Write Here Write Now is back!

A special thank-you to Seattle7Writers for sponsoring this week and for six months of support of the site. Thank you, Seattle7, even more for everything you do to enrich Seattle's literary community!

And thank you to Hugo House, for adopting one of Seattle7Writers' signature programs: Write Here Write Now. Write Here Write Now is one of a kind. The one-day event brings together a hundred writers (or more!) of all skill levels for eight hours of mini-workshops, one-on-one conferences with established talent, and the writing equivalent of interval training — short, focused bursts of concentrated writing.

It would have been a shame to see it go. But instead, thanks to Hugo House, we're celebrating its renewal. April 14 is the first Write Here Write now in its new home (which also happens to be Hugo House's new home). Find out more on our sponsor feature page. Don't miss this chance to be part of a new tradition.

Want to hear how much we love you? You can sponsor us, just like Seattle7Writers. Well, nobody's like Seattle7Writers — but you can sponsor us just like you. If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from January 28th - February 3rd

Monday, January 28: To Keep the Sun Alive Reading

Rabeah Ghaffari's novel is set just before the Iranian Revolution, in a country wracked with arguments over religion and politics. Can a family stay together, even as a nation falls apart? Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, January 29: Last Boat Out of Shanghai Reading

Helen Zia's latest book is subtitled The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution. It's a work of journalism tracking four people who escaped from Shanghai and forged new lives elsewhere. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, January 30: Murray Morgan, Master Storyteller of the Pacific Northwest

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307, http://www.folioseattle.org, 7 pm, $10.

Thursday, January 31: Papeachu Review Release Party

Contributors to the first issue of Papeachu Review, "a bi-annual literary journal of female and enby creations," will read their pieces from the magazine and talk about what the journal means to them. Copies of Papeachu Review will be available for sale. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, https://www.facebook.com/events/2160915713961071/, 7 pm, free.

Friday, February 1: Deep Creek Reading

Pam Houston is always a lot of fun. Her readings are lively and audiences always come ready to laugh and cry and hoot and holler. Her writing advice is candid and often hilarious. Her Q&A sessions alone are reason enough to come out for one of her events. So why not turn up for this reading from her new memoir? At the very least, you'll have a great time. And that's not nothin'.

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

Saturday, February 2: Martin and Bobby Reading

At this event for a book tracking the contentious relationship between Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, student activists will talk about the legacy of the two men and why it still reverberates in the world of politics today. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, pm, free.

Sunday, February 3: American Prophets Reading

Local poetry expert Paul Nelson, who is a founder of SPLAB and the Cascadia Poetry Festival, reads from his newest book. It's titled American Prophets: Interviews with Thinkers, Activists, Poets & Visionaries. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Skid Road discussion at Folio

When I moved to Seattle in the year 2000, the very first book I bought and read was Murray Morgan's Skid Road. Subtitled An Informal Portrait of Seattle, Skid Road is a history of Seattle with all the boring parts left out. Morgan understood what people want to read in their history books: the sex, the scams, the vainglorious assholes who look at a plot of land that belongs to someone else and decides to stick a city there.

Skid Road is a source code for everything that happened in Seattle after the white men showed up and fucked over the native population. Tim Egan said that "no one has written a better book about Seattle," and that "Skid Road has our soul down cold. I see no lie in that statement.

Even now, with our shiny glass towers and our unspeakably wealthy population, the grift is still on here: you can see the dumb machismo and stake-claiming bloviation in the Amazon Spheres, which push a testicular energy toward any who'd try to take South Lake Union away from Jeff Bezos.

This Wednesday in the Pike Place Market, Folio will be hosting a conversation about Skid Road and it's legacy. Seattle book reviewer Mary Ann Gwinn, who wrote the introduction to the latest edition of Skid Road, will be joined by Morgan's daughter Lane Morgan and Seattle novelist Jim Lynch to talk about how Skid Road had the city down cold from its publication in 1951.

Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307, http://www.folioseattle.org, 7 pm, $10.

The Sunday Post for January 27, 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.

A Labyrinth in the Shape of a Book

In a new take on "lose yourself in a books," Reina Hardy remembers a terrifying choose-your-own adventure called The Maze. Surreal and sinister, part puzzle room, part clickbait, the book sounds transfixing. And Hardy's essay, which mimics the looping, confounding style of the classic genre, is as well.

Room 24 was terrifying. And yet, it was also a release. There were no more doors to open, no more secrets to chase. There was no more reason to try. Perhaps the sensible thing to do, when you reach Room 24, is to admit defeat and lie down in the darkness.
The Bulletproof Coffee Founder Has Spent $1 Million in His Quest to Live to 180

Dave Asprey founded an empire around the idea that a pat of butter makes coffee not just tasty, but healthy. (Or should that be "not just healthy, but tasty"? I'm not sure which is more implausible.) His new aspiration: crash-test his body with stem-cell infusions, ice baths, and smart drugs. This is a bit of a train wreck, and I'm trying to find value beyond the fact that I can't look away from Asprey's glossy, glassy grin. Hmm. Nope. It's just pure voyeurism. Enjoy!

Ten days before I met him at his home in British Columbia, Dave Asprey went to a clinic in Park City, Utah, where a surgeon harvested half a liter of bone marrow from his hips, filtered out the stem cells, and injected them into every joint in his body. He then threaded a cannula along Asprey’s spinal column and injected stem cells inside his spinal cord and into his cerebral fluid. “And then they did all the cosmetic stuff,” Asprey told me. “Hey, I’m unconscious, you’ve got extra stem cells — put ’em everywhere!” Everywhere meaning his scalp, to make his hair more abundant and lustrous; his face, to smooth out wrinkles; and his “male organs,” for — well, I’ll leave that part up to your imagination.
The Radical Organizing That Paved the Way for LA’s Teachers’ Strike

Every article Sarah Jaffe writes is a master class in effective activism. This piece, which dissects how school teachers in Los Angeles fought against ongoing funding cuts, is both hopeful and daunting. As Seattle faces its own cuts in funding for schools, are we prepared to mount an equal defense? I'd like to think so. We're not a city starved of resources, after all. We're a city starving itself.

That has meant using the union’s foundation arm to give funds to DACA recipients to renew their papers. It has meant pushing back in bargaining on “random” searches of students on campus. And it has meant calling for the district to establish an immigrant-defense fund to support families threatened by Trumpism. Even the school-funding question, Caputo-Pearl says, needs to be seen through an understanding of institutional racism. California, he notes, used to rank among the states in the nation with the highest per-pupil funding. But as the proportion of nonwhite students in the public schools increased, tax revolts ensured the schools would be starved, and politicians began to cut back further. Now, California ranks 43rd in the nation — this despite the vast wealth that literally looms over the school district in the forms of millionaires’ homes in the hills and studio buildings downtown.

Whatcha Reading, Aaron Bagley?

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

Aaron Bagley is an artist, illustrator, writer, and bookseller. You may recognize his name from his weekly Seattle Review of Books comic Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics. He's the co-author, with his wife Jessixa Bagley, of the children's book Vincent Comes Home. Aaron and Jessixa will be signing books today at 2:30pm, at the American Library Association Seattle (that's at the Convention Center, but if you're attending, you probably already knew that). Find them inside at the SCWBI booth.

What are you reading now?

A while back someone dumped a bunch of zines at Mercer Street Books. I took home three Esther Pearl Watson zines with silkscreened covers. My favorite is Hero Land - a survey of superheroes’ daily lives - Wonder Woman’s invisible ship’s dirty windshield, Batman’s fat hand, and Superman’s pathetic, potted strawberries. Also took I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt, which is delightfully crass, and a Seinfeld fanzine by someone who goes by Uno Foto. In the introduction to the Seinfeld fanzine the first line states, “I’m probably the only brown person to be as obsessed with Seinfeld as I am”. Zines are the best.

What did you read last?

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, which is about the use of psychedelic drugs to help with addiction, depression, consciousness, dying, and transcendence. I started this last summer on the heels of a psilocybin trip. I didn’t plan to do research before reading this book, but it really helped my enjoyment of it. My main takeaway from How to Change Your Mind is that there will always be a stigma about psychedelics despite their authority to help people break out of unhealthy ‘default mode thinking’ - which is happens in depression, addiction, and dying. Funny thing - it took 377 pages before a mention of a ‘dud trip’. Needless to say, I laughed out loud on page 377.

What are you reading next?

Probably something to my son, Baxter. He’s only four but enjoys listening to a longer book. My wife is going through all of Roald Dahl’s classics with him. Anyway, after Baxter goes to bed I’d like to read some James Baldwin. I haven’t read Baldwin yet, I’m really looking forward to it.

The Help Desk: The unbearable shallowness of Twilight

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

Dear Cienna,

This year is the 10th anniversary of the first Twilight movie, and I'm still furious at the way those books were mercilessly mocked by the media. Everyone snickered at the kissy-face vampire books, but now many of those same grown-ass adults (mostly men) are talking about the high quality and dense subtexts of superhero movies.

I don't mean to get too grandiose here, but I think that we're not going to resolve the issues of sexism that cause widespread harassment until we acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with romance novels. Or sexy vampire fantasies. Or romantic comedies.

When your culture giggles at teenage girls having feelings about Robert Pattinson, it makes sense that the same culture is going to misunderstand and mishandle female sexuality.

Cienna, have you read Twilight? Am I just making up an elaborate theory to justify my continuing frustration with the world?

Bella, Forks

Dear Bella,

Yes, I read the Twilight series and The Host, which was Stephenie Meyer's first post-vampire kissy novel. I had mixed feelings about Twilight. Meyer is masterful at capturing the obsessive fantasy of love that we're conditioned to think is grand – the kind of love that squeezes out hobbies and independent, platonic friendships and demands you carry a vampire fetus to full term because your life's purpose is to physically manifest a demonic symbol of your obsession with another individual. It's easy to get swept up in that (vampire fetus aside).

And you're right – there's nothing wrong with romance novels. They're great! Reciprocal love is desired by everyone on the planet and acknowledging that shouldn't be gendered. But I do have an issue with books that use love as a stand-in for identity, as I would argue Twilight does.

Twilight glorifies co-dependence – the characters are focused inward, on building and maintaining an exclusive love nest built for two and the tension/plot lines revolve around outside forces attempting to disrupt that status. I think it's lazy and boring. The Host is similarly constructed.

There are plenty of good romance novels that are more balanced. Pride and Prejudice and Crazy Rich Asians both do a superb job of using diverse characters – all with deep backstories – to contrast the dull pragmatism of marriage versus the glory of love.

I'm not a superhero expert but of the comics I've read and movies I've seen, the better ones feature characters that are grappling with themes of personal identity, alienation, illusions of grandeur, and how to navigate in society while saving the world – in other words, they are more outward- than inward-facing and don't use emotions as placeholders for personality (they use superpowers instead!). All of this gives readers more to latch on to and identify with.

What I'm saying, Bella, is that you're right – sexism exists and certainly is manifested in how our culture genders, mocks and glorifies genre fiction. But the Twilight series is a turd. I'm sorry to tell you, not even glitter can gussy up that log.

If you're in the market for less creepy romance writing, I'd suggest giving Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan a shot.



2019 Orcas Island Lit Fest tickets now on sale

Tickets are now on sale for the Orcas Island Lit Fest, an all-ages literary festival featuring a host of local and national authors happening at the Orcas Center from April 5th through 7th. If you spring for a weekend pass, you'll also enjoy a host of discounts at lots of local Orcas Island bars, restaurants, hotels, and gyms.

You can read all about the Lit Fest on its website, but some of the authors include:

  • Therese Marie Mailhot
  • Nicola Griffith
  • Judith Thurman
  • Mat Johnson
  • Eric Puchner
  • Tom Barbash
  • Rick Barot
  • Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith

That's a mix of memoirists, poets, YA authors, sci-fi authors, and novelists — both bestsellers and critically acclaimed writers.

The Fest will include an opening-night literary walk including events all around Orcas Island's main village of Eastsound, a book fair, panels, readings, and a special event for kids at the local library.

Look: I've said before and I'll say again that Seattle doesn't need a literary festival. We've got more quality literary events going on on any given night than any human could possibly hope to attend. What we do need are literary festivals that celebrate this region and which provide access to great literature and brilliant authors in an intimate and supportive setting. In other words, we need more festivals like this one.

Get your tickets today.

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Herb

Portrait Gallery: Kristen Roupenian

Kristen Roupenian portrait

Author of the viral New Yorker story "Cat Person", Kristen Roupenian is appearing at the University Book Store tomorrow, January 25th, at 7pm to talk about her short story collection You Know You Want This.

Criminal Fiction: Invisible shivers running down my spine

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

Happy New Year! Please enjoy this musical interlude, a video of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” by the joyous Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, belting it out at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017.

And, closer to home, the ace Australian crime-fiction writer Jane Harper will be in conversation with Danya Kukafka at Third Place Books, Lake Forest, on February 5, marking the publication of her third thriller, The Lost Man.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

A superior-court judge with a promisingly stellar career arc ahead of her, Juliana Brody finds her very existence rapidly coming off the rails after an ill-advised one-night stand in Judgment by Joseph Finder (Dutton). To term this thriller “twisty” is putting it mildly: a massive proportion of the pleasure here is reading rapidly along as a smart, feisty, refreshingly imperfect woman grimly holds on for dear life while riding an unexpected personal rollercoaster, digging deep to find personal strengths – shards of ruthless inner steel, really – she previously only guessed at. Finder’s narrative zips ahead at a steady clip, incorporating multiple contemporary zeitgeists in its slipstream.

A tarot-card-inflected series of murders thrusts Robicheaux and Clete Purcel into the dark shadows of Hollywood illusions and creepy hitmen in James Lee Burke’s The New Iberia Blues (Simon & Schuster), a novel in which spirit worlds, the physical degradation of Louisiana, a plentiful bevy of dive bars, and the soulless evil behind money-laundering collide. Poet-philosopher-police detective Dave Robicheaux is in fine form here – his ruminations on himself, his friends and family, and the world around him are literary gold – and Burke, the poet-philosopher of American crime-writing, even more so.

On a quiet Bristol street, in Lisa Jewell’s Watching You (Atria), there’s little privacy between neighbors, from the perfect fix-it-all headmaster and his on-the-spectrum son, to a happy-go-lucky young woman and a teenage girl caring for her mentally ill mother. When murder-most-gruesome takes place in one of their houses, the stage is set for an intriguing exploration of the who and the why. A master at unspooling tightly told tales, Jewell specializes in perfectly-pitched thrillers without sacrificing a drop of her characters’ complexities, secrets, and desires, and this latest one is no exception.

The stage is set for a wild Strangers-on-a-Train ride in Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), when Dana Diaz' and Amanda Dorn’s eyes meet across a crowded room: Dana is doing her stand-up routine on an Austin stage; Amanda is in the audience offering Dana a bit of friendly succor during a heckling moment. But while this “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” plotline includes moments of delicious and perhaps appropriate revenge, all is not what it seems to be. Woven into the suspenseful narrative are elements of the #MeToo movement and the gig economy, as well a few familiar old chestnuts including the vagaries of friendship and lost loves, the heartbreak of deception, and the heart-stopping chill of insidious intents.

Lyndsay Faye’s The Paragon Hotel (Putnam) is a joyful tour-de-force, a crime novel that lunges from early 20th Century Manhattan, its neighborhoods in the grip of the Mafia, to 1921 Portland, Oregon, where the Ku Klux Klan are fomenting fear. Issues of race and drugs and sexism run rampant, as do manifestations of loyalty, friendship, and sheer, bloody-minded survival. Faye clearly relishes her work, wielding 100-year-old street vernacular as well as her richly delineated characters with an assured hand. All this, plus a nifty ode to the power of journalism as an active form of resistance: “….I wonder what a thousand Jennies, sitting at a thousand typewriters and punching millions upon millions of letters into straight columns, all those separate words in newspapers across the nation marching as one great force, might accomplish if given the means and the time.” Ace.

Ex-Detroit-cop August Octavio Snow is bent on the protecting the streets of his Mexicantown neighborhood in the terrific Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho). When a young undocumented immigrant – known to Snow’s activist neighbor and godmother – is pulled from the Detroit River, the stage is set for some fierce vigilante action as Snow and his friends take on ICE, as well as a clutch of unofficial criminal organizations including white supremacist groups (or, “neo-Nutsys,” as Snow calls them). FBI Special Agent Megan O’Donnell still has Snow’s back – and he still gets some less-willing support from the Detroit cop-shop – but his real support system consists of the men and women of the city’s streets, his friends, neighbors, and adopted colleagues – and a mouth-watering supply of delicious food and warming whisky.

In the opening pages of Jessica Barry’s suspense-ridden Freefall (Harper), Allison Carpenter regains consciousness in the Colorado Rockies amidst the wreckage of a plane crash: she knows she must keep moving – while staying hidden – or risk certain death. Meanwhile, in Maine, her mother, Maggie, struggles to come to terms with the fact that her daughter has been reported dead. As the convoluted tale of the previous two years unfolds – what the hell was Allison doing in a tiny prop plane, anyway? – the recently-fraught relationship between mother and daughter proves to be the one thing holding each of them together.

The Quintessential Interview: Taylor Adams

At a remote rest stop, in a blizzard, on her way to try to get to her dying mom’s bedside, Darby Thorne is forced to pull in out of the storm in Taylor Adams’ No Exit (William Morrow). It’s okay, though – there are four other stranded travelers there, so Darby isn’t alone. Trying fruitlessly to find a signal for her cell phone outside the building, Darby instead makes a most unwelcome discovery, and the thriller takes off from there. Relentlessly suspenseful and all-too-realistically gory in equal parts, No Exit is both impressively visual and impressively visceral.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

#1 is my couch, if it's a weekend. And #2 is the Sounder train to work, if it's a weekday. And...that's it, actually. I stick to a pretty rigid schedule – two hours of writing a day, no excuses – and the real blessing of living a ways north of Seattle is that now I can get my writing done as part of my train commute to my day job! (And, come to think of it, I suppose writing place #3 would be my desk, at work, when no one is looking.)

Top five favorite authors?

This is a tough one. How about: Scott Smith (The Ruins is the most crushingly realistic look at human frailty under pressure I've ever read), Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves is utterly brilliant), Stephen Hunter (nobody writes vivid, dangerous, sit-up-and-pay-attention action scenes like he does), Gillian Flynn (prose sharp enough to cut yourself on), and lastly, I'm a HUGE fan of the little-known Stephen King.

Top five tunes to write to?

I love writing to film soundtracks – anything tense, dynamic, and emotionally charged – so trailer music often fits the bill. Of course, it all depends on the tone of what I'm working on, but some favorites right now include the soundtracks to Sunshine, Dunkirk, 28 Days Later, Annihilation, and "Don't Fear the Reaper" (Blue Öyster Cult) – yes, not a movie soundtrack, but for some reason I'm obsessed with it right now.

Top five hometown spots?

So although some of these aren't quite "hometown” specific, they're certainly a drivable distance from Seattle, and all fun destinations I can't recommend enough:

  1. Mount St. Helens: Challenging hiking, stunning geological history, and incredibly cool lava tubes to crawl through (headlamp required)
  2. Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum: An amazing collection of historic military aircraft and armor, and much of it still drives and flies. (The air shows are spectacular)
  3. Long Beach, WA: A relaxing beach town where I like to hide from my obligations and emails.
  4. The Reptile Zoo in Monroe: Even if you're not a fan of reptiles, where else can you see all 10 of the world's 10 deadliest snakes?
  5. Ruston Way Waterfront: A stunning waterfront in Tacoma with a paved trail for running. (Well, usually walking. I'm lazy).

Thursday Comics Hangover: A pair of orphans

Two weeks ago, I gushed over the first issue of Brian Michael Bendis's Young Justice. Today, I'm gushing over the first issue of another book from Bendis's Wonder Comics line of superhero comics for young readers.

Naomi is the story of a young woman whole world is upended when Superman fights a bad guy in her small Oregon town. That superhero battle — just a handful of seconds in a planet-spanning fistfight with the villain Mongul — causes Naomi to start asking questions about her town. By the end of the issue, we don't have any answers, but it's clear that she's onto something big.

It's pretty clear that Bendis, who co-wrote the script with David F. Walker, is feeling reinvigorated from his recent move from Marvel to DC Comics. He's one of the best Superman writers of this generation — as in Bendis's other books, his Superman is kind and optimistic and trustworthy — and his Wonder Comics line offers a cheery and upward-facing look into the huge, ridiculous, complex world of DC Comics.

But as great as the writerly components are, Naomi wouldn't be the standout it is without Jamal Campbell's artwork. The polish and detail in every panel of Naomi rewards close investigation — you get the sense that Campbell has laid out every street of Naomi's town. Every detail in the art and colors, from the Pacific Northwest grey skies to the warm glow of a forest sunset, feels deeply considered and thoroughly impressive. I'm entirely on board for this one.

Much of Naomi's mystery centers around the title character's orphan status. Weirdly, it's not the only excellent first issue on the stands this week about a mysterious orphan. Gary Whitta and Darick Robertson's Oliver is a post-apocalyptic riff on Oliver Twist that is way better than that pitch sounds.

This isn't a slavish adaptation of the Dickens novel — more a series of echoes of the original text. A child is born in a militaristic camp full of hard-bitten men, and one of their number decides to take pity on him rather than turn him over to the authorities. (I saw a lot of children killed in the war, one of them says. Sometimes at night I still see them. I don't think I can be a part of that again.)

The book then flashes forward three years, to a young Oliver leaping through the streets of London with a strength and vitality that surprises even his adopted father.

If you've read Transmetropolitan, you don't need me to tell you that Darick Robertson is one of the best serialized comics artists working today. Robertson is the whole package: he can do action, facial expressions and body language, dialogue, and scene-setting with what looks like incredible ease.

Robertson is paired here with colorist Diego Rodriguez, who has cloaked the book in tans and browns and deep reds. It sounds limiting, but the book carries an atmospheric richness that saves the post-apocalyptic setting from feeling too depressing or claustrophobic.

I have no inside information on where Naomi or Oliver are going, but both books are off to phenomenal starts. Their central characters are inspirational, the worldbuilding is excellent, and the mysteries establish a sense of promise. I'm excited to follow both of these orphans on their adventures.

Mail Call for January 23, 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.

Bookstores, authors affected by the government shutdown

Amelia Stymacks at Melville House reports that Washington DC bookstores have started to feel the effects of Donald Trump's Completely Unnecessary Government Shutdown™.

Kramerbooks spokeswoman Leah Frelinghuysen said the shutdown has resulted in a decline in “drop-in tourism as a result of the museums being closed” and “government contractors not traveling to D.C.”

Tom King (author of Vision and Mister Miracle) knows all about government work — he was employed by the CIA for almost ten years before he got into comics. He's been donating books to out-of-work employees and hosting special events for people affected by the shutdown. If you're an author, you might want to consider following King's lead.

Save our school libraries!

Ashley Gross writes at KNKX:

The Seattle school district has been warning for about a year that it faces a budget deficit in the 2019-20 school year. Now, the district has laid out its plans for making $39.7 million dollars’ worth of cuts, including removing assistant principals from some schools and reducing some librarians to part time.

A few years ago, I talked with Seattle-area school librarians about their jobs; they were already making do with very little. At what point do our local schools do away with libraries altogether? I don't think we're too far away from that right now.

Reminder: Two of the richest human beings on planet earth live in Washington state. This is unacceptable.

How Dujie Tahat is teaching himself to be a Seattle poet

"My entry into writing poems was through spoken word — through Youth Speaks Seattle," Dujie Tahat says. "The voice in my poetry is me, it's my voice, and so it needs to fit in my mouth."

Tahat, the Seattle Review of Books Poet in Residence for December, is trying to answer the thoroughly unfair question that I had just lobbed at him: basically, why are you so good at reading your own work?

I'd read Tahat's writing months before I saw him read his own work. (Full disclosure: Tahat and I worked together for over a year at Civic Ventures, where we collaborated on a number of political and economics messaging projects.) His writing is confessional and striking and lyrical, but seeing him read his own work is a revelation: he's an electric performer, one who knows how to keep a crowd hanging by their fingertips to every syllable.

"I think I was always relatively comfortable in front of crowds," Tahat begins again, "but I didn't necessarily pay attention to the craft." He practiced and watched other poets read and eventually he had a breakthrough: "A lot of people think of performing as a projection, right? I think of it as an opportunity to listen for a really long time."

Tahat's love affair with poetry goes back to childhood. "I always loved to write lyrically, and I always loved to write from the first-person perspective," he says. "My dad is Jordanian and my mom's Filipino, and I grew up in Japan. I learned a lot through moving and learning new languages." When Tahat's family finally moved to Yakima, he found himself an immigrant on the outside of the city's "half-Hispanic, half-white" racial makeup.

"There's always been a tension in my life," Tahat says. He says he's learned how to code-switch. "Even when I got to college, I was a biophysics major for a couple of years, and I worked as a corporate business consultant for several years."

Many of those early life choices came from a "rigorous need to check the boxes and do all the things that a good immigrant child does to make money and be successful." Until recently, he believed that need "seemed at odds with this impulse to write poems," an impulse that "I didn't really know how to articulate."

Last year, Tahat decided to put himself through a kind of literary MFA program of his own making. "I set a goal for myself to get 100 rejections" from literary magazines and programs, he says. He succeeded at that goal, but over the course of all those submissions, something wonderful happened: "I ended up with twenty-something acceptances."

Last year, Tahat was selected as a Jack Straw writer, which taught him even more about performing poetry, and he's currently a Made at Hugo fellow, which provides him with a peer group to work on a larger project over the course of a year. So you could say his MFA program is going pretty well. "My goal this year is not to get another hundred rejections," Tahat says, "but I'm certainly still interested in learning more."

As part of his quest to learn more, Tahat recently began co-hosting a podcast called The Poet Salon with Seattle writers Gabrielle Bates and Luther Hughes. Each episode is an enthusiastic conversation with a poet about their work, over alcoholic beverages created just for the poet. The first episode, with Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, is a generous and supportive conversation between poets who geek out over poetry.

Does he think of himself as a Seattle poet? "I guess I think of myself as a Washington state poet," he clarifies, then laughs. "It's sort of a silly distinction, maybe. But I grew up in Yakima, I went to college in Walla Walla, and then I moved here. Seattle definitely feels like home to me, but I think that in terms of my poems reflecting where I come from and what my experience has been, my experience is living in Washington state."

Even if Tahat isn't comfortable calling himself a Seattle poet, he's definitely representative of a new generation of younger Seattle poets — poets like Troy Osaki and Azura Tyabji who came up through the spoken-word scene and are now forging their own written tradition.

"People are reading and writing more poetry because we have created spaces outside of the more formal institutions," Tahat says. "To me, that's where the energy is. That's where the attention is. That's where you find poems that are more alive, more interesting."

So what can we expect from Tahat in the next year? "I'm writing a bunch of poems about code-switching," he says, though he's not sure if that's a whole project or just "a current theme" in his work. "My project for the Hugo House was originally about the census, but now it's a little bit broader. It's an erasure of the Constitution."

Tahat has been doing a lot of reading about erasures, and he's made several passes at finding a poem embedded inside the Constitution. "Over time I ended up doing several iterations, and my relationship to erasure changed the course of that process," he says.

But even as he continues to work on new projects, Tahat says the main goal is "how to grow in a more focused way. I think I'm certainly still a very baby poet, and I'm still sort of formulating and directing myself" toward the poet he knows he can be. "I'm pointing myself in that particular direction," he says."

Seattle Public Library to show off zine library on Friday

This Friday, January 25th, from 1:30 to 3:30 PM, the Central Library downtown is offering librarians who are in town for the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference a chance to check in with the ZAPP Zine Collection in an open house.

ZAPP, the Zine Archive and Publishing Project, was originally housed by the Richard Hugo House until the literary organization cut ties with the zine library before the House's years-long process of renovation. ZAPP's leadership staff tried to make a go of it as a free-standing nonprofit, but eventually Hugo House donated the entire collection to Seattle Public Library, which has very rarely shown off any of the zines to the public in the months since.

SPL librarians will be on hand at the open house to answer questions about ZAPP and the library's cataloguing of zines. If you're not a librarian and you'd like to visit ZAPP and get updated on the library's plans, I'd suggest contacting SPL and asking if you can stop by the open house, or otherwise set up an appointment.

Unlikable and unloved

At the beginning of this year, Penguin re-released Otessa Moshfegh's debut novella McGlue. Though the book earned a certain level of fame when it was originally released by a small press in 2014 — it won a Believer Book Award, for one thing — this will likely be many readers' first encounter with McGlue. Moshfegh is now the famed author of the novels Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation and she's developed a significant following.

Those readers are in for a treat, so long as they enjoy unlikable narrators. McGlue, the main character in McGlue, is a reprobate — an uncouth and hateful sailor who, even in the year 1851, is too uncivilized for the sailors he works with.

When McGlue opens, McGlue is in the hold for murder. He's told that in a drunken state he killed his best friend. McGlue is a drunk — he's almost never sober, in fact — and he thinks the charges are probably right.

This is a journey into the head of a very, very bad man. McGlue only feels comfortable when things are wrong. McGlue finds solace when his ship is being tossed at sea:

The ship tilts and rain spills in through the window onto the cot. I get up and drag the cot up against the door. This kind of dizzy makes sense when I walk. The piss and shit bucket I wedge in the corner. I'd like a smoke. I tip the cot to get the water off and lay back down. This is like high seas. The best part. I close my eyes, let the room spin.

Moshfegh juxtaposes McGlue's savagery against that of the world. Where he's being tried, in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, the witch trials have never truly been recognized as the horror that they are. Good men tortured and killed women in the name of religious fervor. But McGlue is unrepentant — in fact, when McGlue is violent and horny and hateful, he's enjoying himself. He's having the time of his life. That, to everyone around him, is the real crime.

Above the altar a wooden man hung magically bleeding, his head bowed and face hurt but not unhappy. That was God, they told me. But I knew that wasn't God. I had the feeling, like alone on the road at night, that there was something watching me, something waiting for me to falter, something just hidden in the shadows waiting to pounce. That was God.

I mean, he's not wrong.

McGlue is a remarkable voice in fiction, a repellant creature who charms with his complete lack of charm. Moshfegh somehow manages coax the reader into feeling some compassion for an unrepentant animal, without softening him one iota. It's some kind of magic trick.

If you like your misanthropic protagonists just a little bit more likable, I'd urge you to check out All Systems Red, the first book in Martha Wells's series of novellas, The Murderbot Diaries. The title character of the series, a security android on a deep-space science mission, accidentally gains awareness.

The Murderbot doesn't really like humans; it wants to watch television and be left alone. But it has some duties — a murderbot's work is never done — and it must keep the team of scientists from discovering that it has become self-aware.

Murderbot isn't as prickly as McGlue; you get the sense that if it found a place away from everyone, it would be perfectly happy to live life unmolested and unmolesting. But the two literary characters could be distant cousins — sailors, of a sort, sworn to perform their duties but failing to achieve even the barest requirements of what we understand it is to be human.

September, Lake Washington


The sun sets on the volleyball and the eagle

the plastic orange cooler and the crown of the fir tree

the air-filled floaties and the little girl wearing them

who cries when her mother tells her it’s time to go home.

Sneak a peek at VM Karren's The Deceit of Riches

Thank you, VM Karren, for sponsoring this week! Karren has just published The Deceit of Riches, the first in a series of novels based in the former Soviet Union. American student Peter Turner, too brash to be afraid, is caught up in a web of avarice, lies, and danger. Based on Karren's personal experiences in the Russia of the 1990s, The Deceit of Riches terrifies as only a thriller rooted in reality can. Sample an excerpt on our sponsor feature page, then buy the book and let it transport you on the next dark and rainy day.

Sponsors like VM Karren make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you can sponsor us, too? If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from January 21st - January 27th

Monday, January 21: The Dreamers Reading

Karen Thompson Walker's first novel, The Age of Miracles, established a large and eager fanbase. They've been waiting seven years for her sophomore novel, The Dreamers. It's about a sickness that pushes people into a deep sleep. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, January 22: Learning to See Reading

Seattle writer Elise Hooper's latest novel is a fictionalized account of the life of photographer Dorothea Lange. Set during the Great Depression, the book recounts her experiences documenting poverty even as she struggled to support her own family. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, January 23: It Will Be Loud

This is a social-justice themed open mic and storytelling event at the amazing nonprofit Beacon Hill space where The Station coffee shop used to be. Estelita’s Library, 2533 16th Ave S, 415-342-9009, 6:30 pm, https://www.facebook.com/pg/Estelitas-Library-Justice-Focused-Community-Bookstore-Library-213525645868594/events/, free.

Thursday, January 24: Literary Features at Northwest Film Forum

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave, https://nwfilmforum.org, 8 pm, $12.

Friday, January 25: You Know You Want This Reading

Kristen Roupenian's "Cat Person" was a viral short story published in the New Yorker a few years ago. Reactions to the story were divided along gender lines — young women were likely to find it to be true and moving, while older men were likely to consider it foolish and vapid. (As is usual, the young women were right.) Now, Roupenian tries to overcome the crushing expectations for her first short story collection, You Know You Want This. University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, January 26: Chatwin Poets

Two poets published by Seattle's own Chatwin Press, Jessica Hornik and Rex Wilder, will read new work. Hornik writes poems about identity, while Wilder playfully employs rhyme and wordplay. The pairing of authors should be an interesting one. Arundel Books, 212 1st Ave S, https://www.arundelbooks.com/, 6 pm, free.

Sunday, January 27: The Far Field Reading

Madhuri Vijay's acclaimed first novel is about a young woman who leaves her family behind in Bangalore and heads out on her own, only to find that family secrets keep pulling her back. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bookish events at Northwest Film Forum

Capitol Hill cinemateque Northwest Film Forum's new Executive Director Vivian Hua and new Board President Raya Leary are bringing an array of new programming ideas to the nonprofit theater, including a number of literary events that are well worth your time. Honestly, it's a mystery why Seattle's movie theaters haven't embraced more bookish programming: books and movies have interacted for the entire history of film, and there's a lot of overlap between the kinds of people who attend readings and the sorts of folks who go out to movies on a weeknight.

This Thursday, January 24th, NWFF is hosting a pair of literary themed events. First up is Z-Sides, a literary variety show hosted by Seattle Lit Crawl head and Word Lit Zine publisher Jekeva Phillips. Featuring interdisciplinary art, games, prizes, and storytelling, Z-Sides promises to be more interactive — and more wide-ranging than your standard night at the bookstore.

On Thursday afternoon, too, NWFF presents the local debut of a new documentary about legendary Portland writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Made in full cooperation with Le Guin, who passed away last year, and her estate, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin serves as a biography, a tribute, and a critical journey into her major works.

Unlike many literary documentaries about 20th century writers, Worlds enjoys plenty of exclusive interviews with its subject. The Le Guin who is interviewed here is a titan at the end of her career — someone who lived long enough to get a sense of her own impact, someone who has come to terms with the ups and downs of her own career.

In Worlds, Le Guin does feminist critique on her own early books: "Why have I put men at the center" of these stories, she asks? Like her critics, she seems disappointed in herself for using the masculine article to describe characters in The Left Hand of Darkness. But she's just as willing to turn that critical bitterness on other subjects, too: "Ernest Hemingway was unjust and full of shit," a younger Le Guin excitedly announces in archival footage from a feminist sci-fi convention.

At just over an hour, Worlds doesn't overstay its welcome, only touching on the major works and providing wider context from an array of writers including Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Samuel Delaney, David Mitchell, China Mieville, Vonda McIntyre, and Margaret Atwood. (It's a bit disappointing that the film has so many male voices in it; while the men speak lovingly and knowingly about Le Guin's body of work, it would be more thematically rewarding to hear from women who were inspired by Le Guin's career.)

In order to keep up some kind of visual excitement, the filmmakers present scenes from Le Guin's major books in lo-fi animated sequences. Some of the more expressionistic sequences are beautiful and moody adaptations of the work. The more literal animations suffer from a lack of budget, and a few sequences — particularly a scene of violence toward the end of the film — are almost laughably bad.

But don't let those quibbles divert you from seeing Worlds. The film is performing an important service by contextualizing the whole of Le Guin's career and placing her within a pantheon of important American artists. It's a loving portrait of an artist who, happily, lived long enough to see herself celebrated as the legend she was. Now it's up to the fans to make sure that legend lives on for generations to come.

Z-Sides: Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave, https://nwfilmforum.org, 8 pm, $12.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin plays at Northwest Film Forum from Thursday, January 24th through February 1st. Direction Arwen Curry will be in attendance on the 24th.

The Sunday Post for January 20, 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.

In the Shadow of the CMS

This is a splendid history of/future of piece on content management systems. These systems, which are the entry point and the delivery vehicle for the words and images you read online, have a powerful and mostly invisible influence on what you read and see, and the spirit in which they are designed haunts everything promoted by them. Kyle Chayka gives us a brief history of the CMS and its impact on everything from fake news to social media to the scourge of digital advertising.

The clean, glossy surface of content against the vacuum of white digital space encourages you, the reader, to forget about the CMS, rendering it invisible. But the machine is still there, humming in the background—serving up stories and ads, maybe charging you once a month, and feeding your consumption habits back to publications or brands. The most disruptive thing we can do is to be aware of the technology and understand how it shapes the business of media.
The Year in Chores

With the new year fervor safely behind us, it’s easier to appreciate the best of the annual flood of reminiscence, self-reflection, and remorse. Here’s a great one by Rachel Khong (author of Goodbye, Vitamin) on the meaninglessness and meaningfulness of the petty tasks of daily life.

This year I washed out the sponge-y filter in my vacuum for the first time! I’d never known this was a thing you should do until I Googled it. I washed it with soap and water and watched the water run out when I squeezed it, blackened. Once, tiredly, doing a load of laundry, I forgot the detergent. It seemed like every other week I was scooping molding hummus and salsa from out of their tubs, and rinsing the tubs, and putting them in the recycling bin. The mold was living its best life, and was I?
Jack Dorsey Has No Clue What He Wants

Does power create stupidity, reward it, or merely tolerate it? Why is this happening? Here’s Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and controller of the online destiny of millions, sounding just as unhinged and incoherent as Donald Trump. Interviewer Ashely Feinberg is incredibly restrained, all things considered, but she has a couple of zingers that may make you spit your coffee.

When asked how Twitter is handling the problem in the meantime, Dorsey had this to say:

Most of our priority right now in terms of health, which is the No. 1 priority of the company, is around being proactive. How do we remove the burden from the victims or bystanders from reporting in the first place? It’s way too mechanical. It’s way too much work. ... But ultimately, we want to make sure that the number of reports that we receive is trending downward. And that will be because of two reasons. One, people are seeing far less abuse or harassment or other things that are against the terms of service. Or that we’re being more proactive about it. So we want to do both. So a lot of our work is that, and then better prioritization in the meantime. A lot more transparency, clearer actions within the product.

Those are certainly words.

Death on demand: has euthanasia gone too far?

Euthanasia has been legal in The Netherlands long enough for its boundaries to begin to blur. Is it legal or right or obligatory to euthanize someone who suffers from intolerable mental illness? Or someone who signed a directive to ensure they could exit dementia, and then, as the disease advances, seems to recover the will to live? Christopher de Bellaigue assesses the current state of the right to die. It is a mathematics far more complex than a political slogan can ever capture.

That not all planned deaths correspond to the experiences of Bert Keizer or the de Gooijer family is something one can easily forget amid the generally positive aura that surrounds euthanasia. The more I learned about it, the more it seemed that euthanasia, while assigning commendable value to the end of life, might simultaneously cheapen life itself. Another factor I hadn’t appreciated was the possibility of collateral damage. In an event as delicately contractual as euthanasia, there are different varieties of suffering.

Whatcha Reading, Vivian Hua and Raya Leary?

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

Our first ever two-fer, coming to you straight from the marvelous Northwest Film Forum!

Vivian Hua is the Executive Director of the Northwest Film Forum, named to the position last October. She's a filmmaker and writer, and co-founder of The Seventh Art Stand.

Raya Leary is Board President of the Northwest Film Forum, a writer, founding co-owner of Cold Cube Press, and Project Manager at Civilization.

Vivian Hua

What are you reading now?

Well, well, well, the pretentious art critic in me is a bit embarrassed to bust out the gate with the truth, but I'm reading Touching the Void, Joe Simpson's survival story from his near-death mountaineering trip. Perhaps what I find most fascinating is how the book has opened me up to a whole new world of terminology! I'd thought I liked ice because I went to Iceland in the winter and had my mind blown. Turns out I'm an ice baby! Now I'm crawling, learning about "flutings" and stuff!

What did you read last?

Two things.

Firstly, Emergent Strategy by Detroit mover-and-shaker adrienne maree brown. Inspired by Octavia Butler's work, Emergent Strategy combines movement work with esoteric knowledge, to provide a roadmap towards expansive community-building strategies. Profound when it is profound. Not when not.

Secondly, Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is a series of poetic essays that unexpectedly threw me into the most righteous of writing frenzies; I spent days meandering blissfully through the backwoods of my mind in the most subconscious, fever haze daze of ways! Recommend!

What are you reading next?

A Chorus of Stones by Susan Griffin, if attempt #3 has anything to say about it! This book is a slow read… but considering how it compares the heavy weight of familial trauma to the silent, internalized knowledge of stones, which gradually store and release energetic histories over time… A Chorus of Stones contains themes which seem very resonant at this point in my truth-seeking adult life.

Raya Leary

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading Politics of Design by Ruben Pater, which was given to me as a new year's gift from the owners of Civilization — a local design studio where I work as Project Manager. It’s a crash-course exploration of the cultural and political implications of design, proving the premise that design is never neutral, while offering opportunities for the reader to expand their visual literacy.

What did you read last?

I often listen to audiobooks because they’re so easy to enjoy while I’m riding on the train, or walking around town. The last one I “read” was Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson. She has a warm, rambling, personal, and utterly hilarious way of telling stories and providing cultural commentary. She’s incredible in the audio format because she’s a comedian who also hosts two podcast.

I’ve listened to both podcasts, read both books, watched her HBO specials and attended her live reading with Seattle Arts and Lectures. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

What are you reading next?

Any day now I should be getting a book in the mail written by a friend of mine, Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, called The Art of Weed Butter. She’s a Liberian-American cannabis advocate living in Mexico City. I’m looking forward to (literally) ingesting her knowledge of weed butter/oil preparations, flavors, pairings and remedies for when you’ve gotten too high.

I’m also awaiting the release of Notes From a Black Woman’s Diary in early February. It’s a posthumous multi-genre collection from Kathleen Collins, a writer, playwright, author, filmmaker and educator who was little-known in her lifetime. I first encountered her after watching her 1982 feature film Losing Ground. I then read the first posthumous collection What Ever Happened to Interracial Love. It was the only fiction work I’d read, possibly ever in my life, that felt intimate, experimental, cinematic, close to my own practice as a writer, and relatable to my experience in the world — I imagine this one will be no different.

Book News Roundup: "Why am I such a good writer?"

Samar Abulhassan, Dianne Aprile, Josh Axelrad, Christianne Balk, Gabrielle Bates, Leanne Dunic, Shankar Narayan, Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Rena Priest, Putsata Reang, Michael Schmeltzer, and Suzanne Warren.

On Mary Oliver

This is not an obituary. Already, twenty-four hours since news of Mary Oliver's passing reached us, there have been many good ones.

Margalit Fox (who causes me to yearn for collected obituaries, like one might do for a book of short stories or essays) wrote the New York Times' coverage:

Her poems, which are built of unadorned language and accessible imagery, have a pedagogical, almost homiletic quality. It was this, combined with their relative brevity, that seemed to endear her work to a broad public, including clerics, who quoted it in their sermons; poetry therapists, who found its uplifting sensibility well suited to their work; composers, like Ronald Perera and Augusta Read Thomas, who set it to music; and celebrities like Laura Bush and Maria Shriver.

This is not a remembrance. Summer Brennan, who studied with Oliver at Bennington, wrote a fine one for the Paris Review:

Mary was, I think, a fundamentally American poet. There was a view in her poems and in her person of an America that was both beautiful and profoundly lonely. She was not blind to the country’s unthinkably cruel and violent past; nor did she imagine the natural world that she loved so much as an empty Eden. She saw it, very clearly, as a treasure stolen from someone else.

This is not a eulogy. You can turn to Twitter for them in micro, from Hilary Clinton, Ava DuVernay, Madonna, and many other less notable folks who just loved Oliver the poet.

Poets die, and not all are eulogized. Not all are remembered. Few are read as widely as Oliver, and for some that was enough to dismiss her.

Her work is spartan, simple, rhythmic, sometimes bordering on sing-song, but never too clever. It is observational, direct. Her poems are as they lay, not intending a labyrinth, not requiring a degree or footnotes. They're akin to looking at a dried leaf each morning and taking note of what you neglected to see in it before.

They are, then, meditative. Her most common subject, nature, perhaps casts her into a genre unpopular and neglected as passé. Her nature, however, is the nature of movement through the world, of seeing and processing the tiny story you find circumnavigating Seward Park, say. It is observational and in a moment.

She was a superb craftswoman with a deep appreciative knowledge of form. She was a teacher, who brought her own intense curiosity and craft to teaching. To such poets who strive to be contemporary, she offered this, in her wonderful lesson in craft, A Poetry Handbook:

Most of what calls itself contemporary is built, whether it knows it or not, out of a desire to be liked. It is created in imitation of what already exists and is already admired. There is, in other words, nothing new about it. To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like the fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.

She often, especially in her most popular works, drew on a universal voice of authority — a voice inexperienced writers (men, usually) misunderstand and trip over, like they've tied their laces cross-shoe. In Oliver's hands the text evoked devotional work, biblical directness and guidance, and rang true in a direct and clever way. It was voiced with breath.

Oliver hinted at her childhood, of sexual violence and terror. "It was a very bad childhood for everybody," she told Krista Tippett, "every member of the household, not just myself I think. And I escaped it, barely. With years of trouble."

Did she earn the voice through writing her way out of that trouble? Or was it from the craft she developed a surety of step that allowed the voice? Was it the perspective of being an out lesbian, partnered for forty years to Molly Malone Cook, during a time when all queer people were socially outcast?

My father was a minister. I am quite sure that he quoted Mary Oliver in at least one sermon. He loved poetry and read widely, and perhaps if not carefully, then with an intuition for work that lifts off the page. He peppered his themes with verse that illustrated or illuminated that which his own words only supported.

When he was dying we read him a lot of poetry. When he was too sick to read to himself, we would take turns from a collected works that contained Oliver's "Wild Geese".

Thankfully, he did not suffer greatly. But if he was restless, and especially when he did not feel very close to the surface of this world, I would sit in the study next to his hospital bed and open the book, the rhythmic suck and clatter of the oxygen concentrator in the corner, and he would be dreaming, moaning, expressing an oncoming death.

"You do not have to be good," I would say, and he would settle, immediately. I probably read that one poem dozens of times in the last week of his life. Not always to him, because its first line echoed in my head in a loop, like an ear worm, and I found myself picking up the book and reading it over and again.

Other poems, some humorous, were better when he was more present. But what fun was the humor when he wouldn't chuckle? What fun was cleverness when he wouldn't acknowledge the trick with that particular smile in his eyes? Other poems felt laden and complicated, but Oliver's work was direct and extremely present.

"You do not have to be good." Could a single line from a poem undo the cultural, religious, political, social, and gendered dogma all of us, to varying degrees, face? It felt that way to me, then. Sometimes to me, now, when I recall it. That's a powerful mantra.

And then, a few lines further:

"You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves."

The setting of this in my life, being present for the end of my father's — a moment to show up in earnest, and let fall cynical trappings — this was my introduction to Oliver. Maybe in a different context I would have dismissed her, but instead I gained an unshakable affection to her poetry, that I feel was earned by her skill and craft and work, more than the heightened setting.

I was reminded by Ruth Franklin's New Yorker piece on Oliver that Nicholson Baker's protagonist in The Anthologist said it clear: "Mary Oliver is saving my life."

I'm sure she has, by permission or prose, by teaching other writers to find in themselves what she found in herself, and even in simplistic earnest meaning found on horrible web pages with insipid nature pictures that love to present her work.

Oliver, who wrote over twenty books, did the work, and as she desired in life, the work speaks for her, no matter where or how you find it.

For those who only know the popular chart-topping hits, the ones that reach every anthology like the one I read to my father from, here is a piece about America, now:

Aaron Bagley’s Dream Comics: Peeled banana

Portrait Gallery: Azura Tyabji

Azura Tyabji

Former SRoB Poet in Residence Azura Tyabji will be appearing tomorrow, January 18th, at the Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival

The Future Alternative Past: In praise of assholes

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.

Later this month I’ll be teaching a bunch of writing students about depicting the best of all possible villains. It was a request. I never would have come up with such a topic on my own, because I don’t usually think in terms of heroes and villains. Too binary for me. But if I have to talk about them I will, and I’ll start by ruminating publicly on the matter here. My thesis: a good villain is as moving as any hero.

My favorite villain in SFFH, a robust, righteous example of the type, is the Baroness Ceaucescu, who appears in Paul Park’s Roumania Quartet. She’s mad, of course, from the perspective of readers and the book’s other characters. From her own perspective, though, she’s doing the best she can to make the world a better place. From her own perspective she is her nation’s savior, the legendary “White Tyger” who will throw off this alternate Eastern Europe’s German oppressors and lead her people to freedom. From the perspective of the Baroness Ceaucescu, the book’s heroine Miranda is an annoyingly impertinent teenager with no appreciation for the opera the Baroness is composing or, indeed, for anything that truly matters.

Perspective is often key when it comes to portraying villainy. Since very few see themselves as evil, it’s up to the author to show us how utterly inadequate the baddies’ self-assessment skills are. I wrote my short “Everfair adjacent” horror story “Vulcanization” from the viewpoint of its villain: Belgium’s King Leopold II, a man who perpetrated one of the worst human rights disasters in history. Leopold is Everfair’s villain, too, but in the novel I give him zero screen time. In this short story’s briefer stretch I was able to stay inside my bad guy’s head all the way to the finish. I stuck it out for 25 double-spaced pages, contrasting Leopold’s reprehensible actions with his internal justifications for them — which justifications include his handsomeness and horniness.

Not every villain is wrong about being right, though. The moral relativity of Kameron Hurley’s assassin Nyx, heroine of her Bel Dame Apocrypha series, helps establish her opponents’ positions as entirely tenable. And in Richard Morgan’s latest novel, Thin Air, Madison Madekwe’s completely understandable motivations render her more than the mere recipient of antihero Hakan Veil’s lust-fogged suspicion. She works for what she wants, with good reason.

Does she get it? The problem with answering that is the problem with mentioning Madekwe at all in this context: spoilerage.

And so we will pass quickly from the particular to the general. Or the genre-al.Who lives their life expecting to fuck things up for a good guy? Who delights in evil? Who rolls in it like a dog rolls in vomit? Horror is where you find these sorts of villains. The vengeful baka in Tananarive Due’s The Good House, for instance, knows itself for what it is, and revels in that knowledge.

Horror is also home to HP Lovecraft’s cyclopean amorality, the cosmic indifference of the Old Ones. By their very nature inimical to humanity, Cthulhu and Co. never attempt to justify the terrors created by their mere existence. Which is all very well, since our intellects are too limited to understand them. Stripped of even the thinnest of rationalizations, this is villainy at its purest: isolated, self-sufficient, orthogonal to all conceivable good. Pure, yes, but I still prefer my dear Baroness. And that is why I’ll advise my class to temper their villains with a touch of virtue — so readers will be able to relate to their misdeeds more easily, more sadly. More truly. More movingly.

Recent books recently read

The answer to the title of New York Times Bestselling novelist NK Jemisin’s new book, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (Orbit) is “No time at all.” Black Future Month is now and always. Or at least it can be. Read this collection of fiercely imaginative short stories to see how triple Hugo Award-winner Jemisin envisions android recruiting agents and the heat-death of social networking, how she responds to Ursula K Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” in “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” and to Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters in “Walking Awake.” Black and brown characters abound. Going beyond that remedy to one-sidedness, though, Jemisin makes visible — makes palpable — the difference in parallax arising from black cultural experiences. That means sensawunda squared for those from other communities, and well-grounded vaultings beyond our accustomed skies for any who share her African and African American roots. Fresh assumptions about who survives the end of the world and who gets to explore space frame “Cloud Dragon Skies,” “The Evaluators,” and pretty much every other story in this valuably insightful book. For further reading there’s the book’s title essay, which references Janelle Monae and The Jetsons. It prescribes joy and curiosity and thoughtfulness as cures to the bleakness of imagining non-inclusive futures.

The Coming Storm (St. Martin’s Press), the fourth novel from Scientific American contributor Mark Alpert, pits a new branch of the U.S. military against New York City. Various Gothamites such as gangbanger Hector Torres and out-of-work geneticist Jenna Khan survive back-to-back superstorms while maneuvering against scheming Federal officials and a demented President. Set in 2023, Storm realistically depicts a world ravaged by climate change; its characters represent a full spectrum of NYC-style diversity, too. But Alpert’s wild extrapolations from the current state of CRISPR technology lack plausibility. And his villains, while admirably self-involved and self-righteous, are universally, devotedly, one-dimensionally evil. Not credibly complicated. Not my favorites. They’re targets for anger, but they are still ones. Not moving.

Couple of upcoming cons

Boskone 56 bills itself as New England’s oldest science fiction convention. In addition to this year’s official guests — authors Liz Hand, Vandana Singh, Cindy Pon, and Christopher Golden, artist Jim Burns, and my favorite deceased editor, Gardner Dozois — there are sure to be a bunch of other smart, fun, cool people attending along with you.

So what’s New England’s newest science fiction convention? Depending on how you define your terms — are video games and anime SFFH? Is Nebraska in New England? — it may be Kanpai!Con. In Japanese “Kanpai!” means “Cheers!” Japanese culture’s kind of central to this con’s identity. Official guests are mostly voice actors I’m personally unfamiliar with, me being old and out of the loop. But if you’re a bit more clueful you’ll probably find lots of exciting info on the site linked above.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Striking Gold

I've written recently about the problem with writing about Hard Case Crime: The publisher so regularly produces quality genre titles that its excellence becomes expected. Hard Case resurrects out-of-print and never-before-published crime and thriller classics multiple times a year, so it's hard sometimes for a reviewer to find something new to say about the publisher.

But Hard Case isn't just about digging up classics of the genre. The publisher has quietly entered the world of comics, too. Last year, they published a graphic novel titled Normandy Gold, written by mystery novelists Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin. Gold is a tribute to the sleazy sexploitation thrillers of the 1970s, and the book is an absolute blast.

Normandy Gold, a tough small town sheriff, comes to Washington DC when she receives word that her little sister has fallen into trouble. You can tell that Gold is tough because she immediately pulls a giant hunting knife on a smarmy DC cop when he sexually harasses her in the middle of his precinct. In her quest for justice, Gold falls into a world of high-class prostitution and political corruption.

The authors wisely withhold judgement from Gold's actions. She's not interested in being liked, or even being lawful. She only wants to make things right, and several of her choices will leave readers wondering if she's lost her mind entirely. The familiarity of the 1970s setting provides Abbott and Gaylin with the opportunity to overturn our expectations as readers: we think we know the script forwards and backwards, when in fact they're telling a new, and thoroughly modern, story.

Gold is illustrated by Steve Scott, an artist whose work at its best recalls the shadowy realism of 1970s Gene Colan. At times, Scott's art misses some of the moral nuance of the script, and a few of the prostitution scenes tip over into an uncomfortable male gaze, but what's an exploitation riff without a few too many stares?

In Gold, Gaylin and Abbott are bringing a grindhouse film to paper, complete with all the sex and violence and wild plot twists you associate with the genre. But by breaking the formula in a few subtle but important ways, they're adding a fresh layer of complexity to the genre. It's another success story for the winning editorial team at Hard Case.

Hugo Literary Series comes home

Hugo House yesterday announced their upcoming Literary Series themes and participants. As you probably know, the Literary Series features three writers — usually a mix of national and local writers — and one local musician reading new work based on a theme.

Last fall, Hugo House reopened in their new building (at the same old address) and so this spring marks the homecoming for the Literary Series, which has been happening in other locations (mostly Fred Wildlife Refuge) for a few years now.

To celebrate, Hugo House is changing up their themes. Recently, the Literary Series has used phrases for its thematic bouncing-off point (Heading Home was a recent theme, with others including Theft, Animals, and Exile.) The spring Literary Series events use titles of literary works as their themes:

  • On March 15, novelist Benjamin Percy, journalist and novelist Vanessa Hua, Seattle poet Keetje Kuipers, and Seattle musical savant Sassyblack will be performing work based on "The Metamorphosis."

  • And on May 24th, the theme is "Stranger in a Strange Land" and participants include memoirist Domingo Martinez, journalist Terese Marie Mailhot, official Seattle smart person Rebecca Brown, and singer-songwriter Bryan John Appleby.

Learn more about Hugo Literary Series here.

Book News Roundup: Have we already witnessed the erotic memoir heist of the year?

Now that the Westwood Village Barnes & Noble has closed its doors, Pegasus Book Exchange is West Seattle’s last surviving bookstore — and, despite a deluge of obituaries for America’s independent bookstores, business is booming at the family-owned store at 4553 California Avenue SW, employees say.

Eric Ogriseck, who has worked at the store for seven years, said 2018 was the best year in Pegasus’ history.

The break-in at The Office above Ada’s Technical Books included several pieces of unique jewelry created to accompany a new book, Pros before Bros, an “erotic memoir” and “true story about sex work and grabbing your own healing by the balls” by Seattle writer Ariel Meadow Stallings.
  • The shortlist for the Philip K. Dick Award has been posted. The winner will be celebrated on April 19th at Norwescon in SeaTac. The Dick award is one of the few sci-fi awards that almost always gets it right: you can read any book on this shortlist knowing that you're about to get into an excellent genre novel.

  • Here's some good advice:

  • Start a blog, people. Make it your 2019 resolution. Write every day. Write about what interests you, not what you're an expert in. Write about whatever you want. Develop an idea. Invite people to come to you. Let's get off Facebook and back into the internet as a destination.

In West Seattle, a Barnes & Noble dies

There are few things in this world sadder than an empty bookshelf. When bookstores go out of business, books fade away at an increasing clip and the empty bookshelves multiply. The aisles feel hollow and sad. You avert your eyes from all the barren spaces and you feel a chill, because it feels like you're surrounded by dead things. I've attended the closing sales of many different bookstores around the country, and that sense of desperation and loss is something unique. It's always sad when a bookstore dies, and that sadness never gets easier.

On Saturday, I visited the Westwood Village Barnes & Noble on its final day of operation. The biggest bookstore in West Seattle had announced its closing late last year, but that announcement wasn't much of a surprise to neighbors, who have watched the outdoor shopping mall sprout an alarming number of vacant storefronts.

A Barnes & Noble shutting down doesn't feel like your typical bookstore closing. There aren't the ridiculous going-out-of-business sales that you might expect, for one thing — booksellers simply pack up any books that don't sell and ship them off to other local Barnes & Noble stores to add to their own stock. And all the empty bookshelves are pushed into corners and marked for other stores in the region, too — Woodinville is taking a few fixtures from West Seattle, and other destinations are marked with mysterious numbers. It's not so much a death by starvation as a case of capitalistic autocannibalism.

But even though the corporate shuffling took some of the solemnity out of the closing, people were still sad. Booksellers were losing their jobs. Customers were losing their neighborhood bookstore.

"I'll miss you guys," one man told a cashier as he bought some magazines. "I'll miss this place."

Cashiers had to answer the same barrage of questions over and over: Yes, they learned about the closing at around the same time that everyone else did. Yes, in fact, it was "pretty sudden." While they didn't have the exact numbers onhand, "about six" Westwood Village Barnes & Noble employees were staying with the company, moving to the downtown location. No, the cafe had unfortunately run out of chocolate chip cookies.

With most of the shelves emptied, the thing that's most striking about the Barnes & Noble is the sheer size of the place. It's the world's most welcoming warehouse — huge and airy and tan and without all the aisles of books the large windows allow a shocking amount of light inside. A kid runs around the children's section as their parents try to find one last book they can take home together.

Barnes & Noble, still the nation's largest bookselling chain, posted slightly higher holiday sales over last year, though earnings are still expected to decline. The University Village location closed a few years ago due to rising rents. You can still visit Barnes & Nobles in downtown Seattle, in Northgate, and in Tukwila. But the chain, let's be honest, is in decline.

I worked at Borders Books & Music as that chain began its swift and steady descent into nothingness. Even after I left, I watched closely as Borders mismanaged itself into obsolescence. While it has never felt as ineptly managed as Borders, it's clear to just about anyone that Barnes & Noble headed for a similar fate as its onetime rival. You can only tread water for so long before your limbs don't work anymore.

The same qualities that used to work for Barnes & Noble — its size, its centralized management structure, its proximity to malls, its part-time sales force — are now detriments. Independent bookstores proved to be more nimble, more hyperlocal, more customer-focused than a chain ever could be. And now, after three decades of indies suffering at the hands of big-box chain bookstores, the roles have reversed. Barnes & Noble is suffering while independent bookstores thrive. But I don't know any booksellers who are cheering.

In too many small cities and rural areas in the United States, Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore for miles around. If the chain were to disappear, many communities around the country would no longer have a physical bookstore within an hour's drive. That's in nobody's best interest.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I would one day be lamenting the death of a corporate bookstore outpost, I probably would have thought you were insane. But on Saturday I stood inside the hollowed-out shell of a Barnes & Noble and listened to people share their sorrows over the death of a neighborhood bookstore. You would have to be made of stone to not feel some kind of heartbreak.

Out on the fringe

Published January 15, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Thomas Kohnstamm’s Lake City .

Travel writer Thomas Kohnstamm's debut novel makes a solid case that the Lake City neighborhood is where the last shreds of the "real" Seattle still exist.

Read this review now

The Little Witch


As a child I read a book about a witch who turned children into flowers

and kept them in pots. She went out witching each night and left her daughter

at home with the weeping plants. Tormented, the girl tested her mother’s powders.

Orange Flakes/Gold Dust/Purple Chalk that smoked and lit, but she failed

to free the children with roots for feet. Naturally, reading, I saw myself

as the witch’s child and not an adolescent in a pot. But now those girls

with fingers for soil and aphids crawling over their necks!

At the end of the book (forgive me) they came back, un-hexed at last

by the Red Powder. They stood in shattered earthenware, twigs in their teeth,

never having known they were plants! And I can’t shake my suspicion, especially

when I’m most content. I reach around with my feet, search the air with my fingers,

feeling for a smooth wall or rough edge, whatever it is, invisibly containing me.

Our Heart Belongs to Mineral School

This week's sponsor is Mineral School, the most welcoming residency program around. Each year, Mineral School hosts writers and visual artists at all stages of their careers at an old elementary school in a lake town near Mt. Rainier. If you're one of 2019's residents, you'll sleep and work in your own classroom, take contemplative (or vigorous! you're in charge!) walks at gorgeous Mineral Lake, and enjoy the company of other residents over great food provided by this year's guest chefs.

Curious? Head out to the Central Library on January 20 for "Residencies Revealed," an info session with Mineral School and other local programs (free! with snacks!). Or find your way to Capitol Hill on January 24 for "The Short Story," a discussion with 2015 Mineral alum Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum co-sponsored by Mineral School and Hugo House. They have a generous array of fellowships, too. You can check them all out on our sponsor feature page.

February 15 is the deadline for applications for this year's residency. Hey, that's just one day after Valentine's Day! Mineral School has won our hearts; won't you give them yours, too?

Sponsors like Mineral School make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you can sponsor us, too? If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now. The spring is selling fast!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from January 14th - January 20th

Monday, January 14: Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story Reading

Gillian G. Gaar is an expert in Seattle music. She's written great, in-depth books about Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, among many others. Her newest book, a history of Seattle's own Sub Pop records, is titled World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, January 15: The Lines That Make Us Reading

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

Wednesday, January 16: WordsWest Literary Series

West Seattle's best reading series (at West Seattle's best independent coffee shop) presents readings from Seattle poet E. J. Koh and fiction writer Juan Carlos Reyes. The theme for the evening is "Past and Future Selves." C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW, http://wordswestliterary.weebly.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, January 17: Predictions for Seattle journalism in 2019

A new Seattle-based media organization invites "a few folks who work in Seattle-area newsrooms to talk about their predictions and big questions for Seattle journalism in 2019." There aren't a lot of details on their Facebook page at the moment, but the idea is a great one. Hive Media Lab, 401 Mercer Street, https://www.facebook.com/onasea/, 6 pm, free.

Friday, January 18: Tasveer Asian Litfest Poetry Reading

Shankar Narayan hosts an evening of poetry with readers Ananya Garg, Vik Bahl, and the great Azura Tyabji, who has been a poet in residence here at the Seattle Review of Books. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, January 19: State of the Union

The political writing group Write Our Democracy hosts its annual Write-In at Hugo House, with writers including Donna Miscolta, Laura Wachs, Robert Lashley, and Deepa Bhandaru offering State of the Union addresses and talking about what it means to be a writer in these unbelievably screwed-up political times. I don't know about you, but I would pay good money to see Robert Lashley address both houses of Congress. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, January 20: Two Poets

Seattle poet Jay Aquinas Thompson and Portland poet Alicia Jo Rabins present new work at the best poetry bookstore in the United States of America.

Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811, http://openpoetrybooks.com, 5 pm, free.

Event of the Week: The Lines That Make Us Reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

A couple years ago, I interviewed Seattle bus driver Nathan Vass about his memoir blog, The View from Nathan's Bus. Now, thanks to the good people at new Northwest publisher Tome Press, Vass has published a beautiful collection of essays about his experiences as a bus driver in Seattle, The Lines That Make Us. (In the interest of full disclosure: I wrote the essay that serves as the introduction for the book, but no money or any compensation changed hands for the essay.)

Much of Lines is about Vass's experience driving the 7 route, which for decades has had a reputation as Seattle's worst bus line. That reputation comes because the 7 runs straight through the most ethnically diverse part of town — lily-white Seattleites have for decades feared south Seattle and its black neighborhoods. (It's been that way for as long as white people have lived here; in the early 1900s, Rainier Valley was known as Garlic Gulch because that's where the new and universally loathed Italian immigrants lived.)

I've been reading Vass's blog for years; it's a great look inside the life of a Seattle bus driver. But when the essays are collected like this, all those stories accrue into more than just one bus driver's experience: it's a portrait of Seattle at street level.

Vass sees the Seattle that has been forgotten in the glamor of the Amazon boom: homeless people, poor people, young people, people suffering from mental and physical ailments. He writes an appreciation of Aurora Avenue, perhaps the last great swath of Seattle to escape serious redevelopment. He sees slivers of the lives of the people on his bus. He gets to know some more intimately by seeing them day after day. He sees others at their most vulnerable moments.

Tomorrow night, Vass will be in conversation with Tome Press publisher Tom Eykemans at Elliott Bay Book Company. Vass is a thoughtful and well-read individual; this conversation should definitely be worth your time. This is a quintessentially Seattle event — the kind of storyteller with the kind of stories that people are always lamenting never happen here anymore.

These stories are still here in Seattle: poor people, forgotten people, quiet people. It's just that somehow, along the way, we stopped listening for them.

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

The Sunday Post for January 13, 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.

A Woman' Work

Comics artist Carolita Johnson has a side hustle. She’s a “fit model,” with a body perfectly sized and shaped to be the crash test dummy for patternmakers. Her personal value derives from her brilliance as a creator — her economic value, from her ability to embody the aesthetic standard for a size-six woman who wears nice clothes. What’s the hourly rate for looking like society thinks you’re supposed to?

By the age of 18, I knew, without yet pinning it down as a sociological observation, that being a woman meant spending a major part of my time and income on the upkeep and outward appearance of my body. The minimum requirement was making sure it didn’t smell or look unkempt. The ideal was to look simultaneously young, clean, fresh, soft, nubile, sexy, and magical, at all times (and for as long as possible as I aged). But not so much so that I could be ridiculed as vain, or be blamed for being raped.
The Weight I Carry

“My body is crumbling under its own gravity,” writes Tommy Tomlinson, about the physical and emotional toll of weighing twice as much as “the average American male.” It’s not a surprising essay, but it’s an articulate and honest one that reflects, from another angle, the discrepancy between what we win with our minds and what we win with our bodies.

By any reasonable standard, I have won life’s lottery. I grew up with two loving parents in a peaceful house. I’ve spent my whole career doing work that thrills me — writing for newspapers and magazines. I married the best woman I’ve ever known, Alix Felsing, and I love her more now than when my heart first tumbled for her. We’re blessed with strong families and a deep bench of friends. Our lives are full of music and laughter. I wouldn’t swap with anyone.

Except on those mornings when I wake up and take a long, naked look in the mirror.

For another take, read Your Fat Friend, who publishes extensively and compellingly on the consequences of social stigma attached to weight, from the casual insults of friends to persistent and sometimes deadly misdiagnosis at the doctor’s office.

On the Experience of Entering a Bookstore in Your Forties

Oh, perhaps the Sunday Post is just cranky this weekend, but Steve Edwards’ universally beloved essay on growing old in bookstores is ringing hollow to our ears. Too sentimental? Too unsubtle? Maybe both. Or maybe it’s just that bookstores are alive (right?), and all Edwards seems to see in them is a reflection of his own aging eyes.

You can only read *To the Lighthouse* for the first time once before you’ll always know they never made it there. Eventually Holden Caufield becomes less an arbiter of truth and more just another sad, mean kid. The years you dedicated to Faulkner? Gone. You thought you might take up baking bread with a little help from the Tassajara Bread Book? Now you’ve got kids, bills, the stress of a job.

Where’s your warm bread?

Whatcha Reading, Nathan Vass?

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

Nathan Vass is the bus-driving author of the book The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan's Bus, which collects writing from his blog "The View From Nathan's Bus". Besides his night job on the 7 line, he's also a photographer, filmmaker, and will appearing this Tuesday, January 15, to discuss the new book.

What are you reading now?

Underworld, by Don Delillo. Most of us can by now agree that this 1997 doorstop should've eaten the National Book Award for breakfast over its competition. Delillo's depth of ability in the act of seeing is unparalled, and that in combination with its gasp-inducing dexterity of prose and the prodigious scope of the its panorama of interlinked introspections, together make it easy to argue for this being the definitive post-war American novel. The final word on the texture of Twentieth-century American life.

What did you read last?

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. Wharton, writing in 1920, is perfectly positioned to sculpt a level-headed analysis of late 19th-century sophistication in all its casual ridiculousness and suppressed emotions, while suffusing her prose with modernism's heady belief in the dreams of possibility. Her characters are smarter and more gifted than the society they live in will ever allow, and their awareness of something greater, though they have never experienced it, represents a rebellion against repressive expectations I find deeply optimistic in its humanism, and very timely.

What are you reading next?

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, by Susan Faludi. Our current wave of feminism, though inspiring, probably anticipates what all other feminist movements have had to suffer: a protracted, systematic backlash. Faludi's landmark tome of what happened throughout the 1980s can hopefully serve as a warning. Her companion volume, 1999's Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, explores what today's cultural discourse hasn't caught up to yet: why most men feel emasculated living in a society that tells them they have agency, should be in control, need to be heroes, and know how to fix everything — when they don't, and aren't. Essential reading.

The Help Desk: The binding's on the other foot

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


How would you feel about foot binding for men for a few decades until we equal out the gender disparity? At least they couldn't run very far when we #metoo them.

Just a little pissed still, Ballard


If you start binding men's feet today, tomorrow stumps will be the latest fashion and the day after that they'll be marketed to women as a "great way to lose 7lbs fast!". What I'm saying is, it's difficult to collectively punish a "dominant" strata of people, as they are in the best position to change the rules by which our society operates.

Instead, resolve in this great new year of 2019 to treat deserving men how other vulnerable groups are treated on a daily basis so that they may experience, in some small way, life from another perspective. For instance, I like to train them as I would a house pet (no eye contact while I'm eating), love them as I would a foster child (sparingly), and when I feel the relationship has run its course, dump them as I would a gay (by throwing glitter – either the metal stuff or the 2001 classic musical drama starring Mariah Carey – onto a busy highway. I call it euthengaysia and I assume it is a very peaceful way to go).



Aaron Bagley’s Dream Comics: Fox and Mulder

Portrait Gallery: Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land

Save the date! Stephanie Land will be appearing at the Elliott Bay Book Company on Monday, February 11th. Her book Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive looks at her experience raising two kids in poverty — while she was living nearby in Mount Vernon.

Book News Roundup: Seattle Walk Report is walking into bookstores

  • We could not be more pleased to hear about this:
  • We interviewed the artist behind Seattle Walk Report about a year ago (not to brag, but we were the first outlet in Seattle to spotlight her) and we knew then that she was going places. Congratulations to Seattle Walk Report on the deal, and kudos to Sasquatch Books for being on top of great Seattle talent as it appears.

  • Brilliant cartoonist Michael Kupperman went to Google to discuss how he made his remarkable comics memoir, All the Answers. Now the video of his talk is online:

  • My take on the whole Konmari thing that's causing so much controversy in literary circles is that it's okay to get rid of books. If I kept every book I ever read, I would have to have a mansion by now. I have plenty of bookshelves in my home, but the more I age, the more I realize that I'm not going to re-read all the books that I want to re-read. It's okay to keep books, of course, but you could also sell the books, or donate them to prison libraries, or leave them in Little Free Libraries, or any number of things. I find I enjoy owning books more when I have a system set up: I keep separate areas of books to be read, books to keep, and books to sell or donate. But you do you.

  • Don't listen to The Vulture's NYC-centric click bait. Start your own book blog.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Comics are for kids!

One of the most confusing aspects of modern superhero comics is the way children are treated by the industry. Both of the big two publishers frequently publish a separate line of superhero comics for kids with cartoony illustrations and simplified stories that are done in one issue. They look more like Saturday morning cartoons than something you'd find in a standard superhero comic.

The thing I don't get about this strategy is this: like most people my age, I started reading superhero comics as a kid by diving into the same serialized comics that adults read. I started reading in the middle of storylines and would figure out what was happening as the storyline unfolded.

As good as these modern superhero comics for kids are — Art Baltazar is a seriously underrated talent — I wouldn't have touched them as a child, expressly because they looked like kids' stuff. The superhero comics I read as a kid (Byrne and Claremont's X-Men run, the Justice League of the late 70s, anything with Spider-Man in it) were interesting to me because they felt more grown-up.

However, I wouldn't give a modern superhero comic to a young kid now without reading it first. Too many titles are filled with faux-mature "shocking" violence to just blindly hand a book over to an 8-year-old. Perhaps that bad emulation of Frank Miller and Alan Moore's 1980s grittiness is what created the cartoony kids lines in the first place: as a safe space for children, to protect them from the generation that refused to give up superhero comics and demanded that the heroes mature with them.

Yesterday, DC Comics published the first issue of Portland writer Brian Michael Bendis's Wonder Comics imprint, and the genius of it is that it's a book you can hand anyone, young or old. Originally published in the 1990s, Young Justice was a team of superhero sidekicks — Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl, the junior Flash known as Impulse — that was swept aside in some reboot or another. Alongside artist Patrick Gleason, Bendis has revived the team with a few new characters including a descendent of Jonah Hex and a hacker riff on Green Lantern.

Young Justice #1 doesn't dilute its superheroic pleasures for young readers. It drops you in the middle of DC Comics's complex continuity without much explanation, and it starts the action almost immediately. Bendis reveals just enough about each character as they're introduced to the story that new readers won't get lost. If they're intrigued, those readers can then read backwards into DC Comics history to learn about any of the characters or concepts in the book.

Honestly, the story in Young Justice #1 is pretty slight — hero team assembles in the face of an interdimensional invasion — but that's by design: it leaves plenty of room for a kinetic and inventive superhero action sequence by Gleason. And Bendis adds lots of little touches along the edges of the story to reward longtime readers of DC Comics. (The citizens of Metropolis are almost blasé about the invasion, moaning about the fact that they'll have to fill out another insurance form.)

It's possible that Young Justice might fall apart in any of the myriad ways that superhero comics do — artists can be late, stories can stretch out too long – but as far as first issues go, Young Justice #1 is a note-perfect example of how to make superhero comics for readers of all ages.

Cite unseen

Two things you ought to know about me before we begin: I am a bookseller, and I love lists.

When December rolls around, all the books published in the last eleven months are rounded up into best-of lists — best fiction, best business books, best books for women, best of the best. Being rather opinionated, I enjoy scrolling through and making my own judgments — scoffing, sighing, and smiling in turn.

But also, because I’m a bookseller, there’s a lot on those lists that I haven’t read. I’m the primary frontlist (newly published books) receiver at my store, and I curate our quarterly newsletter, which features books published in a three-month span that we think are worth reading. Between these two jobs I see hundreds of new books: children’s books about science-loving sleuths, diet books centered around cocktails, mystery novels starring robots built to kill. There are too many for me to read them all, and if everyone is reading something, I don’t need to read it to do my job: finding customers the perfect book.

As I scrolled and clicked through list after list of last year’s best, I began to formulate my own list: the best books of 2018 that I’d had every intention of reading but didn’t.

My methodology

  1. Google “best books 2018”
  2. Open about three dozen tabs.
  3. Scroll through every list and write down any book I meant to, wanted to, promised myself I would read, but still haven’t.
  4. Feel bad about myself and my reading habits.
  5. Promise myself I really will get to all these books one day.

This was as funny as it was depressing. As I clicked over to new tabs I murmured to myself, “How could I have forgotten that. God, is that galley still around here somewhere?” From more than two dozen titles, I winnowed the list down to ten: the books I had the worst excuses for not reading; the books I was most surprised to find still unread.

There, There by Tommy Orange

There are books that get talked about so frequently you’re soon sick of them; those that you assume can’t live up to the hype; those that everyone else is so behind you don’t bother with because you can sell it without reading it. There, There is not one of those books. In a New York Times review titled “Yes, Tommy Orange’s new novel really is that good,” Colm Toibin describes it as “an ambitious meditation on identity and its broken alternatives, on myth filtered through the lens of time and poverty and urban life, on tradition all the more pressing because of its fragility.” I feel like I’ve missed out on a moment in not reading this book — good thing I have five months before the paperback is released and the hype starts up all over again.

The Merry Spinster by Daniel Ortberg

It is ridiculous that I haven’t read this book yet. It’s described by the publisher as “darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales,” and I love fairy tale retellings — especially those that flip the classics on their head and expose their grimy, slimy underbellies. I took home a copy with every intention of reading it, and then I shelved it. Once shelved, a book has a far slimmer chance of being read; I am too distracted by the shiny new books crossing my path every day. In the new year, perhaps, I’ll resolve to stop buying books for a while and only shop my own shelves.

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

I keep forgetting about this book. I can’t remember where I first heard of it, whether it was a review or my bookstore or an interview with Carmen Maria Machado — who is effusive about this particular title (and I am effusive about her work, so anything she enjoys I feel certain I’ll enjoy too). I remember a friend or co-worker or stranger was enjoying it. Each time I heard about it, I thought “That book sounds right up my alley.” And then I would lose it, until next time, which, this time, was the NPR Best Books list. All the Names They Used for God is another collection of strange short stories; Machado describes each story as “a perfect diorama: scrupulously assembled, complex, unsettling. Completing one is like having lived an entire life, and then being born, breathless, into another.” Now, how could I forget that?

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

I listened to Broder’s essay collection So Sad Today, and it was like getting a really excellent hug — firm, warm, loving — from a naked stranger. So of course I was excited to receive a galley of her first novel, which is about a woman who falls in love with a merman. I listened to an interview with Broder on the podcast Other Ppl — I think she talked about how she writes her first drafts by dictating them to her phone, later parsing through what her phone picked up compared to what she actually said — and I became more excited about reading her novel. I’m still excited; I still have the galley. It’s on a very full shelf where I keep galleys I have not read for books that have already come out. Maybe I should just borrow the audiobook from the library.

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

You know that terrible feeling you get when you encounter someone insanely talented and accomplished and find out they’re five years younger than you? That’s what I feel like when I flip through Tillie Walden’s comics or scroll through her Instagram. Her artwork is stunning: intricate and precise with engulfing, dreamlike watercolors. And her latest graphic novel, On a Sunbeam, is a space story and a boarding school story (the latter is a theme I was a bit obsessed with years ago; the dregs of that obsession still linger). This is her thickest book yet, and every Friday I mean to check it out for the weekend (the perks of working in a bookstore), but I still haven’t. Maybe next weekend.

These Truths by Jill Lepore

This is the first book on my list that I don’t feel very guilty about not having read. I mean, have you seen it? It’s nearly 1,000 pages. It makes me think of another book I’ve been meaning to read, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, which I started reading at a friend’s house when I was a precocious (read: obnoxious) twelve-year-old. The way history is taught in US schools has irritated me ever since. But here is the perfect opportunity to refresh (read: learn for the very first time) my US history. And how lucky are we to be alive for the publication of the first single-volume, comprehensive history of the United States to be written by a woman! I mean, we’ve only been a country for well over two hundred years.

Belonging by Nora Krug

Now this one, this one I really thought I was going to read in 2018. I buy for the comics section of my store, and, scrolling through Edelweiss (the system publishers use for frontlist orders) I was immediately grabbed by the art style: it’s like a scrapbook — with old photographs, letters, magazine cut-outs, photocopies, and other ephemera, along with more traditional comics. I’ve always loved reading journals or flipping through sketchbooks; it feels so intimate, and a bit like you’re getting away with something. I’d never seen a comic quite like this. I wanted to buy enough copies to display it everywhere. I decided to feature it in our quarterly newsletter. Unfortunately, another bookseller signed up to review it, and I had to give up my galley. I read two other books for the newsletter and then had to write and edit reviews. And so another great read slipped from my grasp.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Who wouldn’t want to read a book that’s referred to as “treacherously surreal”? What does that even mean? I don’t know, and I still want to find out. But, like every other book on this list, Friday Black got pushed aside by other obligations; other booksellers read and loved it, and frankly it didn’t need much help from us anyway, it flew off the shelf on its own. Come to think of it, I actually didn’t read many short story collections at all this year. I guess I was trying to expand my horizons, read outside my comfort zone or some such nonsense.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Probably the slimmest book on this list, and one that was published all the way back in February: you would think I’d have gotten around to Heart Berries by now. It’s an Indigenous woman’s coming-of-age memoir, delving into mental illness, intergenerational trauma, motherhood, womanhood, and so much more (from what I can tell, not, again, having read it). What really entices me is the language; a co-worker described it as “nearly synesthetic and often dreamlike.” I love when a short book takes forever to read because you linger over the language; I expect Heart Berries will be like that.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

I haven’t read Chee’s work before, but a number of friends have heaped praise on his novel The Queen of the Night, not to mention his Twitter presence. So I was extremely excited to receive a galley of his essay collection well before pub date, and even more excited to receive a finished copy (paperback original!) on the pub date (bookselling doesn’t pay very well, but if you spend most of your money on books anyway it has its perks). And yet … as you’ve already surmised by its inclusion on this list: I haven’t read it. But I hear there’s an essay in there about tarot reading, and I’m pretty excited about that.

I’d like to tell you that I’ll get to these books eventually. They’re all worth reading (nine out of ten best-of lists agree). But for a bookseller, there’s quite a bit of pressure to stay current; to read and review the forthcoming books; to be well-versed in the next big thing. I miss sitting down with a book and not worrying about when it was published. But I always feel a little guilty reading older books; I tell myself they don’t need someone to get behind them like the new books might.

Now that I think of it, that’s kind of a load of shit. Old books, new books, they all deserve championing. But we both know there will be just as many excellent reads in 2019 as there were in 2018. It’s time to admit that there will always be good books left unread. Better that, though, than having nothing to read at all.

How a UW professor revived a remarkable book documenting life in Washington state prisons

On Tuesday, January 22nd, University of Washington Press will be hosting a free and public event celebrating the reissue of Concrete Mama: Prison Profiles from Walla Walla, a collaboration between journalist John McCoy and photographer Ethan Hoffman.

Originally published in the early 1980s, Concrete Mama is remarkable both in the context of Washington state history and in the relatively tiny field of prison journalism. Rarely have journalists been granted the access that Hoffman and McCoy enjoyed at Walla Walla, and the book still stands as a bracing look at life inside prison walls.

On the 22nd, UW Press will be celebrating the expanded reissue of Concrete Mama with a panel including McCoy, prison reform activists, and former inmates at Walla Walla. The panel will also include UW professor and prison scholar Dan Berger, who helped unearth Concrete Mama and contributed new material for the book's republication. We talked with Berger over the phone about what Concrete Mama represents, what to expect at the book's relaunch party, and what you can do to help reform the culture of imprisonment here in Washington State

What's your relationship with this book? What does it mean to you and why is it so important that it's coming back into print?

I first discovered the book many years ago. I write about the history of incarceration and of prisoner activism in particular. The book is stunningly beautiful as a photo essay and it's also a dramatic and compelling account of a pivotal time in the history of Washington and in the history of prisons nationally. Washington state had embarked either on a limited reform program or it embarked on a dramatic reform program in a very limited way in the early 1970s, and John Mccoy and Ethan Hoffman managed to get access to the prison in the late seventies as that reform project was being dismantled from within and from without. They were able to capture something compelling about what was happening in that time period in ways that are both exciting and foreboding about what came since.

And to why we should bring it back, I returned to the book a few years ago when one of the people who's profiled in it, Ed Mead, contacted me about donating his papers to the university. At that point I went back to Concrete Mama because it was the only contemporary published account of some of the activism that Ed was doing inside of prison. And as we built a digital archive based on Ed's donations, I connected John to the University of Washington because this seemed like a really important chronicle of Washington's history. It warranted a second look as discussions about mass incarceration are once again dominating the news.

Do you think that we've made any progress in the time since then? Or have we backslid? It seems like we're just starting to recover from this culture of mass incarceration.

Mass incarceration really began alongside the book's publication and I wouldn't say that we are yet recovering from it at all — we still have the world's largest prison population by a long shot. So I think there's conversations about mass incarceration being a problem, but in terms of the kind of concrete steps to end it, I think both at the state and at the country level we're a long way from where we need to be.

Sorry, I didn't mean to say we'd solved it, just that we're more aware of it now than we have been in years.

No, no — no problem at all. That's some of the conversation that I'm hoping the book's re-publication can help stimulate.

Do you think we're moving backward or forward?

I think the answer to that is yes. There's a lot more attention to the problem of prison, which certainly constitutes a step forward. Prisoners have won some more legal rights than they had in the 1960s and even the 1970s. I think the abolition of the death penalty in Washington is certainly a positive step forward.

Before we had a lot of people in prison, before we had mass incarceration, I think prisons got a lot meaner. I think the evacuation of meaningful programs and of meaningful opportunities to improve people's sense of self, and of educational opportunities really constitute many steps backward. Washington banned state funds from going to educate people who are in prison. And Washington still makes wide use of life without parole sentences. Washington still doesn't have a parole board. These all constitute major, major regressions, major steps backwards, from that time period.

It is it even possible now to do what they did in Concrete Mama? Does the possibility of a book like this even exist anymore?

Nothing is impossible, but certainly it hasn't been done since Concrete Mama. They were able to get permission in a time period that's still valued,some modicum of transparency regarding the conditions of prison. And I think three decades of a conservative turn on the Supreme Court has really weakened that notion of transparency, as well as the much more punitive turn in the field and philosophy of corrections. In some sense, it's still possible for someone to do it now and yet no one has done it. I think prison administrators seem pretty reluctant to give that level of access to "outsiders."

What would you hope would come out ofthe event and the relaunch of the book?

I think Mccoy and Hoffman where perceptive in how they put together the book originally to highlight a number of issues that people in prison and the prison system in general were facing at the time. And so I hope that the relaunch of the book can function similarly to draw greater attention to the policy agendas that currently and formerly incarcerated people are advancing.

And that agenda is robust, and I think we'll be able to get into it on the 22nd, but it certainly includes expanded educational opportunities and includes, I would hope, and end to life without parole sentences, restoration of parole opportunities. These are all things that people have been organizing around and debating and discussing and for quite some time.

And I hope that an unvarnished look at life inside prison can help advance that conversation — not by looking at what happened 40 years ago, but by grappling honestly with what prison means and how prisons function today.

What do you think is a good place for people to devote their actions, specifically in Washington state towards reforming our prison culture?

I think there are a number of civil society organizations and advocacy organizations — you have groups like the Black Prisoners Caucus and the Concerned Lifers Organization.

There are higher education efforts like the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound and University Beyond Bars. And there are activist efforts like Northwest Detention Center Resistance, which does a lot of work around the detention center in Tacoma and people who are detained in Seatac, and campaigners against the construction of a youth jail in Seattle. I think those are all profound efforts that both support currently incarcerated people and things that reduce our reliance on punishment and violence. They're all noble efforts.

And I would also encourage people to check out the Washington Prison History Project, which is the digital archive that began with Ed's donation of materials and now includes things from Concrete Mama and elsewhere.

Little Red

I never mistook my grandmother for a wolf.

I didn’t think her quivering snout a nose or those

black-tipped claws her fingers. Nor did I imagine her

wanting a peek at my blood-colored cloak or to sniff

my basket full of cakes. My grandmother was a killer,

same as yours. I knew she’d been ambushed when I saw

the scratch on the door. I was in it for vengeance. Sometimes,

you want the wolf to speak to you. Sometimes, and remember

this when you go hunting, you want to draw your opponent’s voice

to the edge of his vicious tongue, coerce him to reveal the rage

that drives his un-innocent hunger. After all, he could have slaughtered

a boar or a brown hare. Grandmothers are deadly, not delicious.

Remember too, you little girls with daggers in your dresses,

they’ll never get your story right. They’ll ink up your successes

to a thoughtful woodsman or forgetful beast. Wolves are not un-careful,

little assassins, waiting is their finest work. You’ll be painted a kitten

in a red coat, told and retold until you’re remembered helpless.

Use it to your advantage.

Content yourself with being the one who lives.

The Ghandi Diet

Published January 8, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Nico Slate’s The Ghandi Diet .

If you made a New Year's resolution to go on a diet, you're probably doomed to fail. But a new book from University of Washington Press flips the script in an interesting way.

Read this review now

Book News Roundup: A bookstore closes, a bookstore moves, a podcast begins

  • Ballard's Twice Sold Tales is picking up and moving later this month — this time down the street to 1708 NW Market St. “I hope I don’t have to move again until I retire," owner John Watkins told MyBallard. We'll let you know when they reopen so you can go give the new location some love.

  • West Seattle Blog reports that The Westwood Village Barnes & Noble, the only large bookstore in West Seattle, will close its doors forever on January 12th.

  • A new locally produced poetry-themed podcast, The Poet Salon, goes live on Wednesday. The three hosts, including Seattle Review of Books's December Poet in Residence Dujie Tahat, will interview poets over drinks. Subscribe now, using the below links:

  • Katy Waldman at the New Yorker analyzes a "lost" story by Sylvia Plath.
The tale contains the seeds of the writer Plath would become. There is a raw revulsion and disconnection in it. Plath’s poetry developed that sense of horror into an aesthetic, a music of distress.

Start 2019 with Seattle Arts and Lectures

The second week of 2019 is sponsored by Seattle Arts and Lectures, with a selection of events hand-picked for you. We couldn’t have planned it better if we’d, ah, planned it. Stop by our sponsor feature page and get dates and links to hear four amazing women speak: journalist Katherine Boo; Soraya Chemaly, author of Rage Becomes Her; poet Solmaz Sharif; and, of course, Zadie Smith. All four will challenge and inspire you. What better way to launch 2019?

Sponsors like Seattle Arts and Lectures make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you can sponsor us, too? If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now. The spring is selling fast!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from January 7th - January 13th

Monday, January 7: Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump Reading

The too-prolific UW professor David Shields reads from his latest book, which is about Donald Trump.

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

Tuesday, January 8: Lake City Reading

As part of a book release party, Thomas Kohnstamm reads from his novel, which is set in Lake City, and talks with local novelist Jonathan Evison about writing and Lake City and writing about Lake City. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, January 9: The Man Who Would Be Sherlock Reading

Christopher Sandford reads from his new book, which finds the correlations between the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his literary creation, Sherlock Holmes. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, January 10: Noir at the Bar

Hosted by Nick Feldman, this event features local mystery writers reading from new work. Readers include Renee Patrick, Bethany Maines, G.G. Silverman, and many more. Alibi Room, 85 Pike St #410, 623-3180, http://seattlealibi.com/, 8 pm, free.

Saturday, January 12 and Sunday, January 13: Tasveer South Asian Litfest

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Literary Event of the Week: Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival

Literary Seattle kicks off its 2019 with a big exciting new (hopefully regular) event: the first-ever Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival. Intended to spotlight "an eclectic group of poets, novelists, screenwriters, nonfiction and experimental writers expressing a wide range of South Asian diasporic voices on race, immigration, gender, identity, and publishing," the Tasveer Litfest takes place from Friday, January 11th to the 20th in venues around the city.

The event is put on by Tasveer, a local organization celebrating South Asian arts. They've been putting on the largest South Asian film festival in the United States right here in town for a while now. This literary festival provides an opportunity to highlight one of Seattle's strongest literary communities, and to bring some impressive visiting authors to town.

Authors reading at Tasveer Litfest include Seattle's youth poet laureate (and former Seattle Review of Books poet in residence Azura Tyabji, Seattle journalist and novelist Sonora Jha, Indu Sundaresan, and many more.

The festival kicks off on the 11th with Amitava Kumar reading from his celebrated novel Immigrant Montana at the Seattle Art Museum. Other events include a panel on race and gender in South Asian literature, a poetry reading at Hugo House, a showcase of queer South Asian writers, a memorial for writer Meena Alexander, a writing workshop with Sundaresan, a celebration of South Asian names, and more. (Find an updated schedule here.)

It usually takes a few weeks for Seattle's literary calendar to get fired up after the dawn of a new year. Thanks to the Tasveer Litfest, the year is starting off right: by amplifying voices that need to be heard. If the remaining 50 weeks of 2019 are this lively, we could be in for the best literary year Seattle's ever seen.

The Sunday Post for January 6, 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.

Very Slow Movie Player

In a wonderfully strange and imagination-provoking exercise, Brian Boyer has created the Very Slow Movie Player. The hand-hacked device plays movies in e-ink (like a Kindle) over the course of days instead of hours. Instead of being the center of a carefully curated experience (dark theater, bright screen, captive audience), the film is subject to the vagaries of light, shadow, and time. It’s art, and narrative, and film, and books, sort of, all at once. Super geeky and fun, and includes some intriguing thoughts on the use of e-paper in public spaces, too. (Hat tip to Jason Kottke for this one.)

As the architectural equivalent of Ninja Cat — a non-binary between moving and stillness — ePaper walls offer a way to play with a handful of interwoven timelines: the minutes of human rituals, the hours of our planet’s rotation, and the months of earth’s annual orbit around the sun. We might create a wall of William Morris wallpaper patterns that blossom and whither [sic] with the seasons, at the annual pace of the seasons. Or use footfall sensors to track visitors and add one black pixel to the walls for each person who enters, very slowly turning the walls from black to white in a digital obliteration room. Or add to the predictable shadows that fall across the facade of a building with fantastical digital supplements.
Children of Ted

Framed as an examination of Ted Kaczinski’s influence on a new generation of ecoterrorists, John Richardson’s coverage of the anti-civ (anti-civilization) movement less terrifying than poignant. The thread of violence is muted (outside of outright terrorism, which is not the primary subject of the piece). The threads of desperation and grief are bright — and woven through with simple silliness. Maybe in this world of incels and alt-righters, it’s hard to take environmental extremism as seriously as we ought?

Four years into this bizarre pilgrimage, Jacobi is something of an underground figure himself — the ubiquitous, eccentric, freakishly intellectual kid who became the Zelig of ecoextremism. Right now, he’s about to skin his first rat. Barefoot and shirtless, with an old wool blanket draped over his shoulders, long sun-streaked hair and gleaming blue eyes, he hurries down a rocky mountain trail toward a stone-age village of wattle-and-daub huts, softening his voice to finish his thought. “Ted was a good start. But Ted is not the endgame.”
An internment camp for 10 million Uyghurs

This detailed investigation into China’s use of technology to surveil its Uyghur population is, on the other hand, absolutely terrifying — author anonymous for their protection. Pair it with the New York Times profile of the full-time staff who scour social media to erase China’s history of human rights abuses as it’s being made.

A few years before then, Chinese video cameras appeared in Tibet that were capable of sending the state messages about the movements of specified people targeted for surveillance. They looked like rotating orbs the size of a human head, and they were equipped with two “eyes.” My Tibetan friends believed the anthropomorphic design was intentional, a deliberate scare tactic. But in Xinjiang, when Chen Quanguo, known as “the repressor of Tibet,” became the secretary of the local Communist Party, police tactics took on a magnitude that was frightening even by Tibetan standards.

Whatcha Reading, Jennie Shortridge?

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

Jennie Shortridge has written five published novels, including Love Water Memory. Her books have been Indie Next, PNBA and Library Journal picks and bestsellers, and optioned for film here and there. She’s currently working on telling her late mother’s troubled history in some hybrid fashion of essay/biography/imagined narrative. She has no idea if it will ever get published but it is the book that is calling her to write it. Next up? Perhaps a novel reimagining the birth of America in a way that solves some of our current ills, but leads back to the place humans seem always to end up: in big trouble. When not writing, teaching, or leading Seattle7Writers, Jennie plays in a band of writers (and their talented spouses) called The Rejections.

What are you reading now?

In preparation for a new year, I’ve been digging into my well-worn copy of The I Ching Workbook by RL Wing, which encourages me to “Make a sincere attempt to meet the social responsibility of the artist: reuniting people with their reality.” I find this terribly exciting in a geeky writer way. I’ve also been freshening up on meditation with the uber-accessible The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler, (just a fun read), and on deep thinking with Hiking with Nietzsche, by John J Kaag. These feel like required reading for life in 2019.

What I’m reading for pleasure is the novel Extinctions by Josephine Wilson, though the title scared me. (I’m not one of those dystopian narrative lovers — come on, we’re living it!) But two of my favorite authors (Lily King and Karen Joy Fowler) sing the book's praises, and I’ve fallen in love with the grouchy protagonist, Professor Frederick Lothian, who is unhappily settled in an Australian retirement village. The extinctions are of the human variety — relationships, dignity, freedom, relevance. Sad but true and revelatory, and I feel the promise of hope in the undercurrent of the story.

What did you read last?

Recently I read The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, which was a gift from the amazing Karen Maeda Allman. Karen served as a judge for translations on the National Book Award committee. This was the winner, and I can see why. Though incredibly slim and about the dreaded kind of extinction, its quirky, fresh take on a disappearing world felt alternately joyful and gut punched, had me laughing at times, and stunned me with its sparing beauty.

I also flew through Becoming by Michelle Obama over the holidays, kind of a guilty-pleasure read to re-enter the sanguine era of the Obamas, and perhaps to glean some insight into what the fuck happened. She didn’t go there, but she rightfully calls out evil where evil exists.

And I have to give a shout-out to a couple of favorite reads of 2018: There There by Tommy Orange, All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Each grabbed me by the throat in a good way, and accomplished something I would like to in my own writing: connect viscerally with the reader.

What are you reading next?

On my list to read next, two books that have long been neglected on my pile: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (I fell gobsmacked in love with Sing, Unburied, Sing) and The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’ve read the opening to both, then gently closed them and put them down to read at a time when I could enter fully, with my senses wide open and ready.

December 2018'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 December's posts.

December's Theme: Time Travel
When I started this project back in 2005, the thought was a simple answer to my own nighttime fears: I can’t stop each day from ending, so I’ll use a post-it note to hold on to something as the rest of the day is slipping into the past. The thing I save could be anything — maybe it’s something that happened, or a person I spoke with, an object or place I observed. Or it might just be a passing thought, something that happens in my head, drawing whatever random impulse turns into a tiny record of my mental landscape. What I didn’t quite understand was how much time travel would happen. Of course I imagined the art might help me travel back to the past later (whenever it is that your normal day weirdly, suddenly becomes the past). But while the dates march predictably forward one post-it at a time, my nightly thoughts jump around in time and space back to other places I lived, people I miss, things I’m hoping for or worried about, questions about the future. Some nights what’s most on my mind is not a memory from that day, but a memory from 10 years ago. Looking at past post-its plops me into moments long gone — but at the same time, it feels like traveling into the future. The me who made that didn’t know what was coming next, but I do now. They’re each records of their own particular present, but I see other pasts and futures all over them too. Those windows are my 2nd freshman dorm room, the one with my good roommate… but college was years before I started making post-its. I remember drawing this and thinking about our room, but the memory is completely untethered from the grad school flat in North London where I was most certainly located that night. I don’t know which song I meant; it must have reminded me of older life, been its own kind of time travel, probably it’s something I still listen to. I knew I’d miss my friend when they left, but I was still hopeful at that point, didn’t know we’d eventually lose touch altogether, never speak again — no clue how true that missing would be, 6 years on. But I also have earlier post-its from reconnecting after a decade of lost contact; maybe we will still know each other again later, maybe I don’t have to feel so sad for the me that was close to them and didn’t quite see the level of estrangement ahead. Sometimes time travel just happens on its own and I’m a teenager and in my 20s and 30s all at once. I’m driving home late at night listening to some Top 40 station when it confusingly plays a song that was all over radio ONLY EVER THIS ONE TIME at the start of high school, I’m in my childhood bedroom doing homework and thinking ooh, it’s that song by Garbage and I’m also decades older, in grown-up life. My wisdom tooth coming in and all my stories about friends having them pulled are when we were barely more than kids — we’re so out of date — or I’m in my late 20s, living in England with a wife, having my first wisdom tooth pulled for £27 on that tiny town’s high street under a giant cathedral — but here I am middle-aged in Seattle, a world away, no National Health Service or wife, not a teenager. Now I’m last year’s future me, but I feel just the same.

The Help Desk: Reading while listening to music should be a crime, right?

Cienna Madrid is on holiday break. Please enjoy this Help Desk from 2016.Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.*

Dear Cienna,

Help! My boyfriend and I are both serious readers. We spend most of our nights in working through our piles of books. We even got rid of our TV.

But we didn't get rid of our stereo, and he insists on having it on while he reads. He listens to the most awful club music, all "oonce oonce oonce oonce”. It drives me crazy. I literally cannot concentrate while all that racket is on. He says if it’s too quiet, something feels wrong to him, and he can’t focus. It's like he has a second person in his brain, who he needs to distract so that he can read.

We've been alternating nights, one with music, one without, but the person who can't read that night just ends up on the goddamnned computer, cranky because they’d rather be reading their book. What can we do to address this?

Mark, on Harvard

Dear Mark,

You know who else hates "oonce oonce oonce" music? Spiders. Nothing saps the serenity of a bookish night at home more than seeing hundreds of spiders skittering about, angrily drumming thousands of tiny legs on your walls as if to spell in morse code T-U-R-N-T-H-A-T-F-O-U-L-S-H-I-T-O-F-F.

Fortunately, Valentines Day is almost upon us. Call me old fashioned but I can't think of a more romantic gift to get your bf than a pregnant wolf spider. If you were not aware, wolf spiders are agile hunters (with positively buxom abdomens, if you're into that sort of thing) who dislike music of any sort – even Buena Vista Social Club, a universal spider favorite! – and are known to release venom when provoked.

Alternately, you could buy your bf a quality pair of headphones. Or buy yourself a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. What you cannot do is buy your spiders headphones. The technology simply is not there.



Aaron Bagley’s Dream Comics — Tall Toilet

Kissing Books: They can't both win, but we do

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.

It is a consummate romance plot move to pit the two main characters against one another.

If the heroine runs a small vintage hotel, the hero will certainly be the manager for the new corporate chain trying to put her out of business. If one heroine is a chaos goddess, the other is a paladin whose job is to banish chaos deities back to the astral plane (see below!). In my head I call this trope They Can’t Both Win and it is fantastic narrative glue: it connects our two leads long enough for the romance to begin to blossom, then puts the happy ending in suspense once they’ve fallen for one another.

They Can’t Both Win presents a zero-sum game, but it’s a rare story that lets one character completely triumph over the other. (You’ve Got Mail being a notorious example.) More often, what ends up happening is that one or both characters realize that there’s a third way to move forward: an idea sparks that lets them work together toward a shared goal, or they realize that their beliefs have been flawed and correcting them opens up new possibilities. Someone realizes there’s something more important at stake—hearts or home or happiness—and the plot goes from a cutthroat competition to something more creative and ultimately much more fulfilling.

Because a zero-sum game is still a game, and games have to have rules—rules with premises we can reconfigure, or edicts we can rebel against should we find it necessary. This is the job I’ve been hired to do only holds until there’s something more valuable than wages at stake. The twist in this plot arc requires careful balancing by an author. You need the initial conflict to be substantial, lest the reader think the main characters are unduly obsessing over something petty. But you also need there to be a loophole—not an obvious one, not a trite, rules-lawyering, bargain-basement Shyamalan kind of twist, but a real sense of something being unlocked and released. Freed. You want to find the kind of pulse-pounding, imaginative solution that appears at the end of a good mystery, when the reader sucks in a gasp of surprise and then breathes out a long, admiring Of course…

Humans crave structure, but we loathe being restricted. The same goes for love, and especially for romance: its expression between individuals depends on patterns and rituals and repetition (courtship, dating, proposals, weddings, the phrase I love you) even as the experience of being in love causes people to want to tear down boundaries we put up around other parts of human experience (race, gender, class, wealth, health, family, society, geography). Romance is both personal, because it is a feeling, and social, because it involves two (or more) people. It’s an inherent paradox. Perhaps this is why so many romances work to subvert expectations, but not too much, because otherwise we lose the cultural heft and meaning of love as a social force. We want to transform, but not to break. To shift the world a little, not to burn it down. This is not to say that romance cannot be revolutionary—merely that romance is far more likely to celebrate the kind of revolution that leaves women alive and happy and better off than they were at the beginning.

This is a particularly feminine-coded kind of dance: be pretty, but not too pretty. Smart but not too smart, and so on. No wonder romance novels so often frustrate academic feminists: who can make grand and authoritative pronouncements about such a fickle, multi-vocal genre, which continually contradicts itself on every level and seems impossible to pin down as either feminist or anti-feminist? Why, it’s almost like every romance novel has a different take on what it means to be in love! It’s almost like being forced to choose whether or not a single romance novel is feminist or anti-feminist is some kind of, I don’t know, zero-sum game!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from romance novels, it’s this: we don’t always have to play by the rules laid down for us. Feminism is not a finite resource, to be rationed out in careful and doctor-approved doses. We’ve got to learn to be comfortable with a little chaos. We have to take chances, and make changes, and occasionally push back against all the rules regulations that keep us from moving forward into a better future. Romance is there to tell us that we can take those risks, and be rewarded for it.

Okay, maybe we can make some grand pronouncements.

This month’s books feature a host of couples resisting the rules that would limit them to misery: rules laid down by governments, religions, society, and the characters’ own pasts. Some of their releases are more revolutionary than others. All of them get us a little closer to happiness. And isn’t that what we need, heading into a brand new year?

Recent Romances:

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (Avon Impulse: contemporary f/bi f):

First I have to break out the all-caps: this is AVON’S FIRST EVER F/F ROMANCE! I have searched and scoured old catalogue listings and asked everyone who’s in a position to know, and yep, this is a brand-new, big-time step forward from a major romance publisher into a woefully neglected and thirsty market—and it’s f/f written by a black author, no less, with two gorgeous black queer women on the gorgeous cover. Avon isn’t stopping at this one story either: there’s a few more pairs of heroines coming down the line (including—good news!—an upcoming three-book f/f historical series from yours truly). There are going to be a ton of happy readers feeling like they’ve found the gold at the end of the romance rainbow.

I am so excited to review this, and not just for the social and historical value. Because oh, my friends, this book is so beautiful! Even more beautiful than I was expecting going in, and I always have high hopes for Alyssa Cole’s work. Likotsi Adelele was a standout side character in A Princess in Theory and it’s so gratifying to see her take her turn the spotlight, in her impeccably tailored suits and starched white shirts. I could write a whole thesis about her shoes alone. Fabiola offers a wonderful foil, both for her pin-up femme aesthetic and for the way she pivots and dodges verbally and emotionally, in contrast to Likotsi’s measured, carefully considered progress. Structurally we flash back and forth between two timelines, winter and spring, and this refracted perspective adds an aura of mystery and opulence like the bevels in an antique windowpane. The voice is insightful but playful, surprising but clear, with all the power and the effortless depth of good poetry—even old words feel new and shiny, the rhythm of dialogue and description a little slantwise from the mundane prose of the ordinary world. The setting is a New Yorker’s New York: good global cuisine, old buildings repurposed for modern generations, popup art installations, vintage carousels, and hidden pocket parks. It felt like there was a new delight on every page: a perfect sentence, a brilliant metaphor, a heartbreaking realization, the rekindling of a hope that seemed to be past reviving. It has haunted me since finishing, and it’s all I can do not to flip right back to the first page and start it all over again for the second time. This book is a marvel—it is a delectable amuse-bouche made of love and hope and healing—it is a perfect example of the romance author’s art of building whole worlds out of subjective, un-pin-downable feelings. Don’t let this one slip by you.

Likotsi’s dark brown eyes were warm with desire and with love, even if it was an impulsive love. If they both felt it, if they’d both been stomped by it, how was it different from love that grew slowly and with careful cultivation? Maybe this love was a beanstalk, sprouting up overnight and reaching for the sky.

Dance All Night by Alexis Daria (self-published: contemporary m/f):

I still cannot believe there are only 2.5 books in this excellent contemporary series based around a reality dance competition. I could easily read a full baker’s dozen of these stories and still crave more. A third novel is fortunately in the works and let me tell you this holiday novella does its level best to keep us satisfied until then.

Nik Kovalenko (younger brother of the hero from Dance With Me) wants adventure—he’s searching for something more, even if he doesn’t know what. A New Year’s kiss shared almost by chance gives him a hint of what he’s looking for, though it takes him nearly a full year to realize it (and start dropping hearts in the lady’s Instagram feed). Jess Davenport is a professional dancer and self-confessed Scrooge who thinks the only thing more ephemeral than a Merry Christmas is a promise from a sexy, ambitious man like all the ones who’ve loved and left her in the past. She’d love to kiss Nik again—the man has one hell of a mouth—but she’s skeptical about his promises to stick around long-term. He bets that three holiday-themed dates can change her mind about his intentions, and about the value of Christmas. What follows is a gorgeous emotional pas de deux: Nik leads them forward, forward, forward, but when Jess begins to take small steps of her own he panics he’s pushed too hard and retreats. It’s a perfect conflict for a pair of dancers. They have to learn to trust the rhythm between them—and not just physically. I thought Nik was just a shade too fantasy-perfect even as I wanted to wrap him in bubble wrap and protect him from ever getting his pure little heart so much as bruised. I also wanted Jess to put a little more on the line than we got, though I know even small steps are hard for her. These are, though, the same kind of criticisms as “I think I’ll try to add more vanilla next time”: small matters of taste, rather than actual flaws. On the whole this book, though shorter than its predecessors, packs one hell of a punch; it should warm your curmudgeonly cockles even after all the tinsel’s been boxed up.

Jess couldn’t have wiped the grin off her face if her life depended on it. His enthusiasm was infectious, like a disease borne on the smell of pine and Christmas cheer.

The Prince’s Mistress by Sandra Marton, illustrated by Yo Kohaku/Trial by Seduction by Kathleen O’Brien, illustrated by Karin Miyamoto

On the one hand, I had a great time reading these two swift little manga-inspired adaptations of vintage Harlequin category romances. On the other hand, the more I think about them, the stranger they seem.

Let’s take the first point first: The Prince’s Mistress never met a trope it didn’t love. We have Greeks who are also sheikhs: both our hero and heroine are secret royals, fleeing from political marriages and disguising themselves as a billionare and a fashion model because that’s how you keep secret identities hidden, with fame and fortune and every ounce of limelight. I’d tell you the rest—it’s bonkers—but I’m afraid I’ve used up all my italics for this review. Trial by Seduction is more focused, a classic category Gothic-lite: our heroine falls in love with the owner of an island hotel but he and his brothers are the three main suspects in her sister’s death on this same coast ten years ago. Oh no, what if the killer is the brother our heroine is falling in love with? This one was honestly somewhat suspenseful (I mean, no, it’s not the hero, of course, but otherwise it did manage to surprise me!) and there was more texture to the story and to the art. Both books are refreshingly straightforward about the sex scenes without being jarringly graphic—which is a long way of saying there are actual nipples when nipples are warranted but everything below the waist is tastefully obscured. Teen me would have read these over and over in the wee hours or on summer break until the pages fell right out the bindings.

And it’s that last part that niggles at me, because aside from me at that one age at that one particular time of day/year in that one particular frame of mind and with that very particular taste, I can’t image who these books are for. (Whoops, guess I had one more set of italics in the bottom of the drawer!) How big can the Venn diagram possibly be between “English-language manga market” and “vintage Violet Winspear fans”? They’ve been putting these out for at least ten years, and they show up on OverDrive and ComiXology and even the advance review sites, so clearly something about them is working, but I am absolutely baffled about how, and who, and where, and why. Delighted, amused—but baffled.

Daughter of the Sun by Effie Calvin (Ninestar Press: fantasy f/bi f):

Our first heroine Orsina is a paladin on the road in a fantasy world, destined to conquer a great evil and writing unanswered letters to a girlhood love back home. She is capable, observant, and forbidden to tell any lies. I sigh! I swoon!

And then she up and beheads our other heroine.

Now, our other heroine is Aelia, immortal goddess of caprice, so no permanent harm is done. And Aelia does have a village full of people in thrall, so clearly she’s in some pretty grey territory, morally speaking. She winds up less dead than Orsina thinks—but unfortunately she’s also trapped in this ugh organic mortal body and the god of wrath wanted her to do something for him but she wasn’t really paying attention at the time, and now the same paladin who tried to kill her is offering to protect her while they travel so now Aelia has to pretend to be human and definitely not wonder too much about her paladin’s lonely past and what it might be like to kiss her…

And thus begins the stunning sequel to one of the most memorable fantasy romances I read last year.

Allow me to be smug about this for a moment: after Queen of Ieflaria I pointed out Effie Calvin was a writer to watch, and hoo boy does she pick this story up and knock it right out of the park. There are monster fights, and small-town art clubs, and sinister priestesses, and imperial politics, and godly conspiracies, and a beautiful, impossible romance tying it all together like a golden ribbon. If you’re looking for romance in the same vein as Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, but queer- and nonbinary-friendly, you are in luck and this will completely be your jam. This second volume stands perfectly well on its own, too, so if you want to skip book one for the moment and dive straight into this one, well, I heartily encourage you. Book one was plenty good, but this book? This book is fucking perfect. Holler-from-the-rooftops, all-caps-tweeting, squee-about-it-to-your-friends kind of perfect.

As a girl, Orsina had been certain that she would never commit any of the crimes that might cause one’s paladin status to be revoked: murder, theft, extortion, kidnapping. She did not know if kissing a chaos goddess was on that list. Perhaps the Justices had not foreseen a need to state it explicitly. It was certainly in violation of the spirit of the code, if not the letter.

This Month’s Example of Exquisite Romance Prose:

The Infamous Miss Rodriguez by Lydia San Andres (self-published: historical m/f):

There is no better book vacation than a Cuidad Real story: this series of short romances set on a fictional Caribbean island at the turn of the twentieth century are invariably charming, and feature strong heroines taking chances in a world festooned with white linen, tropical blooms, and guava jam. I am a trifle sad that I have now read all of them, and eager for whenever the next volume comes out. (Or the next anything else by this author.)

This story features a wealthy bride-to-be determined to destroy her own prospects, and a former thief trying to make it in the world of honest labor. Graciela’s happiness depends on not being married off to a cold rich industrialist, and Vicente’s been hired to make sure the marriage takes place. She’s doing everything she’s not supposed to—strip-tease dancing, nude photos, visits to gambling dens—and he has to haul her back to respectability time after time after time, even as he starts to suspect there’s a very solid reason why she courts trouble so assiduously.

And now I’d like to show you this paragraph:

Vicente knew plenty of ways to keep a woman satisfied and only one of them involved grasping her by that stubborn chin and plying her lips with kisses. It was obvious from watching her that she was in serious want of affection, but perhaps part of her unhappiness stemmed from the lack of something to turn that sharp mind to—an occupation of sorts, though he knew it was unseemly for women of her station to work. To feel like her thoughts were being heard, her ideas taken into consideration… the very thing he himself lacked and was trying desperately to get.

This is a complete romance arc in three lovely sentences. It beings with attraction—Vicente is dreaming about kissing her. It moves on to say Graciela needs kissing, but not only kissing: she needs “something to turn that sharp mind to,” a purpose beyond love/marriage/sex things even if class expectations limit her potential. Lastly we get the realization that her needs are similar to Vicente’s own: he’s also “trying desperately to get” an occupation, a purpose. Infatuation, understanding, union—these are the three most significant beats in any romance, repeated in miniature as an echo of the larger arc. It’s a small but satisfying bit of filligree, in a series that manages to be both delicate and deeply moving.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Speechless, rendered

Montreal cartoonist Georgia Webber lost her voice after severely straining her vocal cords. Her new book from Seattle publisher Fantagraphics, Dumb: Living Without a Voice, is a memoir about what happened next.

Aside from a tendency to sing in the shower, you don't get a sense that Webber is an especially verbal person. She doesn't strike the reader as too talkative, or especially gregarious. But when her ability to speak disappears, Webber realizes how much she relied on verbal communication to interact with the world.

"Mostly I'm ok, even good, but some days I just freeze," Webber writes in Dumb. "I am so, so scared."

The most impressive part of Dumb is the way that Webber doesn't fall back on tricks to relate her experiences without a voice. It would be too easy to fill the book with captions and thought balloons that explain every detail of her inner life to readers. Instead, Webber uses a hodgepodge of communication methods: journal pages, a swirl of word balloons, textless sequences, and purely visual representation.

Webber's nonstop array of techniques to tell the story of Dumb mirrors her techniques to communicate with the world when she loses her voice: she talks with people using pens and paper, using phones to text her thoughts, using signals like wearing makeup on days when she's incapable of even communicating with a whisper.

The best part of Dumb, though, and the thing that elevates it from merely a good memoir into a higher realm of artistic achievement, is the confusion that Webber allows onto her page. Some word balloons — hell, some whole panels — are scratched out entirely. Word balloons are overlapping. Some pages are all text. Others are all drawings. When her mood is particularly low, Webber draws pages as dense inky baths.

And as Webber's anxiety rises, the only color in the book — a bright, almost neon red — shows up more on the page. Webber draws auras around herself in this red to demonstrate the wall her silence throws up between her body and the world. The reds seep in to surround word balloons to illustrate the power that speaking can have over her. They illustrate the pressure building on her at parties and in other tense social settings.

Dumb isn't quite a medical memoir, and it's certainly not a harrowing story of survival. What it is, is a portrait of interiority, a record of a time in which Webber felt cut off from the world and how she learned to be comfortable — or as comfortable as possible — with that isolation.

The pleasures of PageBoy magazine, in 17 words or less

Tomorrow night, PageBoy publisher Thomas Walton celebrates the tenth issue of his magazine with a huge celebration at Hugo House featuring some twenty readers, musicians, filmmakers, and more. The tenth issue of PageBoy features a new form of poetry: The Seventeen, which Walton describes as “a poem or piece of writing consisting of no more and no less than seventeen words.” To discuss the event, Walton agreed to perform an interview entirely in Seventeens.

Why seventeen? Why not fifteen or twenty or eight or two hundred and sixty? Who decided this?

It's a bit arbitrary (though seventeen has poetic lineage in haiku). Aren't prime numbers somehow just sexier?

Has PageBoy’s growth progressed as anticipated, or has the magazine changed over time? Explain, please, if latter.

Yes, it's metamorphosed at least twice! Once when the staff assembled. Once when we started suggesting "assignments."

Can we expect ten more PageBoys? Even more? Does this project have an ending, in your mind?

Ten was the (somewhat unlikely) goal at the beginning. No end, necessarily, only further metamorphoses. Ideas welcome ...

Too many readers and performers at the event to list within constraints. Who should folks know about?

Ha! Yes, nearly thirty artists in different disciplines (poets, comedians, musicians, filmmakers) interpreting a single constraint. Fantastic!

Are publication and performance inextricably tied together? Does a magazine exist without an event to celebrate it?

Not necessarily, but who doesn't love a party? Re magazines: if a tree falls in the forest ...

The Change

I never had powerful hands. My fingers were fragile

as paper fans, thinner than pencils and less mighty.

Dainty hands, grip no good for sports, tensile strength

too weak for climbing. Do you know I never caught a ball

that was thrown to me? Not even with warning?

Hands like slippery fish, I thought the day it happened.

I was poking at a cuticle, pulling a hangnail with my teeth until it bled.

The blood, maybe, caused it.

Thumb first, then pointer, middle, pinky, ring. The nails grew

thick and yellow, wrapped the skin on three sides.

Long, like my grandma wanted. She hated me being

a chewer and painted on poison like polish.

I bred two new inches that narrowed to points,

shark teeth at the end of each digit, serrated

on every side. When they turned from yellow to black,

the word occurred. Claws.

They might have dressed a bear or dripped from the foot

of an eagle. But they originated from me, hooked,

merciless. Begging to be used.

Seattle7Writers puts a song in our hearts

Sponsor Seattle7Writers is back with their final — come to think of it, the final — sponsorship of 2018. And it’s a doozy: they’re here to promote WordPlay, a new performance inspired by the writing of some of our favorite authors.

This is an annual event, but one-of-a-kind every year, with original music based on a fresh list of writers and works. 2018’s lineup includes Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is, Michael Schmeltzer’s Blood Song, and Anca Szilagyi’s Daughters of the Air. We’ve covered all three authors; we love all three authors. The chance to see their works as a musical is the first good news of 2019.

This is exactly the kind of event we’ll miss once Seattle7Writers is gone, unless someone (hint hint!) carries it forward. Don’t miss it — stop by our sponsorship feature page for more information, then grab your tickets and mark your calendar.

Our sponsors make the Seattle Review of Books possible. While there’s no one quite like Seattle7Writers, you can sponsor us, too — and there’s no one quite like you! If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now, before the week of your dreams is gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 31st - January 6th

Wednesday, January 2: Reading Through It Book Club

The Seattle Review of Books's ongoing book club exploring Donald Trump's America continues with a discussion about Clementine Ford's feminist manifesto, Fight Like a Girl.

Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, January 3: Pageboy Release Party

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

Friday, January 4: First Friday Fremont Artwalk

Join Fremont's comic shop as they celebrate another monthly artwalk event with a selection of new art and a genuinely nice, welcoming vibe. Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique, 223 N. 36th St, 535-8886, http://outsidercomics.com/, 5 pm, free.

Saturday, January 5: A Girl Named Cricket Reading

Local author Peter Manos visits his neighborhood library to discuss A Girl Named Cricket, which is his book about a "teenage alien" who is "a refugee from a doomed planet" who tries to fit in to a typical American town. Seattle Public Library, Montlake Branch, 2401 24th Ave E, 206-684-4720, 11 am, free.

Literary Event of the Week: PageBoy Party

PageBoy Magazine has long been one of Seattle's most discerning literary magazines. No magazine is perfect, of course, but PageBoy has as close to a perfect record as I've seen, which is to say every contribution is edited well, written well, and curated well.

This Thursday, PageBoy is having a party to celebrate its tenth issue with a shit-ton of readers (that's 40 readers, if you don't have a shit-ton-to-metric table handy to do the converting for you) in a celebration of poetry.

For this issue, PageBoy has created a new form of poetry called a Seventeen. They describe it as follows: “a poem or piece of writing consisting of no more and no less than seventeen words.”

The list of readers onhand to read their Seventeens looks like a who's who of Seattle poetry: Laura Allen, Amanda Baker-Patterson, Steven Barker, Greg Bem, Matt Briggs, Jennifer Burdette, Bill Carty, Justine Chan, George Ciardi, Mallory Clarke, Lynne Ellis, David Fewster, Rebecca Hoogs, Jason Kirk, Nadine Maestas, Melanie Masson, Rachel Nelson, Jeremy Springsteed, Joel Savishinksky, Paul Sheprow, and Jason Whitmarsh. Additionally, musicians Nat Evans, Ivory Smith, and William Bernhard, filmmaker Amy Billharz, and comic writer Bettina McKelvey will interpret Seventeens in their own mediums.

In a week where a lot of local readings venues are still sleeping off the New Year, this event — in which writers come together to try their hand at a new constraint — seems like the best possible way to kick off 2019.

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

The Sunday Post for December 30, 2018

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.

Sometime in the past few weeks, hidden in the hustle of year-end deadlines and shopping and travel, I passed the two-year mark with this weekly roundup of writing-worth-reading. That’s more than 100 columns (can that be true?), and somewhere between 300 and 500 short paragraphs trying to find a new and compelling way to say “you oughta read this.” Those little blurbs so often feel like an awkward though well-meant intrusion, inadequate against the writing they attempt to describe.

I’m not very much for social media, so the articles here come from my own travels across the web, from friends who are very much for social media, and from other curators — Jason Kottke, Matt Muir, Longreads and Longform. It’s harder and harder to find amazing essays that haven’t been posted on multiple such lists. It’s harder and harder to find amazing essays that aren’t on the same set of themes, the ones we all stared at all 2018: the alt-right, the tech elite, the patriarchy.

So I don’t make that a goal. I just look for essays that compel me to read all the way through, riptides in the ocean of digital words. Of those, there are few. I start and do not finish tens if not hundreds of essays and articles a week; I’m in Pocket’s top 1 percent of users again this year, based on volume (and compulsive digital tidiness; Pocket loves people who bookmark, read, and delete). The weekly scan can be tiresome, and numbing — until a gifted writer surprises me awake again.

I always wish I could share more work by Seattle’s writers. We are blessed, did you notice?, with stunning essayists: Kate Lebo; Kristen Millares Young; Anca Szilagyi, Jessica Mooney and Donna Miscolta, who to the Seattle Review of Books’s delight sometimes write here. So many others! Maybe someday I’ll figure out a foolproof way to discover their writing as it’s published — one that doesn’t involve Twitter. For now, it’s a good week every time they cross my screen.

Last Sunday of 2018; last post of the year. May 2019 bring more surprises and fewer Nazis. Here we go!


This essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation) is superbly written — barbed, crisp, disarmingly conversational (given the barbs) — and startling. It involves a case of mistaken paternal identity, breast cancer, and a chimpanzee. The patriarchy makes an appearance, as does the publishing elite (spoiler: those two appear in many of the same scenes), but it’s blissfully free of both the tech elite and and Donald Trump. Here, Wurtzel describes the realization that the troubled relationship she’d been trying to heal was with the wrong father.

I have been working out that relationship all of my life, in writing and therapy and conversation, with cocaine and heroin, with recovery and perseverance, and with my thoughts. I think so much. I can’t stop thinking. It’s all exposed. I don’t have a subconscious.

You can’t surprise me.

But this surprised me.

I have been working out the wrong problem.

Thousands of words on the wrong problem. I have perfected a two-handed backhand to clobber the lob that is coming at me that is: the wrong problem. I have aced the wrong problem.

Benefactors and Malefactors

The compromises described in Whitney Curry Wimbish’s article about the benefactors of the Whitney Museum — including a board member whose wealth comes from selling teargas to be used against migrants — are by no means peculiar to the art world. Most well-funded nonprofits, no matter what careful, committee-driven screening policies they put in place, will come up against the question of whether doing good justifies taking bad money.

Whenever moral compromise begins to feel like a necessity (e.g., “I have to be on Facebook! My job requires it!”), it’s time to check our assumptions — and double- and triple-check who shaped them for us. This is how structures of power are built, and how we all become complicit in maintaining them. And if you’ve got a lot of money to give: maybe ask who else is on the board, and take your money off the table if you don’t like the answer. It may not be the change you were looking to make, but believe me, it’ll matter.

It’s ... a stark reminder that people with blood on their hands will always have a chance to rehabilitate their image. In this case, museums use them to keep their lights on: by appointing big donors to the board, sometimes requiring they donate a minimum amount, and then assigning them such duties as fundraising, “educating policymakers,” and “thinking strategically,” according to the American Alliance of Museums’ most recent report on museum boards. And in exchange for this, donors can represent to the rest of us that they are our benefactors, regardless of what else they’re up to. Now they’re “philanthropists.”
The "Future Book" Is Here, but It's Not What We Expected

We all thought the book of the future would be a sort of literary flying car — digital, interactive, transformative. Craig Mod says it is all those things, just not wrapped up in a Kindle: it’s self-publishing, it’s e-newsletters, it’s audio.

Interesting, but … disappointing? I want the Flying Car Book of the Future to be more delightfully bookish, to capture the, um, ur-ness of “book” but with rocket fuel and a dizzying sweep from the ground to the sky. I want to lean over the side and watch Amazon turn into a tiny, earth-bound dot. I’m holding out for that Future Book — see you up there?

A “book” is just the endpoint of a latticework of complex infrastructure, made increasingly accessible. Even if the endpoint stays stubbornly the same — either as an unchanging Kindle edition or simple paperback—the universe that produces, breathes life into, and supports books is changing in positive, inclusive ways, year by year. The Future Book is here and continues to evolve. You’re holding it. It’s exciting. It’s boring. It’s more important than it has ever been.

Whatcha Reading, Whatcha Reading?

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

Whatcha Reading is a year old! We started this column at the top of 2018, because we love hearing what people are reading. It's such a great way to discover overlooked books, but it's also a great way to judge what books are popular.

So, for the year end, we decided to look back at books that have been mentioned in the column more than once, and make a list. This would be the most popular of our Whatcha Reading reports.

Only one book — Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room — was mentioned three times, so that's probably the best place to start, but all three people who mentioned it put it in "What will you read next?" so there's no good quote to accompnay the mention.

All the following got mentioned twice, and are presented in no particular order:

The Help Desk: How do I make pot and books play well together?

Cienna Madrid is on holiday break. Please enjoy this Help Desk from 2016.Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.*

Dear Cienna,

I love to read. I love to smoke pot. I can't smoke pot and read. I can get high and watch movies, but words on a page get all swimmy when I've had even just a single puff. But I have friends who love to smoke and read, and they make me so jealous when they talk about sitting down for a night with a book and a joint and reading two or three hundred pages at a go. Can I make my dream a reality, or is my own brain chemistry working against me?

Jean in Shoreline

Dear Jean,

I find your friends' claims of reading (let alone retaining) hundreds of pages of text while high incredibly suspect, perhaps because I have trouble with basic tasks while high, like peeling fruit, blinking, and telephones. What in the Oxford-loving fuck are your friends reading and how could it possibly be more fun than rubbing your belly and chanting the word "velocity" under your breath in a dark closet?

To your question: Instead of reading books, give graphic novels a try. Ignore what little text there is and focus on the beautiful illustrations. I'd start with Black Hole and Bottomless Belly Button – both of which, if memory serves, are pretty light on text. Another option is to pick up Weathercraft or Congress of the Animals by local genius Jim Woodring. Most of his books are wordless, beautiful and weird.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Wrap up

Aaron Bagley is taking a nice week off at the end of the holiday season. We thought we'd look back at some of the preview images from his column this year. Click through to see the whole comic, or look through his archives.

Portrait Gallery: Happy Holidays

Wishing you and yours
a quiet spot with good light
and plenty of books to read.

Criminal Fiction: December's children

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

A lovely end-of-the-year treat pops up in novella form with Mick Herron’s The Marylebone Drop (Soho), a mini Slough House outing. The slim-as-you-like, 71-page tale packs a powerful punch in Herron’s beautifully-choreographed story of retired spies, fixers, handlers, double-agents, and espionage administrators doing their intricate dance in London’s mean streets, modest flats, and hallowed political buildings. Herron, no slouch when it comes to multi-layered narratives, also delineates a delicate line where the old world of proper, solid pensions and other financial safety nets meets the new one of vertiginous uncertainty.

The highly entertaining game is most seriously afoot in A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss (Bloomsbury). Set in 1950s Brighton – and with wide-open winks and nods to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock a-plenty – Truss’ crime-fiction caper packs in a vicious theater critic who is also a critical witness to a years-old crime; a couple of “angry young man”-style playwrights; a woman who can bend bars of steel; a phrenologist; a young but punctuation-perfect reporter; and a clutch of coppers who have about a dozen Achilles heels between them when it comes to solving mysteries. Murder, both cold- and hot-blooded, gangsters, and a suspiciously high number of comforting cups of tea and accompanying cakes make for a quasi-cosy and very funny read.

The eponymous detective, one Charles Heist, is not the only feral entity in Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective (Ecco). The New York City born-and-bred Phoebe Siegler knocks on Heist’s dusty California door after 1) impulsively quitting her lucrative New York Times job after “the notorious day in November when my boss and all the rest of them sat deferentially with the Beast-Elect at a long table behind closed doors, to soak in his castigation and flattery,” and, 2) her good friend’s daughter goes missing out West. In an openly post-2016-election writing-fury, Lethem sends Phoebe charging across the country and spins a mesmerizing narrative that includes a spot of _Fight Club_-style action as well as unabashed takes on New York’s F train, Leonard Cohen, and Tinder. It’s all bit wild, a bit wacky, and downright deeply disturbing in some parts, imparting a hallucinatory, sinister quality that isn’t easy to shake, but seamlessly fits with our contemporary territory.

There’s a definite other-worldly element humming through Someone Like Me by MR Carey (Orbit), in which recently-divorced mom Liz Kendall draws on surprising physical and mental strengths that feel completely alien to her when, one evening, her husband turns fatally violent. At the same time, Fran, a teen at school with Liz’ son, Zac, is undergoing intensive therapy in a bid to recover from a frightening episode ten years earlier. The fireworks start when two slightly overlapping worlds meet and Liz, Fran, and Zac, each in their own way, must confront a reality inhabited by the ilk of parallel worlds, ghosts, daemons, and familiars. A domestic thriller brimming with literal extraordinary life, Someone Like Me will make you look at those derelict, road-side motels in a whole new light.

A bit too tidy and a bit too pat, Christina Dalcher’s dystopian Vox (Berkley) is nevertheless all-too-creepy for what it all-too-clearly imagines: a ginormous Bible Belt and its inhabitants overtaking the entire country up to the highest order; punishments and authoritarian control that include enforced religious recitations and a rabid creep of Christian patriarchal credos embedded in schools; and a harrowing glimpse into the fact that, robbed of language, young humans miss out on crucial development. A dark, near-future vision indeed, vividly brought to chilling life.

The Quintessential Interview: Katrina Carrasco

Seattle-based Carrasco’s debut novel, The Best Bad Things, showcases the 1887 smuggling haven of Port Townsend, Washington, where ex-Pinkerton detective Alma Rosales thrives in her second identity of one Jack Camp, a bruiser and a brawler with brains. Immersed in the wilds of the Wild West, Rosales/Camp is equally at ease in ladies’ boudoirs as she is at a pugilistic competition, and just as eager to seduce ladies as she is her male colleagues. But in amongst the thieves, stevedores, corrupt officials, and local businessmen, she has her grisly work cut out for her in this Puget Sound setting where one wrong turn can bring down an intricate house of cards. Carrasco’s vital writing brings to vivid life a world in which life is cheap, opium is a primary currency, and human smuggling is just one of multiple deadly rackets.

Catch Katrina Carrasco at the following local and regional events:

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

In bed with a big cup of milky coffee. Seated by a window while it’s raining outside. In a cabin on Whidbey Island. Anywhere with a view of squirrels playing in the trees. I’ve written some of my favorite passages while aboard Washington State Ferries.

Top five favorite authors?

This list is ever-changing, but right now my top five are Cormac McCarthy, Maggie Nelson, Patrick O’Brian, Ali Smith, and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Top five tunes to write to?

I usually pair a single instrumental album to a long writing project. The upside of this is I can play it anytime and mentally drop into the story world; the downside for anyone sharing space with me is I will play the same songs hundreds of times! For The Best Bad Things, I almost exclusively played the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. I also like his soundtracks for Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean. Fat Freddy’s Drop’s Based on a True Story is a chill album for editing/reviewing time. And I’ve been listening to Perfume Genius’ No Shape while writing a character study for a new project.

Top five hometown spots?

Chocolati Café in Greenwood when it’s cold and wet outside. Golden Gardens beach in summer. Raygun Lounge in Capitol Hill (which has my very favorite arcade game, Bust-A-Move). El Centro de la Raza community center. Betty’s Body of Knowledge trivia at Solo Bar.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Los Angeles, city of animation

Natalie Nourigat's comic I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation is exactly what it says in the title: it's the story of what happened to Nourigat when she moved to LA to pursue a career in animation.

If you asked me to quantify it, I'd define the book as about 30 percent memoir and 70 percent a career how-to guide. Nourigat withholds a lot of personal details (don't expect relationship drama here) in exchange for broad strokes about what it means to be young and in animation.

This is practical information, delivered by a pragmatic (but cheerful!) guide. The fact that the cover of the book features Nourigat in her car sitting in traffic on an LA highway should offer some context about what to expect: she gets into the nitty-gritty of moving to LA, even specifying that many Los Angeles apartments don't come with refrigerators.

Perhaps aspiring animators might feel let down that so much of the book concerns itself with the details of life in Los Angeles, but the truth is that geography is still a vital component of show business. Even if you're the next Walt Disney, you're never going to get a job working in the story department of a Netflix animated show if you refuse to move out of St. Louis.

And the fact is that geography has impacts on art, too. Consider this passage:

I miss walking a lot. I daydream about walking cities all of the time. And I miss drawing people walking. I barely sketch from life anymore. It's hard to find a good cafe with seating and a view of foot traffic like I'm used to in other big cities. LA is just not a pedestrian city, and people-watching spots are few and far between.

Where you live impacts your art: both what you draw and how you draw it. Would movies have as many car chases if they were made in a city with a walking culture? Would animation look more naturalistic and human-scaled if animators walked to work every morning?

Even for someone who never once considered a career in animation, Los Angeles is an interesting comic. Nourigat is a gorgeous illustrator — in just a few lines, she can render a complete sensation of a whole city, or a panicked expression, or a workstation at a Hollywood studio. The vibrancy of her line calls to mind great cartoonists like Jack Cole.

Unfortunately, the comics part is a little less impressive. This book demands a lot of text, and the balance between words and pictures is more than a little lopsided. (The last section of the book especially, which features interviews with animators, is basically walls of text hanging over tiny sketches of faces. These interviews are interesting and valuable, but they're very bad comics.)

But not every comic needs to be a masterpiece of synergy between words and pictures. Explanatory texts like this one can be more wordy and essay-like. There is not enough money in the world to pay me to read a full-length prose book about breaking into the animation industry. Nourigat's comic on the same subject, though, not only won me over, but it entertained me the whole time.

Community, creation, and consciousness: our year of conversations with writers

Every week here on the Seattle Review of Books, we run an interview with a new author, bookseller, or some other noteworthy literary figure. What follows are some of our favorite quotes from the past year. We look forward to another 52 weeks of discovery and conversation.

"I really like the ambiguity of poetry and I also hate to be told what to do, ever. So poetry is really appealing to me." — Laura Da'

"I wrote all the letters of the alphabet and I erased portions of it." — Levert Banks

"Has book reviewing ever had a future?" — David Ulin

“For whatever reason, each side of [Washington state] has their own opinions of each other, but I felt very lucky to have a home in both...I think the more we can combine our scenes, the better.” — Kim Kent

"Who you are will come through." — Calvin Gimpelevich

"I decided for myself that I want to be a writer who helps writers." — Paulette Perhach

"I’m very purposefully trying to set up situations where something will arise that is beyond my conscious control." — Elizabeth Austen

"I would rather just have a dedicated handful of people that care about what I write, I suppose." — Kate Berwanger

"A lot of folks are looking for answers and new ways of thinking, and they’re turning to art to kind of grab onto those new worlds and try to expand our view of what could be. Intense times equals intense poetry.” — Troy Osaki

"Every time I translate a poem, I learn something new.” – Eleanor Goodman

"The specificity of language is important to me. There are some things that really work better in words, that wind up being cumbersome if you try to do them in pictures or in words and pictures." — Ellen Forney

"Whenever I’m working on any kind of character, I’m always looking for that zone where their hopes and fears intersect, and the weird patches where they’re not actually sure about their own moral standing or certainty — where they’re not just charging in with this very, very clear sense of what is right and wrong. I’m much, much more interested in the nuance in the middle." – Eliot Peper

"Without poetry, I would not be.” – Jeanine Walker

“I prefer to stay in my little universe and help the characters grow old...I’m getting older, you know, and I just want to see what happens with my characters. And so I concentrate on them as real people and try to figure out, ‘okay, what are you going to be at 60?’” – Jaime Hernandez

"What I’ve learned for myself is that I can’t write poetry alone. I’m always absorbing what other people have taught me, and I think that’s how we all work as poets: absorbing and is being influenced by each other.” — Azura Tyabji

6 ways to use a spoon

First, to dig a ditch
                                          the shape of a body
                        shallower and closer to home,
scrape off flaky lead
                              paint or dead skin
                                                                           blistered dry by sun. Second,
                        to play a trick or spoons or pull
with your teeth — bend with your mind to make
                     a spectacle.
                                                         You’re a spectacular jubilee.
                                      it’s a mirror holding your face that ends
                  up where the light curves
                                                                                                                      where you end
                                                                                                                      and the up ends.
                                      Comeuppance upends
                                                                            in an up-
                                      stairs away from the noise of the kids.
You barely recognize your self-
                                                                                                              portrait in a convex curl.
                                                   to pool light in,
                                                   to sip lightly from,
                                                   to be a way toward light —
                     a conduit connecting cut lamp wire. Fourth,
                  to scoop the eye jelly of a Cyclops
                                          from between your foot and sandal or
            scratch off the sap-turned-tar of a burnt log
                               driven into the oculus of some Polyphemus,
                                                            which either means much
                                                            renowned or many
                                                            reputations or
                                          a straight-A student cutting
        sophomore English again
like here we go digging again —
                a hole
                     the size of a larger body
                                                                                                                      this time.
                                      Isn’t that the way it goes? Fifth, to steer
                                                                                                              a mouse afloat,
                a rudder or oar for a mouse-sized boat.
                                I’ll say hat,
        and you’ll say
                                we’re playing again.
            Sixth, I’ll say poem,
and you’ll say
                we’re playing again.
I’ll say this spoon is an or.
                                                No, or.
                                                            I think you mean and.
                    I think I mean and
                                                            I’m startled that I do
                                                            at all —

Is it you?

Rose’s phone was face down on the table glass when the text came through and halted their chatter. Something about the way it sat abutting a fork caused a clattering buzz, over-announcing the message. Rose’s office-mate Jersey spit a laugh.

“I need to get that ringtone for my kid so he’ll actually answer me.”

Four of them were taking a long lunch, the office was slow the week before the holiday break. Rose flushed with the attention her suddenly large and noisy handset drew. She lifted it, and saw the text was from an unknown number. “Attachment: 1 image”.

Unlocking the device, she got a quick glance of skin, of shadow, of a stocking top on a leg. She shut her phone and put it back on the table.

“Must be a fella they way you’re blushing,” Jersey said.

Rose slid the phone off the table, and unzipped her purse to chuck it in. She shrugged. “Wrong number,” and took a long drought on her beer.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Rosie," Jersey said, catching herself. "I shouldn't have said anything. I know it's too soon for jokes like that."

"You're okay," said Rose, patting her hand. "Let's forget it."

Later, in bed reading, Rose remembered the message and opened it. She pressed her finger on the photo and made it go full screen. Was that a leg? The image was dark and hazy, full of the dots you see in low-light digital photos. It seemed to be a leg, but was that a stocking? There was a line across the thigh to be sure, but it could be a shadow.

She shivered, looked up at her ceiling fan spinning lazy circles, then over at the heater vent which she now saw had shut off a few moments earlier. She pulled the quilt back up.

Throwing the phone down beside her, she went back to her book. A glance at the screen, still bright, revealed something. In the corner, in the shadows, a face. She grabbed it and looked again, but it didn't resolve. She turned the phone to an angle and there was a reflection of some light — was that what made a face there? She put the phone on do not disturb, locked it, and went back to her book.

But her mind could not settle into the story again. She saw that leg, a flashbulb imprint in the darkness of her mind. She saw that face, where it wasn’t in the corner. She saw those dots of grain, the texture, the feel of the image.

It was a feeling that put a little knot of tension between her heart and her stomach. There was something unsettled and misunderstood about the whole thing.

The firm was only open one more day before the break, but nobody was at work except sales and administration. The wind buffeted their skyscraper, in an event the newscasters called the Christmas Gale. On the thirty-first floor they rocked back and forth. You could feel it move, swaying and creaking like they were on a weirdly tall boat. The glass windows bowed with each gust, distorting the light reflections. Rose finished her work as fast as she could, straightened up her desk so that it was neat to come back to in a few days, and left before three.

On the way down the elevator there was a terrible shriek — a metal-against-metal screech that made her jump and grab the hand rail. The wind, in the building, bending the shaft that the squared box descended within. She held her breath until the doors chimed open on the ground floor.

She looked at her messages on the bus home. She had three. One, from her son, asking after a time to talk that night. Another, from her high school best friend, was a family photo and holiday greeting (she must have felt guilty not sending a card after receiving Rose’s). The last was from the same unknown number as before.

The photo was dark again, and like the other one appeared to be a woman in a room somewhere. It felt clandestine, candid. She had her back to the camera, a scooped-back dress on. Hair was wavy, curled. One hand was blocked by her torso but the second held something.

Rose pinched to zoom on the hand, but the bus lurched, and she dropped her phone to the floor, it clattered up the aisle. She got up to retrieve it, a nice woman helping her get it from under a wheelchair where it had settled. The screen was spider-webbed with cracks in the glass.

She returned to her seat. The man next to her was taking video out of the window and laughing, a Santa blocking traffic — the reason the bus stopped so suddenly — naked from the waist down, stumbling, yelling, holding his hand to his forehead.

Rose turned away, disgusted by callousness of the laughing filming man. Her screen thankfully turned on under the broken glass, so she texted her son: - 7 is fine. Looking forward to hearing your voice.

She answered her friend with some heart emojis, looking over at the man next to her, who was playing back his recording of naked Santa, laughing at someone else's misery.

She was eating dinner at 6 when her phone buzzed again from her son: "Ma, is tonight okay? What time?"

She opened the thread to see that her message to him about calling at 7 was missing. She plugged in her headphones and dialed him instead of texting again.

"I wish I was there with you," he said. He was stationed at Fort Shafter in Honolulu, but could only get a few days off this year.

"You work so hard, you go have a nice time and don't worry about me."

"But this year of all the years. I think I should have come home..."

Her handset buzzed, a calendar invite: "Phone call" at 7pm. From who? It just had a phone number on it — that phone number.

She looked in the mystery thread only to see she had sent the message for her son here by mistake. She had invited this stranger to a phone call this evening.

"...your first year without Dad. I don't want you to be alone."

This was stupid. Who was that texting her, and now they were going to call? She declined the meeting invite.



"You okay? You seem distracted."

"I'm okay."

"I'm sorry I can't be there with you."

"I know, honey. You have a nice Christmas, and I'll see you when I come in a few weeks. I'm ready for some beach time."

What was the woman holding? Maybe it was just the blurring, but it looked like a little specter. It glowed in her hand. As an illusion, when Rose turned her phone and the pixel light caught the cracks in her screen just right, it looked like the woman's hand was opening and closing, the item shifting and glimmering. What a strange effect.

Again, like the previous picture, there was something compelling to her, something drawing her in. What were these pictures of? They felt wrong, but familiar. Like bad photocopies of a bad photocopy of a known image, like the original signal had been lost.

Her phone rang at 7:30. She was watching Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby, and because she had declined the meeting request, she had forgot all about the invitation. She answered the phone, barely glancing at the screen.

Static. Then a voice, barely. She paused the show and turned up the volume on the speaker. Was it saying her name? It couldn't know her name. She listened, from far away a sound not unlike the elevator had made, screeching. It gave her goose bumps. Then the voice again, yes, her name, distant and faint: "Rose." Crackles. The radio tuned to a dead channel.

"Who is this?"

Crackle, then clicking, like pearls on a hard table.

Then the voice was clear: "Rose, please."

The line went dead.

The phone buzzed.

Another image.

This one was more familiar, a section of a larger photo maybe, the woman's hair, again, but she was close to the camera and a mirror in the background reflected perhaps a man laying on a bed? But like the others, it was unclear, uncertain, riddled with hazy dots and unresolvable clarity.

She had seen it before, though. She definitely had seen it before.

On the morning of Christmas Eve Rose volunteered, then took herself to a movie. She had declined quite a few offers to join friends with their families for dinner, and instead made stew like she had for many years. Dan always worked Christmas Eve, so they did something simple. Rose thought it a pedestrian dinner for a holiday, but she served it at a beautifully set table. She had hated custom for years, until suddenly, one year while telling someone about it, she realized she felt pride about it. It's regularity and repetition had won her over.

She listened to holiday music, and cooked. She set the table for four, because setting it for one seemed absurd, and two was impossibly sad. She ate alone, with a bottle of wine from Dan's favorite maker.

Her sister called, but she let it go to voicemail, preferring to live in what she was feeling rather than describe it, or pretend she felt better.

When she was done cleaning, when she had eaten a slice of pecan pie, she checked her phone, with its cracked screen. She listened to the voicemail from her sister, she saw her son had texted her a picture, of him on the beach wearing a Santa hat and board shorts.

There was a little sticker on the image with palm tree cartoon: "Come to Hawaii!"

Rose got the next image at eleven that night. This one had lines across it, like the compression on the image was messed up. It was people's feet, lots of them. A crowd, maybe at a dance. Polished dress shoes and heels. The ones in the front looked so familiar.

Rose gasped. They were the shoes she got married in.

She texted back - Who is this?

Delivered, the phone said. Then, a second later that turned to Read.

The bubble that showed someone typing came back right away. Then, it disappeared. It came back a moment later, and then a text came through.

- Is it you?

Rose texted back - how did you get those pictures?

The bubble. Then: - Is it you?

No more texts came through that night.

Rose spent Christmas morning digging through boxes to find the wedding pictures. She had resisted getting them scanned and put online for years, and now she was regretting not being able to pull them up so easily.

She found the pictures, all of them. They were all in the album.

First, the picture of people dancing. It was from their reception, and the distorted, texted image was a small close up of a much larger picture, it was their first dance, after everybody had joined them. They were beaming, laughing, care-free.

The other two she found right away, taken as candid shots by the photographer in the boudoir as she was dressing. So the first did have a garter, and it was her leg — but the real photo was pulled much further back, and there was her mother, and her sister, and her bridesmaids, all drinking champagne.

The second was a moment later when her dress had been zipped and settled. Funny how the digital copy made everything seem dark and strange, clandestine like a hotel room at night. How it highlighted the curves in her wavy hair. The real picture was bright and clear, cheery and full of promise.

Then the one with the man on the bed in the mirror, which was Dan. He insisted to come into the room to discuss something, and was made to be blindfolded by her very traditional mother. Rose had caught him lifting the cloth and peeking at her when he guessed mother wasn't looking. He had winked, and later told her that he only came in to see her because he didn't believe in bad luck. They were going to be together for life.

Then she remembered: the picture with something in her hand! She looked back at the one of her in her dress, and leaned in close to see. It was paper, she was holding paper in her hand that day. It was a few moments before it came back to her: the letter.

A week before their wedding day, Dan had written Rose a letter. "if you don't know the true me, the me that I am in my heart, then you are missing the opportunity to love that person." He had told her things in that letter that he had never confessed to anyone. It was a brave act, to show yourself so nakedly, a leap of faith.

She wrote him back in kind, sharing her own inner fears, and thoughts. Exposing herself to him. She was clear that she wanted him as he was, not the man he projected, or even the man he hoped to be someday. She was clear that she accepted him, and loved him for that. He did the same for her.

They agreed to have their letters with them at the altar, Her letter to Dan in his pocket, his to her folded under her garter against her skin. When the picture was taken, she was about to tuck it away.

They took the letters on their honeymoon and burned them in a beach bonfire, holding hands, as a vow of their union and togetherness. She had almost forgotten. She had almost forgotten, replaced by years of other memories. Replaced by Dan gaunt, weak, suffering.

Rose texted the number:

- Dan, is this you?

Delivered. Read.

Then she wrote:- I miss you so bad, my heart is so broken. I love you. I wish so badly I could be with you.

Delivered. Read.

The bubble came, the three dots of someone typing, and a moment later it disappeared.

It came and disappeared one more time, then there was nothing.

Rose stared at the screen, past the cracks over the words, and waited. She waited for thirty minutes, barely moving, touching her screen each time it started to dim. Sometimes, scrolling up and looking at the pictures.

Finally, when it seemed like there would be no reply at all, she typed in a single emoji heart and sent it. A message came back immediately, with a red exclamation mark, Undeliverable.


We are to be married in a week, and I'm scared. I'm scared because I'm excited, and I'm scared because I love you so much. I'm also scared because I have a persona and mask I wear in the world, and I think that's the man you fell in love with.

But that's not all there is to me, and if you don't know the true me, the me that I am in my heart, then you are missing the opportunity to love that person. Or, perhaps, I am offering you an opportunity to reject them. I think a lifetime commitment is worth that risk.

I'm going to tell you more about this below, but I want you to see that I'm doing this because to be vulnerable to you, and completely open, is one of the strongest gifts I can offer. I hope you see it that way too, and see this comes from a deep abiding affection and trust of the amazing woman you are. I really cannot wait to be your husband.

I remember on our first date, looking across the table and wondering: "Is it you? Are you the one?" You are, aren't you?

She swore she'd never tell her son how much she spent on that same day first-class ticket to Honolulu.

"I'm going to be working a lot, you know," he said, when she had called.

"I can go stay in a resort if you want to have girls over or something."

"Mom, don't be stupid, you're staying with me. I'm just surprised, is all. I'm glad you're coming early."

"I don't mind if you're working. I have some writing to do. I'd rather do it where it's warm and smells like flowers."

She had packed a vial of Dan's ashes. They could spread them on the beach. Maybe the one where Dan and she burned the letters — that wasn't so far from Honolulu.

"I'm going to need you to take me shopping when I land."

"It's Christmas. Everywhere is closed."

"Oh that's right. I need a new phone."


"I dropped it. The screen broke."

"Again! Ma, you have to be more careful."

"As a Christmas present for you, I will be."

"You are so clumsy!"

"I love you, too. And I have a story to tell you about a letter your father once wrote me. Remind me when I arrive."

"Okay. We'll grab Chinese and you can tell me stories. That's a good Christmas."

"That's a good Christmas," she repeated. "That's a good Christmas."

Dear Diary

The Seattle Review of Books

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Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 24th - December 30th

Thursday, December 27: Open Game Night

Get yourself out of the Christmas mindset and back into the real world with the Fremont comics shop/fashion boutique's weekly game night session. Meet some new people and play some new games. Next year can be better, if you just leave the house every once in a while. Outsider Comics & Geek Boutique, 7 pm, free.

Friday, December 28: Winter Break Reading Oasis

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Seattle Public Library, Northgate Branch, 10548 Fifth Ave NE, 206-386-1980, http://spl.org, 2 pm, free.

Saturday, December 29: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

The website Atlas Obscura has branches all over the country that host bizarre or unique events for anyone who registers. This one is a celebration of a South Seattle treasure: "an Ethiopian coffee ceremony hosted by Milen Medhane of Kaffa Coffee." This is a way to learn about how coffee is roasted and prepared, as well as take part in the ceremony that started it all, from the part of the world where coffee originated.

Kaffa Coffee, 8136 Rainier Ave S, https://www.atlasobscura.com, 10:30 am, $30.

Sunday, December 30: Bow-Wows and Books

At the Bow-Wows and Books events, "children read aloud to certified therapy dogs from Project Canine." If you learned how to read, chances are good that you did so by reading aloud. This is a great way for kids to gain confidence by reading to a non-judgmental audience. And it's pretty damn adorable, too.

Seattle Public Library, Magnolia Branch, 2801 34th Ave W, 206-386-4225, http://spl.org, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Winter Break Reading Oasis

Look: there's not a lot going on this week. Christmas week is always pretty dead, reading-wise. And you probably can't do a reading right now anyway; the holidays are stressful, and schmoozing before and after an event is just one more thing to add to a busy holiday schedule.

So this Friday, why not take the time to be quiet and enjoy reading for reading's sake? This is "an all-ages low-key afternoon of reading while we transform the library meeting room into a cozy escape full of tents and pillows."

If you're interested, you can talk about books with librarians. There might be snacks and "warm drinks." But all you need to know is this: blanket forts and quiet time to read. What else are you looking for this week, really?

Seattle Public Library, Northgate Branch, 10548 Fifth Ave NE, 206-386-1980, http://spl.org, 2 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for December 22, 2018

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

The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Bikini

Brand-savvy Ipek Irgit saw a cute bikini sold by a scrappy artist on a beach in Brazil, hired a friend to help her replicate it, and sold it as high fashion. When the knockoffs appeared, she started suing — until one of her targets sued back, hard.

For some folks, marketing is no different from making: brand it, and you’re the author of it. Fortunately, the law still disagrees.

As we spoke, Ms. Irgit shared her disdain for the legal process — a hatred of lawsuits and a belief that it is lawyers who benefit the most from them. It was the creative process she most cherished, she said. She meandered, though, when I asked her repeatedly to talk about inventing the Kiini. Did she sketch it? How did she come up with the idea of threading elastic through crochet?

"It goes back to with my grandmother," Ms. Irgit said, in her most specific answer. "We used to make things like crochet bikinis, so I was like 10 and 11."

"You made crochet bikinis when you were 10?" I asked.

"Not me, I’m not making them, right?" Ms. Irgit said. "No, ‘make’ is like — it is usually my idea. I’m not that — I didn’t make them. My mom made it, or my grandma made it."

What about the bathing suit Ms. Irgit was wearing on the beach in Montauk in 2012 with Mr. Becker? Who made it? "I had had it made," was all Ms. Irgit would say.

Stuck on You: An Ode to the Second Person

Nell Stevens writes about the strange appeal of the second person in the essay equivalent of a mobius strip, the grammatical equivalent of a disappearing act. Worth it for these two lines alone (though also very much worth it throughout).

People say that Lorrie Moore is the only author who can get away with the second person and they are wrong. Lorrie Moore, you are one of the authors who can get away with the second person.
How Ghost Hunting is Like Living with Lyme Disease

Porochista Khakpour wrote about Lyme disease as a lifelong gaslighting by the medical industry. Christina Diane Campbell sees ghosts instead. Struggling with the pain and weakness of her illness, she goes on the hunt — late-night prowls with camera and recorder that reveal something about the body and the spirit most of us are fortunate not to know.

I’m a little jealous of the supposed ghosts. They float around unencumbered by treacherous bodies, while corporeal humans — like me with my sore arms and runny guts — shiver in the January wind and beg the dead to show themselves. I don’t always believe in ghosts, but I believe in data. I want to discover that the body is not everything, even though our physicality sometimes feels like the most powerful force in the world, especially when sickness corrupts your whole personality and spirit.

Whatcha Reading, M’Bilia Meekers?

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

M’Bilia Meekers is a queer black poet from New Orleans, Louisiana, and she just joined us in Seattle as the new publicity manager for the University of Washington Press. She has an MFA in Poetry from NYU and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Watering Hole, and Poets & Writers. Her poetry has previously appeared, or is forthcoming in, the New Yorker, Guernica, The Rumpus, Split Lip Magazine, The Adroit Journal, Arc Poetry Magazine, Tinderbox, Poet Lore, Wildness, and elsewhere.

Whatcha Reading, M'Bilia Meekers?

What are you reading now?

I was at the Elliot Bay Book Company for work recently and was having a conversation with Rick and Karen about being a first generation American (my mom is from Sierra Leone and my dad is from Belgium), my love for New Orleans, and how I was adjusting to Seattle, having just moved here at the end of October. At the end of our chat, Rick recommended I pick up Happiness by Aminatta Forna. I’ve just started reading it (just finished the first chapter!) and having heard a little bit about the story before I started, I did not expect it to start with a wolfer. I’m definitely intrigued.

I basically read 95% poetry so it’s been a very long time since I’ve read a novel (over three years I think) and it’s exciting to exercise my fiction brain. I’m always reading to discover what tools a writer uses to build their poem, story, essay, etc. and thinking about the art of writing the way someone would think about building a table (what materials did they use, how many legs did they add, where did they place the screws, so to speak). I’ve never read Forna before and I’m excited to see how she constructs her narrative.

What did you read last?

A few years ago, one exes introduced me to the world of graphic narratives and now, after poetry, I’d say I read comic books the most. The last two I read were Monstress: Volume 3 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and Saga: Volume 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Monstress is such a beautifully drawn series and has such a lush, dynamic narrative. It’s really considering what it means for a young woman to have a part of herself that’s extremely powerful, but also uncontrollable and scary. Plus, cat and poets make an appearance - you’ve got to love that! If I had to sum up Saga for a new reader, I’d say two soldiers from warring planets have a taboo intergalactic love child and trouble ensues. It’s a really engaging, down to earth (ha!) story with complex characters that I recommend to anyone who wants to try out a comic that’s not interested in the flat dichotomies you often find in superhero comics (no shade to Marvel and DC).

What are you reading next?

Like many bookworms, I have an embarrassing mountain of books to read on my bedside table. The next two I’ll tackle are most likely A Book of Delights by Ross Gay and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Ross Gay is absolutely one of my favorite poets (Read him. Just do it. You’ll thank me later.) and I recently got my hands on an ARC of A Book of Delights and could barely stop myself from reading the whole thing while just flipping through the pages. He has this way with extending his syntax that just makes me feel light and unburdened even when he’s exploring difficult subjects like our current political landscape or something quirky like spoons or feet. I also went to some meetings on the East Coast last week and my colleague was kind enough to gift me with Offil’s Dept. of Speculation, since I mentioned my exciting foray back into the world of fiction. He called it a poet’s novel and I was sold!

What book would you recommend as a holiday gift?

The first book that came to mind was The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. I have this memory of reading it during my first summer in Brooklyn right after I got back from Cave Canem. I was on the C train with that hot, humid subway air blasting on my neck and tearing up as I was reading, so absorbed in the memoir that I missed my stop and was late for a lunch with one of my new friends. I’m currently at that age where all of my grandparents are dying and my family is having a tough time in general. The Light of the World is a beautifully written and moving book about love and kindness, more than tragedy. It reminds me to appreciate the people in my life for whatever amount of time I have with them.

The Help Desk: Don't meet your idols

Cienna Madrid is on holiday break. Please enjoy this Help Desk from 2016.Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.*

Dear Cienna,

Once, I met an author I loved and it was a total letdown. She was narcissistic and bored by all the people who came out to hear her read, and I disliked her so much it made my skin crawl. Now I can't enjoy her books because it reminds me of how unpleasant she was. Should I bother going to readings anymore? I don't want to lose any more favorite authors, and the risk of them being jerks is scaring me away.

Mary, Bainbridge Island

Dear Mary,

Once, I was invited to a fancy literary party full of very impressive people – best-selling authors, sitcom writers, actors, comedians. I couldn't throw a fork without hitting someone whose work I admired. As parties go, it was normal: People sipped champagne, talked child rearing, traded jokes and were surprisingly tolerant of me sweating on them. I should say, it was normal except for me. Intimidation, my natural dearth of social graces and a near-painful desire to make a good impression rendered me mute – that is, until the hosts' daughter, a sweet-looking girl of about 12, emerged from the kitchen with a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and began offering them to guests.

“Mmmm, is there anything better than a cute little girl handing out warm cookies?” One actor asked rhetorically.

That is the moment I found my voice. “Only if she's stripping,” I said.

The actor stared. The child proferred her plate to me with pity in her sweet brown eyes. There was a moment of silence as everyone in the room wished my place were filled by someone who could pass the very low bar of not sexualizing children in casual conversation. That was the day Paul Constant learned that bringing me as his date to parties is like reading Proust to a pig.

I bring up this story, Mary, to illustrate how awful some writers are at interacting with other people. Others are just awful in general (Norman Mailer was a notorious misogynist who once told a crowd of fans that “a little bit of rape is good for the man's soul.”). Either way, you have to separate the person from his or her work and be generous enough to pity them when they act like dicks in public, as all those people pitied me years ago.

Because by their nature, books are a private obsession, both for writers and readers. So attending an author's reading is, to me, an unparalleled act of public intimacy that can go horribly wrong or beautifully right. Personally, I think it's worth wading through a few assholes to experience the beauty.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Given birth

Thursday Comics Hangover: Here are the comics that moved me the most this year

I can't make you a list of Best Books that have been published in 2018 because I haven't read all of the books published in 2018. What I can do is reflect on the books I have read this year and let you know which of them has stayed with me — which books I'm still, weeks or months later, thinking about. To me, a book's longevity is its most important quality. I can read the most beautiful sentence in the world, but if that sentence doesn't set some chain reaction off in my mind, it's basically worthless. This week, I'm going to examine the books that really made a mark on me in one way or another — the books that changed me, the books that still live with me, the books that affect the way that I interact with the world. Perhaps you disagree, or perhaps you think some other book is way better than my selection. That's fine; send me an email or tweet at me and we can talk.

It's been another banner year for comics in Seattle. This year has seen the publication of books from two local cartooning legends Rock Steady by Ellen Forney and Poochytown by Jim Woodring and a great new comic by Mita Mahato that serves as a eulogy to the orcas who dominated Seattle's imagination in the summer of this year. We also saw a Seattle-set comic called Pervert by Michelle Perez and Remy Boy that focused on a part of the city that's rarely seen in fiction: Aurora Ave and its culture of sex work.

Probably the biggest and most impressive comics publication of the year is the gigantic collected edition of Berlin, by former Seattle cartoonist Jason Lutes. The story of life in Germany under the rise of the Nazis took decades to write and draw, but it's even more timely on its release in Donald Trump's America than it was when Lutes began the endeavor.

Blame This on the Boogie, a memoir by Rina Ayuyang,, is the most fun and imaginative comic I read all year — a glorious movie musical about the lasting power of family and the hope of coming to America in pursuit of the American dream.

One other memoir, All the Answers by Michael Kupperman, helped recast one of the funniest cartoonist in comics as a more complex figure. Kupperman mines the complicated relationship with his father, a childhood "quiz kid" who was one of the earliest sensations on television. The level of craft in Answers is evident — Kupperman's choice to depict his own eyes as emotionless circles is a daring one that pays off on many levels — and the story is a unique one that somehow manages to feel universal, like the best comics.

These are the nonfiction books that moved me the most this year

I can't make you a list of Best Books that have been published in 2018 because I haven't read all of the books published in 2018. What I can do is reflect on the books I have read this year and let you know which of them has stayed with me — which books I'm still, weeks or months later, thinking about. To me, a book's longevity is its most important quality. I can read the most beautiful sentence in the world, but if that sentence doesn't set some chain reaction off in my mind, it's basically worthless. This week, I'm going to examine the books that really made a mark on me in one way or another — the books that changed me, the books that still live with me, the books that affect the way that I interact with the world. Perhaps you disagree, or perhaps you think some other book is way better than my selection. That's fine; send me an email or tweet at me and we can talk.

Every month at the Reading Through It Book Club, we talk about a non-fiction book that relates to Donald Trump's presidency in some way. In the two years we've been meeting, we've discussed race and immigration and Russia and too many other topics to list here. I consider it my primary source of non-fiction reading choices, and more often than not I learn a great deal from the books.

The two best books we discussed at this year's Reading Through It book clubs were Yuval Harari's Sapiens and Amy Goldstein's *Janesville: An American Story. One was a sweeping study of what it means to be human, and what we can expect for the future of our species, and the other was a patient and detailed examination of what it means to live in small town America today. If you're looking for a book to help you understand what's happening in the country as presidential candidates fight for your limited attention in the year to come, you could do worse than read either — or both! — of these books.

One book that we haven't read yet because it's in hardcover but that I hope to read in Reading Through It soon is Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race, a serious investigation of the discussions we have when we talk about race in America. Oluo, a Seattle author, is a thoughtful and warm guide through conversations that many white Americans might not be comfortable having.

The non-fiction that most captured my imagination this year was memoir — it seems that the autobiographical narratives are the latest genre to enjoy a spirit of reinvention. Three local writers published memoirs (or memoir-like books) that changed my preconceptions of what the form can do.

  • [Sarah Cannon's The Shame of Losing(http://www.seattlereviewofbooks.com/reviews/accidentally-honest/), for instance, is a bracingly honest account of what happened when Cannon's husband suffered a brain injury that permanently changed the person he is. Despite taking the form of a traditional memoir, Losing felt daring and new thanks to Cannon's brutal self-assessments.

  • Eat the Apple by Matt Young is a memoir about Young's time in the military as told in a series of fragments: the story is told in a kaleidoscope of perspectives and sensibilities. Young is a born storyteller who understands that the shortest distance between two points — in this case a reader and understanding — is never a short line.

  • The Last Mosaic by Elizabeth Cooperman and Thomas Walton is more than fragmented — it's a literary mosaic, fashioned of tiny observations from a trip to Rome. It's a travel journal that's been sliced up and pasted back together in a thoughtful way — in fact, it feels like the only way these pieces could fit together. Like a good mosaic brings something new from disparate pieces, you can't see the original shape of the story in The Last Mosaic — only what the authors want you to see.

Talking with Madison Books manager James Crossley about opening Seattle's newest bookstore

James Crossely has been a bookseller in the Seattle region for years, at Mercer Island's Island Books. So when Phinney Books owner Tom Nissley announced this fall that Crossley would be managing Madison Books, his new bookstore in Madison Park, the news was greeted by the bookselling community with a great sigh of relief: they knew the store was in good hands.

It's taken a little longer than expected to open Madison Books thanks to a more intense-than-expected construction schedule. But last Monday, Crossley opened the store in a temporary, "pop-up" situation for the holiday season through Christmas Eve, and then on December 27th, 28th, and 29th. We talked to him about how it's been going.

First of all, what's your store's all-time bestselling book?

That's a good question. Right now It's probably a three-way tie between Becoming, Michelle Obama's memoir, Educated by Tara Westover, and Milkman by Anna Burns.

So I guess your clientele is really into one-word titles apparently.

Yes, and that's good to know.

How has running the shop been so far?

It's been great! We've had a really hospitable welcome — a lot of people coming in the store to buy books already ,and even more who just want to stick their heads in the door and say "welcome to the neighborhood."

We're so glad to have a great outpouring of warm wishes. And I've had some unexpected visitors from my bookselling career — people popping up from the past to check out the new operation, which has been great. There's been great support from the from the bookselling community. We got donated shelves from University Book Store. I got help from former coworkers in setting up the space. And also, the publisher reps have been great: they hand-delivered copies of books late in the evening, like, "hey, do you need more copies of this book? I could just bring them by at seven or eight." It's all reaffirmed my continuing belief that this is just a great literary community.

Did you ever visit the bookstore that was in the area years ago?

I did! I used to shop there a little bit. It was called Madison Park Books and it was in a funky triangular space across the street and just just west of us. It was a charming and interesting place. When the store closed, somebody who used to work there went to Island Books and I worked with her for a decade. I think of her a lot as I'm in here now.

Are there any sections that you think you're going to have to refocus on based on consumer demand so far?

I've already got a hint of it. I think I did a pretty good job figuring out what people are interested in, but they are maybe even more interested in the mystery section that I thought they might be. A couple local authors come in asked if we local authors will have a presence here, and of course they will.

Mostly though, I just get the sense that they're so happy to have have a bookstore back on this street.

Do you have a rough opening date in mind after you close the pop-up once the holidays are done?

It looks like right now the end of February or the beginning of March is when all the work will be done and we'll be able to reopen.

Great. This is really an opportunity for people who to come in and sort of help shape the store a little bit, isn't it?

Absolutely. One of the first things we did was hang some butcher paper on the wall and draw some virtual "shelves" with an invitation for people to fill them in with what they want to see — first of all what they want to get under the tree this year, but more importantly what they want to see on our shelves going forward.

And what are your hours right now?

On weekdays and Saturdays, ten to seven. On Sundays, twelve to five.

Okay. Is there anything else that you think that my readers should know about?

I would love them to know that the very first book that we sold was a copy of The Overstory, by Richard Powers, which is one of my favorite books this year. And our first special order has already been placed and arrived, and it was for The Beastie Boys Book. Being able to get those in people's hands was a good feeling. A great feeling.

Book News Roundup: The naughty list just keeps growing

One recent evening at the library, curator Edwin Lindo prepared fried plátanos where people used to order their coffee. A group arrives for “It Will Be Loud,” an open mic held on Wednesdays at Estelita’s. The close quarters and smell of cooking bananas nurture a sense of intimacy.
  • You would think someone at the New York Times would have recognized David Icke's name. Or you would think someone at the New York Times would have done a second's worth of research and discovered that Icke is an anti-Semitic monster who preys upon conspiracy theorists to spread his hatred.

  • Are "after" poems plagiarism? Of course not; they represent a long tradition of call-and-response in poetry. But they do provide cover for plagiarists.

  • Some old assholes are throwing around words like cyberbullying" and "mob rule" because a terrible person isn't getting an award. I'm sure they're claiming that people are being "silenced," too. Yawn.

  • And while I'm being a Grumpy Person on the Internet: Shame on Canongate Books.

These are the poetry collections that moved me most in 2018

I can't make you a list of Best Books that have been published in 2018 because I haven't read all of the books published in 2018. What I can do is reflect on the books I have read this year and let you know which of them has stayed with me — which books I'm still, weeks or months later, thinking about. To me, a book's longevity is its most important quality. I can read the most beautiful sentence in the world, but if that sentence doesn't set some chain reaction off in my mind, it's basically worthless. This week, I'm going to examine the books that really made a mark on me in one way or another — the books that changed me, the books that still live with me, the books that affect the way that I interact with the world. Perhaps you disagree, or perhaps you think some other book is way better than my selection. That's fine; send me an email or tweet at me and we can talk.

2018 has been a year for strong, voice-y poetry — poetry collections with themes to examine and stories to tell. Three local authors have put out collections this year that did all the work that we usually expect from novels: they create vibrant characters and settings, they tell stories with beginnings and middles and ends, and they examine ideas with patience and an inquisitive spirit.

  • Killing Marias by Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna is a tribute to women named Maria who have been murdered in Juárez, Mexico. Castro Luna gives voice to these forgotten women — victims of a violence that is too often used as a political tool in this country — and allows them a chance to be seen.

  • Sierra Golden's debut collection The Slow Art is based on the many years that she worked on an Alaskan fishing boat. Golden is a classical kind of poet: her poems are serious and sturdily constructed, and she calls back to modern greats like W.S. Merwin, but she writes about modern topics like meth use and economic disparity. In Golden, Seattle might have a shot at a working class poet — someone who sees and understands the experience of ordinary Americans and captures them in poetry. We could use a lot more of that.

  • The Sexiest Man Alive by Amber Nelson isn't on its surface as serious as these other two collections, but beneath its frivolous surface, Nelson is doing important work. By writing a series of poetic monologues from the perspectives of People magazine's sexiest men alive, Nelson is investigating masculinity and celebrity and what it means to be a person in an age when everyone is basically a brand, whether they want to be or not. Her examination is funny and clever and simply riveting.

what child is this

with skin of dirt & honey

who climbs & clamors & clings to the cruel hole

where their parents’ bodies were just minutes ago

whose skin the color of the Rio Grande I’ve never seen but Jovane once assured me is just as

wet & wistful as the mud of the Yakima River

wow I say to no one in particular

womp womp says a white-haired

white collar ordering Mexican food

while the waiter reaches for her pen a knife a

wailing in the distance

what assholes

we all whisper at our phones

when we finally come up with anything at all to say

when words are worthless

why is a barren question so taking

wickedness at its word seems hollow so

wallow with me for a minute as

weeping nightly my son mourns the end of each day

wary that the overwhelming world will be here when he wakes

what child is this

with skin of dirt & honey

There's something fishy in Plankton

As the one-time author of the Seattle Weekly's "Ask an Uptight Seattleite," David Stoesz is a master at ego deflation. His first thriller, 17 Resentment Court, trains a gimlet eye at Plankton, a Northwest city that takes itself a bit too seriously. Add the irreverent Pope Smith — reluctant flunky, burglar, and murder suspect — and you've got a highly entertaining mix of satire and crime.

In a short essay on writing the book, Stoesz mulls the propriety of writing anything meant to please in this time of political upheaval. But what better time to be pulled outside ourselves, and then take a look back at how silly we are? Check out an excerpt on our sponsor feature page, then pick up a copy of 17 Resentment Court for the holidays.

Sponsors like David Stoesz make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you can sponsor us, too? We only have three slots left in the first quarter of the year (and we haven't even gone public yet!). Reserve your week of choice before it's too late: Just send us a note at sponsor@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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

Monday, December 17: Nick's Picks Book Club: Patrick Melrose Discussion

University Book Store's long-running literary fiction book club discusses the incredible cycle of novels by Edward St. Aubyns about Patrick Melrose, a wealthy and miserable young man. These books are so incredibly toxic but also so incredibly beautiful; it's rare to find a protagonist so antagonizing who is still somehow relatable. These books are best shared with others.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, December 18: Lit Fix

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 7 pm, $5.

Wednesday, December 19: Intro to Podcasting Workshop

Ayla Taylor, a local sci-fi podcaster, leads a workshop to discuss the importance of podcasts, and how to get started making your own storytelling podcast. These aren't the kind of podcasts where boring white guys talk about nothing for an hour and a half; they're full-fledged fiction, with acting and narration and the works. In other words, they're books on the air.

Ada’s Technical Books, 425 15th Ave, 322-1058, http://seattletechnicalbooks.com, 6 pm, $5.

Thursday, December 20: Notis: Translating Comics and Graphic Novels

Local organization Northwest Literary Translators hosts a panel about the art and science of translating graphic novels into English. This is a discussion between local translators including Melissa Bowers, Lola Rogers, and José Alaniz, and Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth, who has published uncountable pages of translated comics, will be joining to discuss his experience.

Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307, http://www.folioseattle.org, 5:30 pm, $10.

Friday, December 21: Shrink Night!

"$10 secures your spot, one full sheet of Shrink Film and more coloring supplies than you'll know what to do with" at this party to make your own Shrinky Dinks with Push/Pull's lively community of artists. Push/Pull, 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, 789-1710, http://pushpullseattle.weebly.com/, 6 pm, $10.

Saturday, December 22: Christmas Readalong

Special guest readers will read aloud from some classic Christmas books, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, and The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. This is essentially the final event in Elliott Bay's packed annual readings calendar, and it has become a Yule tradition for many. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 11 am, free.

These are the novels that moved me most in 2018

I can't make you a list of Best Books that have been published in 2018 because I haven't read all of the books published in 2018. What I can do is reflect on the books I have read this year and let you know which of them has stayed with me — which books I'm still, weeks or months later, thinking about. To me, a book's longevity is its most important quality. I can read the most beautiful sentence in the world, but if that sentence doesn't set some chain reaction off in my mind, it's basically worthless. This week, I'm going to examine the books that really made a mark on me in one way or another — the books that changed me, the books that still live with me, the books that affect the way that I interact with the world. Perhaps you disagree, or perhaps you think some other book is way better than my selection. That's fine; send me an email or tweet at me and we can talk.

My poor, battered attention span! Just like last year and the year before, it's been a tough year for me and fiction. with the world continually erupting into the kind of geopolitical chaos that Tom Clancy couldn't imagine on his worst day, it takes a lot of effort to focus on a novel for any length of time.

So the novels on this list are noteworthy not just because they're great books that moved me intellectually and emotionally — though that is also true — but also because I finished reading them in the first place. In this second year of Donald Trump's presidency, that's an achievement of its own.

Three novels by local authors — about as different from each other as can be — haunted me throughout the year:

  • The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu, which transfixed me with its examination of how the past connects with (and transforms) the present. Everyone I've recommended Lost Girls to has been hypnotized by the book — it marks Fu as an author whose new work is deserving of your immediate attention.

  • Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison is a hand grenade of a book — a salvo in the class war. Set on Bainbridge Island, where the haves hire the have-nots to manicure their stately lawns, Lawn Boy is a novel and an economic treatise and a bracing reminder that sometimes literary fiction is way too elitist for its own goddamn good.

  • Sketchtasy by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore challenged me to consider a whole beautiful universe that existed in the same city in which I spent my youth, but that I treated as something completely invisible. It's a glamorous, dirty, stunning story of queer culture in 1990s Boston, and it's just as lively and perilous and angry and fun as a night out on the town with your wildest friends.

Perhaps it's because the world in which we all live is fast becoming a dystopia, but I didn't read much science fiction/fantasy that worked for me this year. Only two books failed to fade into vapor as soon as I set them down:

  • The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith is a huge, gallumphing monster of a novel — one which swallows the whole world and regurgitates it into something brand new. There's social satire and adventure and maybe some romance and more than a little Jane Austen wrapped up in this book, and ten million other things besides.

  • Suicide Club by Rachel Heng is a different kind of dystopian story. It's set in a world where immortality is within our grasp, but we screw it up in the same way we always do. While the impulse to go big and wide with this kind of high-concept is understandable, Heng keeps the scope and the stakes of the story at a relatable human level.

And it's not a new book, but the reissue of Roxane Gay's short story collection Ayiti captured my imagination in a way that short story collections rarely do.

The books in this list have provided me with all the pleasures that a good novel brings: a sense of being transported, a feeling of living outside one's own skin, a thrill of imagination. Next year lands in the valley between the joyous chaos of the midterm elections and the dutiful march that is the 2020 presidential elections. Hopefully at this time next December, this list of novels will be twice as long — but for now, for this moment in history, these books were exactly what I needed.

Literary Event of the Week: Lit Fix

Lit Fix is a reading series in which (mostly) local writers and (mostly) local musicians get together to read new stuff in a non-bookstore setting. And the modest $5 door fee always goes to a good cause.

Since we are nearing the holidays, let's put the charity up front: this Tuesday's edition of Lit Fix, the 24th in the series (!!!) will benefit HopeLink Adult Education, a magnificent nonprofit that helps people find education and retraining that can make a lasting improvement in their lives.

The featured musicians in this show are Sherri Jerome and Michael Beckworth of Del Vox. You can get a taste of them in this video:

But of course you're likely to come on out to Lit Fix because you're interested in the readers. And why wouldn't you be? The fiction authors at this event are Katrina Carrasco, the author of the Port Townsend-set historical crime thriller The Best Bad Things, and Kevin Emerson, the author of many young adult novels including his latest, Any Second, which is about a young man with a bomb strapped to his chest.

And the poets at this one are knockouts, too: Shankar Narayan will be reading with Seattle Review of Books's Poet in Residence for this month, Dujie Tahat . Dujie is an amazing reader of his own work, and this event looks like it could be an all-time great in the long history of Lit Fixes. This could be the last reading you'll attend in 2018. It will be one of the best readings you'll attend in 2018, too.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://www.litfixseattle.com/next-event, 7 pm, $5.

The Sunday Post for December 16, 2018

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.

Cold Discovery

This is a two-cup essay, and make sure you brew the coffee strong. Drew Austin takes an extremely close look at the shift from physical to digital to platform media and how it transforms choice from something we have to something we receive. This isn’t another scare piece about the evils of Netflix, Kindle, and Spotify — or their larger and more terrifying siblings, Google and Facebook — it’s a thoughtful piece of cultural criticism about different types of environments and how we might begin learning to navigate, cultivate, and protect them.

When we step into these universal content libraries, we rely less upon crude clues like covers for navigation and give ourselves over to an environment that offers to do almost everything for us, if we’ll just let it. With nearly any imaginable book, movie, or song close at hand and fewer of the traditional forces that push us to choose one over another, the context provided by those limitations fades and the environment itself gains corresponding prominence — at the expense of any specific thing within it.
Gay City has expanded E Pike library and resource center

Here’s some good news: Gay City’s Michael C. Weidemann LGBT Library on Capitol Hill has expanded, and they have a new roommate, Three Dollar Bill Cinema. Three Dollar Bill lost its executive director this year, and it’s a chance for them to find solid footing. It’s also a chance for the two organizations to benefit from closer connection with each other.

Seattle has an immense richness of accessible, bookish resources beyond its photogenic Central Library. This is a cheering reminder that books thrive everywhere — and especially in people’s hands.

“It’s exciting to be able to expand, and to create more opportunities for LGBTQ folks to connect,” [Executive Director Fred] Swanson said. “We’re excited about all of the things that bring community into Gay City — testing services, community meetings, arts programing — and are eager to fill out the library calendar in the new year.”
Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

Laurie Penny, you are irresistible. This narrative of Penny’s time doing, well, what the title says, reads like Hunter S. Thompson would have if Thompson had been (as he should have been) a crazy-smart British feminist with an understanding of power dynamics so hard and sharp you could use it to cut glass. If this is techno-utopia — a ship full of men who prefer women paid to be there — you can keep it.

I am not 10 feet tall and 22, but I am a tiny hyperactive white woman with weird hair and poor boundaries, so I revert to an old standby and start serving full manic pixie dream girl. It’s not exactly an act. I’m a terrible actor. It’s just about dialing up the parts of my personality that men tend to find most delightful, giggling a bit more, scratching my arse a bit less, and hoping nobody Googles me. It helps that I don’t have to fake ignorance of the crypto-scene drama. I only have to pretend to care.

Whatcha Reading, Paulette Perhach?

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

Paulette Perhach is the Seattle-based author of the book Welcome to the Writer's Life: How to Design Your Writing Craft. Her writing has appeared all over the place: Elle, The New York Times, and Slate, just to name a few. She offers coaching to writers (a group session is starting January!). She just published this wonderful piece on Hobart you should read, titled "Risk Mitigation at the Dawn of my Conceivable Extinction".

What are you reading now?

I'm reading Laura Da's book of poetry, Instruments of the True Measure. The title refers to themes of measuring land as the first step in removal of the people living there. Laura is in my former Made at Hugo House Fellows writing workshop, and I pretty much just fangirl over her work every time. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t stop.

She’s not afraid of poems wrapped in fog, which lead you through a dreamlike world of ambiguity. After reading a poem, I’m filled with a feeling that I trust is exactly the one she wanted me to feel. Coming to creative writing from the world of journalism, I have much learn from her.

Here’s a section of the title poem I love:

Moving lines of settlement
are baptized in the bile

of their own digestion.
Chickasaw in the northern parcel of the state

Choctaw in the central.
Domesday Book scrolls meld into the

linen press
of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

[insert poetry “mmmmm” here]

What did you read last?

I recently moved and, upon unpacking, found a copy of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto I’d seen at a thrift store, which is where I like to pick up titles that make me think, “Oh I’ve heard of this.” I’ve been reading so many how-to books this year — about how to be a writer and how to make a living at it — while researching my book Welcome to the Writer’s Life. I was missing that feeling from of a book you can just fall into, one that makes you stay reading in the tub long after you’re raisiney, adding more hot water for one more chapter, one more chapter, one more chapter. Bel Canto answered the call wonderfully. It made me want to take up my novel again, and it tricked me — at least for a week — into thinking I loved opera.

What I admired most was how Patchett balanced dozens of characters and multiple languages in a way that never left me confused. She also described the music in a way that could have fallen so flat, but instead made me feel like I was hearing it live.

What are you reading next?

I’m off the travel-addict wagon and am flying to France on Christmas (which is how my boyfriend found us $600 tickets, so not too bad). I’m trying to find a comprehensive but readable book on the French Revolution. With the protests there now and how things feel pre-revolutiony here, I think that is the right story for me, but it turns out it’s hard to find just one. (Internet? Recommendations?) I might just go for A Moveable Feast or The Complete Claudine by Colette. Or I might haul three books across the Atlantic because I’m ridiculous and refuse to get a Kindle or admit I don’t really read that much while traveling.

After that, it’s back to The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman. But I enjoy the entrepreneurial side of being a creative, too.

What book would you recommend as a holiday gift?

I'm always going to be that aunt trying to force young folks to read, and my secret weapon is Best American Nonrequired Reading. I always get a copy for my nephew. It makes a great stand to lean his cell phone against; but once I hide his phone for family read time, I like to see him read it and smirk at the funny parts.

In general, the Best American Series is a fantastic shortcut for anyone you know who likes a particular genre of writing. Now they have best American mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, nature writing, sports writing, and poetry — pretty much all the things. It’s a lovely buffet from which they can sample writers in the field, and any one I read almost always leads me to a writer I come to follow and love. I found Cat Rambo by reading Best American Sci-fi. She included a Seattle reference in her story about a cat. My assumption that she was local turned out to be correct. I eventually met that very cat.

As a writer, it’s so useful to read so many lessons in one place. I reached out to one travel writer to tell him I loved one of his stories, and he’s become a mentor of mine. So the Best American Series can bring magic to friends who are simply readers or readers and writers.

The Help Desk: The bad kind of free speech

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

Dear Cienna,

I've done a few onstage interviews at bookstores, and I enjoy doing them. My area of interest is in vogue right now, so there are a lot of authors of popular books who come to town, and talking to them is usually a joy.

Cienna, in almost any other field — journalism, for instance, which I do a lot of — I would be paid for my time. Venues and publishers never offer to pay me for my time as an onstage interviewer. A lot of preparation goes into those events: I have to read the book, read and listen to past interviews with the author, wear nice clothes, promote on social channels, and bring good stage presence.

I understand that bookstores don't have a lot of extra cash laying around. (Although they could surely offer a cup of coffee or a small gift card or something, couldn't they?) But the publishers, who pay for the authors to travel the country on tour, must be willing to cough up a little bit of cash for a good interviewer?

I'm not expecting to make a living as an onstage interviewers of authors, but some sign that my time is valuable would be nice. In almost any other field, being asked to do something as intensive as an onstage interview in exchange for exposure would be seen a huge rip-off. Should I ask for compensation next time, or am I being an entitled baby?

Erma, Ballard

Dear Erma,

In an ideal world, yes, you would be paid for your time as an interviewer – just like in an ideal world, sex appeal wouldn't be the strongest currency of women, people named Kash and Tiffini would automatically be registered as Assholes in some sort of community registry, the word "dollop" wouldn't exist, tweezers would scream for you, and ex-presidents would be taxidermied into their most memorable political moments and line the halls of Congress in Plexiglass tubes.

But we do not yet live in an ideal world, so we must do the hard work of fashioning one for ourselves. Here's what I suggest: the next time a publisher asks you to interview one of their authors onstage, respond with "Sure! My fee is now X." They may negotiate with you, you still may end up being paid in coffee or booze or nothing at all, but at least you'll have the satisfaction of sticking up for yourself and communicating that your time is valuable.



Portrait Gallery: Troll

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

Thursday, December 13: Trolls in the Nordic Imagination. Scary, Clumsy, and Lovable.
Lotta Gavel-Adams, a Swedish studies expert at the University of Washington will discuss the Nordic obsession with trolls tonight at the Nordic Museum. This lecture is part of the Scandinavian 30, a series of free, thirty-minute talks held once each month at the Nordic Museum.
Nordic Museum, 2655 NW Market St, http://nordicmuseum.org/future, 7 pm, free.

Future Alternative Past: Religion. Seriously.

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 teach writing classes. One thing I ask my students to do is fill in a spreadsheet for their work-in-progress’s characters, noting race, age, sexual orientation, so forth, so on. And the category of character traits they usually haven’t thought about before is religion. Or the absence of it. Which is weird.

The default religious status in this time and place is a vaguely Protestant-ish Christianity. But SFFH authors aren’t necessarily working in the here and now. Post-apocalyptic landscapes may be the breeding grounds for a warped Catholicism such as that pervading Walter M Miller, Jr.’s 1959 classic A Canticle for Leibowitz. In Canticle, monks preserve scientific knowledge through a new Dark Age. The lives of religious institutions are protracted compared to human lifespans, so they can easily perform this sort of centuries-long service, as Octavia E. Butler has the heroine of Parable of the Sower realize. So Butler’s pragmatic Lauren Oya Olamina devises her own religion, “Earthseed,” as a means of guiding future generations to the stars.

In Daniel José Older’s dark fantasy Half-Resurrection Blues, Santeria, an Afro-Latin spiritual tradition, colors the half-dead hero’s interactions and grounds his world. In the new novel Tentacle, Rita Indiana writes explicitly of Santeria’s Dominican version, pitting a poor trans man newly initiated into the mysteries of the ocean deity against coral bleaching and mass fish die-offs. This tradition is my own, and it appears in several of my stories, too, most notably in “Wallamelon,” in which a young woman learns how to divine.

What about atheism? Anti-religious SFFH writing seems far more prevalent than straightforwardly atheist plots and themes. The God in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is tyrannical and vulnerable, and killing him is an act of heroism. However, he does exist. In “The Old Rugged Cross” by Terry Bisson, collected in Greetings and Other Stories, condemned convict Bud White’s vision of Jesus is very likely a hallucination, but it’s not explicitly so. Better cases can be made for Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Galileo’s Dream and Arthur C Clarke’s Hugo Award-winning short story “The Star,” since in both the antagonist is a belief system rather than a deity.

Sometimes encounters with religion are the point of a piece of SF, as in The Sparrow or Behold the Man or “The Tower of Babylon.” Generally, though, the topic is simply not mentioned. Typical SF backdrops are big on vague secularisms, which can be interpreted any number of ways — including as the casual Christianity most US readers identify as their own.

In the case of fantasy and horror, there are almost always clearer delineations of characters’ spiritual practices and beliefs. Not everyone in a given story is a practitioner, though — which is as it should be. But what the exercise I mentioned at this column’s beginning is meant to provoke, what I’d like to see, is more thought, more care and consideration given to why and how and what each and every single one of them believes. Or doesn’t. Schisms, doubts — they’re part of the human experience. Maybe the transhuman experience, too. Help me find out.

Recent books recently read

MR Carey’s novel The Girl with All the Gifts won my heart and mind completely with its outrageous child-zombie viewpoint. To a slightly lesser extent I also dug Fellside, a later novel which was in no way related. Carey’s new book, Someone Like Me (Orbit), shares themes and focus with Fellside — identity, bodilessness, sanity, violence — but packs as much punch as Girl. Hapless Liz Kendall, self-blaming victim of a series of domestic beatdowns, finds herself host to an alternate personality who has studied her abuser through thousands of parallel worlds and knows just how to fight back. Liz’s sometimes irksome moments of passivity are nicely balanced by the activeness of her co-protagonist, feisty Fran Watts, and the unswerving bravery of Fran’s putatively imaginary friend Jinx. As Carey shares the details of how teenaged Fran confronts the kidnapper who shattered her life when she was only nine, and Liz learns crucial survival skills, he evokes the shivery desolation haunting the most mundane landscapes. At the book’s beginning love and geography link Liz and Fran’s storylines; by the end they’re inextricably dependent on one another for a gut-wrenching, teeth-gritting climax.

If you’d asked me when I first read Fahrenheit 451 which book I would want to emulate its dystopia-dwelling characters by memorizing, my unhesitating answer would have been The Last Unicorn. Author Peter S Beagle has written many wonderful books since then, but his latest returns to this favorite of mine, which is also the favorite of millions of others. The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey (Tachyon) opens with the full book’s immortal opening lines:

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of seafoam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.

In addition to poetry and mystery, there’s humor and contrarity in The Last Unicorn, and Journey includes plenty of both — especially in the person of a new character, a two-headed demon named Azazel. Stephanie Law’s charming interior illustrations and the author’s reminiscences on the story’s 1962 genesis round out what could have been an unsatisfyingly thin publication; the story stops rather than concluding, but Beagle’s many admirers will gratefully accept these fresh fragments of his most entrancing tale. And I can add their recitation to my post-apocalyptic repertoire.

Couple of upcoming cons

The website for Imagicon is almost entirely in Dutch. I can’t read it, but I guess most potential attendees are going to be fine, since this event takes place in the Netherlands. Judging from photos and loan words, there will be a boatload of cosplay there, including a cosplay dating game. Also films, workshops, gaming, and panels — with one on strong females and the Ghostbusters sequel. In Dutch.

Though I’m not one of their Guests of Honor this year, I hear that Confusion is still the hip, happenin place to be. Its suburban Detroit location isn’t smack dab in the continent’s middle, but it’s close enough. And an impressive array of the emergent and bodacious shows up there: John Chu, Margaret Killjoy, Maurice Broaddus, and Monica Valentinelli, to name a few. Cheap and thrilling and convenient, this is a convention to take sweet advantage of.

It costs an awful lot to publish a high-quality print publication, and literary standard-bearer Tin House has just announced that they can't keep losing that kind of money:

Between this and Rookie magazine shutting down, it's been another bad year for media. If you've ever been interested in starting a literary magazine, now's your chance. Figure out a new model, find a niche that's not being filled, get online, and make it happen. Nobody else is going to publish the literary magazine that you have in your head.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The mysterious Goddess

Usually we expect the first issue of a comic to clearly lay out the premise of a series and introduce readers to the world of the story. The first issue of Goddess Mode, the new Vertigo comic from writer Zoë Quinn and artist Robbi Rodriguez, is the exception that proves the rule.

I've read this issue of Goddess Mode three times already and I honestly don't know where the book is going from here. Is it a Matrix-like story of a woman fighting for freedom in a virtual world? Is it a Brazil-like story of a cog in a bureaucratic machine who struggles against the social forces that are holding her back? Is it a Gibsonesque story of lawless frontier technology? I'm still not sure; it could be all three.

Goddess Mode begins in a virtual realm (it's described as "Everywhere. But also nowhere. Kind of.") where a warrior woman (who describes herself as "a barely functioning bundle of neuroses who can't master putting on a fitted sheet") fights a starfish-looking monster. But most of the book is the story of Cassandra Price, a "junior artificial intelligence support assistant" who gets swept up into a swirl of great expectations, both within her all-powerful corporation and without.

While it's not yet clear if Goddess Mode will be a liberation story or a Dick-ian exploration of self in a futuristic setting or an investigation of the emotional impact of video games (or, again, all three,) it is obvious that the book is good comics.

Quinn relays a lot of exposition with very little awkwardness, and Rodriguez's art is a fascinating blend of the futuristic (his tech looks lived in and unobtainable) and the organic (his skill at body language is remarkable.) The color palette for the book, by Rico Renzi, is a refreshing blend of turquoises and pinks and purples — less of a sterile iPhone future and more of a neon smear.

A caption box at the end of this issue of Goddess Mode promises a few answers to some of the most nagging narrative questions in the next issue — mainly, what's with the team of fierce warriors who show up to recruit Price at the end of the issue? With this first chapter, Quinn and team have earned the right to keep readers guessing for a while longer.

Tomi Kilgore at Marketwatch writes:

Barnes & Noble Inc.’s list of 20 top holiday gift ideas in five categories includes several types of socks, some mittens, Mickey Mouse speakers and a Buddha board for “live-in-the-moment” painting, but only one book and no reading devices, not even its own Nook e-reader.

How embarrassing for Barnes & Noble.

Later this week, you will be able to buy tickets for the local leg of Michelle Obama's Becoming book tour. She'll be talking about her memoir with an unspecified guest on February 8th.

Because Ticketmaster is nothing less than pure evil, you have to apply for presale access before 10 pm tonight, and then presale access goes live on Friday, December 14th. Then everyone else will be able to try to get tickets on Saturday, December 15th. Good luck with that. Buying from Ticketmaster is always a nightmare, so be sure to leave extra time for the system to fail several times before you eventually get tickets — if you eventually get tickets.

Is this the first author event to happen at the Tacoma Dome? I really can't remember it ever happening before. It makes sense that Obama would be the first reader to crack that venue, though — Becoming is indisputably the biggest book of the year.