles. It’s just a plain good story that makes you feel unmistakably, ferociously alive even when all it talks about is the dead.
But no matter how you washed the deceased you couldn’t get them clean, because their blood had stopped circulating and their pores wouldn’t open. Especially around the eyes, the skin was always as dark as if it had been covered in eye shadow. Old man Liang said that they usually used laundry detergent, dipping a towel in a little water to scrub the skin clean. But even if they used a lot of detergent, places like the face, hands and any areas that had been injured or had open wounds would remain covered with coal dust and soot that couldn’t be cleaned away, “not with a lifetime of scrubbing.”
In the US, the word impeachment is everywhere. But before we even arrived at the possibility of impeachment we witnessed an inauguration, before that, a victory and a defeat, and before that, an election, and before that, a different president, and before that, a different world. In the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines, Asymptote, a journal of translation, published a 2010 poem from Brazilian poet Alberto Pucheu, “Poem to be Read on Inauguration Day.” This poem first ran in one of Brazil’s largest newspapers the day before the October 2010 election, where the outgoing president was one of the most popular of all time, and the eventual victor was Brazil’s first woman president, who six years later was eventually (and controversially) impeached for corruption – a strange, paralleled inversion of our own political reality.
Pucheu was inspired by “Praise Song for a Day,” the Elizabeth Alexander poem read on the day of Obama’s inauguration. You can see the echoes: strangers passing each other the streets, the mundanity and violence of our lives, the hope of love, communion, and survival. But Pucheu’s is also a defiant refutation of the political apathy that has led to a world where “killable bodies” flee “athletic gunshots,” where we dream of “bar codes on the backs / of necks… making / bodies available to a machine that would insist / on recognizing them by some number/ in which we would never recognize ourselves.”
Going up or going down a street,
we attest to this hiatus of unknowing
between the abandoned body and the different lives
that try to colonize it, between the naked life
and the living garments that cover it,
between raw life and whatever part of it is cookable,
between open life and lived life.
A vinegary excerpt from a short story by Victoria Manifold in The Lifted Brow, an Australian magazine, is a ride through lunacy, decay, death, village gossip, frogs and Old Testament-like natural disasters. If you liked the magical claustrophobic intensity of One Hundred Years of Solitude, you’ll love reading this. Two sisters, the pretty and glamorous Mina and the sharp and wry Mirka, become widows simultaneously, and move back into the dilapidated mansion where their mother is, quite literally, shrinking away from the burden of sanity. I won’t give too much away, but it’s so visceral and acidic, you’ll find yourself clutching your tongue to your teeth the whole time.
Every day the milk would sour as soon as the sun rose but neither Mina nor myself would condescend to acknowledge it. Instead we drank it in lumps from the bottom of china bowls, each daring the other to admit the taste was vile. Mina would stare straight into my eyes and ask “Are you enjoying your breakfast Mirka?” and I would stare straight back and answer “mmmmmmmmm,” whilst rubbing satisfied circles all over my paunch, “And you Mina?” I would ask, “how is your breakfast?” “mmmmmmmmm,” she would say too, rubbing her own paunch even more vigorously and displaying even more satisfaction.
Trixie Paprika is a company member of the delightful Noveltease Theatre (we've written about them before. She's playing John Thorpe in Noveltease Theatre's adaptation of of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which is running November 15th and 16th at the Auditorium at U-Heights. You can find more information here on their site, or if you're ready to to buy tickets to a literary burlesque show, then you can fetch them here. Don't miss out!
What are you reading now?
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. A friend of mine recommended her work, and I have absolutely torn through it. Jemisin's sci-fi/fantasy world building is phenomenal, and she manages to make her social commentary clear without hitting you over the head with it. I've been blown away by how different her characters are from one another, as well. So far The Fifth Season is as emotional packed and riveting as the rest.
What did you read last?
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Honestly, I didn't expect to like this book at all, as war stories aren't really my thing. But the attention to detail in the characters and the central question of destiny vs. free will was compelling, and I appreciated an historical gay love story that didn't map modern identities onto the characters.
What are you reading next?
A little unconventionally, my next book is a collection of original Wonder Woman comics that I've had for a while but haven't delved into. After seeing the movie Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women, I was curious about these original comics, and from a first glance through, they are definitely full of scenes that in another context could be considered kink. And that's fascinating. So I'm looking forward to reading more.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband is trying to get our four-year-old son into comics — Spider-Man and Superman and all that stuff. I don't want to be a snob, but I think that superheroes are emblematic of toxic masculinity, and the idea of an individual taking the law into their own hands is pretty fascist when you really think about it. Plus, so many superheroes are billionaires, which is just morally disgusting.
My husband loves superhero movies, and so I don't want to deprive him of sharing this love with his son. But how can I counterbalance the ineffable mainstream cultural grossness that this colorful slab of pop culture is weighing down on my son's brain?
Reading a few Batman comics won't magically turn your son into a misogynist any more than it will a billionaire (if books had that kind of power, Lord of the Flies would be my Bible and half the people I grew up with would've have made it past second grade, SQUEEEE!). Plenty of good nerds were raised reading Bat- and Spider-man comics and can differentiate between fantasy and reality. None of the comic book nerds I know are vigilantes. None of them can even run a block without puking. And most have great and stable partnerships with smart, capable women. (Or at least they have me as a friend, which counts as maybe partial credit?)
So! It seems here that the antidote to toxic masculinity is (in part) having strong women in your life that you love and respect. It's also having smart people around to talk through the themes found in comic books and explain why some of them might be outdated figments of a (more) misogynistic culture.
Its contents might be a bit mature for a four-year-old, however. Unless you want your son to learn about female masturbation before he goes to preschool. ↩
Written by this site's very own Paul Constant, who did not endorse this reference but hey, he wrote a clever comic grappling with 80s stereotypes of toxic masculinity and nerd culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (see, also, previous endnote.) ↩
You likely know Saeed Jones from BuzzFeed, where he covered books and culture in such a way that even the mainstream had to pay attention. Jones is also an accomplished poet, and now he’s the author of How We Fight for Our Lives, a memoir about his coming of age. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000. http://naamnw.org, 7 pm, free.
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.
Jane Austen’s most popular proto-romances are rather ambivalent when it comes to the grand gesture.
In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy of course tries to hide his generosity from the Bennet family: he swears Lydia to secrecy (as if that was ever going to work) and gets palpably awkward when Elizabeth dares to break silence and thank him for it.
In Persuasion, published posthumously, there is no final grand gesture at all — a single letter, secretly delivered, brings our characters into harmony with one another. An earlier version of the story saw Captain Wentworth being maneuvered into asking Anne Elliot about her assumed plans for matrimony — which has a little bit of the savor of the grand gesture’s public risk — but in the end Austen edited this out in favor of something much more intimate.
Now, of course, after two hundred years of books, films, and television love stories, romance aficionados have come to anticipate sweeping declarations/acts of atonement like so many now enshrined in the RomCom Canon. Boomboxes held up beneath a window, cue card confessions on a snowy London street, blue French horns stolen from candlelit restaurants, pop tunes belted into a microphone with a surprise marching band accompaniment. A declaration in front of the Queen. One thousand anguished airport pursuits.
The modern grand gesture is painfully, necessarily public, shading sometimes into cringing embarrassment (on the part of a character, or sometimes the audience).
One imagines Jane Austen would be appalled.
I can’t help but speculate a little on how this lines up with the division between love (as sexual/romantic affection, courtship, partnership) and marriage (as social structure, alliance, dynastic strategy, or government institution). Current Western culture takes it as a given that love is what marriage is for — but any half-hearted glimpse into history will show just how recent an innovation that attitude really is (one not-too-ivory-towerish recommendation: Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz). Jane Austen is one of the first writers of what’s come to be called companionate marriage — but her ambivalence still preserves a line between love (personal), and marriage (societal).
It is not a politically neutral question to expect true love to be public.
Disability can affect a person’s access to public space, attention, and consideration. Anti-miscegenation laws were on the books in living memory. Queer couples’ confessions of love involve quite different risks than do those of the hetero setero. Romances novels that engage with these margins often end up looking rather Austenish: quiet, intimate, even a bit secret. Or else the public/personal division is part of the central problem — take Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, & Royal Blue for example, or Alyssa Cole’s brilliant Loyal League series.
I don’t have any earth-shattering, actionable insights about all of this. It’s just been a bit on my mind. Christmas is harvest-time for romantic comedies (with or without ghosts) and this is the part of the pattern I’ve been trying to puzzle out.
This month’s books are a mix of quiet revelations and all-out spectacle. On the quiet side we have a pair of 1920s queer ladies, two disaster bi lovebirds in small-town California, and a couple on opposite sides of an urban garden. On the side of spectacle: two Regency naturalists in a rom-com retelling and a jewel thief wooing a prickly detective with stolen opals and self-abnegation.
(Note: I will be taking the month of December off, so I will see you back here in January with hopes for a fresh new year!)
Open House by Ruby Lang (Carina Press: contemporary m/f):
This second book in Ruby Lang’s dazzling Uptown series (they stand perfectly wonderfully on their own, companions rather than a continuity) features a real-estate broker drowning in student debt and an accountant turned reluctant organizer, who square off over the fate of a renegade community garden in Harlem. It’s witty, it’s thoughtful, it’s a little bit of a heartbreaker. And it may be one of the best uses of the We Can’t Both Win trope that I have ever, ever seen.
We Can’t Both Win asks one of the most powerful questions in romance–or really in all philosophy: how do we resolve the unresolvable? Who has to compromise, to bend, to give in? And why? In romance the answer is always love, of course–but the characters can’t give in for generalized, abstract capital-L-Love. That’s a cop-out and we know it.
No, the best resolutions here involve something specific, and it has to be at least a little bit of a surprise for the reader. That’s how you get the deepest gut-punch of the emotional payoff.
This book gets it. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just know that it was perfect and I wish I could reread it a thousand more times.
Ruby Lang continues to shine, her prose the best kind of snappy contemporary writing–and then it started knocking me flat on my ass. Magda and her perennially disappointed sisters. Oliver and his grumpy friendships with the elderly women gardeners. The stubbornness of grief, the struggle to get one’s life back on track, the way lust and attraction can blossom into affection and loyalty and joyful sacrifice.
And the sex scenes? Whooo boy. I was a wreck. There’s one in a blacked-out New York that I’m going to be thinking about for years to come.
If you need a little bit of springtime as the leaves begin to fall, this is the book to reach for.
”One bed,” he repeated stupidly, his brain spiraling out in inappropriate ways.
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon (contemporary bi m/bi f):
Rebekah Weatherspoon writes the best people. Just the best: big, burly hunks with thighs like oak and hearts as tender as springtime, smart and scrappy witches taking charge of themselves and their lives even when the shit’s hitting the fan, queer folks and found families for days. This book is the follow-up to Rafe and is just as much of an escape and a joy — only instead of a buff, tattooed male nanny, we’re treated to a beautifully fat, bisexual Scotsman (with the accent!) named Mason, who plays seventeen instruments, cooks for a living, and would really enjoy being pegged.
Oh, and according to her late aunt’s will, Xeni has to marry him in order to inherit a family fortune. What is a grieving bisexual witch supposed to do?
Take the gorgeous man to bed, of course — because it would be fun, and her friends are far away, and funerals are awful, and her family’s giving her hell, and sweet, sexy Mason is the best thing about this whole mess Xeni has found herself in.
I’m going to do give you a lengthier than usual excerpt: I just want to show you the sheer pleasure of watching these two people in challenging circumstances find ways of connecting and being kind to one another. (And then banging for days, of course, but you’ll have to pick up a copy of your own if you want to see the sexy stuff.) It’s a joy and a gift to the reader, in the author’s boldly generous style.
She didn’t realize the ground was damp until she’d let her weight settle into the grass, and she couldn’t bring herself to care. She couldn’t be bothered with the small group of mourners who were watching her lose her shit. Xeni pulled her knees to her chest and then stared at the water. She wanted to cry, desperately needed to, but her body refused. Still, she needed just a moment to try and take it all in. She had about three seconds to pretend her pain was private before the unmistakable drone of bagpipe music rose behind her. Xeni had forgotten how fucking loud the bagpipes were. She closed her eyes against the sound and forced herself to breathe.
It was another ten seconds or so before Xeni realized what song he was playing. “Another One Bites the Dust” was a hilarious selection for a send off, but maybe not the most appropriate. Her head turned automatically. For some reason, she didn’t expect to see Mason looking back at her, his large brown eyes rimmed red. He continued to play even as she raised an eyebrow at him, questioning what exactly the fuck was going on, but all he did was shrug and roll his eyes, the sadness on his face disappearing for just a moment. Right. It wasn’t his song choice.
My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (Avon: historical m/f):*
My favorite new critical tool from this year (thanks to Jennifer Hallock) is the chronotope: a specific way of representing time and space in fiction. Regency romance is a chronotope — and so, of course, is high school. From noir-inspired mysteries like Brick to Jane Austen-in-Los Angeles in Clueless to Shakespeare retellings like 10 Things I Hate About You, turning classic literature into high school narratives is something of a cottage industry.
My Fake Rake is the rare reverse: a genderswapped She’s All That where the hero is the one getting the makeover, set among the intellectual set in Regency England. It’s also the first book in a new series, based around five former schoolmates who bonded after one day’s discipline.
Yes, it’s a Regency Breakfast Club. Yes, I loved it.
The translation works because high schoolers and 19th-century aristocrats are both groups obsessively fixated on social status, sex, and money. Also dancing! (The waltz scene in this book was unusually gorgeous.) I giggled through half of it and cried through the rest. I’m on record as being a staunch fan of Eva Leigh (and her Zoe Archer books as well) and this is some of her best work.
Lady Grace Wyatt is wealthy and brilliant and wants a partner who can share her passion for natural history. She knows just the man, a dashing explorer — except he admires her mind, and has made it painfully clear he sees her only as a mind, not as a marriage prospect. What better way to catch his eye and spur his interest than by being courted by a fashionable, flirtatious dandy?
But Grace doesn’t know any dandies. She knows Sebastian Holloway, anthropologist and one of her closest friends. Who, if he removed his spectacles, would be rather stunningly attractive. And who, unbeknownst to Grace, has been half in love with her ever since he loaned her a pencil on her first visit to the library all those years ago.
At this point in the description, you already know if you’re in or you’re out. This is the purest kind of melodrama, fluffy but with moments of raw angsty goodness, and a rather spectacular amount of drama at the end. It is completely over the top and full-commitment in every way, and I had an amazingly good time throughout.
Before Grace could object, the duke plowed on. “In any event, I would ask you to take note of the men outside, and how they interact with the ladies. Not the older gentlemen who’ve settled into a comfortable middle age. The younger set.”
“The ones with the tightest breeches,” Grace noted. Her pencil moved in rapid strokes. “Showing off their thighs in an evident courtship display. Very common within the animal kingdom.”
“Are you sketching?” Seb asked. “Male thighs?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course. We have to use every available avenue to record our findings.” Grace held up her journal, and, true enough, she’d marked the paper with very accurate drawings of male femoral regions. She hadn’t neglected the crotch areas, either.
Gilded Cage, by KJ Charles (self-published: historical m/bi f):
I’ve been waiting many months for this book. The one where we finally get to spend a whole novel basking in the razor-edged light of Susan Fucking Lazarus, spiritualist fraud turned detective turned terror of the London criminal classes.
And my god, she’s just as glorious as I’d dared to hope.
This novel is as finely balanced as a blade from a master smith. The steely weight of a mystery plot, where our hero Templeton Lane’s life hangs in the balance as a jewel thief being framed for murder. The gleam of a second-chance romance, with its long-simmering resentments and reveals, which delivers several punches to the reader’s gut. And the sharpest, cuttingest banter this side of a screwball comedy. Our characters have deep feelings, impossible longings, and wracking vulnerabilities; quite naturally, these commonly express themselves as insults, denials, and wry asides. It makes the few moments of pure, shining sincerity burst like fireworks and make me silently cheer.
Susan is wary and intelligent and hedges her bets whenever possible. She hides her emotional truths as deeply as she can, even from herself. She hardly turns a hair when lying to the police, pursuing leads, interrogating suspects, or doing any one of a number of reckless, questionable things in the pursuit of justice. But ask her to explore her feelings? Ask her to trust someone with her heart? Ask her to hope?” She’d rather swallow rusty nails.
Templeton Lane, our aristocratic younger son turned mining laborer turned jewel thief, is much the same, wounded and self-isolating — except that he is incapable of hiding how much he adores Susan Lazarus. It spills out of him at the most inconvenient moments. He has every reason to mistrust her after years of simmering silence, no reason to think she’d forgive him all the things he screwed up before. But he just can’t help himself. It’s not long before he’s offering everything — his presence, his absence, anything she might want from him — and contrast between this hapless yielding and Susan’s prickly principles just lights up the love scenes like gangbusters. Favorite characters from past books/series make elegant, effortless cameos, and justice when it finally comes is fierce, bloody, and grimly joyous.
All this and a stolen opal necklace, too. Heaven.
“You’re the last person alive with a reason to help me. You would have been first on my list of people to ask, given a choice.”
“I dare say I’m the only detective you know,” Susan pointed out, somewhat snidely. She wasn’t sure why she felt snide, but she did.
“I know plenty. You’re the only one we ever thought was dangerous. I’d prefer to have any three of the Metropolitan Police on my tail than you.”
Susan felt her cheeks pink, enragingly. “Yes, well.
How to Talk to Nice English Girls by Gretchen Evans (Carnation Books: historical bi f/f):
Many of my favorite historical romances are ones that rebel against the Regency/Victorian chronotope. I am fond of midcentury romances, medievals, Tang Dynasty duologies, and increasingly, romances set in the 1920s, either British or American or pretty much anywhere else. There’s something endlessly flexible about the Roaring Twenties: you can go full glamor with flappers and bootleggers and the newly modern cities; you can go hardscrabble with self-made businessmen and young single women joining the public workforce in numbers for the first time; you can go dark with the trauma of the Lost Generation, or anarchy and the labor movement, or the rise of fascism that would so trouble the thirties and forties.
Or, as in the case of Gretchen Evans’ quiet but thoroughly engaging novel, watching two quite different women slowly figure out how to carve out a life together to spite uncaring society, disapproving family members, and their own worst tendencies.
This is a very precise, small-scope novel in terms of perspective. We spend the whole thing in one heroine’s head, and because Marian’s world has been kept so close and limited — she’s grown up in her pretty sister’s shadow, dutifully obedient to her parents, never traveling too far from the manor house where she was born — even the smallest changes can feel transformative and perspective-shifting. When her titled father’s American business partner brings along his brash, short-skirt-and-red-lipstick-wearing, booze-tippling daughter, well, it’s no wonder that Marian is dazzled.
But never swept too far out of her orbit of good sense and caution. I always worry, when novels begin with a quiet, biddable heroine, that she’s going to have to make some sort of enormous, reckless mistake for which she must atone. It stresses me out in advance. Spoilers — but we get nothing like that here. Marian’s inner steel is tempered by Katherine’s fire; Katherine’s rashness is grounded by Marian’s steady admiration. A delicate thread of narrative tension holds the whole thing together until the end. It is precisely as the title promises: nice.
Marian began brushing the sleep-pressed waves from her blonde hair. Unlike Cecilia’s, Marian’s hair was not pale blonde or luminous. It was darker, more like the colour of straw. It didn’t glow, it just looked dead and flat. It never seemed to catch the sun or shine in the lamplight at a ball. Everything about Marian felt like a rough imitation of Cecilia: her eyes were blue, but a light, unsettling colour that made her look far too clever to be trusted, her cheeks and jaw were pale and angular instead of rosy and round, and she never attracted others like Cecilia did. It was almost as if everything beautiful got used up in Cecilia and all that was left for Marian were the rough and faded bits.
Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth is the anti-Hillbilly Elegy. Smarsh's book is smarter than J.D. Vance's, it's more compassionate, and its understanding of class and race dynamics is generations beyond Vance's.
That word "class" is perhaps the most important one to understand Heartland's appeal. At the beginning of the book, just at the dawn of the Reagan era, class is an invisible force that touches everything in America: like gravity, class is everywhere and it affects everyone, even though nobody spent much time thinking about it.
For Smarsh's family, class is what held them down. Smarsh comes from poor Kansas stock — the kind of proud folks who were always just running shy of of financial catastrophe. In Heartland, Smarsh explains the various crises that afflict the lives of poor Americans: abuse, drug addiction, dangerous jobs, lack of health care coverage, and exploitative practices. She dispels the bootstrap idea that any American can break free the chains of poverty with the simple application of a little elbow grease. She makes it all real and raw on the page.
Just about everyone in the Reading Through It Book Club last night enjoyed and appreciated Heartland, with many of us considering it to be one of the best books we've covered in our three years. We appreciated the elegance of Smarsh's arguments — she provides one of the most cogent explanations of how white privilege transcends even the harshest class distinctions, for instance — and we were moved by the compassion of her story.
It's true that Heartland doesn't offer any prescriptive policy solutions for the problems depicted in the book, but in the end it didn't leave us feeling hopeless. Instead, it helped us to understand the situation we're facing with a little more clarity.
For most of Smarsh's life, class was America's silent obsession. Nobody talked about it, but we were all painfully aware of class distinctions at every minute of every day. And we mostly held on to the idea that class could be overcome with a little bit of bootstrap-pulling. That lie is starting to fall away. More and more, where you're born in America and who you're born to defines you for your entire life.
It's possible now for Americans to have a wide-ranging and honest conversation about class without embarrassing anyone. That's bad news for the wealthy who have profited off of Smarsh's family's impoverishment; it means that people are starting to realize exactly how they've been screwed. When that awareness shifts from a hunch to indisputable reality, those lines of class are going to look more like battle lines.
Peter and Maria Hoey are making comics that look completely unlike anything anyone else is doing right now. Their comics have the formal playfulness and serious graphic design of a Chris Ware, the emotional inquisitiveness of a Dan Clowes, and the visual sense of play of a Mary Fleener. Their books are dense but packed with popular culture references and genre tropes — they're cinematic in the true sense of the world, in that they're fascinated with film theory and history. If you haven't read their Coin-Op collection, and the comic series of the same name, you are, basically, reading comics wrong.
This weekend, the Hoeys will be in Seattle for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, and they're bringing a new comic with them. Issue 8 of Coin-Op is, to my mind, their best work yet. It's packed with six short comics on the theme of "Infatuation," and their sense of formal play and emotional heft is remarkable.
The first story in this issue of Coin-Op, "Rear View Mirror," is a loose retelling of the Orpheus myth starring two cartoon characters named Saltz & Pepz. It incorporates jazz, classic Disney cartoons, myth, and Clockwork Orange iconography. Between the Kubrick references, the deep and resonant exploration of the two most American art forms of all — comics and jazz — and the David Lynchian infusion of subliminal terror, the story packs a whole graphic novel's worth of ambition into ten pages.
But to my mind, far and away the best story in this exemplary collection is "Intersection," a formal study of the choices we make their repercussions. The story opens with a man and his wife celebrating their anniversary. He leaves the house to pick up some champagne and he gets hit by a truck. When he comes to, he's young again. He meets his future wife years before they actually met in his past life. Do they fall in love no matter what? Or do the shifting circumstances prove that all love is conditional on time and place and cosmic chance?
The Hoeys are making art that most mainstream publishers would never touch. It is uncompromising and intelligent and formally playful. They are exactly the kind of artists you should support at Short Run, and Coin-Op issue 8 is a brilliant introduction to their work.
Hopefully we'll be talking to her about this in depth soon, but you should know that Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna has launched a Kickstarter to publish a beautiful book of poetry about the Columbia River. The goal is to send the book to "all 67 Library Districts and all 27 tribal libraries in Washington State." You can buy the book in paperback or deluxe form on Kickstarter, or you can buy multiple copies to sponsor a library. Learn more below:
I've known Sarah Mirk for over a decade — we both worked at The Stranger but since she moved to Portland in 2008, I've happily transitioned from a coworker to a fan. Mirk is an advocate for everything great in the world: feminism, comics, sex-positivity, and zines. Late last year, Mirk embarked on a project: She decided to create one zine for every day in 2019. She's on track to finish the year a champion, and she's bringing some of her best zines to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival at Seattle Center this weekend. We talked about why she has tabled at almost every Short Run, what she loves about zines, and what kind work she'll be bringing to the show.
Here are just some of the zines Sarah Mirk has made in the last month or so. (Photo by Sarah Mirk; used with permission.)
You come to Seattle every year for Short Run. What do you like about it?
It's just a really well-run festival, and everyone who's tabling is making really interesting work. It's a festival that is all independent creators, so there's no big companies — there's not a focus on mainstream super-commercial comics. It really feels like everyone who's there is passionate about what they're making and they're really invested in putting their work out into the world, rather than buying the new Captain America shirt.
And I think the way that the festival is run is really thoughtful. It feels really inclusive. It feels welcoming: they make sure that all the creators get lunch, and it's really affordable. A lot of festivals are kind of stressful because the table costs so much, and then the whole time you're worried about making your money back, but Short Run has kept their prices really low. So for somebody like me who's tabling, and I'm selling zines for $2 each, at the end of the day I can still come out ahead because the table doesn't cost that much at all. So I really appreciate that they keep it accessible and keep it inclusive and are less focused on making money and more focused on building community and being able to create a space for people to share their work.
That is maybe the best description of it I've heard. I agree.
Over the summer I went to San Diego Comic Con and it was just so gross and I hated every minute of it. It was really alienating, actually. I'm somebody who makes comics and loves to read comics and I didn't want to be there at all because people are more interested in just buying stuff — t-shirts and Marvel-branded hats and action figures and stuff. And I was like, 'who here is actually making time to draw or making time to write or making time for self-expression?' Which is what I see comics as being all about: a way to express yourself and put your thoughts and feelings out in the world. And a lot of comic shows are more about spending money than about, you know, sharing your voice and listening to other people's voices.
That seems like a maybe a pretty good segue into your zine-making project. Can you talk about that? I don't remember seeing the beginning of it, I just noticed you started doing it.
It started January 1, 2019. I actually started last year during October. You know about the Inktober challenge?
Okay. So for Inktober I thought, 'Oh, I'll make a zine every day in October and see if I can do that.' And I got to the end of the month and it was just super-fun. I had loved making them and people love reading them and I had many, many more ideas for zines and I thought, 'I know I have at least a hundred more ideas for zines. Maybe I can have 365 more ideas for zines.'
I just liked the idea of having an excuse to make myself draw for at least an hour every day. So that was part of the challenge.
I'm working on a longterm book project that's not going to come out until next year, and so I wanted to make something every day that I could share and put out into the world, to just have something that I'm making that's immediate, rather than having to wait a year for anyone to see my work.
Also it's something that's just for me, and it's just for fun. I'm really trying to get away from perfectionism and feeling like things have to be pretty, or things have to be perfect. It's about the process of making something every day and sharing it with the world — good or bad. And part of the point of it is to show people that you can do this too. You can make things and put them out in the world.
Do you have any favorites of your 200-something-something children?
Yeah. Let's see. Today is 261 — it's always surprising. I'm publishing them all on Instagram and I'm trying not to get attached to the Instagram addictive system of what people like and what they don't like. You know, I should just measure it in what I think the quality is versus how many likes it got.
Oh, you mean like you've been measuring hearts?
Yeah. And so the ones that I like are usually really weird and aren't always the most popular. I made this one that was imagining different public transit systems as pop culture figures. So, like, New York's MTA is Joyce Byers from Stranger Things, because it's like super stressed out and communicates only through blinking lights.
And Sound Transit in Seattle is Hermione, because it's cold and like, "Oh, we know best." And really it does get you there, but it's kind of an asshole. That was just an insane idea that I had and I made up a zine about it. I really thought that one was funny.
Other ones that are my favorites are ones that have had the biggest impact. I did a zine about like funding bail bonds for immigrants in detention, and I made it literally at two in the morning because I was reading the news and getting super upset and depressed and I was like, "What do I do?" And so I started reading about bail bonds, and then I made the zine about bail bonds and published it at 3 AM and then people all over the country asked me for copies of it. So I scanned it in and sent a PDF to people and I sent it to at least 50 people who have printed it out and distributed it themselves.
I pitched in $50, and I had dozens of people tell me that they read that and then pitched in themselves and it went viral on Twitter, and it seems like a lot of people pitched in. So, that one feels really cool. This idea I had at 3 AM led to dozens of people donating money to this cause and hopefully getting some people out of detention. That's pretty cool.
I am feeling hopeless, but at least we can pitch in get immigrant families the hell outta detention. pic.twitter.com/5oEgTSZ7kg— Sarah Mirk (@sarahmirk) June 24, 2019
So those are two of my favorites and they're kind of on the opposite ends of the spectrum of what I make. One is just a funny zany idea that I had. Another one is more like political action.
So what do you do with the zines when you finish them? I see some of them on Twitter.
Okay. Wow. That's a lot of paper.
And that's part of the reason: they're all on actual paper. They're not digital, and they're almost all black and white because it's cheaper to photocopy.
Are you going to do anything with these when you're done? Are you bringing some to Short Run? Can you talk about what you're bringing to the show?
Yeah, I'll be bringing a whole bunch of these to Short Run and selling them for $2 each. I'm also selling stickers that I've made and then copies of the graphic novel that I wrote that's called Open Earth — it's a queer sci-fi story in space. And then I'll have copies of The Nib, a comics magazine that I work for.
Do you think you're going to do anything with the whole project at the end, or is this just a thing to see if you can do it — kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only with a lot more work?
Yeah, I actually just got a grant from the Regional Art and Culture Council here in Portland to publish a book of the zines.
So I'm going to collect a hundred of the ones that I feel like are the strongest and put them into a book along with some direction on how you make your own zines. Each of these is just one piece of paper that's folded up, and that's something that I really love to show people. I do workshops on how to make them because it's so accessible and so cool. And the book will also be in the Creative Commons. So the content is made to be photocopied and shared and given away.
I'm sure some people wonder about how long it takes to do them. I know you said one of them was like an hour. Is that generally typical?
I aim to spend an hour making zines every day. Some of them wind up taking me more like an hour and a half. An easy one will be half an hour. And a more tricky one will be like two hours.
And then I have some more complicated ones that I've been putting off — ones where I've interviewed people and then take their quotes and make them into a zine. Those ones I'm putting off, because they take me a long time to go through the interview, write down the quotes, figure out which ones to use, condense it into basically eight sentences, and put it on the page. That takes a long time. I have a backlog of more important ones I've been putting off in favor of doing ones about Scrub Daddy, you know?
I enjoyed that one, too.
That one took me maybe half an hour. The process for it, people often wonder, is I just fold up a piece of paper so it becomes a little booklet, and then draw the images in pencil. And then I write in the text and then do inking, and then grays or colors on top of that. I don't just start drawing with a pen on paper. I always start with a pencil first.
People, for some reason, think I just draw them free hands without penciling. No, there's an eraser involved.
Do you have any advice for people attending Short Run for the first time?
I would say for people who are attending Short Run, it's not all about just buying comics. Of course if you can buy something to support somebody, that's great. But if you just stop by and say "hi, I love your work," that's really nice.
It's definitely weird when someone comes by the table and reads my stuff and then walks away without saying anything. I think some people do that because they feel bad because they're not going to buy anything. And you know, I kind of don't care if people buy anything as long as they're excited about the art and excited about comics. I'm happy to talk to them.
(Once in a while, we take a new(ish) 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?
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, by Leah Price. Subtitled "The History and Future of Reading," it's about…the history and future of reading. Why print books aren't dead, why people say they are, why everything anyone says about reading is wrong. You know the sort of thing.
Where’d you go?
I was going to take this book out on a real date, to Mulleady's in Magnolia — Irish pub, not fancy, but well-regarded. As it turned out, though, I made dinner for us both at home. I thought we'd get along better than we did….
What’d you eat?
Farro, roasted mushrooms, crumbled parmesan. Appropriately, I read as many pages I could take while distracted by boiling water, beeping timers, and several sorts of salt. We are neither good nor enthusiastic cooks in this house.
How was the food?
What does your date say about itself?
From the publisher’s promotional copy:
Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day's news, the willingness to be alone.
The shelves of the world's great libraries, though, tell a more complicated story. Examining the wear and tear on the books that they contain, English professor Leah Price finds scant evidence that a golden age of reading ever existed. From the dawn of mass literacy to the invention of the paperback, most readers already skimmed and multitasked. Print-era doctors even forbade the very same silent absorption now recommended as a cure for electronic addictions.
The evidence that books are dying proves even scarcer. In encounters with librarians, booksellers and activists who are reinventing old ways of reading, Price offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike.
Is there a representative quote?
It’s hard to choose a representative quote without feeling that you’re stacking the deck. But let’s try this one:
When familiarity wanes, so does contempt. Once scarce and sacred objects, books entered European life half a millennium ago thanks to paper (a portable and durable medium of which Europeans were late adopters) and print (which changed books from rarities to be worshipped to tools to be used). In restoring the printed book to a pedestal at the very moment when it's being shunted to the edges of everyday life, we circle back to the era when print looked like the latest newfangled gimmick. Perhaps print is to digital as Madonna is to whore: we worship one but use the other.
Aside from the arguable (not really) misogyny of the closing metaphor, is there anything in this passage that is not cliché, either literal (pedestals! newfangled!) or rhetorical (this so that, this and that, this to that)?
Will you two end up in bed together?
I'll be honest: I anticipated writing a full review of this book but gave up after the intro and half a chapter. No, wait, I'll be more honest: I anticipated writing a full review of I Don't Think of You (Until I Do), but that book was so interesting and tantalizing and well done that I stopped (after reading and before writing), wanting more time to digest it, even though it's composed of only 101 short passages over 103 pages (or 104 if you count the illustration of mice fucking).
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, on the other hand, tells you everything you need to know straight from the title. That is: every sentence is a take, hot or cold, an echo off of something someone else has written or said. It is ironic for the most frequent author of this publication's Sunday Post — which is really nothing at its worst but a collection of takes and at its best a collection of amusing takes — to crook a brow at another hot-taker. Still.
Most people who read, and perhaps I should say all, know why they do. The "why" is not homogenous, though many reasons are common enough that readers feel community with each other: childhood isolation comforted with stories, a vast curiosity answered with pages (print or digital). No evidence base can prove or disprove the value of the word as story. No double-blind trial can tell a reader more than they already know.
Does that sound romantic? It's not intended to. In fact it's simple practicality. People read because it's necessary to them to do so. Watching football is necessary to others. We don't need reading to be special or privileged; it is what it is, to each of us. True, it does not cause concussion, unless done very badly, and in that way it is superior to almost all sports.
This is a long way of saying that a book about the value of reading seems beside the point, no matter how well done (which is not to say this book seemed particularly well done, at least over the course of a few dozen pages). Talking about the economic impact of Amazon.com on independent bookstores, and how different shifts in the market or in public consumption affect the chances that we'll all be able to continue on with our favorite way of interacting with words, is interesting and useful. Talking about whether books affect compassion, or ameliorate depression, or whether print is archaic or the original bleeding edge, is like throwing the barn door wide while complaining that it wasn't locked.
So, no. We won't even be just friends. There are too many other books to read!
I was buried beside an olive tree
with a lamp, three figs, and a loaf of bread.
I was never a mother, nor a wife,
my duties conferred to the sacred flame
to attend the vestal hearth in winter,
to bless the Tiber’s water with my palms,
and then relieve the burning in my palms.
The Sacred Way is just beyond this tree,
where my lovers visit every winter
to share my memory with leavened bread
and hold their blackened fingers to a flame.
I was never destined to be a wife
they knew they could not take me as a wife:
the random lots were held against my palms
and made my fingers curl into a flame
then open as a blossom on a tree.
My mother wept; my father gave me bread.
We walked to an empty house in winter
just beyond the Sacred Way in winter,
my dowry paid in full– not as a wife
but rather as a holy child, whose bread
had crumbled to ashes between her palms;
I watched him pass under the olive tree
bending low, as a hand cupped to a flame,
his body disappearing like a flame.
All the days of my twentieth winter
were marked through every season on this tree:
proscribed from vagaries of man and wife,
I rubbed its soothing oil between my palms
and gazed from windows when we made the bread,
when I crushed the grain into flour for bread.
I pressed bellows, bearing the oven’s flame
to watch the bodies grow between my palms,
rising from dust, hardening in winter.
I was never destined to be a wife,
to be embraced by lovers near this tree
or kiss their palms, which hold the leavened bread
before an olive tree; or lift a flame
to see their winter eyes expect a wife.
If you live in Washington state, it's Election Day. There's no big sexy headliner on the ballot this year — no Trump, no mayor — but it is vital that you vote. Please vote.
And if you tend to shop at independent bookstores because you don't want to give Amazon your business, you should know that Amazon has a lot invested in this election — to the tune of 1.5 million dollars, which is far and away a record in our city politics. No less a national figure than Robert Reich has delineated who the Amazon and non-Amazon candidates are in the majority of our City Council races. The Seattle Review of Books isn't endorsing anyone in this election. I have my preferred candidates, and so does the management at Amazon. But this is what I want you to take away from this post: if you and I disagree on a candidate, or all the candidates, I still want you to vote. Please, please vote.
Washington state can't make voting much easier for you. They mail the ballots to you, they pay the return postage, they have placed ballot boxes all over the city. If you're not sure about who to vote for, I advise checking out a resource like the Progressive Voters Guide, which links to a number of endorsements around the internet. It only takes a few minutes of your time, and it always feels great to turn that ballot in. Please, please, please vote.
You have until 8 pm tonight to return your ballot. Vote, please.
Short Run Comix + Arts Festival, which is this Saturday the 9th in Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center, is our sponsor this week. We're so pleased their here, because we absolutely love Short Run. In fact, they use a quote from us on their webpage that says it best:
“In virtually no time flat, Short Run has gone from ‘let’s put on a show’ to ‘this is the heart and soul of Seattle’s creative community.’ Imagining a Seattle without a Short Run is as unthinkable as a Seattle skyline without a Space Needle.”
Make the time to go — it's a fantastic celebration that only happens once a year. Don't miss it! Head over to our sponsor's page to find out all about it, including some of the additional programming that is happening this year.
If you want to reach our readers, like Short Run and other sponsors do, great news! We've got some great deals on upcoming weeks in the primetime of the holiday season. Check out our sponsorship page for more information, or if you're ready to book, check out dates and prices!
Nicole Chung's memoir about being born to Korean parents, adopted by white people, and raised in rural Oregon has been recognized by almost every major book review publication as a tremendous achievement, and it's been long- or short-listed for many great awards besides. Here's your chance to hear part of the story from the author herself. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.
Marc Brackett is "Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University." His new book is about developing emotional intelligence in adults and in children. It's rapidly becoming a major text for educators around the country. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 6 pm, free.
Dao Strom's book of four novellas centers around young Vietnamese women in America. Strom is a poet and a memoirist and she's definitely going to win a major literary award one day. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
You likely know Saeed Jones from BuzzFeed, where he covered books and culture in such a way that even the mainstream had to pay attention. Jones is also an accomplished poet, and now he's the author of How We Fight for Our Lives, a memoir about his coming of age. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000. http://naamnw.org, 7 pm, free.
Maybe you have to work all day on Saturday and you can't get to Short Run. It happens! People often have to work on weekends, and there's no shame in it. But if you can't make it to Saturday and Sunday Short Run events — see our Event of the Week column for more details — you should definitely come for the kickoff party at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown. The Marathon Art Show and Reception features artwork from a number of Short Run heroes, including Marc Bell, Jasjyot Singh Hans, Malaka Gharib, Seattle Walk Report, Mike Centeno, Chloë Perkis, and Rumi Hara. Fantagraphics knows how to do these art openings right, so this is going to be a good one. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, http://fantagraphics.com/flog/bookstore, 6 pm, free.
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Fisher Pavillion at Seattle Center, 11 am - 6 pm, free.
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Various locations and times.
we're huge fans of Short Run
here at the Seattle Review of Books. This year, we've
Jasjyot Singh Hans about his amazing poster for the festival, Ezra Claytan Daniels about the political tract he's debuting at the show, and Jul Gordon about her textile comics that will be on display at the show. You have a sense of the breadth and depth of work that's available at the show.
But now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty: Where do you need to be and what do you need to do? The complete answer is on Short Run's website, but here are a few details you absolutely need to know:
Short Run keeps getting bigger and better respected with each passing year, and 2019 looks like the year that the festival semi-officially spreads to a multi-day experience. Sure, the floor is only open on Saturday, but the events happen all weekend long. This is a great town for comics year round, but it doesn't get any better than Short Run weekend for a celebration of the form by its greatest practitioners and most enthusiastic fans.
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 email@example.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
This was my breaking point with Meghan Daum: In 2018, she published “Nuance: A Love Story,” where she details her realignment with the alt-right over the course of long, lonely nights with YouTube’s algorithms. I read this essay waiting, waiting, for the turn — “and then I realized I had allied myself with racist, anti-woman, anti-human propaganda” — but it doesn’t come. Instead, Daum ends on a mild note about belonging and loneliness and nuance. It’s the kind of ending that’s possible only for someone secure against the very real and mortal outcomes of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, or whatever hopelessly un-nuanced terms you prefer.
Emily Witt’s critique of Daum’s latest book, which dives deeply into similar themes, is nuanced and rational. Witt focuses on “alternative optimisms” — worldviews that lean away from the traditional complaints of cis white feminism (without denying their reality) and lean toward ways of being that don’t simply correct but reinvent the status quo. As satisfying as it would be to see Daum roundly thrashed, this gentle but firm redirection is probably a better path.
The books that made sense to me at the time were those that questioned the primacy of the heteronormative family. Lauren Berlant’s thesis in her book “Cruel Optimism,” from 2011, that “the heterofamilial, upwardly mobile good-life fantasy” is no longer tenable has become the underpinning assumption of the millennial progressive left and millennial sexuality. I saw hope in the alternative optimisms in Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” and Tim Dean’s “Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking”—queer theory, at least, was more skeptical that there was only one way to be in the world.
Along similar, or at least parallel, lines, a profile of Samantha, a young woman who joined the alt-right to please a boyfriend and then (with some intervening events) left. Samantha’s road toward sympathy with the alt-right was also paved by pseudo-intellectuals like Jordan Peterson; like the frog in an over-used metaphor, her skin thickened as the water grew hotter. She quickly rose in the ranks as an expert recruiter of other women, hard to do in a cause that has as a core belief the subordination and worthlessness of women.
Samantha’s departure from the movement was as anticlimactic as her arrival: a gradual accumulation of pressure from outside the fence, similar to the process that pulled her in in the first place. It’d be great to think that this is true for the majority of alt-righters — that they’re operating less on principle than on a desire for belonging, and specifically to belong to something that feels special, private, better. But I think Samantha was just lucky enough to get off the ride before it entered the final tunnel.
She asked him to imagine a house was on fire and 10 people were inside, five of them black and five white. He could only save five. Wouldn't he save the white people first? The man said he would save whomever he could reach. Samantha thought, 'That's what I would do, too.' But she didn't say anything. "I felt like most of the time I was in there, I was waiting for someone else to say, 'We know this is all bullsh*t, right?'"
And now, a reminder that life is also light and silly and full of joy — no, it’s not kittens! I should have made it kittens, you’re right. But how about Zadie Smith, describing in all the glory of Zadie Smith’s prose, the excruciating problem of dressing properly for a two-continent life?
Some New York memos, collective and unindividuated and everywhere, are simultaneously signs of widespread social transformation, and therefore heartening to see. Afro hair worn natural, boys in sequins and eyeshadow, gender-neutral separates. Others drive me to distraction. For three winters in a row, I swear there wasn’t a woman in New York who didn’t own a ribbed woollen hat with a fake-fur bobble on it (although when I emailed friends in London, it sounded as if it was just as bad over there). And last fall, the ubiquity of teddy bear coats made me feel violent towards teddy bears, as a breed.
Ben Clanton is a Seattle based "authorstrator" of children's books, and coiner of great portmanteau words. He's best known for the charming, hilarious, and adorable Narwhal and Jelly series of books. Clanton has just won the Washington State Book Award, in the "Books for Young Readers (ages 6 and up)" category, for the third in the series, Peanut Butter and Jelly. Narwhal's Otter Friend is the latest. Congratulations, Ben!
What are you reading now?
Most of my reading is via audiobooks! I listen to them when illustrating my own books, but also every other moment I can find such as when driving, doing dishes, and falling asleep. Currently I'm listening to Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones. I had listened to another of his biographies recently about Jim Henson which I found fascinating. I love hearing about the lives of creative people and what inspired them. I've especially been captivated by these biographies by Brian Jay Jones because the creations of both Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss were big parts of my childhood and their work has definitely influenced my work. Last night I was listening to the story of how much Dr. Seuss struggled to write The Cat in the Hat with such a limited number of words. I decided to accept the challenge and try to write a beginning reader myself. I'm not off to a very good start! It is super hard!
With my kids I have been rereading The Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham (love her style!). We've read those books many times! Also popular at bedtime has been the Claude series by Alex T. Smith. Oh, and The Book that Eats People by John Perry and Mark Fearing is a favorite with my son currently. That is such a fun one to read aloud. Mr. Pumpkin's Tea Party by Erin Barker is another we've enjoyed multiple times recently. Other picture books being read this week include Grown-ups Never Do That by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney (the illustrations are incredible!), and Henry and Bea by the brilliant Jessixa Bagley.
What did you read last?
Last week I listened to a few of the books in Tui T. Sutherland's Wings of Fire Series including Darkstalker and Poison Jungle. Dragons are always a favorite for me and Tui's characters are so real. I also listened to Master of the Phantom Isle by Brandon Mull and Return of the Temujai by John Flanagan.
What are you reading next?
There are a few books coming out soon that I am excited to read such as Starsight by Brandon Sanderson and The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer. I've also been meaning to listen to Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee and the latest Ransom Riggs.
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 October's posts.
In August when I drew these I was at a residency in Boise, living a high-ceilinged-house life by the river. There are many reasons why this “I have a house and an art job in Boise” life meant a lot to me, but the one that matters forever is my cousin Ryan. We are, somewhat improbably, friends for life—ours is a deep meaningful friendship and also the kind where me saying things like “forever” and “meaningful” here is going to make both of us laugh at me in a REAL DEEP WAY. He came to my residency-culminating public event on an inconvenient end-of-summer weeknight, prompting happy feelings of touched gratitude in me and also an earnest internal panic of OH GOD NO now Ryan is going to see me READ POETRY. (You can relax, we both survived. My writing made him laugh and made his older sister cry, so I maybe deemed it my most successful reading ever.) To celebrate the magic of living nearby for so much longer than our usual visits, and knowing his birthday’s in October, I invited Ryan and his wife Kristin to choose the post-its for this month. The rest of my years were holding down the fort in Seattle (surprise! I do not carry thousands of post-its on my person everywhere I travel), so they had to choose from what I’d made while there. They each picked a different swimming moment; during that month, work on my manuscript gave way each evening to swims in the parks across the river (or, on some 100-degree days, in the river itself—a sort of thrilling liquid treadmill plus pebbles and fish, if you will). I’d tramp along the bike path in my tiny rag of a towel, past the surfers (!!!) and over a bridge, to my choice of 3 different swimming ponds. This daily excursion led to many observations on Boise (the rollerblading thing is NO JOKE), often later preserved forever in post-it. People and dogs and bikes and paddle boarders and kayaks and surfers and skateboards and other wheel-based endeavors I don’t understand were everywhere, like smallish-city life is some giant urban planning playground. Striding home after a swim I looked up and startled, expecting to dodge this bike—but instead it was a hand—from a guy on the bike—reaching out to high five me about my shaved head. Considering further post-it options, I’m pretty sure Ryan remarked wryly that the big question is how narcissistic do you let yourself get—but I love it when people choose memories we share, so I’m glad they both indulged a little. Kristin went straight for the sleeping porches. Perhaps you, like I, have spent decades assuming sororities have normal college roommate arrangements—albeit in big fancy gender-segregated houses with a cook. WELL WE WERE WRONG. I’d heard the phrase_ “sleeping porch” thrown around and understandably pictured some kind of grandiose-mansions-screened-porch-summer-nights thing, until one night when Kristin and Ryan and I were talking about how they met, joking about our differences and college memories and cozily teasing, random stories. Completely beside the point, she mentioned being on early wake-up duty in her sorority. I needed explanation. “Oh you know, you have to go around waking up the girls who’ve got early classes, tapping them.” Tapping them? Why not set alarms?? “Well....it would wake everyone up.” It took SO MUCH conversational backing up before I believed I was truly understanding her. To my utter confusion, in this context sleeping porches are actually internal rooms where 20 to 40 women sleep in tightly-packed bunk beds, sometimes even stacked 3 bunks high. Trying to wrap my head around the amount of trouble people go to for the privilege of such a living situation SHOOK ME TO MY CORE. And here Kristin was all casual about it, just laughing at me, blithely clobbering me over the head with a tiny piece of knowledge she had never considered to be surprising, or obscure. Ryan chose the final post-it, of a walk we took in the foothills one night after work. I think we were aiming for sunset, but it was a last-minute decision, he trying to squeeze in dinner with the family first and me grasping at one more page of writing. We were a little on the late side and gently unsure of where we were going. Channeling our mothers’ can-do spirit of logical leaping and haphazard optimism in the face of insufficient planning, we charged immediately up the most vertical path. At the top it became suddenly apparent that it would be far too steep down for me to go back that way, and that this was not in fact the top. We were also swearing at ourselves a lot, but in a not discontented way? Scrambling up the dry, rock-hard dirt of each sharp ridge, feeling totally alone in the quiet of a dying day, we’d catch surreal glimpses of other people, tiny pairs in the distance poking up jauntily in improbable places. Some questions became embarrassingly urgent—where did these different paths go? Would any take us back to the car, instead of literally slipping down the cliff we’d walked up? How long before the decisively deepening dark completely obliterated our already limited navigational guesswork...or were My Side Of The Family’s notoriously weak ankles going to be the bigger problem. But here we are, safe and sound in our separate cities now: we made great choices, calm and endlessly amused by our stupid selves, suddenly there was a sunset somewhere, Ryan’s phone had a flashlight function, that ominous green was just a dog with a glow stick, the sunset a sliver in the dark like it was hanging around in other neighborhoods, had its back to us.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have a real piece of work in our book club. Never reads the book, always has too much to say, never stays on topic (most likely because he never reads the book.) I get the sense that he loves the book club and it might be one of his only real social outlets, but his obnoxiousness is starting to scare off other members of the club. Do you have any ideas on how to gently train a bad book club member into a better book club member?
It takes time and patience to re-train adults to honor even basic social mores. My mother has had a persistent case of Munchausen by proxy ever since I hit puberty. I still must have a service animal taste test all of my meals when she's around for the holidays. (Don't worry, I use spiders now. It has shaved hours off my Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve grave digging.)
There are three routes you can take.
1) Tell your book club that you've noticed the conversation veers off topic pretty quickly. So, for the first half hour or so, you're going to try and keep the conversation on topic as much as possible. Remind people that if they haven't read the book, they can grab something to eat and quietly enjoy the discussion.
2) Get a talking stick. I know: I, too, hate talking sticks. But! I've heard they work for some groups – especially groups that have quieter folks who don't speak up as much. You can float it by your group with, "Hey, I've noticed that some people don't talk much during book club. I'd like to hear what everyone has to say. What do you guys think of using this talking stick for a bit just to train ourselves to give everyone a chance to speak?"
3) Nominate the next mouthiest person in the group to moderate discussions. Equip them with book-related questions. When your mouthy guest jumps in with his own thoughts, train them to chant, "Interesting point. How does that relate to the book?" Again and again and again.
Just as I have to remind my mom every holiday season of the notarized letter on my fridge that says, "In the case of Cienna Madrid's sudden and mysterious death, check her mother's pockets for poison," you will have to remind your badly-behaving attendee that his input is only welcome if it's on topic. If all else fails, gentle poisoning may be your next best option. Eating unripe persimmons makes a person's mouth go numb. Maybe feed him a basket of those? 'Tis the season!
In the last week of September, Heidi MacDonald at the Beat reported, Raina Telgemeier's comic book memoir for young readers, Guts, was the best-selling book in the country. Not the best-selling comic book in the country — the best-selling book, period. When I picked up a copy of Guts at the beautiful new Paper Boat Booksellers in West Seattle this weekend, the bookseller remarked that it almost certainly was the young shop's bestselling title of all time.
It's curious that the bestselling comics artist in the country is someone who most mainstream comic fans have never read. I've been seeing Telgemeier's name for years now and I'd certainly never read one of her books before. I decided to amend that situation.
Guts is a memoir about Telgemeier's childhood battle with a nervous stomach. Plenty of adult readers will likely relate: it starts as a weak stomach and then, as Telgemeier's social and school life becomes more complex, it becomes a full-on problem. She becomes afraid to eat anything — cheese, cabbage, mayonnaise.
The stakes are low, but to ten-year-old Telgemeier, they couldn't feel any higher. Guts does a good job of keeping the problem in perspective: as the young Telgemeier worries that she's never going to be normal again, the world keeps turning around her. She winds up going to therapy, and it helps a little. The story is gentle and empathetic.
But is Guts good comics? Sometimes it seems that popular comics have to be bad in order to gain ubiquity; some of the most-read comics in the country, after all, are Dilbert and Garfield. But Telgemeier is a gifted cartoonist. Though she could stand to develop the backgrounds in more of her panels, she delivers a variety of perspectives, rhythms, and sizes on every page. These books are likely to inspire thousands of young people to take the comics apart to see how they work, and Telgemeier offers plenty of craft for those readers to emulate and explore.
And in the background of Guts, young Raina Telgemeier is constantly working on her comics. She's drawing memoir strips about her life, or trying to convince a friend to collaborate on a comic. The elder Telgemeier seems happy to share those rudimentary proto-comics with her readers — a few of them are displayed in the book — as an encouragement for readers to follow their art. It's quite possible that one day earnest young readers will be able to combine the hundreds of pages of autobiography Telgemeier has published into a single arching narrative about the growth and development of a cartoonist. In terms of influence and reach, it could very well be the most important comics autobiography of the 21st century.
The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.
Andrew Engelson, founder of Cascadia Magazine, delivered some sad news in his most recent newsletter.
We aren’t shutting down, but we’ll be significantly scaling back what we offer. This newsletter will likely shift to a weekly digest. We’ll still publish occasional journalism, poetry, essays, and fiction online at *Cascadia Magazine*, but it will be more infrequent.
I interviewed Engelson back in January of last year about Cascadia and what his goals for the magazine were. Two years in continuous operation for a publication with no outside major investors is a big damn deal, and team Cascadia should be proud of what they've accomplished. We look forward to seeing what they can do as they scale back to a more humane schedule.
Ezra Claytan Daniels made one of the splashiest comics debuts in recent memory. His book Upgrade Soul — a high-concept sci-fi novel about cloning, the pursuit of eternal life, the concept of the self, and love — was nominated for just about every major award in the comic book business. And his gentrification horror story BTTM FDRS was published this summer by Fantagraphics to great acclaim. Last week, Daniels debuted an app version of Upgrade Soul and a soundtrack album for the comic. I spoke on the phone with him about genre, the limitations of comics, his new political minicomic, and why he enjoys Seattle's own Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, where he will be exhibiting on Saturday, November 9th.
Have you been to Short Run before?
Yeah, I went once before. I went last year, and I squatted on Ben Passmore's table. He was a special guest and we were on tour so we happened to be going through Seattle and he carved out a little corner for me on his table and I set up some books and sold them.
Okay. And even though you were basically stealing money from Short Run by squatting at someone else's table, they asked you back?
Is there anything that's unique about Short Run that convinced you to come back one year later?
I love Seattle. I lived in Portland for six years, and I have a lot of friends in the Pacific Northwest, so any excuse to come back up in the area, I always jump onto it.
I also really like that Short Run's only a day, so it makes it a lot easier to commit to, if I want to spend some time seeing people that I know in the city that I'm visiting. Some shows, like New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con are four or five days long. Who can take that much time away from their responsibilities to go to a show that's that long?
And also I saw that you're going to be bringing a new sort of small press book to Short Run. Can you talk about that one a little bit?
I'm not very good at talking about it, but it's a nonfiction political essay that I wrote with the intent to communicate certain moralistic and philosophical political ideals to problematic white people.
All the comics that I do have a very strong sociopolitical agenda beneath the genre trappings that I candy-coat these ideas in. But I started to feel really disenchanted with that approach, because I felt like it was really easy for people to take the wrong message from things that are too obfuscated through genre conventions.
So if you take the X-Men, for example: The X-Men were designed as a civil rights allegory — which everybody knows and everybody loves to bring up when we talk about the history of political agendas in comics. But it's so easy when the X-Men, the actual team, are almost all cast as white people for white readers reading those books to take away the lesson, not that black people and minorities are oppressed, but that white people are oppressed.
So I was trying to think of ways to communicate ideals a little bit more directly. And so I came up with this zine that kind of explores the narrative origins of empathy and the evolutionary origins of narrative — why we, as humans, try to wrap all of our life's experiences in narrative terms; and how that narrative worldview shapes our perception of empathy; and then why it's easier for us to feel empathy for some people than others.
It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It took me forever to do it. It's like 60 pages, but each page is one panel so it's actually a pretty short book. But I asked a couple of leading psychologists to consult with me on the book, so I got their feedback: Adam Waytz [author of The Power of Human] and Paul Piff who did the rigged Monopoly study that became a viral TED Talk.
Wow. I can't wait to read that one, because the first thing that comes to mind for me with the combination of politics and comics are the old Steve Ditko Objectivist rants—
I'm not familiar with those.
Oh no? He did a bunch of black and white comics that were about objectivism on Ayn Rand and...
Kind of the opposite of what you're doing, sounds like. They're about how there's no society, there's only the individual and there's lots of illustrations with big spheres with mouths talking to men in suits and the men in suits cast the spheres aside. They represent the voice of doubt, or society.
Wow. Sounds great.
They're very interesting. They're hard to read and they're a little bit bonkers, but I don't know of any other people who have done things like this in comics form. Is it okay to call it a polemic, or what is it exactly? Do you know?
I'm not even really sure what to call it. I'm not huge on labels, so whatever people want to call my stuff, I'm fine with it. I'm not going to claim to have created a format. I think I'm looking to things like The Nib, which is a good example of an approach to political comics that isn't reporting current events, but adding kind of a subjective perspective on some of these ideas.
But the central idea is to create something that's super-palatable, it's super-easy for people to understand, but it's still got some intellectual depth to it, so it'll give people something to think about.
I'm a biracial artist, I'm half Black and half white. And I feel like I'm in a very unique position because of my ethnic background to communicate some of these ideas to my white family members, specifically.
I just feel like I'm kind of preaching to the choir sometimes. When I do shows like Short Run — I mean, I love Short Run and other shows like Short Run; these are the people that I want to spend my time with. But selling a book like BTTM FDRS, which is a very political book, to people that come to Short Run is not really communicating these ideas outside the circle of people that already feel the same way that I do.
I'm sorry, but I hadn't read Upgrade Soul, until I found out we were going to do this interview, but I loved it.
Oh, great. Thank you.
And I really liked the way you use genre. You could write a description of the book that sounds very much like a mainstream commercial comic, and then you made it a very sort of deep and thoughtful and fascinating and squirmy story that I just really dug. Can you maybe talk a little bit more about how you feel about genre? It seems like it cuts sort of both ways, right? You're injecting these sort of deeper ideas into genre, but you're also sort of smuggling genre into a different audience a little bit, right? I don't think that Fantagraphics, for instance, has published a whole lot of genre work before BTTM FDRS.
Yeah, I guess I never thought about that. I'm fighting the good fight of spreading genre ideals into a highbrow literary crowd.
It does go a little both ways. You're smuggling on both sides.
Yeah, totally. I'm cut from the Rod Serling cloth in trying to do stuff in the tradition of creators that were using genre as a Trojan horse to disseminate their political ideals. But I am starting to feel a little bit disenchanted with that approach because it's so easy to get things wrong.
So I don't know what the future of my career looks like. I like working in genre because I just love science fiction and horror. So I think in doing a story like BTTM FDRS, there are very real ideas that I wanted to get across in that book. And I think a big part of slathering those ideals in horror and sci-fi and comedy is just because it was easier on my mental health to go to those places. I can play around in this fun sandbox of toys rather than a sandbox of library books and political essays.
Of course, the book's been out for a little bit and now it's got this interesting second life in the form of an app and a soundtrack. One of the things that really draws me to comics is the way that it sort of puts time in the hands of the reader in an interesting way, right? Of course, there's the page turn, which cartoonists use to create suspense or surprise or something like that, but there's a lot of internal work that happens when you're reading a comic. You can control the timing and the tempo of the comic as a reader in a way that you can't when you're watching a movie. It seems like as a creator you're maybe taking some of that back a little bit in an interesting way. The characters in the app blink and the word balloons sort of appear and disappear. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship, whether you see this as changing the idea of time in the reader/artist dynamic in comics?
The answer is absolutely not. The developer, Erik Loyer, and I, went through painstakingly long discussions. Just from talking to me for the past 15 minutes, I'm sure you can imagine the type of discussions I was getting into with Erik, the developer, about the definition of comics and how far we should take advantage of the technology at hand before it stops feeling like reading a comic.
"The thing that defines comics, just like the thing that defines prose, is the reader's control of the element of time."
And you got it exactly right: The thing that defines comics, just like the thing that defines prose, is the reader's control of the element of time. So as soon as something happens in a digital piece that the reader doesn't control, like anytime there's movement in a panel or something animates, or someone speaks, or even if there's a literal sound effect like a tire screeching as a car pulls away, it's a jarring effect to the reader because it's something that's indicative of time that the reader hasn't controlled.
And putting together the dynamic of reader interaction for Upgrade Soul, that was our golden rule that we could not deviate from. That said, there are things in the app like the blinks, that we threw in, that totally go against that rule. But people thought it was really funny and weird, so we kept it in. And this is a little secret: The blinks only happen in the first 20% of the book, and then, after that, the characters stop blinking.
But other than that, the main hook of the app is the reactive score [composed by Alexis Gideon] and that also adheres to the same tenets of control of time that the comic book does. So as you're swiping through the panels, every panel transition triggers a change in the music. The music keeps perfect time with every emotional beat in the story, so you're controlling the music in the same way that you're controlling your pace through the story.
That sounds amazing. I'm glad you put such thought into it. The mainstream publishers have done some — they call them motion comics, usually.
Yeah, totally. And those things never catch on because they always come across being like crappy animated films. As soon as something moves and it doesn't move with the fidelity of an actual animation, it sets up this reaction in the reader: "oh, that moved but it was really crappy looking."
Do you have a preferred reading experience for the story? The app or the printed comic?
It's a very complicated history, but Upgrade Soul was originally developed for the interactive app. It was developed for the app that we just launched. The entire thing has been a self-funded project. We launched it in 2012 with the intent to serialize it, so we would release a new chapter every couple of months. We got about halfway through updating the story and then we just put it on hiatus because we weren't making enough money on it and we were bankrolling it out of pocket.
I kept working on the book and then, when I finished it, I sold it to Lion Forge Comics. But I carved out the interactive rights because I always knew I was going to come back and finish the app. So since Upgrade Soul came out as a book last year and got all this attention, it seemed like the perfect time to try to bring it back.
Published October 29, 2019, at 12pm
This Saturday, Seattle author Christine Day reads from her debut middle-grade novel at the Neverending Bookshop. It's a book that unveils the history of Native American peoples in the Pacific Northwest through the eyes of an endearing 12-year-old girl.
While you work in the garden
dig holes in the swallowing earth
I put my hands in the soil of words,
ungloved, I sift out the little rocks
Your miraculous back and arms
pull up undreamed dreams
My pen rolls into storms
of laughter and tears
You stop, feel
rain tapping your cheek, your shoulder
We both come inside
there is no other place necessary
Sponsor The Seattle Public Library wanted to make sure you were aware that they're bringing David Treuer to the Central Library, Thursday, November 7, at 7pm.
Treuer's acclaimed latest The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee recasts Native history, and blends reporting with memoir. A finalist for the National Book Award, longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence, Treuer's book is having a huge impact.
Come hear him talk about his work. There's much more information on our sponsor's page, and links to The Seattle Public Library's page about the event.
We're so grateful for sponsors like The Seattle Public Library, who bring such amazing events to our city. Returning sponsors like them know our readers love to hear about what's happening in Seattle. You can tell them, too, with your own sponsorship. Take a look at our Sponsor pages for more information. We have some prime holiday spaces open to get the word out for people in the present shopping mood. We'd love to talk to you about them!
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $21.
Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea is a new anthology from new publisher great weather for MEDIA. This event features readings from Kate Berwanger, Douglas Cole, Bryn Gribben, GG Silverman, and Sonya Vatomsky. There's also an open mic night.
Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 7 pm, free.
The Seattle Public Library presents an evening of "spine-tingling tales of terror from beyond the grave." (Does Little Women, for instance, count as a tale from beyond the grave? The author is dead, after all.) Floating Bridge Brewing, 722 NE 45th St, 206-466-4784, 8 pm, free.
This is not strictly a reading or a book-related event, but it's Halloween and there are no readings that I could find and it's at the library, so let's stop worrying about details and live a little. This is a marathon screening of the films A Bucket of Blood, Little Shop of Horrors, Carnival of Souls, and Night of the Living Dead. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 3 pm, free.
Are you sick of the goddamned internet sucking up all your attention? Are you tired of picking up your phone to look at a single text message, only to find that twenty five minutes later you've been watching guinea pig videos for no reason? The author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy can help. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.
Local author Christine Day presents a middle reader novel about a young Native American girl who finds information about her family that leads to other questions.
Neverending Bookshop, 7530 Olympic View Dr Unit 105, 425-415-1945 http://www.theneverendingbookshop.com/, 2 pm, free.
Winners of the Floating Bridge prizes for poetry publications—chapbooks and poetry collections — read their work: Jory Mickelson debuts Wilderness//Kingdom, Katrina Roberts launches Lace, and Elizabeth Vignali presents Endangered [Animal]. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 3 pm, free.
Tonight, author Anand Giridharadas takes the stage at Town Hall to read from the paperback edition of his exciting book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. I generally try to focus on local authors in the Event of the Week column, but Giridharadas is important enough that he deserves this spot.
Winners is a book about how the super-wealthy elite use philanthropy as a shield to protect themselves from criticism, and to add to their own coffers. It's the kind of book that actually makes waves: Giridharadas has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of criticism from the status quo in the year since the book came out, and so now people are finally discussing the problems inherent in the philanthropy system, and the worsening inequality it causes.
It helps that Giridharadas is an old-school big journalistic personality: with his leather jackets and his sky-high hair, Giridharadas summons the carefully cultivated image of a public intellectual. Think Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, and Joan Didion — the kind of bracingly honest writers who develop cults of fans. It's a rarity these days, but Giridharadas is using his newfound fame to great effect: he's throwing bombs and speaking truth to power on cable television news shows. This kind of criticism never would have been so publicly aired without a personality like Giridharadas to propel it to our attention.
Tonight at Town Hall, Giridharadas will be interviewed by Steve Scher. If you haven't read this book, or if you have read this book, or if you're curious about what it's like to be in the same room as a journalistic superstar, this is the event for you.
And if you want to discuss the book with other readers, please save the date: On December 4th at 7 pm at Third Place Books Seward Park, the Reading Through It Book Club — a joint presentation of Third Place Books and the Seattle Review of Books will be discussing Winners Take All. (All are welcome, with no purchase necessary.) This is the kind of book you read, and fall in love with, and evangelize over, and discuss endlessly. In other words, it's a book by a superstar.
Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $21.
Here’s a reminder of what “lynching” really means, from New Orleans writer Maurice Carlos Ruffin: not a set of shallow associations, but a history bleeding like poison into the present-day reality of our country.
Once, in mixed company, another friend and I mentioned how pervasive lynching imagery was. A white friend admitted that she had never seen a single photo. I was shocked, but not surprised. A lynching was a warning. She didn’t need to be warned.
In the wake of Patricia Lockwood’s epically devastating re-assessment of John Updike in the London Review of Books, a profile of the LRB’s editor-in-chief: an 81-year-old woman with a gimlet gaze and a fearless sense of what “the paper” is and does.
I asked Wilmers how she intended to mark the 40th anniversary in the paper. Was she going to do something special?
"No,” she said, very offhand. “It’s just meant to be good.”
Alex Danco asks a question that should be chilling for Seattle. There’s no question that we need more affordable housing (more affordable housing, and more-affordable housing). But more housing doesn’t mean prices drop, for the same reasons the rich always get richer.
The thing with positive feedback cycles is that they necessarily come to an end, unless there is some enormous reservoir of resources they can draw from in order to keep perpetuating. In the housing market, the basic mechanic through which this keeps perpetuating is: banks lend money to homebuyers; the more freely they lend it, the higher it will drive house prices. This has two mutually reinforcing consequences: people will need bigger mortgages, and the bank will be able to issue them, since they’re allowed to lend up to a specific leverage ratio that is now buoyed by rising home values.
Joy McCullough is the Seattle-based author of the young adult novel Blood Water Paint, for which she was just awarded the Washington State Book Award, and which was also long-listed for the National Book Award. The book is based on the life of Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi, a gripping, tragic story of resilience and defiance against a brutal society deliberately designed to keep women oppressed. We are incredibly lucky that right now, in Seattle for the first time, you can see a Gentileschi painting in person at the Seattle Art Museum's exhibit Flesh & Blood, now showing through January. McCullough will also be appearing October 30th at the Gage Academy of Art on Capitol Hill in conjunction with a Masterpiece Lecture Series lecture focused on Gentileschi. Congratulations, Joy, on your recent accolades; we're so grateful for your work bringing Gentileschi to new audiences!
What are you reading now?
I just read Know My Name by Chanel Miller and it is an absolute must-read for anyone who is able to read it. (Trigger warning for sexual assault.) The survivor of the highly publicized Stanford rape case tells her story with devastating clarity. It is both heart-wrenching and hopeful and it tells the story not only of one horrific act of violence, but the broader story of being a woman in this world.
What did you read last?
I am currently reading The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. It’s equal parts true crime and science history, set in a compelling, cinematic era. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but this one is filled with so much intrigue and story that I’m really enjoying it.
What are you reading next?
Up next, I’m planning to read Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, one of our greatest authors of books for kids and teens. His latest is on the short list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It’s a collection of interconnected short stories, each focused on a different kid’s walk home from school. Reynolds is an extremely innovative writer and master storyteller and I’m really looking forward to this one.
Lit Crawl is one of our favorite adventures of the year, more so this year with an extra round of readings (our tired feet!) and two new members of the team on board: Julie Yue, and Mariya Bashkatova joined Dawn McCarra Bass, Paul Constant and Martin McClellan to cover the night this year. Even five of us could catch only a fraction of the incredible talent on display — in a single night! — but we did our noble best. Kudos to the Lit Crawl organizers for continuing to make this event bigger and better, a landmark moment in the literary year.
"A woman's work," Intrigue Coffee and Chocolate
It's a gift to start Lit Crawl at a coffeeshop, the oldest-school place for words to be read out loud. And it's a tribute to the Lit Crawl organizers that the not-small room at Intrigue (really! It's huge!) was crowded at 4:45 with people eager to start the night.
Mineral School — the residency program founded by Jane Hodges — is well known to Seattle Review of Books readers. We loved seeing Hodges read her own work after supporting so many other writers. The excerpt she read from a memoir in the works, a piece on an aging relative's loss of cognizance, was poignant but not mawkish, wry but not silly. Taking care of the dying has, indeed, always been women's work.
In a set of readings on women and work, there is no avoiding the unpleasantness of men in the workplace. For Kristen Millares Young, it was the A1 editor, one of a series of men to mistake her self-possession for an invitation to possess. Millares Young is one of the best readers in Seattle; her voice is strong and warm and carries anger and humor equally well. She's also one of Seattle's best essayists, producing rich, thoughtful, human work time and time again. You can read "Every Woman Keeps a Flame Against the Wind" in Proximity Magazine. If you have the chance to hear her read this, or anything else, aloud, take it.
The lovely surprise of the reading (we expected good things from both Hodges and Millares Young) was Jean Ferruzola, who we hadn't heard before. Ferruzola is a quiet reader, so everybody got quiet to listen. Her writing is personal, funny as hell, and incredibly smart. "Sadness can be a problem of narrative," she said, before relating a painful story about a man in power who asked for something he shouldn't have. Ferruzola captures exactly how the shocking, arrogant persistence of such a request can lead to surrender — and how violation can become the author of a woman's story.
Stinky and Spooky with a Side of Magic at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library
One member of the audience stole the author's book right off the reading table at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library. He ran away with the book, cackling. Another member of the audience disrupted the reading with raucous laughter when the author read the word "butt." Nobody in the audience even blinked. The authors were used to this kind of lawless treatment, and even seemed to enjoy it.
These three local children's authors kept things relaxed and fun for the children in attendance. Donna Barbra Higuera enlisted her fellow authors in a scripted reading from her upcoming picture book about El Cucuy (which, Higuera explained, is "The Mexican boogeyman," who is "much scarier than the American boogeyman.") Mark Maciejewski read from his second book in the “I Am Fartacus" series, Electric Boogerloo — his was the reading with the celebrated "butt" in it — and Kim Baker presented her upcoming middle-grade novel The Water Bears, about a boy who survived a bear attack. Every Lit Crawl should begin with a reading where members of the audience feel comfortable enough to lie on the floor and giggle openly.
Y-We Poetry Reading at Northwest Film Forum
What a great way to start the night, listening to three artists near the start of (what we hope will be) a lifetime of explorations — all three presented with the cool confidence and self-awareness of more tenured writers.
Lucia Santos was first, reading a series of poems, including one titled "Poems my Notes app rearranged". She spoke of wanting to write about the world “on a more abstract level" and had some wonderful imagery in her work.
Azure Savage, who recently came out as trans-masculine, wrote You Failed Us: Students of Color Talk Seattle Schools with the intention of causing "systematic change in education". They interviewed forty students of color, all of whom attended Seattle Public Schools at one time or another, about their experiences. Savage said the perspective of students of color is the one they wanted to share most, because that is the perspective that gets heard the least. They collected the interviews, and then used the themes that emerged as chapter groupings. They talked about the book reaching people in power who are listening — the entire project an astonishingly mature and capable approach, both art and journalism, in working to enact change.
Robin Hall's project was more inward facing: she explored self-hatred and body image, how there were many places she could go where people would tell her to love herself, but none where she could honestly express the negativity she carried — the feelings she felt she needed to step through before finding that self-love. She is interested in "systematic change in how we view our bodies.". Like the other two Y-We alumni, she showed up, tackling personal, difficult issues with impressive vulnerability.
Y-We stands for Young Women Empowered. The group offers multiple programs for diverse young women, including a writing retreat camp.
"Playing with Dough" at Elliott Bay Book Company
Has there ever been a better combination than books and baked goods? Yesterday's talk paired gluten-free gougères, gluten-free banana bread, and (gluten-rich) pasta crackers with a panel discussion by cookbook authors Jeanne Sauvage, Linda Miller Nicholson, and Aran Goyoaga.
Cooking is so personal and ritualistic, and these three authors are all invested in the way that food is inextricable from our family histories, our childhoods, and our sense of comfort and home. This relationship is especially evident when you develop a food allergy or intolerance and suddenly need to rework beloved family recipes.
Jeanne Sauvage, author of Gluten-Free Wish List, said she had to "learn new ways of eating and connecting with heritage" after she developed a gluten intolerance and could no longer eat the same foods she'd been enjoying since childhood. Her book focuses on tweaking classic baked goods to make them gluten-free while keeping their nostalgic and familiar flavor.
Linda Miller Nicholson said her mission is to "bring joy to people through food" and also to sneak some vegetables into her child's pasta, so her new book, Pasta, Pretty Please, is a kaleidoscope of rainbow pasta enhanced with vegetable purees. Her bright stage presence matched the colorful pasta, and I believed her when she said she's made pasta by hand at least once per week since the age of four. She also has great tips for cooking pasta, including a recipe for the appropriate salinity of pasta water that was almost too titillating to include in the cookbook.
Blogger, food stylist, and photographer Aran Goyoaga spoke about her food journey: from a child growing up in a family of chefs, to a young person living with an eating disorder, to an adult returning to cooking as a source of healing and nourishment. Her cookbook, Canelle et Vanille: Nourishing Gluten-Free Meals, grew partly out of her writing about her past and family traditions in the Basque country in Spain.
This is one reason we buy cookbooks — not just to learn a recipe (there are more expedient ways of doing that) but to learn someone's story through food and to step into a world where all the china matches (or is artfully mismatched).
"COAST|noCOAST issue 2 release" at Vermillion
The joy of a journal reading is the mix of voices and genres, trying to find the aesthetic throughline while enjoying the differences. COAST/noCOAST is a new journal, only in its second issue (release to come in December or January), but its editorial voice suits the stage. First- and second-person readings by Alayna Becker and prose editor Katie Lee Ellison went immediately to the hairline crack between personal and political; Ellison's piece, which centered on her Jewish father's swastika-imprinted rug was particularly compelling.
Erich Schweikher, also co-editor, read a mix of work — his own, and poet (and third co-editor) Charles Gabel's. Schweikher said he's been writing the same poem for 20 years, and has finally given in to it; you could hear the way those years have worn some edges off and sharpened others in his verse: words and sounds bouncing against each other with a casual skill. It's interesting to hear one poet read two poets' verses. It brings out the style of each more strongly. Or maybe that's just a tribute to the poets' strength, to hear both voices so clearly even when spoken through the same throat.
The Seattle Review of Books is an unabashed fan of Mita Mahato's work — those delicate but unfragile poems cut out of paper. Kudos to Vermillion for accommodating the screen that allowed her to combine reading with a slideshow of the collages that are essential elements of each poem. Only Mahato could write about "the planet as a square of blue paper in a rectangle in a comic strip" while punning about flat-earthers and transforming Blake's Tyger into a tiger-headed robot.
Mahato is working on a short, gorgeous, and heartbreaking series of images on the changing boundaries between humans and other animals, hopefully ready for Short Run. Not ready for Short Run but now eagerly anticipated by everyone in the audience: a visual sonnet sequence, based on her residency in the Norwegian Arctic, in which a polar bear serves as her Petrarch's Laura. "The sonnet is a form that necessarily deals in puzzles," she said, and climate change is a puzzle she won't let go of. If only poets, and comix artists, could be president.
Seattle Youth Poet Laureate cohort at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library
"This one's for my mom, but if any of you moms out there can find something in it, maybe it's for you," announced a poet whose name we didn't catch at the Youth Poet Laureate cohort reading. Based on the poems we heard, there are a lot of proud mothers out there. Maia Pody read about fingernails as symbols of beauty standards and also carriers of dirt that stays with us, just under the surface and impossible to fully clean. Marina Chen read a poem about expectations and obsessions written to another: "you, the reason there's chocolate on my cell phone." Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Wei-Wei Lee read a poem to her friend Gabriel, "who isn't here today, but that's okay because I could never say this to his face." It was a poem about a car ride fraught with emotions, about steeling your voice to feel confident and squeezing feelings of inadequacy into something smaller and easier to manage. The poems were raw and exploratory, bouncing off each other and works of art — Chen references The Little Mermaid; another poem responded to All the Light We Cannot See. It's the kind of reading that reminds you why we love poetry when we're young: because it's how we make sense of the world and explain ourselves to ourselves.
The Poet Salon at Northwest Film Forum
A live podcast recording during LitCrawl! The Poet Salon hosts Dujie Tahat and Luther Hughes (usual third host Gabrielle Bates couldn't make it tonight because of travel) interviewed Natalie Scenters-Zapico. New to the area, Scenters-Zapico is Poet in Residence at the University of Puget Sound, and her most recent book Lima :: Limón was released in May by Copper Canyon Press. (The title comes from the Concha Piquer song "A la lima y al Limón", a cautionary tale about a thirty-year old unmarried woman. The children who live near her look up at her window and caution each other not to be like her. Thirty! Unmarried!)
Scenters-Zapico read three poems and answered questions from Tahat and Hughes, talking at length about growing up in the twin cities of El Paso/Juarez during the rise of the drug wars. The conversation ranged from writing about the desires and physicality of the body to watching her home towns become a "test-tube for modernization"; how femicide was a common context during the violent years, and what it's like to grow up on the border, surrounded by fliers for missing women. "The documents of death," she called them. "The documentation of brutality."
"We must be careful how we perceive border spaces", she said, tying together events in Juarez to missing indigenous women in America, where reservation land often abuts oil industry fracking and remote areas. She spoke to how no one in our country pays attention to these women disappearing, and how wrong that is. We must be careful how we perceive border spaces; we need to pay attention to border spaces.
Scenters-Zapico's poetry is absolutely sublime — you'll be able to hear for yourself when the episode is released, although picking up her book in the interim would find you richly rewarded.
“Haunted by Heartbreak" at Ollie Quinn
Desire, grief, and heartbreak were the ghosts of the night, though the light wood decor and hanging pothos plants of Ollie Quinn are less “haunted house" and more “Swedish coffee shop." Jessica Mooney, an SRoB contributor, opened the event with a lyrical essay from her just-released chapbook, Parting Gifts for Losing Contestants, illuminating a tangle of miscommunication, loss, and language breakdown in a relationship. "I don't know how to say what I mean," she read. "Taxonomy remains mysterious."
Poet Keetje Kuipers's performance made me want to immediately go out and buy all of her poetry collections. She opened (appropriately for the spooky theme of haunting heartbreak) with "Finally," a poem about sex in a cemetery, which intertwined lust and love with death and featured the indelible description of cartilage grinding into "dust finer than the finest semolina flour."
Kuipers described one of her collections, The Keys to the Jail, as "the saddest book that's ever been written," and it's true that the poems she read carry heavy emotion. The past is constantly flitting in and out of them, mingling with the present and continuing to haunt the living. In "Told You So," from her newest collection, All Its Charms, she described using the old boxers of "the man I thought I'd marry" to clean up her daughter's orange juice spill. In the same piece, she recounted crying on the shoulder of a former lover before going to a clinic with the intention of getting pregnant, "worried that whoever I loved next would never know my body when it was beautiful." The room was silent while Kuipers let the line sink in. "How could I have been wrong about so many things?" she finished, to a hum of agreement from the audience.
We also got to hear a new piece from Anne Liu Kellor, memoirist and creative writing instructor at the Hugo House. In the candid and open essay, she explored having a crush on a carpenter while dealing with some reverberations from her husband's long-ago unfaithfulness. Kellor connected with the room and created a warm environment and some big laughs.
Poet, writer, and disability justice activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was unfortunately not able to attend the event, and we missed her.
Apocalypses Now at Bauhaus Coffee
Woodinville author Alexandra Oliva noted that her first novel, The Last One, was a post-apocalyptic story about a reality show colliding with the end of the world, and so it would have been perfect for the apocalypse-themed reading at the new Bauhaus Coffee space on Harvard Ave. But she's almost done with her second novel and in another place mentally, so she read a new piece about the emotional desolation of a new city. There are always more than enough apocalypses to go around, after all.
Jennie Melamed's apocalypse was a fantasy story, about a badly burned knight warning his kingdom that a dragon was swiftly approaching. Ruth Joffre read poetry about rising seas and selections from a novelette about people obsessing over sour candy and ice cream cake even as a virus mercilessly wipes humans off the earth. It's appropriate that Joffre offered calamity by multiple choice: No single apocalypse is enough for one person. When it comes to the end of the world, we each contain multitudes.
Hedgebrook reading: Strangers in a strange land at Capitol Cider
Ah, Capitol Cider. One of the favored Lit Crawl destinations — full-service food and drink! Also one of the loudest, with at least half the room there for the cider and the other half for the words. But the mic was good and strong, and the readers cut right through.
Kathleen Alcala kicked off the session with her piece "Strangers in an estranged land", tying her Spanish-Jewish history to early immigration, when Spain made it clear to Jews that their choices were to convert, to get out, or to die. "Being persecuted does not make you a saint," Alcala said, pointing out that "life, as long as it was somebody else's, was cheap."
Wendy Call spoke of visiting Bogota, Columbia, and meeting an artist named Daniel who brought her to a mural he made, showing nine people who were victims of the violence and drug wars. "I need to clean it," he told her, "wiping his hand along the mural and looking at the dark ghost on his fingers."
Ellen Forney showed that her humor and spirit are just as sharp when not paired with her wonderful comic art. She spoke of crying in public and the things she does to avoid it. One part of the story involved eavesdropping on a metalhead and his mother in a movie theater as they chatted about song names. She also recommended looking up the mammalian diving reflex, in which immersing your face in cold calms your body. There is, of course, just the option to let the tears fall in public and not worry about how people might react — but a good story needs a tension point, and Forney found plenty of humor around finding your cheeks wet when, perhaps, you feel ashamed that the context might not warrant the expression.
“Making of Seattle" at Elliott Bay Books
While many LitCrawl events focus on a host of writers sharing poetry and prose around a single theme, this final food event at Elliott Bay Books dove deep into the process of writing a cookbook with one author, Julien Perry. Her newest cookbook, Seattle Cooks, shares quintessential recipes from forty local chefs. In conversation with food writer and author Kathleen Flinn, Perry describes how she managed to wrangle forty restaurant chefs into trading their food scales for measuring cups.
"It was a nightmare," said Perry, about convincing restaurant chefs to translate their dishes for the home cook. Unlike the film Ratatouille, chefs don't keep a trove of recipes in a robust card catalog. Their staff learns simply from watching them make it. What's normal for a chef – working with vast quantities, long lists of specialty ingredients, smoke guns, sous vide machines – is far beyond what even the most ambitious home cooks are ready for. One grilled octopus dish had so many components that the first iteration of the recipe was a full seven pages long. The editorial process was just as arduous — five rounds of editing, five rounds of copyediting, and then multiple rounds of proofs. Pro-tip: don't leave the recipe testing to the last minute!
This was an unrivaled opportunity for anyone who has ever wished to write a cookbook. Kathleen Flinn shared insights on how the genre has changed in the era of online personal branding. Keyword search has allowed niche cooking to become viable. The visual tyranny of Instagram has changed the economics of book publishing — the cost of full-bleed color photographs is now a necessary expense.
A final delicious perk: there was so much food from whole evening! Sockeye salmon and gingery noodles, still more gougères, chewy snickerdoodles, and chili from Jack's Barbecue, one of the restaurants featured in the book.
Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women at Corvus & Co.
This special Lit Crawl edition of the popular reading series — inspired by the works of authors like Aimee Bender and Alissa Nutting — was a high point of our evening. Series host and curator Kate Berwanger's piece, a creepy, gorgeous short story about a woman whose body and surroundings begin to turn into plant matter, probably hewed closest to the idea of "surreal fiction." But Vivian Hua's "true story" of a man who decided to drive to California based on the demands of Tupac's ghost was charming and fun, and Kate Bernatche's macabre story about cannibalism was such a gutsy choice (sorry — the pun was unintentional but we're keeping it) for a restaurant serving burgers and chicken wings. Jalayna Carter's poems about labyrinths and headscarves and coats named Sheba were so exuberant that only a true pedant would complain about the readers meeting, or not meeting, the dictionary definition of surrealist literature. It was a powerful showcase, with a variety of talent sharing the work they're most excited to share right now — in other words, what Lit Crawl is all about.
Failing Gracefully with Friends at Capitol Cider
Kilam Tel Aviv hosted this block, introducing his two co-readers before coming up for stage time himself.
Aviona Rodriguez Brown brought a trained theatrical presence, physicality, and vivaciousness to her storytelling. She talked about her Afro-Latinx history and how it differed from her siblings'; about recognizing the moment where she first saw her blackness reflected by people and became truly aware of her color.
Jamaar Smiley followed, with a performance of two of his jaw-dropping works — infused with beat, hip-hop, and complex rhyme-schemes that, at times, echoed Neo-romantic cadence, Smiley's work explored themes of racial identity through metaphors of the natural world, including that most Northwest-y of fish, the salmon. His vivid images came rapid-fire, creating a sense that you are riding a wave of images — you're just just catching one allusion as he drops a second or third, your brain barely keeping up with his. Truly astonishing work — and, amazingly, he performed both very long pieces from memory. Highly recommended if you get the opportunity to see him perform.
Then Tel Aviv was back up, bringing home the theme of failure. He read from a chapbook where he asked local artists and creators to answer questions about how they approach their work and then paired those pieces with poems that, he said, "failed" — or, that were rejected by publications. He read slowly and seriously, taking time to let his poems land, before the punchline of rejection. A fun concept, well put together. It was nice to hear it performed.
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Bar" at The Pine Box
Due to technical failure (see “Biggest Regret") and ensuing scrambles, we missed the beginning of Darkansas author Jarret Middleton's reading — which surely would have spooked us to the bone. But what we did hear was two hilarious takes of horrific-but-not-quite-horror stories from New York author Chavisa Woods and short story author and screenwriter Ramon Isao.
Woods read from the eponymous short story of her collection Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country, the wry interior monologue of a queer goth having a hell of a hard time in the Bible Belt. One of the must-do's: "I would highly recommend a non-consensual, surprise Southern Baptist exorcism." But you have to prepare to do some legwork before your friends and family will conspire against your soul. For example, go to Bible study dressed like you're going to "kill a Marilyn Manson concert" and read aloud from Old Testament passages about gruesome child sacrifice. Death is everywhere in the country, Woods finished, "all we love is ourselves, all we kill is ourselves."
Death and religion also reared their heads in Isao's chilling imaginary about our dystopian future. A father takes his son to see the last tree in the world, as he did when he was a boy. Having never seen a tree before, his son is less than impressed: "It's just a big stick, Dad!" This atmospheric, sarcastic short story tells of a brave new world where climate change has turned everything into a desert, greenery worship is now a religious cult, racial segregation is real again, and AI learned to write music that made people cry. His world felt strange and harsh, yet so, so familiar.
The long, dim cabin of the Pine Box made the perfect setting for these genre-bending readings. As people piled in with jugs of ale and listened to the violent ironies of our old religions and bittersweet predictions of our future, you can't help but feel like this was a scene that's happened so many times across so many millennia. We're still just a bunch of big-brained apes who learned to tell each other stories, again and again, in new and different ways every time.
Writing Against the Body at Ada's Technical Books & Cafe
The quick walk up the hill was brutal — why, oh why, are the events so far apart! — but the promise of these four poets made the choice an easy one.
Previous Seattle Review of Books Poet in Residence Abi Pollokoff hosted the evening, first introducing Laura Titzer, who beyond her lyrical and engaging poetry, is an artist and community food organizer.
Laura Wachs was up next, reading work questioning her unknown birth mother, wondering about the connections and thoughts she is unsure if they shared. Other pieces about recovery from eating disorders were raw, visceral, and very real: a confrontation and a naming.
Joyce Chen said that "I write about how time exists in the body" — she spoke of how her mother, and the immigrant's dilemma of wanting a parent who is American and local, but who doesn't sever the connection to history and the past.
Abi Pollokoff closed the night — and Lit Crawl, for those of us who picked this as the last venue. She read from a series of new work that she called "a feminist eco-poetic." Pollokoff is a present and powerful reader, using rhythm and repetition to bring moving waves of emotion to her pieces. It was great to see her give voice to some of the white space she uses to keep words apart (and together) on the page — a kind of concrete melodiousness that evoked something of songwriting for me, as if she started with a melody and stripped everything that rhymed too close until it was just the cadence of words.
Weed the People at Rachel's Ginger Beer
"So this is my first time doing theater in the round," Leila Marie Ali joked at the beginning of the Weed the People reading. Rachel's Ginger Beer on 12th Avenue, it must be said, is a terrible venue for a reading. The ceilings are high and a few of the customers are very loud assholes. But the Lit Crawl crowd — ever troopers — are used to making do with non-typical readings venues. We circled around the readers to listen to them talk about their relationship with marijuana.
Ali, for instance, is a tour guide at the Herban Adventure Tour. "Now I'm like the Weed Queen but, full disclosure, my tolerance is very low," she joked before launching into an epic poem about the history of marijuana prohibition. Ahnya Smith, founder of the Colored Cannabis Collective and host and curator for the evening, said she was floored the first time she saw Ali read her work, and it's easy to see why: she's charismatic as hell, prowling the floor and drawing the audience in.
Smith, Ali, and poet Nadia Imafidon made the political theme of the evening a personal one, talking about what it means to be Black women trying to take back cannabis culture from the white people who criminalized it and are now gentrifying it. Imafidon's poem about being told to "take a breath" when she expresses her displeasure says it all: in certain venues, a woman of color simply isn't allowed to be herself. So there's a special kind of joy in these women carving a poetry venue out of the middle of an obnoxiously loud bar, demanding the space and the attention they deserve. As a symbol of the world the authors were aspiring to build, it was just about perfect.
Biggest Regret of the evening
Due to a Google Maps mishap, one of us ended up eight blocks south of Bauhaus Coffee at 9:07 p.m., and couldn't make it to “Winter in America" to watch Robert Lashley, Christopher Rose, and Paul Hlava Ceballos share their poetry inspired by jazz poet Gil Scott Heron. What a miss — we're sure it was phenomenal! We'll catch you next time. (Bauhaus — update your Google Maps address!)
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to: email@example.com.
Do you sing karaoke? I do, and I just lost a friend because I wanted to sing “Tom Sawyer,” and she hates Rush that much. But I had to listen to her sing fucking “Old Town Road” FIVE times in one evening and I didn't pitch a fit. Is it too much to ask someone to sit through 3.5 minutes of prog rock they don't like just to let a friend have a turn?
Geddy Lee, Rock Box
I have a friend whose go-to karaoke song is Pat Benatar's "Hell is for Children." It is a five-minute song about child abuse. If I can tolerate 19 years of listening to that, your friend can tolerate four minutes of Rush without being a crybaby whiner. There are few rules to karaoke, but one is that you do not get to nix another person's song choice. Repeating the same song – let alone five times! – during one night of karaoke is what's truly offensive.
Tell your friend she is a mannerless pig and stop inviting her to your karaoke nights out, for the sake of whatever is left of your friendship.
It's JA Jance's birthday this Sunday, the 27th. Happy birthday, to one of the reigning queens of mystery.
Despite desires to be a writer when she was young, "my first husband imitated Faulkner and Hemingway primarily by drinking too much and writing too little", and declared there could only be one writer in the family, and it was to be him. Hello, 1968.
Year later, divorced, a single-mother with two kids, she would write from 4am to 7am before going to work selling life insurance. She sold a few books after a false start, and the rest is an impressive track record of showing up and writing books that a large amount of people clamor to buy when they're released.
She writes multiple series at a time, publishing some 70 books to date, if her Wikipedia page is accurate. Among them, a book of poetry.
Another thing Wikipedia notes: she's raised $250,000 for charity by asking bookstores to donate part of proceeds from her appearances.
You've given a lot to the book world, and inspired countless writers who followed you. Happy birthday, Judith Ann Jance!
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page
Former FBI Special Agent Corie Geller is chafing at the Long-Island-suburban-bit in Susan Isaacs’ Takes One to Know One (Atlantic Monthly Press). Recently married to Mr. Seriously Perfect and happily mothering his teenage daughter Eliza, Corie loves her new life, and yet…. In an attempt to get out of her home-office a bit more — she reads reams of books in Arabic as a paid-for literary scout, as well as occasionally doing contract work for the FBI — Corie’s joined a luncheon roundtable of fellow freelancers including a landscape artist, a packaging designer, a gardening expert, and a speechwriter. But the more she eyes up one of her lunch colleagues, the more she wonders about him; that wondering soon turns into a determined bit of sleuthing. Ably aided and abetted by her dad, a retired cop who spends his days streaming NYPD Blue, Bosch and Death in Paradise, and her best friend, the super-stylish Wynne, Corie follows her spidey sense down a compelling rabbit-hole of a mystery with seriously hot water at its base. Issacs, who kicked off her bestselling-author career in 1978 with the entertaining and entertainingly titled Compromising Positions, has not lost one whit of her wit, smarts, and tongue-in-cheek humor.
With The Long Call (Minotaur), Ann Cleeves departs from Vera’s Northumberland and Jimmy Perez’ Shetland for the rural communities, towns, and beaches of North Devon. Her new police procedural series features Detective Matthew Venn, who grew up in the area as part of a fundamental church community, and fled its claustrophobic embrace as soon as he could. But now, investigating crimes on his home patch, his childhood history and ties inevitably intrude into his current cases. His sergeant, Jen Rafferty, has historical baggage as well, but holds down her own as a single professional mum raising two kids.
The opening of Long Call is classic Cleeves: a body is found on the beach, marked only by stab wounds and an albatross tattoo. Dogwalkers, beachcombers, birding enthusiasts, and community-support workers populate the novel and add intriguing heft to a murder mystery that appears to involve an inclusive community center run by none other than Venn’s husband, Jonathan. With this new series, Cleeves shines her authorial light on another striking part of the UK, showing off its landscape and locals to immersive effect.
The visceral visuals of the Alien films meet the sci-fi-comedy-horror of 2001’s Evolution in screenwriter David Koepp’s debut novel Cold Storage (Ecco). In 1987, a pair of wise-cracking military operatives are shipped to Australia to deal with some kind of anomalous, fast-growing organism. Some 30 years later, two storage-unit security guards — who meet-sort-of-cute on the job and get in a few wise-cracks of their own — discover that an ingenious fungus is definitely among us. One baby daddy, a passel of TV-obsessed bikers, and a storage-unit client later, the now retired military operatives find themselves in a race against time, battling what may possibly be the most horrific green goo ever. Start placing your casting bets now.
In Linwood Barclay’s Elevator Pitch (William Morrow) something — or someone — is playing havoc with the elevators in New York City’s finest high-rises. Starting with one terrifying Monday morning massacre through a nail-biting, corpse-accumulating week, a tenacious journalist, a besieged mayor’s office, and a pair of detectives try to make sense of an escalating and frightening pattern of violence and mayhem in the Big Apple. Cannily bookended with the tantalizing promise of actual elevator pitches in elevators, this clever, pleasurably convoluted, and fast-paced thriller imbues each of its myriad characters with personal stories and emotional baggage aplenty. Barclay’s latest will keep you turning its pages, guessing, second-guessing — and out of elevators for at least a week.
Nevada Barr authors the Anna Pigeon mysteries, a terrific series set to maximum effect in the stunning scapes of American national parks, from Yosemite and Glacier, to the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Barr’s latest, a standalone psychological thriller, has the same intricacies and engaging plotting that mark the Pigeon novels. But What Rose Forgot (Minotaur) leaves indelible traces of its own distinctive pleasure, infused as it is with Rose Dennis’ mix of chutzpah and smarts. When Rose wakes up to find she’s incarcerated in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, it takes all her nous to figure out a) what the hell happened, b) how to save herself, and c) how to put things right. Great, rollicking fun, with the door left open for potentially more entertaining shenanigans from Ms. Dennis, a superslick mash-up of Emily Pollifax and – as one character notes – Chris Cagney. Barr lives mostly in New Orleans, and partly in Ashland, Oregon.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
This is a more complicated questions than one might think at first: Place inspires me, good writing, good art, good people inspire me. Bad writing, rotten art, and evil people really inspire me. Mostly it is the bizarre, hideous and wonderful antics our species gets up to at any given moment that inspire me.
Top five places to write?
Breakfast restaurants. My desk. Airplanes. The sofa. My bed.
Top five favorite authors?
Another tricky question. Mystery: Elizabeth Peters. Romance: Lisa Kleypas. Sci-Fi: Robert A. Heinlein. All others: Jane Austen.
Top five tunes to write to?
Old time gospel and Willie Nelson
Top five hometown spots?
Ashland’s Shop’n Kart. Audubon Park, New Orleans. Lithia Park, Ashland. Panola Street Café, New Orleans. Greenleaf Restaurant, Ashland.
Why is it that all of a sudden people are getting Superman right again? I would argue that with a few noteworthy, high-profile exceptions (Mark Waid and Grant Morrison) the last twenty years or so of Superman comics have been disappointing. They've focused on the sci-fi trappings of the character, or gotten mired in generic superhero drama, and so they've failed to capture what makes Superman so essential.
But as I've noted before, Brian Michael Bendis's Superman comics — in Superman and Action Comics and, likely, in Legion of Superheroes — have been dead-on in their representation of Superman. He's humble, optimistic, positive, and just generally good. He's closer to Mr. Rogers than to Captain America, and that's exactly as it should be.
And last week, another book came out that captured the essence of Superman: written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gurihuru, and lettered by Janice Chiang, Superman Smashes the Klan is the perfect Superman book to pass on to children who are interested in reading about the world's first superhero.
Smashes is based on a Superman radio program from the 1940s that pitted the hero against the Ku Klux Klan, which was enjoying a revival in post-Depression America. The radio play is largely credited with making the Klan shameful again in polite American society — smashing the Ku Klux Klan in real life.
This book adapts the radio serial, adding some additional material and fleshing out Superman's story to make it more of a standalone adventure. This is very much early-days Superman: he can leap, but not fly; he makes mistakes; he hasn't explored all of his own weaknesses and limitations yet. He gets around by running on top of electrical wires, and he doesn't know his own origin yet.
When the Lees, a family of Chinese-American immigrants, move to a fancy Metropolis neighborhood, the Klan embarks on a campaign of terror to scare them away. Superman gets involved, even as he is dealing with his own questions of what it means to be an immigrant — albeit one from another planet.
The story is slick and fast-moving, with some gross-out jokes to keep young readers amused and interested. And Gurihuru's manga-esque artwork evokes the clean lines of Max Fleischer's old art-deco Superman cartoons without being slavishly tied to an ancient model sheet. The lines are sleek and kinetic, here, and the whole book is fun to read and easy on the eyes. There are two more issues of Smashes to come, and I hope the collected edition starts showing up in Scholastic Book Fairs around the country.
So why are so many people getting Superman right in the modern moment? Maybe it's because we need a Superman. With white supremacists creeping back out of the shadows and into the real world, and with alt-right cartoonists actively fighting against the idea of social justice in comics, maybe we really need Superman to remind us what we're capable of, and what we've already achieved in the not-so-distant past. Maybe we just really need Superman to save us right now.
The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.
Shelf Awareness reports that longtime Eagle Harbor Book Company bookseller Ann Combs passed away earlier this month. Combs was an author and a columnist, but she had settled into a career at Eagle Harbor over the last two decades. She had "retired less than a week before" she passed away, Shelf Awareness reports — a bookseller to the very end. Combs was 84.
I very much enjoyed Seattle author Paul Tumey's beautiful comics history book Screwball! I'll be running an interview with Tumey in a few weeks, but for right now, you should read this Comics Journal interview with him and plan to attend Tumey's reading at Third Place Books Ravenna on October 26th.
Stephen King's house is Bangor, Maine, is becoming an author archive and writer's retreat. Say what you will about the quality of King's prose — I will never forgive him for the end of Under the Dome — but he certainly uses his celebrity for good and not evil.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt laid off nearly ten percent of its workforce. There's been so much bad publishing and media news along these lines over the last year that I shudder to think what will happen in the next recession.
White House adviser Peter Navarro made up a character and used that character to parrot his talking points in several of his non-fiction titles. Navarro called the character, named "Ron Vara," a "whimsical device." His publisher is very upset.
Speaking of politics, this tweet says it all about that book that's supposedly written by an anonymous "resister" in the Trump administration:
Fuck, and I cannot say this strongly enough, this book. https://t.co/taqau3yra5— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) October 22, 2019
It's hard to believe, but the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is coming up in a few short weeks, on November 9th. As always, the festival will feature an array of exciting young artists from all over the world. A while back, I interviewed Jasiyot Hans Singh about his amazing poster for the Festival, and this week I exchanged emails with an amazing German cartoonist named Jul Gordon about her work and what she hopes to experience at her first Short Run. Gordon is charming and candid about her process and goals, and if you have any tips on Twin Peaks attractions, be sure to hit her up at the festival.
We're looking forward to seeing your work at Short Run! How did you get connected with the show?
Last January, I was one of the incredibly lucky 15 invited comic artists to Pierre Feuille Ciseaux near Angouleme, France. It is a comic residency - 15 artists draw a cooperative comic together for a week at a huge table at a lovely place in the countryside and present it at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme afterwards.
It's organized by the Association CHIFOUMI. I met Anders Nilsen there — he was organizer and also artists in some of the past PFC meetings, and took part as an artist this time. He recommended my work to Kelly Froh of the Short Run Festival.
Have you been to Seattle before? If no, do you have any expectations of the city or hopes for your trip?
I have never been to Seattle before.
I love Twin Peaks and therefore I'm very exited about the invitation of the Festival to do a "Twin Peaks Road Trip“ on Sunday.
If I could stay longer, I would love to visit the National Parks for several days - or follow recommendations for beautiful places outside the city - but unfortunately, I can only stay for the time of the festival.
I hope I will meet someone who knows about interesting exhibitions or spots in the city. As the Festival organizers have been very friendly and helpful so far, I think I have a good chance.
Are there any artists you're excited to meet at the show?
I recently discovered Jasjyot Singh Hans's *Big Girls Book" at the Comic Festival in Hamburg, Germany. It's so cool and strangely drawn.
Generally I'm looking forward to discover lots of artists and publishers at the festival. And of course I am happy to meet Anders Nilsen again.
I love how creatively broad your work is. I don't think I could identify a specific style that you work in, because each of your comics look different from the others. Do you try to always come up with a new style with each strip, or does the style fit with each specific story you're trying to tell?
Thank you. I'm not sure how to answer this question. I don‘t think the comics look completely different from one another. I think I try something, and after it's done I am not happy with it and think I should try something else: for example, to use color after working with black and white, and vice versa. And often after a bit more time has passed, I look at something older and think it was not as bad as I thought.
And also it's somehow right that I try to fit the style to the thing I tell. For example in "The Parc" one of the characters, "Theresa“, lives in a place that looks like the biggest building in the world (a shopping mall in Chengdu, China). It stands in an abandoned park which resembles the gardens of the Habsburg dominions. Her place is full of antique expensive furniture — it's crowded and chaotic, but beautiful at the same time - and she is lethargic/depressed and tries to fend off her neurotic and sadistic brother who insists on lending money from her. Her room was one of the first pages I drew for this comic. I tried to combine the beauty and heaviness of her situation and how she feels. (It's page 47 in the linked PDF).
Or in "Do you tend to cry“, I tried to be strict about how the room is created, because it s a kind of stage. The characters are actors who perform an intimate play. I wanted to use as few lines as possbile to keep it clear and concentrated.
One of the things that Short Run told me they loved about you was the way your comics spill off the page: organizer Kelly Froh said you make 3D models of some of the sets of your comics, and that you're also telling some comic stories through textiles, which sounds amazing. I was wondering if you could share your theory of comics—when your comics move off of the paper, are they still comics? Or are they something new?
Actually, the spilling off the page has rather practical reasons: I decided to build the 3d model of The Parc to save time: It was important to me that the perspective and what is visible from which angle is correct. This was because I needed a reason to create some strength and inner logic in the drawings, and the most obvious reason is: this is how it's built, so this is how it's drawn.
After I spent a lot of hours trying to imagine what would be in this or that background from one perspective or another, I decided that I would be way faster if I just built the model in one day. It also helped to keep to the decisions I made - I would not forget them because of the model.
And yes: it saved tons of time. I wouldn’t say the model is a comic. It's a model of the scenery.
Concerning the textiles - I was looking for a way to present the comics in a way that seemed attractive to me in exhibitions. I thought it should be big and colorful and easy to carry. So far, I've only adapted panels of comics I drew before to present them in exhibitions. I haven't created a textile comic that stands for its own so far.
I love how in your work, the "camera" often pulls way back so we can see your character's full bodies, and the environment where those bodies are. There's maybe a little bit of loneliness in those panels, but also a feeling that the viewer has a kind of omniscience—that we can see everything, that there's nothing to hide. Often, a panel can at once make me feel like a character is very lonely while at the same time making me feel very affectionate toward her because she seems to be so vulnerable and open in her loneliness. Is it fair to say that alienation is a theme in your work? Do you feel compassion for your characters?
Thanks again! Although I would not say that there is nothing to hide. I'm interested in characters who think they have a lot to hide. I feel a mixture of compassion, hate, interest, affection, love - depends on the character. I don't feel very much affection for Emigrant P. in the beginning, for example. But in the end, somehow he deserves compassion because he is so lost even though he is a racist dumbass.
What work are you bringing to Short Run?
I will show some textiles of "Do you tend to cry?“ and a textile for a short comic about office work and prints of Emigrant P.
And I will read from an unfinished comic on Thursday evening. It's called "Route will be recalculated“ and I posted some pages on instagram as a sneak preview.
And I try to draw my dreams every morning and am about to prepare a book of them. I will bring the first prints of this long-term project, printed by Cold Cube Press.
Yesterday, Artist Trust announced the recipients of their Grants for Artist Projects (GAP), which gives a $1500 grant to selected artists. This project-based grant is a lifeline to artists who live in Washington state. The GAP grant winners in the literary arts for 2019 are:
Congratulations to all the winners. We can't wait to see what you do with these grants.
July 15, 1992
My sister begs me to let her come to my loft apartment after my nephew’s funeral. “You never let me come over. You never let me spend the night. Come on.”
The giggling chatter, the tinkling bell like kissing sounds she is making with her lover, which are keeping me awake, suddenly stop.
From below my loft, I hear, “uh, oh,” followed by the butterfly laughter of their kisses.
This is no false alarm like the last time when she chatted delightfully all the way as our father drove us to the hospital only to be returned home with the twin girls still nestled inside her.
This time the blue dye from the patterned Indian fabric stains my Japanese cotton mattress, my futon ruined by the tattoo of embryonic fluid.
She instructs me, smiling, to get pads from the convenience store at the corner.
I walk pass the first living marsupial I’ve ever seen, both of us scared.
possums on the porch
my sister’s future dangling —
a family scatters
Lit Crawl is back for the eight year, and they wanted to use their sponsorship slot to make sure you knew: it's happening this week, Thursday the 24th!
Each year, Capitol Hill is taken over by writers, artists, and readers who come out to hear local authors they love, and discover talents new to them. It's a grand time that shouldn't be missed — one of the highlights of the Seattle literary calendar each year, and something that we here, at the Seattle Review of Books never fail to attend.
Find out more about the festivities on our sponsor's page. Thank you to Lit Crawl for throwing such an amazing party each year, and also for sponsoring this week!
Hey, did you know we have a rare openings in November? That's prime holiday advertising time — make sure to get your book or event in front of the holiday crowd. Find out more on our sponsorship information page, or if you're ready to book, dig right in!
Christopher Ryan's book Sex at Dawn, an anthropological study of the history of sex and what we can learn from it, was a bestseller that reimagined the possibilities of sex. His latest book, Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress, questions the idea of progress as a central human pursuit, with plenty of historical examples. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
Local literary organizer extraordinaire Kate Berwanger invites six local writers to tell spooky stories inside the Pine Box, which used to be a funeral home The press release indicates that "this is a black-tie affair. Masks, veils, and other disguises strongly encouraged." The Pine Box, 1600 Melrose Ave,588-0375, http://www.pineboxbar.com/, $25.
Seattle writer Jessica Mooney's eagerly awaited new chapbook, Parting Gifts for Losing Contestants, is a collection of essays about grief. Mooney will be joined by Seattle poet Sarah Galvin, and she'll be interviewed onstage by arts writer Leah Baltus. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Various locations and times.
Author Madeline ffitch was born and raised here in the Northwest, and so was Helen, the main character of her new novel Stay and Fight. When Helen moves to Appalachia, has a child, and then tries to go back to the land, the local authorities try to intervene. This is a wonderful novel about freedom, nature, communities, and responsibility. At this reading, ffitch will be joined by brilliant interviewer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347 http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.
Indiana poet Rosalie Moffett joins forces with Seattle poet Bill Carty, and local poet Natalie Scenters-Zapico. The three of them have new (or new-ish) books out and they're all exciting poets who are doing great work. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
Stephen Chbosky, author of cult favorite The Perks of Being a Wallflower, returns with a long-awaited new book. It's about a child whose imaginary friend seems to be born of stress but actually may have more sinister origins. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 6 pm, free.
Hands down, the Event of the Week is Thursday's Lit Crawl, which brings together the city's many literary talents for one orgiastic evening of pub-crawl-style short readings around Capitol Hill.
This year's Lit Crawl has five phases of one hour each, starting at 5 pm and then continuing every hour afterward: 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm. The sixth and final phase is a big old afterparty at Hugo House. These readings are mostly intended as samplers, introducing you to a number of authors you might not have otherwise discovered.
As is tradition, I'm going to lay out three different themed tracks you might take at Lit Crawl. These are just a few of the suggestions; you can find the rest of the gigantic schedule on Lit Crawl's site.
TRACK 1: No White Dudes
Track 2: Scary Stories, Told in the Dark
Track 3: Literary Icons
I’ve always thought of Turbotax sort of like those individually wrapped slices of “cheese product” — I know slicing my own cheese isn’t hard; I know it’d improve lunch if I did. But, in the everyday calculus of time and attention … well.
Despite those annual moments of Turboweakness, I had no idea until this episode of the fabulous Reply All that the “free” software was born out of an agreement with Intuit (and other, less successful companies) that effectively restricts the US government from offering free electronic tax filing to its citizens. Well!
With its monopoly on “free” filing successfully established, Intuit has used every trick in the book, and invented several new ones, to obscure the path to free tax filing for its users. It’s insane to think how much actual productive positive change they could have made in the world with the money and energy that have gone into bilking people who are, in many cases, already scraping the bottom of their bank accounts.
Propublica has been reporting on this story for some time; you can find a slew of links at the bottom of the Reply All link above.
Every fall before tax season, the company puts every aspect of the TurboTax homepage and filing process through rigorous user testing. Design decisions down to color, word choice and other features are picked to maximize how many customers pay, regardless if they are eligible for the free product. “Dark patterns are something that are spoken of with pride and encouraged in design all hands” meetings, said one former designer.
The Giving Tree is one of the most gruesomely off-key books a child could read. It’s a claustrophobic morality play in which one character engages in escalating degrees of self-mutilation in hopes of winning the other’s attention and affection. The happy ending? The survivor sits, haggard and bent with age, and rests on the corpse of his lifelong worshipper.
This take is a little too mild for my tastes, but it carries the weight of appearing in the NYT’s Parenting column, where hopefully it will save some children nightmares — and a lifetime of bad relationship decisions.
We don’t know what motivated Shel Silverstein to write “The Giving Tree.” In a rare interview, he said it was about “a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes.” But we think it’s best read as a cautionary tale about love. Although the tree seems to take joy in giving to the boy, their relationship is entirely one-sided. The tree is perfectly happy to destroy herself under the guise of “love” for the boy. That’s not love; it’s abuse. Even an editor of the book, Phyllis Fogelman, felt that way. “I have had qualms about my part in the publication of ‘The Giving Tree,’ which conveys a message with which I don’t agree,” she said in an interview. “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”
Ge Gao’s writing arm betrays her, first with pain, then with uselessness. This essay, which explores her loss from both personal and philosophical perspectives, is charmingly self-aware — who would not feel self-pity, robbed of their right hand? And yet who, knowing themselves self-pitying, could help it?
I started wondering whether the pain disabled me from writing and creating work, or whether my illness covered up the parts that had already been disabled — that were not capable of producing enough substantial matters in life to satisfy my body and mind. A broken arm could be a visible excuse. It made more sense than a malfunctioning mind. It had gained more sympathy from friends and strangers, too.
Ben Guterson just won a Washington State Book Award in the Middle Grade (ages 8 and up) category, for his book Winterhouse — the first book in the Winterhouse Trilogy . He's a Seattle native who spent ten years teaching public school on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and rural Colorado before working at Program Manager at Microsoft. He lives in North Bend with this family. Congratulations, Ben!
What are you reading now?
I’ve been on a Plato kick for the past month-plus and am trying to make my way through the majority of his works — I’m on The Republic right now. My parents had the entire set of the Great Books of the Western World along a hallway in our home when I was a kid, and I was always drawn to the volumes. I’ve slogged through the collection’s “Ten Year Reading Plan” a couple times over the years, but I’m not sure I’ve soaked up nearly as much I’d like, so now I’m trying to move through the books a little more conscientiously. This past summer I read Herodotus and Thucydides (the Landmark Books editions of both are fantastic); and now I’m on Plato, though I’m also reading some middle-grade books from the 1940s by Elizabeth Enright. I spend a lot of time with middle-grade novels, given the audience I write for, and it’s a pleasure to read Enright’s sincere and charming books. For contemporary middle-grade novels I like Trenton Lee Stewart, Jessica Townsend, and Colin Meloy, who moonlights as the frontman for The Decemberists.
What did you read last?
I read two bizarre novels at the end of summer — Remainder by Tom McCarthy, from 2005; and Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javier Marias, from 2007. I’m a big Marias fan and have been wanting to read the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy for some time, so I was glad to jump into the series’ first book. Strange story, but most of his stuff is strange, I think, in interesting ways — dense with conceptual detours that see Marias pacing off about twenty steps more than I ever would have imagined, all absorbing. I’d heard about the McCarthy book for years — I once came across something where Zadie Smith said it was among the best of the decade, so that intrigued me. I found the story increasingly off-putting, though, as it progressed, despite its concern with matters I generally find of great interest in literature: authenticity, fabrication, and memory.
What are you reading next?
Operation Shylock by Philip Roth, and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I like to work through the books of a given author in chronological fashion, and I’ve been moving through Roth’s novels for the past half-decade by reading a handful each year. Roth, Bellow, Ishiguro, Graham Greene, Saramago, Marias, Nabokov, and Elana Ferrante are my favorite novelists, and I’ve tried to read most of their stuff. The Catton book, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, looks right up my alley — mysterious doings and lots of interwoven stories, from what I gather. I’m also about to tackle a little more Plato before attempting some Aristotle.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cienna is taking a break at an unimpeachable spa, so this is a rerun from 2016.
I never figured out how to read comic books. This sounds silly, I know, but every time I look at a page, I don’t know where to start. This word balloon? That box with text over there? Starting in the upper left corner doesn’t seem to work for a lot of comics pages. I’m 35 years old and I’ve tried to read all the comics everyone says I should read: Persepolis, Palestine. I never get more than a few pages in before I develop a terrible migraine. But my friends, particularly the guys, say I should keep at it. Is it okay if I just give up?
I get it. Personally, I can’t read read technical instructions or nutrition information without bleeding from my eyes. If you’ve given graphic novels your best effort, feel free to do what I do whenever a well-intentioned friend confronts me with technical instructions or nutrition information and threaten to burn their house down. (Practice saying to your guy friends, “I am a strong independent woman and if you wave that shit in front of my face again I will burn your motherfucking house down with gasoline and fireworks.”)
If, however, you want to give the medium another shot, I suggest you relax and treat them as you would children’s books: look at the pictures first and then, if you feel inclined, read the text. Remember: you’re not being tested on the material so who cares about comprehension? Also, maybe try reading a fun graphic novel before diving into beautiful-but-bleak works like Persepolis and Palestine? I recommend Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It’s at least equal parts funny and bleak.
Chris Abani has done it all: he’s a novelist, a memoirist, a poet, and a political activist who has been sentenced to death. He’s also a beloved teacher, and so this lecture, about employing awe as a writer, should be a real inspiration for you writers out there. He’ll also be interviewed by Hugo House writer-in-residence Kristen Millares Young. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, $15.
Tomorrow night at Elliott Bay Book Company, I'll be interviewing Seattle author Paul C. Tumey about his massive new art book, Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny. It's a huge collection of brief essays of cartoonists from the beginning of the 20th century, when the modern comic strip was just getting started as an art from, along with over 600 cartoons and illustrations — many never before reprinted.
Even if you're not a comics nut, you've likely heard the names or know the work of three of the cartoonists highlighted in Screwball!: Rube Goldberg, whose name literally became the name of his elaborate machines devised to perform very simple tasks; Krazy Kat creator George Herriman; and EC Segar, the cartoonist who came up with Popeye. Tumey smartly focuses on the lesser-known work of these cartoonists, rather than going over the greatest hits that have been covered again and again.
Segar, for instance, drew a series of strips about commuting in Chicago. One of them, "Looping the Loop" was an observational strip about life in the big city in 1919: bizarre clothing trends, interesting noses on pedestrians, a series of comparisons between classic sculptures like The Thinker and Segar's gawky characters striking the same poses. You can draw a straight line from these gag strips to MAD Magazine.
But the total unknowns, the cartoonists who elevated the medium to an art form and then disappeared, are perhaps most interesting. Consider Clare Dwiggins, a cartoonist known as "Dwig" who devised one strip as a sequel to a classic of American literature. As Tumey writes:
In the early 1940s Dwig returned to his "old-fashioned Tawin stories with *Huckleberry Finn*, a new daily strip for the Philadelphia Ledger Syndicate. The stories offer wacky adventures, such as a 1940 continuity in which the boys travel the Mississippi River not on a raft, but inside a giant robot duck. Also in these years, Dwig penned a series of gentle, silly Tom and Huck comic book stories for Street and Smith. These are tucked, like a flower in a machine, inside heroic titles such as *Doc Savage Comics*.
It's true that these old strips require a kind of learning curve. They read as more than a little stilted in modern times — partly a consequence of outdated language and partly a difference in the way comics portrayed time and action over a hundred years. But Tumey is a great and observational guide who will hold your hand and contextualize each of the works. He also, presumably, selected some of the most accessible work from this bygone era for modern audiences to enjoy.
Comics have always been a disposable art form. They were thrown out with the newspaper, and children read them and re-read them until they fell apart. With Screwball!, Tumey is snatching these treasures from the scrap heap and presenting them to audiences a century or so later. Comics have moved on, it's true — there's more variety in the figures' sizes in the panels, the balloons aren't quite as packed full of words, and artists feel empowered to play with perspective and pacing in ways that were unimaginable back in the day.
But maybe today's cartoonists can learn something from these strips, too. For one thing, the level of detail in each panel — the sheer amount of story and art crammed into each square inch — is much denser than most of today's comics. And for another, the slapstick comedy in these strips is much broader, much more physical, than most of the comedy you'll find in comics today. Tumey is excavating more than just a nostalgia trip: he's pointing to a lost form of communication — one that can inform a whole new generation of artists.
A couple of bookstores in our region are running crowdfunding campaigns in an effort to stay in business.
In Tacoma, professional wrestler Ethan HD is running a GoFundMe to take over ownership of Destiny City Comics, a five-year-old shop whose owner announced he'd be closing this fall. Mister, uh, HD is about halfway to his goal.
Meanwhile, in Portland, a campaign to save the city's oldest bookstore, Cameron's Books and Magazines, is about a third of the way to its goal. The 80-year-plus store — which claims to have one of the biggest selections of periodicals outside the Library of Congress — is being forced to relocate; without a successful campaign it will probably disappear.
Published October 16, 2019, at 10:00am
Born-in-Seattle novelist Madeline ffitch is coming back to town next week for a string of appearances all over the region. Her surprising novel Stay and Fight reimagines the essential American relationship between humans and nature.
Jeanette Winterson is coming to Seattle for the first time since 2011. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it could be because, like many of her generation and orientation, she was often typed as being a lesbian writer, as if queer fiction and writing isn't for everybody. Her cogent, thoughtful, outsider explorations of gender and sexuality deserve a bigger audience in the United States, besides the one she's well-lauded for writing about the past 35 years. Her novels are rife with magical realism, science fiction, general weirdness, and wonderfully obdurate characters. They're often — usually — quite fun.
Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was released in 1985. Her twenty-eighth book, Frankissstein, was just released in the states (it's been out since May in Winterson's home of England). It's been longlisted for the Booker already, so if that goes well she can add it to her already long list of accomplishments, including an OBE.
My first encounter with Winterson's work was 1989's Sexing the Cherry, a book I read around the time of its publication, which was also about the same time I was introduced to Borges and to Angela Carter. Both of those writers show through Winterson's work. Early in Cherry, she writes:
"Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle. These are the journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time."
Her new weird, and wonderful, book opens with Mary Shelley going for a naked walk around Lake Geneva in the rainy gloom — during the now-famous "Year Without a Summer", caused by the explosion of Mount Tabora. At this point in the narrative Shelley hadn't started writing Frankenstein, yet, but she's obviously ripe to:
"Here I am, in my inadequate skin, goose-fleshed and shivering. A poor specimen of a creature, with no nose of a dog, and no speed of a horse, and no wings like the invisible buzzards whose cries I hear above me like lost souls, and no fins or even a mermaid's tail for this wrung-out weather. I am not as well-found as that dormouse disappearing into a crack in the rock. I am a poor specimen of a creature, except that I can think."
On her walk, she sees something:
"A figure, gigantic, ragged, moving swiftly on the rocks above me, climbing away from me, his back turned to me, his movements sure, and at the same time hesitant, like a young dog whose paws are too big for him. I thought to call out but I confess I was afraid."
If naked Mary Shelley having a vision in the rain is your idea of a good start to a book, you're in for a treat.
But Frankissstein is more than the story of Shelley and writing the first science fiction book, it's the story of a trans doctor named Ry, who is falling in love with Victor Stein, an AI researcher, amidst the backwash of Brexit. And, of course, the story includes sex robots. And lots of romance.
Winterson featuring a trans character prominently in her new book is a political, and humanist, statement. In England the debate over trans acceptance and rights is absolutely bonkers, raging between trans-rights activists and many old-school feminists who have been labeled "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" or TERFs.
Winterson was asked about this in an interview recently:
"We don’t know that if our world was genuinely inclusive and tolerant that there would be such agony, such body dysmorphia, such a need to find another gender. There should be more than two genders anyway, of course there should, it’s daft. People don’t always feel either that they are totally male or totally female, and we haven’t done very well with that.”
Winterson has been an out lesbian since she was 16 when her adoptive-mother gave her an ultimatum: stop seeing that girl you're seeing, or you'll have to leave the house. Winterson chose homelessness and being out over comfort, and told her mother that the girl made her happy.
"Why be happy when you can be normal?" was the reply. One way to understand Winterson is that she used that title for her autobiography. Which, incidentally, was the last book she toured to Seattle.
So come out and see her Wednesday at 7:00pm at the Central Library. Pick up a copy of Frankissstein, and get it signed. It's a rare treat to have Winterson in Seattle, we should make sure she's very welcome.
July 14, 1992
10: 00 AM
we step out of unfamiliar cars, in an unfamiliar neighborhood into an unknown church.
this is my nephew’s funeral. his light brown hair and skin gathered in an urn. this is neutral ground, not Presbyterian, not Catholic, not the place of forgiveness.
named for his father
he never saw his daughter —
lineage of fire
we are the frozen chosen, the uptight upright, the pet name labels for Presbyterians — appropriate. my father, his grandmother sit as crisply as their clothes, held together by the corset of middle class indignation. this must be a proper service, no charismatic calls to death, only silent weeping until the Big Man takes the stage.
best friend, brother man
carrying a boom box
burns up pretense
it seems my nephew had one wish for his funeral, one. so, any best friend must carry that cross no matter how strange to the pulpit. he ascends, rippling with tears, a 6-foot river, 2 feet wide, we wade in the water. he is our spiritual and we are ready to sing with him, best friend, river rippling.
what song will he give us? what piece of my oldest nephew will he pull from the fiery furnace of the hotel burning, the room that had consumed him? i had always told him not to smoke in bed.
we are waiting, the thought of the lyrics climbing into our throats. Stand by Me? Lean on Me? What will it be? We begin to weep.
push the button
truth echoes through the chapel —
the music begins. the familiar beat and then, “Oh my god, Becky, her butt is so big. I like big butts and I cannot lie; all the other brothers can deny…”
we are a frozen scene.
after the funeral, nieces, nephews and aunties, all the same age, sneak away to smoke, drink and tell the truth until after midnight.
our laughter —
church bell chimes heralding