The Portrait Gallery: One last float?

How about one last float in before Summer is officially over?

Looking to explore Seattle? Seattle Walk Report has a starter walk suggestion for you.

A couple weeks ago at Seattle Public Library, I interviewed Susanna Ryan, the formerly anonymous cartoonist behind the popular Seattle Walk Report Instagram feed and boo of the same name. What follows are two brief questions and answers from the video, which have been edited for clarity.

How does it feel not being anonymous anymore, now that you've been not anonymous for, I dunno—what, 19 hours?

I think you'll have to maybe check in with me in a week or two. It hasn't really hit me yet. [To audience:] It's just so amazing to me that all of you, living your independent lives, doing your own thing, came out here tonight. It really means a lot to me. So I don't know — I guess we'll see how it goes. I don't anticipate my life changing that drastically. I might get recognized in Trader Joe's and that's okay.

Do you have a good starter walk for people who maybe want to experience Seattle and don't want to walk 30 miles at the start?

You know, I've recently really come to recently enjoy the Chief Sealth Trail in south Seattle. I think it's beautiful. There is never many people around. I don't think that urban walks really appeals to everybody, but the Chiief Sealth Trail, I feel, is a good way to be out, but it's more secluded. I really like that.

For the full interview, watch this Seattle Channel taping of the reading:

Paper Boat Booksellers to open in West Seattle on September 7th

Yesterday, West Seattle's newest bookstore, Paper Boat Booksellers, sent out an email to its list yesterday announcing a soft opening date:

After 4 long months we are finally ready to open for business! Please join us on Saturday September 7th as we open our doors and test the waters for a few weeks-this will lead up to an official Grand Opening event towards the end of the month.

They'll also be hosting a reading with novelists Nicole Meier and Jennifer Gold on Friday, September 13th at 6 pm.

Paper Boat is located at 6040 California Ave SW and they'll be open Tues-Sat 10am-7pm and Sun 11am-5pm. They're closed Mondays.

Thursday Comics Hangover: It's a marvel

Yesterday, Marvel Comics published a giant ten-dollar comic to celebrate the company's 80th year in business. They titled the comic, confusingly enough, Marvel Comics #1000. That doesn't make any sense — Marvel has published way more than one thousand comics, and there was no series called Marvel Comics that ran for anything near a thousand issues.

But even though the title is worse than meaningless, the book is a lot of fun. It's made up of over 80 single-page comics that span the breadth and depth of the Marvel universe, including characters ranging from Tessie the Typist to the Incredible Hulk to The Whizzer. Each page echoes some moment in its corresponding year in Marvel History — the debut of Strange Tales, for instance, is accompanied by a funny and beautiful strip starring Doctor Strange by Mike Allred — though some of the more recent years are definitely stretching to find a milestone to celebrate. (I'm not sure Stan Lee cameoing in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, commemorated in 2017, is especially noteworthy, given that he appeared in every Marvel movie through Avengers: Endgame.)

Not every page will make sense to every comics reader, but the book is delightful because it's a celebration of what makes comics unique. The best strips — particularly one featuring Captain Marvel explaining the predictable cliches of every climactic battle — stretch the form of comics to see how much information can be packed into a single comics page.

There's an ongoing story, too, mostly in the pages written by Al Ewing, about a mysterious organization that has haunted the Marvel Universe from its very beginning and their quest to harness a previously undiscovered object of power. It's melodrama, to be sure, but it's great melodrama of the kind that made Marvel Comics so compelling to audiences over the decades.

One continuing theme in the book involves various Marvel heroes being interviewed by someone with a single question: why do you do what you do? Some of the answers are cliched, but others are genuinely insightful — little bursts of novelty that cause readers to look at well-documented characters in a new way. And there's a Spider-Man strip that is at once touching, thoughtful, and a little bit creepy — in other words, it touches all the bases of a good Spider-Man story.

I was prepared to not enjoy Marvel Comics #1000, because most self-tributes are treacly and sentimental. This book, however, succeeds because it's not so much a tribute to the characters of Marvel Comics, but instead a tribute to the medium that made the characters so unique in popular culture. This is a tribute to comics, and their unique storytelling abilities. It's a remarkably pure celebration of the joy of comics.

Save the Date: Lit Crawl is happening on October 24th, 2019

From the indispensable Lit Crawl Twitter feed comes a gorgeous poster for this year's Lit Crawl, which will be unfolding all over Capitol Hill on October 24th.

Crowd-sourcing the canon

Since August 2014, Meytal Radzinski, a scientist and book blogger, has been leading Women in Translation Month (WITMonth), a movement to bring more attention to books by women who write in languages other than English.

This year, in addition to the usual ambitious mix of book reviews and statistical analysis of publishing data (good and bad), she added a crowd-sourced canon: 100 Best Books by Women in Translation (#100 Best WIT). She invited anyone and everyone on Twitter, Instagram, and beyond to each nominate 10 books by women writing in a language other than English, in any genre, whether the book had been translated into English or not. The final list was culled from nearly 800 unique nominations. I asked Meytal a few questions about the process.

What has surprised you most about the breadth of nominations for 100 Best WIT?

One of the coolest things has been seeing how specific some people get! A lot of the time it’s things like a translator promoting their own work, or a relative promoting a family member’s achievement, but sometimes it’s just “I love this specific random book, it’s so great!!!” and I’d never even heard of it. There ended up being so many books nominated that I knew off the bat would never make it onto the final list, but were clearly books that whoever was voting for them loved.

Back on August 10, in your blog post “Creating a new canon,” you observed that Oceania had been the only human-populated part of the world with no representation among the nominations. Any chance that changed since then? What should we read from Oceania?

There was no title from Oceania until the end, alas. I think part of the problem is that there’s very little literature translated from indigenous Australia/New Zealand writers (also little written, as far as I can tell). I’ve never read any books by women in translation from Oceania (I read a poetry collection that was bilingual translated into Māori…), but this great article published this month has Pacific titles. I hope to get a chance to read them next year!

What was the most popular book that has not yet been translated into English?

Well, there’s one that got a few votes that’s forthcoming (there are already galleys out, so I guess that’s technically already translated) — The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili. But otherwise, almost all of the untranslated works only got a single vote. From a brief perusal of the list, I also see that Astrid Roemer’s Lijken op liefde got a couple votes, it’s possible that there are more but it’ll take a while before I can dig that deeply into the list!

You mentioned in an interview that you would love the issue of women in translation to be discussed by everyone, not just translators. In a recent blog post, you lamented that the issue is “still within the outskirts of feminism,” and that perhaps the diverse list of 50 writers you curated in advance of this year’s WIT Month, which did not include any white European authors, would have gained more traction if you renamed it “50 WOC You Have to Read!” What do you think needs to happen to get more mainstream interest in the issue?

I think that there’s a problem in a lot of Western, particularly white Western feminist circles, to assume that diversity means one thing and that’s it’s a checkbox sort of thing, you just check your “diversity” box and that’s enough. There’s room for so much more, and I think that a lot more Anglo-American feminists need to stop and ask themselves why they’re able to recognize the importance of reading African literature when it comes from Nigeria and is originally written in English, but not when it comes from Senegal and is originally from French. But it’s honestly only going to happen if the major voices in Western, Anglo-American feminism speak out about it. People like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who has been an extraordinary personal influence on this project) or Emma Watson or Roxane Gay or any big name feminist could make a world of difference if they addressed the imbalance and made an effort to put forward more works by women in translation from around the world. The momentum that’s building in the book blogging/vlogging/’gramming community is wonderful and maybe can do the trick, but I think at the end of the day having a mainstream voice actually recognize this issue is the best way to make sure that it sticks.

What has been the happiest outcome of 100 Best WIT?

People who say that they now have an expanded TBR! It sounds silly, but if this project can help readers find books that work for them… that’s just amazing. The happiest part of the project is always seeing someone who finds a new book that they love or learn from.

Hey, aspiring authors: Here are your fall writing education programs.

Last week, Hugo House announced their fall Word Works slate. These are lectures on the craft of writing from big, established names in the literary world. Here's the lineup of writers and the names of their talks:

  • September 19th: Michael Cunningham, "The Problem Is Never the Plot"
  • October 18th: Chris Abani, "Mining for Awe"
  • November 14th: Tom Perrotta, "Laughter Is Only the Beginning"
  • February 20th, 2020: Gish Jen, "Politics and Possibility"
  • March 12th, 2020: Sigrid Nunez, "Giving Full Play to the Imagination"
  • April 2nd, 2020: Adam Johnson, "The Art of Listening"

Tickets for individual talks and season passes are now available on the Hugo House's website.

If you're a writer who learns more in a class situation than a lecture format, you should know that signups for Hugo House's fall classes are now open, and the Seattle Public Library recently announced its Seattle Writes program of free one-day writing classes with local authors through the end of the year. Between all these programs, you can find classes for virtually every type of writer, and every style of learning, within a broad range of schedule options. You don't have an excuse, anymore — take a writing class this fall.

Working for a living

Published August 27, 2019, at 12:00pm

Michael Podlasek Kent reviews Heike Geissler’s Seasonal Associate , translated by Katy Derbyshire.

Is just as soul-sucking on the other side of the Atlantic? Michael Kent read Seasonal Associate to find out.

Read this review now

Glass Beads


Or, less quaint, raindrops hanging on leaf tips
of bamboo.

With magnifying glass, each bead is huge,

a perfect globe of an overturned world
bright with trees,

houses, my neighbor’s parked car, parted clouds,
all reversed,

all temporal now that the sun warms them
this morning.

Give these light-filled planets one more hour
to glimmer,

if in no other way than in the words I’ve picked
to preserve

their glassy beauty on this winter night.
We’re beyond

that spent hour in a far April. Forecast:
trace of snow.

Now: sharp clear sky, an ornate quilt of stars.
Those drifting

ice grains have ferried me back to that far
bright April,

those bejeweled sun-struck glisters on bamboo.
I recall

I rummaged high and low, emptying all
the desk drawers

for the scratched, thrift store magnifying glass.
I wanted

to see inside, up-close, the brilliance of
light drying,

to observe, first-hand, time in the process
of dying.

New York Times bestselling author Gretchen McCulloch is coming to Seattle!

Join sponsor Textio, and the Elliott Bay Book Company, in welcoming New York Times bestselling author of Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch. She'll be appearing Tuesday, September 10th, at the Textio offices in Downtown Seattle, at 6pm. This event is free and open to the public.

Seattle Review of Books co-founder Paul Constant will join Gretchen, and Textio CEO Kieran Snyder, to discuss the book and linguistics, followed by a Q&A from the audience.

Register now for this free reading on Eventbrite, or find out more information on our sponsor's page.

We love our sponsors! If you're looking to get your event or book in front of Seattle's most passionate book community, you'll find our sponorships an affordable, effective method of promotion. Find out more, or check dates if you're ready to book.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from August 26th - September 1st

Monday, August 26th: Three Seattle Authors

Paula Becker is the author of a book about one of the Northwest's best-known authors: Looking for Betty Macdonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I. Shauna M. Ahern wrote Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: a Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes and Enough: Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It. Priscilla Long has written The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, August 27th: Wastelands Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6:30 pm, free.

Wednesday, August 28th: The Long Accomplishment Reading

Rick Moody read in Seattle over a decade ago and it was a real chore to sit through because the story was really self-indulgent and repetitive. But many people like Moody, who is a darling of the east coast literary scene. Maybe you'll like his new book about his second marriage, The Long Accomplishment: A Memoir of Hope and Struggle in Matrimony? I mean, I probably won't. But maybe you will? Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, August 29th: High Voltage Women Reading

Ellie Belew is the author of High Voltage Women: Breaking Barriers at Seattle City Light. It's an intensely researched local history about the proud lineage of women pioneers in the Seattle-area utility. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Labor Day Weekend: Bumbershoot

The end-of-summer arts festival includes a few podcast tapings and a presentation from the Hair Flip Comix newsletter.

Event of the Week: Wasteland Reading at University Book Store

In the beginning of 2008, editor John Joseph Adams published an anthology of dystopian science fiction titled Wastelands. The goal of the anthology, according to promotional materials, was to investigate "the scientific, psychological, and philosophical questions of what it means to remain human in the wake of Armageddon."

The book, which featured contributions from Nancy Kress, Jonathan Lethem, and Octavia Butler, turned out to be hugely influential. Basically, if you hate dystopia saturation, you just might have the original Wastelands to blame. The second volume, titled Wastelands 2, offered more stories by big-name authors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Hugh Howey, and Maria Dahvana Headley.

And now, just as it seems like we stopped reading about dystopia and started living in dystopia, Adams is returning with a new anthology. Titled Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, the book features new dystopian stories from Tananarive Due, Elizabeth Bear, and Carrie Vaughn.

Tomorrow night, University Book Store welcomes two local contributors to the Wastelands anthology to read from their work and discuss what happens after the world ends. Seattle Review of Books columnist Nisi Shawl and Seattle author Jack Skillingstead will read their contributions and field your questions about what it's like to share a publication with George R. R. Martin.

Considering that Shawl is the genius who decolonized steampunk with her excellent novel Everfair, maybe she has some ideas on how to repair dystopia so we can stop envisioning the world as an ever-more-festering shitpile and so we can start repairing the world that is. One can dream, can't one?

*University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6:30 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Athitakis on whether book reviewers enjoy reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Ed Harkness?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

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

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

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

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

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

Hillman City

Dear Vivian,

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

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

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


Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Merge

The Portrait Gallery: Writing motherhood

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

Thursday, August 22nd: Writing Motherhood

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

Criminal Fiction: August of good fortune

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

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

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

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

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

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

The Quintessential Interview: Rob Hart

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

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

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

Top five favorite authors?

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

Top five tunes to write to?

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

Top five hometown spots?

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: The end of The Dreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book News Roundup: Two novelists enter the Matrix

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

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

  • Meanwhile, in Canada:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book News Roundup: Bad men you should ignore

One foot in front of the other

Published August 20, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

Kite, Kalaloch Beach

for Clio Hayes Harkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19th: Inland Reading

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

Tuesday, August 20th: What We Were Promised Reading

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

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, August 21st: Word Chaser at Cafe Racer

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

Thursday, August 22nd: Writing Motherhood

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

Friday, August 23rd: Three Poets

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

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

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

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

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

Event of the Week: Writing Motherhood at Hugo House

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for August 18, 2019

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

Eldorado, Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Julie Yue?

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

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

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

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to Cienna Madrid is on a small island with a large drink this week; the following is a re-run of a column from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

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


Jim, Bitter Lake

Dear Jim,

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

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Clothes on

Barack Obama joins the Ted Chiang Fan Club

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

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

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

The Portrait Gallery: Chavisa Woods

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

Thursday, August 15th: 100 Times Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book News Roundup: Captain America strikes back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An earnest valentine

Published August 13, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

Tying a Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab your sponsorship slot before they're sold out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13th: Seattle Walk Report

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15th: 100 Times Reading

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

Friday, August 16th: Edward Harkness and Bethany Reid

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

Saturday, August 17th: The Oysterville Sewing Circle Reading

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

Sunday, August 18th: Ration Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 11, 2019

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

Dying the Chrstians science way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Michelle Peñaloza?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: The books fell in the stream

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

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

Sunset Hill

Dear Aimee,

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

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


Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Scorpions

Portrait Gallery: Toni Morrison, 1931 - 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we doing the best we can do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s your date today?

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

Where’d you go?

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

What’d you eat?

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

How was the food?

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

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

What does your date say about itself?

From the publisher’s promotional copy:

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

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

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

Is there a representative quote?

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

Will you two end up in bed together?

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

The discomfort of memoir: a conversation with cartoonist

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

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

I love the new book.

Great to hear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, big inspirations.

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

I'm happy to hear that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

You also think a lot about rhythm, right?

Yes, rhythm and comics are bound together.

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it suck?

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

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

Yeah, I just want to draw whatever I like.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dynamic action things?

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah?

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

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

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

I mean, they do so many good comics.

The promise in your pocket

Published August 6, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

Unable to Waken


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsorships are now open!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 6th: Hollow Kingdom Reading

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

Wednesday, August 7th: Majd Mashhawari

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

Thursday, August 8th: Raised in Captivity Reading

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11th:

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Estelita’s Library, 2533 16th Ave S,, 3 pm, free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive Monkees Studio, 664 S King St,251-1524,, 7 pm, free.

Estelita’s Library, 2533 16th Ave S,, 3 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 4, 2019

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

The launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Kira Jane Buxton?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

July 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

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

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

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

The Help Desk: You can't teach winning

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to This column is a re-run from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

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

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

Seamus, Port Townsend

Dear Seamus,

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Baby steps

The Portrait Gallery: Herman Melville

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

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

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

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

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

Kissing Books: Assertive contact

Every month, Olivia Waite pulls back the covers, revealing the very best in new, and classic, romance. We're extending a hand to you. Won't you take it? And if you're still not sated, there's always the archives.

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

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

But thoughts escape us. Texts remain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Romances:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Meet your new friends

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch Date: Taking Sylvia Plath out for Hawaiian food

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

Who’s your date today?

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

Where’d you go?

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

What’d you eat?

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

How was the food?

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

What does your date say about itself?

From the publisher's description:

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

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

Is there a representative quote?

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

Will you two end up in bed together?

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

Letting Michelle Peñaloza ask the questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pause.

"But also fun."

There’s something about Boswell

Published July 30, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

Why can't we kick the 18th century?

Read this review now

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

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

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

Don’t get caught up in pretensions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time after time

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

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

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

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

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

The State of the Site: Year Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 29th: Lawn Boy Paperback Release Party

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

Tuesday, July 30th: Clarion West Presents Ann Leckie

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

Wednesday, July 31st: The Every Other

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

Thursday, August 1st: The Vexations Reading

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

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

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

Saturday, August 3rd: Ashenfolk Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for July 28, 2019

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

The crane wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Joy L Wiggins?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: Outside the lines

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to This column is a re-run from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

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

Juliet, Interbay

Dear Juliet,

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

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

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

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



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

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

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Ciggie

The Portrait Gallery: Hot dog!

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

Friday, July 26th: Touch ’Em All Reading

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

Criminal Fiction: Summertime crime

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

X Marks the Calendar Spot

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

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

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

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

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

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

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

The Quintessential Interview: Kate Mosse

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

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

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

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

Top five favorite authors?

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

Top five tunes to write to?

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

Top five hometown spots?

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: All-new, all-different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi! Happy retirement.

Thank you.

And how long have you been at Sasquatch?

It will be 25 years.

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

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

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

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

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

Kind of ironic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything you've been dying to read?

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

Both books have nothing to do with the region.

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

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

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

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

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

They send a lot of emails. Oh my God.

Yes, they do.

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

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

The walls of language

Published July 23, 2019, at 12pm

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

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

Read this review now

The Citizen

apologies to Wallace Stevens

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

Twentieth Century Captain

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 22nd: Shapes of Native Nonfiction Reading

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

Tuesday, July 23rd: Mostly Dead Things Reading

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

Wednesday, July 24th: Jade War Reading

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

Thursday, July 25th: Noir at the Bar

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

Friday, July 26th: Touch 'Em All Reading

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

Saturday, July 27th: Wizard Girl Reading

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

Sunday, July 28th: Introduction to Jung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for July 21, 2019

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

Cosmic fruit

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

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

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

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

Still, they had to go.

The weird magic of eiderdown

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Elissa Washuta?

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

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

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

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: Please only check out the books

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to Cienna's volunteering this week at a camp for young spiders from broken webs, so this colun is a re-run from April of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

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

Annie, Admiral

Dear Annie,

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Psychedelic ones

The Portrait Gallery: High Summer

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

Summer Reading

Summer is here. It is time. Find your space and spend a few minutes with a book.

"I think we’re actually living through the worst-case scenario right now."

Economist/podcaster Tyler Cowen has a great long interview with Seattle author Neal Stephenson about freedom, technology, dystopias, and his new novel Fall; or Dodge in Hell. Here he is on the surveillance state and the idea of freedom:

Freedom is a funny word. It’s a hard thing to talk about because to a degree, if this kind of thing cuts down, let’s say, on random crime, then it’s going to make people effectively freer. Especially if you’re a woman or someone who is vulnerable to being the victim of random crime, and some kind of surveillance system renders that less likely to happen, then, effectively, you’ve been granted a freedom that you didn’t have before.

It's a really playful conversation that veers into some incredibly dark places, which makes it a perfect example of what it's like to talk to Neal Stephenson.

Books to Prisoners is still looking for a home

A reminder: Seattle's Books to Prisoners, which is a great organization that does great work, needs a new home. Can you help them find a good, affordable office space of over 800 square feet for less than $1,000 a month? If so, please contact them.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Crime and Punish-ment

After some police officers were placed on leave over racist social media posts, the St. Louis police union asked members to protest the officers being taken off duty by displaying a particular symbol. The symbol in question? The logo of the Marvel Comics character The Punisher — a menacing stylized skull — with a blue line added to represent lawmakers.

The head of the union was asked about the logo:

The fact is, there will always be someone who finds fault with any symbol we identify with or person we choose to carry our message. The Blue Line symbol and the Blue Line Punisher symbol have been widely embraced by the law enforcement community as a symbol for the war against those who hate law enforcement. It’s how we show the world that we hold the line between good and evil.

This is an egregious misreading of the Punisher character. The Punisher has nothing to do with "the line between good and evil." The Punisher is a man whose family was killed in a seemingly random act of violence, and who responded to that violence by becoming irredeemably evil.

The Punisher murders people he perceives as evildoers. He is a bad guy. He was created as an echo of the Death Wish and Dirty Harry movies, which featured angry white men murdering people without concern for due process. And he is not a hero. Imagine if police in your area started to proudly display Hannibal Lecter mask stickers on their cars, or posted Timothy McVeigh's name in a place of pride on their cruisers. It's a celebration of a character who has abandoned the rule of law and taken justice into his own hands — a man who should be the exact opposite of what a police officer stands for.

The funny thing is, earlier this month, the Punisher character directly addressed this kind of misunderstanding. In the latest issue of his comic, written by Matthew Rosenberg and illustrated by Szymon Kudranski, the Punisher encounters a few police officers who have placed a sticker of his logo on their car. They tell the Punisher that they idolize him and his methods. The Punisher replies by tearing up the sticker and telling the cops that he's no hero:

There's no way this was planned, of course, but the fact that Rosenberg and Kudranski felt obliged to address the matter at all means that this Punisher worship has gone on for far too long.

Let's be clear: Police officers should not be racist. Racist statements should be investigated and the officers should be penalized for them. And police officers should not idolize the Punisher. Placing a Punisher logo on their equipment is a shorthand for the belief that criminals should be executed without a judge or jury. The Punisher sign should be cause for an investigation on its own. This isn't about good or evil. It's about respect for the letter of the law. Either you serve the law or you don't. There's no room for interpretation here.

The provocateur who shouted "free speech"

Recently, I was blind copied on an email blast from an author of a novel that employs modern alt-right/conservative iconography in a provocative way. The author mentioned coyly that their upcoming reading might have some protestors. The author urged those on the email list to defend their right to free speech by coming out to the reading.

I wrote back to the author: "Uh, aren't the protesters exercising free speech too?"

In another email the author conceded that this was true, but that it just wasn't fair — the protesters were saying the author's perspective wasn't allowed, simply because some of the characters in the author's book liked Donald Trump. I responded:

You're moving the goalposts, though.

First, you suggest that your free speech is somehow endangered by the protesters. Then you claim that the protesters are saying your point of view "cannot be allowed," when in fact they're exercising their free speech, just the same way that you are.

If you're going to try to frame it as a free speech issue by painting yourself as a victim, just please try to be intellectually consistent about it when you're trying to drum up publicity, okay?

The interesting thing is that in their response to me, the author had somehow accidentally included an email from their publisher offering them a blueprint for acquiring free publicity for the book — document the protests with photos and video, write an op/ed in a local paper about the experience, and find a "friendly local journalist" who could "provide love coverage."

It is a problem that here in Seattle, I can think of at least three "journalists" — including two right-wingers and one useful idiot who serves as an alt-right megaphone on so-called 'free speech' issues — who would have uncritically picked up this story and framed it exactly as the author wanted it to be framed, when in fact nobody is being silenced and the system of free speech is working exactly as it should.

I worry about the fact that conservative people are getting so good at working the system — at exploiting the pathological journalistic drive to find "both sides" to every story to create a controversy where, quite frankly, there is no controversy to be found.

I just want to take this opportunity to speak directly to my colleagues in the media: be better. You ignore dozens of PR emails with bad pitches every single day; you can ignore these flimsy arguments for imperiled free speech, too. It took one simple question to rip the lid off this author's naked thirst for attention. If I can do it, you can do it, too. Just don't fall for it next time. Okay?

Jasjyot Singh Hans on his knockout poster for Short Run

This year's poster for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is possibly my favorite in the arts organization's whole eight-year run. It's by a Baltimore-based artist named Jasjyot Singh Hans, and it features a bunch of people on public transit, reading comics and zines. Hans's art is simple, but striking. There's something to the angles and the inky blacks and the confidence of the figures in the art that perfectly captures Short Run's energy. It was surprising then, when I emailed Hans, to learn that he's never visited Short Run — or even Seattle! — before. This November will be his first time as a guest. We talked earlier this month. If you'd like to join Hans as a Short Run exhibitor, you can apply for a Short Run table until July 31st.)

You do fantastic work with fashion and you draw powerful women, and there's something so meaningful about the way these women on the poster are taking up space on public transit. Seattle is relatively new to the train transit game—we just got our light rail about ten years ago, and ridership has exploded as the system has expanded, so the arrival of this poster seems to come at just the right time. I'm glad to see it spread all over the city to remind everyone that men's bodies don't own public spaces. Is this piece based on your own experience?

Firstly, I apologise for putting a NY subway visual on a poster for a Seattle fest! But I couldn't really find any clear reference for Seattle public transit! When you explain it, it makes total sense! I usually don't draw elaborate backgrounds, so this was a challenge. But I loved working on this.

I come from Delhi, which is one of the most unsafe places in the world for women. Growing up with an elder sister made me conscious of my privilege in terms of what spaces were accessible to me, for no other reason but because I'm male. And I find it almost embarrassing how men are allowed to navigate these spaces without question, and exercise power over who gets to be in these public spaces. So this was my way of subverting that idea.

Those braids look incredibly fun to draw. You've drawn similar braids in other pieces, and you seem to always take particular care in the hair of characters you're drawing. A lot of artists sort of draw hair as an afterthought, but you use the hair as a kind of kinetic force to draw the reader's eye in a really appealing way. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of getting the hair just right?

I'm Sikh, and as part of being Sikh, you wear your hair unshorn. So I've grown in a culture where all men and women have really thick, luscious and glorious hair. We usually braid the hair, and the men tie it in a bun on top (we worked the manbuns wayyyyy before they were cool). So seeing oiled, center-parted shiny long braids is something that reminds me of home and my people. That is the reason why it features in my work a lot. It is never an afterthought, but integral to the characters I draw. Having said that, I am really bad at drawing fancy haircuts because I've never had one and have little/ no connection to that idea. But I'm trying! and getting better at it :)

You're coming to Short Run this year for the first time — is there any part of the Short Run experience you're particularly excited about?

I'm keeping an open mind, and am just really excited to meet new people and see a lot of wonderful new work in a new place!

Are you debuting any new work at the show this year?

I am working on a zine project I'm excited about that I really want to debut at Short Run, but I'm swamped with commissioned work so I hope I'm able to finish the book in time! so I guess... MAYYYYBE fingers crossed

2019 Washington State Book Awards nominees announced

Today, the Washington State Center for the Book announced the finalists for the Washington State Book Awards. The list this year is incredibly strong, featuring a number of books that blew me away last year. The judges for this year's awards include booksellers and librarians from all over the state — Bellingham, Seattle, and Spokane are all well-represented.

The winners of this year's WSBA will be announced at a ceremony and party on Saturday, Oct. 12, starting at 7 pm at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. I'm excited to announce that I'll be hosting this year's ceremony. But even with my involvement, you should plan to come anyway: these are some great books and spectacular authors.

Here are the nominees:

  • The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco, of Seattle (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu, of Seattle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, of Seattle (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Night Hawks by Charles Johnson, of Seattle (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)
  • Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira, of Seattle (Viking)
  • What We Do by Michele Bombardier, of Bainbridge Island (Kelsay Press)
  • The Book of Sharks by Rob Carney, formerly of Washington (Black Lawrence Press)
  • Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’, of Newcastle (University of Arizona Press)
  • Between Darkness and Trust by Lorraine Ferra, of Port Townsend (Moonpath Press)
  • The Slow Art by Sierra Golden, of Seattle (Bear Star Press)
  • Guts by Janet Buttenweiser, of Seattle (Vine Leaves Press)
  • The Shame of Losing by Sarah Cannon, of Edmonds (Red Hen Press)
  • Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter, of Seattle (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • The Seminarian by Patrick Parr, of Bellevue (Chicago Review Press)
  • Arctic Solitaire by Paul Souders, of Seattle (Mountaineers Books)
  • A False Report by Ken Armstrong, of Seattle (Crown)
  • Like a Mother by Angela Garbes, of Seattle (Harper Wave / HarperCollins)
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, of Shoreline (Seal Press)
  • Our Native Bees by Paige Embry, of Seattle (Timber Press)
  • Uplake by Ana Maria Spagna, of Stehekin (University of Washington Press)
  • The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Nathan Vass, of Seattle (Tome Press)
  • Summer Supper, illustrated by Mike Austin, of Seattle, and written by Rubin Pfeffer (Random House)
  • The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael by Bonny Becker, of Seattle, and illustrated by Mark Fearing (Candlewick Press)
  • Something Smells by Blake Liliane Hellman, of Seattle, and illustrated by Steven Henry, of Seattle (Simon & Schuster)
  • Trevor, illustrated by Amy Hevron, of Seattle, and written by Jim Averbeck (Roaring Brook Press)
  • All Are Welcome, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, of Seattle, and written by Alexandra Penfold (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, illustrated by Corinna Luyken, of Olympia, and written by Marcy Campbell (Dial Books)
  • King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth by Dori Hillestad Butler, of Kirkland (Peachtree Press)
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly by Ben Clanton, of Tacoma (Tundra Books)
  • The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack by Crix Sheridan, of Seattle (Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books)
  • Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, of North Bend (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt)
  • The Ostrich and Other Lost Things by Beth Hautala, formerly of Bellingham (Philomel Books)
  • Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey, of western Washington (Graphix/Scholastic Inc.)
  • Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors, of Bainbridge Island (Imprint/Macmillan)
  • Unpresidented by Martha Brockenbrough, of Seattle (Feiwel & Friends)
  • A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti, of Kenmore (Simon & Schuster)
  • I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall, of Seattle (Viking Books for Young Readers)
  • Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, of Seattle (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
  • Fast Backward by David Patneaude, of Woodinville (Koehler Books)
  • The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, of Seattle (Candlewick Press)

Congratulations to all the nominees, and we'll see you on October 12th as the winners are announced and all the nominees are celebrated. What a great year for books in Washington state!

Alpha, beta

Published July 16, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Marion Bataille’s ABC3D .

Our first (?) review of a pop-up book explores Marion Bataille's ABC3D.

Read this review now

Am I not an immigrant?

(After Soujourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I a woman?)

There is so much turmoil in our country of late, something must be terribly wrong.

There is a man over there, who occupies the highest office in the land, who says immigrants are rapists, criminals, the worst kind of people.

I have never committed a crime, have paid taxes every year of my adult life, and have worked to earn an honest wage! And, am I not an immigrant?

He says, immigrants take away from everyone and for this they should be rounded up by the millions and deported; they should be banned and blacklisted for worshiping in a way that differs from his. I studied hard to obtain an education and worked to educate children in public schools and everyday commit to lead a life worthy of my parent’s sacrifice, who knew this country was by no means perfect, but it offered us refuge and hope! And, am I not an immigrant?

That man over there may well say, “you are an exception,” but let me tell you, all of us in my immigrant family, my immigrant friends, and many immigrant brothers and sisters, none of us lead our lives to cheat, deceit, take advantage of anyone or any system. We love our kin like everyone else and aspire to a fulfilled life.

The immigrants I know are nurses, teachers, doctors, day laborers, professors. They own businesses, clean school buildings, compose music, make sculptures, write poems. And all are dreamers.

From its dawning where did the majority of this country’s population come from? Where did it come from?

From other places, other countries! The exceptionalism of this country resides in that very fact! In the respect and wonderment of difference.

Let her, let her who can produce a birth certificate immune to the waves of immigration to this county, speak to the grandeur of this land before it was bound to western laws.

Otherwise the road has been/is made by walking — together. Juntos. Together. Todos Juntos. All together.

Sponsors are our lifeblood

Sponsor the Seattle Review of Books for as little as $100 before we release our Fall & Winter slate and prices go up!

Aren’t you tired of being “targeted”? Sure, there’s the active meaning of the word, which means to “aim or direct at something”, but in general this word is all about opposition. Targeting is what you do with weapons, not with people you want to like your stuff enough to buy it.

Sponsorship is our way around this. Sponsors are partners that capture the attention of the best book loving city in the world. Sponsors bring their message to people who aren’t needle-in-a-haystack, but the very reason for the website to exist in the first place.

Sponsors support, targeters take aim. Which would you rather be? We have a few great deals on sponsoring the Seattle Review of Books before we release our Fall & Winter slate really soon. Grab those last dates before their gone, and take the targets off the backs of your buyers, and replace them with a hand-embroidered patch that reads “I supported local artists, writers, and poets.” What could be better than that?

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 15th - July 21st

Monday, July 15th: How I Tried to Be a Good Person Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Goethe Pop Up Seattle in Chop House Row, 1424 11th Ave, Suite 101,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, July 16th: Ibi Zoboi Reading

Clarion West brings the author of American Street, a novel about Haitian immigrants in pursuit of the American dream, to the downtown library. Zoboi is a sci-fi writer who approaches the fantastic with something like magical realism. In one of her stories, she describes a young boy as "moving about like globs of unmixed paint on a palette." That's about as good as it gets, image-wise. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 17th: Word Chaser at Cafe Racer

Two titans of Seattle literature, Stacey Levine and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, are joined by musician Evan Flory-Barnes in this new reading and open mic night at the esteemed Cafe Racer. If you're one of those people who likes to complain about how cool Seattle used to be, you are required by law to attend this reading. I don't make the rules! It's sure to be a good time. Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, 523-5282,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, July 18th: Margin Shift

The poetry collective rides again on its third Thursday reading series, this time with Seattle slam poet Corbin Louis, Seattle surrealist poet E Briskin, and Seattle poet Bill Carty, whose collection Huge Cloudy is a walking tour of a poetry book. Common AREA Maintenance, 2125 2nd Ave, (253) 224-0746., 6:30 pm, free.

Friday, July 19th: Per-Verse Release Party

Floral attire is requested at this celebration of a new smutty zine. Expect poetry, comedy, "erotic fanfiction," music, and an AV component. Also bring some money to buy this dirty, dirty zine. Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, 523-5282,, 8 pm, free.

Saturday, July 20th: Mueller Report Live

On Friday, local actors and other performers are getting together to put on a 24-hour reading of the Mueller Report. Stay for all or part of this one, but definitely take part in it as a moment in history. Even as redacted as it is, the Mueller Report is a book that doesn't keep secrets. Hearing it read aloud might help you shine a light on everything that the book has to reveal. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, Friday-Saturday, free.

Sunday, July 21st: Food of the Italian South Reading

Food journalist Katie Parla's latest book "takes you on a tour through the beloved and widespread culinary traditions from the regional cuisines of southern Italy." She'll be in conversation with Book Larder Culinary Director Amanda Coba, who knows a lot about Italian cooking. Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave N, 397-4271,, 10:30 am, free.

Literary Event of the Week: How I Tried to Be a Good Person reading

Goethe Pop Up Seattle is a German cultural exchange of sorts based out of the fancy Chop House Row on Capitol Hill. Tonight, the temporary shop welcomes both Zak Sally, a musician reading from a book about traveling around the country on a forged Greyhound bus pass, and Berlin-based cartoonist Ulli Lust. Lust's latest comic — published in America by Fantagraphics under the title How I Tried to Be a Good Person — is an unflinching comic book memoir about being young and lusty and experimental and also willing to take a tremendous amount of abuse in the name of love.

Person is the kind of memoir that begs to be described as "daring," or maybe "unflinching," or perhaps "tense." Lust describes her youthful explorations into relationships with tremendous candor. She admits to feeling dissatisfied that her lover's penis is too small ("It's taboo-- one of those things a woman can never say to her man") and she explains her polyamorous lifestyle with a nonchalance that Puritanical readers are sure to find upsetting.

But it's when Lust enters into an affair with a Nigerian immigrant named Kim that the book really feels fraught. Kim is Black and Lust is white, and everywhere they go in public, they are judged: Kim endures racism and Lust is labeled a slut. But Kim is not a heroic figure in the story: he's depicted as jealous and violent, gradually ramping up his verbal attacks into something more physical. A few sequences are so, yes, daring and unflinching and tense that readers will feel a growing ache in the pit of their stomach as they approach the end of the book. It's not a memoir about abuse, or a memoir about race, or a memoir about sex and gender dynamics — though it is certainly a memoir that touches on all those things.

As a cartoonist, Lust is clear and expressive and intelligent. The book is printed in shades of black and white an pink, putting the focus directly on Lust's confident pen strokes. There aren't many lines on the page, but every line is just the right one.

Look: not every memoir needs to be harrowing in its honesty. And many honest memoirs are interminable to read. But Person is a highwire act of a book, a story about the complications of youth and the way they prepare us for an ever-more-complex future.

Goethe Pop Up Seattle in Chop House Row, 1424 11th Ave, Suite 101,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for July 14, 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.

The Cost of Reading

There have been so many angry essays by women in the past few years, and because I am a woman who is often angry, I try to take care, try not to populate every Sunday with frustration.

Ayşegül Savaş is worth pushing my self-assigned quota. This piece about women and men and time and success is astonishing, especially because it so rarely voices emotion directly, and yet carries strong emotion in every paragraph.

It is about books, and who tells the story of what should be read, and who tells the story of what matters. And it is about love, and family, and finally about who is willing to pay for what.

In my childhood, my father was very strict about assignment deadlines he gave me and my brother: memorizing poems, writing essays, drawing maps from memory. He was very strict about time in general; being late was among the worst possible sins. Alongside the lesson of promptness, I internalized a dread of wasting my father’s time.

When my father left for work trips, time in our household suddenly expanded. There were no deadlines, no family meetings to discuss important topics. We could often sweet-talk our mother into letting us stay up late or skip some work we had to do, or walk our dog while we slept in.

What had we internalized about our mother’s time?

Frank Chimero on causing 'good trouble'

Katy Cowan interviews designer Frank Chimero, who promptly takes the air out of a lot of damaging ideas about achievement and status and creativity. What’s nice about this is that deflation isn’t erasure — Chimero isn’t flattening anything, he’s just taking it down to a reasonable size.

Working writers, working designers, any other kind of working creator — we need to hear what Chimero has to say, and believe it.

I read once that hunting and gathering societies only work about 20 hours a week. Learning that got under my skin really bad. Wednesday is just as much a part of your life as Saturday, but you have to remind people of that. So in Frankball, there’s a lot figuring out how to pace projects and follow through on responsibilities with strength and quality, all while carving out time to play hooky. My life is going to be filled with just as many Wednesdays as Saturdays, and I would like to claim more than 2/7ths of my life for myself, thanks.
“I Did Not Die. I Did Not Go to Heaven.”

After his son Alex was gravely injured in a car accident, Kevin Malarkey published an account of Alex’s experiences with angels (and demons) when he was close to death. Now Alex claims it’s all a lie. A crazy and poignant account of what a book about heaven means to the family that published then recanted it, and a fascinating look at the world of Christian publishing.

“As Christians, we believe in miracles and believe in angels, but you have to make sure the source is credible,” said Vander Zicht, who retired from Zondervan last year after 33 years. As an editor, she says, she vetted spiritual accounts by whether they came through a reputable literary agent, and by talking with authors to get a gut sense of their trustworthiness; occasionally she asked theologians to assess books for biblical correctness. She said she wouldn’t have rejected a heaven story out of hand.

Whatcha Reading, Laura Knetzger?

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.

Laura Knetzger is a a Seattle-based illustrator, artist, author, and comics creator. Her ongoing comic series Bug Boys is being published in February of 2020 by Random House (yay!). On this very site you can read her review-by-comic of The Artist's Way, and a wonderful jaunt into Half-remembered stories. She's a great follow on Twitter, and if you want to support her work, she has a very reasonable Patreon ($3 a month!).

What are you reading now?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s written very beautifully, which is great but sometimes out of place coming from the first-person narrator, who is a shit-head teen for a big part of the book, and I find it hard to believe he would really be thinking about the delicate play of morning light on a painting. This book is written in what I call “Novel Style,” where everything is described in very pretty language, even when it doesn’t really suit the scene or character’s voice. It’s kind of like calling a move “Oscar Bait.” I’m still really enjoying The Goldfinch, I’m about 500 pages in and barely noticed the pages turning.

What did you read last?

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I found it really engrossing and terrifying, but also cathartic. It’s about a divorcing couple, mostly told from the point of view of the husband, but it has this fascinating framing device of being narrated by a friend of the couple who is a frustrated writer. In some places there are multiple levels of unreliable narrators in play, in which characters are lying or minimizing their faults to the narrator, who’s telling it to the reader filtered through her own biases. The reader gradually gets the big picture of a husband with a martyr complex and a wife who has obscured her real self to the point of imploding. If this sounds overwhelming and stressful, it is. This book is practically an Ari Aster movie. I loved it.

What are you reading next?

Tokyo Tarareba Girls #6 by Akiko Higashimura. It’s on hold for me at the library and I’m excited to go pick it up. This comic series is about a trio of early-30s women who become obsessed with getting married before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It’s funny and incredibly ruthless. The characters are constantly stacking up their successes and failures and asking themselves: do I deserve to be loved? Did I do enough to get it? But there’s no judge who will tell them yes or no, they have to find it for themselves, but they can’t. The women lean on each other in times of distress but constantly blur the line between numbing their wounds and picking at them.

The Help Desk: Buried in Books

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to This is a re-run from April of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

My husband died. It was a few years ago, so the shock is over and I’m used to the idea of living my life on my own — I keep busy and have lots of friends and hobbies.

But his library, I just can’t face. He was a scholar, and his discipline was very narrow, so it’s probably one of the best libraries on his subject in the world, some 400 volumes collected over his 50-year professional career.

A few of his colleagues have dropped hints, and I know I could sell the whole collection, or donate to a library (I’ve gotten nice sympathy notes from his undergraduate and graduate alma mater, and also the University where he spent his career).

But Cienna — this seems more him than anything else. More than the smell on his old sweater, or the memories. This is where he invested himself, what he truly loved. How can I just let it go?

And yet, how can I keep it? It’s selfish for a single woman to keep such a resource hidden away. I go and dust them every few months, but I never read. What should I do?

Broken in Bellingham

Dear Broken,

You can’t rush grief. When my grandmother passed away, the chair she died in remained in our living room for seven years before we finally burned it. Conversely, when my dad died, I left his ashes in a dog crate in the back of my Subaru because I didn’t want him in my house or fucking up the upholstery in my car. I’m sure some people found the former display creepy and the latter callous; fortunately, most people are aware that telling another individual they’re grieving wrong pegs them lower than a snake’s butt in the animal kingdom of assholes.

It’s not selfish to want to preserve and cherish your husband’s life’s work. There’s nothing wrong with keeping his library for a few years or the rest of your life. If his colleagues would like to use it, and you feel comfortable giving them access to your house, you can work out a case-by-case agreement to let them visit his library in your home. If that doesn’t appeal to you right now, give yourself permission to leave it alone and maybe revisit the question again in a few years.

And if his colleagues are bold enough to continue to drop hints about the future of his collection, just politely mention you’ve been having very vivid dreams about burning their houses to the ground, house pets and all. I’ve found this is a great way to stop unwanted conversations in their tracks.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 3

The Portrait Gallery: Lisa Taddeo

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

Friday, July 12th: Three Women Reading

Lisa Taddeo’s new non-fiction book is a frank exploration of sex in the lives of real American women. It’s the buzziest new book of the summer, by my estimation, and nothing else even comes close. Taddeo was inspired by the journalism of Gay Talese, and Three Women reads like that, only without the creepy patrician vibe of Talese’s books. The author will be in conversation with Seattle writer Claire Dederer. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Kissing Books: Summer murders

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.

Now that we’ve reached the height of summer, the long string of brilliantly sunny days, of course I’m thinking about murder.

There are plenty of overlap subgenres in the spectrum between romance and mystery: the lush and atmospheric Gothics, adrenaline-fueled romantic suspense, long cozy mystery arcs with a pair of sleuths who slowly fall in love across several books (Lord Peter and Harriet, Phryne and Jack).

And the point where all these genres connect is: trust.

Mysteries are built around the breaking of trust: secrets hidden and revealed, lies told, the sundering of the social bond where we constantly, implicitly trust one another not to just pick up a knife and start stabbing. The body in a murder is the symptom of rupture, and it must be dealt with: we must find out specifically who is untrustworthy, so we can go back to the comfort of being able to exist in the world without fearing one another. I often think about the aftermath of mysteries, the families and towns whose most devastating secrets have been laid bare to the eyes of strangers, the police, and the public. Some little old lady sleuths hit the landscape like a rocket and leave smoking craters in their wake (looking at you, Miss Marple, you absolute horror).

Romance, too, is about trust, though admittedly in a more positive way. Heroes and heroines learn to let go of their fears, to let their guard down, to open their hearts. It makes for a natural pairing with a whodunnit, which tends to make everyone less and less trustworthy until the final a-ha. Add to this the many times and places when there were laws against certain kinds of love relationships — such as, for instance, 19th and 20th century England, with Sherlock and Marple and Poirot and all the classic detectives of the English mystery tradition — and the origin of certain unfortunate clichés becomes clear.

Queer villains make a certain amount of sense when being queer makes one automatically a criminal.

What’s interesting is how reader trust works in romance versus how it works in mystery. Mystery authors aren’t trustworthy. You know they’re pulling a fast one, leading you down wrong paths, seeding the text with red herrings, obscuring the real killer as long as they can. You never really trust someone, mystery writers say. For enough money or love, people will do any number of criminal things.

Romance does the opposite. You know, positively and irrefutably, that the main characters will end up not only surviving the book, but existing happily together. You know they can’t be the killer — not the capital-K-Killer, though they may and often have killed in the past for the noblest of reasons — because that would make it a tragedy, and any romance author worth their salt would never.

So it becomes a rather complex bit of footwork, to show two characters slowly learning to trust one another, while everyone else around them grows more and more shady and suspicious. Two threads of tension, creating friction between them and occasionally knotting tight. Gothics, of course, push this nearly to the last page, like tightrope walkers working without a net. I find myself drawn most toward the cozies, your amateur sleuths and house party murders and small villages with awful mortality rates and overworked, eagle-eyed detectives. I like the puzzle-box aspect of solving a crime, without the looming dread and sexual threat that seems to accompany so much romantic suspense. (If I never read another scene in Creepster POV where a serial killer lusts after the heroine, I could die happy.)

This month’s books go heavy on the m/m: one midcentury mystery, one Prohibition paranormal, and one pair of contemporary baseball teammates. We’ve also got the best f/f sci-fi romance I know of, and a brand-new masterpiece that has really upped the bar for my expectations of gangster heroes in contemporary romance.

You know they’re gonna be good. You can trust me.

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (self-published: midcentury m/m):

There is a moment some ways into this queer murder spy-and-doctor mystery romance, where our spy (Leo) and our doctor (James) are having dinner and trying to understand one another. Leo is prevented from telling James the facts of his past (that Official Secrets Act is such a downer sometimes), but James only says that they can easily describe themselves without resorting to trivia. “I like to be useful,” he offers, as an example. Leo, meanwhile, struggles to do this, because he has spent so many years and so many jobs pretending to be someone he knows he’s not. It’s a lovely moment of mingled tension and introspection, a grace note to sweeten all the murder.

This is not a puzzle-box mystery, for those who like to be led into a twisty, deliberately crafted maze of a murder. There are more red herrings than not-red herrings, and the reader is tormented by characters obliviously waving around an absolutely key piece of evidence for a hilariously long number of pages. But the solid sense of place, a tight-knit community riddled through with secrets, a nation recovering from the trauma of not one but two world wars, that palpable miasma of what desperate people will do to one another when they feel their backs are against the wall … that we have in spades, as well as two suffering, struggling protagonists who are far kinder to one another than they are to themselves. If you’re in the mood to spend some time in the byways of Murderville, England (I’ve been visiting for months now), there’s nothing better than this.

James wanted his house to be a safe place he could have a life with someone. He hadn’t said as much, but it didn’t take a mind as sharp as Leo’s to figure it out. This house only made sense if there were someone to share it with. There was a superfluity of furniture, for one: an extra chair by the fire, too many hooks by the door, a bed too large for one man. Even the wardrobe had all the hangers pushed to one side, as if waiting for another person’s coats and trousers.

Winterball by Holley Trent (self-published: contemporary m/bi m):

Summer always puts me in the mood for baseball romance, and this short and snappy treat comes complete with Holley Trent’s signature snark and sizzling kink. Bart is an aging catcher with aching knees; his days in the majors are long gone, and his days in the minors are soon to follow. Evan is a hotshot young pitcher on the rise, gorgeous and cocksure (in every sense of the term), but high-strung as a trained thoroughbred. He’s come to depend on Bart’s cool control on the field, and lately he’s started to think that maybe that cool control might be what he needs in the bedroom as well. Bart, meanwhile, keeps his overwhelming lust for Evan on a tight leash because he doesn’t hit on (supposedly) straight teammates. When a weekend at an invite-only kink ball finds them paired up and sharing a room (it’s Romancelandia: roll with it), we get to see them finally making good on all the growly innuendo and filthy eye-fucking.

I started out writing novellas, and used to joke that I plotted those books all the way from A to B. This story is just like that: it knows what it needs to do and wastes no time doing it, like a good fastball with just the right amount of heat. Bart is the kind of grouchy, tired older hero I’m always instinctively rooting for (see also: S.T. Maitland from Kinsale’s Prince of Midnight), and Evan’s irrepressible brattiness adds a nice levity, like the twist of citrus in a well-mixed cocktail.

He didn’t know about all men, but Bart was certainly pushing all the right buttons. What Bart had said about who Evan belonged to might have been said as a tease, but Evan wished it were true. He did want to belong to someone. Not just anyone, but his catcher. Bart would never drop the ball on him.

Trashed by Mia Hopkins (self-published: contemporary m/f): At times such as these, reading a book like this, it feels important to choose words with care. The word I most want to use about this absolute masterpiece of a contemporary romance is: visionary.

Mia Hopkins has gifted us with the story of a good girl chef, Carmen, and a bad boy gangbanger just out of prison, Eduardo “Trouble” Rosas. They shouldn’t want anything to do with one another, but they keep coming back for more, though they can’t quite say why. I am excessively picky about my gangster hero’s, but Eddie is easily the best one I’ve ever read, hands down, bar none. He’s not romanticized or whitewashed or fetishized in the way such heroes often are: he participated in a bad system, and he has to cope with the consequences and the trauma and the fallout. The story is careful at first, slotting characters and stakes into place one at a time, keeping the reader hooked with evocative descriptions (for instance: a gang leader’s grey Monte Carlo sedan pulling up to the curb “like a lazy shark”—the writer part of me writhed with wishing to have written that).

About halfway through—at least, that’s when it happened for me—all those shiny, colorful bits come together and what looked like fragments of shattered glass become a whole rose window, deliberately laid out and brilliant.

And you go breathless with awe.

This is a book that delves deep into our need for community and what that makes us do for and to one another. It’s the same question The Good Place asks so insistently: What do we owe to each other? We see the trials and temptations of gang affiliation and prisons, but also the systemic damage wreaked by gentrification. We see the strengths of good communities: tight-knit neighborhoods and family and friends and communal gardens and small local businesses and well-run kitchens. The people we’re closest to can hurt us the most, but they’re also the ones who make life worth living at all. This book is about people banding together to solve problems that would overwhelm any one person—it’s about putting together a future by refusing to let the evils of the world beat you down. And to see a book this focused on connection, but which also keeps the reader entirely inside the hero’s head is kind of … kinky? It’s like the author’s using POV like a set of leather restraints: not being able to move away from Eddie’s perspective magnifies every sensory detail of his experience. His laconic, introspective voice is quiet but potent. We fall in love with Carmen because Eddie can’t help but love her. In his vision, she glows like a star.

This is not always an easy read. There are abuses past and present, moments of genuine, searing pain. Eddie fucks up a lot, trying to keep his balance in the whirlwind, and the ending chapters are one punch to the gut after the other. And then, at the end of the fight, when you’re splayed out on the concrete and the rain is washing the blood thin and you think you can’t make it one second longer … the sun breaks through, and the light rushes in, and your chilled heart blooms with the warmth.

Don’t miss this one, folks.

Spellbound by Allie Therin (Carina Press: historical m/bi m):

In my youth, one of my favorite books was Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician: in Victorian London, an orphan girl dressed as a boy gets taken up by an aristocratic magician accused of a theft he didn’t commit; together, they solve the theft, prevent a great magical crime, and begin the orphan girl’s magical training. (The less said about the romance between the two in the sequel, the better—it was fun when I was sixteen but now that I’m closer to Mairelon’s age I find myself appalled.)

This book is like the queer, age-appropriate, New York Prohibition-set version of that and I am so delighted I could shout. With the added bonus that our upper-class hero, Arthur, so confident and privileged and strong, has no magical talent whatsoever.

Meanwhile our urchinish Rory, struggling and suspicious and vulnerable, has immense magical gifts he’s only barely learned to control, and a smart mouth that doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone to fuck off when he feels cornered. It goes a long way to smoothing out the power imbalance between the two. Meanwhile we’ve got historic New York, marvelous side characters, and a real magical threat that needs to be stopped. It’s textured but not terribly complicated, just the kind of historical fantasy sparkler that I adore the most. Perfect escapism for lazy summer days by the water, or long trips, or to read by a fire in the middle of the woods.

Rory was suddenly angry. “Now you’re the one talking crazy. You’re so convinced you gotta be alone, I bet you don’t let anyone try.”

“You don’t understand —”

“If you took a chance, if you let people in, there’d be a war for you,” Rory said hotly. “I’d fight an army if—”

If I thought I could have you. He snapped his mouth closed before the rest of the sentence escaped. Geez, he had to shut up.

This Month’s Queer Disabled Heroine of Color (In Space!)

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Prime Books: science fiction f/f):

I swear I thought I’d told you all about this book before. I know I wrote a whole big thinky essay about it, which then to my utter surprise and delight got included in this anthology. I mention it on Twitter whenever I think about sci-fi romance, or disability in romance, or queerness in romance, or queerness in science fiction, or poly relationships in romance and science fiction. It is a profoundly good, profoundly queer, thoughtful portrait of women and others falling in love with one another and also starships. It asks hard questions about the body and the soul, and what kinds of sacrifice are good and which are villainous or catastrophic. It does all this while being an absolute ton of smart, gorgeous fun.

It is a perfect book and why are you not reading it right now? Alana Quick is a starship mechanic with a chronic pain disability: her need to be attuned to her body and its fluctuating health means she has an edge diagnosing problems with ship systems and engine malfunctions. There’s something almost literally magical about the way ships and machines are discussed in this story, and it hits that perfect glowy space opera sweet spot even as it’s being utterly devastating about illness and the inevitability of death. I’ve never felt so hopeful about the hopelessness of existence than I was at the end of this book. Ordinary human mortality somehow came to feel like a moral triumph. It’s a total rush, a necessary punch to the gut, a book that will haunt you long after you close the last page.

Dirt doesn’t feel right on the heels of someone born to be in the sky.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Girlfriend no more

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, DC Comics published a comic with an unfortunate title: Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane. Pretty much every story in SGFLL featured Lois Lane trying to trick Superman into falling in love with her, either by making him jealous or by bewitching him through some ancient spell or some other unnatural mechanism that would invariably backfire. In retrospect, these stories read either as dunderheaded commentary on gender relations in the middle of the 20th century or a kind of misplaced camp that's wrongheadedly hilarious.

Last week's relaunch of the Lois Lane comic, this time smartly titled just Lois Lane, actually gets to the core of what's interesting about the character. Lois Lane's superpower is journalism. She's the best reporter on the planet: dogged, resourceful, willing to do anything to tell a story that brings a bully to their knees. That's a lot more interesting than the story of a lovelorn obsessive who keeps trying to manipulate a man into loving her.

Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Mike Perkins, Lois Lane's first issue revolves around a conflict between Lois Lane and the White House on the topic of privatized family separations. I can't imagine a monthly comic feeling any more relevant than this one does right now.

Rucka has proven to be incredibly gifted at creating elaborate plots and condensing all that nuance down until it fits inside a word balloon. Ten pages of a Rucka script contains something like forty pages of your standard monthly comic, and it never feels overstuffed or poorly paced. And Perkins keeps up with Rucka here, capturing (somewhat) normal people in (somewhat) normal situations.

Lois Lane is a comic for the Trump era, a comic for the collapse of local journalism, a comic for people who love smart comics. It's everything a Lois Lane comic should be.

Meanwhile, over in Batman's part of the universe, the first few issues of a series featuring recent Bat-love interest Catwoman has been collected in paperback form. Catwoman: Copycats shares some of the smarts and the serious consideration of the character with Lois Lane, only in a more classic superheroic frame.

Written and drawn by Joëlle Jones, this Catwoman is chic and pensive and more than a little haunted. The book picks up just after the character's wedding to Batman fell apart in the main Batman title, and it finds Selina Kyle deep in a quest for reinvention. The fact that her first antagonist is funding an army of Catwoman lookalikes only makes that internal quest more compelling.

This is good superhero noir, and Jones keeps it stylish and compelling the whole way through. Jones is only at the beginning of what I hope will be a long career in the comics industry. This Catwoman is kinetic and clever, and it suggests that Jones might have an aptitude for a slick espionage series in her near future.

In the meantime, I would love to read a crossover between Rucka and Perkins's Lois Lane and Jones's Catwoman. I expect these two incarnations of these two characters would hate each other even as they developed a deep and abiding respect for the others' expertise. I would devour that super-team up in a second.

Mail Call for July 10, 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.

Lunch Date: A meal of militias and meat

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

Who’s your date today?

Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff, a non-fiction account of the Malheur uprising by poet Anthony McCann.

Where’d you go?

Odinstar Smoked Meat Sandwiches, a food truck that gets around the greater Seattle area.

What’d you eat?

I had the Dave's Way, a brisket sandwich ($13) with a side of jo-jo's ($5).

How was the food?

Delicious! I was very excited about a new smoked meat establishment in Seattle (Martino's, I miss you every day) and I think Odinstar is a worthy continuation of that proud tradition. The Dave's Way had a great meaty and smoky flavor, and it held up well — it didn't fall into a pile of wet crumbs as I devoured it. But I would've liked the sandwich to be a little more sprawling than the small-but-tall square that Odinstar serves. It's a generous portion of meat, but it's tightly packed onto two small pieces of bread. I have to say, the jo-jos were, surprisingly, my favorite part of the meal: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, salty and deeply satisfying without being too oily. I don't like ranch dressing ordinarily, but the housemade ranch was a great accompaniment to the fried potatoes.

What does your date say about itself?

It's a non-fiction account of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed right-wingers. Because a Maggie Nelson blurb is enough to convince many of you to read a book, here's Maggie Nelson's blurb:

The story Shadowlands tells is compulsively fascinating, and an excellent microcosm by which we might better understand our difficult national history and distressing political moment. McCann's magnificent prose, ever-questing intellect, wry humor, and uncommon empathy for human and non-human forms of life alike make Shadowlands a truly rare and stunning achievement.

Is there a representative quote?

Here's a bit after McCann thoroughly debunks some of would-be militia man Ammon Bundy's thoughts about nation and sovereignty:

That is not at all how Ammon understands that sacred document he carries in his shirt-front pocket; but, in engaging in a part-willful, part-inadvertent misunderstanding of American history, Ammon Bundy is far from alone. Contemporary American life is full of such misunderstandings. We might ask how it is that Alexander Hamilton, a man who despised the rabble and their democracy and made it his life's work to centralize financial, political, and military power in the hands of an elite financier and governing class, came to be the hero of a tremendously popular hip-hop musical. Or consider how the contemporary Tea Party, dedicated to the idea that America was founded on opposition to "big government and taxes, has loved tot rot out images and impersonators of George Washington at any opportunity. This despite the fact that Washington famously saw among the greatest immediate purposes and achievements of the Constitution — aside from its creation of federal power capable of crushing populist rural insurrection — the authority it gave the new federal government to levy and collect taxes directly from the American populace. The Constitution has long been an object of fantasy. As with any holy scripture, we are all able to find support in its pages for whatever we want to think. Americans have been doing it almost since the ink was dry.

Will you two end up in bed together?

Look, I'm glad this book exists. I'm glad that smart people are contextualizing this moment in history. But I just can't read this book right now. I can't read over 400 pages of a smart writer of beautiful sentences dedicating himself to the Bundys.

I know there are those who argue that this moment in time requires intellectual rigor and precision of language from the American left. Some people think that it is the left's duty to publicly dismantle the arguments of people like Bundy.

I disagree, because people like Bundy aren't actually interested in the argument. They just want to create chaos and then sit back and watch that chaos create even more chaos. You can't argue with Ammon Bundy, because the minute you engage him in an argument, he's already won. The man is a traitor and a criminal, and to give him this much thought and attention is a legitimization that I don't believe he warrants. His goal is to burn everything down, and you can't reason with fire. You can only fight it.

There's a reason why right-wingers love to demand public debates. It's the same reason that right-wingers wail and gnash their teeth whenever they're de-platformed: they know that if they get their message out in legitimate platforms, a few unstable folks will latch onto that message. That's how it spreads. McCann approaches this topic with what I believe to be the best of intentions. But I think his arguments are essentially useless. The best way to respond to Bundy is to call him what he is and refuse to carry and promote his message for him. I'm not going to give him 400 pages of time and space in my life.

That said, if you're looking for a book about the Malheur occupation, this is probably your best bet. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

At Push/Pull, a community is coming together to build a better future for Seattle artists

At the beginning of this month Push/Pull, the beloved Ballard art gallery/zine shop/weirdo art community/event space, put out a call for help. On a GoFundMe page, Push/Pull organizers admitted that though the gallery is "going strong this year," the organization's first few lean years left them "behind on paying our taxes." Though Push/Pull was in talks with Washington state to set up a payment plan, they suddenly discovered that the state "had withdrawn all of our money out of our checking account," leaving Push/Pull unable to pay this month's rent.

In a matter of hours, the community came together and raised the $6000 that Push/Pull needed to survive. "We did meet the goal of our campaign and paid rent without our landlords noticing anything, which was all good," Push/Pull Director Maxx Follis-Goodkind told us over email. Additionally, Follis-Goodkind says, Push/Pull "paid off the oldest of our tax debt to the state and should be able to manage the rest."

It's a happy ending, but it's not the whole story. "Essentially, our business is doing OK now," Follis-Goodkind explains, "but hasn't been making quite enough surplus to catch up to when we weren't doing OK." The six thousand dollars raised in the GoFundMe, she explains, "was about half of the debt we had, so extra funds are still going directly to that."

Seattle is a virtual graveyard of failed attempts to create artistic communities. Push/Pull is a rare success story — a community of cartoonists and artists and zinemakers and assorted freaks and nerds and romantics who came together to claim a piece of Seattle as their own. "When we opened in Ballard, almost 4 years ago now, we had one modest rack of artist published comic-zines," Follis-Goodkind says. "Now we carry hundreds of indie comics from all over the world. At our board meetings we talk about being not just a part of the local community, but also being a part of the global community."

She says Push/Pull has achieved relative stability through an equal mixture of "careful planning" and "jumping into the unknown."

During Push/Pull's first two years, Follis-Goodkind explains, "our monthly sales rarely, if ever, reached a 'sustainable' point." Most entrepreneurs, she thinks, "would have abandoned things" during those first lean years.

But by tinkering with commission rates, acquiring small loans, and figuring out the right mix of art classes and events, the gallery began to find its people. By Push/Pull's third year, she says, "things started to dramatically turn around. Partnerships with Emerald Comics Distro, Silver Sprocket, and other community leaders has been a key to building the support system that we needed," and as a result "we finally achieved the magic number we needed to break even with sales last year."

This year, Push/Pull's sales will likely surpass its expenses. But nobody's making millions off the endeavor, Follis-Goodkind warns. "We still don't have paid employees and if we did, we wouldn't be here. Artists are members and work the desk because they are committed to the mission," she says. It's a co-op model that requires volunteers to keep the lights on — a virtuous cycle of artists helping artists.

"It sounds discouraging, but at the same time I've been able to work full-time in arts since the beginning of the year, directly due to my work at Push/Pull," Follis-Goodkind says. "We've also had many success stories for artists that have been and currently are members."

So though the crisis has been averted, Follis-Goodkind says, Push/Pull would welcome your contributions to the GoFundMe. "Anything else we raise will go to the debt and helps us stabilize. We'll get started on a payment plan with the state next month and paying off more now means that we won't be quite so stretched thin," she explains.

But the rent has been paid, so "in the meantime, we're operating as usual," she says. Push/Pull is preparing for a fall launch of the first of seven titles from Push/Pull Press; the full program of classes and events is happening as usual, including a robust schedule of education for teens; and the usual mix of comics and art is available for sale.

At a time when arts organizations are struggling to keep the lights on, Follis-Goodkind says Push/Pull was "really amazed at the quick support that we got from the community" when the gallery sent up a warning flare. It was a real-life It's a Wonderful Life moment, when the community that Push/Pull fostered was more than happy to return the favor. After four years of consistent growth, the gallery is now preparing to build toward a more sustainable future.

After arrival

Published July 9, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Ted Chiang’s Exhalation: Stories .

For years, Ted Chiang was the Seattle sci-fi community's best-kept secret. With his latest collection, Chiang proves that he's a master of short fiction.

Read this review now


Because there’s a sparrow outside that appears to be dying.
Because I carry it with me, not the bird, but the emotion.
Because its feathers are wet, almost drenched.
Because not knowing what to do is my own purgatory.
Because nothing in the house is sugarcoated.
Because if you position yourself at the window you will see things
       you don’t want to see.
Because there is a forest of coyotes and we keep finding the bones of fawns.
Because sorrow has embroidered itself beneath my ribs and I can’t unstitch it.
Because even when I’m wrapped in a blanket, I’m not warm.
Because we all keep dying.
Because it’s really not a bird, but our country.
Because the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop.

Have a Hart

Our thanks to Rosemary Reeve for sponsoring The Seattle Review of Books this week — and for returning with the fourth in her irresistible Jack Hart series. Hart is a Seattle attorney out to do good. Why is murder always at his heels? That's what happens when you live inside a thriller, but it doesn't make things easier for our favorite Seattle lawyer. Jack just wants to do right ... but wrong seems to follow wherever he goes.

Check out chapter 1 from Dead Weight, which Reeve is generously sharing on our sponsor feature page this week only. Then pick up a copy here. Still need to catch up with this catchy series? The first book is out on audio, with the second to follow just in time for Christmas!

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. We've got just a few dates left this summer — nab one now 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 July 8th - July 14th

Monday, July 8th: Flash Count Diary Reading

If you like Maggie Nelson and you haven't read Darcey Steinke, what are you doing with your life? Her latest book is an exploration of menopause, on a personal level, but also expanding outward to a societal and even philosophical level. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Tuesday, July 9th: Clarion West Presents Amal El-Mohtar

The sci-fi writing organization brings an exciting young author to town. El-Mohtar's brand-new novel (which she cowrote with Max Gladstone) is titled This Is How You Lose the Time War, and it's about two time-travelers from warring futures who eventually fall in love. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 10th: Shadowlands Reading

Poet Anthony McCann turns his attention to the right-wing militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in his book Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff. Please note that this is not poetry, but McCann is a poetic writer, so expect some beautifully written non-fiction. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, July 11th: The Media Is Dying

I'm hosting a panel with several experts discussing what to do when local news organizations lose their voice, local television stations are bought by right-wing propagandists, and other media organizations are going out of business. I hope you'll join us. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Thursday, July 11th: Bad Gateway Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, 425-519-0770,, 7 pm, $5.

Friday, July 12th: Three Women Reading

Lisa Taddeo's new non-fiction book is a frank exploration of sex in the lives of real American women. It's the buzziest new book of the summer, by my estimation, and nothing else even comes close. Taddeo was inspired by the journalism of Gay Talese, and Three Women reads like that, only without the creepy patrician vibe of Talese's books. The author will be in conversation with Seattle writer Claire Dederer. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, July 13th: Hot Off the Press Book Fair

Dozens of local cartoonists gather for Fantagraphics Books's annual Georgetown street festival/book fair, with music and books and performance and much more. Contributors include Zak Sally, Peter Hoey, Kelly Froh, Marc Palm, Max Clotfelter, David Lasky, Megan Kelso, Sarah Romano Diehl, Brandon Lehmann, Patrick Moriarity, and Tom Van Deusen. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110,, 5 pm, free.

Sunday, July 14th: Queer Press Fest

Queer cartoonists and zinemakers bring their latest and greatest work to Ballard's greatest art gallery/zine shop. Participants include Kassandra Davis (Mockery & Vodka), Craig Hurd-McKenney (Headless Shakespeare Press), Hayden Stern (Bioluminator Studios), and Anne Bean from Emerald Comics Distro, who is cosponsoring the event. Push/Pull, 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, 789-1710,, noon, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bad Gateway at Bellevue Arts Museum

It's a brave new world when the coolest art exhibit in Seattle is currently hanging at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Right now, BAM is hosting Bad Gateway, a celebration of Seattle cartoonist Simon Hanselmann's Megg, Mogg, & Owl series of comics.

Bad Gateway — the latest book in the series — continues the themes of Hanselmann's work: the heartbreak of youth and addiction and poverty, the complex ties of friendship, the challenge we all face to climb out of the pits of our own making. And Bad Gateway — the BAM exhibit — takes those themes and brings them to full, disgusting life.

This Thursday, Hanselmann will be in conversation with Ben Heywood, BAM’s Executive Director and Chief Curator. My interview with Hanselmann was the most fun of my entire career as a literary critic; he's entertaining and candid and freewheeling in a way that 99 percent of authors and cartoonists simply are not. I'd expect some of that energy in the onstage conversation tonight.

Hanselmann's work keeps deepening with each new Megg & Mogg & Owl book that he releases. What at first feels like a joke strip is quickly turning into one of the rawest, most complex portrayals of young adulthood that I've ever read. Imagine what would happen if Peter Bagge's Hate gradually turned into Requiem for a Dream and you have a vague idea of what to expect. And then imagine if the book spilled onto the earth in the hallways of BAM, and you'd have the Bad Gateway experience. Hanselmann is breaking boundaries that we never knew we wanted to be broken.

Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, 425-519-0770,, 7 pm, $5.

The Sunday Post for July 7, 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.

Border profiteers

It doesn’t take long to get to the creepy bits in Brendan O’Connor’s coverage of the 2019 Border Security Expo. There’s something inherently creepy about trade shows and conventions, I think. Compress any industry into a few thousand square feet (not good with spatial relations! readily admit it!), and you see all the sameness, all the bubble-ness of it. You also free it of its inhibitions.

Do that for border security and you get to the ugly pretty fast. O’Connor does a great job of telling the story of that ugliness — and calling out the stories that are used to hide it.

The vision of a hermetically sealed border being sold, in different ways, by Trump and his allies, by Democrats, and by the Border Security Expo is in reality a selectively permeable one that strictly regulates the movement of migrant labor while allowing for the unimpeded flow of capital. Immigrants in the United States, regardless of their legal status, are caught between two factions of the capitalist class, each of which seek their immiseration: the citrus farmers, construction firms, and meat packing plants that benefit from an underclass of unorganized and impoverished workers, and the defense and security firms that keep them in a state of constant criminality and deportability.


You could even argue that nobody in a position of power really wants a literal wall.

Politics is changing; why aren’t the pundits who cover it?

What matters most in a presidential election? What American voters value, or what institutional journalism does? (Yeah, I know, "who buys the most semi-legal Facebook ads, but work with me here.) Rebecca Traister on the reluctance of yesterday’s talking heads to catch up to today.

This is the suffocatingly grim reality: Even after the peeling off of a layer of the political media’s most prominent interlocutors during #MeToo — including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer —television coverage of the 2020 election is still being led by men who have sketchy histories around gender and power. Even after a midterm season in which women — many of them women of color, some of them very progressive — won elections in historic numbers; even in the midst of a presidential crisis during which poor, black, brown, and immigrant communities have been made more vulnerable than ever, and have been brought closer to the center — finally — of left political engagement and activism; even given all of this, so many of the voices interpreting the events around us still belong to the guys who’ve been clumsily telling us what to think about politics for ages.

See also Rebecca Solnit, “Unconscious bias is running for president”: “I’ve just spent a month watching white male people in particular arguing about who has charisma or relatability or electability. They speak as if these were objective qualities, and as if their own particular take on them was truth or fact rather than taste, and as if what white men like is what everyone likes or white men are who matters.”

Masculine chaos

Do we need another takedown of Jordan Peterson? We do, if it comes from a one-time Peterson “addict.” Omer Aziz dissects his journey from respect to fascination to disgust, and how the narrative of who Jordan Peterson is, and who his followers are, altered along the way.

Maybe that’s today’s accidental theme: The owners of our cultural stories are shifting, and it’s terrifying for those who have told that story unchallenged for so long. It’s a battle of much more than words.

In the private whisperings of men across race and age, I have often detected a nervousness about past indiscretions which, in the cold light of the egalitarian morning, might be perceived as predatory from the women’s perspective. Rather than deal with its own issues, this male hysteria, in typically masculine fashion, externalizes them onto feminism, and has found its chief intellectual proponents in figures like Peterson. But the fear of reprisal is real and arises out of the revolutionary moment we are witnessing, one that is reconfiguring whose narrative lens is dominant, and from whose perspective we understand the story.

Whatcha Reading, Sarah C. Townsend

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.

Sarah C. Townsend is a Seattle-area writer and teacher. Her book Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Pyschosis was just published by The Lettered Street Press in April. She'll be appearing at the University Bookstore, 6pm on July 10th, in conversation with Alexandra Panic.

What are you reading now?

You’ve caught me in the midst of a love affair with recent books by Portland writers. Right now, I’m reading Chelsea Biondolillo’s lyric essay collection The Skinned Bird, in which she pairs the acquisition of song in birds with the imprint of early memory on human experience. An arresting collage of ornithological research, observations of landscape and relationship, photographs, and memories, The Skinned Bird is an exacting dissection of loss and relocation.

I admire the intimacy of this spacious book and its layered threading: “These in-betweens, these micro-geographies can be a welcomed respite…” Biondolillo’s careful arrangement is multimedia and interdisciplinary. With its detailed observation of the natural world and matters of the heart, The Skinned Bird leaves me feeling less alone.

What did you read last?

I’ve heard it said, “We read for voice.” This was certainly true for me when reading Liz Scott’s new memoir This Never Happened. The book found its way into my backpack, the car, and I carried it with me back and forth on the commuter ferry to Seattle. On more than one occasion, I had to muffle my own laughter. This Never Happened is a sweeping portrait of narcissistic parents told with candor, compassion, and a healthy dose of dark humor. Through short vignettes, letters, and family photographs, Scott attempts to puzzle out a dizzying relationship with her mother and abandonment by her father. The telling of this story demonstrates a tremendous capacity for empathy, which Liz Scott has put to great use in her more than forty years as a psychologist. I had the pleasure of having real life conversation with Liz Scott. Of course, I felt as if I already knew her. Liz has a new essay up at The Millions.

What are you reading next?

I’ve been saving Sophia Shalmiyev’s memoir Mother Winter to read next, anticipating its potent and poetic unfolding. The story of a motherless mother, Mother Winter promises to be “equal parts refugee-coming-of-age tale, feminist manifesto, and a meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art.” I look to Shalmiyev as an intellect and with interest in her unapologetic experimentation with narrative form.

June 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 June's posts.

June's Theme: Support

These post-its were chosen by my sister—the sister who chose in January, unknowingly kicking off what would turn out to be my year of Triumphantly Making Someone Else Tell Me What To Publish. Back then, she had serious trouble narrowing her choices. There was a strong pull toward post-its about my divorce (sisterly mysteries), but post-its featuring herself also possessed an equal, very powerful intrigue (less mysterious; I’m sure we can all relate). Ever the problem-solver (in spirit, at least), I allocated those extras for June, her birthday month. The first post-it feels self-explanatory, but maybe other grown-up siblings actually don’t tuck each other into bed? I don’t know how you are with your sisters, but when we miraculously find ourselves in the same house at bedtime, I often tuck my sisters in. I have a special style that nods to classic tucking-in gestures while also being entirely my own. Furthermore, it’s adaptable; part of the fun is coming up with new and surprising riffs on the classic version. We all enjoy a measure of low-stakes creative challenge added to our daily routine, no? This is one where I really shine. It’s my natural aptitude for death anxiety conspiring with my last-one-to-bed insomniac vigilance, inextricably entangled in silly, sweet ritual because I am also gentle and goofy and a firm believer that we give up lots of lovely childhood norms for absolutely NO GOOD REASON. While other family members dabble in this game, I am indisputably its master and originator. My sisters wouldn’t remember, but I first did this as a kid for my grandparents, who found it more amusing than I expected. (Why did kid me go to bed later than the adults taking care of us??) On family trips my sister’s partner now finds himself in the crosshairs of our ritual ridiculousness. He inspires a straightforward, calmer approach; my sister, as you can see in the drawing, needs a bit more attention. She is an ACTOR, and you should cast her in everything good because she’s delightful and careers in the arts are TRICKY. Mostly I just know the world would be more fun if everybody got to see her work more. If you can’t cast her in your movie, feel free to buy some of my art instead—eventually we’re going to drag each other upwards, whoever gets a leg up first. Then everybody will be like, oh, did you know that actor and that writer/artist are related? THEY’RE ACTUALLY SISTERS, IT’S CRAZY. When we ascend to the appropriate fame sphere we will also bring her boyfriend, who makes lovely music—even at shows when that asshole tambourine player from the other band insists on being a disrespectful loud jerk throughout his whole lovely set. Movies and music are my favorite, but thank goodness I make art and writing myself—who wants to audition for directors or deal with tambourine-wielding “listeners”. The last post-it is a direct quote from a phone call with my sister, in anticipation of her yearly trip home for the holidays. I don’t remember if her plan worked, but I was 100% in support.

The Help Desk: All aboard the Reading Railroad

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 This column is a re-run, since Cienna is off using fireworks as Rorschach tests for her spiders.

Dear Cienna,

I ride the new Link light rail from Husky Stadium to Pioneer Square (it’s pretty great). I’ve seen this same girl on the train nearly every day, our schedules are so close. And she’s always reading the best books. Seriously, like this manga series I’ve been following for years, that I thought nobody else was into.

But, I know that harassing women who want to be left alone in public isn’t cool, and she’s probably just going to work. Is there something I can say to her, not a line, but just a little opening, to see if I get any response? I mean, is it out of line to say something about our shared tastes?

Tremulous on the Train

Dear Tremulous,

Everyone who reads enjoys being complimented on their taste in books. Many years ago I was flipping through a copy of one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces, at a garage sale and a shirtless man with a chest tattoo of a swastika knifing a black panther (one of the swastika arms was an actual arm with a knife in it) said to me, “That’s a great book,” to which I smiled and thought, “what a nice man.” Such is the mighty power of literature.

Striking up a conversation with a woman is not harassment if you follow basic social cues:

  1. Wear something non-psychotic, like a shirt and pants.

  2. If she’s got headphones in, leave her alone.

  3. If she’s not making eye contact with anyone around her, leave her alone.

  4. Wait until there is a natural interruption to her reading, such as when you’re both disembarking from the train. Then it’s fine to tap her on the shoulder and say something like, “That’s such a great book! Have you read TKTKTK?”

  5. If all goes well and you get her contact information, do not send her an Evite for a party in your pants.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 2

The Portrait Gallery: Independance (to read a book)

Hope that you get to spend some of this explosive holiday finding peace and friendship where you need it most. Happy Fourth of July, whatever that means to you, from The Portrait Gallery and The Seattle Review of Books.

Thursday Comics Hangover: One strand at a time

The stories in Hot Comb, Ebony Flowers's debut collection from Drawn & Quarterly, are for the most part centered around Black women — particularly Black women's hair. The narrator of the first story is in fifth grade and, against her mother's wishes, she's eager to get a perm. Why?

"I'm tired of people making fun of me and beating me up," the girl explains apologetically.

As soon as social pressure becomes a real factor in the lives of the girls in these stories, their hair becomes a source of shame. They admire the Black women they see on TV — the narrator of that first story brings a photo of Tatyana Ali, the actress who plays Ashley on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to her hairstylist only to be told, "you'd need a weave" to get that kind of look. The disappointment is palpable. Once again, fantasy dissolves when placed next to reality.

These aren't all coming-of-age stories. Hot Comb takes a variety of perspectives — including an interlude in which a white man cluelessly raves about his Black girlfriend's continually changing hairstyles: "Every week, I feel like I got a new girlfriend! I love Black women!"

But Hot Comb makes itself clear that it's not about male desire, or male pleasure. It's about what Black women think: of themselves, of each other, of their communities. They talk to each other while they're at salons, they braid each others' hair, they make little refuges from the judgment of the rest of the world.

Flowers is a remarkable cartooning talent. From the title story, impatient readers might think they have her style pegged: the rough black-and-white sketchy autobio cartoonist, like a Julie Doucet or Aline Kominsky-Crumb. But it's readily apparent just a few pages in that every stylistic decision Flowers makes is deliberate, and that she has many more tools in her toolbox than "just" a confessional sketchbook style.

A few times in Hot Comb, pages shatter into grids of tiny panels stacked on top of each other, to great effect. Once, Flowers illustrates a fluttering flock of ducks in a gorgeous silent nine-panel grid that perfectly relays the concerted chaos of birds taking flight.

In another story, she demonstrates a character's OCD tendencies to anxiously pluck hairs from her own head in a series of tiny nervous panels. It's a beautiful comic-book poem: one panel with a hair wrapped around an index finger, springing loose from her head, then a panel reading "and then" and then a panel with a hair pulled taut, and then the hair springs loose and then the word "another," and then a hair falls and the words "bald spot" followed by more panels with more hairs falling to the floor. It is rhythmically and emotionally a note-perfect representation of what it is to have an OCD tendency to pick at your own body.

Hot Comb is a major comics debut — it's the kind of book that will either herald the beginning of a long and successful cartooning career, or it's the debut of a talent who will get swept up by Hollywood and away from comics forever. Whether Ebony Flowers is the next Lynda Barry or the next Marjane Satrapi — or something else entirely — is up to her. But no matter what happens next, we have this book, and that's plenty.

Burglars stole cash and comics from the Friends of Seattle Public Library. Here's how you can help.

A few more details have emerged about the canceled Friends of the Library comic book sale that I wrote about yesterday. The fundraising sale, the first of its kind for the Friends of the Seattle Public Library, was scheduled for Saturday, July 13th. Apparently, the collection of comics up for sale was largely donated by a single library benefactor.

The Friends announced the cancellation yesterday via a brief, detail-free press release that I quoted in the previous post. Around the same time, the Friends sent an email to their list saying the organization has been "the victims of a burglary."

The email continues, "while we still have plenty of comics left to sell, we need to take a moment to assess the situation." They promise to reschedule the sale for a later date.

Based on conversations with several Friends volunteers and staffers, it sounds like the burglary was a planned operation, not a smash-and-grab. The thieves took money that the Friends had on hand for the sale, as well as a small stack of potential high-value comics that had been set aside for appraisal. The Seattle Police Department has been contacted.

Hopefully, more details will emerge soon, but for now: please be wary if anyone tries to sell you collectable comics and contact the authorities if you have any information on who might have committed the burglary. People who steal from library fundraisers are the lowest of the low.

We'll keep you posted with more details in days to come. In the meantime, the Friends could use your support; please donate your time and books.

Next week: Buy some comics, help the Friends of the Library

UPDATE 12:30pm: This afternoon, the Seattle Public Library issued a cryptic press release canceling the comic book sale. In its entirety, it reads: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Friends of The Seattle Public Library Comic Book Sale on Saturday, July 13 has been canceled.” If I hear more, I’ll get back to you.

While we're on the topic of library fundraisers, did you know that next Saturday, July 13th, the Friends of the Seattle Public Library are hosting their first-ever comic book sale? For one to ten bucks each, the Friends are selling comics "from the early 80’s to the present, and also books from the 1970’s! Marvel, DC, and most independent companies (Image, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Pacific, etc.) are represented." Think of it as a comic book convention without all the panels and cosplay and merchandise to distract you. I'll be there. Will you?

A few recommendations from Ken Jennings

Image from the King County Libraries' Facebook Page

Last month, I interviewed Seattle author Ken Jennings at the Amazon Spheres for a King County Library System Foundation fundraiser. After a delicious meal from Seattle chef and author Renee Erickson, Jennings and I talked for about an hour about his time as a Jeopardy! champ, his most recent book, Planet Funny, and much more.

Because the discussion was shared with KCLS donors who donated to the library's amazing youth education programs, most of the conversation is in confidence — you had to be there to experience it. But I got permission from the good people at KCLS to share with you the books that Jennings has been loving recently, along with a few other recommendations from our conversation.

Jennings is a big reader of novels, and he most recently adored Machines Like Me And People Like You, Ian McEwan's latest foray into science fiction. The controversy over McEwan belittling the entire genre of sci-fi didn't affect Jennings's enjoyment of the book, which he said was entertaining and thought-provoking.

He's also a fan of Philip Kerr's The Bernie Gunther Novels, which is a mystery series set during the Third Reich. They're heavy, but fascinating.

The last two titles, and the only non-fiction he mentioned, were surprising: Look, I Made A Hat and Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim. Jennings said he bumbled into the books and found them to be completely entrancing, even if you don't think you like musicals.

Someone in the audience asked Jennings who he follows for comedy on Twitter. Jennings said that Twitter has been less funny since 2016, for some unknown reason, but he and I both agreed that Megan Amram and Dril were perhaps the two funniest people on Twitter, if you can stomach comedy in these uncomfortable times.

And lastly, because Jennings cohosts an excellent sci-fi-and-real-facts podcast called Omnibus!, someone in the audience asked for podcast suggestions. Jennings tossed the question to his wife, who he said was the real podcast fan in the family. She recommended Criminal, Milk Street and The Desk Set.

The evening was one of many author dinners and conversations that KCLS hosts as fundraisers every year. If you'd like to attend one next year, all you have to do is attend the Foundation's annual Literary Lions fundraising gala and bid on the one which most appeals to you. Next year's fundraiser will take place on March 7th, and the keynote speaker is Colson Whitehead, who is the first novelist to be featured on the cover of TIME since Jonathan Franzen stunk up the room a decade ago. Unlike Franzen, Whitehead is a great American novelist and, speaking as someone who has seen him read on maybe ten occasions, I can tell you that he is an excellent speaker. You won't want to miss this, or the slate of author dinners the KCLS Foundation will present next year.

Matt Ruff reveals his next novel's 88 Names

Seattle writer Matt Ruff's next novel is titled 88 Names, it comes out on March 17th of next year, and the eclectic novelist says it's "probably closest in tone" to his thriller Bad Monkeys. On his blog, Ruff ran a plot summary of the book:

John Chu is a “sherpa”—a paid guide to online role-playing games like the popular Call to Wizardry. For a fee, he and his crew will provide you with a top-flight character equipped with the best weapons and armor, and take you dragon-slaying in the Realms of Asgarth, hunting rogue starships in the Alpha Sector, or battling hordes of undead in the zombie apocalypse.

Chu’s new client, the pseudonymous Mr. Jones, claims to be a “wealthy, famous person” with powerful enemies, and he’s offering a ridiculous amount of money for a comprehensive tour of the world of virtual-reality gaming. For Chu, this is a dream assignment, but as the tour gets underway, he begins to suspect that Mr. Jones is really North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose interest in VR gaming has more to do with power than entertainment. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, Chu also has to worry about “Ms. Pang,” who may or may not be an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and his angry ex-girlfriend, Darla Jean Covington, who isn’t the type to let an international intrigue get in the way of her own plans for revenge.

What begins as a whirlwind online adventure soon spills over into the real world. Now Chu must use every trick and resource at his disposal to stay one step ahead—because in real life, there is no reset button.

Any new novel from Ruff is a delight. He's got one of the most traditional work patterns of all the Seattle writers: he goes away for a few years and returns with a fully formed book, which he reads around town for a while until he goes back into hiding and the whole process begins again.

Of course, Ruff's most recent novel Lovecraft Country is being adapted into an HBO series executive-produced by Jordan Peele, and the hiring for that production has just started to heat up. So maybe we'll see a little bit more of Ruff soon.

An attempt at exhausting an uknown place

Published July 2, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris .

Novelist George Perec tried to wear out place Saint-Sulpice. But he was the first to blink.

Read this review now


(Side-scroll to see full lines)


Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common cause with us
the way you trample us both,

oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.

But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.

Be a sponsor, not a targeter

Sponsor the Seattle Review of Books for as little as $100 before we release our Fall & Winter slate and prices go up!

Aren’t you tired of being “targeted”? Sure, there’s the active meaning of the word, which means to “aim or direct at something”, but in general this word is all about opposition. Targeting is what you do with weapons, not with people you want to like your stuff enough to buy it.

Sponsorship is our way around this. Sponsors are partners that capture the attention of the best book loving city in the world. Sponsors bring their message to people who aren’t needle-in-a-haystack, but the very reason for the website to exist in the first place.

Sponsors support, targeters take aim. Which would you rather be? We have a few great deals on sponsoring the Seattle Review of Books before we release our Fall & Winter slate really soon. Grab those last dates before their gone, and take the targets off the backs of your buyers, and replace them with a hand-embroidered patch that reads “I supported local artists, writers, and poets.” What could be better than that?

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 1st - July 7th

Monday, July 1st: What We Do With the Wreckage and What Could Be Saved Reading

When I reviewed Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's short story collection, What We Do with the Wreckage, I said that "The people in these stories are reeling from trauma and from dependency and from heartbreak. Most of them are trying to improve their lives, but in order to do that, they have to look backwards, at the breaks in their narratives, to try to repair what’s gone wrong." Tonight, she reads with Gregory Spatz, whose short story and novella collection What Could Be Saved was praised by author Paul Harding. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, July 2nd: Threshold: Site Specific Poetry

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Frye Art Museum. 704 Terry Ave., 622-9250,, 4 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 3rd: The Reading Through It Book Club

Since we're nearing 2020, you can expect conservatives to start ramping up the trans panic again — it's the way they ensure that bigoted voters march to the polls to vote for their candidates. Tonight, we're going to discuss Thomas McBee's memoir about being a trans man, Amateur. It's a meditation about gender, about masculinity, and about privilege. In other words, it's about all the stuff that's going to inform the next solid year of politics. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, July 5th: Our Non-Christian Nation Reading

Jay Wexler's new book is subtitled How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life. It's about how Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that the Christian majority is not nearly as powerful as we once believed it to be. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, July 6th: Impervious: Confessions of a Semi-Retired Deviant Reading

Janet W. Hardy guides you through her memoir, with a structure that "mirror[s] those of any good scene - negotiation, warmup, engagement, climax, and aftercare." University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 4 pm, free.

Sunday, July 7th: I Want to Meet Your Light Reading

Ben Gallup's book, which seems kind of memoir-y, is about ": interpersonal connection, loneliness, truth, love, systems of oppression, ecological terror, and more." Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Threshold literary walk

To celebrate Seattle poet Jane Wong's new exhibit "After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly," the Frye is serving as the launching pad for a combination literary crawl/roving writing class.

At 4 pm on Tuesday, Wong will begin with a discussion about her exhibit, which is part memoir, part generational epic, and part essay about a lifelong love of food. Then, she will lead the audience on a rambling hourlong one-mile walk downhill to Town Hall.

Along the way, poets Quenton Baker and Chelsea Werner-Jatzke will read poems and present short writing exercises using place as a theme. (You should bring a pad of paper and a pen, but there will be some spare office supplies around in case you forget.)

The evening will end in Town Hall's Reading Room, in which artist Timothy Firth will unveil his "interactive audio sculpture that will be tuned throughout a series of public events." There will be a little more reading, and then some drinks.

Wong's poetry is always interested in place and personal history, but this exhibit deepens that relationship between art and location and time in a new and exciting way. To then have the exhibit spill into the streets of Seattle in a generative tour of the city is simply the next evolutionary step on the path that Wong has been walking down for some time.

Frye Art Museum. 704 Terry Ave., 622-9250,, 4 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for June 30, 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.

Being normal

In the language of crisis management, grand-scale systems failures (think Chernobyl and the Challenger) are “normal.” Leah Finnegan applies the same eerie, inevitable logic to the noonday demon.

Depression is inevitable in society. Among billions of people, many are going to have fucked-up brains; unfortunately one is me, and now my young friend. But I wonder if depression, in some non-parallel extrapolation, can be thought of as its own kind of normal accident: a guaranteed cataclysm in the dark, complicated system of a mind that cannot be prevented, only managed after the fact.
Unnameable things

“How can one protect what one cannot name?” Kerri ní Dochartaigh writes the fierce fragility of the natural world out of and back into existence — a stay against extinction, in the only words she has.

In the early evening, when a ‘phone signal could be had, I logged onto Instagram to find my fee full of insects of every type — a collective yet individual response to the new article in the Guardian, with its heart-wrenching, terrifying truths. A few hours after a dream in which an insect presumed dead proved to be alive, I read the news that within a century they could ALL be gone. How are we meant to go on from here? I tried to muster up everything, anything inside of me; I tried to find the words. The only thought I had was: I have no words. Not in the way that the teenagers around me say ‘literally can’t even’ but rather: ‘I am living on my home island, on the soil of my ancestors, and I don’t even have the word for butterfly.’
Liu Cixin's war of the worlds

Travel Washington, DC, with Liu Cixin, and you see the US capitol compared to its cinema self (the Lincoln Memorial in person is disappointing, after Planet of the Apes). Reading about Liu in this profile has the same addictive feel as reading Liu, with the familiar and unfamiliar disorientingly reversed. But this is my favorite bit — a self-own of sorts by China’s college exams.

In China, one of his stories has been a set text in the _gao kao_ — the notoriously competitive college-entrance exams that determine the fate of ten million pupils annually; another has appeared in the national seventh-grade-curriculum textbook. When a reporter recently challenged Liu to answer the middle-school questions about the “meaning” and the “central themes” of his story, he didn’t get a single one right. “I’m a writer,” he told me, with a shrug. “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.”

Whatcha Reading, Erica C Witsell?

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.

Erica C Witsell is a North Carolina-based writer, teacher, and blogger, whose writing has appeared in many places, including the Sun Magazine. Her debut novel Give was just released on June 1st. Erica is crossing the nation on a book tour, and will appear tonight, June 30th, at the Ravenna Third Place Books at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

I wish I never had to finish One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain, even though it has me up reading way past my bedtime. With masterful prose and compelling characters, McClain digs deep into questions of motherhood, family, and mortality. This book is also making me very glad that I’m a vegetarian.

What did you read last?

I recently read Sugar Run by Mesha Maren, a Southern noir page-turner that explores the complicated nature of family and belonging. I loved Maren’s luscious prose and lonely characters, everyone longing for an elusive home. I also thoroughly enjoyed How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. This gem of a book is hilarious and heart-breaking all at once, and should, I think, be required reading for everyone, woman or otherwise.

What are you reading next?

Recently added to my to-read list are White Walls by Judy Batalion and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, both memoirs of daughterhood recommended to me at a book event because they share Give’s themes of complicated parenthood, loyalty, and forgiveness. I also can’t wait to read Cherry by Nico Walker and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

The Help Desk: Things better left unread

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 on vacation, so this column is a repeat from April of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

My aunt and I are avid readers and tend to trade books back and forth. If my mom (her sister) is there when my aunt returns one of my books and hears us talking about it, she always says "sounds interesting, can I borrow it?" But every time, sure enough, if I stop by my mom's house, the books are sitting in her front door staging area... you know, the spot where she puts things that she wants to remember to take with her when she leaves. She will keep my books for up to 3 months then return them and admit she "never got around" to reading them. The last time she did this I said "Mom, let's cut out the middle man here"...and I wouldn't let her borrow them. My aunt thinks I should apologize. What do you think?

Georgina, Federal Way

Dear Georgina,

I met a woman once – let's call her Jaustiny – whose mother sat her down at the tender age of 14 and told her that she was leaving the family to go find herself. Not only was she tired of being a mother, she'd decided that she really liked the name Jaustiny so she was legally changing her name to the name she'd bequeathed on her daughter. Then New Jaustiny peaced out to San Francisco, bought herself new tits and realized her dream of being a childless waitress/artist named Jaustiny with sexy breast-induced back issues. The psychological mindfuck of that aside, her mother's new identity created a lot of weird burdens in Original Jaustiny's life as she grew up – her mother developed a criminal record stemming from a brief career as a meth chef and had most recently stolen OJs identity and ruined her credit by buying matching Harleys for herself and her new boyfriend, all of which OJ had to account for.

OJ told me this story at a bbq. Ten feet away stood my own mother, who was evaluating some cowboy she'd just met for the quality of his sperm (for me. Always for me). As I watched her inspect his gums for disease I thought, "that old broad ain't so bad."

Your complaint is that your mother borrows books that you and your aunt have already read but she doesn't read them, correct? How does this actually impact you if you've already read the books? Your mom wants to feel included in the conversations and closeness you share with your aunt but she sucks at the follow-through. That is a harmless annoyance stemming from love.

Be sweet to your mom. Apologize. Let her borrow all the books she's guaranteed to never read and be thankful she's not a Harley-riding meth chef named Georgina.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 1

The Portrait Gallery: A typewriter

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

Saturday, June 39th: Event of the Week: Write-O-Rama

Hugo House hosts a wide array of educational programs, of course. They offer anything from one-day classes to season-long deep dives into the art of writing. But this Saturday, Hugo House is hosting Write-O-Rama, which packs an entire semester full of writing courses into a single afternoon.

Read more in our event of the week column....

Criminal Fiction: Under Juneuary skies

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Murder, lost masterpieces, and a centuries-old pursuit converge in Deon Meyer’s The Woman in the Blue Cloak (Atlantic). At a mere 172 pages, the cool novella punches above its weight, a tightly spun tale that touches on the vagaries of history, migration, and national identity, while also addressing the latest personal developments in the life of Captain Benny Griessel. Even in this briefer-than-usual format, Meyer’s dexterous, wide-ranging storytelling abilities shine: a London-based American art expert, a retired South African historian, a Cape Town fencer of stolen goods, and the possible discovery of a long-lost painting by Carel Fabritius – he of The Goldfinch and Donna Tartt literary fame – are just a few of the elements enlivening this tidy gem of a thriller.

The welcome return of Jackson Brodie in Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown), sees the canny private investigator – “a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen” – flitting about the more stunningly beautiful bits of Yorkshire with a sociable Labrador and Brodie’s less-sociable son in tow. As for this tome’s coincidences, one of them involves the just-as-welcome return of Reggie Chase, an engaging figure from Brodie’s past, while the other characters have more nefarious tendencies. A seasoned master of the literary juggling act, Atkinson takes gleeful pleasure in orchestrating the multiple complex mysteries – intimately personal, darkly criminal – so that they bump beguilingly up against each other.

The mean and far-flung streets of New York provide an atmospheric setting for Hilary Davidson’s One Small Sacrifice (Thomas & Mercer). From the dank innards of ancient downtown subway stations to the bucolic, leafy settings of the residential North Bronx, from Hell’s Kitchen to the sterile medical complexes of the Upper East Side, the various urban locations resonate as detective Sheryn Sterling and her new partner Rafael Mendoza navigate a case with history to it: Sterling has investigated war photographer Alex Traynor previously; now his fiancée and sometime Doctor-Without-Borders volunteer Emily Teare has gone missing. Davidson’s stealthily plotted, rapidly deployed, multi-stranded mystery encompasses the most intimate of brutalities – including domestic abuse and post-battlefield PTSD, a solid handful of dodgy characters, and, in the most humane of touches, a dog named Sid.

Anna is the wife of a rich Glaswegian lawyer and the mother of two adorable daughters. She’s also book-and-podcast obsessed, partially as a way to distance herself from an unhappy marriage and self-doubt. But one catastrophic day, Anna gets two nasty surprises: listening to a true-crime podcast, she learns of the death of someone from her past, and, in quick succession, her husband announces that he’s leaving her for her best friend. From there, things spiral impressively out of control – and not just because Anna is forced to go on the lam with her best friend’s spurned husband, Fin. The reading adventure that is Denise Mina’s Conviction (Mulholland), races at breakneck speed across Scotland to a luxurious castle, over the Channel to a damp bedsit in Venice, and along the train tracks of Europe, corralling a tantalizing bevy of characters – goodies, as well as ultra-villains – with every twist and revelation. Cleverly framed around one of our hottest cultural formats, Conviction, at its heart, is a terrific, old-fashioned thriller that keeps you pleasurably guessing every step of the way, and marks Mina at the top of her game (so far!).

If the title of Adrian McKinty’s new standalone psychological thriller, The Chain (Mulholland), makes you think of those annoying-if-innocent chain letters of your youth, you’d not be far wrong. The reality, in this case however, is far, far scarier. In McKinty’s devilishly capable hands, the penalties and payoffs for not participating in the eponymous chain are very much life-and-death: parents are being targeted not just by having their children kidnapped; they are then then informed that, in order to get their offspring back, they must kidnap someone else’s child, and so on and so forth. Terrified yet? Then consider the reaction of Rachel O'Neill, cancer survivor and all-round super-focused mom, when she learns that her daughter’s been kidnapped. McKinty, a terrific creator of characters when it comes to people under pressure – consider Sean Duffy, his maverick Northern Irish detective who polices Belfast during the Troubles – has struck new thriller gold with Rachel, an ordinary woman whose side you won’t be able to leave as she fights, tooth, nail, and whip-smart brain, with some of the creepiest baddies to rival those on both sides of Don Winslow’s The Border.

One of the current obvious outcomes of high-level capitalism come home to roost in The Farm, a chilling debut by Joanne Ramos (Random House), in which a group of pregnant women are groomed (and groomed!), cossetted in Golden Oaks, a dream of a rural “gestational retreat.” The expectant mothers are surrogates – their babies, if brought to term, will never be their own – who’ve been promised excellent compensation for their nine-month commitment. If they behave, that is. Golden Oaks, you see, is just one arm of a sprawling company called Holloway, purveyor of upscale clubs, yacht and private-jet management companies, and other once-luxury, now-basic life requirements for the ever-burgeoning one percent. Ramos’ success here is in giving living, breathing shape to everyone’s story, from the vulnerable women doing whatever they can to survive and feed their families, to the handful of puppet-masters who live high on the hog and shelter themselves behind deceptions and lies.

The Quintessential Interview: Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s Fall, or Dodge in Hell (William Morrow), is a glorious, sprawling, adventurous read – a 900-page page-turner, if you will – which takes artificial intelligence, the gamification of reality, digital uploads, and cloud-storage conceits to their potential outer-spatial conclusions, while making room for a chilling vision of a truth-free America, a spectacularly detailed creation-and-mythology story, and, yes, a good old-fashioned quest.

When Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, billionaire and tech-head extraordinaire, dies during a medical procedure, his family have to grapple with a health directive that includes preserving his brain for a future time when it can be re-booted, so to speak. As his family, colleagues, and frenemies work to honor – or, at times, exploit – his request, Stephenson’s narrative flows between his Earth-bound characters and those existing in a virtual universe. It’s a startling feat of literary wizardry, packed with salient satire and frequent punctuations of comic relief (“The hero who falls because of a cramp in his hamstring is not sung of….”), and threaded through with the indestructible bond of love between an uncle and his niece.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Excellent prose stylists: Edward Gibbon. Charles Dickens. Winston Churchill. Peter Fleming. Rebecca West

Top five places to write?

My office. My office. My office. My office. My office.

Top five favorite authors?

Matt Ruff. Austin Grossman. Charles Mann. Joe Abercrombie. Nicole Galland.

Top five tunes to write to?

I don’t know because I use Pandora playlists! The one I’ve been listening to most of late is based on Groove Armada.

Top five hometown spots?

Machine House Brewery. Hazard Factory.  Jules Maes. SANCA. Raconteur

Thursday Comics Hangover: Check this one out

There is no better way to kill time in Georgetown than the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. I could lose an hour or more in the half-off damaged room in the back of the store alone, with its weird mixture of old promotional comics, dented-up copies of new Fantagraphics books and weird old foreign language editions of popular books.

But the best browsing at Fantagraphics is the minicomics, which have spread from a display at the front of the store to a few racks around the space. Local and national talent blur together on the minicomics shelves, and new books and used books all look the same.

I picked up a copy of Katie Fricas's minicomic Checked Out: L'autobiographie d'une Bibliophile. It's listed as issue number one, though there's no sign on the shelves if Fricas ever published a second issue — or even when she first published Checked Out. There's a "2018" spelled out on the back page, so maybe it came out somewhere in that yearlong window? Who can say?

Still, if you're spending time on a site called the Seattle Review of Books, odds are good you'd enjoy Checked Out. The book is split into two main stories with a few gag strips, all having something to do — at least peripherally — with libraries. The first story is about Fricas's childhood love affair with Lois Lowry's young adult novel A Summer to Die, which she encountered at the library.

In Checked Out, Fricas uses watercolors to great effect: the colors all bleed into each other, simulating the fading effect of memory and the vividness of youth. There's a kind of unsettling paranoia to the way the colors saturate every inch of every page, disrespecting panel borders and turning each page into a closeup of Fricas's psyche.

"I remember being little and looking out the windows of the children's library," Fricas writes, "wondering why the books out there were classified as 'adult.' What could possibly be in them that was different from all the other books I could read? Did they use different kind of words?"

She concludes, "I still don't know the answer to this question."

In Checked Out's second story, an adult Fricas, now a library worker herself, tracks an older patron's descent into infirmity and death through her visits to the library. The older woman, a glamorous lady named Mrs Hirsch, has difficulty taking the stairs. Then she sends her doorman to pick up her books. Then, nothing.

That Fricas manages to pack vignettes that stretch from childhood to to death from old age into a single six-dollar minicomic is a feat worth celebrating. But that she's able to do it with a bold and gaudy watercolor style that is at once unsettling and stunning is practically unbelievable. This is a beautiful, thoughtful, vivid memoir told in books. In other words, it's exactly the kind of find that makes an afternoon spent browsing feel wholly worth it, and then some.

West Seattle Food Bank needs your books

If you have any extra books sitting around — particularly children's books — the West Seattle Food Bank is looking for some books this month. According to West Seattle Blog, the organization distributes some twelve thousand books per year. They accept donations from 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday.

We expect a lot from this year's Hugo House Fellows

Earlier today, we checked in with author Anca Szilagyi, who was in the first class of Hugo House's Made at Hugo Fellowship. This week, Hugo House announced the 2019-2020 class of Hugo Fellows: Joyce Chen, Shelby Handler, Piper Lane, Sasha LaPointe, Abi Pollokoff, and Jen Soriano. The writers are working on pieces including a book of essays, memoirs, novels, and poetics. With the help of established authors like Hugo House writers-in-residence Laura Da’ and Kristen Millares Young, these writers will form a peer group to refine and edit their projects, and they'll eventually present the work in a series of showcases. They'll also receive nuts-and-bolts advice on how to become an author — everything from business advice to networking tips to Hugo House's many educational programs. We look forward to their upcoming work; they're walking in the footsteps of some very impressive authors.

Exit Interview: Anca Szilagyi on overcoming Seattle's loneliness

For a while there, Anca Szilagyi was everywhere in Seattle. You may know her from The Furnace reading series, which she co-founded with writer Corinne Manning, or from her beautiful debut novel Daughters of the Air, or from Sugar, her tiny love letter to the Pike Place Market, or from her time as a Made at Hugo Fellow, or from that time she won the inaugural Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award. Earlier this year, after a decade of ubiquitousness, Szilagyi moved away from Seattle. I'm grateful that she took some time off from acclimating to her new home to discuss the city she left behind. The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

So, first off, where did you move and why?

My husband Michael and I moved to Chicago. We'd been in Seattle for about 10 years; we came out there so I could go to graduate school, and just stayed.

We enjoyed our time in Seattle, but the call to home just kept getting louder, I suppose. Home for me is New York, and home for him is Chicago, and so Chicago seemed like a good, affordable place for a writer and a public servant to settle in to next.

You still have some affiliations here in Seattle, though, right?

Yeah, thanks to the internet. I've been teaching online classes at Hugo House, and also doing manuscript consultations through them.

Your debut novel, Daughters of the Air, didn't have Seattle in it, but you did write Sugar, a wonderful little book about and set in the Pike Place Market. Do you think that Seattle is going to represent itself in your work as you move forward?

Oh yeah. I think coming to Seattle was helpful for me to finish my book set in New York. And there's Sugar and then a few other short stories I've written that are set in Seattle. There's a rough draft of a Seattle novel that's fermenting somewhere — I can't tell you when that'll be done, but it's definitely fermenting.

So what are you working on now?

I'm back to working on a novel set in the late medieval period in the Netherlands. The [Gar LaSalle] Storyteller Award allowed me to go there in 2016 to do a little research. I'm back to working on that now, that I'm getting my wits about me with this move.

Did anything about leaving Seattle surprise you? Did Seattle meet or exceed your expectations in any way?

I do think I grew a lot in the last 10 years. It was, in the end, an extremely supportive community, but it took some time.

If you had asked me in 2012, when I finished my MFA, I think I would've been surprised about how I would feel leaving — just the amount of support that I've gotten from Hugo House and Artist Trust and 4Culture. And the book launch for my novel at the Sorrento was such a special night — just such a full room of smiling, happy faces. Beautiful.

But it was definitely a little lonely at first. It just took some time to keep showing up and to make my way that way. I suppose I learned showing up helps.

Could you talk a little bit about the loneliness, what that means as a writer, specifically?

Coming into Seattle I did have the UW, so I was in that little enclave for two years. Coming out of that, I think that's where the loneliness set in. Even with Castalia, I was kind of a stranger at Hugo House, just showing up at events, and trying to introduce myself.

Things turned around when I met [Corinne Manning]. I think she was experiencing a similar thing. We decided to start The Furnace together, and I think that that helped a lot. We wanted The Furnace to be this welcoming space. We very purposefully invited people to read who were not reading all the time, and people who you wanted to spotlight and get to read an entire story rather than a little excerpt here or there. I think through that, that really set other things in motion to feel more a part of the literary community.

So making a space for yourself, and then doing the reaching out to readers, is what made the difference, you think?

I think it did — between that and then eventually getting a little institutional support from Hugo House through the Made at Hugo House Fellowship. I think those two things together helped a lot.

What's your advice for writers who are feeling that kind of deep loneliness?

If you're at a literary event saying hello to a stranger — even just introducing yourself, as hard as that can be — I think that could have made the difference for me in that little gap in time where things were lonely.

Capitol Hill "festival street" to be renamed for local bookseller?

JSeattle at Capitol Hill Seattle Blog writes that a portion of Denny Way by the Capitol Hill light rail station is set to be named after a co-founder of Seattle's best-loved LGBTQ bookstore:

The block-long Barbara Bailey Way will honor Barbara Bailey who founded Broadway’s much-loved Bailey/Coy Books only blocks away and passed away last fall.

What a wonderful tribute to a bookseller who worked hard to make Capitol Hill welcoming for so many.

Seattle is a story

Published June 25, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Serin D. Houston’s Imagining Seattle: Social Values in Urban Governance .

A new academic book examines the disparity between the wealthy white Seattle of myth and the huge inequalities of Seattle as it actually is.

Read this review now



                they call it earthing
to pad along shoeless, prying fear
from between curled toes

                my bare feet
pulse along shoreline
                my blood

follows me
from Minnesota roots
to the puddle chest:

rain waxes      a moon
evaporates pondwater
                my own bones

make the moss-limb
house of my new backyard
                I’m no more scolded

for running naked of shoes
for living as if there were no stingers,
glass shards, dog shit, pine pitch

                now feel: egg-print heal
pressed to sand
or river mud, mark both

sole and soul
                I earth
into place

Mail Call for June 24, 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.

Our thanks to Craig Hurd-McKinney for sponsoring this week!

This week, The Seattle Review of Books is sponsored by Craig Hurd-McKenney, writer, editor, and publisher of comic books. To mark Pride Week, Hurd-McKinney is sharing The Magic If: a comic created with art team Gervasio and Carlos Aon that explores imagination, compulsion, and the magic of human connection. The protagonist of The Magic If is Wynter Steele, a young magician so obsessed with his craft that he can't help but fail at it. When a flashy stunt magician comes to town, Wynter's worst self goes head to head with the people who love him.

Check out a few pages from The Magic If, which Hurd-McKenney is generously sharing on our sponsor feature page this week only.

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. We've got just a few dates left this summer — nab one now 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 24th - June 30th

Monday, June 24th: A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do Reading

Northwest author Pete Fromm, who is beloved by booksellers from Seattle to Missoula, returns with his new novel, which is reportedly "a love story about family and resiliency and second chances. It's about a man who has to step up and be a single father after tragedy strikes. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, June 25th: Clarion West Presents Elizabeth Hand

The Seattle-based sci-fi and fantasy writing organization brings a bestselling genre author to town. Hand has written novels and literary criticism and historical essays, and her upcoming novel Curious Toys is being pitched as "The Alienist meets Devil in the White City, which are two books that kept me up very late at night turning pages. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, June 26th: Exhalation Reading

Ted Chiang is one of the Seattle-area's most influential sci-fi writers. He's always been a quiet force at sci-fi readings around town: you can feel him in the back of the room, and you can feel other authors' regard for his attention. He's a smart writer of brilliant sci-fi, and now that one of his stories has been adapted into Arrival, it seems the whole world finally knows it. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, June 27th: Papeachu Review Release Party

Contributors to the second issue of Seattle's own Papeachu Review, "a bi-annual print anthology of female and nonbinary creations,* will read their work to celebrate the new issue. This issue, incidentally, features work on the theme of "beauty." Belltown Yacht Club, 2320 1st Avenue (Basement),, 7 pm, free.

Friday, June 28th: Two Poets

Dobby Gibson is the award-winning author, most recently, of Little Glass Planet. Zachary Schomburg is a popular Portland-based poet, novelist, and publisher. (You might know him as one of the tendrils behind Octopus Books, which is doing beautiful work in the publishing space. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, June 39th: Write-O-Rama

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 1 pm, $60-100.

Sunday, June 30th: African-American Writers Alliance Reading

Founded in January of 1991, the African-American Writers’ Alliance is "an informal gathering of Northwest black writers meeting for mutual support and encouragement through the exchange of ideas and concepts became a reality." This afternoon's reading is a celebration of some of the organization's most exciting members. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 4:30 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Write-O-Rama at Hugo House

Hugo House hosts a wide array of educational programs, of course. They offer anything from one-day classes to season-long deep dives into the art of writing. But this Saturday, Hugo House is hosting Write-O-Rama, which packs an entire semester full of writing courses into a single afternoon.

Write-O-Rama's hundred-dollar price tag might seem hefty if you're just idly looking for something to do, but the truth is that it's a bargain for the amount of classes you get.

Here are just a few classes available this Saturday, with descriptions provided by Hugo House:

  • Essay Experiment: Digression with Waverly Fitzgerald Try out a digressive essay, an essay that rambles from subject to subject.
  • Stuck in the Middle with Jennifer Haupt We’ll explore one key structural component you can develop at the beginning of your book to avoid the mid-point slump. (It also works if you’re already stuck!)
  • Creating Urgent Scenes in Memoir with Christine Hemp In 50 minutes (!), you will draft a new scene for your memoir-in-progress. Come learn how dramatizing a single moment can create a sense of urgency (even without dialogue).
  • Write Your Novel Now! with Susan Meyers How do you start—and finish—a novel? Come generate ideas—and a plan! This session offers insights into hooking the reader and developing a plot, to shaping chapters and keeping the momentum—both yours and the story’s—to go the distance!
  • Plotting with Index Cards with Paul Mullin Using index cards and fairy tales, we’ll manipulate the basic building blocks of plotting to fully flesh out your story.
  • Writing with Emotion with Rachel Lynn Solomon We want to connect with a character so we can root for them, laugh with them, cry for them. We will focus on adding more emotion to your writing through interiority, dialogue, and narration.

Sure, each of these sound great on their own. But the thing that Write-O-Rama offers that no other writing course in town can offer is enthusiasm. You get to be in a room full of people who want to write, who made time in their schedule to immerse themselves in the craft. You can't pay for the kind of boost that a crowd of people in love with literature can give you. That's the secret weapon which makes Write-O-Rama so indispensable.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 1 pm, $60-100.

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