The Sunday Post for June 23, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at []( Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

Hideous men

This essay by columnist E. Jean Carol includes direct and specific descriptions of sexual assault that are upsetting and difficult to read. It also includes a direct and specific description of sexual assault by one of the world’s most accidentally powerful men that is upsetting and difficult to read — and should be unbearable to read for any human who voted to put Donald Trump in office.

I must mention that there are two great handicaps to telling you what happened to me in Bergdorf’s: (a) The man I will be talking about denies it, as he has denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by at least 15 credible women, namely, Jessica Leeds, Kristin Anderson, Jill Harth, Cathy Heller, Temple Taggart McDowell, Karena Virginia, Melinda McGillivray, Rachel Crooks, Natasha Stoynoff, Jessica Drake, Ninni Laaksonen, Summer Zervos, Juliet Huddy, Alva Johnson, and Cassandra Searles. (Here’s what the White House said: “This is a completely false and unrealistic story surfacing 25 years after allegedly taking place and was created simply to make the President look bad.”) And (b) I run the risk of making him more popular by revealing what he did.
The land where the internet ends

Pagan Kennedy (writer) and Damon Winter (photographer) traveled to Green Bank, West Virginia, to investigate the National Radio Quiet Zone. The Zone is a swathe of land dedicated, novitiate-like, to silencing the signals that come from our chaos of devices. In that silence, the instruments of the Green Bank Observatory listen for the quietest whispers from our planet and the space beyond it. Without wifi or access to digital cameras, they came back with stunning film photography and a thoughtful reflection on the buzz of technology, considered in one of the few remaining places where the buzz is silent.

But who will save the endangered Quiet Zone inside our own heads? What about the thoughts as subtle as the static caused by the Big Bang and the transmissions from the remote galaxies of our memories? Is the ever-present hum of the internet drowning those out, too?

Mr. Holstine said that here in Green Bank, “I use the internet, and then I walk away.” But on the outside, people are “connected all the time,” he added. “They get a text and have to look at it. For a lot of people, the choice seems like it has disappeared. The phone is part and parcel to everything they do, including work. It’s the tail wagging the dog.”

After a few days here, almost entirely offline, I felt I knew what he meant: The world outside the mountains now seemed mad to me, too.

Where are all the books about menopause?

Somewhere between age 45 and age 46, I became invisible. It had been happening for a while — a slow decrease in the anxious signal from men in public places. It was harder to order a drink. Harder to make my way through a crowd, where people did not refuse to let me through but did not even see me. Harder to know what face value I carried through the world.

It was unsettling at first, even frightening. Then, I started to become visible again, but to myself, in a way I never had before. It turns that once the eyes of the world shifted away, and I was alone with my own eyes, I liked myself very much. And it turns out that when I refuse to step aside, the crowd makes space — whether they want to see me or not.

Sarah Manguso is brilliant as usual (yes, my Manguso fangirling is embarrassing, but: Sarah! Manguso!) in this essay-slash-survey of writing on what women lose and gain when our reproductive usefulness ends, through surgery or just time. Invisibility, anger, solitude — what is a gift, and what is a theft?

Recently, at a restaurant with my family, I observed my son scrawling away at the paper placemat with his crayons, rapt, unfettered by his body, and I also observed a young man and a young woman at a nearby table. The woman wore lipstick and nail polish and a little pink cardigan, and, as she talked to the man, she kept arranging herself, adjusting her hair and dabbing at her eyeliner and rubbing her shiny lips together and shifting in her chair, as if she were the stylist arranging a bouquet for a photo shoot, but of course she was also the bouquet. Her discomfort hung around her like a cloud of too-strong perfume. Watching her, I realized that I felt more like my son than like her. I felt both grateful and a little mournful that someday I might not ever have to feel like her again.

Whatcha Reading, Cookie Couture?

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

Cookie Couture is a Seattle-based drag queen and performer. She volunteers locally as part of the nationwide phenom known as Drag Queen Story Hour — where queens in full dress go to read books to kids. Couture was recently in the news when protestors showed up to her event at the King County Library System (and KUOW, in a moment of journalistic lapse one struggles to understand, interviewed protestors but not any queens). Bringing messages of tolerance and acceptance to kids — with some style and camp along the way — is a goal we should all embrace. Bring the kids, and show up to see Cookie read, at the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center this Tuesday at 1pm — one of the the only places in Seattle you can actually look down on the Space Needle. And, follow Couture on her Instagram!

What are you reading now?

Right now, I've been reading Neither by Airlie Anderson at the Drag Queen Story Time events I've been doing. It's a sweet picture book that really captures one of the things I love most about Pride: that allowing people to be themselves can create a lot of beauty in the world. I know so many wonderful people, both young and old, that are neither this or that — they are themselves and being yourself is the true path to ultimate fierceness!

What did you read last?

I've been eating up all of the excellent reporting from the New York Times on the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. There is so much rich history and wisdom to learn from queer elders. It also really underscored the need for the LGBTQ community to start organizing around the needs of our communities as they age & evolve. I'm telling you, I will be very unhappy if my retirement home doesn't have a weekly drag brunch with bottomless mimosas!

What are you reading next?

I really need to pick up a cookbook, for one. I'm terrible at cooking, but really thrive when I'm ordering take-out. If anyone has any good recipes, feel free to roll it up with a dollar bill and tip it to me at my next gig! A mom on the go is always multi-tasking.

The Help Desk: Where did my gay literature section go?

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

Dear Cienna,

Bookstores and libraries used to have Gay Fiction and African-American Fiction sections. They’re pretty much gone now, but some people miss them.

Okay, fine—I’ll stop using weasel words like “some people” and just admit it: I liked browsing in a section where I knew every author was queer and where heteronormative thinking was nowhere to be seen. It felt relieving, like taking off a pair of tight pants after a long day. But younger people tell me they think those sections were ghettos that kept straight white folks from encountering other perspectives. They think I’m crazy for missing Gay Fiction bookstore sections.

So I want to ask you: Is my nostalgia for the good old days of Gay Fiction sections some kind of base capitulation to the straightriarchy?

Donna, Central District

Dear Donna,

I think your nostalgia proves the straightriarchy is slightly less straight than it used to be. But let me first say, I understand how comforting the urge to compartmentalize is. I often wish there was a section in the bookstore I frequent reserved for vegans who love Carl Sagan – vagans, as I call them. There, they could lecture on seitan and the universe in peace, while I do neither of those things, also in peace. But alas, they are allowed to mix with the normals and something in my face screams "Please tell me about your favorite meat substitute and why you think the science fiction novel Contact is actually more nonfiction than most nonfiction books."

(It is not my mouth, by the way. My mouth has never screamed either of those things.)

But let's break down what you actually miss and why it no longer exists. You miss the sacredness of a space that acknowledges your identity and caters to your tastes, wants, and needs in a world that was at best, ignorant, and at worst, hostile. In that space and time, a lot of the rainbow was closeted and "gay fiction" was a niche genre.

But now there are queer authors who write about everything; there are queer authors who write about queer experiences; and there are authors who don't identify as queer but write about queer experiences (straight women LOVE to write historical gay erotica, FYI).

What would your ideal section hold – all of them or only some? Where would you put a book like the Pulitzer-Prizewinning novel Less, which is about a gay man written by a gay man but has huge mainstream appeal?

Times change, and bookstores change pretty fast with them because book people are among the most empathetic individuals in Sagan's big beautiful universe. Fortunately for you, queerness has become more mainstream. Unfortunately for you, as the stream has widened, more people are going to wade in.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Baby steps

The Portrait Gallery: Gertrude Stein

Thursday, June 20th: The World Is All That Does Befall Us Reading

Seattle author and publisher Thomas Walton debuts his new poetry collection with “a celebration of grief and Gertrude Stein!” He’ll be joined by Amaranth Borsuk, John Burgess, Nadine Antoinette Maestas, and Ivory Gray-Smith in a reading-and-music extravaganza that honors Stein and tries to defeat grief “once and for all.” Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Checking in with Nancy

A year ago, I had a lot of kind words for the new Nancy comic strip. Today, I just want to take a moment to remind you that the cartoonist who has taken over the Nancy comic strip under the pseudonym "Olivia Jaimes" is still killing it. As she's getting more comfortable with the strip, Jaimes is starting to make her own mark on Nancy's pacing and comedy. Look at the last two panels of the most recent Sunday Nancy strip:

The way that the giant pile of fries overlaps with the "THANKS" word balloon is a quiet act of genius; something about the visual impact between dialogue and object makes both elements more evocative. It makes the pile of fries look even bigger than it otherwise would, and it imbues the word balloon with the sound of the fries: you can almost hear Nancy gulping down fries before and after saying "THANKS."

Jaimes is also employing postmodern humor to great effect. Nancy's creator Ernie Bushmiller loved to make meta-jokes in Nancy — he always "took Labor Day off" by sloppily illustrating a strip, for instance — but Jaimes mines comedy out of the awkward limitations of a daily strip, like the problem of naming characters in an organic way. And the meta-comedy is drop-dead hilarious in its own right: this strip about optical illusions, for instance, has got to be an all-time classic of the series. Not every meta-commentary lands perfectly — this (literal) sight gag isn't quite perfect — but there's nothing lazy about any of them.

It's almost impossible to remember now, but there was one time when the most inventive, interesting comics you could find were on the comics pages. Jaimes might not be reinventing the medium with Nancy, but she's putting more thought into the kind of weight each minimalist panel can carry without breaking than just about anyone in the medium today. As she stretches and becomes more comfortable with the job, I expect to see more formal experimentation on Nancy. Hopefully that enthusiasm will spread to the other (almost entirely moribund) strips on the funny pages — if so, it won't be long before we're all thinking of the comics page as the smartest place in cartooning.

Doing well by doing good

Published June 19, 2019, at 12:00pm

Michael Podlasek Kent reviews Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All .

The private sector brings new perspective — and a lot of money — to social good. But what other baggage do they carry?

Read this review now

Joy Harjo named first Native American US Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo is to become the twenty-third US Poet Laureate, and the first Native American to hold that role.

As reported on NPR:

Harjo, 68, will represent both her Indigenous culture and those of the United States of America when she succeeds Tracy K. Smith as the country's 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (that's the official title) this fall. Her term, announced today by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, will make her the first Native American poet to serve in the position.

"It's such an honoring for Native people in this country, when we've been so disappeared and disregarded," Harjo says. "And yet we're the root cultures, over 500-something tribes and I don't know how many at first contact. But it's quite an honor ... I bear that honor on behalf of the people and my ancestors. So that's really exciting for me."

Wonderful news. There are many poems to offer a quote from, but this, from "Speaking Tree", has always stuck with me:

The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway —
To the edge of the river of life, and drink —

Let's not go back to the Hunger Games

Apparently, author Suzanne Collins is writing a prequel to her Hunger Games trilogy.

Let's be clear that I'm a fan of what Collins built with the Hunger Games. I loved the first Hunger Games novel and film, and I thought the second book was a decent extension of the universe. The last films were atrocious — a genuine waste of time, and the last book felt rushed, with giant social changes that were largely unearned.

But I refuse to read any prequels set in this world, and I refuse to watch any movies set in this world. Dystopian prequels are just about the least interesting plot known to humanity: things were bad, and then they got worse. The end. Perhaps it's possible for some genius to make a dystopian prequel worth reading — George Orwell's 1982, maybe? — but I don't want to encourage this kind of thing on general principle.

Many years ago, in fact almost exactly a decade now, I interviewed author China Mieville. We were talking about some reboot idea that wound up not getting made — a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot — and Mieville suggested a consumer movement he called "Let's Not Go."

Even then, in the years before summers packed with inessential sequels and other franchise maintenance, Mieville argued that audiences needed to look corporate entertainment squarely in the eye and say, firmly but directly, "no thank you!"

"I'm trying to propagate this as a meme in geek culture," Mieville said at the time. "How about we don't go and see it and don't talk about it incessantly? Because it's just shit."

Of course, that Buffy reboot didn't happen, and most of these reboots are swiftly forgotten. I made a choice to not review the ghoulish To Kill a Mockingbird sequel that Harper Lee's estate forced out and that turned out to be the right choice. Everyone has forgotten about the book.

I'm making the call, here, with apologies to Mieville for taking his idea and running with it: Let's Not Go back to the Hunger Games universe. Let it lie. We don't need any novels thick with dumb foreshadowing about stories we've already heard. We don't need another plot that fills in gaps that no reader ever wondered about. We just don't need franchise fodder like this in our bookstores.

I'm not interested. Are you?

Laura Da' is Hugo House's new Poet in Residence

Yesterday, the Hugo House announced that Laura Da' is their 2019-2020 Poet in Residence. The press release announced that Da' "will engage underrepresented communities to find out what they want and need in a writing center, making a point to listen carefully to voices that have traditionally been underserved by arts organizations."

I interviewed Da' six months ago when she was a Seattle Review of Books poet in residence, and she told me that titles from institutions are helpful for her. "I’m fairly introverted and shy, so usually I need an extrovert to sort of adopt me," Da' said at the time. By being a Hugo House Fellow and a Jack Straw Writer, she explained, "I found a place in the Seattle poetry community.”

The great thing about Da' is that she's so gracious with her praise — any conversation with her will involve five or six other poets Da' can't stop enthusing over. She thinks of her work as a piece of a community, and she always keeps that community in mind. As far as I'm concerned, that makes her an excellent choice for Poet in Residence.

Let's talk about why the Library Levy renewal needs your support

This August, Seattle will vote on a Library Levy renewal that will add 10,000 service hours to libraries around the city, pay for more materials and services, seismically update several neighborhood branches, and eliminate fines in the Seattle Public Library system.

To those of us at the Seattle Review of Books, the Library Levy, which will cost the average Seattle homeowner $3 a month in property taxes, is a no-brainer. That's why our editorial board unanimously voted to endorse the Levy—our first-ever electoral endorsement.

But let's play devil's advocate: Say you're skeptical about where your tax dollars are going. Say you don't like to pay taxes unless you can see the funds being put to efficient use — that your tax dollars are doing the most good to affect the lives of the most people.

If this describes you, I have some great news: the positive benefits of the Library Levy are incredibly easy to prove. Just head to your nearest Seattle Public Library branch and pay attention to what's happening there. It's likely that you'll encounter kids reading and studying, book clubs meeting, adults looking for work and taking classes, and people accessing any number of programs and services that will improve their lives for the better. The profound benefits of library service happen right there, in broad daylight, every single day.

I talked with three library patrons who meet for groups at two different branches around the city. Camille Jassny and Dan and Dave Ortner have known each other through the library for years. All three are active participants in both the Low Vision Book Club at the Central Library downtown and a Low Vision Support group that meets at the Capitol Hill branch. Camille co-founded the book club with help from SPL and the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library as part of the Library Equal Access Program) back in 2006.

"It's just been growing ever since," Camille tells me over the phone. "We're the biggest book group, actually, in the downtown library," drawing anywhere from 15 to 25 members depending on the month.

The location is a big part of the draw. "Everybody loves to come to the Library," Camille says. "We meet from 11:30 to noon to visit, and then from 12 to 1 we do our book group and then we go to the restaurant across the street and have soup."

"Dan and I got involved with the book group about 5 years ago," Dave says. The brothers have a degenerative disease and "we lost most of our vision about 9 years ago. We started going to Camille's support group and then we started going to her book group, too."

Today, the brothers are co-leaders of the book group, which Dan says means they "prompt questions and discussion." Camille still facilitates the support group that she founded in 2006. That group has only just started meeting at the Capitol Hill library this year after several locations fell through in the past. Camille says staff at the library "have been so wonderful to us. I mean, they make sure the room is available for us, and they organize everything. The librarians make sure we get up to the room and they make it a really welcoming experience."

Do Dan and Dave and Camille have anything they'd like to say to voters who are considering the Levy?

"People don't realize how important a library is," Camille says. "You don't have to pay to go to the library — you read there and socialize there and they have lectures and talks and it's a great place for kids. When I had my kids that was the first place I ever took them — to the library storytime."

"This Levy is especially important," Dave says, "because it is specifically set aside for longer hours. People work such odd hours now these days and it's great to to be able to get to this great resource for anything you're looking for at any time."

All three cite the library's kind workers, who'll go out of their way to make them feel welcome and provide resources personalized just for you. "They work within your needs, which is really fabulous," Camille says.

Dan is especially fond of the library's Seattle Reads program, which brings an author to town to meet with audiences and book clubs. This year's selection, The Best We Could Do, "was a graphic novel, which was really unusual and different for for low-vision and blind readers."

Of course, as with any discussion between avid readers, the conversation turns to books. Camille's favorite book from the last year of her book club selections was My Name Is Malala.

"Last year," Dan says, "everyone's favorite was [Amor Towles's novel] A Gentleman in Moscow. Everyone really gravitated to that."

In college, Dave majored in English with a focus on nineteenth century novels, so Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd was his favorite selection last year. "Usually once every year, the group usually picks out an older one, or a classic," Dave explains. They recently read The Good Earth trilogy.

But after recommending titles, the conversation turns back to the Library Levy. "All of us feel really strongly that if you can keep the library opened for more hours, with more security, and more opportunity for kids and activities for people, good things will happen," Camille says.

If you have any doubt, she concludes, "come in to the library yourself. Go to an event." The three are sure that any doubts you may have will fade away when you feel the power of a community where everyone is welcome.

Data Entry


Sometimes I read the whole
                medical record when I only need part
The whole record is only a piece of the story
                which is more than
I need to know about a man
                who insists he only kills
People who come back to life
                in ten minutes
In his unwell mind he’s careful to stab
                only police officers
Because they return as hoards
                in blue or khaki uniform
I know this man’s ten minutes means eternity
                to an officer of the law
It means forever to any family
                of the killed or the killer
I once watched dew evaporate
                from wings disguised as leaves
For ten immortal minutes
                (my first Praying Mantas)
I find the bits of the record I need
                to populate required data fields
The final hour of my work day
Feels like a boundless green lawn
                needs another mow

A writing retreat, when a full retreat is out of the question

Are you writing, right now? Have you promised yourself you would start, soon? Are you taking the time to nurture that part of yourself? Wishing you could do a writing retreat, but getting away from everything for a week is just not possible?

Sponsor Two Sylvias Press has a great solution for you. Their one-week online writing retreats combine the focus and teaching of the best retreats, with the opportunity to blend them into your daily life.

Their sessions are starting soon — read more on our sponsor's page about the amazing guest poets they lined up to critique your work, and find out about how you can sign up for these cost-effective ways to make sure you're meeting your writing goals.

Thanks to Two Sylvias Press for sharing this message through us! You know you're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last dates in June and July — we've just added a discount to them! — and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from June 17th - June 23rd

Monday, June 17th: Mamaskatch Reading

Northern Alberta author Darrel J. McLeod is "executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations," and his award-winning first book from the amazing Milkweed Editions is a memoir about growing up Cree. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, June 18th: Trisha R. Thomas Reading

The bestselling author of Nappily Ever After will discuss her very successful and award-winning career as a writer, which includes a book becoming a Netflix film, an award from King County Library Foundation, and a "Books that matter" nod from Oprah's magazine. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000., 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, June 19th: The Last WordsWest

See our Event of the Week column for more details. C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, June 20th: The World Is All That Does Befall Us Reading

Seattle author and publisher Thomas Walton debuts his new poetry collection with "a celebration of grief and Gertrude Stein!" He'll be joined by Amaranth Borsuk, John Burgess, Nadine Antoinette Maestas, and Ivory Gray-Smith in a reading-and-music extravaganza that honors Stein and tries to defeat grief "once and for all." Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, June 21st: he City Is More Than Human Reading

Local historian Frederick Brown reads from his latest book, which tells Seattle history through the story of the animals that helped shape the city. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, June 22nd: How to Love a Country Reading

When I reviewed Richard Blanco's new book of poetry, I had a lot to say about Blanco's role as Big Damn Poetry Deal. But his book, while not perfect, is still very interesting and Blanco is a sublime reader of his own work. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, June 23rd: A Thread So Fine Reading

Susan Welch's new book A Thread So Fine is about two sisters who have big plans for their lives. As so often occurs in fiction, "tragedy strikes" and their relationship is forever changed. follows the lives of Eliza and Shannon Malone. Eliza plans to Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: The very last WordsWest

After five years of readings, WordsWest, West Seattle's premier reading series, is coming to a close on Wednesday the 19th. Why, at a time when West Seattle is growing faster than ever, are the curators hanging up the series?

“It’s a lot of work,” series co-founder Katy E. Ellis told me recently. Ellis started the series with local poets Susan Rich and Harold Taw, and the three have been curating ever since. “There are so many details and things that we do to make it a nice series that it’s hard to keep up," Ellis said. "Five years seemed like a good round number, and we wanted to end on a high.”

It really is quite a high note: Readers at the last WordsWest include Elizabeth Austen, Quenton Baker, Rick Barot, Claudia Castro Luna, Christine Deavel, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Rachel Kessler, J.W. Marshall, Greg November, Renee Simms, and Ann Teplick. “It’s hard to give it up,” Ellis said, “but I also look forward to that freedom. I feel like I might hermit for a little bit.”

Is this garden party the end of WordsWest forever? Ellis refuses to shutter the whole thing permanently. “We want to leave a door open to have one or two events a year.” Just because the monthly series is over, she says, “it doesn’t mean WordsWest is totally dead.” With the Paper Boat bookstore opening just a few blocks away, after all, West Seattle is about to get a lot more literary, and WordsWest should have a part in celebrating the West Seattle literary scene that the series helped to reinvigorate.

C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for June 16, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

‘No-No Boy’ went from unknown book to classic thanks to UW Press and Asian American writers. Now, it’s at the center of a controversy.

Moira Macdonald on a dispute over copyright, and the ethics of appropriation when a work is in the public domain — the UW Press has been publishing No-No Boy since 1979 (it was first published in 1957). The Seattle-based novel of a Japanese American returning from internment camps after World War II is an important piece of Asian American art and history.

Now “No-No Boy” is widely recognized as a classic of Asian American literature; taught in countless classes, it’s a crucial, artful record of a chapter in history many would like to forget. And lately, it’s been at the center of a controversy involving two publishers, one local and one national, with some prominent Asian Americans saying the publication of a new edition of the book overlooks the work of those who brought the novel to light and kept publishing it for years, as well as the wishes of the Okada family.
Five Ways To Survive Fathers Day

On Father's Day, I often think of this piece by local writer Scott Berkun about how this day can be hard for people who didn't know their father, or had a bad relationship with him. While Scott wrote a whole book "in part to redefine who I am, and how I relate (or did not relate at all) to the father of my birth" there are many who struggle more quietly, perhaps with less ability to frame or explain the hard feelings. Scott's tips on making it through are sound, but I especially like his first:

1. Make it “men who helped you” day. Make a list of other men (or women if no men qualify for you) who helped you in your life. Give them a gift or write them a note that you’re grateful for what they did. Perhaps a high school teacher or coach? A boss who mentored you? Or even an older friend, or uncle, who has given you fatherly advice now and then. Let them know that they helped you.
The Dad-Joke Doctrine

Ashley Fetters explores Dad jokes: what they are, why they are, and why we can't stop loving and hating them. I'm on the love side, myself (as a Dad, so perhaps obligated), but I can see why so many find them, um, punishing.

But if there’s one feature that can immediately categorize a joke as a “dad joke,” it’s wordplay, especially of the unsophisticated variety. Examples: “Hey, do you know what time my dentist appointment is? Tooth-hurty.” “You know why they always build fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in.” The purposeful confusion of “smart feller” and “fart smeller.” This famous exchange: “I’m hungry.” “Hi, Hungry. I’m Dad.” (Which in turn inspired a popular tweet about parents’ acceptance of their LGBTQ kids: “Mom, Dad ... I’m gay.” “Hi, Gay. I’m Dad.”)
William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Casey Rae's new book about Burroughs and his influence on music is excerpted in this piece on Long Reads, centering around what Dylan learned from the cut-up writer. Burroughs influence is hard to overstate, the most unique of the Beats — the group he is, by association and very poorly grouped with. Unlike the Beats, Burroughs was not down-and-out — he came from a great fortune, and lived his life as the son of incredible privilege that afforded him the ability to talk about things people of his station did not: drugs, homosexuality, just to name a few. His genius was in the method of communication. And, of course, his influence.

The indestructible Iggy Pop, himself a Burroughs acolyte, notes the Dylan connection in a BBC Radio profile of the author. “He’s even in Dylan’s ‘Tombstone Blues’!” Pop exclaims, before firing up the track, which includes a verse believed to reference Burroughs: “I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill / I would set him in chains at the top of the hill / Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille / He could die happily ever after.” To Dylan, Burroughs was impossibly hip — James Joyce with nasty habits, T. S. Elliot with a cane sword. Dylan’s evolution from shy folkie to id­iosyncratic icon was greatly accelerated by his immersion in the rhythm and meter of Burroughs’ writing. As scholar James Adams notes, “Without Burroughs and his experiments, Dylan might not have been pushed to compose lines that resemble cut-ups but still emerge from some more personal, purposeful, honest, and human place like those Dylan wrote in 1965.” Take, for example, the lyr­ics from “Gates of Eden,” which evoke the illumination made pos­sible by cut-ups:

Whatcha Reading, Katy E. Ellis?

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

Katy E. Ellis is a poet and educator. She's worked with Seattle Arts and Lectures' Writers in the Schools program, and is a co-founder and co-curator of WordsWest, a monthly literary series in West Seattle, which is ending its five-year run on Wednesday, June 19th (read more in our interview with her). Ellis is our Poet in Residence for June, and so far, we've published two poems from her: All Signs Are Dares, and To Squamish Waters.

What are you reading now?

A lot of the time I have a couple books on the go — like to have fiction/nonfiction — and then some poetry on the side here and there.

  • I'm pretty deep into the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. (It's like eating Cheetos.)
  • In tandem with that, in bits as emotionally possible, Why Religion by Elaine Pagels.
  • And current poetry book Is, Is Not by Tess Gallagher (she was just at Vashon Bookstore!)

What did you read last?

What are you reading next?

The Help Desk: She did it her way

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

Dear Cienna,

Do you have a favorite question that you’ve been asked in your time on the Help Desk? Do you wish you could do a take-back on one of your answers?

Jen, Magnolia

Dear Jen,

I actually don't have a favorite question – each question asked is both a surprise and a delight, as are my responses! There are, however, two questions I generally avoid answering:

What's your favorite book?


Why are you flipping off the sun?

My taste in books is mercurial, perhaps because of all the mercury I ingest as a byproduct of my hobby handcrafting artisanal fluorescent light bulbs in preparation for the day the sun dies.

I will say today, my favorite book is Idaho by Emily Ruskovich but who knows, tomorrow maybe I'll discover Shakespeare or some shit.

As for regretting an answer, I don't usually dwell on my actions long enough to form regrets, but I actually do have one: It was my response to this question about whether "good" literary translations can exist. What I failed to note in my response is that many of the works we consider classics already are translations – the Iliad and Odyssey, the Inferno, Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, and Crime and Punishment are some of my favorites (depending on the day and how many light bulbs I've got in my system).



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Dr. Sara

The Portrait Gallery: Eve Ensler

Friday, June 14th: The Apology Reading

Eve Ensler’s latest book is a searing exploration of child abuse and forgiveness and memory. It’s about the apology that Ensler always wanted, but never received, from her own father. Ensler will appear in conversation with Amy Wheeler, the executive director of the amazing writing organization Hedgebrook. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

The Future Alternative Past: See translation

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.

I write this column in English, and chances are good that’s the language you’re reading it in. Actually, though, SFFH is written in over a score of languages, and it posits a myriad more. Neil Clarke, editor and publisher of the online magazine Clarkesworld recently received the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award for his work bringing stories in Chinese and Korean to Anglophone readers, and there are plenty of additional translations for us to enjoy — SFFH originally published in Spanish, Japanese, Nigerian, Italian, and many other human tongues.

But what about High Dwarvish? What about Klingon? What about R’lyehian?

Lacking a Universal Translator we must rely on authors’ representations of the speech of monsters, elves, and extraterrestrials. As far as communication between characters goes, fictional UTs abound, but they can also be derided, as in Maureen McHugh’s novel Mission Child, or eschewed when the point of the story is to show the effects of absorbing alien concepts, as in Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (adapted for film as Arrival). (Sometimes, as with the “common language” used in Gwyneth Jones’s Tiptree Award-winner White Queen, they’re both eschewed and derided.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series by Douglas Adams introduced the concept of the Babel fish, an imaginary biological UT whose name was appropriated by an actual translation website.

My contribution to the trope of translation begins with “Black Betty,” a story about a beagle who can speak English — of a sort — with the help of an expensive collar/antenna. In the first sequel, “Red Matty,” Betty the Beagle falls in love with a similarly equipped elephant; in the second sequel Betty’s best friend, a cat named Baby Boo, falls in love with a parrot. Though situated squarely within the SF genre, the Betty series harks back to fantasies aimed at children such as Dr. Dolittle, the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Jungle Book. And these, in turn, hark back to folk- and fairytales such as “The White Snake,” in which the power of understanding what animals have to say is magically bestowed.

There are thriving communities dedicated to the creation and study of non-human-and-also-non-beast tongues. Conlangers have imagined new grammars, syntaxes, even alphabets as part of their constructed languages, then made the fruits of their obsessions freely available to all. Here’s an automatic translator for the native tongue of H.P. Lovecraft’s ruined cyclopean city R’lyeh, and here’s another for George R.R. Martin’s Dothraki. There’s also a conlang subreddit including translations, and with threads asking and answering questions about how to deploy variousSFFH languages. Will children learn them easily? How do you show different registers — formal elocution versus slang, intimate versus impersonal, and so on? How should they change over time?

Because languages do change — swiftly, unexpectedly. Vowels shift and meanings mutate until translations become necessary not simply between nations but between generations. ShakespeareanEnglish is semi-unintelligible to most modern English speakers. If humans 500 years from now speak some new version of English, what will they understand of our own?

Recent books recently read

Though billed as a standalone, prize-winning Caribbean author Karen Lord’s latest novel, Unraveling (DAW), is a sequel to her first one, Redemption in Indigo. Perhaps the new book was marketed this way because it’s offered by a different publisher? Undying entity Chance (known to the Senegalese people as a djombi), who at the end of Indigo was forcibly incarnated as a child of the wise cook Paama, joins forces with forensic therapist Miranda Ecouvo to ferret out the party ultimately responsible for a series of nasty murders. Lord’s brisk, straightforward prose style works especially well to tell a tale of angels and other immortals accustomed to the kinky chronologies lying outside time. As Dr.Ecouvo walks labyrinthine paths through futures that include her possible death and, alternatively, a severely limited, pain-filled life, paradoxes give way to passionate curiosity and stubborn good intentions.

Strictly speaking, Erin K. Wagner’s novella The Green and Growing isn’t all that recent; Aqueduct Press published it way back in January of this year. But I did just read it, and I’m struck by how appropriate an analogy it is for allyship. In short, dense chapters, Wagner relates the encounters of Ward Miquita with the people of the planet her father conquered. Miquita is twenty-seventh of the conqueror’s forty-two daughters, and more or less a hostage whose presence helps ensure both sides adhere to the peace treaty with which the war ended. But Miquita wants to do more than that — she wants to repair the damage her father caused to the losers’ planet-wide, plant-based AI. She encounters an unexpected obstacle: her hosts contend she has no right to access the sacred memories the injured AI holds. Miquita’s nuanced privilege, the fierce defense mounted against her intrusiveness by those she wants to benefit, the depth of sacrifice ultimately required of her, all resonate strongly with me and remind me of the stress evident in modern day interactions between whites and POC. Gorgeous images of a richly strange world cover this ethical armature in a sweetly fleshy narrative, a joyful ferment of words.

Couple of upcoming cons

Once again I recommend attending Readercon which prides itself on being the antithesis of a media-focused convention. Maybe that’s a good thing? There’s still a screening scheduled for GOH Tananarive Due’s documentary "Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror". And a concert. However, those are only two events on top of the usual literary fare: panels, interviews, readings, and the small-group discussions with pros listed on your program as kaffeeklatsches. In other words, Readercon is, as the name implies, pretty solidly text-oriented.

Not so Blerdcon, which features a five-minute video tribute to cosplay on its website: Killmonger gets down with some joy-filled Super Mario Sistahs; multiple Deadpools pop, lock, and drop it with Star Wars revolutionary Rose Tico; it’s a geek visuals party! The majority of the participants pictured are African descended, but other ethnicities represent as well, giving off a nicely inclusive, welcoming vibe.

Wish I could say the same for Geektopia. Encouraged by the description of “A community that accepts all, practices tolerance and celebrates diversity,” I scrolled through page after page of their website and found one guest who’s definitely of Chinese extraction, and one other photographic subject who is, shall we say, ambiguous. In the words of Bozo the Clown, Geektopia is an “almost winner.”

Thursday Comics Hangover: Hi-ho, Silver

I didn't enjoy the Silver Surfer as a kid, because as a kid I was interested in the plot of superhero comics — I was most interested in learning if good would triumph over evil (spoiler alert: it would). But the older I get, the more fondness I find in my heart for the Silver Surfer. He's a silver Oscar statuette on a surfboard, soaring through outer space and musing aloud in huge, unselfconscious monologues about ideas like guilt and loneliness and destiny and forgiveness.

Every Silver Surfer comic is a journey into interiority. The bad guys and their motivations don't really matter. What matters most is if the Surfer can come to some kind of a comfortable understanding with his own place in the universe, even if that understanding lasts just until the next issue.

Yesterday saw the release of the first issue of Silver Surfer Black, a miniseries written by Donny Cates, drawn by Tradd Moore, and colored by Dave Stewart. It ties in to a whole bunch of current Marvel Comics, but narration catches up new readers with relative grace in the first few pages.

The first thing any great Silver Surfer comic needs is a brilliant artist, and Moore is one of the best to handle the character since Moebius. Every page is stunning — gorgeously designed, sumptuously illustrated, and delightfully weird. It's rare to find a comic artist who appears to be raised in a vacuum — whose work doesn't feel like a retread or a generational step up from some other comic artist.

Moore's pages feel unique. In a few layouts, the action flows smoothly in what most comics artists are trained to believe is the "wrong" direction, and it's as easy to follow for western readers as a Peanuts strip. One page just looks like Surfer floating above a weird cosmic blanket, and Moore makes it twice as compelling as any superhero fight you'll find in a new comic this week.

I have no doubt that Moore's art in black and white is beautiful on its own, but Stewart's coloring elevates the book. By contrasting the darkness of a black hole with the colors of the interstellar firmament, and by plunging the Surfer into a hostile pit of browns and oranges, Stewart divides the book into a few distinct sections that reflect the character's interior life.

And Cates seems to understand the character's need for internal monologues. The Surfer spends an early part of the book luxuriating in self-pity over his complicity in the death and destruction of his past. He comes face to face with an existential loneliness that leaves him shaken, and then, well, there's a concluding bit that reveals a villain and it ties back into something else that Marvel is doing right now and things appear to be getting a little crossover-y.

The Silver Surfer is a character who almost always excels when he's left on his own. When he's thrown into a battle scene with dozens of other heroes he immediately becomes a generic powerful guy, albeit one who speaks in ten-dollar words. The challenge for Cates in the next few issues of Black is to tie the Surfer into Marvel's current happenings — gotta sell those books somehow — while still saving what's unique about the character. But even if Cates can't manage that tightrope walk, though, Moore's art will be stunning enough to make Silver Surfer Black a must-read.

Book News Roundup: Here are the authors attending the first Seattle Children's Book Festival

  • The very first Seattle Children's Book Festival is happening on September 28th, and the organization just announced their lineup including authors like Martha Brockenbrough, Ben Clanton, Vicki Conrad, Varian Johnson, Monique Fields, Kazu Kibuishi, Marissa Meyer, Leuyen Pham, Dana Simpson, Joyce Wan, and Toni Yuly. It will happen at Greenwood Elementary from 11 am to 3 pm. Save the date!

  • Matthew Inman, the east side cartoonist who found huge viral fame under the name The Oatmeal, just announced his retirement from regular cartooning. He's signed a movie deal and will be working on that film for the foreseeable future. "I am not going to disappear, but I'm going to be publishing fewer comics," Inman wrote on his site. He didn't offer any details about the movie, but he did disclose that he worked on the recent animated feature The Secret Life of Pets 2.

  • An author lost her book deal after she was publicly shamed for tattling on a public transportation worker for eating in pubilc. Now the author is suing for $13 million dollars.

  • The response to the author from her book's distributor, Rare Bird, is a beauty. You should read the whole thing:

Talking with Katy E. Ellis about poetry, community, and why now is the time for WordsWest Reading Series to end

Our poet in residence for June, Katy E. Ellis writes narrative poetry that feels as lucid and as clear as a photograph. In "To Squamish Waters,, she tells a Duwamish man's story about the high cost of reincarnation, and "All Signs Are Dares" is the story of a bracing nighttime car ride that becomes more dangerous — even deadly — than it needed to be. Both are complete stories that in prose wouldn't feel out of place in a story collection by a Northwest writer like, say, Raymond Carver.

In fact, Ellis is Seattle through and through: born and raised in Renton, Ellis now lives on Vashon Island. From the moment her very first creative writing teacher in 9th grade handed her books by Tom Robbins for inspiration, she has been an eager participant in the Northwest tradition. Ellis says the teacher was reticent to let her participate in his class because he believed that "freshmen can't write poetry," but her hard work and determination earned her a rare privilege: by the end of the year, the teacher ceremoniously announced to the class that he was wrong, and that freshmen were capable of being poets.

Ellis continues in the Seattle tradition — she's a big Tess Gallagher fan and cites Is, Is Not as a recent favorite collection — in both her writing and in the communities she builds. When I ask about how community informs her work, Ellis offers a jarring answer: "I was excommunicated from my childhood church," she says. She laughs and adds, "that is such rich fodder right there."

The manuscript that Ellis is working on now, titled Stranger Land, explores that connection to place and to people. "I did a lot of travel around the time of my excommunication," Ellis says, and the book begins with those travels. "It's about being a stranger on the outside of religion, and also being literally a stranger in different countries."

Additionally, the book is informed by Ellis's position as a local of a city that is growing at a ridiculous pace, "I do think about feeling like a stranger in Seattle now."

One of the ways that Ellis has helped to build community in Seattle was through the WordsWest Literary Series, a West Seattle poetry reading happening monthly at the C&P Coffee Company. Ellis founded it with poets Susan Rich and Harold Taw,

After five years of readings, WordsWest is coming to a close next week, on Wednesday the 19th. Why, at a time when West Seattle is growing faster than ever, are the curators hanging up the series?

"It's a lot of work," Ellis says. "There are so many details and things that we do to make it a nice series that it's hard to keep up. Five years seemed like a good round number, and we wanted to end on a high."

It really is quite a high note: Readers at the last WordsWest include Elizabeth Austen, Quenton Baker, Rick Barot, Claudia Castro Luna, Christine Deavel, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Rachel Kessler, J.W. Marshall, Greg November, Renee Simms, and Ann Teplick. "It's hard to give it up," Ellis says, "but I also look forward to that freedom. I feel like I might hermit for a little bit."

But Ellis is already putting out feelers for writing groups to join and artists to share work with. It's all part, she says, of her search for "a thing that's bigger than me and bigger than all of us."

And Ellis refuses to close the door on WordsWest forever. "We want to leave a door open to have one or two events a year." Just because the monthly series is over, she says, "it doesn't mean WordsWest is totally dead."

Buyers circle Barnes & Noble

Last week, it was reported that hedge fund Elliott Management Corp was set to buy Barnes & Noble for less than half a billion dollars. Yesterday, news leaked that a book distribution company called Readerlink LLC is trying to best Elliott Management's offer.

I don't know much about Readerlink, but I can tell you that if you work for Barnes & Noble and Elliott Management wins this bidding competition, you should immediately find new work. I wouldn't trust a hedge fund to run a lemonade stand: they exist to extract money from real businesses, not to build communities or bring a new model to chain retail.

The truth is, I'm not sure that the scale of Barnes & Noble works anymore. I think the only options are giant world-crushing chains or customer-obsessed indie bookstore; anything in between is just begging to be crushed or bought and absorbed or liquidated.

A bear’s death in big sky country

Published June 11, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Bryce Andrews’s Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear .

Montana author Bryce Andrews's nonfiction book Down from the Mountain is a whodunnit about the death of a grizzly bear. In a way, we're all to blame.

Read this review now

To Squamish Waters


A Duwamish man told the story
to my daughter at a school assembly.
He drummed in a world
of children who walk into the water
and who return as Salmon
for the villagers to eat.

Now she worries beyond reason
for the Salmon boys and Salmon girls —
the ones who will not walk again
should the drying bones of last night’s dinner
not be returned to sea.

Always the ocean down our street
keeps up its chop and spit and rush
and I pay bills, sack lunches, wash clothes
in cycles spinning my hand-me-down story,
the one I will not give her.

She plucks each bone of a stolen story
from the dish in her hands
and feeds them to the waves that slosh
against her legs like underpinnings
of a miles-long pier.

Thank you, Robert T. Lawrence, for sponsoring us with House of Jesus!

The medical profession is an odd bird: intimately engaged with human life at its most joyful and most sorrowful and most messy — and also, somehow, always holding itself apart. From William Carlos Williams to Henry Marsh, books by doctors betray that carefully guarded distance.

This week, The Seattle Review of Books is sponsored by R. T. Lawrence, who writes a different kind of doctor book. What we love about the Anchorage physician's novels is that they close the gap between doctors and the rest of humanity. Lawrence's second novel, House of Jesus, follows a jaded surgeon to Haiti, just after the 2010 earthquake. Seattle surgeon Phillip Scott (we also love that Seattle setting!) has a classic doctor-knows-best attitude, until he encounters human suffering on a very different scale.

Check out the first chapter from Lawrence's book, which he's generously sharing on our sponsor feature page this week only — and we guarantee you'll be pulled in..

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last dates in June and July and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from June 10th - June 16th

Monday, June 10th: This Life of Mine Reading

Two great small business owners come together in conversation! Ada's Technical Books co-owner Danielle Hulton interviews 8 Limbs Yoga Centers founder Anne Phyfe Palmer, whose new memoir This Life of Mine: A Legacy Journal, has just been published by Sasquatch Books.
Ada’s  Technical Books, 425 15th Ave, 322-1058,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Tuesday, June 11th: Magic for Liars Reading

"Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir" in Sarah Gailey's much-praised new novel. It's about a woman who was born magic-free in a world full of magic.
Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, June 12th: The Last Romantics Reading

Seattle author Laurie Frankel joins Tara Conklin onstage to talk about The Last Romantics, Conklin's book about a poet who is asked about the meaning behind her most famous poem. (I reviewed this one back in February.) Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307,, 7 pm, $10.

Thursday, June 13th: Woodland Reading

Knox Gardner debuts his book of poems about wildfires and the apocalyptic climate here in the Northwest. Technically, this book debuted a few weeks ago, but this is the for-real debut. Think of those other readings as the — ugh — "soft opening" for Woodland, while this is the honest-to-goodness launch party. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, June 14th: The Apology Reading

Eve Ensler's latest book is a searing exploration of child abuse and forgiveness and memory. It's about the apology that Ensler always wanted, but never received, from her own father. Ensler will appear in conversation with Amy Wheeler, the executive director of the amazing writing organization Hedgebrook. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, June 15th: Fishes of the Salish Sea Launch Party

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Come Arundel Books, 212 1st Ave S,, 6 pm, free.

Sunday, June 16th: Vicinity/Memoryall Reading

The former owners of Open Books, Christine Deavel and J.W. Marshall, will read from and discuss their new play. It's pretty great that Deavel and Marshall are still creating new work together after all this time. Maybe all aspiring playwrights should retire from the bookstore business? Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Fishes of the Salish Sea Launch Party

Fishes of the Salish Sea, a new book from UW Press, has supposedly been in production for four decades. Authors and Ted Pietsch and James Orr have been researching the fish in our region, studying their appearances and characteristics down to practically the molecular level. Orr and Pietsch have been collaborating with Joe Tomelleri, a painter who illustrated every single one of the 260 fish featured in the book.

It's not often anymore that you see serious academic texts combined with a more abstract visual art like painting. Photography is generally the only accepted visual medium in science texts, but it's hard to capture meaningful details in photographs of sea life, which is why this book serves as such a unique blend of artistry and science.

This Saturday, UW Press and the creators of Fishes of the Salish Sea invite you to Arundel Books in Pioneer Square to launch the book into the world. Arundel's copy for the event refers to the book as an "important" and "extraordinary feat of scholarship, devotion to the natural world, and exquisite artistry." Tomelleri's artwork will be on display at Arundel for the next two months, and signed prints of his work will be for sale.

Okay, but why does a book about fish matter? Well, honestly, because of climate change those fish might not be around for much longer, so while this book was intended as a work of serious scholarship it might serve as a memory bank for future generations who have lived through a Great Extinction.

But I don't want to be such a Negative Nancy. This book is a huge accomplishment, and a beautiful piece of art. Why not celebrate its birth with the creators who wrote and illustrated it, and the staff who helped bring it into the world? You don't get the opportunity to celebrate the culmination of 40 years of work every day.

Arundel Books, 212 1st Ave S,, 6 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for June 9, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Uber's path of destruction

Most of what this article details about Uber’s business practices and structure is known, at least in a general way, to the general public. But do we truly understand that this company is failing, from a consumer perspective, while succeeding wildly at extracting subsidies and avoiding regulation?

Do read this, even if you think you know all about Uber, the geeky detail will make your brain bigger. (Well, anyway, it did mine.)

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14 billion in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest­ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).
Can reading make you happier?

Betteridge’s law is wrong! Ceridwen Dovey brings the receipts. What’s fun about this piece is the description of a career I’ve never heard of — bibliotherapist! Prescriber of books for all of life’s discomforts and uncertainties! Check out this list of ailments customized by country, from the bibliotherapist’s bible, The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies.

In the Dutch edition, one of the adapted ailments is “having too high an opinion of your own child”; in the Indian edition, “public urination” and “cricket, obsession with” are included; the Italians introduced “impotence,” “fear of motorways,” and “desire to embalm”; and the Germans added “hating the world” and “hating parties.” Berthoud and Elderkin are now working on a children’s-literature version, _A Spoonful of Stories_, due out in 2016.

If a woman who is her own bibliotherapist has a fool for a client, I don’t wanna be smart.

Why parents are addicted to Calpol

Speaking of self-medicating, British(ish) brand Calpol has pulled a sort of reverse Munchausen, soothing parents by helping them soothe their kids. Calpol, a mild analgesic for children that soothes fever and minor pains, is almost as popular as a binky — thanks to some truly squirmy and effective marketing by Johnson & Johnson over the decades.

A Calpol booklet offering an immunisation guide for parents depicts a blissed-out baby asleep with her arms outstretched and a smile on her face. Sick children don’t have a role to play in Calpol’s marketing strategy: the messages emphasise the emotional rather than medical reasons for giving the medicine. By focusing on the positives, they give the impression that Calpol can cure your child’s discomfort, no matter what the reason for it might be.

When I put this to Farahi [J&J's head of marketing for Northern Europe], she told me this was intentional. “The strategy for us is always to show the end benefit that parents are looking for,” she said. But their marketing strategy is about more than being back to normal: it’s about portraying children who have had Calpol as being happy, or asleep, or both.

David Brooks's moral journey

Not to make negative book reviews a regular feature (“the weekly hate”?), but this takedown of David Brooks’s most recent offering is delightfully dry. Taking down The Second Mountain, which seems to be a book-length mixed metaphor, is like shooting monkeys in a barrel of worms. Or something.

Spend too many years on “the Instagram life,” he warns, and you will end up in “the ditch.” The ditch is not to be confused with the “valley,” which is the necessary passage between the first and second mountains, except for those who start out on their second mountains and never leave ...

Whatcha Reading, Angela Garbes?

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

Angela Garbes is a Seattle-based writer. Her book Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy has just been released in paperback (our review, by Bonnie J Rough, can be read here). Angela will be appearing Sunday, June 9, at 3:00pm in the afternoon at the Elliott Bay Book Company. Go see her speak, and bring all your questions about the astounding, wonderful, and strange biology — and sociology — of pregnancy.

What are you reading now?

I'm in early research mode for my next project, a book of essays about bodies, so I'm reading widely, sometimes superficially, getting lost in ideas, pulling on threads, and thinking a lot about craft. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good — a collection of essays, annotated works, and interviews by adrienne maree brown — has been at the top of my stack for a while because I am enjoying it as much as I am struggling to move through it! brown makes the case that feeling bodily pleasure is essential, as well as essential to fighting oppression, which I am 1000% down with, but her style and structure are different from what I typically read, so it's been weirdly slow-going. I feel like I'll just be (happily) living with this book for a while.

What did you read last?

I'm still thinking about How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell weeks after finishing it. I'd been wanting to shake up my relationship to my devices and social media for a while, and Odell's words and ideas were exactly what I needed to make that change. Instead of simply insisting that the internet/social media is "bad," Odell beautifully argues that our attention — which is exactly what the corporations behind these platforms are trying to monetize — is the most valuable resource we have, and we'd be better off "spending" it in different places: with humans and other animals, in the physical and natural world. Since reading it, among other things, I've put a dozen plants in the ground, spent more time dancing and rolling on the carpet with my daughters, connected with friends IRL, and started leaving my phone at home when I run errands or go on walks. Also I go on more walks.

What are you reading next?

I have large pile of books that I'm looking forward to diving into (including Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez, Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman, and Sontag's Illness as Metaphor) but I already know I'm going to punt all of them so I can devour Ocean Vuong's brand new novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. (Shoutout to SPL's Peak Picks, which made it possible for me to pick it up at the library yesterday — no holds, no wait!!)

May 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

Over on our Instagram page, we’re posting a weekly installation from Clare Johnson’s Post-it Note Project, a long running daily project. Here’s her wrap-up and statement from May's posts.

May's Theme: Early Days / Impracticalities

My guest post-it chooser for May was my littlest sister, the only family member not yet pressed into service thus far. I appreciated her decisive style, so unlike my own. I feel it is possible she should be in charge of many things. She identified a gap in what I’ve published so far—a gap I’d been eyeing, too cowardly to fill myself. In the very early days of making a post-it drawing every night, back in 2005 / 2006, I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet, how far I’d go. My intended ritual was initially sporadic; many nights went undocumented. I also dabbled in the impossible, using impractically ephemeral materials like faint pencil, privately writing captions or dates on the back where no one could see. My (now ex) wife also poses a lurking risk in all the early years—exposing that familiar closeness feels so unseemly now, little relics like time bombs, our failed openness too naked to look at. But my sister is bold and doesn’t care if I am naked, so she waded into the very first batch, choosing two with secretive, back-side writing. I was still in grad school, where practicalities were tacitly treated as a bit shameful, small-time. When you’re showing at the Tate Modern, for example, those details are taken care of, practicalities just someone else’s job. An ideal artist has no limits. But museums have not come calling for us, so here I am, telling you what I wrote on the back. In retrospect, it appears broken heating was a real feature of life in England. I don’t get Sunday night anxiety anymore, it’s one of the loveliest things about being on my own, work schedule splattered at odd private times across every day of every week, no such thing as Sundays. In early post-its I kept repeating the same kinds of treehouses I made obsessively as a kid, suddenly figured out why I love drawing so much. I guess it is about being impractical—drawing lets me make something real that can’t really be otherwise. Carefully build my own safe world, logic is only darkly laughable, and the whole thing fits in the palm of my hand. It’s soothing in the face of impossible things, with a secret basement swimming pool to boot. Speaking of childhood loves and my little sister, the hefty compendium of every single George and Martha story she gave me is a PRIZED POSSESSION. The TV lesbians were on an otherwise unremarkable drama about finding missing persons. I felt a shocked elation as the missing lesbian, unlike most missing characters on the show, actually escaped death—the usual fate of our dramatized queer brethren. But can we go back to Stockard Channing for a minute? This month I harbored fantasies of brevity, but let us instead swoon languorously over Stockard Channing. In Grease she’s admittedly irksome — I’m the kid who always knew peer pressure was the dumbest thing, just UNFATHOMABLY dumb, cigarettes and drinking and boys, TRIPLE UGH — but when she sings “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” my whole heart yearns to whisk her away to an alternate movie where we outrun the straight world without breaking a sweat, snarky supportive shorthaired lesbians together living in some urban dyke utopia where accidental pregnancies are as unrealistic as ghost stories and boys are just weird buddies to joke around with. The truth is, I like the writing on the back, even if I can’t afford to be impractical anymore.

The Help Desk: Don't call it a comeback

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

Dear Cienna,

One of the Seattle authors who was #MeToo-ed last year seems to be angling for a comeback. He was seen out on the town at a reading for the first time in months recently, and rumor has it he’s been taking meetings and trying to negotiate his return. I’m not a fan anymore, and I’m not interested in his redemption tour. But I am curious about how thoughtful and deliberate it all seems.

Cienna, do you think that shitty men can improve themselves? Has any man done a good job of responding to #MeToo? Is it even possible? Or is fame a privilege that, once you abuse it by abusing women in not-illegal-but-not-right ways, you deserve to have taken from you forever?



Dear Devon,

Whenever a human girlfriend invites me to her wedding, I like to take a voodoo doll of the groom as my date. This accomplishes two things: first, I am able to get fresh hair clippings (and once a tooth!) for the doll, which increases its shit-kicking power, and second, it reminds the groom that from this moment forward, his actions are being judged by at least one human being who likes grudges and pointy things.

It's the least I can do to counter the ceaseless waves of shit women endure. I won't get into the blah blah blahs of it because anyone reading this column is familiar with them, except to say that the #metoo movement has shown that this isn't an issue of a couple of rapey apples, just as the anti-abortion movement isn't about preserving life. Both illustrate that we live in a toxic culture that pigeonholes women as powerless sidekicks, virgin/mothers, or fuck-things. In that respect, can we blame men for treating us how they've been taught?

The answer is yes. Yes we can. And we can demand more than public apologies and rehab. We should expect sincere, personal apologies to victims, not blanket statements that try to deflect, explain, or minimize abhorrent behavior. We should expect to see these men ask pivotal questions like, "what can I do to begin to make amends for my actions? Where do I start?" We should expect change – like tough sentences for men who are convicted of sexual assault.

I don't think fame can be revoked at will, and even if it was, I don't think it would be as satisfying as it sounds. But we should expect that shitty men want to improve themselves for the sake of being better people (although I haven't seen convincing evidence of it yet). It would be a shocking but welcome evolution, like watching a whale shit out chic polar fleeces from all the plastic she's ingested.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: No respect

The Portrait Gallery: Angela Garbes

Sunday, June 9th: Like a Mother Reading

Seattle author Angela Garbes discusses her popular book about the biology and culture of mothering, which is now out in paperback. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Kissing Books: Characters exist to be thwarted

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.

There’s a famous story they tell about Alfred Hitchcock, explaining the difference between surprise and suspense. Two characters sit at a table, chatting—when suddenly, the bomb beneath the table goes off!

That’s surprise.

Suspense is what you get when, first, the director shows you the anarchist planting the bomb beneath the table, then lets you bite your nails watching those same two people chatting in blithe ignorance of the threat, while the clock slowly ticks down explosion-ward.

The characters themselves are still surprised, in the second scenario. But the viewer has more information, and a fuller sense of what is actually going on in the story.

Hitchcock’s example frames dramatic tension in terms of danger, dread, and a countdown clock because those were his tools of choice. In romance, what we have is people. Hearts and hands and a few stickier bits. Sure, there may sometimes be other risks—there’s the whole subgenre of romantic suspense just for that kind of game, in fact—but instead of Hitchcock-style suspense I’d like to argue that the primary dramatic tension that fuels our genre is expectation.

Expectation is an end point. It’s a goal, that the book is driving toward, or a result, that the story’s machinery is designed to produce. And just like the Hitchcock example, the characters can’t know where we’re going, and the reader must know.

Romance characters exist to be thwarted, poor souls. They almost never get what they say they want at the start of the book. How many times do we see heroes state that they just want a string of casual partners, so as not to interfere with the safe, predictable course of their lives? How often do heroines insist they’ll worry about their love life later, right now they just have to save the small business they’re trying to get out of the red? Readers show up knowing the main characters will get knocked down and turned around and provoked and worn threadbare by emotions and attractions they’ll fight against for most of the space of the text.

We show up for this because we expect they’ll end up better, by the end. Better people, better partners, better citizens of whatever world they inhabit. We require that happy ending. We demand it as a right.

Reading tons of romances, over the course of years or decades, fine-tunes expectations even further. The genre, like any genre, rewards repeat engagement—you start to notice narrative conventions and trends, and the kind of moments that look like nothing special to an outsider, but which to authors and frequent readers might as well be stages with spotlights burning down upon them.

For instance: first kisses. The first kiss in the first romance you read is a singular experience. The first kiss in the fiftieth romance you read? You’re going to have a more complete sense of the many ways that first kiss could go–and the choices an author makes will tell you more about that story than simply the words on the page. You might even notice what an author doesn’t say.

You start to recognize the machinery of the story. And you start to select for the mechanisms that gives you, personally, the most satisfying result.

Longtime romance readers can get more granular about what they’re looking for than just about any group of readers you’ll ever see: fake dating, a good grovel, hurt/comfort, marriage in trouble, secret baby, enemies to lovers, opposites attract, amnesia, road trip, pining, fated mates … If you try summarizing or recommending literary fiction in this plot-centric way it comes off as painfully reductive (“Moby-Dick is about an intense sea captain obsessively hunting a white whale”), but that’s because the definition of literary fiction is: the genre that does not make you any specific promises before you start reading. Literary fiction is the genre of surprise.

Romance, though, tells you what it’s going to do. Like a stage magician, pledging to pull a rabbit out of an empty hat. You know it’s not real. You know there’s a trick. And when the rabbit does appear, it’s not surprise that makes your heart race and your eyes widen.

It’s satisfaction. Expectations achieved. A promise kept.

The story is a fiction, but what you feel is real. It’s the greatest magic trick I know (and the only one I’m equipped to perform).

This month’s books are all exceptional examples of character expectations being thwarted: two contemporary Pride and Prejudice retellings, two historicals with working heroines, and one dazzling m/m romance set in the halls of global political power. It’s safe to say none of the characters in these stories are prepared for the futures that await them.

But the reader only smiles, and sits back, and anticipates the journey.

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (St. Martin’s Griffin: contemporary bi m/m):

This queer romance between a stiff British prince and the impulsive son of America’s first female president is one of the buzziest books of the summer, and no wonder. Like Alex, our American hero, this book has heard about this thing called subtlety and wants absolutely nothing to do with it. If you’re looking for sparkle, for wisecracks, for high-stakes international forbidden lust erupting between two people who are forced for publicity reasons to pretend they don’t absolutely loathe one another, you’re in exceptionally good hands.

But subtlety isn’t the only kind of complexity: this book builds three-dimensional characters and reader-angst in a maximalist way, by sheer accumulation. The more you read, the more you feel—I was openly sobbing at the end, to the point where the mini-dachshund bounded up to make sure I wasn’t hurt. Alex is a mesmerizing combination of discipline and impulsiveness. Henry, our royal prince, is by turns perfectly dry and deeply vulnerable, a tweedy type whose formality masks a wicked sense of humor and poetry. Their connection is electric, and irresistible, and unfolds with a remarkable view of the dizzy, dazzling hedonism of youth. If I could attend any one of the parties in this book I could die a happy woman.

So I liked it a great deal, even if parts of it made me wince a little when they poked my own particular sore spots. Alternate history that retcons 2016—which this most definitely is, since our hero’s mother won her first term in that year—can be a bit of a mixed blessing when you are living in our much, much shittier timeline. This book is a political semi-fantasy in the style of Parks and Rec, or The West Wing, neither of which I’ve been able to rewatch since 2016. The author’s note clarifies that McQuiston wrote it partly out of her need for escape. My own escapism, alas, has to be much more removed from the circumstances that make it necessary; politics doesn’t feel distant enough for me to feel safe or triumphant or vindicated in that context, even within the bounds of a fictional storyline. Others definitely are different! We all find hope in different things! I am very interested to see where the author goes next!

Banter this good doesn’t happen just by accident, you know.

“This is idiotic,” Alex says, grasping Henry’s hand. The skin is soft, probably exfoliated and moisturized daily by some royal manicurist. There’s a royal photographer right on the other side of the fence, so he smiles winningly and says through his teeth, “Let’s get it over with.”

“I’d rather be waterboarded,” Henry says, smiling back. The camera snaps nearby. His eyes are big and soft and blue, and he desperately needs to be punched in one of them. “Your country could probably arrange that.”

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (Penguin Books: contemporary m/f):

Pride and Prejudice retellings are never out of style in Romancelandia—see below—but despite some awkward moments this one is significantly more rewarding than most. I am resisting the temptation to write you a full essay on exactly what changes Jalaluddin made to the original story and how brilliant her overall vision is. I mean, placing a story about hasty judgments and self-knowledge in the context of present-day Islamophobia and misogyny and how those systems intersect is already Full Galaxy Brain, but there are so many more aspects of this book that made me gasp and stop and scribble notes about parallels and contrasts. It’s a little like the way Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series plays with fairy tales. The allusions aren’t just fan service, superficial nods to those who’ll get the reference: they’re weight-bearing plot structures that get things done.

For example: our less-than-impressive rejected suitor, Mr. Collins in Austen’s original, is transformed from a stodgy Anglican vicar into a very self-promoting young Muslim man named Masood who is, I kid you not, a life coach for professional wrestlers. He believes our heroine Ayesha has too much “repressed frustration,” and that she should consider channeling that into a signature move. It’s an absurd, impossible vision of good behavior—just Mr. Collins all over—but it’s unique and current and I died from sheer delight. And considering we know that our heroine Ayesha’s most cherished dream is to be a poet, and that her best forms of expression are verbal rather than physical, it’s clear instantly why this man is all wrong for her as a prospective bridegroom.

Ayesha’s poetry is also part of why hero Khalid is drawn to her. Mr. Darcy is possibly the most well-trod territory in all of romance, but traditional and devout Muslim Khalid is the sharpest take on Darcy I have ever seen. What does it mean to be perceived as cruel, or disapproving, when it’s because of your religious beliefs and how you express them? What happens when your heart comes into conflict with your beliefs and traditions? This book shines most when our main characters are sharing the page: it’s a very deep and true connection, though a very chaste romance—there’s precisely one fade-to-black almost-kiss.

One last point, because I’m going to be thinking about it for a while. In period-set adaptations of Austen’s book, the Mr. Wickham figures often come off as merely inappropriately sexy, rather than actively predatory. Wickham is something more than just a regrettable ex-boyfriend: he’s a threat to the Bennet family’s future. Modern retellings like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and now Ayesha at Last translate this successfully by making the Wickham figure not merely a romantic rival, but also someone who trafficks in the worst aspects of online sexuality: revenge porn, coerced nudes, exploitative and misogynist sex sites. This book really puts the ick back in Wickham and gives us the proper emotional zing for the storyline.

There’s also a lot of undercurrents in this book about reputation, and consequences, and secrets, and forgiveness, which didn’t quite end up anywhere specific. But I sure did enjoy the journey, and it’s not one I’ll soon forget.

Ayesha walked Khalid to the door, and he took his time putting on his shoes. When he stood up, she noticed he had flour in his beard, and she reached out and absently brushed it away. His beard was soft, like spun cotton, and her hand lingered.

He clasped her wrist to stop her, and their eyes met—hers wide in sudden realization, his steady. Ayesha blushed bright red, embarrassed at violating their unspoken no-touch rule. He looked at her for a long moment, then gently, reluctantly, dropped her hand.

Some Like it Scandalous by Maya Rodale (Avon Books: historical m/f):

In some ways I am a very easy mark: I was sold on this book as soon as I heard it was based on the real-life Sorosis Club, the first professional women’s club in the United States. We have a brash chemist heroine, a golden-boy hero, and a great many female characters on the side, all chipping away at the foundations of the patriarchy.

It’s a fun historical take on gender and business and it works because the two characters at the center light the structure up like a lantern.

Daisy Swan has a sharp tongue and a sharper mind and knows she isn’t beautiful. But she still wants to feel beautiful, and knows many other women do too, and so she’s worked out a formula for a complexion cream that makes the skin luminous and dewy. She knows it’ll be a success if she has a chance to produce and sell it—but her mother is insisting that she has to marry immediately to stave off an unspecified family crisis.

But her surprise fiancé isn’t just anyone. He is Theodore Prescott the Third, heir to the Prescott Steel fortune, and the same gorgeous rogue whose cruel, catchy nickname for her made Daisy’s adolescence hell.

Theo is a beautiful butterfly of a man: he likes sparkle and scent and color, he’s good with fashion, he’s got a charmer’s silver tongue and he knows how to use it. He’s just my type, hero-wise. His father thinks marriage to the not-charming Miss Swan will settle Theo down and convince him to finally put his energy into the steel business; Theo would honestly rather do anything other than go to work in his father’s factory. So he and Miss Swan concoct a plan: they’ll pretend to agree to the engagement, then scheme together about how to bring it to a disastrous, irrevocable end before the wedding actually takes place.

We know how that goes, in Romancelandia. But even when they’re flinging insults at one another, Theo and Daisy’s chemistry is exceptional.

It’s rare to see a hero deliberately make himself the sidekick to a heroine, but Theo decides early on that his role is supportive and he gives it his absolute all. Daisy’s the one with the ideas; Theo is the one who helps make those ideas reality. Much of this book is less a critique of real-world capitalism and more a rejection of the way business/capitalism is gendered in the romance genre: the elder Prescott is all phallic steel skyscrapers and silver-fox manliness and ruthless opportunism, every alphahole billionaire trope in the book, right down to the tragically dead first wife. It makes him an astonishingly persuasive villain, and highlights Theo’s rare sweetness and softness, especially in the duke-infested realm of historical romance.

She opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. “As much as agreeing with you physically pains me, I must admit that you do have a point.”

“How magnanimous of you.”

“Look at you with the big words.”

“I went to Harvard, you know.”

“Of course I know that. Everybody does. Harvard people have a way of working it into conversation. I’m just not sure that you attended classes while you were there.”

“If this is your way of wooing me to your cause, I can see why you’re a spinster.“

Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (William Morrow Paperbacks: contemporary m/f):

A gender-swapped P&P variant, this one. Which means it’s our heroine who gets to be the arrogant, high-handed, high-class insufferable snob! It makes for a lovely change of pace.

Neurosurgeon Trisha Raje is focused, and ambitious, and secretly anguished by events in her past, and I loved her even when she’s demonstrably fucking everything up. Trisha is definitely a genius and devoted to her medical work even if she struggles with her bedside manner, her politically ambitious family, and pedestrian tasks like remembering to eat. Her lax approach to dining is one of the many ways she outrages DJ Caine, our British expat hero, an accomplished chef who worked his way up from nothing to a Michelin star—and whose sister needs a life-saving operation only Trisha can provide.

We’re at least six layers deep in melodrama here: there is just so much angst and anguish (content notes for multiple crash deaths, sexual abuse, multiple terminal cancer cases, burns, strokes, miscarriages—seriously, anyone who has a name has a Tragic Backstory, I’m not kidding). It means this book has some heavier angles that readers ought to know going in. Couple that with Julia Wickham, a white blonde chick with dreadlocks and a Ganesha tattoo who turns out to be one of the most bone-chilling villains I’ve seen in romance in quite some time (my point above about Wickhams and ick definitely applies), and this book is more pick you up and turn you inside out than frothy summer comedy. But in the expert hands of Sonali Dev, all the angst and anguish is worth it. (Also, my god, I could listen to DJ rhapsodize about food and flavor all damn day.)

Trisha Raje was without a doubt the most insufferable snob DJ had ever come across in his entire bloody life. He’d been the poor boy at a Richmond private school. He’d worked at a Michelin-starred place des Vosges restaurant for ten years. He’d seen far more than his fair share of self-important, overprivileged gits. But it had never bothered him. Not like this. Her snootiness didn’t just get under his skin, it chopped up every bit of pride he’d ever managed to gather up and flung it all over the place like a blender you forgot to put the lid on.

This Month’s Badass Labour Organizer Heroine:

Starlight by Carrie Lofty (Gallery Books: historical m/f):

Our heroine Polly Gowan is no debutante: she spends her days organizing strikes and supporting workers at a 19th-century Glasgow cotton mill. There are pub jaunts, and football games in the mud, and clashes with the tyrannical power of the law. Polly’s father was a famous organizer, and she intends to carry on his work even as she slowly and grudgingly falls in love with the new mill owner hero (who’d much rather be studying the stars, but who has to make the mill profitable to keep custody of his infant son). Historical romance heroines definitely skew aristocratic, statistically—partly because it’s easy to find historical information about the aristocracy (preservation bias is heavily weighted in favor of the rich), partly because the romance genre’s progenitors were set among the gentry, and partly because a lot of the time readers want to escape into a wealth fantasy.

And while we all love a good historical gown description (some of us have even written whole romances about that, in fact!), more and more I’ve been searching out stories with heroines like Polly—or like the everyday shopfolk and servants in Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston series—or Cat Sebastian’s cranky radical bookseller. The people on the ground, doing the actual labor, turning the great wheels of history one working day at a time. The people we’d most likely have been, if we’d been born in past eras, no matter what the psychics say. They—we—deserve happy endings at least as much as the nobs do.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The end of Vertigo

Rumors started spreading earlier this week that the adult imprint of DC Comics, Vertigo, was finally being shuttered. If you've only been reading comics for ten years or less, you might not think this is a big deal. But for people like me, who've been reading comics since the early 1990s or before, this news carries with it a certain kind of wistfulness.

It's hard to explain now how important Vertigo was in a lot of comics nerds' lives. It's where Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis made names for themselves. It's the only big-name comics publisher that would have given full support to Y the Last Man. A lot of the books that are now considered canonical came from Vertigo.

But Vertigo had not produced a lot of work worth reading in recent years. Or rather, Vertigo couldn't be trusted to consistently publish excellent work. The imprint's track record became erratic, and then it basically disappeared from view.

So what was Vertigo's secret? Why did the imprint succeed so well for so long? Yes, talent had a lot to do with it. And so did a creative environment at DC that allowed creative teams to patiently build their worlds out without fear of immediate cancellation.

But I think Vertigo's secret weapon was in its editors. Karen Berger founded the line, of course, and her stewardship was likely the single most important reason for Vertigo's early success. Berger made space for other editors, like Tom Peyer and Stuart Moore, to follow their own dreams. (Full disclosure: I work with Peyer and Moore at their new publisher, AHOY Comics.) And she allowed some exciting young editors, like Axel Alonso, to shepherd new and exciting projects through the imprint.

Most people — hell, I'd be willing to bet that most comics readers — don't know what comic book editors do. It's especially tricky because a lot of comics editors don't do their jobs. But a good comic book editor is as much a part of the collaboration process as a colorist or artist or letterer or writer.

A good comics editor will help define a book, and ensure that the writer keeps to those themes throughout the book's lifespan. They will fight for the best ideas, and kill the worst ideas before they can fly out of control and endanger the whole project. They'll help every member of the team do their best work possible. And when a good editor leaves, you can tell by the rapid decline in quality.

You can see Vertigo's legacy in publishers like Karen Berger's own Berger Books or in the AHOY line. These are books that are adult without being pornographic or overly violent. They aspire to literature, while still remembering what makes comics so damn fun in the first place. They tell stories about characters and not just plot points. They make room for what's great in comics, in a package that doesn't insult the reader's intelligence. I refuse to believe that this is an endangered market. There will be more Vertigos out there sometime soon.

Reading our way through The Mueller Report

If you're reading it like literary fiction, the "character" we learn the most about in The Mueller Report is Robert Mueller himself. His character is throughout the book: intensely literal, a devout believer in the letter of the law, and an unquestioning devotee of the American experiment.

As the world saw in his quietly outraged public appearance last month, Mueller has a profound sense of right and wrong, but even his G-Man morality is nothing compared to his devotion to the law. Mueller announced that he could not indict a sitting president, and that he would have cleared the president of indictable offenses if he could. The inference, of course, is that President Trump committed indictable offenses, but Mueller is bound by duty to not say that out loud.

The big question is if Mueller made the right call by sticking to protocol. Is it possible that our times are extraordinary enough that the lantern-jawed advocate of fair play should have broken character and spoken frankly about his findings? Is Donald Trump enough of an existential threat to the country that Mueller should have dropped the coyness and sounded the alarm? Only time can answer that question.

As the Reading Through It Book Club learned last night, The Mueller Report is not easy reading. It's even less readable than Kenneth Starr's account of President Bill Clinton's affair in office, The Starr Report. It is a legal document, one which walks the reader — deliberately and with great detail — through the Trump campaign's connections with foreign agents and President Trump's attempts to kill the investigation into those dealings. It's not a page-turner, nor is it exceptionally accessible.

But it is important. Even though there aren't many new facts in the book, seeing all the details laid out in order, written in dry legal prose, is simply stunning. Nobody — not even Attorney General Barr — could read this report and come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is as innocent as a newborn child.

The only two conclusions to draw from The Mueller Report are:

  1. The president is guilty of collusion and/or obstruction, or
  2. The president and his team is hopelessly incompetent and clueless, to the point of farce.

Members of last night's book club had plenty of questions that The Mueller Report could never answer — about Russian money being funneled into social media, about whether Trump would be indicted on leaving office, about whether the country could ever recover from the damage that Trump's destructive policies are unleashing. The conversation repeatedly leaned toward darkness.

But I found it heartening that the conversation always came back to facts. What does Mueller say? What doesn't he say? When did this event happen? Can we even prove that this event ever happened? People kept trying to find solid ground on which they could stand.

For all his real estate deals, solid ground is the one thing that Donald Trump and his cronies will never be able to buy. When you build a kingdom on lies, you're destined to spend the rest of your days trying to avert disasters. Every day, the chaos president sinks a little bit deeper into a trap of his own making. The best way to keep from drowning in lies is to only build on truth, and we have a lot more truth about Donald Trump this month than we did six months ago.

Book News Roundup: More bookstores are opening, fewer political books are selling

  • Hugo House and Western Bridge just announced a celebration of the life and work of Allen Ginsburg at Volunteer Park on June 22nd. Readers include Dorothea Lasky, Rae Armantrout, Ron Silliman, Sadie Dupuis, Ryo Yamaguchi, Laura Da’, Andrew Schelling, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.

  • Short Run has announced that Brooklyn cartoonist Rumi Hara is their Dash Grant winner for this year's Short Run Festival on November 9th. Hara will enjoy a $250 grant to complete a comic in time for this year's festival, along with a half-table at the show and other institutional support.

  • Some good news about the state of independent bookselling from Publishers Weekly:

    Addressing the American Booksellers Association’s annual Town Hall and membership meeting on Thursday, ABA CEO Oren Teicher underscored the ABA’s continued growth. “In 2018, ABA saw 99 new indie bookstore members open for business in 37 states, and the District of Columbia, which was a 32 percent increase over 2017. In addition, a number of member stores opened new branches, and 28 established ABA member stores were purchased by new owners.” The changes bring ABA membership up to 2,524 locations, representing 1,887 companies.
  • Is it good news or bad news that political book sales have declined by almost 40 percent over the first quarter of 2019? As long as people are reading other books, it's probably better for our collective mental health to lay off the nonstop political reading and choose the quality books (see the selections from our Reading Through It Book Club) over more salacious accounts, like the new Michael Wolff book.

Hi Blue Sky teaches kids about loss and grief and hope

Seattle author JL Cheatham II’s new book, Hi Blue Sky, has been decades in the making. “It was a poem at first,” Cheatham says — one that he wrote for himself to cope with his first major loss.

“I lost a friend when I was about eight years old,” Cheatham says over the phone. “We played together all the time and then one day she didn't show up anymore.” He didn’t know what had happened to her until she picked up a copy of The Facts newspaper and “there was my friend in the obituary section.”

Eventually, Cheatham learned the truth about what happened: “She went on a boating trip with their teacher and she drowned.” Cheatham recalls it as a confusing and lonely experience. “At the time, nobody was like, ‘hey, Jeff, how are you feeling?’ And it stuck me all the way till this time —I'm 33 years old now.”

Cheatham wrote the poem that became Hi Blue Sky for himself, but he decided that he wanted to share it with children, to help them through the grieving process. Death is a taboo topic with kids, and Cheatham hopes “adults will use the book to “start the conversation about how do we help each other deal with loss in an illustrative manner.”

The book is gorgeously illustrated by Johanna Puukila, an Israeli artist Cheatham “stumbled across on Facebook.” They worked closely together “on the phone and in emails, texting, IG messaging” to bring the book to life. “It was long hours of communicating — going back and forth, making sure that the imagery and the placement of the words matched.”

Cheatham has brought the book to a number of young readers to make sure that Hi Blue Sky worked on its target audience. “Of course, my number one person is my daughter and I had her read the book as words first.” She loved the poem that her dad had written, but when paired with Puukila’s artwork, the experience became much more universal. Cheatham says the story helped his daughter deal with a different kind of loss: “It’s not just about the loss of a loved one who passed away. It could be a story for kids who lose a friend who moves away.”

On June 12th, Cheatham is celebrating the launch of Hi Blue Sky with a family-friendly happy hour reading at The Station coffee shop on Beacon Hill from 5 pm to to 8 pm , with pizza and chocolate. Why’d he pick that location? “Last year was a very rough year for me personally. I lost my job. I had to move. I lost my car. I was really failing the test and I was kind of directionless for a minute,“ Cheatham explains. And then a friend took him to The Station for the first time. From the minute he walked in, Cheatham “just felt right at home because there's so many lovely creative weirdos that go to this place. I love them all to death. And once I was there, the owners embraced me as a part of their community and they allowed me to create.”

Cheatham wrote and produced much of Hi Blue Sky at The Station, and so he wanted to celebrate the book’s birth there too. “I'll always be grateful for that place.”

Cheatham’s got a bunch of projects lined up in the near future, including a summer writing workshop series with King County Libraries that kicks off on June 29th and continues through August. And of course his baby, the Seattle Urban Book Expo, will take place in February of next year. Cheatham says there will be some announcements about locations and the registration process on the Expo’s Facebook page soon.

Mail Call for June 4, 2019

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.

The Mueller Report is hiding in plain sight

Last week, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller talked for less than ten minutes about the criminal accusations surrounding President Trump, the world reacted with shock and surprise. Which, really, is pretty damn weird considering Mueller offered no new information that couldn't already be found in the bestselling report that bears his name.

If you're planning on joining us for Reading Through It tomorrow night at Third Place Books Seward Park at 7 pm, you likely already know Mueller's conclusions. It's been right there in his book this whole time. But even if you haven't read the book, you should join us for our conversation about the Report and what it all means.

And I'm also taking this opportunity to announce a contest for attendees tomorrow night: if your copy of the Mueller Report is more beaten than mine but still somehow readable, I promise to buy you a drink.

This one time, at Basecamp

Published June 4, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work .

Can sane project management save Seattle?

Read this review now

All Signs Are Dares


Why we decided no headlights
through Snoqualmie Valley dark

early March after the hospital
visit to my open-heart grandfather

I will not understand, yet
we drove into that unspoken dare

a good thirty seconds
until we couldn’t take not seeing

illuminated roadside grasses
parallel the parallel yellow lines.

Our eyes like kaleidoscopes twisted
sparse moonlight off sparse road signs.

Still unknown to each other, years later
we’ll leave this country together

for lands where we become
the only people we know

after towers and grandfathers fall
historical clues and species erased.

We still won’t ask what it meant
when the headlights clicked back on —

no flinch reaction swerve or brakes
could’ve helped avoid our collision

with the shepherd dog running happy blind
across the valley road for home.

SAL's poetry series brings Rekdal, Diaz, and others to the stage

We have a mission: to get you in the audience for sponsor Seattle Arts & Lectures's Poetry Series. This year, they're bringing some amazing names to the stage, including the blindingly talented Paisley Rekdal and Young People's Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. The SAL series blends the very well known (Natalie Diaz, Richard Kenney) with new voices, and pairs locals with imports for a Q&A after each reading. Show up for the series, and you'll get a tasting menu of what's current in verse.

The question of whether poetry matters is a tired old argument. Poetry is endlessly adaptable to the needs of whatever time we're in. Poets adapt endlessly, and serve up language with infinite variety. And SAL has a lens on it all.

Check out the full list of names for this year's Poetry Series on our sponsor feature page, then reserve your seats today.

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last dates in June and July and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from June 3rd - June 9th

Monday, June 3rd: Fall, or Dodge in Hell Reading

I find it shocking how few people know that Neal Stephenson is a Seattle-area author — particularly since his books are very obviously influenced by the nature and culture of the Pacific Northwest. His latest book, Fall, or Dodge in Hell, a stealth sequel to his thriller Reamde, is a book that imagines what the Singularity might mean for our concepts of life and death. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5/35.

Tuesday, June 4th: Seattle Botany A to Z

Orlando de Lange, a plant molecular biologist at UW, will discuss 26 "plants, people and places that define the green landscape and history of our city." Blackberries might be delicious, but de Lange classifies them as a "villain" to the city of Seattle. Plus: Drinks! Ada’s  Technical Books, 425 15th Ave, 322-1058,, 7 pm, $10.

Wednesday, June 5th: Poetry in Translation: A Ramadan Feast

Washington state Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna curates this series of poetry readings intended to spotlight "the literary traditions of Seattle’s immigrant and Native communities by sharing these groups’ poetry and song in their original languages and in their equivalent English translation." There are no names of featured readers currently listed for this event, but it is Ramadan-themed. Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave,, 6:30 pm, $5-15.

Thursday, June 6th: Hair Flip Release Party

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030, 7 pm, $10.

Friday, June 7th: Behold the Dreamers Reading

A native of the seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon, Imbolo Mbue is the author of the bestselling debut Behold the Dreamers, the story of a young Cameroonian couple whose new lives in New York are upended by the Great Recession. The novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, and was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $35

Saturday, June 8th: There Goes the Gayborhood!

A large and fun panel of cultural landscape specialists, historians, drag queens, and small business owners will discuss what it means for a traditionally gay neighborhood to face gentrification and massive construction. How do we preserve important places while still allowing new people to move in?

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 10:30 am, free.

Sunday, June 9th: Like a Mother Reading

Seattle author Angela Garbes discusses her popular book about the biology and culture of mothering, which is now out in paperback. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Hair Flip launch party at Fred Wildlife Refuge

First, there was the Intruder comic magazine, a free tabloid-sized comics newspaper that was delivered to comics shops and other cool locales around town. Intruder closed up shop and was followed by a similar publication called Thick as Thieves. And now, Thick as Thieves has stepped aside to make way for Hair Flip, a quarterly comic which debuts this Thursday at Fred Wildlife Refuge.

This is a big party, including music from Great Spiders, Familiars, and DJ SICK SID, cake, raffles, a photo booth, and "wholesome decorations."

But setting aside the trappings of a party, there's plenty of comics stuff, too: local cartoonists like Max Clotfelter and James Stanton will be tabling, along with Push/Pull and a Hair Flip merchandise table.

Given so much of the editorial staff is overseeing the transition from Thick as Thieves to Hair Flip, you probably won't see too much of a difference in this new first issue. And in fact, casual readers likely might not even be able to spot a negligible difference between Intruder and Hair Flip. That's okay.

These new identities and frequent reinventions are part of what makes our local comics scene so vibrant. Print media is something different now than it used to be — it's simultaneously less valuable to advertisers but more valuable to readers. If you can't make something new, bring a new attitude to a print publication, why aren't you just running a fucking blog or something?

Better to keep things new and interesting, to keep handing the vision off to a new group every few years. Comics in this town have the energy and excitement of a thriving rock scene right now — best to harness that kind of energy with an of-the-moment magazine that might not exist a few years from now because it's too busy evolving into something else. That's how the really great scenes keep alive.

Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030, 7 pm, $10.

The Sunday Post for June 2, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Artificial Intelligence of the Public Intellectual

Soraya Roberts explores the emptying of the minds of our public intellectuals.

Their minds have hijacked the public trust, each one acting as the pinnacle of intellect, an individual example of brilliance to cut through all the dullness, before sacrificing the very rigor that put them there in order to maintain the illusion floated by the media, by them, even by us. The public intellectual once meant public action, a voice from the outside shifting the inside, but then it became personal, populated by self-serving insiders. The public intellectual thus became an extension — rather than an indictment — of the American Dream, the idea that one person, on their own, can achieve anything, including being the smartest person in the room as well as the richest.
MacKenzie Bezos: Novelist and Amazon shareholder worth $35.6bn

Profiling MacKenzie Bezos and the intersection between Bezos-the-writer and Bezos-the-third-richest-woman-in-the-world, the BBC asked some of Seattle's favorite book people for comment, including own Paul Constant, Rick Simonson, Mary Ann Gwinn, and Tree Swenson. Kudos to all of them for treating Bezos, as much as possible, as just another novelist.

The Elliott Bay Book Company hosted a reading of Ms Bezos' second novel in 2013 — and Mr [Rick] Simonson recalls some people questioning why an independent book shop would want to host a book associated with Amazon.

However, he says: "I felt you can invite the other side in - and she's a legitimate writer who deserved a fair reading".

The awkward whitesplaining in David Shields' new doc on Marshawn Lynch

Glenn Nelson expertly eviscerates David Shields's new documentary (screening at SIFF), which returns to the ham-handed examination of race and sports Shields last attempted in his (also eviscerated) Black Planet. You can read this article in much less time and with much greater pleasure than either Shields's book or Shields's movie. Win-win!

Relying almost exclusively on archival footage, Shields not only jump cuts through Lynch’s football career, he liberally slices and splices references and commentary about race and civil rights. It’s not cultural appropriation, per se, but it’s certainly something you might call appropriation of cultural narrative. It builds on the time-honored colonialist tradition of the white man (or, sometimes, woman) feeling uniquely qualified (i.e., the only one intelligent enough) to attach meaning to nonwhite existence.

Bill Cosby is shown in Lynch saying, “For the most part, the Black portrait has been drawn by the white writer and the white producer and the white director for the white audience.” But Shields seems tone deaf to a message that permeates his own work.

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

These days, the Internet is kinda like that friend who asks you how you are, only as an intro to telling you how they are at length and in detail — "think" piece after think piece on the dangers, virtues, necessity of our social media gods.

Yancy Strickler isn't the first to worry about what happens when the good guys exit social media stage right. What's new here is the compelling metaphor pulled from Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem.

Is social media a dark forest that needs heroes to tame it? Or is it the tiresome party we'll all be happy to leave? Do we get to choose?

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent ...

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

The Billboard

This story, Stephanie Montgomery's story, includes a description of her sexual assault. It also includes a description of how, when her employer and the justice system both failed to stand up for her, Stephanie took matters into her own mighty hands, painting a billboard that calls out every part of the system that failed her.

I hope Frances McDormand sends her a fan letter.

Stephanie came to realize she’d reached the dead end of a road she had never wanted to be on in the first place. Nothing was going to happen. No justice, just another rape, the world moved on. The #MeToo movement had opened up the conversation, sure, and it had also spurred men into hyperdefensiveness and aggression, but when the smoke cleared, had anything really changed? Where were the arrests, the convictions? Did a stripper have a bigger voice, a better shot at justice than she would’ve two or five or twenty years ago?

As the months passed, something boiled and wept inside her; she couldn’t live with the silence, couldn’t let the rape go unanswered or pretend it never happened, as she had first hoped to do. An idea began to take hold. She was going to paint something, something huge.

Whatcha Reading, Knox Gardner?

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

Knox Gardner is a poet and photographer, as well as publisher and editor-in-chief of the unique and wonderful local press Entre Rios Books — a press that focuses on collaborations between poets and artists. He's the author of two collaborations: Twelve Saints, with Nia Michaels, and the brand-new release Woodland, with musician Aaron Otheim. Gardner will be appearing twice in the near future in support of Woodland: Sunday, June 2nd, at Open Books (see our Event of the Week column for more details), and the official book launch for Woodland, Monday June 13th at Hugo House, where he will be joined by Otheim.

What are you reading now?

I was just in New York for the first time in maybe a decade and saw on one of those discount classics racks in a book store, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. It seemed appropriate being in NYC and in our new gilded age, and over the last few weeks with all the new restrictive abortion laws subjugating women, perhaps more so. I feel like I must have read Age of Innocence in college, but I am not sure. I almost always end up reading the end of books first, so I know this is going to be a tragedy, but what I was not expecting is how funny and bitchy Wharton can be. My book is all marked up with zippy one-liners for my inner queen. Seriously, all queens should be reading Wharton. Oh Miss Bart is going to make some bad choices!

What did you read last?

I had the good fortune to find in a used book store on the same trip, Drift by Caroline Bergvall. It is the most intense, engaging “narrative” poetry book I’ve read — as far as how one might manipulate language to tell difficult stories — since Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. This is a deep, profound work by both the writer and book designer — truly a collaboration in design much like Don Mee Choi's impressive Hardly War with Wave Books. Our publicist has been encouraging me to start taking our press in a more national direction — and to publish work like this, well yes, I would. This book peers in to the despair of the refugee crisis, into our deep past, to create something so startling and immediate.

What are you reading next?

One brutal thing since starting the press is how much less time I have for reading and yet how many more books are piling up around the house. If the fires don’t ruin lake swimming season, I am planning on a bit more of that this year, during what I hope is about a month long production break. These are the books currently at the top of my list:

The Help Desk: A gnawing concern

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

Dear Cienna,

My girlfriend’s dog, Mayte, eats books. My girlfriend solved this issue for herself by keeping books high up and out of Mayte’s reach. But I tend to read until I fall asleep on the couch, and then I wake up to the sound of Mayte chowing down on the fifth chapter of whatever sleazy erotic historical novel I happen to be in the middle of at any given moment.

Mayte was a rescue, and she’s a pretty old mutt, so training her away from books isn’t really a possibility. The three books she’s eaten so far have all been common enough that my girlfriend can easily (and apologetically) replace them.

I’m very aware that my problem is relatively mild, but I wonder if you know of any quick fixes that can keep my books from being chowed on. At some point we might be moving in together, and I don’t want to have to climb a ladder every time I go to choose my next novel.

Vanessa, Northgate

Dear Vanessa,

You are wise to realize that some bad habits are impossible to break – for instance, my bad habit of buying memorial plaques dedicated to people I dislike and bolting them to park dumpsters.

Instead of changing her behavior, change yours. Try buying Mayte a couple of books to chew on while you read. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard and Infinite Jest by whatshisface are both very long, terrible books that would give Mayte's geriatric jaw a healthy workout. You should be able to find deeply discounted copies of them at your local used book store.

If you do move in with your girlfriend, I suggest investing in a lawyer's bookcase (they have glass doors). You could also try lightly spritzing your spines with a vinegar/lemon solution if you don't mind your books smelling like a sulky German hausfrau. If you choose your sleazy historical erotica with care, it could help set the mood.



The Portrait Gallery: Reading animals — beaver

If you've never stumbled on a bad link or fat-fingered a URL here at the SRoB you may not know that we feature art from Christine's Reading Animals series on our 404 page. We thought it was about time to give these amazing portraits the resolvable URL they deserve, so we're going to run them as an occasional series, starting today, with this amazing beaver.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Another day in paradise

For as much as incel-driven conservative comics groups love to whine about "social justice warrior" movements in comics, the truth is that comics are currently in a relatively apolitical period. Of course superhero comics are full of cheerleading for inclusion, and you can find a ton of easy Trump parodies in all the usual places. But aside from a few smart books like Black and Young Terrorists (both of which were originally published by Black Mask Studios, for whatever that's worth) you don't see many contemporary comics taking on uncomfortable political discussions.

Goodnight Paradise is a deeply political book. It resembles the world I see out my window, and it takes in the whole panorama — from the modern tech-powered American boom economy to the homeless encampments popping up in plain view of all that wealth.

The description of Goodnight Paradise sounds like pretty much any sunbaked noir: a young woman is killed and one man, an outsider named Eddie, investigates the mysterious circumstances of her death. The trail leads him to the seat of power in his city. But the particulars of this noir are unlike any I've seen before: Eddie is a homeless man struggling with mental disorders and addiction, and his city is Venice Beach, California, which is the home base of Snapchat.

Thanks to a tight, clever script by Joshua Dysart, Goodnight Paradise hums along while giving us enough atmosphere to appreciate the dynamics of Venice Beach: the homeless people sit on benches and in run-down RVs, sneering at the young and affluent Snap employees wandering past with their hired security forces. The beach itself is a kind of no man's land where everyone gathers, but every situation is fraught with class distinctions and seething hatred.

Alberto Ponticelli is the perfect artist for a hard-boiled detective comic: he understands the importance of characters who look the same on the 5th page of the fifth issue as they did on the third page of the first issue. Their world has to be rock-solid, and readers have to be able to understand where everyone and everything is in relation to everything else. Without a solid sense of worldbuilding and character consistency, the mystery would feel airy and insubstantial. Ponticelli keeps everything grounded and makes us care deeply for Eddie as a character.

Colorist Giulia Brusco contributes more than just a beach-y spray of color to the book: part of the backdrop of Venice Beach is the smoke and smoggy orange-smeared sky caused by nearby forest fires. The fires get earlier every year, and they contribute to Eddie's claustrophobia. When his mania gets out of hand he sees fires everywhere: on people's heads, on buildings, in palm trees. The whole world is burning.

Though Goodnight Paradise is set in California, it could almost as easily be set in the Seattle of 2019, where tech overlords try not to stare directly into the eyes of homeless people and where the skies turn orange and belch smoke every summer. We Seattleites intimately know the rhythms of income inequality and of climate insecurity that drive the waltz of Goodnight Paradise. It is a deeply political comic — one that represents the year 2019 with such accuracy and power that it's sometimes hard to stare for too long. Mirrors are like that, sometimes.

Is Robert Crumb about to be — gasp — canceled?

I keep thinking about this Reason magazine article which argues that Robert Crumb is in danger of being "canceled" by PC culture run amok or whatever the so-called "woke" kids are doing these days.

In the article, Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth — who prints a lot of Crumb's material — expresses his disapproval of a comics function in which a number of cartoonists booed Crumb. (Crumb was not in attendance at the event.) And then someone else makes a judgment against Crumb by citing some panels of a Crumb strip featuring a caricature of Crumb sexually violating a drunken young woman. Those are pretty much the only examples of cancel culture in the story.

And, okay. I mean. I guess?

Robert Crumb was and is a significant figure in the history of comics. He's one of the most gifted cartoonists in history. He made a lot of interesting work. His stories with Harvey Pekar were some of the best collaborative comics in history. And he also made a lot of dumb, derivative, pseudo-shocking work that hasn't aged well.

It's okay to like Robert Crumb. I own several of his books. You can own all of them. You can wear t-shirts of his drawings. You're allowed to give his books as gifts. You can donate them to libraries. You can put displays of them up at bookstores. You can do whatever you want with them! Nobody is punishing you for any of that.

But it's also okay to not like Crumb's work. You can say that his treatment of race was far too facile, and that the treatment of women in his work is abhorrent. You can choose to not own any Robert Crumb books. You can make speeches about how much you dislike Robert Crumb.

If you're a big Crumb fan and you're talking about Crumb in public, someone might want to talk to you about Crumb's racial or sexual politics. That's their right. But you can tell them to fuck off. That's your right. Nobody is being canceled! Just because you like something doesn't mean someone else has to like it, too!

Honestly, I think the true friction behind this Crumb story is the anxiety of one generation replacing another. The generation that venerated Crumb is horrified that younger generations don't also venerate Crumb. Surely the kids simply don't have the proper context or a deep understanding of his milieu? Groth says as much in the Reason story, claiming that "I'm pretty sure the vast majority of people booing Crumb are not familiar with his work."

Thing is, older generations don't get to dictate which artists enjoy a place of prominence with younger generations, or why. Those of us who are alive right now have very little say as to which artists will survive in the cultural memory for the next hundred years. And very often, the artists who dominate the conversation among their contemporaries are diminished by the passing of the decades.

Whenever I read a piece now about cancel culture, I remind myself to look at the consequences. What rights are being stripped from the artist? What are the motivations of everyone quoted in the piece? What are the real-world ramifications of the actions described in the story?

More often than not, the ramifications involve the artist having to face down criticism, or finding their place in history being contested by younger people. And I find it very hard to care if that's the case. Because honestly — people booing your work? Younger generations arguing that your work isn't as valuable as it was once perceived to be? That's not cancel culture, buddy; it's just art.

"It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning."

Seattle-area sci-fi author Ted Chiang this week inaugurated a fun new series for the New York Times, "in which science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future." Chiang's column combines income inequality and genetic manipulation. Like the best science-fiction, it's a mirror to our present time.

Elissa Ball on why Seattle is like your weird over-apologetic ex

Not so long ago, Elissa Ball was a Seattle reading dynamo. You could find her at readings all over town, sharing her poetry and clapping enthusiastically for her friends. Then she moved to eastern Washington and we saw much less of her. Ball makes it a point to come back to Seattle often — she published a wonderful little book called More or Less with Seattle's Cold Cube Press last year — but many folks (myself included) miss the energy that Ball would bring to a reading just by being in attendance.

Tonight, Ball is in town and performing at Brett Hamil and Emmett Montgomery's weekly Beacon Hill stand-up comedy showcase, The Joketellers Union. (Full disclosure: I'm participating in this event tonight, but Ball is the real reason to attend.) She was kind enough to talk to me yesterday about what to expect tonight and how Seattle makes her feel nowadays.

What can audiences expect from you tonight? Have you taken up stand-up comedy as well as astrology/tarot/poetry/pun-ditry?

Stand-up comedy is what I’m bringing! I actually started doing stand-up in Seattle around 2008. Though I loved watching comic friends work their onstage magic, I got eventually got fed up by a comedy scene swirling with rape jokes, sexual harassment, and shitty shock comics (wow did they think their “ironic” racist/transphobic jokes were edgy!). So I quit comedy for about six years and just tweeted my puns, wrote a couple joke books, made goofy memes, and performed humor-heavy poems instead.

I only came out of comedy retirement in late 2018 because my friend Mara Baldwin (remember that name; she’s gonna be huge) hosted a rad monthly show in Spokane and begged me to do a stand-up set. It does feel good to be back up there telling jokes about pugs, The Lion King, and BDSM. If any anti-pun folks are at Wednesday’s show, I suggest they use the bathroom or take a smoke break during my set, because there will be puns.

It seems as though you've picked up a few hyphenates in the time since you've moved out east of the mountains. What are you working on right now? Do you have any new books in the works? What does an average day in your life look like?

A palm reader in Olympia once glanced at my hand and went, “Woah! There’s so much going on here I’m dizzy. It’s like a circuit board crammed with wires.” That’s the speed of my life: about five jobs/gigs at a time, ongoing projects, and so many passions. Fashion, interior design, the occult, punk, poetry, jokes, irises!

During those no-stand-up years, I got deep into tarot and astrology. After I moved out of King County, Seattle Weekly (R.I.P.) asked me to pen a weekly astrology column for them. So I wrote Space Witch from Eastern WA. I’m ultra grateful for that gig, but having a weekly writing deadline for two years—no breaks—wore me out. I still write for alt-weeklies—mostly band interviews and film reviews—just not every week. I still intend to make a monthly Space Witch astrology podcast eventually. Witch work will always be part of me. I read tarot and birth charts for clients at my tiny office or over the phone. Co-workers at the bar where I work always ask what’s up with Mercury.

All year I’ve been pouring editing energy into my chapbook-length poetry manuscript. I recently tweeted “Dear Universe, plz don't let me die 'til this new shit is published & on shelves” which is pretty much where I am. Because my last three books are sold out, I feel an urgency to create something relevant and in-stock. The submission (read: rejection) process for this poetry collection has been brutal, but I’m a tenacious little terrier. I won’t let go ‘til my poems link up with the right publisher.

An average day for me is fueled by Grocery Outlet mixed nuts, productive rage, and the goth outlook that death could pop out of the bushes at any time, so I’d better haul ass. I start my day with a swampy green smoothie, strong pu-erh tea, and a scan of cute adoptable shelter animals (to get those endorphins pumping). I work one-to-three jobs, grocery shop for my grandparents, read other people’s poems, maybe see a band or go dancing, and end the night with an Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode (though the amnesia episodes are good too).

What do you think about Seattle, now that you have some distance from the city? Sometimes it's hard to get a sense of a city when you live in it, day in and day out—what do you notice when you're visiting?

Seattle is that ex who wants to hang out and sip nettle tea but keeps apologizing, “Sorry I’m in a weird mood today.” Seattle IS one weird mood. Melancholy and nostalgia and that damp, salty kelp smell coming up from the Sound. I love visiting, but it’s sad too. My friends here seem wrung out, exhausted from working so hard just to barely make it. Honestly, late-stage capitalism means that’s the reality for most people just about everywhere. I mean, Missoula, MT, has a rental crisis.

I gotta confess: Since moving East, I’ve stopped composting. (Sorry! I still recycle!) In Seattle, composting seems to be of utmost importance, whereas saying no to Amazon or developers is not as important.

This week's sponsor is Sagging Meniscus Press

Well, people find love and comfort in all sorts of different ways, and leave it to Sagging Meniscus Press— this week's sponsor, and our favorite publisher of the unexpected — to bring us a metaphysical reflection on human nature, deception, and the tender friendship between a man and his horse.

Joshua Kornreich's Horsebuggy is a dark little surprise and joy, blackly funny in the vein of The Sisters Brothers. It's the sort of book where everything leads to its logical conclusion — and nothing is more ridiculous and bleak than human nature allowed to run its course. The excerpt Sagging Meniscus is sharing as part of their sponsorship is startling and addictive. Check it out on our sponsor feature page, then buy the book and give up on whatever else you planned today.

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last sponsorship slots left this spring and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Published May 28, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Bill Carty’s Huge Cloudy .

Bill Carty's new book is a beautiful collection of poems that reaches up every so often to slap readers across the face.

Read this review now

Milton Fife


If Milton Fife lived off generic brands
He was like any other guy from here
Wherever here might be, but his commands
Were closer to Jovita and the near
Stretch of the Stuck than the Puyallup sands
Or far from where the headwaters appear
To run as white in name as through the lands
They carved in lava gullies from Rainier.

Evacuation warnings decorate
The valley like a joke exaggerates
Unlikelihood as if it is a fate
Determined in advance to celebrate
A Revelations style of rendezvous
Of inundations wet yet barbecued.

Although an atheist by preference
Fife had a hankering for Biblical
Disasters on a scale of pestilence
To plague a land in metaphysical
Conundrums to inspire reverence
In fools who thrilled a guy so cynical
As one who would exploit a deference
Just like the Pope in ecumenical

Pronouncements of the certainty of doom.
Not to exclude the lunatics of gloom
Those fundamentalists who would assume
The rapture will release their souls to bloom
When Armaggedon gives the heaven-sent
A tenement up on the firmament.

Your Week in Readings: The best events from May 27th - June 2nd

Tuesday, May 28th: Black on Craft

Black on Craft is brand-new reading series curated by Hugo House writer in residence Amber Flame to discuss what it means to be a Black writer. Tonight's event is a conversation between Flame, musician/writer Gabriel Teodros, and poet Nikkita Oliver. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $10.

Wednesday, May 29th: Mr. Know-It-All Reading

Director John Waters comes to town with his second career as a public figure: he's a raconteur and a memoirist with a seemingly bottomless well of stories. To celebrate the release of his book Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, he'll be in conversation with the one and only Mr. David Schmader. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $10.

Thursday, May 30th: Birds of the West Reading

Birds of the West is a book that collects Molly Hashimoto's drawings of almost one hundred different bird species. Tonight, she'll discuss what it's like to be a birder. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 31st: The Seventh Wave Reading

Magazine The Seventh Wave celebrates its ninth issue with a theme of "What We Lose." This event will include improv, a reading from contributors to the magazine, and "small group exercises to help break down barriers of formality."

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, June 1st: Three Poets

Local poet Shankar Narayan, who has been featured by Kundiman, Hugo House, and Jack Straw, celebrates the publication of a chapbook with other Seattle poets Doyali Islam and the mighty Azura Tyabji. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, June 2nd: Woodland Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 5 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Woodland at Open Books

Not too long ago, August was the month that made living in Seattle worthwhile. You were guaranteed beautiful weather pretty much from the first day of August to the last: blue skies, comfortably warm weather, and incredibly long days that seemed to never end.

Now, of course, August has become the worst month of the year. Every August, the city is choked in a brown-and-orange haze of wildfire smoke that forces us indoor and harms the weakest of us. It's hot and smelly and uncomfortable and ugly, and it's all our fault for letting climate change get to this point. And fire season seems to be starting earlier and earlier — I caught a whiff of smoke on a hazier-than-normal Seattle day just within the last month.

Seattle author and publisher Knox Gardner's new poetry collection Woodland is about our wildfire crisis. It was written over a period of time stretching from the 2017 British Columbia fires to the fiery death of Paradise, California, and it is solely interested in mapping out this new normal for our region.

Woodland is an angry book, and it's sad, and it's heartbroken. It's the story of a paradise that's dragged a little bit closer to death. The book features a score written by Aaron Otheim that updates 19th century composer Edward MacDowell's chamber music piece "Woodland Sketches" for a modern audience and a dystopian future. Gardner will be in attendance at this event, in Seattle's tiny cathedral to poetry.

Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 5 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for May 26, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Man With Two Heads

Binjamin Wilkomirski’s memoir of his childhood during the Holocaust was celebrated, awarded, and then challenged. Last week’s Sunday Post included an article about the questionable veracity of David Foster Wallace and other journalistic greats. This week, an essay by Elena Lappin asks how we can bear to accuse someone who has survived immense suffering of lying about it — and how we can bear not to.

The question I wanted to ask Spielberg was an uncomfortable one: would this great archive serve the future as a reliable source of history? ‘Absolutely,’ said Spielberg. ‘Through this material, long after they are gone, survivors can speak to future generations.’ It provided, he said, ‘an unparalleled means of understanding the experience of the victim . . . They can teach us about the Holocaust in an educationally compelling and emotionally moving way.’

To break our trust in these memories would be a cruel thing; to question their veracity, equally cruel.

Breaking My Silence

Min Jin Lee grew up quiet, by nature and by culture. To be a quiet woman in America, though, is to be invisible. So she learned to wield the power of language in her own way.

In Western books, heroes spoke well and could handle any social situation, not just through action, but also through argument. In Korea, a girl was virtuous if she sacrificed for her family or nation, but in the West, a girl was worthy if she had pluck and if she could speak up even when afraid. As a kid, I’d watched Koreans criticizing a man for being all talk and no work. In America, a man was considered stupid or weak if he couldn’t stand up for himself.

Both things were true: I didn’t want to talk, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid.

Against Advice

Agnes Callard considers Margaret Atwood’s response to a young writer from the analytical perspective of a professional philosopher. What are we really asking for, when we ask for advice? And what do we receive?

It would be really nice if information that could transform someone’s values was able to be handed over as cheaply as driving instructions.

Whatcha Reading, Molly Hashimoto?

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

Molly Hashimoto is an artist, illustrator, teacher, and author of the recently released book Birds of the West: An Artist’s Guide. Although much of her work depicts flora, she's most known for fauna, especially avifauna (you know, birds). She'll be appearing Thursday, May 30, at the Lake Forest Park Third Place Books to talk about the book. We hear there will be slides!

What are you reading now?

A Separation by Katie Kitamura, Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell.

What did you read last?

Milkman by Anna Burns (2018 Booker prize winner).

What are you reading next?

Wildlife of a Garden by Jennifer Owen and Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder & Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Keefe.

The Help Desk: Guilt-edged pages

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 Cienna is off this week, volunteering advice to young spiders from broken webs, but here's a column from March of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

Sometimes when I buy books from used bookstores, I feel bad, especially if they’re from small presses. Authors get royalties, however small, on each book sold new in bookstores. They get bupkis from used book sales. Maybe this doesn’t matter so much for James Patterson, but when I buy a used copy of an indie title with a tiny print run, that sale could have gone a long way toward benefitting an author, or at least helping their self-esteem. Am I being too sensitive? Or should I only buy copies of bestsellers in used bookstores from now on?

Ingrid, Crown Hill

Dear Cienna,

I like readings. The one problem is I feel guilty if I go to a reading and don’t buy the book. What’s the etiquette here? Is there a rule of thumb? There are so many variations to this theme: sometimes you like the book and will considering buying it later; sometimes after a reading you decide you don’t like the book; sometimes you like the book but it’s too expensive.

I keep coming up with other examples from my life. Is it okay to tell an author you’ll get their book from the library? And what if the author at the reading is your friend?

My anxiety grows by the minute, Cienna. Only you can help me.

Effie, Mountlake

Dear Effie and Ingrid,

Guilt should be reserved for religion and select situations that deserve it, like telling a Girl Scout you have a tumor just so she will give you a free box of Thin Mints. To answer your questions:

  • Buying any and all books from used bookstores is fine. Authors also get nothing when you lend a book to a friend or check a book out from the library. Think of it this way: If those books weren’t being recirculated, they’d be rotting in basements, used as coasters in bars or burned by people like me.

  • First and foremost, writers are thrilled to have butts in seats at readings. You are basically doing a very specific community service for one very grateful individual when you attend them. That said, you shouldn’t ever feel obligated to buy a book. If your misplaced guilt overwhelms you, however, there is a compromise: When I attend readings and the book doesn’t grab me but I really liked the author, I try to think of a senile aunt or friendly shut-in who might enjoy its content and buy it for them as a gift.

  • That said, yes, you are absolutely required to buy your friends’ books if they are published authors. It is a $20 investment. If you are not willing to invest $20 in friendship, you do not deserve to have friends.

Finally, I would encourage you both to ruminate on the nature of guilt. I am concerned, based on the tenor of your questions, that neither of you has truly experienced this proverbial shit stain in the rich tapestry of human emotions. Guilt, when done right, should feel like running a coal mine marathon: You should be sweating more than normal and overwhelmed by a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness.

I recommend that you explore this feeling, either by looking someone in your life in the eye while you tell them that you love them and then taking it back 10 minutes later, or by actually running a coal mine marathon. Then you both will be better equipped to tackle slightly uncomfortable social situations, like how to conduct yourself at a book reading, in the future.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Dishes

The Portrait Gallery: Terese Mailhot

Friday, May 24th: Hugo Literary Series

Writers Domingo Martinez, Terese Mailhot, and Margaret Malone and musician Bryan John Appleby create new work based on the Heinlein-y theme “Strangers in a Strange Land” at the flagship Hugo House reading series.Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $25.

Criminal Fiction: Let's review

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

Daneet is taking a much-deserved break during May, but will be back next month with more great coverage of the best books to hit the crime scene.

That gives us the opportunity to spend a bit of time with her past columns — and believe it, there is some gold there.

In the past year, besides reviewing fifty-four (!) books, she's also interviewed twelve authors in the one-and-only "Quintessential Interview". It's remarkable to see what the same questions posed to different authors result in.

So, for fun, we decided to poll one question from the last year of writers. So here is how the following writers answered the same question. We also recommend clicking through and seeing the rest of the interviews, and books reviewed, from the past year. No doubt, unless you're Daneet, you haven't read all of them, have you?

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Laura Lippman, from May, 2018.

The contract, the deadline, the deadline in the contract, the world, the idea currently uppermost in my mind.

Spencer Kope, from June, 2018.

To answer this, I have to go back to a time when computer screens were small and monochrome, and processing speeds were measured in kilobytes, because it was the early eighties when I discovered the macabre but fascinating world of Stephen King.

I began with Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, after which I was hooked and devoured everything I could find: short stories, novellas, books, things he scrawled on napkins….Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the point. Of all the King stories I read, The Stand remains my favorite. I even liked the miniseries.

Other writers who inspire me are those who persevered: Richard Adams and his opus Watership Down come to mind. The book was repeatedly rejected before being picked up by a one-man publishing house in London; the rest is literary history. Vince Flynn is another example. He self-published his debut, Term Limits, and went on to launch the incredibly successful Mitch Rapp thriller series. Among my collection of first editions are two signed copies of this rare book.

Mick Herron, from July 2018.

Need, curiosity, excitement, guilt, habit.

John Straley, from August, 2018.

I’ve been inspired by the people I met working as a criminal investigator, and by listening to stories in bars and jail cells.

I love jokes and poetry and traveling by boat.

I like talking to strangers who are reading big fat books while sitting alone in noisy cafes.

I often get my best ideas for wild action scenes while sitting in poetry readings.

Stuart Turton, from September, 2018.

It’s funny, I’ve never thought of myself as being inspired, because I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I remember. My book is very much an Agatha Christie novel and I’ve wanted to write it since I was eight, so let’s put Agatha up top. After that it gets a lot more prosaic. I write everyday because I’d go mad if I didn’t; because I’d have to get an office job if I didn’t; because the electricity company doesn’t take ‘following your dreams’ as payment; and because I can’t do anything else.

Valentina Giambanco, from October, 2018.

  • Human relationships – always a never-ending source of surprising material.
  • Good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things.
  • Outsiders and all those who don’t quite fit in.
  • The small details of everyday life – you’re sitting in the bus and you see someone doing something and go, “Oh yeah, I’m stealing that tiny gesture.”
  • Wilderness and the way that, in the wild, human beings reveal who they truly are.

Lou Berney, from November, 2018.

Chilly, rainy weather always gets me going. Reading a great novel will often temporarily crush my spirit but then a few hours later I’ll be all jacked up to hit the laptop. Driving through my hometown of Oklahoma City, watching an amazing sunset split open the sky – that’s when good ideas often come to me.

Katrina Carrasco, from December, 2018.

I love writing complex, unpredictable women; once the characters gather critical mass it feels like I’m in conversation with them and they’re showing me the way, which is an amazing process. I want a bigger canon of queer literature and I want to be part of creating it. Same for happy stories about queer people. The Pacific Northwest is a great character in itself, and time in the mountains, in the forest, or by the sea recharges me. I’m fascinated by sentence-level sound and syntax: how every line can be a poem, and how those poems can coalesce into paragraphs, and eventually accrete into a book.

Taylor Adams, from January, 2019.

I’m fascinated by storytelling momentum – that driving, can’t-stop intensity that catapults you into the next scene, and the next – so any novel that can give me that euphoric sensation is high on my list of inspirations. Film structure, too, is a great blueprint that I always keep in mind. Take the structural perfection of a movie like Die Hard, for example, for cultivating and maintaining that level of intensity. Aside from books and film, other inspirations that give me the “fuel” to put in the time writing every day are music, the encouragement of my family, and coffee. Definitely coffee.

Don Winslow, from February, 2019.

History. The news. Shakespeare. Jazz. The writers who came before.

Elisabeth Elo, from March, 2019.

Sober people. Particle physics and quantum mechanics because they remind me that there’s a great deal more to this world than we can see. My own deepest experiences because I can’t express them, which makes me, paradoxically, want to express anything I can. Fairytales for their perfect narrative structure and blunt acknowledgment of evil. Any genuine smile.

Hanna Jameson, from April, 2019.

Things and emotions that scare me. Anything David Lynch makes, says, writes, or does. Fear of being broke. Reading history. The idea that the only meaning we have in this life is in the good that we do with whatever superpowers we arrived with, and my superpowers happened to be writing and having awesome hair so I’m gonna carry on doing that.

Thursday Comics Hangover: If you can't beat City Hall, join City Hall

Detail from "Telelphone with E.T. Russian" by Marie Bouassi.

Twenty years ago, it would've been unthinkable that Seattle City Hall would be home to a comics art show. But the unthinkable is now a reality: from now through July, the downstairs art gallery at City Hall is featuring an exhibit called Comix for All.

Curated by the indispensable Short Run festival, Comix for All features comics by 14 artists, framed and hanging in a downstairs hallway. The work still feels a little bit transgressive, like you might imagine a City Councilmember feeling a little uncomfortable as they walk past.

In fact, some of the work seems specifically selected to push at the austere surroundings. I'm thinking in particular of two works by Simon Hanselmann: a colored comics page that seems to be parodying Noah Van Sciver's angry-young-man comic Fante Bukowski and, especially, a poster featuring a weeping bear with yin-yang eyes that announces "ART MIGHT UPSET YOU - SOMETIMES IT'S SUPPOSED TO." But Hanselmann is not the only envelope-pusher: a page from Lauren Armstrong's comic "Cape Beer" features a pair of hands rolling a joint, putting us in the perspective of the joint-roller.

Some of the displayed art is excerpted from longer comics pages. Others are single illustrations drawn by cartoonists. Some are in color, others are in black and white. Together, the works create a kind of anthology of the modern state of alternative cartooning, exploded out onto the halls of local government.

Comics have a certain insouciance to them, an eagerness to prick at the face of authority. Who hasn't gotten in trouble for doodling in class, after all? Who hasn't drawn a caricature of an authority figure? Comics push at our leaders, find their weak spots, and expose them for all to see in an accessible, irreverent medium.

Seeing these pages on the walls of City Hall is a bit of a culture shock, but it doesn't feel like selling out. Instead, it feels like Short Run has smuggled something cool and interesting into an aggressively bland space. That's the glory of comics.

Comix for All will feature an artists reception on June 6th from 4 to 6 pm. All are welcome.

Book News Roundup: Natalie Portman comes out in favor of fact-checking non-fiction books

  • Congratulations to Celestial Bodies author Jokha Alharthi. With the book's English translator, Marilyn Booth, Alharthi has won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. As Literary Hub notes, "The win makes Alharthi the first Arabic author to win the award and the the first Omani woman to have a novel translated in to English."

  • Moby was recently in town reading from his new memoir. In it, he claims that he was in a relationship with Natalie Portman. Portman has now gone on the record to deny that she was ever involved with Moby. Portman claims “I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school.”

  • Another quote from Portman relates to an issue we posted about yesterday: "There was no fact checking from [Moby] or his publisher – it almost feels deliberate. That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn’t the case. There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check.” [Emphasis mine.]

  • Seriously: when will publishers start fact-checking their non-fiction books? This is making the industry look terrible.

  • In better news, the Vanity Fair archives — yes, all of them are open and free to browse through the end of this month.

Give to Short Run's one-day pledge drive

Today, May 22nd, is Short Run cofounder/Executive Director Kelly Froh's birthday. And to celebrate, Short Run is running a one-day donation drive to raise $3,500 for this year's festival. Short Run is a free small press, minicomix, and zine festival that somehow manages to outdo itself every year. It provides financial and emotional support for hundreds of local cartoonists, and it offers year-round programming. If you care about local artists, Seattle's arts and literary scene, and physical media, you should dig deep into your pockets and offer something up to Short Run today.

Town Hall Seattle is renovated and reimagined for a whole new city

Last night, Town Hall Seattle officially opened its great hall to the public for the first time in two years. During the extensive renovations to the building, Town Hall has been outsourcing its programming to nearly fifty venues around the city, and now — after a few months' delay — the venue is entering a soft-launch period before the grand reopening this September.

Earlier this week, Town Hall's curator of lectures, Edward Wolcher, gave me a short tour of the venue. There's still some work to be done, but the new Town Hall is a top-to-bottom refresh that places the building firmly in the heart of Seattle's arts community. It's always been a stately building, but now Town Hall is a smarter, sleeker, and more versatile space than ever before.

Aside from the carpeting, fresh coat of paint, and new sound-enhancement features, the upstairs great hall is likely largely as you recall it. With the pews and the stained glass windows, it resembles nothing so much as a secular church. The hall can still hold roughly seven to eight hundred attendees, making it one of the largest reading spaces in the city.

But though the Great Hall has stayed the same, the spaces surrounding it on the main floor have completely changed. For one thing, in what might be the most popular new addition for many Town Hall attendees, there are almost twenty new unisex bathroom stalls on the main floor. For another, the bar area has been expanded, offering visitors a space to pause with friends before or after a show.

There's also a new mid-size reading space off to the side of the main floor which offers Town Hall an opportunity to experiment with a new size of programming. The well-lit room, which seats less than a hundred, could be an excellent space for post-reading community discussions, or pre-reading events that give up-and-coming local talent a stage.

The downstairs space at Town Hall is virtually unrecognizable. What formerly looked like a church basement — I mean that in the warmest way possible — is now a highly adaptable space called The Forum that can expand or contract to meet any event's special requirements. In one corner of the room is a small bar and cafe area. Along the other wall are bookshelves that will soon house books written by Town Hall authors, which can be sealed off into its own small venue called "The Library."

It's remarkable what Town Hall has achieved with this remodel. They've taken two excellent spaces and evolved them into a series of modular venues that can comfortably house any event from a chamber music concert to an intimate poetry reading to a New York Times bestselling author. It's quite possible that on any given night, Town Hall could comfortably house four different events for audiences ranging in size from 20 to 750 people.

The remodel is not completely done yet; the bars aren't yet open for business, and the outdoors plaza still has months to go before it's complete. But you'll want to stop by soon to get an idea of the possibility that the new Town Hall offers. This September, the venue will celebrate its official relaunch with a monthlong festival of events intended to celebrate the organization's past and future. All are welcome.

The fact is, books must be held to a higher standard

I know I'm in a dwindling group, but I love a good literary takedown. Give me one big-name author taking the piss very publicly out of another big-name author in a book review and I'm basically a pig in shit.

The literary takedown is a disappearing subgenre of book review. Readers don't seem to have the stomach for them anymore, and publicists will likely blackball a reviewer who takes too hard a hand in their review. And yes, the subgenre has been used too much, and for some truly heinous purposes, in years past.

However, I have to call your attention to Winner Take All author Anand Giridharadas's review of the new Jared Diamond book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. Giridharadas isn't just calling out Diamond for a difference in their opinions — though there certainly are many of those — but he also cites multiple errors on Diamond's part, acccusing him of laziness and bringing the receipts to prove it.

But even if you don't want to read a takedown right now — maybe you're feeling too tender, or maybe you prefer to remember Jared Diamond at the height of his Guns Germs and Steel powers — there is still a paragraph in Giridharadas's review that I think everyone should read. It calls out the publishing industry for a practice that has gone on for far too long:

There is also a systemic issue here. The time has come for those of us who work in book-length nonfiction to insist that professional fact-checking become as inalienable from publishing as publicity, marketing and jacket design — and at the publisher’s expense rather than as a cost passed on to the author, who, understandably, will often choose to spend her money on health care. In the age of tweets, it cannot be the fate of the book to become ever more tweetlike — maybe factual, maybe whatever. The book must stand apart, must stand above.

Yes! Most people are shocked to learn that nonfiction books are not fact-checked, or they are fact-checked on the author's dime. As Giridharadas points out, this embarrassing practice does nothing but diminish books in a time when books are already being diminished in the cultural discourse. It's time to hold our authors to a higher standard — the same standard that reputable newspapers maintain. Fact-checking for all!

A J-Date for the dead

Published May 21, 2019, at 12:00pm

Emma Levy reviews Nathan Englander’s

Has the internet out-godded God?

Read this review now

Teen Angels


My life would be worthless floating face down
In that dirty old river so lovely and warm
That fateful night as while casting a spell
Loaded to the blastin’ point

Is that really Jimmy’s ring clutched in your fingers?
The kids call him Jimmy the Saint
With wicked Felina, the girl that I loved
I begged him to go slow by the coal yards
Head first to the graveyard

They said they found my high school ring
They told me he was bad
They heard him say, how can you be so cruel?
They pulled him from the twisted wreck
They all stop and stare

But you went running back and asked me why
But I’ll join you tonight and there’s nothing
But my love for Felina and five mounted
Cowboys just sweet sixteen

What could I do?
Oh what can I do?
Will I see you any more?
Hey kid, you think that’s oil?
And am I still your own true love?
Were lovers stalled upon the railroad track
By the river in El Paso at the candy store
Lyin’ there upon the grave?

Yes, we see how his car overturned in flames
How that ever can happen where the horses were tied

I feel the bullet go deep in my chest
The shadows wave into a point I’ll never kiss
Your lips again and kissed
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye

Thank you to sponsor Seattle Arts & Lectures

When Seattle Arts & Lectures announces their upcoming season, it's a snapshot of the literary moment and a harbinger of the literary year to come. Their picks reflect what's on our minds right now and where they think our minds will go. Big names and small; big ideas and beautiful words; politics and poetry. They put the city, the nation, and the world on stage for us.

They've just announced the speakers for the 2019/2020 season, and this is your first and best chance to get exactly the dance card you want, whether it's Patti Smith and Mary Ruefle or Lindy West and Rick Barot. Or throw the dice — put the names in a hat, draw three, and experience something unexpected.

Whatever your pleasure, you should grab your ticket before the events start selling out. We'll see you there!

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last sponsorship slots left this spring and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from May 20th - May 26th

Monday, May 20th: This View of Life Reading

David Sloan Wilson's latest book completes the Darwinian revolution by applying evolutionary thought to...well, almost everything. His book offers simple ways to help discern between natural systems and human-created systems — and he explains why that's an important distinction to make. Wilson is joined in conversation by, full disclosure, my day-job boss, Nick Hanauer. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Tuesday, May 21st: The Scent Keeper Reading

Seattle author Erica Bauermeister's latest novel is about a young woman who lives on a lonely but lovely island with her father. She becomes intrigued by a mysterious collection of scents that her father owns, and then a whole bunch of secrets are revealed. *Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free. *

Wednesday, May 22nd: The Every Other

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, free.

Thursday, May 23rd: Down With Work!

The Red May series of events (motto: "Take a month off from capitalism!") continues with a conversation between Kathi Weeks, Michael Hardt, Peter Frase, and Charles Mudede about how work is unnecessary and dumb. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Friday, May 24th: Hugo Literary Series

Writers Domingo Martinez, Terese Mailhot, and Margaret Malone and musician Bryan John Appleby create new work based on the Heinlein-y theme "Strangers in a Strange Land" at the flagship Hugo House reading series. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $25.

Saturday, May 25th: Poetry Brunch

Curator Kate Berwanger's poetry-at-brunch literary series continues with readers including Erika Brumett, Lin Wilsie, Sameer Bhangar, Shelley Minden, and Steve Sibra. Get drunk, get fed, and enjoy some poetry by an up-and-comer.
Corvus & Co, 601 Broadway E, 420-8488,, 11 am, $5.

Literary Event of the Week: The Every Other

If you've been following the work of Seattle Review of Books May Poet in Residence Doug Nufer, you know that he's a playful and curious word explorer. He loves to mash vocabularies together, to mix up technical words with poetry, to turn over boring and overused phrases to see what lies underneath.

What you might not know just from reading this site is that Nufer is a natural showman. He's a great reader of his own work, a generous host, and a very good curator of events. He's been doing events in Seattle for decades, and he's absolutely never boring.

Nufer's latest reading series is called The Every Other. It happens every other month at Vermillion, and it's not an especially high-concept deal: a few readers, a musician, and a good bar. That's all you need, right?

This Wednesday, Nufer will host the second Every Other, with a musician named Meira Jough — Nufer describes her as "a lyrical songwriter in the tradition of nomadic world folk singers" — and poets Jeanine Walker and Alex Gallo-Brown.

Walker has appeared on the Seattle Review of Books as a poet in residence, so faithful readers likely already know her work. Gallo-Brown frequently incorporates issues of labor and work into his poetry, along with generational discussions and questions of what it means to live in the modern world. This is a dazzling lineup.

As the literary performance week starts to ramp down for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, you should consider making The Every Other your final pre-summer event. It's a great lineup, the drinks are strong, and Nufer will never let you down.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for May 19, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Tourist: Volume 71

If you like newsletters, and aren’t already subscribing to Philip Christman’s “The Tourist,” I highly recommend you do. Christman publishes thoughtful, mid-length reflections, and I often start the day with them when they come in — it sets my brain to the right rhythm for really looking at the world, instead of skimming through it like I’m living in a Twitter feed.

In this letter, Christman talks about his mother, who voted for Donald Trump and who he loves in that difficult, complicated way we love people sometimes — through a blur of their flaws and our own.

This is the part where it's tempting to write "in that moment, politics fell away, and pragmatics/common sense/simple values took over," but that sort of sentence is a lie. Your politics and your pragmatics, your common sense, your simple values, are a series of Russian nesting dolls that contain each other. My politics in that moment was that my mom had spent her life doing the best she could with the information she had, and that her best was not good enough and that mine would never be either. And neither is yours, whoever is reading this.
Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry

Writing about the amazing, dreadful field in which he’s made his career — tech — Paul Ford is gentle, wry, and fearless. We built the tools of power, he says to his industry — now we must be accountable for their use. And maybe, just maybe, consider that tech’s time to lead is ending.

It’s that second part that’s so amazing: tech issues a new call to action, to itself, every day of the week. But a call to step away from the throne? That cuts to the culture’s heart, wallet, and soul.

I wish I could take my fellow CEOs by the hand (they’re not into having their hands held) and show them Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any of the other places where people are angry. Listen, I’d say, you’re safe. No one is coming for your lake house, even if they tweet “I’m coming for your lake house.” These random angry people are merely asking us to keep our promises. We told them 20-some years ago that we’d try to abolish government and bring a world of plenty. We told them we’d make them powerful, that we’d open gates of knowledge and opportunity. We said, “We take your privacy and security seriously at Facebook.” We said we were listening. So listen! They are submitting a specification for a world in which fairness is a true currency, and then they’re trying to hold everyone to the spec (which is, very often, the law). As someone who spent a lot of time validating XML and HTML pages, I empathize. If bitcoin can be real money, then fairness can be a real goal.
Mr Trendy Sicko

James Wolcott bites into Bret Easton Ellis' career with the tenacity and repulsion of a man determined to eat a worm-infested apple just to prove the worms exist.

Bad reviews, media bashing, mockery, disdain, brutal accusations of old-fartdom — will Bret Easton Ellis learn anything from this debacle? Of course not. It would be out of character and borderline disappointing if he did. A sudden onset of empathy would neutralise the snot factor so integral to his persona and voice.
The Country That Exiled McKinsey

McKinsey & Co. is a stunningly successful brand story: the consulting firm that managed to sell standard-issue white male arrogance as cutting-edge business smarts. ProPublica reports on McKinsey’s questionable choice of bedfellows in Mongolia, the country’s rejection of the firm (now reversed, under new government), and suggestive echoes from South Africa and other places where McKinsey has made millions.

A diffuse operating style worked for McKinsey when it had 300 partners or so, as it did 30 years ago. But the firm now has over 2,100 partners, and oversight of their engagements remains limited. Sneader told the _Financial Times_ that he would like to see the entire partnership weigh in on more decisions. But corralling 2,100-plus partners who cherish their independence is no easy task.
A Supposedly Great Article I'll Never Read the Same Way Again

In the match of the century, David Foster Wallace goes into the ring with YouTube — and loses. Will he take literary journalism down with him?

The social contract between journalist and reader — “what I am telling you strictly happened” — thus seems increasingly conditional in the case of the literary journalist, who is more incentivized to place all of their observations and reportage into an ordered narrative about what it all means. In college, I took a course called “Literary Journalism,” which makes me wince for a few reasons. First among them is how we were exposed to a wide range of great writers — including all the people I’ve mentioned today — without our professor discussing the likelihood that their work was partially fabricated. For weeks, I’d sit there thinking, “this is great material, how did they get it” without my earnest young mind considering that it was probably not as conveniently illuminating as depicted; that “they sort of made it up” was a strong possibility instead of a cynical interpretation. And yet these writers continue to be valorized.

Whatcha Reading, Brad Holden?

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

Brad Holden is a local historian, collector, and — as he puts it — urban archeeologist. His questing and questioning of finds lead to research that became his book Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Graft in the Queen City. He'll be appearing in conversation with Thomas Kohnstamm on Thursday, May 23rd at Third Place Books, Seward Park at 7:00pm to talk about the book. Find out more information here.

What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Gran. A compelling yet heartbreaking account of what happened to the Osage Indian tribe in Oklahoma when oil was discovered on their land.

What did you read last?

Before that I read Lake City by local author, Thomas Kohnstamm. A really great novel that pays tribute to "Old Seattle" by way of the Lake City neighborhood, circa 2001. Kohnstamm is a buddy of mine and he really hits it out of the park with this book. I predict it will become a local cult classic that people will still be reading 20 years from now.

What are you reading next?

The next book I want to read is Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Being a writer of historical non-fiction, Larson has been a huge influence for me. He has a knack for bringing these stories alive and turning them into real page-turners, so am looking forward to diving into this one!

The Help Desk: Gotta catch 'em all

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

Dear Cienna,

In record terms, I’ll listen to any artist who comes out from Sub Pop. I won’t love all of their musicians, but I will at least think they’re interesting and well worth my time. Do any publishers consistently put out worthy books, to the point where their imprint on a spine makes them an automatic buy for you at the bookstore?

Rob, Westwood

Dear Rob,

The only product I'm loyal to is my Hammacher Schlemmer's metal-detecting sandals, which are the closest thing I've got to a retirement plan.

That said, I gravitate towards Coffeehouse Press, Future Tense Books, Copper Canyon Press, and Tin House. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few names but I've been told that I have the attention span of a YouTube star coupled with the natural warmth of a Hollywood spider. Speaking of, did you know that eating your young is considered both Keto and Paleo?



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Open casket

Mail Call for May 16, 2019

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.

The Portrait Gallery: Walt Whitman

Each week, Christine Marie Larsen creates a new portrait of an author or event for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know

Saturday, May 18th: Bushwick Book Club — Seattle’s only regular event that pairs local musicians with a book in order to create new music tackles Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Poets will be onhand to share their thoughts about Whitman, too. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7:30 pm, $10.

The Future Alternative Past: If you lived here, you'd be home by now

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.

Soon I’ll embark on a bunch of plane trips: eight in the next seven months. Connie Willis remarked in her time travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog that no one from any era is satisfied with their own era’s transportation methods, and I know that’s true for me. The hurry-up-and-wait necessitated by departure and arrival schedules, the invasiveness of TSA screening procedures, cramped seats — I turn to SFFH’s visions of travel for relief, or at least variety.

Ray Vukcevich’s 2002 short story “In the Flesh” cranks up the absurdity of current security theater performances just enough for delicious but slightly awkward irony. (Warning: its accompanying illustration may be NSFW.) Looking into the future many believe is science fiction’s rightful turf, we find authors imagining flying cars and spaceships. Though they’re more evident in film and television than in written formats, flying cars have long been one of the genre’s staple props. They’ve yet to become a staple consumer item in reality, however. And space ships? Regarding them we’ve regressed. They used to actually exist, and now they’re little more than presidential wet dreams.

But when it comes to imaginary vehicles the leader of the free world has a myriad to choose among. From the sentient, planet-sized, interstellar craft of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series to the darkly echoing, utilitarian Martian ferries of Richard Morgan’s Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Thirteen, there’s quite a range. Hard science fiction is also used to addressing space ship practicalities such as power sources (solar sails, for instance, á la Clarke’s “Sunjammer”), or the many years of most voyages’ duration (generation ships, for instance, á la Rivers Solomons’ An Unkindness of Ghosts).

Not everyone expects such down-to-earth considerations in their SFFH, though, as one author’s recent remark about “traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots” indicates. And of course the imaginative genres can oblige. But even when writers draw on standard story furniture such as force beams, the trickier corollaries of these axiomatic elements of the SF universe come under scrutiny. Exactly how do “transporters” such as Star Trek’s work? By destroying the original of a person and reconstituting her as a copy? “Think Like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly explores the rather gnarly ethical problems that solution brings up.

Fantasy also transports people instantaneously — magically! And it presents plenty of alternate means of travel as well, from rides on dragonback to steampunk’s ubiquitous dirigibles to shortcuts through Fairyland like the one taken by the protagonists of Zen Cho’s latest novel, The True Queen.

As for Horror’s connection to this month’s topic, what’s usually involved is travel without warning to a lesser known, more troubling land, as in Marc Laidlaw’s “Cell Call.” Sometimes it’s the land of the dead; sometimes it’s a hazard-ridden mindscape, as in H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (which Kij Johnson responded to in a tone of feminist insouciance with her novella “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe”).

Where do you want to go today?” asked the 1990s Microsoft advertising slogan. Or where would you rather not go? One way or another, SFFH will take you there.

Recent books recently read

Amnesty (Tor), the third and final book in Lara Elena Donnelly’s ravishing Amberlough Dossier is thicker than the first two. This is a good thing. Neither the author nor her audience want to reach the end of the decadent adventures of Aristide (drag queen, smuggler, and sometime revolutionary) and his lover Cyril (collaborator and spy). But with the Nazi-like Ospies finally out of power and Ari’s bomb-wielding comrade Cordelia martyred and memorialized, with Cyril’s diplomat sister free from the fascist former government’s manipulation and Cyril himself returned from years of imprisonment and torture, there are only a few more escapes to engineer, a few more dangers to flaunt. Our louche heroes, rightly worse for many years’ wear, deserve a conclusion. Donnelly provides them with one that’s satisfactory as well as plausible, but may still provoke re-readings. After all, how many multivolume secondary world genderqueer espionage epics are out there? Not a lot. Not nearly enough.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Vintage), for instance, is unlike the Amberlough books except for two things: it messes around with gender, and it’s delicious. Its author, Andrea Lawlor, set their tale of a shapeshifting twink’s lesbian love affair firmly in the U.S. of the 1990s. The only espionage hero Paul Polydoris indulges in is disguising himself as “Polly,” a woman complete with vagina, clitoris, urethra, and g-spot — but no menstrual period. Yet even while crashing the TERF-identified Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and rapturously surrendering to couplehood with a butch dyke, internally Paul never switches pronouns. He consistently identifies as male, redefining and complicating the concept of “masculinity.” For those of us hooked on the cognitive estrangement of SFFH this is an alluring narrative cocktail. Frustratingly for genre fans, though, Paul fails to uncover the cause of and mechanism behind his self-generated sex changes — in fact, he barely tries. And that’s how, ultimately, this book earns its label as “Literary Fiction” — by falling short of speculative fiction’s more rigorous standards. Nonetheless, the fall is sweet fun. Jane, Paul’s best friend, always feels better “when she [has] brought herself around to a critique of the heteropatriarchy.” Me too.

Couple of upcoming cons

The finalists for the 2019 Locus Awards have been announced! Once again they’re being presented in dear old Seattle during the fabulous Locus Awards Weekend, which is sort of like a scaled down sercon, but with Hawaiian shirts and donuts. Readings and presentations and workshops, in other words, plus Connie Willis describing — in an intimate setting — how it feels to be bitten by a bat. Also, there will be at least two plastic bananas.

If you’d rather avoid the bananas you may want to swallow dissatisfaction with today’s transportation options and fly over to South Africa for Geekfest 2019. Confusingly, there’s a similarly-named one-day event held in South Jersey, but the Pretorian Geekfest lasts an entire weekend and promises cosplay, LARPing, and celebrations of geek culture (that being part of the con’s name) and Japanese culture (that being the con’s theme this year). And also, presumably, their overlap.

Book News Roundup: Seattle Arts and Lectures announces new season, Book Bingo is officially underway

Thursday Comics Hangover: To darkly go where no one has gone before

To put it in Hollywood pitch-meeting terms, Outer Darkness is Star Trek as written by H.P. Lovecraft (without the latter's monstrous racism.) Like most pitches, it's an accurate description, but it's also wholly inadequate.

The new series — the first collection of which went on sale yesterday — is written by John Layman and illustrated by Afu Chan. Outer Darkness seems set on upending audience expectations. Chan's art, for one thing, is cartoonier than you might expect for a horror artist.

Horror comics, from EC Comics to the modern day, tend to lean on realistic art in order to make the audience as squeamish as possible. When the neck being menaced by a butcher knife looks realistic, for instance, you're more likely to wince in sympathy than if it's a simplistic cartoon neck. But a more realistic artist would likely make the sci-fi setting feel cheap or unbelievable.

Chan, though, is a perfect fit. He can illustrate a haunted sun or a starship's bridge overcome with a plague of demonic eyes. It's all one cohesive universe, and nothing feels too bizarre to believe. Without his deceptively simple designs, the book would likely fail to blend the magic and the science in a believable fashion.

Layman obviously has a plan in mind for this book. Captain Joshua Rigg is a compelling lead character — he's just taken command over the Charon, and nobody (including the reader) knows if they can trust him. He's not afraid to bend the rules to do a little treasure hunting, but he seems to have some sort of a half-baked moral code in place.

Part of the pleasure of this first volume of Outer Darkness is seeing what kind of world Layman and Chan are building. The ship has its own exorcist, and a mortician on hand. It's powered by a demon god rather than a warp core. Death isn't as permanent as you'd expect.

Outer Darkness is a classic sci-fi adventure story turned on its head, a story about bad people trying to thrive a dark universe. It's an ingenious premise, and Layman and Chan make the most of it.

Book News Roundup: 25 years of Floating Bridge

  • We just caught wind of this big event happening in Redmond tomorrow night, and we thought you should hear about it:
    Please join us for SoulFood Poetry Night at 7:00 pm on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at SoulFood Coffee House in Redmond, Washington to celebrate the 25th anniversary of FLOATING BRIDGE PRESS. This month our featured performers are Floating Bridge Press poets Katy E. Ellis, Natasha Kochicheril Moni, Rena Priest, Michael Schmeltzer, and Dujie Tahat. Please also bring your own poems for our open-mic reading. Be there!
  • If you want to know what a writer should not do when presented with a negative review, please read this long and cringe-worthy email from a sci-fi writer to a site called Sci-Fi and Scary. Seriously — just when you think it's gotten as bad as it possibly can get, it takes a turn for the worse.

  • A few months ago, we told you that the second largest book distributor in the country, Baker & Taylor, is getting out of the indie-bookstore-supplying business. This is terrible news for independent bookstores, which now have only one option to get books in a timely manner. Publishers recognize this, and are trying to make up the difference for indie bookstores. It's unclear if this new program is anything more than lip service, but it's important to note that even the publishers realize what an existential threat Baker & Taylor's retreat poses for the entire industry.

  • Here are fifteen reasons an old-time-y movie studio is not going to turn your screenplay into a silent movie.

  • Here is some bad writing advice from Ernest Hemingway.

This Sunday, Bill Carty will show you where his newest poems were born.

Seattle poet Bill Carty collects the beginnings of poems while he's walking around in the world. "A lot of the more recent poems [in his debut collection Huge Cloudy] began in my Notes app on my phone," Carty says.

"I have two young kids, so I'm often pushing them around in a stroller" in his Green Lake neighborhood, Carty explains. He'd hear or see something — "an overheard conversation or specific trees" — that he would then record.

"I still do most of my writing at a desk in an office surrounded by books," Carty says, but those notes from his walks prompt him into writing "so I'm not sitting down with nothing." Even if nothing specific from the notes winds up in the final version of the poem, they'll still influence the text in subliminal ways.

This coming Sunday, Carty is celebrating Huge Cloudy with a walking poetry reading that stretches three miles around Green Lake and Phinney Ridge. "I want to bring the poems back to those places" that inspired them, Carty says. You can find a full schedule and map on Carty's site.

The reading starts in the northeast corner of Green Lake at 12:30 pm. "There's a cedar tree there that fell down in a storm in August, 2015, which is when my daughter was born," Carty says. "I remember walking around the lake and seeing that tree, freshly fallen, and it was cut up in pieces, different segments at a time, and taken away." The tree and its removal inspired a poem that ends the book and begins the reading.

"Starting with that tree, we'll then move around Green Lake, up through Woodland Park, down the west side of Phinney Ridge toward the 418 Public House, which is where the final gathering will be," Carty says.

At various stops along the walk, various Seattle poets will read a piece or two. Confirmed guests for the afternoon include Gabrielle Bates, Kary Wayson, Dujie Tahat, Alex Gallo-Brown, and Jane Wong. Weather permitting, Carty says, a kiddie pool might get involved. And "I have a megaphone. I don't know that it I'll actually use it, but it will at least make me look official."

The Huge Cloudy launch is a big experiment, and Carty's not sure how it's going to turn out. He says that the 418 Public House asked him how many people to expect for the reading/book sale/launch party. "I told them I don't know — it could be five, could be 30, it could be everybody would have dropped off the hunt by then. I'm not really sure." He doesn't sound worried at all.

Carty sees the event as a demonstration of a quote from Joshua Beckman: "I don’t imagine that the central location of poetry is the book. Really, no, I imagine the central location of poetry is the world."

Beckman's words lit a candle deep inside Carty: "that's a really interesting way of thinking about where poems start and where they're quote-unquote finished in terms of being on the printed page," he says. To celebrate the book's publication, he's going to release those poems back into the world where they were born, to see what happens next.

Join us on June 5th to discuss the Mueller Report

According to CNN polling, only three percent of Americans have read the entirety of the Mueller Report, while 18 percent claimed to have read "some" or "a little" of it. That means more than three-quarters of all Americans have not read any of the Mueller Report.

Not every American should read the Mueller Report, of course, but it would be nice if we could get those numbers up a little bit higher. It's important to understand and to share actual information, rather than just a series of rage-baiting headlines. The more people who can understand the breadth and the depth of the Mueller investigation, the better public discourse will be.

With that in mind, on June 5th the Reading Through It Book Club will be discussing The Washington Post's edition of The Mueller Report at Third Place Books Seward Park. We'll be meeting at 7 pm, per usual, and there's no pre-registration. The book is on sale for 20 percent off right now at Third Place, but no purchase is necessary to attend.

This is an important opportunity to talk about what's in the Report, what's not in the Report, and what it all means for the next year and a half in American politics. It's okay if you don't read or understand the whole report before the 5th; we fully expect to be working through the book together, and that means making room for all the things we don't know.

The Reading Through It Book Club has been a pretty special experience for me. It's a space that allows people to wrestle with big ideas of what it means to be an American after Trump's election. With the Mueller Report, we have a chance to stare directly at the presidency, to see what the record says, and to understand what we know. If you're curious about the Mueller Report, this is your chance to do so in a room full of supportive people with the same goals. I hope to see you there.

The Rubber Meets the Road

Published May 14, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Chandler O'Leary’s The Best Coast .

Travel guidebooks have slowly lost the attention of readers as smartphones and internet access have become universally adopted. A new, beautifully illustrated book recasts the idea of what travel books might be: this one is an intimate account of a journey that puts readers in the passenger seat.

Read this review now

Pocket Pal Bromides Attributed to Celebrities

I feel that luck is one thing
I was smart enough to go through
Dressed in overalls and meeting
Opportunity measured by
Your most unhappy customers
Who know something
When nobody is looking.

The worst mistake a boss can make is
The opposite of love, the secret of business,
The trouble with learning from one acorn.

Miracles are nothing, the creation of any place
Worth going to arrive at a conclusion.

Failing nineteen times, I’ve learned the one
Who brings out the best in me
Looks like an empty mind
With an open one to ask a better question.

It’s indifference not to say well done
To get a better answer and start doing
The history of tomorrow nobody else knows
To be receptive of feedback.

Anything worth doing is the name
We give our mistakes to see
What is right when you hit bottom.

Success is how high you bounce
Successful people,
Your chances of success,
The key to success, and succeding.

The only thing missing here is you

Going on four years, now, the award-winning Seattle Review of Books has been funded in a novel way: by you. No, not like NPR with donations — our funding is by you, independent writers, and artists. It's from you, local foundations offering programs and events. And you, charitable donations looking to get your message out to a public who care deeply about books and the book culture of our amazing city.

Why do our sponsors return again and again? Our sponsorships are inexpensive, and the only way you can capture Seattle's reading public in one place. They work to reach the audience you want to reach. One sponsorship buys our site out for an entire week, and puts your content front-and-center on every page across the site with original writing. Find out more on our sponsor page.

We just marked down the few remaining slots before we release our next block to sponsors — snag these quick before they go, and let us help you show our readers what you've been working so hard to bring into the world.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from May 13th - May 19th

Monday, May 13th: A False Report Reading

This is reading for a book about a Seattle woman who, in 2008, reported that she was raped by a masked man. Police doubted her story and accused her of false reporting. Later, a Colorado police officer would eventually discover that the Seattle woman was telling the truth the whole time. What a terrible story, but what an important story to tell. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, May 14th and Thursday, May 16th: Is, Is Not Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Tuesday: Book Tree, 609 Market St, Kirkland, 425-202-7791,, 7 pm, free. Thursday: Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, May 15th: WordsWest

Next month, the long-running WordsWest Literary Series will host its final reading. This month, the series welcomes Seattle novelist Erica Bauermeister and poet Alan Chong Lau to put the "ultimate" in "penultimate." C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 17th: Defining Cascadia

Cascadia Magazine joins forces with UpZones Podcast to discuss what it means to be from Cascadia. They'll be joined by a poet, a high-speed rail advocate, and an expert who will explain what fossil fuels are doing to the environment. There will be time for audience questions.

Horizon Books, 1423 10th Ave,, 6:30 pm, free.

Saturday, May 18th: Bushwick Book Club

Seattle's only regular event that pairs local musicians with a book in order to create new music tackles Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Poets will be onhand to share their thoughts about Whitman, too. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7:30 pm, $10.

Sunday, May 19th: Lies My Teacher Told Me Reading

Does it strike anyone else as hugely funny that Lies My Teacher Told Me now comes in a young readers edition? Shouldn't they have changed the title to Lies My Teacher Is Currently Telling Me? In any case, this book, which re-examines history through a critical eye, is a very important one and it's great that kids now have more access to it. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Is, Is Not Readings

You have two opportunities this week to help a grande dame of Northwest poetry unveil a new book. On Tuesday, Tess Gallagher will be debuting Is, Is Not at Book Tree, a lovely store in Kirkland. And on Thursday, Gallagher brings her newborn book to Elliott Bay Book Company. You should attend one of these events.

Gallagher is a tremendously influential poet. I've lost track of how many poets I've interviewed who cite an encounter with Gallagher as the beginning of their life as a "real" poet. These stories vary — sometimes the poet becomes friends with Gallagher, sometimes they just exchange a few words after a literary event — but they are all career-altering moments.

Her career spans nearly five decades, and Gallagher has made the most of every moment of it. She has taught poetry to hundreds of students and edited anthologies and written short fiction and published dozens of books. It's impossible to account fully for her influence because her fingerprints are all over Seattle literature.

Gallagher's latest poetry collection, Is, Is Not, is very interested in time. These are poems about aging and all the frailty and confidence that it brings. Some poems skip forward in time, while many gaze backward. She writes that sometimes all it takes is patience to win a battle: "...wait long enough and things/will turn, will wear themselves out."

Ultimately, you can read Is, Is Not as yet another poetry book. But it also feels like a scattered memoir, a Vonnegut-like journey in an unmoored time/space continuum. The only constant theme in the book is Gallagher herself: all the watching, noting, remembering, and aspiring comes originally from her. And why wouldn't everything come from her? She has been a pillar of Northwest poetry since before many of your favorite poets were born. That kind of longevity and quality deserves a celebration. Or two.

Tuesday: Book Tree, 609 Market St, Kirkland, 425-202-7791,, 7 pm, free. Thursday: Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for May 12, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me.

There’s a swathe — a broad swathe, of which “broad swathe” is one — of overused words and phrases that I struggle each week to avoid … There’s no better word, though, than the detestably common “gripping” for this essay by journalist Wil Hylton. For years, Hylton carried on an intense if intermittent relationship with his aggressive, violent, fascinating cousin. Here, he examines how his own ideas about being a man led to a nearly fatal attack from one of his most intimate friends.

I loved the shelter of his violence. It gave him the power to make wrong right. It made no difference that he never did, only that he could. I loved that when he came to a party, people made room for us to pass. I loved when he told me about breaking a pool cue in half and beating two guys with the fat end. I loved him even when I hated his violence, even when it hurt me.
Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs

This is a strange and lovely possible truth, and an interesting showcase of how scientific proofs are built. As a bonus, read this, about Norway’s fascination with its captive wolves and visceral resentment of the free ones. (Spoiler: The most violent opposition to wolves comes from older white men.) Wolves are returning to the Pacific Northwest — how will we respond? Are they other? Or are they us?

When watching the dogs in the Mexico City dump, a number of our students would say, “These dogs are different from real dogs — these are mongrels.” The implication is that the kennel club breeds are the ancestors of the village dogs. People seem to believe that if a dog doesn’t look like one of the kennel club recognized breeds then it must be a hybrid or mongrel. People think if you let all the pure breeds go and they interbreed for a few generations, the resulting population of dogs would look like the Mexico City dump dogs.
Unconscious Bias Is Running for President

Rebecca Solnit brings her furious eloquence to bear on Democratic presidential field. This is a no-brainer: the more often we say that only white men have the potential to beat the whitest, mannest man in our country in the 2020 election, the more true it becomes. Marketing 101! Here’s hoping journalists get the message.

The New York Times in all its august unbearability just published this prize sentence in a piece about Joe Biden’s failure to offer Anita Hill an apology she found adequate: “Many former Judiciary Committee aides and other people who participated did not want to talk on the record because they feared that scrutiny of Mr. Biden’s past conduct would undermine the campaign of the candidate some think could be best positioned to defeat President Trump, whose treatment of women is a huge issue for Democrats.” That translates as, let’s run a guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and let’s ignore that treatment because even so we think that he’s best positioned to defeat the guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and also fuck treatment of women, especially this black woman, as an issue, really.
The Pillar

Finally! An essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard from which you can extract everything important without reading a word. In fact I suggest you do, or rather don’t, and go directly to the portfolio of Stephen Gill, the amazing photographer Knausgaard profiles. Gill’s images of birds are precise, messy, delicate, feral, awkward, sublime — all the perfection of imbalance that Knausgaard’s writing so deeply fails at every time.

All kinds of birds, from the smallest sparrow to the biggest eagle, were drawn to the pillar. Not only were they drawn down from the sky but the sky was drawn out of them: the birds in Gill’s images are so physical, so of the body, so material as to make plain to us how even their flight belongs to the ground. These birds came from the earth, there is nothing ethereal about them. The order to which they belong is prehistoric, predating our own by millions of years, and, although they have developed optimized beaks, claws, eyes, wings, they still struggle against matter every single day, the way they’ve always done — tossed about by the wind, compelled from their perches, dipping their wings to the water on hot summer days. That they are never perfect, that they are forever improvising, that no fixed form exists in their lives, are things I have never thought of as applying to birds until I saw these photographs.
How Robert Macfarlane documented Underland

In The Word Pretty, Elisa Gabbert says that “notebooks achieve so much of what poetry tries to achieve, but organically” — beginning and ending where they will. Instant amnesty for inveterate notebook start-and-abandoners everywhere! Robert McFarlane probably finishes his notebooks. But we love this photo-essay anyway — images from the notebooks he kept while traveling for his latest book.

The notebooks vary from a tiny lilac-coloured Moleskine just seven or eight centimetres high, to robust hardback journals, tough enough to withstand being dragged through limestone tunnel systems and soaked in slate mines. I’ve doodled on the covers of some of them; the ink has faded from black to sepia on the oldest of the notebooks, where they’ve seen the most light.

There are places in these notebooks where my handwriting has been smudged into illegibility by underground streams, or where mud and silt stains the pages brown, or where the spines and corners have been foxed and folded. These are, to me, as much part of the archive of a landscape as my poor-quality biro sketches and my transcriptions of conversations.

Whatcha Reading, Doug Nufer?

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

Doug Nufer is a writer and poet who usually works with formal constaints. He has written many books, most recently Metamorphasis. He's our Poet in Residence for May.

What are you reading now?

Now I'm reading Van Gogh: the life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. It's taking a while because Kathleen and I read it aloud in small sections. Although we know what happens, there's a lot of suspense because he takes forever to start painting and there are few years remaining before he dies.

What did you read last?

Last I read The Lachrymose Report by Sierra Nelson and Selected Poems 1962-1985 by Clark Coolidge. I'd been going through the 460-page Coolidge book for years, while reading other books. I had bought Sierra's book as a present for someone, with the plan to read it and then give it away, but then I just decided to keep it.

What are you reading next?

Next I may read The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama, which covers a historical period of The Netherlands before Van Gogh's time and seems to have a lot to say about our own imperial capitalist age. Or I may re-read Inferno, a parallel text of Dante and a verse translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. I had been ransacking Inferno for a writing project where I extracted smaller words from larger ones in their or my English translations (Inferno/ infer; direct/ dire), and when I saw this was a waste of time, it occurred to me that at least I got to re-read Inferno.