The Portrait Gallery: High Summer

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

Summer Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Books to Prisoners is still looking for a home

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Crime and Punish-ment

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

The head of the union was asked about the logo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The provocateur who shouted "free speech"

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

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

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

You're moving the goalposts, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasjyot Singh Hans on his knockout poster for Short Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Washington State Book Awards nominees announced

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

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

Here are the nominees:

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

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

Alpha, beta

Published July 16, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Marion Bataille’s ABC3D .

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

Read this review now

Am I not an immigrant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsors are our lifeblood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 16th: Ibi Zoboi Reading

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

Wednesday, July 17th: Word Chaser at Cafe Racer

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

Thursday, July 18th: Margin Shift

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

Friday, July 19th: Per-Verse Release Party

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

Saturday, July 20th: Mueller Report Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for July 14, 2019

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

The Cost of Reading

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

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

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

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

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

What had we internalized about our mother’s time?

Frank Chimero on causing 'good trouble'

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Laura Knetzger?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: Buried in Books

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

Dear Cienna,

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

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

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

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

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

Broken in Bellingham

Dear Broken,

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 3

The Portrait Gallery: Lisa Taddeo

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

Friday, July 12th: Three Women Reading

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

Kissing Books: Summer murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you go breathless with awe.

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

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

Don’t miss this one, folks.

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t understand —”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Girlfriend no more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail Call for July 10, 2019

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

Lunch Date: A meal of militias and meat

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

Who’s your date today?

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

Where’d you go?

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

What’d you eat?

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

How was the food?

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

What does your date say about itself?

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

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

Is there a representative quote?

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

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

Will you two end up in bed together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After arrival

Published July 9, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Ted Chiang’s Exhalation: Stories .

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

Read this review now


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

Have a Hart

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

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

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. We've got just a few dates left this summer — nab one now and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 8th - July 14th

Monday, July 8th: Flash Count Diary Reading

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 10th: Shadowlands Reading

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

Thursday, July 11th: The Media Is Dying

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

Thursday, July 11th: Bad Gateway Reading

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

Friday, July 12th: Three Women Reading

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

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

Dozens of local cartoonists gather for Fantagraphics Books's annual Georgetown street festival/book fair, with music and books and performance and much more. Contributors include Zak Sally, Peter Hoey, Kelly Froh, Marc Palm, Max Clotfelter, David Lasky, Megan Kelso, Sarah Romano Diehl, Brandon Lehmann, Patrick Moriarity, and Tom Van Deusen. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110,, 5 pm, free.

Sunday, July 14th: Queer Press Fest

Queer cartoonists and zinemakers bring their latest and greatest work to Ballard's greatest art gallery/zine shop. Participants include Kassandra Davis (Mockery & Vodka), Craig Hurd-McKenney (Headless Shakespeare Press), Hayden Stern (Bioluminator Studios), and Anne Bean from Emerald Comics Distro, who is cosponsoring the event. Push/Pull, 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, 789-1710,, noon, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bad Gateway at Bellevue Arts Museum

It's a brave new world when the coolest art exhibit in Seattle is currently hanging at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Right now, BAM is hosting Bad Gateway, a celebration of Seattle cartoonist Simon Hanselmann's Megg, Mogg, & Owl series of comics.

Bad Gateway — the latest book in the series — continues the themes of Hanselmann's work: the heartbreak of youth and addiction and poverty, the complex ties of friendship, the challenge we all face to climb out of the pits of our own making. And Bad Gateway — the BAM exhibit — takes those themes and brings them to full, disgusting life.

This Thursday, Hanselmann will be in conversation with Ben Heywood, BAM’s Executive Director and Chief Curator. My interview with Hanselmann was the most fun of my entire career as a literary critic; he's entertaining and candid and freewheeling in a way that 99 percent of authors and cartoonists simply are not. I'd expect some of that energy in the onstage conversation tonight.

Hanselmann's work keeps deepening with each new Megg & Mogg & Owl book that he releases. What at first feels like a joke strip is quickly turning into one of the rawest, most complex portrayals of young adulthood that I've ever read. Imagine what would happen if Peter Bagge's Hate gradually turned into Requiem for a Dream and you have a vague idea of what to expect. And then imagine if the book spilled onto the earth in the hallways of BAM, and you'd have the Bad Gateway experience. Hanselmann is breaking boundaries that we never knew we wanted to be broken.

Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, 425-519-0770,, 7 pm, $5.

The Sunday Post for July 7, 2019

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

Border profiteers

It doesn’t take long to get to the creepy bits in Brendan O’Connor’s coverage of the 2019 Border Security Expo. There’s something inherently creepy about trade shows and conventions, I think. Compress any industry into a few thousand square feet (not good with spatial relations! readily admit it!), and you see all the sameness, all the bubble-ness of it. You also free it of its inhibitions.

Do that for border security and you get to the ugly pretty fast. O’Connor does a great job of telling the story of that ugliness — and calling out the stories that are used to hide it.

The vision of a hermetically sealed border being sold, in different ways, by Trump and his allies, by Democrats, and by the Border Security Expo is in reality a selectively permeable one that strictly regulates the movement of migrant labor while allowing for the unimpeded flow of capital. Immigrants in the United States, regardless of their legal status, are caught between two factions of the capitalist class, each of which seek their immiseration: the citrus farmers, construction firms, and meat packing plants that benefit from an underclass of unorganized and impoverished workers, and the defense and security firms that keep them in a state of constant criminality and deportability.


You could even argue that nobody in a position of power really wants a literal wall.

Politics is changing; why aren’t the pundits who cover it?

What matters most in a presidential election? What American voters value, or what institutional journalism does? (Yeah, I know, "who buys the most semi-legal Facebook ads, but work with me here.) Rebecca Traister on the reluctance of yesterday’s talking heads to catch up to today.

This is the suffocatingly grim reality: Even after the peeling off of a layer of the political media’s most prominent interlocutors during #MeToo — including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer —television coverage of the 2020 election is still being led by men who have sketchy histories around gender and power. Even after a midterm season in which women — many of them women of color, some of them very progressive — won elections in historic numbers; even in the midst of a presidential crisis during which poor, black, brown, and immigrant communities have been made more vulnerable than ever, and have been brought closer to the center — finally — of left political engagement and activism; even given all of this, so many of the voices interpreting the events around us still belong to the guys who’ve been clumsily telling us what to think about politics for ages.

See also Rebecca Solnit, “Unconscious bias is running for president”: “I’ve just spent a month watching white male people in particular arguing about who has charisma or relatability or electability. They speak as if these were objective qualities, and as if their own particular take on them was truth or fact rather than taste, and as if what white men like is what everyone likes or white men are who matters.”

Masculine chaos

Do we need another takedown of Jordan Peterson? We do, if it comes from a one-time Peterson “addict.” Omer Aziz dissects his journey from respect to fascination to disgust, and how the narrative of who Jordan Peterson is, and who his followers are, altered along the way.

Maybe that’s today’s accidental theme: The owners of our cultural stories are shifting, and it’s terrifying for those who have told that story unchallenged for so long. It’s a battle of much more than words.

In the private whisperings of men across race and age, I have often detected a nervousness about past indiscretions which, in the cold light of the egalitarian morning, might be perceived as predatory from the women’s perspective. Rather than deal with its own issues, this male hysteria, in typically masculine fashion, externalizes them onto feminism, and has found its chief intellectual proponents in figures like Peterson. But the fear of reprisal is real and arises out of the revolutionary moment we are witnessing, one that is reconfiguring whose narrative lens is dominant, and from whose perspective we understand the story.

Whatcha Reading, Sarah C. Townsend

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

Sarah C. Townsend is a Seattle-area writer and teacher. Her book Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Pyschosis was just published by The Lettered Street Press in April. She'll be appearing at the University Bookstore, 6pm on July 10th, in conversation with Alexandra Panic.

What are you reading now?

You’ve caught me in the midst of a love affair with recent books by Portland writers. Right now, I’m reading Chelsea Biondolillo’s lyric essay collection The Skinned Bird, in which she pairs the acquisition of song in birds with the imprint of early memory on human experience. An arresting collage of ornithological research, observations of landscape and relationship, photographs, and memories, The Skinned Bird is an exacting dissection of loss and relocation.

I admire the intimacy of this spacious book and its layered threading: “These in-betweens, these micro-geographies can be a welcomed respite…” Biondolillo’s careful arrangement is multimedia and interdisciplinary. With its detailed observation of the natural world and matters of the heart, The Skinned Bird leaves me feeling less alone.

What did you read last?

I’ve heard it said, “We read for voice.” This was certainly true for me when reading Liz Scott’s new memoir This Never Happened. The book found its way into my backpack, the car, and I carried it with me back and forth on the commuter ferry to Seattle. On more than one occasion, I had to muffle my own laughter. This Never Happened is a sweeping portrait of narcissistic parents told with candor, compassion, and a healthy dose of dark humor. Through short vignettes, letters, and family photographs, Scott attempts to puzzle out a dizzying relationship with her mother and abandonment by her father. The telling of this story demonstrates a tremendous capacity for empathy, which Liz Scott has put to great use in her more than forty years as a psychologist. I had the pleasure of having real life conversation with Liz Scott. Of course, I felt as if I already knew her. Liz has a new essay up at The Millions.

What are you reading next?

I’ve been saving Sophia Shalmiyev’s memoir Mother Winter to read next, anticipating its potent and poetic unfolding. The story of a motherless mother, Mother Winter promises to be “equal parts refugee-coming-of-age tale, feminist manifesto, and a meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art.” I look to Shalmiyev as an intellect and with interest in her unapologetic experimentation with narrative form.

June 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

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

June's Theme: Support

These post-its were chosen by my sister—the sister who chose in January, unknowingly kicking off what would turn out to be my year of Triumphantly Making Someone Else Tell Me What To Publish. Back then, she had serious trouble narrowing her choices. There was a strong pull toward post-its about my divorce (sisterly mysteries), but post-its featuring herself also possessed an equal, very powerful intrigue (less mysterious; I’m sure we can all relate). Ever the problem-solver (in spirit, at least), I allocated those extras for June, her birthday month. The first post-it feels self-explanatory, but maybe other grown-up siblings actually don’t tuck each other into bed? I don’t know how you are with your sisters, but when we miraculously find ourselves in the same house at bedtime, I often tuck my sisters in. I have a special style that nods to classic tucking-in gestures while also being entirely my own. Furthermore, it’s adaptable; part of the fun is coming up with new and surprising riffs on the classic version. We all enjoy a measure of low-stakes creative challenge added to our daily routine, no? This is one where I really shine. It’s my natural aptitude for death anxiety conspiring with my last-one-to-bed insomniac vigilance, inextricably entangled in silly, sweet ritual because I am also gentle and goofy and a firm believer that we give up lots of lovely childhood norms for absolutely NO GOOD REASON. While other family members dabble in this game, I am indisputably its master and originator. My sisters wouldn’t remember, but I first did this as a kid for my grandparents, who found it more amusing than I expected. (Why did kid me go to bed later than the adults taking care of us??) On family trips my sister’s partner now finds himself in the crosshairs of our ritual ridiculousness. He inspires a straightforward, calmer approach; my sister, as you can see in the drawing, needs a bit more attention. She is an ACTOR, and you should cast her in everything good because she’s delightful and careers in the arts are TRICKY. Mostly I just know the world would be more fun if everybody got to see her work more. If you can’t cast her in your movie, feel free to buy some of my art instead—eventually we’re going to drag each other upwards, whoever gets a leg up first. Then everybody will be like, oh, did you know that actor and that writer/artist are related? THEY’RE ACTUALLY SISTERS, IT’S CRAZY. When we ascend to the appropriate fame sphere we will also bring her boyfriend, who makes lovely music—even at shows when that asshole tambourine player from the other band insists on being a disrespectful loud jerk throughout his whole lovely set. Movies and music are my favorite, but thank goodness I make art and writing myself—who wants to audition for directors or deal with tambourine-wielding “listeners”. The last post-it is a direct quote from a phone call with my sister, in anticipation of her yearly trip home for the holidays. I don’t remember if her plan worked, but I was 100% in support.

The Help Desk: All aboard the Reading Railroad

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

Dear Cienna,

I ride the new Link light rail from Husky Stadium to Pioneer Square (it’s pretty great). I’ve seen this same girl on the train nearly every day, our schedules are so close. And she’s always reading the best books. Seriously, like this manga series I’ve been following for years, that I thought nobody else was into.

But, I know that harassing women who want to be left alone in public isn’t cool, and she’s probably just going to work. Is there something I can say to her, not a line, but just a little opening, to see if I get any response? I mean, is it out of line to say something about our shared tastes?

Tremulous on the Train

Dear Tremulous,

Everyone who reads enjoys being complimented on their taste in books. Many years ago I was flipping through a copy of one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces, at a garage sale and a shirtless man with a chest tattoo of a swastika knifing a black panther (one of the swastika arms was an actual arm with a knife in it) said to me, “That’s a great book,” to which I smiled and thought, “what a nice man.” Such is the mighty power of literature.

Striking up a conversation with a woman is not harassment if you follow basic social cues:

  1. Wear something non-psychotic, like a shirt and pants.

  2. If she’s got headphones in, leave her alone.

  3. If she’s not making eye contact with anyone around her, leave her alone.

  4. Wait until there is a natural interruption to her reading, such as when you’re both disembarking from the train. Then it’s fine to tap her on the shoulder and say something like, “That’s such a great book! Have you read TKTKTK?”

  5. If all goes well and you get her contact information, do not send her an Evite for a party in your pants.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 2

The Portrait Gallery: Independance (to read a book)

Hope that you get to spend some of this explosive holiday finding peace and friendship where you need it most. Happy Fourth of July, whatever that means to you, from The Portrait Gallery and The Seattle Review of Books.

Thursday Comics Hangover: One strand at a time

The stories in Hot Comb, Ebony Flowers's debut collection from Drawn & Quarterly, are for the most part centered around Black women — particularly Black women's hair. The narrator of the first story is in fifth grade and, against her mother's wishes, she's eager to get a perm. Why?

"I'm tired of people making fun of me and beating me up," the girl explains apologetically.

As soon as social pressure becomes a real factor in the lives of the girls in these stories, their hair becomes a source of shame. They admire the Black women they see on TV — the narrator of that first story brings a photo of Tatyana Ali, the actress who plays Ashley on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to her hairstylist only to be told, "you'd need a weave" to get that kind of look. The disappointment is palpable. Once again, fantasy dissolves when placed next to reality.

These aren't all coming-of-age stories. Hot Comb takes a variety of perspectives — including an interlude in which a white man cluelessly raves about his Black girlfriend's continually changing hairstyles: "Every week, I feel like I got a new girlfriend! I love Black women!"

But Hot Comb makes itself clear that it's not about male desire, or male pleasure. It's about what Black women think: of themselves, of each other, of their communities. They talk to each other while they're at salons, they braid each others' hair, they make little refuges from the judgment of the rest of the world.

Flowers is a remarkable cartooning talent. From the title story, impatient readers might think they have her style pegged: the rough black-and-white sketchy autobio cartoonist, like a Julie Doucet or Aline Kominsky-Crumb. But it's readily apparent just a few pages in that every stylistic decision Flowers makes is deliberate, and that she has many more tools in her toolbox than "just" a confessional sketchbook style.

A few times in Hot Comb, pages shatter into grids of tiny panels stacked on top of each other, to great effect. Once, Flowers illustrates a fluttering flock of ducks in a gorgeous silent nine-panel grid that perfectly relays the concerted chaos of birds taking flight.

In another story, she demonstrates a character's OCD tendencies to anxiously pluck hairs from her own head in a series of tiny nervous panels. It's a beautiful comic-book poem: one panel with a hair wrapped around an index finger, springing loose from her head, then a panel reading "and then" and then a panel with a hair pulled taut, and then the hair springs loose and then the word "another," and then a hair falls and the words "bald spot" followed by more panels with more hairs falling to the floor. It is rhythmically and emotionally a note-perfect representation of what it is to have an OCD tendency to pick at your own body.

Hot Comb is a major comics debut — it's the kind of book that will either herald the beginning of a long and successful cartooning career, or it's the debut of a talent who will get swept up by Hollywood and away from comics forever. Whether Ebony Flowers is the next Lynda Barry or the next Marjane Satrapi — or something else entirely — is up to her. But no matter what happens next, we have this book, and that's plenty.

Burglars stole cash and comics from the Friends of Seattle Public Library. Here's how you can help.

A few more details have emerged about the canceled Friends of the Library comic book sale that I wrote about yesterday. The fundraising sale, the first of its kind for the Friends of the Seattle Public Library, was scheduled for Saturday, July 13th. Apparently, the collection of comics up for sale was largely donated by a single library benefactor.

The Friends announced the cancellation yesterday via a brief, detail-free press release that I quoted in the previous post. Around the same time, the Friends sent an email to their list saying the organization has been "the victims of a burglary."

The email continues, "while we still have plenty of comics left to sell, we need to take a moment to assess the situation." They promise to reschedule the sale for a later date.

Based on conversations with several Friends volunteers and staffers, it sounds like the burglary was a planned operation, not a smash-and-grab. The thieves took money that the Friends had on hand for the sale, as well as a small stack of potential high-value comics that had been set aside for appraisal. The Seattle Police Department has been contacted.

Hopefully, more details will emerge soon, but for now: please be wary if anyone tries to sell you collectable comics and contact the authorities if you have any information on who might have committed the burglary. People who steal from library fundraisers are the lowest of the low.

We'll keep you posted with more details in days to come. In the meantime, the Friends could use your support; please donate your time and books.

Next week: Buy some comics, help the Friends of the Library

UPDATE 12:30pm: This afternoon, the Seattle Public Library issued a cryptic press release canceling the comic book sale. In its entirety, it reads: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Friends of The Seattle Public Library Comic Book Sale on Saturday, July 13 has been canceled.” If I hear more, I’ll get back to you.

While we're on the topic of library fundraisers, did you know that next Saturday, July 13th, the Friends of the Seattle Public Library are hosting their first-ever comic book sale? For one to ten bucks each, the Friends are selling comics "from the early 80’s to the present, and also books from the 1970’s! Marvel, DC, and most independent companies (Image, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Pacific, etc.) are represented." Think of it as a comic book convention without all the panels and cosplay and merchandise to distract you. I'll be there. Will you?

A few recommendations from Ken Jennings

Image from the King County Libraries' Facebook Page

Last month, I interviewed Seattle author Ken Jennings at the Amazon Spheres for a King County Library System Foundation fundraiser. After a delicious meal from Seattle chef and author Renee Erickson, Jennings and I talked for about an hour about his time as a Jeopardy! champ, his most recent book, Planet Funny, and much more.

Because the discussion was shared with KCLS donors who donated to the library's amazing youth education programs, most of the conversation is in confidence — you had to be there to experience it. But I got permission from the good people at KCLS to share with you the books that Jennings has been loving recently, along with a few other recommendations from our conversation.

Jennings is a big reader of novels, and he most recently adored Machines Like Me And People Like You, Ian McEwan's latest foray into science fiction. The controversy over McEwan belittling the entire genre of sci-fi didn't affect Jennings's enjoyment of the book, which he said was entertaining and thought-provoking.

He's also a fan of Philip Kerr's The Bernie Gunther Novels, which is a mystery series set during the Third Reich. They're heavy, but fascinating.

The last two titles, and the only non-fiction he mentioned, were surprising: Look, I Made A Hat and Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim. Jennings said he bumbled into the books and found them to be completely entrancing, even if you don't think you like musicals.

Someone in the audience asked Jennings who he follows for comedy on Twitter. Jennings said that Twitter has been less funny since 2016, for some unknown reason, but he and I both agreed that Megan Amram and Dril were perhaps the two funniest people on Twitter, if you can stomach comedy in these uncomfortable times.

And lastly, because Jennings cohosts an excellent sci-fi-and-real-facts podcast called Omnibus!, someone in the audience asked for podcast suggestions. Jennings tossed the question to his wife, who he said was the real podcast fan in the family. She recommended Criminal, Milk Street and The Desk Set.

The evening was one of many author dinners and conversations that KCLS hosts as fundraisers every year. If you'd like to attend one next year, all you have to do is attend the Foundation's annual Literary Lions fundraising gala and bid on the one which most appeals to you. Next year's fundraiser will take place on March 7th, and the keynote speaker is Colson Whitehead, who is the first novelist to be featured on the cover of TIME since Jonathan Franzen stunk up the room a decade ago. Unlike Franzen, Whitehead is a great American novelist and, speaking as someone who has seen him read on maybe ten occasions, I can tell you that he is an excellent speaker. You won't want to miss this, or the slate of author dinners the KCLS Foundation will present next year.

Matt Ruff reveals his next novel's 88 Names

Seattle writer Matt Ruff's next novel is titled 88 Names, it comes out on March 17th of next year, and the eclectic novelist says it's "probably closest in tone" to his thriller Bad Monkeys. On his blog, Ruff ran a plot summary of the book:

John Chu is a “sherpa”—a paid guide to online role-playing games like the popular Call to Wizardry. For a fee, he and his crew will provide you with a top-flight character equipped with the best weapons and armor, and take you dragon-slaying in the Realms of Asgarth, hunting rogue starships in the Alpha Sector, or battling hordes of undead in the zombie apocalypse.

Chu’s new client, the pseudonymous Mr. Jones, claims to be a “wealthy, famous person” with powerful enemies, and he’s offering a ridiculous amount of money for a comprehensive tour of the world of virtual-reality gaming. For Chu, this is a dream assignment, but as the tour gets underway, he begins to suspect that Mr. Jones is really North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose interest in VR gaming has more to do with power than entertainment. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, Chu also has to worry about “Ms. Pang,” who may or may not be an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and his angry ex-girlfriend, Darla Jean Covington, who isn’t the type to let an international intrigue get in the way of her own plans for revenge.

What begins as a whirlwind online adventure soon spills over into the real world. Now Chu must use every trick and resource at his disposal to stay one step ahead—because in real life, there is no reset button.

Any new novel from Ruff is a delight. He's got one of the most traditional work patterns of all the Seattle writers: he goes away for a few years and returns with a fully formed book, which he reads around town for a while until he goes back into hiding and the whole process begins again.

Of course, Ruff's most recent novel Lovecraft Country is being adapted into an HBO series executive-produced by Jordan Peele, and the hiring for that production has just started to heat up. So maybe we'll see a little bit more of Ruff soon.

An attempt at exhausting an uknown place

Published July 2, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris .

Novelist George Perec tried to wear out place Saint-Sulpice. But he was the first to blink.

Read this review now


(Side-scroll to see full lines)


Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common cause with us
the way you trample us both,

oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.

But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.

Be a sponsor, not a targeter

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

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

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

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

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 1st - July 7th

Monday, July 1st: What We Do With the Wreckage and What Could Be Saved Reading

When I reviewed Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's short story collection, What We Do with the Wreckage, I said that "The people in these stories are reeling from trauma and from dependency and from heartbreak. Most of them are trying to improve their lives, but in order to do that, they have to look backwards, at the breaks in their narratives, to try to repair what’s gone wrong." Tonight, she reads with Gregory Spatz, whose short story and novella collection What Could Be Saved was praised by author Paul Harding. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, July 2nd: Threshold: Site Specific Poetry

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Frye Art Museum. 704 Terry Ave., 622-9250,, 4 pm, free.

Wednesday, July 3rd: The Reading Through It Book Club

Since we're nearing 2020, you can expect conservatives to start ramping up the trans panic again — it's the way they ensure that bigoted voters march to the polls to vote for their candidates. Tonight, we're going to discuss Thomas McBee's memoir about being a trans man, Amateur. It's a meditation about gender, about masculinity, and about privilege. In other words, it's about all the stuff that's going to inform the next solid year of politics. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, July 5th: Our Non-Christian Nation Reading

Jay Wexler's new book is subtitled How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life. It's about how Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that the Christian majority is not nearly as powerful as we once believed it to be. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, July 6th: Impervious: Confessions of a Semi-Retired Deviant Reading

Janet W. Hardy guides you through her memoir, with a structure that "mirror[s] those of any good scene - negotiation, warmup, engagement, climax, and aftercare." University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 4 pm, free.

Sunday, July 7th: I Want to Meet Your Light Reading

Ben Gallup's book, which seems kind of memoir-y, is about ": interpersonal connection, loneliness, truth, love, systems of oppression, ecological terror, and more." Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Threshold literary walk

To celebrate Seattle poet Jane Wong's new exhibit "After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly," the Frye is serving as the launching pad for a combination literary crawl/roving writing class.

At 4 pm on Tuesday, Wong will begin with a discussion about her exhibit, which is part memoir, part generational epic, and part essay about a lifelong love of food. Then, she will lead the audience on a rambling hourlong one-mile walk downhill to Town Hall.

Along the way, poets Quenton Baker and Chelsea Werner-Jatzke will read poems and present short writing exercises using place as a theme. (You should bring a pad of paper and a pen, but there will be some spare office supplies around in case you forget.)

The evening will end in Town Hall's Reading Room, in which artist Timothy Firth will unveil his "interactive audio sculpture that will be tuned throughout a series of public events." There will be a little more reading, and then some drinks.

Wong's poetry is always interested in place and personal history, but this exhibit deepens that relationship between art and location and time in a new and exciting way. To then have the exhibit spill into the streets of Seattle in a generative tour of the city is simply the next evolutionary step on the path that Wong has been walking down for some time.

Frye Art Museum. 704 Terry Ave., 622-9250,, 4 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for June 30, 2019

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

Being normal

In the language of crisis management, grand-scale systems failures (think Chernobyl and the Challenger) are “normal.” Leah Finnegan applies the same eerie, inevitable logic to the noonday demon.

Depression is inevitable in society. Among billions of people, many are going to have fucked-up brains; unfortunately one is me, and now my young friend. But I wonder if depression, in some non-parallel extrapolation, can be thought of as its own kind of normal accident: a guaranteed cataclysm in the dark, complicated system of a mind that cannot be prevented, only managed after the fact.
Unnameable things

“How can one protect what one cannot name?” Kerri ní Dochartaigh writes the fierce fragility of the natural world out of and back into existence — a stay against extinction, in the only words she has.

In the early evening, when a ‘phone signal could be had, I logged onto Instagram to find my fee full of insects of every type — a collective yet individual response to the new article in the Guardian, with its heart-wrenching, terrifying truths. A few hours after a dream in which an insect presumed dead proved to be alive, I read the news that within a century they could ALL be gone. How are we meant to go on from here? I tried to muster up everything, anything inside of me; I tried to find the words. The only thought I had was: I have no words. Not in the way that the teenagers around me say ‘literally can’t even’ but rather: ‘I am living on my home island, on the soil of my ancestors, and I don’t even have the word for butterfly.’
Liu Cixin's war of the worlds

Travel Washington, DC, with Liu Cixin, and you see the US capitol compared to its cinema self (the Lincoln Memorial in person is disappointing, after Planet of the Apes). Reading about Liu in this profile has the same addictive feel as reading Liu, with the familiar and unfamiliar disorientingly reversed. But this is my favorite bit — a self-own of sorts by China’s college exams.

In China, one of his stories has been a set text in the _gao kao_ — the notoriously competitive college-entrance exams that determine the fate of ten million pupils annually; another has appeared in the national seventh-grade-curriculum textbook. When a reporter recently challenged Liu to answer the middle-school questions about the “meaning” and the “central themes” of his story, he didn’t get a single one right. “I’m a writer,” he told me, with a shrug. “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.”

Whatcha Reading, Erica C Witsell?

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

Erica C Witsell is a North Carolina-based writer, teacher, and blogger, whose writing has appeared in many places, including the Sun Magazine. Her debut novel Give was just released on June 1st. Erica is crossing the nation on a book tour, and will appear tonight, June 30th, at the Ravenna Third Place Books at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

I wish I never had to finish One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain, even though it has me up reading way past my bedtime. With masterful prose and compelling characters, McClain digs deep into questions of motherhood, family, and mortality. This book is also making me very glad that I’m a vegetarian.

What did you read last?

I recently read Sugar Run by Mesha Maren, a Southern noir page-turner that explores the complicated nature of family and belonging. I loved Maren’s luscious prose and lonely characters, everyone longing for an elusive home. I also thoroughly enjoyed How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. This gem of a book is hilarious and heart-breaking all at once, and should, I think, be required reading for everyone, woman or otherwise.

What are you reading next?

Recently added to my to-read list are White Walls by Judy Batalion and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, both memoirs of daughterhood recommended to me at a book event because they share Give’s themes of complicated parenthood, loyalty, and forgiveness. I also can’t wait to read Cherry by Nico Walker and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

The Help Desk: Things better left unread

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

Dear Cienna,

My aunt and I are avid readers and tend to trade books back and forth. If my mom (her sister) is there when my aunt returns one of my books and hears us talking about it, she always says "sounds interesting, can I borrow it?" But every time, sure enough, if I stop by my mom's house, the books are sitting in her front door staging area... you know, the spot where she puts things that she wants to remember to take with her when she leaves. She will keep my books for up to 3 months then return them and admit she "never got around" to reading them. The last time she did this I said "Mom, let's cut out the middle man here"...and I wouldn't let her borrow them. My aunt thinks I should apologize. What do you think?

Georgina, Federal Way

Dear Georgina,

I met a woman once – let's call her Jaustiny – whose mother sat her down at the tender age of 14 and told her that she was leaving the family to go find herself. Not only was she tired of being a mother, she'd decided that she really liked the name Jaustiny so she was legally changing her name to the name she'd bequeathed on her daughter. Then New Jaustiny peaced out to San Francisco, bought herself new tits and realized her dream of being a childless waitress/artist named Jaustiny with sexy breast-induced back issues. The psychological mindfuck of that aside, her mother's new identity created a lot of weird burdens in Original Jaustiny's life as she grew up – her mother developed a criminal record stemming from a brief career as a meth chef and had most recently stolen OJs identity and ruined her credit by buying matching Harleys for herself and her new boyfriend, all of which OJ had to account for.

OJ told me this story at a bbq. Ten feet away stood my own mother, who was evaluating some cowboy she'd just met for the quality of his sperm (for me. Always for me). As I watched her inspect his gums for disease I thought, "that old broad ain't so bad."

Your complaint is that your mother borrows books that you and your aunt have already read but she doesn't read them, correct? How does this actually impact you if you've already read the books? Your mom wants to feel included in the conversations and closeness you share with your aunt but she sucks at the follow-through. That is a harmless annoyance stemming from love.

Be sweet to your mom. Apologize. Let her borrow all the books she's guaranteed to never read and be thankful she's not a Harley-riding meth chef named Georgina.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Spark, part 1

The Portrait Gallery: A typewriter

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

Saturday, June 39th: Event of the Week: Write-O-Rama

Hugo House hosts a wide array of educational programs, of course. They offer anything from one-day classes to season-long deep dives into the art of writing. But this Saturday, Hugo House is hosting Write-O-Rama, which packs an entire semester full of writing courses into a single afternoon.

Read more in our event of the week column....

Criminal Fiction: Under Juneuary skies

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Murder, lost masterpieces, and a centuries-old pursuit converge in Deon Meyer’s The Woman in the Blue Cloak (Atlantic). At a mere 172 pages, the cool novella punches above its weight, a tightly spun tale that touches on the vagaries of history, migration, and national identity, while also addressing the latest personal developments in the life of Captain Benny Griessel. Even in this briefer-than-usual format, Meyer’s dexterous, wide-ranging storytelling abilities shine: a London-based American art expert, a retired South African historian, a Cape Town fencer of stolen goods, and the possible discovery of a long-lost painting by Carel Fabritius – he of The Goldfinch and Donna Tartt literary fame – are just a few of the elements enlivening this tidy gem of a thriller.

The welcome return of Jackson Brodie in Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown), sees the canny private investigator – “a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen” – flitting about the more stunningly beautiful bits of Yorkshire with a sociable Labrador and Brodie’s less-sociable son in tow. As for this tome’s coincidences, one of them involves the just-as-welcome return of Reggie Chase, an engaging figure from Brodie’s past, while the other characters have more nefarious tendencies. A seasoned master of the literary juggling act, Atkinson takes gleeful pleasure in orchestrating the multiple complex mysteries – intimately personal, darkly criminal – so that they bump beguilingly up against each other.

The mean and far-flung streets of New York provide an atmospheric setting for Hilary Davidson’s One Small Sacrifice (Thomas & Mercer). From the dank innards of ancient downtown subway stations to the bucolic, leafy settings of the residential North Bronx, from Hell’s Kitchen to the sterile medical complexes of the Upper East Side, the various urban locations resonate as detective Sheryn Sterling and her new partner Rafael Mendoza navigate a case with history to it: Sterling has investigated war photographer Alex Traynor previously; now his fiancée and sometime Doctor-Without-Borders volunteer Emily Teare has gone missing. Davidson’s stealthily plotted, rapidly deployed, multi-stranded mystery encompasses the most intimate of brutalities – including domestic abuse and post-battlefield PTSD, a solid handful of dodgy characters, and, in the most humane of touches, a dog named Sid.

Anna is the wife of a rich Glaswegian lawyer and the mother of two adorable daughters. She’s also book-and-podcast obsessed, partially as a way to distance herself from an unhappy marriage and self-doubt. But one catastrophic day, Anna gets two nasty surprises: listening to a true-crime podcast, she learns of the death of someone from her past, and, in quick succession, her husband announces that he’s leaving her for her best friend. From there, things spiral impressively out of control – and not just because Anna is forced to go on the lam with her best friend’s spurned husband, Fin. The reading adventure that is Denise Mina’s Conviction (Mulholland), races at breakneck speed across Scotland to a luxurious castle, over the Channel to a damp bedsit in Venice, and along the train tracks of Europe, corralling a tantalizing bevy of characters – goodies, as well as ultra-villains – with every twist and revelation. Cleverly framed around one of our hottest cultural formats, Conviction, at its heart, is a terrific, old-fashioned thriller that keeps you pleasurably guessing every step of the way, and marks Mina at the top of her game (so far!).

If the title of Adrian McKinty’s new standalone psychological thriller, The Chain (Mulholland), makes you think of those annoying-if-innocent chain letters of your youth, you’d not be far wrong. The reality, in this case however, is far, far scarier. In McKinty’s devilishly capable hands, the penalties and payoffs for not participating in the eponymous chain are very much life-and-death: parents are being targeted not just by having their children kidnapped; they are then then informed that, in order to get their offspring back, they must kidnap someone else’s child, and so on and so forth. Terrified yet? Then consider the reaction of Rachel O'Neill, cancer survivor and all-round super-focused mom, when she learns that her daughter’s been kidnapped. McKinty, a terrific creator of characters when it comes to people under pressure – consider Sean Duffy, his maverick Northern Irish detective who polices Belfast during the Troubles – has struck new thriller gold with Rachel, an ordinary woman whose side you won’t be able to leave as she fights, tooth, nail, and whip-smart brain, with some of the creepiest baddies to rival those on both sides of Don Winslow’s The Border.

One of the current obvious outcomes of high-level capitalism come home to roost in The Farm, a chilling debut by Joanne Ramos (Random House), in which a group of pregnant women are groomed (and groomed!), cossetted in Golden Oaks, a dream of a rural “gestational retreat.” The expectant mothers are surrogates – their babies, if brought to term, will never be their own – who’ve been promised excellent compensation for their nine-month commitment. If they behave, that is. Golden Oaks, you see, is just one arm of a sprawling company called Holloway, purveyor of upscale clubs, yacht and private-jet management companies, and other once-luxury, now-basic life requirements for the ever-burgeoning one percent. Ramos’ success here is in giving living, breathing shape to everyone’s story, from the vulnerable women doing whatever they can to survive and feed their families, to the handful of puppet-masters who live high on the hog and shelter themselves behind deceptions and lies.

The Quintessential Interview: Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s Fall, or Dodge in Hell (William Morrow), is a glorious, sprawling, adventurous read – a 900-page page-turner, if you will – which takes artificial intelligence, the gamification of reality, digital uploads, and cloud-storage conceits to their potential outer-spatial conclusions, while making room for a chilling vision of a truth-free America, a spectacularly detailed creation-and-mythology story, and, yes, a good old-fashioned quest.

When Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, billionaire and tech-head extraordinaire, dies during a medical procedure, his family have to grapple with a health directive that includes preserving his brain for a future time when it can be re-booted, so to speak. As his family, colleagues, and frenemies work to honor – or, at times, exploit – his request, Stephenson’s narrative flows between his Earth-bound characters and those existing in a virtual universe. It’s a startling feat of literary wizardry, packed with salient satire and frequent punctuations of comic relief (“The hero who falls because of a cramp in his hamstring is not sung of….”), and threaded through with the indestructible bond of love between an uncle and his niece.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Excellent prose stylists: Edward Gibbon. Charles Dickens. Winston Churchill. Peter Fleming. Rebecca West

Top five places to write?

My office. My office. My office. My office. My office.

Top five favorite authors?

Matt Ruff. Austin Grossman. Charles Mann. Joe Abercrombie. Nicole Galland.

Top five tunes to write to?

I don’t know because I use Pandora playlists! The one I’ve been listening to most of late is based on Groove Armada.

Top five hometown spots?

Machine House Brewery. Hazard Factory.  Jules Maes. SANCA. Raconteur

Thursday Comics Hangover: Check this one out

There is no better way to kill time in Georgetown than the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. I could lose an hour or more in the half-off damaged room in the back of the store alone, with its weird mixture of old promotional comics, dented-up copies of new Fantagraphics books and weird old foreign language editions of popular books.

But the best browsing at Fantagraphics is the minicomics, which have spread from a display at the front of the store to a few racks around the space. Local and national talent blur together on the minicomics shelves, and new books and used books all look the same.

I picked up a copy of Katie Fricas's minicomic Checked Out: L'autobiographie d'une Bibliophile. It's listed as issue number one, though there's no sign on the shelves if Fricas ever published a second issue — or even when she first published Checked Out. There's a "2018" spelled out on the back page, so maybe it came out somewhere in that yearlong window? Who can say?

Still, if you're spending time on a site called the Seattle Review of Books, odds are good you'd enjoy Checked Out. The book is split into two main stories with a few gag strips, all having something to do — at least peripherally — with libraries. The first story is about Fricas's childhood love affair with Lois Lowry's young adult novel A Summer to Die, which she encountered at the library.

In Checked Out, Fricas uses watercolors to great effect: the colors all bleed into each other, simulating the fading effect of memory and the vividness of youth. There's a kind of unsettling paranoia to the way the colors saturate every inch of every page, disrespecting panel borders and turning each page into a closeup of Fricas's psyche.

"I remember being little and looking out the windows of the children's library," Fricas writes, "wondering why the books out there were classified as 'adult.' What could possibly be in them that was different from all the other books I could read? Did they use different kind of words?"

She concludes, "I still don't know the answer to this question."

In Checked Out's second story, an adult Fricas, now a library worker herself, tracks an older patron's descent into infirmity and death through her visits to the library. The older woman, a glamorous lady named Mrs Hirsch, has difficulty taking the stairs. Then she sends her doorman to pick up her books. Then, nothing.

That Fricas manages to pack vignettes that stretch from childhood to to death from old age into a single six-dollar minicomic is a feat worth celebrating. But that she's able to do it with a bold and gaudy watercolor style that is at once unsettling and stunning is practically unbelievable. This is a beautiful, thoughtful, vivid memoir told in books. In other words, it's exactly the kind of find that makes an afternoon spent browsing feel wholly worth it, and then some.

West Seattle Food Bank needs your books

If you have any extra books sitting around — particularly children's books — the West Seattle Food Bank is looking for some books this month. According to West Seattle Blog, the organization distributes some twelve thousand books per year. They accept donations from 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday.

We expect a lot from this year's Hugo House Fellows

Earlier today, we checked in with author Anca Szilagyi, who was in the first class of Hugo House's Made at Hugo Fellowship. This week, Hugo House announced the 2019-2020 class of Hugo Fellows: Joyce Chen, Shelby Handler, Piper Lane, Sasha LaPointe, Abi Pollokoff, and Jen Soriano. The writers are working on pieces including a book of essays, memoirs, novels, and poetics. With the help of established authors like Hugo House writers-in-residence Laura Da’ and Kristen Millares Young, these writers will form a peer group to refine and edit their projects, and they'll eventually present the work in a series of showcases. They'll also receive nuts-and-bolts advice on how to become an author — everything from business advice to networking tips to Hugo House's many educational programs. We look forward to their upcoming work; they're walking in the footsteps of some very impressive authors.

Exit Interview: Anca Szilagyi on overcoming Seattle's loneliness

For a while there, Anca Szilagyi was everywhere in Seattle. You may know her from The Furnace reading series, which she co-founded with writer Corinne Manning, or from her beautiful debut novel Daughters of the Air, or from Sugar, her tiny love letter to the Pike Place Market, or from her time as a Made at Hugo Fellow, or from that time she won the inaugural Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award. Earlier this year, after a decade of ubiquitousness, Szilagyi moved away from Seattle. I'm grateful that she took some time off from acclimating to her new home to discuss the city she left behind. The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

So, first off, where did you move and why?

My husband Michael and I moved to Chicago. We'd been in Seattle for about 10 years; we came out there so I could go to graduate school, and just stayed.

We enjoyed our time in Seattle, but the call to home just kept getting louder, I suppose. Home for me is New York, and home for him is Chicago, and so Chicago seemed like a good, affordable place for a writer and a public servant to settle in to next.

You still have some affiliations here in Seattle, though, right?

Yeah, thanks to the internet. I've been teaching online classes at Hugo House, and also doing manuscript consultations through them.

Your debut novel, Daughters of the Air, didn't have Seattle in it, but you did write Sugar, a wonderful little book about and set in the Pike Place Market. Do you think that Seattle is going to represent itself in your work as you move forward?

Oh yeah. I think coming to Seattle was helpful for me to finish my book set in New York. And there's Sugar and then a few other short stories I've written that are set in Seattle. There's a rough draft of a Seattle novel that's fermenting somewhere — I can't tell you when that'll be done, but it's definitely fermenting.

So what are you working on now?

I'm back to working on a novel set in the late medieval period in the Netherlands. The [Gar LaSalle] Storyteller Award allowed me to go there in 2016 to do a little research. I'm back to working on that now, that I'm getting my wits about me with this move.

Did anything about leaving Seattle surprise you? Did Seattle meet or exceed your expectations in any way?

I do think I grew a lot in the last 10 years. It was, in the end, an extremely supportive community, but it took some time.

If you had asked me in 2012, when I finished my MFA, I think I would've been surprised about how I would feel leaving — just the amount of support that I've gotten from Hugo House and Artist Trust and 4Culture. And the book launch for my novel at the Sorrento was such a special night — just such a full room of smiling, happy faces. Beautiful.

But it was definitely a little lonely at first. It just took some time to keep showing up and to make my way that way. I suppose I learned showing up helps.

Could you talk a little bit about the loneliness, what that means as a writer, specifically?

Coming into Seattle I did have the UW, so I was in that little enclave for two years. Coming out of that, I think that's where the loneliness set in. Even with Castalia, I was kind of a stranger at Hugo House, just showing up at events, and trying to introduce myself.

Things turned around when I met [Corinne Manning]. I think she was experiencing a similar thing. We decided to start The Furnace together, and I think that that helped a lot. We wanted The Furnace to be this welcoming space. We very purposefully invited people to read who were not reading all the time, and people who you wanted to spotlight and get to read an entire story rather than a little excerpt here or there. I think through that, that really set other things in motion to feel more a part of the literary community.

So making a space for yourself, and then doing the reaching out to readers, is what made the difference, you think?

I think it did — between that and then eventually getting a little institutional support from Hugo House through the Made at Hugo House Fellowship. I think those two things together helped a lot.

What's your advice for writers who are feeling that kind of deep loneliness?

If you're at a literary event saying hello to a stranger — even just introducing yourself, as hard as that can be — I think that could have made the difference for me in that little gap in time where things were lonely.

Capitol Hill "festival street" to be renamed for local bookseller?

JSeattle at Capitol Hill Seattle Blog writes that a portion of Denny Way by the Capitol Hill light rail station is set to be named after a co-founder of Seattle's best-loved LGBTQ bookstore:

The block-long Barbara Bailey Way will honor Barbara Bailey who founded Broadway’s much-loved Bailey/Coy Books only blocks away and passed away last fall.

What a wonderful tribute to a bookseller who worked hard to make Capitol Hill welcoming for so many.

Seattle is a story

Published June 25, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Serin D. Houston’s Imagining Seattle: Social Values in Urban Governance .

A new academic book examines the disparity between the wealthy white Seattle of myth and the huge inequalities of Seattle as it actually is.

Read this review now



                they call it earthing
to pad along shoeless, prying fear
from between curled toes

                my bare feet
pulse along shoreline
                my blood

follows me
from Minnesota roots
to the puddle chest:

rain waxes      a moon
evaporates pondwater
                my own bones

make the moss-limb
house of my new backyard
                I’m no more scolded

for running naked of shoes
for living as if there were no stingers,
glass shards, dog shit, pine pitch

                now feel: egg-print heal
pressed to sand
or river mud, mark both

sole and soul
                I earth
into place

Mail Call for June 24, 2019

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

Our thanks to Craig Hurd-McKinney for sponsoring this week!

This week, The Seattle Review of Books is sponsored by Craig Hurd-McKenney, writer, editor, and publisher of comic books. To mark Pride Week, Hurd-McKinney is sharing The Magic If: a comic created with art team Gervasio and Carlos Aon that explores imagination, compulsion, and the magic of human connection. The protagonist of The Magic If is Wynter Steele, a young magician so obsessed with his craft that he can't help but fail at it. When a flashy stunt magician comes to town, Wynter's worst self goes head to head with the people who love him.

Check out a few pages from The Magic If, which Hurd-McKenney is generously sharing on our sponsor feature page this week only.

You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. We've got just a few dates left this summer — nab one now and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.

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

Monday, June 24th: A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do Reading

Northwest author Pete Fromm, who is beloved by booksellers from Seattle to Missoula, returns with his new novel, which is reportedly "a love story about family and resiliency and second chances. It's about a man who has to step up and be a single father after tragedy strikes. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, June 25th: Clarion West Presents Elizabeth Hand

The Seattle-based sci-fi and fantasy writing organization brings a bestselling genre author to town. Hand has written novels and literary criticism and historical essays, and her upcoming novel Curious Toys is being pitched as "The Alienist meets Devil in the White City, which are two books that kept me up very late at night turning pages. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, June 26th: Exhalation Reading

Ted Chiang is one of the Seattle-area's most influential sci-fi writers. He's always been a quiet force at sci-fi readings around town: you can feel him in the back of the room, and you can feel other authors' regard for his attention. He's a smart writer of brilliant sci-fi, and now that one of his stories has been adapted into Arrival, it seems the whole world finally knows it. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, June 27th: Papeachu Review Release Party

Contributors to the second issue of Seattle's own Papeachu Review, "a bi-annual print anthology of female and nonbinary creations,* will read their work to celebrate the new issue. This issue, incidentally, features work on the theme of "beauty." Belltown Yacht Club, 2320 1st Avenue (Basement),, 7 pm, free.

Friday, June 28th: Two Poets

Dobby Gibson is the award-winning author, most recently, of Little Glass Planet. Zachary Schomburg is a popular Portland-based poet, novelist, and publisher. (You might know him as one of the tendrils behind Octopus Books, which is doing beautiful work in the publishing space. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, June 39th: Write-O-Rama

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 1 pm, $60-100.

Sunday, June 30th: African-American Writers Alliance Reading

Founded in January of 1991, the African-American Writers’ Alliance is "an informal gathering of Northwest black writers meeting for mutual support and encouragement through the exchange of ideas and concepts became a reality." This afternoon's reading is a celebration of some of the organization's most exciting members. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 4:30 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Write-O-Rama at Hugo House

Hugo House hosts a wide array of educational programs, of course. They offer anything from one-day classes to season-long deep dives into the art of writing. But this Saturday, Hugo House is hosting Write-O-Rama, which packs an entire semester full of writing courses into a single afternoon.

Write-O-Rama's hundred-dollar price tag might seem hefty if you're just idly looking for something to do, but the truth is that it's a bargain for the amount of classes you get.

Here are just a few classes available this Saturday, with descriptions provided by Hugo House:

  • Essay Experiment: Digression with Waverly Fitzgerald Try out a digressive essay, an essay that rambles from subject to subject.
  • Stuck in the Middle with Jennifer Haupt We’ll explore one key structural component you can develop at the beginning of your book to avoid the mid-point slump. (It also works if you’re already stuck!)
  • Creating Urgent Scenes in Memoir with Christine Hemp In 50 minutes (!), you will draft a new scene for your memoir-in-progress. Come learn how dramatizing a single moment can create a sense of urgency (even without dialogue).
  • Write Your Novel Now! with Susan Meyers How do you start—and finish—a novel? Come generate ideas—and a plan! This session offers insights into hooking the reader and developing a plot, to shaping chapters and keeping the momentum—both yours and the story’s—to go the distance!
  • Plotting with Index Cards with Paul Mullin Using index cards and fairy tales, we’ll manipulate the basic building blocks of plotting to fully flesh out your story.
  • Writing with Emotion with Rachel Lynn Solomon We want to connect with a character so we can root for them, laugh with them, cry for them. We will focus on adding more emotion to your writing through interiority, dialogue, and narration.

Sure, each of these sound great on their own. But the thing that Write-O-Rama offers that no other writing course in town can offer is enthusiasm. You get to be in a room full of people who want to write, who made time in their schedule to immerse themselves in the craft. You can't pay for the kind of boost that a crowd of people in love with literature can give you. That's the secret weapon which makes Write-O-Rama so indispensable.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 1 pm, $60-100.

The Sunday Post for June 23, 2019

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

Hideous men

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are all the books about menopause?

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Cookie Couture?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

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

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

Dear Cienna,

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

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

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

Donna, Central District

Dear Donna,

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

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

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

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Baby steps

The Portrait Gallery: Gertrude Stein

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

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Checking in with Nancy

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

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

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

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

Doing well by doing good

Published June 19, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

Joy Harjo named first Native American US Poet Laureate

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

As reported on NPR:

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

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

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

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

Let's not go back to the Hunger Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm not interested. Are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Entry


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 17th: Mamaskatch Reading

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

Tuesday, June 18th: Trisha R. Thomas Reading

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

Wednesday, June 19th: The Last WordsWest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 23rd: A Thread So Fine Reading

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

Literary Event of the Week: The very last WordsWest

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for June 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Katy E. Ellis?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

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

What did you read last?

What are you reading next?

The Help Desk: She did it her way

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

Dear Cienna,

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

Jen, Magnolia

Dear Jen,

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

What's your favorite book?


Why are you flipping off the sun?

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Dr. Sara

The Portrait Gallery: Eve Ensler

Friday, June 14th: The Apology Reading

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

The Future Alternative Past: See translation

Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent books recently read

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

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

Couple of upcoming cons

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

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

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Hi-ho, Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers circle Barnes & Noble

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

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

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

A bear’s death in big sky country

Published June 11, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

To Squamish Waters


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 10th: This Life of Mine Reading

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

Tuesday, June 11th: Magic for Liars Reading

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

Wednesday, June 12th: The Last Romantics Reading

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

Thursday, June 13th: Woodland Reading

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

Friday, June 14th: The Apology Reading

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

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

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

Sunday, June 16th: Vicinity/Memoryall Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for June 9, 2019

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

Uber's path of destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why parents are addicted to Calpol

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

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

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

David Brooks's moral journey

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Angela Garbes?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

May 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

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

May's Theme: Early Days / Impracticalities

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

The Help Desk: Don't call it a comeback

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

Dear Cienna,

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

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



Dear Devon,

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

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: No respect

The Portrait Gallery: Angela Garbes

Sunday, June 9th: Like a Mother Reading

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

Kissing Books: Characters exist to be thwarted

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

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

That’s surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How magnanimous of you.”

“Look at you with the big words.”

“I went to Harvard, you know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Month’s Badass Labour Organizer Heroine:

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

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

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: The end of Vertigo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading our way through The Mueller Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Blue Sky teaches kids about loss and grief and hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail Call for June 4, 2019

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

The Mueller Report is hiding in plain sight

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

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

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

This one time, at Basecamp

Published June 4, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

Can sane project management save Seattle?

Read this review now

All Signs Are Dares


Why we decided no headlights
through Snoqualmie Valley dark

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

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

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

illuminated roadside grasses
parallel the parallel yellow lines.

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

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

for lands where we become
the only people we know

after towers and grandfathers fall
historical clues and species erased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 4th: Seattle Botany A to Z

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

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

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

Thursday, June 6th: Hair Flip Release Party

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

Friday, June 7th: Behold the Dreamers Reading

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

Saturday, June 8th: There Goes the Gayborhood!

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

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

Sunday, June 9th: Like a Mother Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for June 2, 2019

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

The Artificial Intelligence of the Public Intellectual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

The Billboard

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

I hope Frances McDormand sends her a fan letter.

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Knox Gardner?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: A gnawing concern

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

Dear Cienna,

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

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

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

Vanessa, Northgate

Dear Vanessa,

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

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

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



The Portrait Gallery: Reading animals — beaver

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

Thursday Comics Hangover: Another day in paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Robert Crumb about to be — gasp — canceled?

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

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

And, okay. I mean. I guess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week's sponsor is Sagging Meniscus Press

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

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

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

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Published May 28, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Bill Carty’s Huge Cloudy .

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

Read this review now

Milton Fife


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 28th: Black on Craft

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30th: Birds of the West Reading

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

Friday, May 31st: The Seventh Wave Reading

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

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

Saturday, June 1st: Three Poets

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

Sunday, June 2nd: Woodland Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

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

Literary Event of the Week: Woodland at Open Books

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for May 26, 2019

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

The Man With Two Heads

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

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

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

Breaking My Silence

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

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

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

Against Advice

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Molly Hashimoto?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

Milkman by Anna Burns (2018 Booker prize winner).

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: Guilt-edged pages

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to Cienna is off this week, volunteering advice to young spiders from broken webs, but here's a column from March of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

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

Ingrid, Crown Hill

Dear Cienna,

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

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

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

Effie, Mountlake

Dear Effie and Ingrid,

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

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

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

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

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Dishes

The Portrait Gallery: Terese Mailhot

Friday, May 24th: Hugo Literary Series

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

Criminal Fiction: Let's review

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

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

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

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

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

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Laura Lippman, from May, 2018.

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

Spencer Kope, from June, 2018.

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

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

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

Mick Herron, from July 2018.

Need, curiosity, excitement, guilt, habit.

John Straley, from August, 2018.

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

I love jokes and poetry and traveling by boat.

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

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

Stuart Turton, from September, 2018.

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

Valentina Giambanco, from October, 2018.

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

Lou Berney, from November, 2018.

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

Katrina Carrasco, from December, 2018.

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

Taylor Adams, from January, 2019.

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

Don Winslow, from February, 2019.

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

Elisabeth Elo, from March, 2019.

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

Hanna Jameson, from April, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give to Short Run's one-day pledge drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A J-Date for the dead

Published May 21, 2019, at 12:00pm

Emma Levy reviews Nathan Englander’s

Has the internet out-godded God?

Read this review now

Teen Angels


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to sponsor Seattle Arts & Lectures

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 20th: This View of Life Reading

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

Tuesday, May 21st: The Scent Keeper Reading

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

Wednesday, May 22nd: The Every Other

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

Thursday, May 23rd: Down With Work!

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

Friday, May 24th: Hugo Literary Series

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

Saturday, May 25th: Poetry Brunch

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

Literary Event of the Week: The Every Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Post for May 19, 2019

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

The Tourist: Volume 71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading, Brad Holden?

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

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

What are you reading now?

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

What did you read last?

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

What are you reading next?

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

The Help Desk: Gotta catch 'em all

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

Dear Cienna,

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

Rob, Westwood

Dear Rob,

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

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



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Open casket

Mail Call for May 16, 2019

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

The Portrait Gallery: Walt Whitman

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

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

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

Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent books recently read

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

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

Couple of upcoming cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book News Roundup: 25 years of Floating Bridge

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

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

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

  • Here is some bad writing advice from Ernest Hemingway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us on June 5th to discuss the Mueller Report

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

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

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

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

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

The Rubber Meets the Road

Published May 14, 2019, at 12:00pm

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

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

Read this review now

Pocket Pal Bromides Attributed to Celebrities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only thing missing here is you

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13th: A False Report Reading

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15th: WordsWest

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

Friday, May 17th: Defining Cascadia

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

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

Saturday, May 18th: Bushwick Book Club

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

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

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

Literary Event of the Week: Is, Is Not Readings

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

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

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

Gallagher's latest poetry collection, Is, Is Not, is very interested in time. These are poems about aging and all the frailty and confidence that it brings. Some poems skip forward in time, while many gaze backward. She writes that sometimes all it takes is patience to win a battle: "...wait long enough and things/will turn, will wear themselves out."

Ultimately, you can read Is, Is Not as yet another poetry book. But it also feels like a scattered memoir, a Vonnegut-like journey in an unmoored time/space continuum. The only constant theme in the book is Gallagher herself: all the watching, noting, remembering, and aspiring comes originally from her. And why wouldn't everything come from her? She has been a pillar of Northwest poetry since before many of your favorite poets were born. That kind of longevity and quality deserves a celebration. Or two.

Tuesday: Book Tree, 609 Market St, Kirkland, 425-202-7791,, 7 pm, free. Thursday: Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for May 12, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me.

There’s a swathe — a broad swathe, of which “broad swathe” is one — of overused words and phrases that I struggle each week to avoid … There’s no better word, though, than the detestably common “gripping” for this essay by journalist Wil Hylton. For years, Hylton carried on an intense if intermittent relationship with his aggressive, violent, fascinating cousin. Here, he examines how his own ideas about being a man led to a nearly fatal attack from one of his most intimate friends.

I loved the shelter of his violence. It gave him the power to make wrong right. It made no difference that he never did, only that he could. I loved that when he came to a party, people made room for us to pass. I loved when he told me about breaking a pool cue in half and beating two guys with the fat end. I loved him even when I hated his violence, even when it hurt me.
Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs

This is a strange and lovely possible truth, and an interesting showcase of how scientific proofs are built. As a bonus, read this, about Norway’s fascination with its captive wolves and visceral resentment of the free ones. (Spoiler: The most violent opposition to wolves comes from older white men.) Wolves are returning to the Pacific Northwest — how will we respond? Are they other? Or are they us?

When watching the dogs in the Mexico City dump, a number of our students would say, “These dogs are different from real dogs — these are mongrels.” The implication is that the kennel club breeds are the ancestors of the village dogs. People seem to believe that if a dog doesn’t look like one of the kennel club recognized breeds then it must be a hybrid or mongrel. People think if you let all the pure breeds go and they interbreed for a few generations, the resulting population of dogs would look like the Mexico City dump dogs.
Unconscious Bias Is Running for President

Rebecca Solnit brings her furious eloquence to bear on Democratic presidential field. This is a no-brainer: the more often we say that only white men have the potential to beat the whitest, mannest man in our country in the 2020 election, the more true it becomes. Marketing 101! Here’s hoping journalists get the message.

The New York Times in all its august unbearability just published this prize sentence in a piece about Joe Biden’s failure to offer Anita Hill an apology she found adequate: “Many former Judiciary Committee aides and other people who participated did not want to talk on the record because they feared that scrutiny of Mr. Biden’s past conduct would undermine the campaign of the candidate some think could be best positioned to defeat President Trump, whose treatment of women is a huge issue for Democrats.” That translates as, let’s run a guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and let’s ignore that treatment because even so we think that he’s best positioned to defeat the guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and also fuck treatment of women, especially this black woman, as an issue, really.
The Pillar

Finally! An essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard from which you can extract everything important without reading a word. In fact I suggest you do, or rather don’t, and go directly to the portfolio of Stephen Gill, the amazing photographer Knausgaard profiles. Gill’s images of birds are precise, messy, delicate, feral, awkward, sublime — all the perfection of imbalance that Knausgaard’s writing so deeply fails at every time.

All kinds of birds, from the smallest sparrow to the biggest eagle, were drawn to the pillar. Not only were they drawn down from the sky but the sky was drawn out of them: the birds in Gill’s images are so physical, so of the body, so material as to make plain to us how even their flight belongs to the ground. These birds came from the earth, there is nothing ethereal about them. The order to which they belong is prehistoric, predating our own by millions of years, and, although they have developed optimized beaks, claws, eyes, wings, they still struggle against matter every single day, the way they’ve always done — tossed about by the wind, compelled from their perches, dipping their wings to the water on hot summer days. That they are never perfect, that they are forever improvising, that no fixed form exists in their lives, are things I have never thought of as applying to birds until I saw these photographs.
How Robert Macfarlane documented Underland

In The Word Pretty, Elisa Gabbert says that “notebooks achieve so much of what poetry tries to achieve, but organically” — beginning and ending where they will. Instant amnesty for inveterate notebook start-and-abandoners everywhere! Robert McFarlane probably finishes his notebooks. But we love this photo-essay anyway — images from the notebooks he kept while traveling for his latest book.

The notebooks vary from a tiny lilac-coloured Moleskine just seven or eight centimetres high, to robust hardback journals, tough enough to withstand being dragged through limestone tunnel systems and soaked in slate mines. I’ve doodled on the covers of some of them; the ink has faded from black to sepia on the oldest of the notebooks, where they’ve seen the most light.

There are places in these notebooks where my handwriting has been smudged into illegibility by underground streams, or where mud and silt stains the pages brown, or where the spines and corners have been foxed and folded. These are, to me, as much part of the archive of a landscape as my poor-quality biro sketches and my transcriptions of conversations.

Whatcha Reading, Doug Nufer?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Doug Nufer is a writer and poet who usually works with formal constaints. He has written many books, most recently Metamorphasis. He's our Poet in Residence for May.

What are you reading now?

Now I'm reading Van Gogh: the life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. It's taking a while because Kathleen and I read it aloud in small sections. Although we know what happens, there's a lot of suspense because he takes forever to start painting and there are few years remaining before he dies.

What did you read last?

Last I read The Lachrymose Report by Sierra Nelson and Selected Poems 1962-1985 by Clark Coolidge. I'd been going through the 460-page Coolidge book for years, while reading other books. I had bought Sierra's book as a present for someone, with the plan to read it and then give it away, but then I just decided to keep it.

What are you reading next?

Next I may read The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama, which covers a historical period of The Netherlands before Van Gogh's time and seems to have a lot to say about our own imperial capitalist age. Or I may re-read Inferno, a parallel text of Dante and a verse translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. I had been ransacking Inferno for a writing project where I extracted smaller words from larger ones in their or my English translations (Inferno/ infer; direct/ dire), and when I saw this was a waste of time, it occurred to me that at least I got to re-read Inferno.

The Help Desk: The bookstore of her dreams

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

If you owned an independent bookstore, what would it be like? Would you specialize in mysteries? Cookbooks? Cursed texts bound in human flesh?



Dear Nicole,

I am happy you asked that question because despite my aggressive lack of business acumen, I have strong opinions about how books should be organized. As you know, books are wonderful companions – they are the loyal, shit-free alternative to dogs and significant others – and yet bookstores can be overwhelming, especially for casual readers. Like online dating or pet adoption, it's often hard to know what pleases you until after you've experienced it. (And for readers like me who don't like summaries and don't trust blurbs, picking a book at random or based on someone's recommendation can be horrifying. That is how I stayed up all night reading The Lovely Bones just to make it fucking end.)

For these reasons, my bookstore wouldn't be organized by genre or the alphabet, it would be organized by mood. For instance:

  • Books to comfort you after another school shooting.
  • Books for when you need a gift for your father-in-law's 38-year-old wife for Mother's Day (and other relatives you're politely formal with).
  • Books you probably won't finish but feel compelled to buy because you're insecure about your intelligence and want others to see it on your shelf.
  • Mysteries that don't lead with lady rape or murder.
  • Books narrated by characters who probably don't look like you.
  • Books to give to teenagers that you love but don't know how to communicate with.

There would be a card catalog, alphabetized by name, for people who were on the hunt for specific author. The card would reveal the book's main mood/location, as well as list beta moods that it fits into.

Juveniles would get a free book – their cost would be donating a book, provided it isn't a shit book like the Bible or Atlas Shrugged. Juvenile delinquents would get two free books, provided they could prove they were delinquents.

Finally, we would act as a repository for readers who were disgusted by an author's recent actions, which would most likely involve sexually assaulting or otherwise demeaning women because that seems to be pretty popular. We would collect all of these books and hold semi-regular public trash-barrel book burnings in our parking lot, where we would invite the whole community and charge obscene, baseball-stadium prices for mediocre wine and flaccid hot dogs.

I believe that is the only way to make such a bookstore viable — and if not viable, at least very fun for me.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Let's Dance

The Portrait Gallery: Charles Johnson

Each week, Christine Marie Larsen creates a new portrait of an author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know

Sorry to say you already missed Charles Johnson speaking earlier this week, and you probably should have gone. Read what Paul said in the Event of the Week column if you want to wallow in your regret. But not all is lost: you can still buy copies of Johnson's latest book Night Hawks, which seems like a decent close-second option to showing up to seeing him speak.

Kissing Books: The placeholder heroine is...

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.

1992’s landmark volume of romance criticism, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, has had a difficult afterlife. One particular specter from romance author Laura Kinsale’s essay haunts the genre like the ghost of a first wife contemplating arson in the attic.

I speak of: the placeholder heroine. I loathe it — both the term and the theory — and I’m going to tell you why.

Kinsale’s original essay uses the term placeholder heroine to mean the reader allows the plot to carry her through the book, enjoyably, even if she knows she would make different choices than the heroine in the story. It’s anti-identification. But the phrase has taken root in the readership as a way of describing a heroine who is so bland and invisibilized that she allows the reader to almost literally take her place as the emotional focus of the story. Bella Swan of the Twilight series, for instance, gets pulled into this discussion a lot, poor girl. Cinderella, too, is assumed to be an empty vessel so the reader can bask in the relief of being rescued.

The idea — and I am describing it, not recommending it or saying it’s automatically true — is that readers pick up a romance because they want to fall in love with and feel loved by the hero, and any heroine who is too specific, too real, or too present gets in the way of the reader’s hoped-for experience.

That some readers go looking for this is undeniably true. The existence of the unfortunate phrase book boyfriends attests to this. Also this verging-on-nihilistic Guardian piece from 2009 about one woman’s tragic attempt to write a category romance; the article reads like a triple-layer chocolate cake made of self-loathing and internalized misogyny — and contains the line which is now branded upon my memory: “Mills & Boon heroines are like madams in brothels. They essentially have to facilitate a sexual encounter between two other people — the reader, and the hero.”

I’m not going to pretend that nobody’s ever rubbed one out over a domineering Harlequin Presents tycoon but good Lord that writer is really stretching a metaphor to the point of absurdity.

Other, successful authors aren’t so vulgar or Freudian, but it’s common to talk about writing heroes they hope readers will fall in love with. It’s widely assumed the reader will establish a sexual/romantic connection with a hero. It’s unclear how much of this is a marketing angle, and how much is what people think the books actually do in practice.

In this framework a romance can be for the heroine, or for the reader, but never both. And for the reader to be at the center of the story, to take the heroine’s place, she has to erase the heroine as much as she can.

I can’t be the only person who gets a little creeped out by that.

Granted, I’ve gone on record as someone who tries to focus on heroines as much as possible, out of feminist and contrarian impulses. The fact remains that there are some nasty side facets to the placeholder heroine conversation: for one thing, the idea that dubcon/forced seduction scenes can get the reader’s consent, if not the heroine’s. I find this, in a word, squicky.

For another thing, for a placeholder heroine to work as described, she can’t have any marks of difference that the reader does not share. Some white readers infamously say they can’t relate to a heroine of color because they can’t or won’t identify with her. Their white awareness of a black heroine’s difference prevents them from being able to disappear into her persona.

And the entire conversation around placeholder heroines is grossly heteronormative and cissexist because it doesn’t take queer/trans people into account at all, as readers or as main characters — though it might go a long way to explaining those parts of m/m romance that are all about straight women playing Now Kiss! with sexy fictional dudes. Because if someone’s internalized the Other Women Are Automatically Competition thing real deep then even the blandest placeholder heroine might be too much, and they can only let go and enjoy things if the whole Woman Question is off the table. (Men are aspirational identification; we’re all taught how to empathize with them.) Sometimes this even comes cloaked as liberal-mindedness, as in many of the comments to this Goodreads poll: a lot of people sincerely believe that gender inequality magically vanishes when the two main characters share a gender.

Let us be clear what a placeholder heroine is not: recognizing a meaningful part of yourself in a fictional character. That is plain human empathy, that is what the push for inclusive fiction is fighting for, that is something every one of us needs and deserves.

The placeholder heroine is the expectation that we have to separate, and choose between, the reader and the heroine in order for the book to do what it promises.

The placeholder heroine as a concept means that we’re only allowed One Completely Human Woman, either us or that chick on the book cover.

Identification, recognition, books as mirrors and windows — these are identification-as-sharing. It’s communal, and comforting, and builds community. The placeholder heroine is identification-as-supplanting. The framework marks a character — a main character! — as replaceable, as a blank space, as a territory to be conquered and colonized. Which is why we have to do it to heroines, who are women, the Officially There To Be Conquered Gender.

When readers go in expecting to be able to take the heroine’s place, they might feel cheated if she is unerasable. Perhaps this is one of the (many) reasons why heroines take the brunt of criticism in reviews, whether they’re difficult or prickly characters or not.

Plenty of readers do not read this way, at all. Plenty of readers are looking for heroines they can root for, who they could imagine being friends with, who are compelling and interesting and funny and just plain fun to be around. Heroines who share their struggles and fears (the surge of readerly love for Portia, the heroine from Alyssa Cole’s A Duke by Default who finds out as an adult that she has ADHD, is a marvelous recent example of this). Me, I love a lonely heroine, your Anne Elliots and Jane Eyres and anyone who secretly worries they’ll never be quite good enough to deserve love.

None of the heroines in the books reviewed below are placeholders. They are rich, vibrant, unique, and uniquely lovable fictional people.

Erase them at your peril.

Recent Romances:

Proper English by KJ Charles (self-published: historical f/f):

When presented with an f/f romance that is also a country house party murder mystery, three immediate questions fix in the mind: 1. Which character is our heroine going to fall in love with? 2. Which character is our soon-to-be victim? and 3. Which character is the killer?

Since Proper English is a prequel to the author’s much-recommended Think of England, we know the answer to number one: Pat’s going to fall hard for Fenella Carruth—who is, unfortunately, presently engaged to our host.

Answers two and three take up the rest of the book, and it’s an absolutely marvelous journey.

I’ve become so used to KJ Charles’ more Machiavellian-minded heroes (hello, Any Old Diamonds and Henchmen of Zenda) that Pat’s directness took a bit of getting used to. Not in a bad way—it was just a more no-nonsense voice than I was expecting, since Pat is the straightest shooter in England. Literally: she recently won the All-England Ladies’ Championship. Once I re-tuned my ear, the rhythms carried me along as always. Pat is intelligent, thoughtful, observant, kind, frighteningly competent, and humble enough to think none of these virtues are enough to make her more than ordinary. This complexity meant that despite her supposed plainness of character (she certainly thinks of herself as plain in figure as well as in intellect), every emotion of hers rang me like a bell whenever it turned up. Pat’s love for her brother Bill, her complicated grief for their two lost siblings, her tumble into attraction and passion—they’re all the more glorious for coming on quietly.

Fen, our other heroine, is one of my favorite archetypes: the bouncy, fluffy, run-on-sentence kind of adorable with undiscovered metal beneath the fluff. She’s an absolute confection and I wanted to fix her a sugary cocktail and listen to her ask endless questions forever. The contrast and chemistry she has with Pat is exquisite, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the copy of Think of England that’s been languishing in my TBR for far too long now.

As for the killer and victim … Lately I’ve been in an Extremely Vintage Murder Mood, watching grainy miniseries with Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, picking up used copies of Highsmith’s best, mainlining any detective show that focuses more on the social puzzles than on the physical detritus of the crime scene. It’s a hunger for something—a feeling, an emotional experience, a palpable resolution, justice. Things that feel increasingly hard to find in the real world.

This book was precisely the thing to sate the appetite.

“These sorts of things are miserable for ladies.”

“Technically, you’re a lady,” Bill pointed out.

“Not for the purposes of a shooting party I’m not, and Jimmy had better remember that.”

“He will,” Bill assured her. “Nobody would invite the All-England Ladies’ Champion to a shooting party and ask her to crochet doilies.”

“Oh yes they would.”

Reverb by Anna Zabo (Carina Press: contemporary trans queer m/pan f):

Reverb as a musical term is about echoes: what you don’t quite hear, what you hear too much of, what whispers on the edges of a note or a chord. A double layer of sound. Anxiety and trauma do something similar to the human body/mind — pain amplifies or muffles a signal, distorting the sound and disturbing the peace. The past is always a little audible in the present.

Readers should go in knowing Anna Zabo’s latest rock star romance starts with a stalker plot, necessary to give our bodyguard hero David and rock queen heroine Mish a reason to collide. But the real stakes in the book are about identity: David and Mish have both fought for decades to become completely themselves, and take pains not to demand anyone else bend or change or sacrifice too much out of respect for the difficulty of being a complete person. They both pride themselves on being the strong one, the caretaker, and they are happy to take care of one another (both in and out of bed — the sex scenes are delightfully switchy). This carefulness is precisely what brings the biggest conflict: two characters desperately in love with one another, deeply invested, who feel they can’t even ask for what they really want because the act of asking feels too much like demanding submission. Better to step back, to hide tears, to die quietly inside without anyone ever knowing.

It’s a little about pride — but a little about boundaries, and it’s complex and utterly gripping.

First two Twisted Wishes books were very much about characters learning how to cope; this book is about capable characters learning how to thrive, which is an entirely different challenge. I tore through the chapters, hooked as always by the vividness of Zabo’s glam-rock world and the dazzling characters — but the more I reflect on the book afterward the more allegorical it seems, like a chess game whose strategy is only revealed in hindsight. The external threat becomes a Gothic gloss on the central emotional dilemma: the villain is someone who demands what he has no right to, someone who overreaches, who ignores the plainest and most basic of boundaries. The stalker (mild spoilers?) is eventually caught but never named, which is a supremely, breathtakingly elegant way to villainize him in a romance with a trans main character where names are meaningful choices and assertions of identity.

The book feels effortless, but the gut-punch lingers — just like any good rock anthem should.

Emotional hangovers were worse than alcoholic ones. She didn’t get drunk that often, but when she did, she could blame the nausea and headache on being foolish.

This wasn’t foolishness, but her life.

Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra (self-published: contemporary m/f):

The #romanceclass hashtag on Twitter has become one of my go-to places to check for contemporary romance: every one of the Phililppine-based authors promoting there seem to have perfected the delicate balance between angst and escapism. This book caught me because I have absolutely no chill where figure skating/hockey romance combinations are concerned — but while I got plenty of insider athletic competence, as promised, I also got a rare and thoughtful view of a real-world city, and what it means to the people who live there, move there, and/or are from there. The romance is solid and the sex is definitely great, but it was Mina V. Esguerra’s marvelous sense of place that really blew me away.

This book is an absolute love letter to Manila — not in the touristy, Here Are My Postcard Views kind of way, but in the sense of a living, changing city, with restaurants popping up and going under, living expenses to navigate, cultural habits to allow for and struggle against (hockey, for instance, is a niche sport in a latitude that never freezes).

Cal and Ram both struggle with the baggage of the past, a lot of which is wrapped up in the literal geography of the city: the rink they both practice in, the neighborhoods where their family members live, the sisig restaurant that’s the only place open late at night when practices are finally done. Cal has spent her figure skating career close to home rather than training somewhere with more resources (Russia or the US), which may have limited her ability to excel in ways she can’t even measure — and Ram has split his time imperfectly between Manila and his emigrant parents in Texas, who have tried to make a clean break with their past even if it means never going back to visit relatives still living in the Philippines. The reader is treated to a complex exploration of what it means when home feels like somewhere you have to leave to succeed: as Cal says, “A better life was always Somewhere Else.”

There is so much unspecified yearning in this book, even outside of the romance, that it left me feeling deeply wistful. This is no accident. According to this thoughtful Goodreads review, it is an absolutely perfect snapshot of a particular kind of disaspora experience, about feeling like you are torn between two places, and have only a tenuous connection with a past and present. The book came out in February of this year, and the best way I can describe it is that it feels like a very February kind of book. A little sad, a bit of winter glitter, and a whole beating heart on display.

He could have offered to stay. Proposed marriage, right there in front of everyone. Ram excelled at down-three-at-halftime kind of pressure. He was game-winning goals record holder. He could pull a fucking grand gesture if he needed to.

But he also trusted Cal, more in that moment than his own hockey warrior self, and if she said he was about to be goaded into regret, he believed her.

Tightrope by Amanda Quick (Penguin: historical romantic suspense m/f):

Why did none of you tell me Amanda Quick’s new historical suspense series included descendants of her Victorian psychic family? This is like my own personal The Force Awakens and it is Gothic and glamorous and pulpy as all get out and I am ridiculously, absurdly happy about it.

A lovely trapeze artist pushes a would-be killer to his death in the first scene; in the second, a humanoid robot murders his creator in the middle of a public demonstration, as the same trapeze artist looks on in horror. It’s a jam-packed 1930s thriller romance just in time for the long, hot, vacation days of summer. We have gunrunners and mob men with hearts of gold, spunky heroines whose wits are as sharp as their tongues, a cursed hotel where a Hollywood psychic flung herself from the roof, several untrustworthy liars, and a missing encryption machine to find before the villain gets their hands on it.

Amalie and Matthias are fun characters — Amalie is especially grand, maybe one of the best AQ heroines ever — even if the romance doesn’t quite hit me in the gut like I wanted. We do get a good, slow burn at the start while the mystery twists the screws. The dialogue snaps with noirish banter, the whole thing’s low on the insta-lust, and despite all the glamorous murder it’s not too angsty or gory or gleeful about sexualized violence. Amanda Quick has been writing books just like this for decades, and I hope she never stops. It’s more slick than subtle, but it’s so nice to be in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing even if you can see the gears turning while they do it. Perfect fluff with a moody glaze.

“Not everyone will have issues with your past.”

“Who is going to trust a woman who may or may not have murdered her lover?”


She froze, hardly daring to breathe. “Is that right?”

“Yes. Your turn. Does my talent scare you?”

“A madman with a knife and a wire necklace once tried to murder me. Knowing that you may be able to tell if I’m lying to you doesn’t even make the list of the top ten things that make me nervous.”

This Month’s Strong and Steely Hero (But Not Like That):

[Swordheart] by T. Kingfisher (self-published: fantasy m/f):

There is nothing that lifts my spirits so much as a smart, funny, queer-friendly romance in a fantasy setting. T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Hugo and Nebula winner Ursula Vernon (among many other awards), and so you know going in that the fantasy is going to be top-notch.

But this story of a widow heiress beset by nefarious family members and a warrior trapped in a magical sword still took all my expectations and blasted them into happy smithereens. Halla is a bright, curious, talkative dumpling of a person with hidden fire, and pairs beautifully with sword-man Sarkis’ grumpy, taciturn, burn-it-down fierceness (think Elliot Spencer from Leverage). They are both too-conscious of their own flaws, and intensely admiring of each other; it made my heart absolutely sing to watch them slowly realize how deeply they’d fallen in love while fighting not to.

This is a world of multiple gods with different approaches to power and people, a past racked by cataclysm, plenty of ground-level small-village social mores, and artifacts with centuries-old magical curses turning up as family heirlooms. Notes of Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, but all the detail about agriculture and livestock is expert, up-close texture.

At one point Halla describes all the ways they could easily live off the land if they weren’t trying to keep a low profile and I danced a little in my chair to see so deep into the layers of this world. It’s rewarding as hell.

At another point we get one of the single funniest bodily-fluids jokes I’ve ever seen written down. It’d be great enough as a one-off moment — but it turns into a relevant plot point later one, with effortless grace. If I thought the author could’ve heard me, I would’ve applauded then and there.

The ending implies there’s a sequel forthcoming and honestly I cannot wait.

Sarkis had been expecting Halla to sob, cry, or perhaps be as sick as Zale. Her remarkable calm in the face of two dead bodies was simultaneously heartening and a trifle alarming. “You’re taking this well,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ve laid out the bodies of my sisters, my mother, my husband, one of the fieldhands, my great-uncle, and Old Nan the cook, when her heart gave out in the kitchen. Dead bodies don’t worry me. It’s the live ones that get you.”

Thursday Comics Hangover: "Augie Pagan" is a pretty great name

  • This Saturday night, the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery is hosting an opening night exhibition of Augie Pagan's art. Pagan makes beautiful and unsettling pop-culture mashups that make you feel slightly uncomfortable but very entertained. Take a look.

  • The shitty comics hate group known as Comicsgate is trying to ban their detractors as transphobic. Fuck Comicsgate.

  • Actually, one more thing about those guys: a big Comicsgate talking point is that liberals have taken over the comics industry in a wide-ranging conspiracy to drag down comics sales and destroy the industry while promoting their progressive agenda all the while. There are many problems with this "theory," but perhaps the most glaring flaw is that if liberals are trying to destroy the comics industry, they're failing pretty badly:

    Comics and graphic novels bounced back from 2017’s sales slump to have their best year ever in 2018...Combined sales in all channels were $1.095 billion, up $80 million from 2017 and a tad up from 2016’s $1.085B.
  • Here's a very good profile of Love and Rockets cartoonist Jaime Hernandez.

Violence, Porn, Curses

Published May 8, 2019, at 12:00

Anca L. Szilágyi reviews Lina Wolff’s The Polyglot Lovers (translated by Saskia Vogel) .

The Polyglot Lovers stares the male gaze in the eye. On the final pages, who blinks?

Read this review now

Looking to GiveBIG? Here are the participating literary nonprofits

Today is GiveBIG, the overwhelming annual nonprofit fundraising day, when basically every nonprofit in town is vying for your attention and your donations. In the past, GiveBig was presented by the Seattle Foundation, but this year, GiveBIG is being put on by two other local nonprofits: Encore Media Group and 501 Commons.

On the About page for this year's GiveBIG, the presenters say that unlike past years, participating nonprofits will have to pay "a registration fee." They argue that this fee is necessary "because the philanthropic support for the campaign is much less than in previous years, when the event was sponsored and largely paid for by Seattle Foundation." It's an unfortunate situation, and hopefully things will be different next year, but for now we should support the nonprofits who are doing good work in this city before we work to improve the situation for GiveBIG 2020.

For your consideration, here's a list of the literary nonprofits taking part in GiveBIG this year, as told in their own words. If you can, please give a little to support the organizations that are doing work in the fields that mean the most to you.

  • The African-American Writers' Alliance, a diverse and dynamic collective of Seattle-area writers of African descent, provides an informal and supportive forum for new and published writers. We help one another polish our skills, provide peer review, and create opportunities for public readings and other media venues. Ultimately the group encourages members to publish individually and collectively, telling our stories in our words and encouraging others to do the same.
  • A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ARCADE's mission is to reinforce the principle that thoughtful design at every scale of human endeavor improves our quality of life.

  • Book-It Repertory Theatre's mission is to transform great literature into great theatre through simple and sensitive production and to inspire our audiences to read. Book-It's Arts & Education Program mission is to provide an interactive relationship between youth and literature through diverse theatrical productions and educational programs that promote the joy of reading, enhance student and teacher learning, and inspire the imagination.

  • Bushwick Northwest delivers literature, music, and songwriting to the Seattle community while building the next generation of musicians and readers.

  • Clarion West is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to providing high quality educational opportunities for writers of speculative fiction at the start of their careers and making speculative fiction available to the public with readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.

  • At Crosscut, we believe that an informed public is essential to solving to the challenges of our time. As the Pacific Northwest's independent, reader-supported, nonprofit news site, Crosscut strives to provide readers with the facts and analysis they need to intelligently participate in civic discourse, and to create a more just, equitable and sustainable society.

  • Densho's mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We offer these irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice for all.

  • Folio is a gathering place for books and the people who love them. Folio offers circulating collections of fine books, vibrant conversations, innovative public programs, and quiet reading rooms, work spaces and meeting rooms. It serves the region's creative community by being an incubator for new ideas.

  • The Friends of Georgetown History is a non profit organization dedicated to celebrating the neighborhood of Georgetown's many contributions to the legend of Seattle's early years. We use the power of history to bring communities together by engaging the public in creative history research, presentation and performance.

  • Friends of the Library of Kirkland:To encourage closer relations between the Kirkland Library and local citizens. To publicize the functions, resources, services and needs of the library. To help the library serve the public by funding special library purchases as well as sponsoring programs for children, teens and adults.

  • The mission of the Friends of Shoreline Library is to support, promote and advocate for the Shoreline Library, a branch of the King County Library System.

  • Friends of Third Place Commons: As a safe, welcoming space open to everyone, Third Place Commons fosters real community in real space. The Commons hosts over 900 FREE community events each year and presents the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market. We nurture a vibrant, thriving community through arts programs like weekly music and dancing, monthly Art-Ins, and local school performances, civic programs like community fairs and public lectures, and social meet-ups like weekly play & learns, game nights, Mahjong Mondays, and more!

  • GeekGirlCon celebrates and honors the legacies of under-represented groups in science, technology, comics, arts, literature, game play, and game design. We do this by connecting geeks worldwide and creating an intersectional community that fosters the continued growth of women in geek culture. GeekGirlCon provides a safe space to spark conversations around social justice while encouraging unabashed geekiness.

  • Your generous gift to Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. With local roots and a global reach, your support of Hedgebrook is a gift with a ripple effect. I encourage you to donate early April 23 - May 7th. All contributions will be processed on May 8th, the actual one-day online GiveBIG 2019 day!

  • Hugo House opens the literary world to everyone who loves books or has a drive to write, providing people with a place to read words, hear words, and make their own words better.

  • Humanities Washington creates spaces for people to explore different perspectives in order to provide context and help bridge divides across communities.

  • Jack Straw Cultural Center is a multidisciplinary audio arts center that exists to foster the communication of arts, ideas, and information to diverse audiences through audio media. We provide creation and production opportunities including radio, theater, film, video, music, and literature. We serve over 10,000 individuals a year through direct services in our facility and over 100,000 individuals through radio broadcasts and podcasts of our artist, youth, and community productions.

  • The King County Library System Foundation provides support beyond public funding for programs and services at all 50 King County Library System locations so that they can better serve the needs of our community.

  • Push/Pull's mission is to: Promote underground art and comics; Foster community between those creating and viewing art; Encourage emerging artists, illustrators and cartoonists; Innovate the way art is consumed by presenting it in a unique environment and with nontraditional events; Stimulate diversity by actively seeking out marginalized and under-represented artists

  • Established in 1991, The Raven Chronicles is a Seattle-based literary organization that publishes and promotes artistic work that embodies the cultural diversity and multitude of viewpoints of writers and artists living in the Pacific Northwest and other regions.

  • Seattle City of Literature manages public and private partnerships, both within our city and abroad, to grow and promote a robust creative economy.

  • Seattle Folklore SocietyTo preserve and foster awareness and appreciation of traditional and folk arts through education, outreach, publication and performance.

  • The Seattle Globalist: Our mission is to elevate diverse voices through media.

  • SPLAB exists to present poetry events, develop the audience & resources to support poetry, lead a bioregional cultural investigation using poetics & poetry festivals & build community through shared experience of the spoken and written word. Key 2019 projects: Cascadia Poetry Festival-Anacortes, 2019: A Tribute to Sam Hamill, August Poetry Postcard Fest, 2 anthologies: Make It True meets Medusario & the Samthology, honoring Sam Hamill & interviews:

  • Tasveer: Our mission is to inspire social change through thought-provoking films, art, and storytelling. Tasveer was founded by two local immigrant South Asian women Rita Meher and Farah Nousheen, in March 2002, with the objective of raising awareness, promoting diversity and inclusion, and dispelling cultural stereotypes about our community, especially after 9/11.

  • A vibrant gathering place in the heart of Seattle, Town Hall fosters an engaged community through civic, arts, and educational programs that reflect and inspire our region's best impulses: creativity, empathy, and the belief that we all deserve a voice.

  • The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library builds community and provides equal access to information and reading materials for Washington residents unable to read standard print.

  • Whit Press is a nonprofit publishing organization dedicated to the transformational power of the written word. Our mission is to promote literary work in support of environmental and social justice issues and to give a voice to women writers, writers from ethnic, social, and economic minorities, and first-time authors.

Book News Roundup: Bad weekend for Seattle media

  • Seattle Times reporter Mike Rosenberg was accused over the weekend of sexually harassing a young reporter named Talia Jane on Twitter. Jane claimed that Rosenberg took on a mentor/advisory role in her direct messages and then made several wildly inappropriate comments. She backed up her claims with screenshots of the conversation, and they're fucking horrifying. Rosenberg told Crosscut's Lilly Fowler that the messages weren't intended for Jane. Jane, meanwhile, is having none of it.
  • Jane has demonstrated an indomitable spirit throughout this whole situation, but the fact remains that she shouldn't have to be indomitable at all. If you're a man who works in media, you should have enough wherewithal to understand that you have power over young reporters who come to you for advice and guidance. This kind of behavior is unacceptable. Full stop.

  • Speaking of power and the media: over the weekend at the Crosscut Festival, former Stranger reporter (and, full disclosure, my former coworker) Sydney Brownstone told the full story of what happened when she tried to write a story accusing Seattle restaurant mogul Dave Meinert of sexual misconduct. Brownstone didn't feel as though she could publish the report at The Stranger:

  • Brownstone eventually published the Meinert piece (and a followup report with more accusations) after finding a new job at KUOW.

  • The moral of this story: We need more and better media in Seattle, and we need fewer men in power at those organizations.

"My deepest education in democracy has been as a member of the community in Seattle"

Of all Seattle's noteworthy political citizens, Eric Liu has to have the most fascinating resumé. After a high-ranking stint on the National Security Council, Liu served under President Clinton as Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy. His future in DC politics was bright, but instead Liu moved to Seattle, where he devoted his life to promoting the idea of citizenship and what it means to be a civic-minded human being. In recent years, Liu founded Citizen University to explore the idea of civic responsibility, and he travels the nation with his Civic Saturday program of events — a kind of secular church that invites people to come together to share ideas and reconsider the idea of citizenship. Tonight, Liu is celebrating the launch of his latest book, a collection of sermons from Civic Saturdays titled Become America, at Washington Hall. The event is free. Liu and I talked on the phone yesterday about citizenship, Seattle, and why serving on the Seattle Public Library Board was more satisfying than working in the White House. This interview has been lightly edited. (Full disclosure: Liu is friends with, and co-author of two books with, my day-job employer, Nick Hanauer.)

The first question is probably something you hear all the time, but I want to get it out of the way early. It's actually something I heard when my first response to Trump's election was to start a book club: Isn't worrying about emphasizing citizenship and civic responsibility during the Trump Administration kind of like putting a Band Aid on cancer?

I think it is absolutely vital during a time of democratic crisis to tend to culture, norms, values, and shared narrative. I think culture is upstream of policy, I think spirit is upstream of law, and I think that the norms and attitudes and mindsets that people have about one another and about what we're doing together here are all upstream of elections and the policy consequences of elections. That's my first point.

The second point — to your book club, actually — I further think that as much as Donald Trump the man poses a menace to democratic norms, one of the lessons of the last few years is just how resilient a system democracy is in the United States. And not just among those who've chosen to resist him, but in communities all around the country right now, people are rebuilding the bonds of trust, relationship and responsibility that make any notion of self-government possible.

I include in that category every kind of club you can imagine. This is a time when I think our highest task as citizens is to start or join a club, to start rebuilding that muscle of association and reckoning with what's going on around you, trying to figure out how you fit into a larger story, trying to figure out what your responsibility is for changing that story. And so to me, whether it's a book club, whether it's things like Civic Saturdays, whether it's a club on something that's not even avowedly about politics like a gardening club, I think that forming and joining clubs right now is one of the most important things we can do as citizens. And particularly where those gatherings are about the deeper moral and ethical choices of our times, I think it becomes especially important.

Could you talk a little bit about your evolution as a civic-minded person?

This past weekend, I was taking part in the Crosscut Festival and I was reflecting about not only the role of organs of local journalism, like Crosscut and Cascade Public Media, but more generally on my education in democracy in Seattle. As you know, before I moved to Seattle 19 years ago, I worked in DC — I worked in national politics — and to look at my bio or my resumé, someone might think, 'you really cut your teeth in DC, you learned what you know at the White House.'

And that's actually not really true. I think my deepest education in democracy has been as a member of the community in Seattle and as a citizen of Washington state. And probably the most signal example of that was the decade that I spent on the Seattle Public Library Board, where I'd still be serving if I weren't term-limited.

I happened to serve on the library board during a time where the system was building out new branches and the downtown Central Library to deliver on this bond measure called Libraries for All that had passed in the late 90s, before I joined the board. And so for the whole time that I was there, we were in 26, 27 neighborhoods around the city and trying to invite people in for what we called in a somewhat hokey title, Hopes and Dreams meetings. Actually, you and I might've met at one of these Hopes and Dreams meetings-

I think so. Way back. Yeah.

Yeah, way back. And sure, it's hokey. And sure, it's inherently a limited format. But the fact is that when you extend that invitation and people start showing up sharing their hopes and dreams for how many materials in other languages your branch should have, or the idea that you need more meeting space because there's no free meeting space in Capitol Hill, or whatever it might be — when you start hearing these things, you realize you've created an expectation that we will not only listen, but try to deliver. And we will do that to the best of our ability. But then where we can't, we have to explain tradeoffs and we have to be accountable to the people who showed up to these meetings as well as others. And frankly, that is just an order of magnitude more concrete a practice of democracy than most of what happens in DC.

So much of politics in DC is just this Kabuki theater of posturing — it's virtue signaling or it's just rallying my base or attacking my enemies. I do this even if I know what I'm introducing is never going to go anywhere. It's for positioning and posturing. And so my education on the library board was just so much more meaningful and rich.

And then, as you know, working with Nick and others, getting things like the Alliance for Gun Responsibility off the ground after Sandy Hook was hugely formative for me. And it was of course gratifying, just as a citizen, to have helped found an organization that has not only changed the laws in our state, but as you know, has changed the frame of the narrative around the very idea of gun responsibility nationally. So again, I worked on guns when I was at the White House and exactly nothing happened. But to be here in a city, in a state, where you can indeed move ideas and change narrative has been a big part of my evolution.

I was at the fundraiser for the Alliance last week, and they talked about all the legislative achievements they've made in the past year. Ten years ago, you couldn't get an elected official to pass a gun safety law anywhere in this country. The Alliance helped the people win at the ballot box so many times that the legislature couldn't ignore the people's voice. It's exciting that we've finally have come around to the point where these gun responsibility laws are passing within the legislature again. But you kind of had to go outside the system and force the issue. So it was a long way around, but it finally happened from the inside rather than the outside.

But it's exactly the long way around that makes democracy a resilient, complex, adaptive system if it's not rigged. We were able to bypass an initially recalcitrant legislature because we had direct democracy as an option here and could go around a rigged legislature that was either cowed or owned by the gun lobby. And then having revealed to legislators that in fact the will of the people is strongly with gun responsibility and if you would like to retain your job, you might want to move in this direction, is exactly how the system is supposed to respond.

Of course it doesn't respond that way in DC, in Congress, and that's true under, frankly, both parties and any administrations of both parties. But that capacity for self-correction is still higher, I think, at the local and state level.

Do you think Seattle was particularly suited for for your message of civic responsibility? Some other places I've lived seem like they might not be as receptive to what you're doing.

I do think Citizen University is a very natural outgrowth of the civic ecosystem of our region. And again, having worked in the other Washington, I know very clearly that an organization like Citizen University, the approaches that we've taken to civic awakening and civic power-building, which are not inside the box of conventional wisdom or policy fights as they usually unfold within DC think-tanks was made possible by being here. That's number one.

And I think, going back to when I moved here in 2000, that there is a civically entrepreneurial spirit here that's as strong as our business, entrepreneurial spirit. This is a town that is not yet finished. You can arrive and raise your hand and start getting involved and pushing things or making change happen or creating new ventures.

But it's also a place where there's enough open-mindedness and freedom from a lot of the frames of conventional wisdom that dominate the New York/DC corridor that our work has been able to thrive here. And I think specifically with Civic Saturdays, these gatherings that are civic analog to a faith gathering, Civic Saturdays are a great instance of a larger approach we've had, which is that Seattle is one of the great places to incubate new civic ideas and then try and spread and adapt them to other places around the country.

For all the reasons I just said and you were alluding to, because there's more openness here, because there's less hierarchy here, because there has always been a higher willingness to hybridize here and try new combinations of things, we could incubate Civic Saturdays here in Seattle. And when we realized that this approach to civic gathering and this approach to awakening civic spirit and purpose could really stick, then we started being able to take it on the road. And that's been true of other programs of ours as well, where Seattle is an apt and fertile place to test new ideas.

So what can people expect from your book launch party tonight at Washington Hall?

We're going to talk about some of the content of the book, which as you know, is a collection sermons that I had written and delivered at Civic Saturday gatherings here in Seattle and around the country, But what you can really expect is a broader conversation just like the one we're having right now, about the deeper drivers of what's sick in the body politic, about what you can actually do from wherever you sit and stand, even if you don't feel powerful or you don't feel connected, how you can in fact web up with others and start making meaning and start taking action together.

And so the format will be, I think, pretty conversational in a way that I'm excited about. Because Civic Saturdays are have you been to a Civic Saturday?

I don't believe I have

So, first of all, I would invite you to come join us in June — June 1st we'll be at the Hillman city Collaboratory for our next one in Seattle. And I'll be in Oklahoma City after that for another one.

But when you come to these, they have the arc of a faith gathering and we always build in a great amount of time at Civic Saturdays for people to turn to each other and talk about questions and prompts. But I think at this event tomorrow we'll have even more of that — more opportunity for people to ask me questions and be in dialogue with me as well as with each other.

Sounds like it's a good way, for people who are curious and haven't taken part, to sort of dip a toe in the proverbial water.

Exactly. Totally. And it's also just a chance for people who, if you feel like you want to be connected to something bigger, if you feel isolated and frustrated with the state of our politics, come be in the company of others and come explore some of these questions in a way that is open-hearted, open-minded and will move you to connect with people in new ways. And then yes, dip a toe into some of what we do at Civic Saturdays as well.

I Who Have Satin


I, I who have nothing
Never reaching the end
I, I who have no one
Never meaning to send

Adore you and want you so
With these eyes before
With nothing to give you but oh
I can’t say any more

Beauty I’ve always missed
He, he brings you diamonds
Just what the truth is
Bright, sparkling diamonds

But believe me, dear when I say
What I’m going through
He’ll never love you the way
They can’t understand

He can take you any place he wants
They cannot defend
Fancy clubs and restaurants
Must be in the end
Pressed up against the window pane

Nights in bright diamonds
I, I who have satin
Never reaching no one
I, I who have beauty

Must watch you go dancing by
With these eyes before
I can’t say any more
When darling it’s I who loves you

Ahoy Comics is back with Hashtag: Danger

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Join Desiree Danger and her crew — super-science-head Einstein Armstrong, and heavyweight bruiser Sugar Rae Huang, as they seek out, and bicker their way through, intense situations, the likes which comics have never seen.

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Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from May 6th - May 12th

Monday, May 6th: Write On! with Charles Johnson

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Northwest African-American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000,, 7 pm.

Tuesday, May 7th: Become America Reading

Seattle author Eric Liu has made it his life's mission to revive the American civic spirit. His Civic Saturdays series of church-like meetings invite secular-minded people to come together and celebrate art, democracy, justice, and community. Liu's latest book, Become America, collects some of his best secular sermons into an inspiring book about what it means to be an American. Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave, Seattle, 322-1151,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, May 8th: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl Reading

Andrea Lawlor's novel is about a shapeshifter — or a changeling, if you prefer— in the 1990s LGBTQ activist scene in the 1990s. This was a time when Bill Clinton pushed against same-sex marriage and gay panic was a regular punchline at multiplexes, so changing shape would probably come in handy. Lawlor will be in conversation with Seattle author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, May 9th: Seattle Prohibition Reading

Brad Holden's latest book describes what Prohibition was like in Seattle. If you think a port city known for its raucous history got completely dry without a fight, you're in for a few surprises. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 10th: Three Poets

Two Seattle-area poets who are friends of the Seattle Review of Books will read work with a visiting poet from San Francisco. Regular readers of this site won't need an introduction to Kelli Russell Agodon or Susan Rich. (If you do need an introduction: Agodon is the co-founder of small but mighty poetry publisher Two Sylvias Press, and Rich is the author, most recently, of Cloud Pharmacy.) They're welcoming Mary Peelen, author of Quantum Heresies, to town. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, May 11th: Planet of the Nerds Reading

Okay, this listing is a top-to-bottom conflict of interest. I'm appearing at Elliott Bay Book Company to celebrate the launch of two comics from Syracuse comics publisher AHOY Comics. The first book is the collected edition of The Wrong Earth, which is the story of a light-hearted superhero who changes places with a gritty, dark version of himself. I have five short stories in that one. And the other book is Planet of the Nerds, which is my first full-length comic. I'll be in conversation with brilliant Seattle arts writer Brangien Davis, and there will be drinks and snacks and fun. Please join me. And here's a graphic for the event made by great graphic designer Mary Traverse:

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Alternate Saturday, May 11th: Red State Revolt Reading

Red-state America over the last year has hosted the largest strikes in recent American history. Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma and Arizona basically shut down the government with popular support from the general population. Is this the beginning of something big? That's what the new book Red State Revolt: The Teachers' Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics is all about. This is a moderated discussion about the amazing things that are happening in plain sight. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, noon.

Sunday, May 12th: Make It True Meets Medusario Reading

Cuban poet José Kozer and Seattle poet Paul E Nelson have put together an anthology that seeks to shake off the "cliquishness" of the modern age by inviting "poets from divergent languages, cultures, and aesthetics to create a type of conversation, or at least a fertile meeting place for ongoing ideas about poetry." Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Charles Johnson at the Northwest African-American Museum

Retired UW professor Charles Johnson is the closest thing to a Seattle legend that our fiction scene has. Johnson has been retired from the teaching business for a decade now, and he's taken that time to publish a ton of books — a writing guide, a book about his Buddhist practice, and his latest collection of short fiction, Night Hawks.

When I spoke to Johnson a couple years ago, he was in an expansive mood, explaining that the title story in Night Hawks was "about my 15-year friendship here in Seattle with [celebrated playwright] August Wilson. We had really great eight-to-ten-hour dinner conversations at the old Broadway Bar and Grill, which is gone now, on Capitol Hill."

Johnson is perhaps best known for incorporating his Buddhist experiences into his fiction. "I’ve always been a very spiritual person," he told me, and he doesn't see any separation between Charles Johnson the writer and Charles Johnson the Buddhist. "It’s all total, together, you know — art is mind, body and spirit, and they all reinforce each other and serve the creative process, I think."

Retirement has been a great boon to Johnson's literary career. He's been busier and more adventurous in his literary life than he was in his many years as a UW professor. It's the freedom of someone who knows who he is, and what he's capable of, and who finally feels free to do it. Go soak in his freedom for a while.

Northwest African-American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000,, 7 pm.

The Sunday Post for May 5, 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.

Vibrant Economies

After discovering that the independent bookstore where she worked was shorting its staff on weekend page, Sarah Malley asks about who's really bearing the cost of running a small local business.

If your local indie bookstore skirts labor laws or advocates against them, at the expense of its employees, can you still be sanctimonious for shopping there? If your local indie bookstore is thriving if its employees skip doctor’s appointments they can’t afford? If your local indie bookstore’s trade group doesn’t have resources for booksellers on paid sick leave, health insurance, or wage theft — in an industry famous for its tiny margins — is it an industry you’d recommend joining?
The Cult of "Wrongthink"

If you have a visceral cringe response to Justin Charity's analysis of "wrongthink," you're not alone. Imagine the most frustrating teenage argument you ever had — the one where your buddy or boyfriend twisted every challenge into a personal attack, interested only in scoring points — and you have a perfect picture of conservative discourse today. Nobody's a saint in the current political playing field, but can't we at least be grownups? Silly question, I guess.

The term “political correctness” unites conservatives, libertarians, and vintage liberals in defense of various comedians, rappers, and columnists; and now “wrongthink” unites conservatives and libertarians in defense of George Zimmerman and Alex Jones. “Wrongthinkers” aren’t frustrated with liberals who have somehow failed to discover them, their biases, their anxieties, and their ideas; “wrongthinkers” are frustrated with liberals who have declined to take their ideas and their style seriously in the first place.
The Raisin Situation

Not an inherently funny article, and yet there's something endlessly amusing about reading so many very serious paragraphs built around the humble raisin. The raisin industry! It's cutthroat, backstabbing, borderline illegal. Harry Overly wanted to change all that.

As he tried to make changes in the raisin industry and at his own company, Mr. Overly said he faced intimidation, harassing phone calls and multiple death threats. With his spouse in the last trimester of a pregnancy, Mr. Overly found a note shoved into a crack of his front door that warned: “you can’t run.”

Whatcha Reading, Arthur Wyatt?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Arthur Wyatt is a British-born, Seattle-based, writer and computer developer. He's written extensively for 2000 AD, home to Judge Dredd. He wrote about his experiences growing up reading, and then writing, for Dredd, a few years ago for us.

What are you reading now?

In print: Tiamats Wrath, the latest Expanse books. These books totally show their RPG campaign origins by including just about every modern SF trope imaginable, usually in a Hard SF/cyberpunk in space flavor that I like, and this one expands things out with some full on space empire nonsense that I am here for.

Also listening to The Hunger Games, because I’m working on some YA projects and you should learn from the best - plus the kiddo had it as nighttime listening so I could swipe it from her.

What did you read last?

Live Work Work Work Die - basically one guy’s findings from working in tech in hyper-capitalist San Francisco, which somehow manages to be more extreme than working in tech in hyper-capitalist Seattle.

What are you reading next?

The Founder - a different kind of tech capitalism, this time the story of the guy who went from making drive encryption software to being a tech worker to running online pharmacies to bring an international crimelord who eventually got caught setting up multiple assassinations. So good research material for something cyberpunkish, I’m sure, though hard to one up in fiction.

April 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

Over on our Instagram page, we’re posting a weekly installation from Clare Johnson’s Post-it Note Project, a long running daily project. Here’s her wrap-up and statement from December's posts.

April's Theme: Why Am I Moving Backward

Ok fine YES, the first post-it is the one and only time I’ve ever been on a zip-line and yes that is me, the single special zip-liner who got stuck in the middle. Of the longest line on the course. We all nervously joked about this far-fetched ridiculous mishap that was apparently SO UNLIKELY TO EVER HAPPEN and then at the last minute there I am inexplicably sliding backward— why am I moving backward?? — slipping at increasing speed away from the platform I’m supposed to be landing on— arms left childishly reaching for the professionals who were supposed to catch me there— but didn’t, quite. And now I’m a pendulum, swinging....should we say zipping?....backward....then forward....then backward....forward....until finally stopping in the very middle....of a stunningly vast gap. And know, hanging out. For a very long time. My. Quite. Prominent. Hips. Hanging. In. That. Harness. Full. Bruising. Bodyweight. My tiny distant sisters and father, so far away on that platform, so delighted at my not-arrival there. The guide had to rescue me EVER SO SLOWLY apparently, it’s a SERIOUSLY SLOW PROCESS. The inching along moments make you really aware of your body as bulk. I don’t feel that the guide felt this way about his own body, but I do think we all felt this way about mine. Minutes before this incident I’d been verbally bemoaning the quickness of the zip-line experience, wishing I had more time to enjoy the view. My family reminded me of this fact gleefully after witnessing my impressive feat of backward motion. All told, I think it was quite generous of me to selflessly bestow such joyful memories upon my loved ones. When I asked him why he chose the post-it for publication this month, my still-downtrodden dad paused a long time, then said simply, “It’s a good memory.” I invited him to be this month’s post-it chooser in honor of his birthday, but the second drawing is the only one specifically relating to himself. It’s of my multicolored Turkish lamps, painstakingly acquired over multiple visits to my friend’s home city, all thankfully designated mine in my ex-wife’s division of our stuff and safely arrived in Seattle, now hanging from my ceiling and FINALLY, in the realization of a DECADE-SPANNING DREAM HELD FOR PRACTICALLY THE ENTIRE TIMESPAN OF THIS POST-IT NOTE PROJECT, wired with lightbulbs I can turn on from a switch! Thanks to the kind, patient help of my dad. There’s not really anything else to say regarding the broccoli situation; we don’t need to wallow in it. In case the last image is not as obvious as the clichés that inspired it, with a little help I believe viewers can clearly see I am communicating getting back in the saddle / dipping my toe in. Don’t we all love well-intentioned dating platitudes. In the long run, time has proven I was doing neither of these things.

The Help Desk: Taking the missionary's position

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to Cienna is attending a book burning convention, and so is taking the week off. This column is a re-run from March of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

Maybe you covered this before, but, if not, I need help. My husband and I read The Poisonwood Bible, and I loved it and he hated it. Sure, you know, individual tastes and whatnot, but it’s more than that. I mean, we disagree over movies all the time and manage to keep it light. But my goodness, he hated it. To me, it read as an affirmation of life and the struggles women have faced, and so when he gets all aggro about how much it sucks and there are no good men in it, so it’s sexist, it’s kind of like he’s attacking me. So, that’s weird. How can I get over myself?

Molly on Magnolia

Dear Molly,

My apologies. I have avoided your question for weeks, much as I avoid questions like “Why do you blame your daddy issues on your mother?” and “What’s the capitol of Minnesota?” — because there is simply no easy answer. You see, I also harbor an irrational hatred of The Poisonwood Bible. Intellectually, I can appreciate Kingsolver’s mastery of having five unique female narrators and, as you pointed out, her focus on the plight of women (not just in this book but others). But yeah, I can’t stand any of her books. I think I suffered a rage blackout for the entirety of Prodigal Summer. I have brought Mrs. Kingsolver as my guest to quite a few book burnings over the years.

That said, your husband’s justification that The Poisonwood Bible sucks because it’s sexist is a hot load of horeshit. Tell your husband books can’t discriminate against fictional men. He can dislike a book for good reasons or no reason at all, but inventing nonsense reasons just makes him look like a turd. (Also, how many popular books, television shows, movies, etc. feature absolutely no relatable, wholly-developed, “good” women in them? Too many to count. If your husband can’t relate to a book simply because of the gender of its main characters, he’s the sexist one.)

But to your question: How do I get over myself? I don’t think you should have to. Your emotional response to the book is what all writers hope for from their readers. You get to treasure that feeling. Your husband didn’t respond to it that way, much as I didn’t. So now he needs to do the polite and loving thing, which is fuck right off and not ruin your afterglow.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Whitesnake

Mail Call for May 2, 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.

Portrait Gallery: Urban trails

Thursday, May 2nd: Urban Trails Seattle Reading

Did you know that Seattle has miles of uninterrupted, paved trails stretching as far north as Everett and as far south as Auburn? Craig Romano’s new book is about all the amazing walking you’re missing out on. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Land in spring with a great deal on a shiny new sponsorship!

We have a few weeks open over the next few months for a savvy sponsor to snap up. Our sponsorships can be used for so many things — but the biggest part is that you get your book, event, or message in front of the most passionate readers in the world.

There's more details on our sponsor page, but we'd love to see some new blood trying this effective and comprehensive advertising strategy, all while helping to pay for the columnists and reviewers you see here. So, if you're a new sponsor, we'll knock $25 off the listed price for you to give it a try at a reasonable rate. Sign up here (we'll knock the $25 off on the invoice).

(Pssst, existing sponsors: you're not out. We'll give it to you, too, so don't hesitate to book).

Find out why we have so many repeat sponsors by seeing what happens when you put your work in front of so many book lovers.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Notes on a Free Comic Book Day

As I told you on Monday, this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. You should visit a favorite local comic shop or two, pick up some free books, and maybe buy a few comics, too. Here are some notes on local cartoonists and comic shops for your FCBD:

The BAM exhibition is a bit of a full- circle moment. He’s gone from having a Fantagraphics poster on the wall of his childhood bedroom to displaying the same memento in the vignette titled “MEGG’S SLOW MORNING” at BAM. Megg’s bedroom is a literal mess. The carpet is peppered with various stains, clothes are strewn about and a single slice of leftover pizza sits in the box. The clutter is arresting. In the installation Megg lies in bed as “sentient meat, pounded by waves of futility, unable to move.”
  • And if you don't like the gaudier corporate-comics feel of FCBD, you should for sure check out this showcase of local cartoonists happening on Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Comics:

You can't debunk bunk

Kevin Young's Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News is, in my opinion, one of the most useful books we've discussed in the Reading Through It Book Club so far. As one of our members pointed out, it's a text we'll be returning to time and time again in our future discussions — like The Righteous Mind and Janesville and several others.

Bunk is a historical account of a very particular kind of American con — the loud and boisterous and unapologetic lie, perfected by P.T. Barnum and perpetuated through the years by plagiarists and confidence men and fabulists. What's more, Young ties that lineage of liars and cheats in with America's long history of racism. Our American exceptionalism at hoaxes, it turns out, is a byproduct of America's original sin.

One of the best observations at last night's book club was the recognition that a simple lie isn't enough to make something a hoax. It's not enough to spread falsehoods to make a true hoax: you have to generate a mistrust in the truth, too. By creating an atmosphere in which everything could be false, the most confident liar gets to dictate the reality. It worked for Barnum, and it has worked thus far for Donald Trump.

Young is a great writer — one of the best we've read at Reading Through It. He's funny, his observations are always sharp, and the research he has done for Bunk is truly impressive. (It probably helps that Young is a brilliant poet, too; there's an art to Bunk that no 'mere' historian could summon.

It's become kind of a cliche to complain that sociological book does not provide solutions, but our book club still found ourselves wishing for a second volume by Young titled Debunk — one which provided step-by-step instructions for pulling apart hoaxes. But to employ another cliche, you can't unring the bell of a hoax: once it's out there, it's unstoppable.

The best way to stop a hoax is to kill it before it becomes a hoax, to smother it in truth when it's still just an over-ambitious lie. Occasionally, we'll hear about a hoax collapsing before it even begins — Jacob Wohl, the moronic conservative fabulist, has had several schemes dissolve in daylight, including one poorly attempted hoax this week — but in general, you don't hear about all the tricks that fail to gain purchase.

The fact is, we desperately need to improve our systems of truth-telling and lie-smashing so that they can catch up to the speed of the internet. As Trump has proven, a lie can fly from Twitter to global headlines in a matter of minutes. It's on all of us to be better consumers of media, to learn how to defuse a lie before it explodes in a flurry of shrapnel. In the internet, we have created an unparalleled system of global communication. Now, some thirty years later, we mustprove ourselves worthy of it.

Henry James, Jonathan Safran Foer adaptations coming to Book-It Theatre

Book-It Theatre has announced their 2019-2020 season of book-to-play adaptations. In chronological order starting with fall of this year, the theater company will be staging:

  • EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones
  • THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James
  • THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE by David Wroblewski

You can buy tickets now.

You're a book collector and you probably don't even know it

Rebecca Romney is a principal of Honey & Wax Booksellers, an antiquarian bookstore in Brooklyn. Three years ago, the store founded the Honey & Wax Prize, which Romney, over the phone, explains is "an annual award for an outstanding book collection that was formed by a woman in the United States, age 30 or younger." The deadline for this year's Honey & Wax Prize is June 1st.

Romney explains that prizes for book collections have been given in the United States since at least the 1920s, but that those prizes have more often than not been by and for collections "associated with a university or some other institution." With Honey & Wax, Romney explains, "we were looking to create something that had slightly different parameters" in order to "reach outside of the more traditional methods that people were using."

Romney and Honey & Wax Booksellers founder Heather O'Donnell decided to create an award for collections curated by young women to address the "dismay" in book collecting circles that younger people might not be interested in reading and history and collections. "We felt very strongly that there was interest—it just haven't been gauged by a lot of the rare book trade."

Younger collectors, Romney says, often feel "intimidated" by the antiquarian book trade; they believe that their own collections lack the value of those put together by older or more experienced collectors. And some book collectors, she says, don't even realize that they are book collectors.

"A lot of the women that we sold to were less likely to identify as collectors," Romney says. "We'd be talking with someone about their book collection and we'd say, 'oh, that's such an interesting collection.' And they would say, 'oh no, no, I'm not a collector — I just buy the things I like.'"

A bunch of things you like, Romney points out, is a collection. She and O'Donnell started the Honey & Wax Prize because "we want you to own your identity as a book collector."

The traditional book collecting trade in America is made up of a population that is older than the general population, and pretty overwhelmingly male — or at least the men are louder. There's a kind of ugly machismo in certain book collecting circles — a prickly obsessiveness, a gatekeeping aggression — that turns off younger collectors, and collectors who may not share the same interests as the alpha males in the field.

But Romney quickly found that there's a robust and diverse collecting community in this country. "In our first year doing the prize, we got in contact with a few people who had run book collecting prizes. They told us to expect six to 12 applications of varying degrees of quality."

But that first year, Romney says, "I think we got something like 49 [applications] — way, way more than we expected, from over 20 states."

Those submissions each told a story: "this is my library and I'm really proud of it." Romney says the huge response "gave us a lot of hope. " They were so pleased with the response, in fact, that rather than just one one thousand dollar prize, Honey & Wax gave awards to "six honorable mentions who, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, we were able to give $200 each."

That first Honey & Wax Prizewinner "collected romance novels of the 1920s and 30s." Romney calls this "exactly the type of topic that the people who we might consider traditional collectors would roll their eyes at and say 'who's interested in romance novels?'"

But that collection had a lot to say. Romney says the owner approached the books by "looking at their place in history: what does it say about the career woman narrative in the 1920s? Or what is it saying about women's suffrage, or Prohibition?"

Another collection submitted to the Honey & Wax Prize was dedicated to the Geisha community in Kyoto. But not every one is tied to the distant past. Romney cites another woman who collected public health and safety pamphlets that were distributed in New York City after 9/11.

"If you're going off the beaten path" with your collection, Romney says, "you're probably not going to have as much competition. It doesn't have to be expensive, and you might be creating something of real historical value. Those overlooked things — that's exactly what universities want in order to get that documentation for scholars to study."

Romney urges any book-loving young woman who is eligible for the prize to consider their books in a new light. "Essentially, a lot of us don't even realize we're collecting," she says. "Go and look at your shelves and look for any themes, and you might actually realize, 'I've had an obsession about travel books specifically to Yosemite.'"

"I've had that happen to me too," Romney says. "Suddenly, I look at my shelf and I realize, 'oh, I guess I'm collecting feminist science fiction now.'"

There's a pleasure in learning that you're a collector. "Once you consciously make that shift in your mind, that's going to bring up all sorts of other opportunities. It's just a question of seeing it so that you can take conscious satisfaction in something you clearly already loved doing."

The troll invasion

Comics editor and publisher Michael Davis has been the target of harassment for decades now. And yesterday the harassers upped their attack of Davis — one of the smartest people in comics — with a truly horrifying act. Someone broke into Davis's Facebook page, impersonated Davis's family, and announced that Davis had committed suicide. Davis eventually had to go to the press to prove that he was still alive.

What an evil, ugly act against a fundamentally decent man.

Always low expectations. Always.

Published April 30, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Hugo Meunier’s Walmart: Diary of an Associate .

A comfortable journalist went undercover as a Walmart employee for three months. If you ever worked retail, what he discovers will not shock you.

Read this review now


Ditto, ditto, there, you said it: an absolute wishbone is nobody’s utopia. Obscure, you mirror minnows’ shattered moon. You contain clean veils of milk, a snow or talc as whistle as scissor. Even a faded parachute, lunar and classic, shivers a scintillating shock of chance. But flash back, weary slake, to wavelengths whose celibate pillars skimmed salt’s teacup. That’s where you first reflected nothing. Turnip goose, a beekeeper ghosts your sail, hemming your alpine lace in rays of ridges while a lucid thermometer fireworks in error. After, whispers of gesso fog until you railroad your thaw oracle. Neither port nor pang, yet respiratory in your tentative blizzard of telephone and revolver, you disappear, a faceless keyhole for night-blooming shuttle suds. Unless you reflect, you’ll never lattice, so bludgeon wonder or orbit your meta-ozone to catchlight. Make something of yourself. Make an effort.

We're donating this week's sponsorship to Books To Prisoners

Books To Prisoners has been around since 1973 — that's a heck of a track record that was almost derailed by the Washington State Department of Corrections. If you're wondering where we stand on the delivery of donated used books to prisoners, you can read our interview with Books to Prisoners board member Michelle Dillon. Or you can join us in stating the obvious: it's a good thing when people have access to books. It's a good thing when used books are useful.

The book ban has been rescinded, but we're not on stable ground yet. So this week, the Seattle Review of Books is donating the sponsorship slot to Books To Prisoners. Seattle is an amazing community of readers and writers. This is our way of standing up for those in our community who are hurt by the book ban — and giving our own readers the chance to do the same.

Take a look at our sponsor feature page for more on Books To Prisoners. Follow them on Twitter, sign their petition, or send the cost of a book their way.

We're proud that our sponsorship program is a platform for so many independent publishers, writers, retreats, and events. Our sponsorships are a voice that can be used as you need it to. We're so proud to offer it up as a platform for organizations like Books To Prisoners when they need it. To find out more about our sponsorship program, visit us here or send us a note. We'd love to hear from you!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 29th - May 5th

Monday, April 29: Women Talking Reading

The premise of the latest novel by superstar novelist Miriam Toews (which rhymes with "waves," by the way) sounds like a gut-punch: eight devout Mennonite women who believe they have been repeatedly sexually assaulted in the night by demons realize that instead they have been drugged and raped by their neighbors. They vow revenge. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 30th: Green Architecture Discusssion

Palestinian engineer and CEO Majd Mashhawari discusses her recycled building-materials startup with Seattle architect Rania Qawasma, who is the "founder of Architecture for Refugees USA and a board member of Architects Without Borders. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, May 1st: Birds of the West Reading

Molly Hashimoto's new book "captures nearly 100 Western species [of birds] using different media, from quick sketches with pen and ink to more carefully planned and vivid block prints." It's a book that will delight birders and inspire artists to look a little more closely at how wonderfully weird birds are. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Thursday, May 2nd: Urban Trails Seattle Reading

Did you know that Seattle has miles of uninterrupted, paved trails stretching as far north as Everett and as far south as Auburn? Craig Romano's new book is about all the amazing walking you're missing out on. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 3rd: Commune Magazine Reading

Editors Shyam Khanna, Jasper Bernes, and Chloe Watlington debut the second issue a new magazine that is all about the idea of revolution to overturn capitalism. Commune addresses popular culture and Marxism and everything the kids are into these days. Check it out. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, May 4h: Free Comic Book Day

See our Event of the Week column for more details

Sunday, May 5th: Crypticon

This is the final day of this year's installment of the popular horror convention. More than 5,000 fans of ghastly books, movies, TV shows, and other media will be wandering around scaring each other and being scared. Publishers including Lycan Valley Press and When the Dead Books will be selling their wares all weekend long. SeaTac DoubleTree, 18740 International Blvd, 246-8600,, 11 am, $20.

Event of the Week: Free Comic Book Day

Look, you probably know the drill by now. Free Comic Book Day has become an institution: participating comics shops give away a ton of free comics to literally anyone who drops by, in an effort to draw in new audiences.

The fact is, Seattle is hugely lucky when it comes to comic shops. We've lost a few great ones — rest in peace, Zanadu Comics downtown and The Comics Stop U District — but most Seattle neighborhoods still have a shop somewhere in their immediate vicinity, and that's not common in many American cities anymore.

Why should you visit a comics shop? The odds are good that you already have some favorite graphic novels, so you're familiar with the form. But for me, serialized comics provides a thrill that no other fictional narrative storytelling medium can match. Nobody serializes prose fiction anymore, and serial television and podcasts just don't scratch the same itch. In a world that offers instant gratification in the form of binge-watching and instant downloads, it's nice to have to wait for a month between installments of a story, to read a story as its being created in real time.

And it should be noted that kids love comics — particularly monthly comics, which have a nice transient sense to them. I fell in love with comics because they were so fragile — they didn't have the off-putting air of old, leather-bound books, and you didn't have to be as careful with them. If you ruined a book by accidentally setting it in a puddle of water on a bench in the park, your parents would likely be mad at you. But if you ruined a comic in the same scenario, you'd only be out a handful of pocket change. The disposable nature of the medium, in a weird way, elevates the form.

It's not likely that the stapled, monthly paper comic is going to live forever. The format has too many ties to the old models of publishing, and it requires mass-media numbers to survive, in an age where only niche groups are interested in buying comics. But for now, we have an amazing network of comics shops in this city that are eager to give you a number of comics for free. Why wouldn't you want to take them up on their offer?

The Sunday Post for April 28, 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.

This Was Supposed to Be a Story About a Bizarre Anti-Vaccine Rally and a Sedated Bear. Then It Got Weird.

Anna Merlan's coverage of one woman's (not hers) fake news breakdown is pure joy. Merlan's tone is dead-on — deadpan and delighted. The story is nutballs. And at the heart of it all, a nonexistent bear who is not named Ron.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I was working on a quick, weird story about an anti-vaccine activist in Florida who was attempting to hold a rally in her hometown featuring a drugged bear. As it turns out, that’s not the story at all. Here, instead, is a story about someone who worked extremely hard to generate a news cycle involving a rally that they clearly have no intention of ever holding and a real activist who had no idea her name was being used. The bear also seems to be fake, and — despite my initial, hopeful understanding of the situation — is not named Ron.
‘Partly Alive’: Scientists Revive Cells in Brains From Dead Pigs

We don't often go straight scientific discovery on this list, but holy cats! The ability to restore even minimal function to a dead (pig) brain has, well, ramifications, both exhilarating and horrifying. Science is a thousand times more startling than anything fiction can offer.

“We had clear lines between ‘this is alive’ and ‘this is dead,’” said Nita A. Farahany, a bioethicist and law professor at Duke University. “How do we now think about this middle category of ‘partly alive’? We didn’t think it could exist.”
The Moral Order of Panera

One day the executive chairman of Panera Bread woke up and thought: "I could solve food insecurity!" And thus, Panera Cares: a few links in the fast food chain with a pay-what-you-can menu, placed in mixed-income neighborhoods where, presumably, economic boundaries would dissolve and everyone would eat together in dignity and harmony.

It worked just as well as you might suppose. Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein details what happened, and asks an apt but sobering question about our continued faith that entrepreneurial America will save the rest of us.

Is the market a place where we go to solve major social problems? Or is it a place to go while on break from our seasonal job at Target to spend an hour’s pay on a big, floppy sandwich?
The Curious Tale of the Salish Sea Feet

Just one more this week — Kea Krause on the forlorn feet that continue to float to the shore of the Salish Sea, still knotted inside flotation-friendly sneakers, and a "new" way to think about ecology.

Believing we know everything there is to know can cause blind spots in Western science. It may be difficult, for example, when you live in downtown Seattle and work for a tech company, to appreciate that gentle supervision of the land around us is essential to survival. “Because we don’t rely on the land, we are slow to react to what we see as threats,” Nancy Turner, a professor of ethnoecology at the University of Victoria explained about the disconnect between the science of climate change and the governance of our society. But this cognitive dissonance is a construct of colonial thinking and relatively new to a region that’s been inhabited by the Coast Salish people for thousands of years.

Whatcha Reading, Jasmine Silvera?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jasmine Silvera is the author of the Grace Bloods romantic urban fantasy series. The pen name of Rashida J. Smith, who is on the Clarion West board of directors and is a member of the Romance Writers of America, Silvera will be teaching a class tomorrow, Sunday the 28th, through Clarion West on Romantic Elements in Specultive Fiction. Grab a spot last-minute if you can!

What are you reading now?

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s proving to be the rare sequel that might be better than the original (no small feat!)

What did you read last?

I preordered the first novel in the Sixth World series, Trail of Lightning, based on the blurb and the incredible cover last year. By the middle of the second page, I had fallen in love with the world building and the narrator: pragmatic, damaged, powerful Maggie Hoskie. When I’d heard the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, I put it aside to eagerly await the sequel (I’m terrible with unresolved conflicts) Rebecca happened to be participating in a the quarterly SFWA reading series in Kirkland to celebrate the launch of Storm of Locusts last week, so I got to hear her read Maggie in her own voice. I (finally) finished Trail of Lightning Thursday night. Even having read almost twenty books between starting and finishing it during an eight month delay, I fell back into the story instantly.

What are you reading next?

I’ve never been a huge fan of romances about royals, but every entry in Alyssa Coles' Reluctant Royals series has been a delightful surprise. A Prince on Paper comes out on 4/30 and is at the top of my list.

The Help Desk: "Come into my parlor," said the writer to her friend

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

My best friend is a terrible writer. She gave me a draft of her first novel and it’s just unreadable. I can only get a few pages in before I have to make a stiff drink or play a game on my phone or go to sleep. I’ll never finish reading the book. What kind of honesty do I owe her? She doesn’t think she’s the next Margaret Atwood or anything like that, but I suspect she thinks she’s pretty good for an amateur. (She isn’t.)


Dear Anne,

This is why all my best friends are spiders. A faceful of eyes and a groper's paradise of arms, yet they're very lazy writers and readers – they almost universally prefer watching time lapse videos of animals decomposing to books. In fact, it's one of the few things my best friends and my daughter have in common (that and a pact to eat me face first if I die in my sleep).

My point is, your friend should know better than to make you read her manuscript. It would be like inviting you to come watch her practice her tuba for a few hours instead of inviting you to a concert like a decent human being. The only people who are obliged to read writers' manuscripts are other writers. That's what writing groups are for – they are the literary equivalent of a group of spiders watching time lapse videos of animals decomposing. As a crowd they seem to enjoy it, even if it is macabre time waster.

So what do you tell your friend? It depends on how polite you feel like being. I would start with, "It's impressive that you wrote so many words" and maybe end with "but I don't want to read them because they suck."

But again, my best friends are spiders. You could try "... but I don't think I'm your best audience, have you thought about joining a writing group?"

If she really presses you for an opinion, again, be honest: "This is a rough draft, so it's rough. I'll be happy to give it another try once it's published."



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: One of the living

The Portrait Gallery: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

It's Seattle Independent Bookstore Day this Saturday! It's a great celebration, and perfect time to drop by one or five of your favorite local stores. Or, be a hero and do the full 26 store passport stamp, if you're feeling ambitious. Find out more on our Literary Event of the Week column.

Criminal Fiction: Revisiting hometown

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

The gothic-noir force is strong in Greg Iles’ Cemetery Road (William Morrow). Marshall McEwan, recently returned son of Bienville-on-the-Mississippi, has been home just five months after absconding from a high-profile, D.C.-based journalism role, coming home in order to be closer to his ailing father, the publisher of Bienville’s newspaper The Watchman. McEwan has reconnected, adulterously, with his childhood sweetheart, and holds the confidence of the local bookstore owner – a recent hometown-returnee herself – when murder most foul rears its ugly head. Faster than you can say, well, anything, Marshall finds himself tangled in an intricate web of small-town corruption, grafting, Machiavellian manipulation, and familial discord, led by the ultra-shady Bienville Poker Club under whose auspices elitism, racism, sadism, and sexism run rampant. As the dizzying puzzle slowly unravels into its multiple resolutions, the violence tends towards the graphic. But there are also moments of truly serene beauty in the history-rich setting, the unforgiving land-and-waterscape setting, and a bookstore any stockist – and reader – would be proud of.

More gothic elements abound in Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers (Minotaur), at the center of which sits a former Victorian mental asylum, now gaudily transformed into luxury flats. Marianne’s husband surprises her with one of these flats – a second home outside their London base – offering her more time with her ailing mother. Marianne grew up near the asylum when it was known as Nazareth Hospital: her family’s fortunes – everyone in that town’s fortunes, actually – have always been tied to the hospital, which was once the area’s biggest employer. Kelly, a member of the canny Killer Women collective and a practiced hand at inducing pleasurably creepy reading experiences, has been writing terrific psychological thrillers since 2010’s The Poison Tree: in her capable hands, what begins here as an alarm-bell-ringing deception of a husband by his wife evolves into an unabashedly dark tale that throws into sharp relief some of our most critical contemporary issues as well as those of the all-too-recent past.

Chloe or Nicky – which one is The Better Sister in Alafair Burke’s latest head-spinning mystery? Chloe is the OCD-driven, ambitious and highly successful sibling: she’s even nabbed Nicky’s ex-husband, Adam, for herself, along with Nicky and Adam’s son, Ethan. But when Adam is brutally murdered at his and Chloe’s East Hampton home and Ethan is nabbed as the prime suspect, the stage is set for a potential family confrontation that may or may not overwhelm the unavoidable murder trial. Taut-domestic-and-courtroom-thriller aspects aside, Burke is, as always, terrific on the salient cultural details that bring her characters to vibrant life, from social media threads and spot-on Sex and the City references, to Etsy and Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour Rule. All this – plus another appearance from tenacious criminal defense lawyer Olivia Randell – adds up to one hell of a rip-roaring read. (Harper)

Murder hits close to home in Sophie Hénaff’s Stick Together (MacLehose, translated by Sam Gordon). Someone is whacking older gentlemen in Paris and Lyon, and one of the victims turns out to be Commissaire Anne Capestan’s ex-father-in-law. As she and her motley crew of semi-disgraced police detectives do their best to investigate on a restricted budget – in one of the funniest scenes, her colleague uses World of Warcraft avatar software to create an e-fit of a suspect – Capestan has to navigate not just annoying, impediment-producing police bureaucracy but an already tenuous relationship with her former husband. This killing spree is no laughing matter – the murderer is both clever and sadistic – but Hénaff injects delightful shimmers of humor into her novel, imbuing her characters’ lives with a cornucopia of entertaining and tantalizing details, and making the novel’s denouement all the more satisfying.

In Philip Kerr’s posthumous Metropolis (Putnam), during a stiflingly hot summer in Berlin – 1928, to be exact – the Weimar Republic is in full swing as are the city’s sex clubs, bars, and notorious street life. Bernie Gunther, promoted from Vice to the Murder Commission on his way to becoming a full-fledged detective, pursues a series of murder-scalpings of city prostitutes, but something worse is coming: bigotry, racism, and Fascism are on the rise, permeating every element of daily life.

Still reeling, along with most of his fellow countrymen, from his time in the WWI trenches, Gunther drowns his sorrows in alcohol and the occasional dalliance, gets sketched by artists George Grosz and Otto Dix, lends an ear to Lotte Lenya in rehearsals for The Threepenny Opera, and is schooled nicely in the human condition by theater critic Alfred Kerr. In this, Gunther’s origin story – jam-packed with echoes of contemporary alarm bells – he also ventures into the emerging area of undercover work, and beholds some of the more squirm-inducing cabaret activities, the legacy of which is confirmed in Kerr’s Author’s Note: “The Cabaret of the Nameless…reminds me of Pop Idol and anything with Simon Cowell….”

The Quintessential Interview: Hanna Jameson

What do you do when the world as you know it has ended in puffs of nuclear bombs, and you’re stuck in a remote hotel where a murder has been committed? This is just one of academic Jon Keller’s multiple dilemmas in Hannah Jameson’s The Last (Atria), when he finds himself trapped in Switzerland. Having travelled for a historians’ conference, he suddenly finds himself separated from family and friends, and having to create a new way of living with complete strangers. Elements of Lord of the Flies mingle with post-apocalyptic angst, especially when the hotel survivors discover that they are not alone. Jameson, who also writes the London Underground mysteries, lives in London.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Things and emotions that scare me. Anything David Lynch makes, says, writes, or does. Fear of being broke. Reading history. The idea that the only meaning we have in this life is in the good that we do with whatever superpowers we arrived with, and my superpowers happened to be writing and having awesome hair so I’m gonna carry on doing that.

Top five places to write?

I only have two; my local coffee shop (I always adopt one perfect coffee shop in whichever city I’m living in), or in my bed. There really is no in-between. However, if I was a lot richer I’d do a lot more writing in hotels, lakeside cabins in Maine, and ranches in the Midwest and South. I’ll flesh-out my top five then.

Top five favorite authors?

It varies so much and probably day to day. But right now, off the cuff, I’d say Toni Morrison (who is our greatest living novelist, no competition), Madeline Miller, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, JG Ballard.

Top five tunes to write to?

It’s totally dependent on the project, because each project comes with its own soundtrack and emotional soundscape. Recently it’s been ‘In My Remains’ by Linkin Park, ‘Blood Like Lemonade’ by Morcheeba, ‘Run Boy Run’ by Woodkid, ‘Silk’ by Wolf Alice, and ‘Dona Nobis Pacem 2’ by Max Richter, though I could easily have put Richter’s whole soundtrack for The Leftovers.

Top five hometown spots?

I have a very fluid idea of what my hometown is. Winchester was my home until I was 21 yet I lived in Brighton for almost six years in my early 20s and went through most of the brutal, painful business of growing-up there. I lived in Edinburgh for five months and wrote my most successful book there, finding myself, in a way. London was where I learned the new craft and discipline required to be a screenwriter for a year. They all matter.

That being said, my top five of these places are:

  1. Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.
  2. The Mark Rothko room at Tate Modern, London: I can sit or stand there for hours in the dark looking at those huge canvases. Great place to have a cry and feel things.
  3. Redwood Cafe, Brighton. A cafe that is sadly no longer with us, but I wrote two books there and did a lot of other stuff too.
  4. The Christmas Market at Winchester Cathedral.
  5. By the sea, Brighton.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Superman done right

Some three years ago on this website, I wrote about why Superman is a difficult character to write, and why most writers get Superman wrong. The thesis statement is here:

When you’re writing a Superman story, you’re not trying to find his toughest opponent, or his most difficult physical challenge. None of that stuff—super-speed, laser beams—matters at all. Instead, you’re trying to challenge the idea of morality.

If you'd ask me to name one modern writer who understands that Superman comics need to be an examination of goodness and morality, I'd name Grant Morrison, whose All-Star Superman is one of the first Superman books I'd give to someone who wanted to understand the character.

So far as I can tell, only one other writer in the 21st century has come close to Morrison in terms of understanding why Superman is a compelling character. That writer is Brian Michael Bendis, and he's currently writing the character in both the Superman title and in Action Comics, the title where Superman first debuted over eighty years ago.

The first collected edition of Bendis's run on Superman, The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth, came out back in late February. It immediately demonstrated that Bendis intuitively understands the character of Superman: he's kind, and he's compassionate, and while he doesn't always know what's the best thing to do, he certainly tries to do the right thing every time.

The structure of Phantom Earth is a little bit wonky. The plot involves Earth suddenly transporting to Krypton's intergalactic prison, The Phantom Zone, and it ties in with Bendis's ongoing story involving Rogol Zaar, an intergalactic eeeeevil bad guy who may have wiped out Krypton. (Rogol Zaar is Bendis's biggest misstep in the Superman comics thus far; he's a monster through and through and he's very strong. In other words, he's exactly what a Superman foe should not be.) What seems like a major plot revelation is tossed off toward the end of the book in a jokey fashion that smashes the world-threatening stakes established in the opening chapters. The book is trying a little too hard to impress reader, leaving a sense that it's overpromising and under-delivering.

But it's worth reading Phantom Earth just for the characterization of Superman. He appeals to a super-villain's better nature when she tries to commit a petty crime in the middle of an intergalactic threat. ("Why don't you try helping?!") He never gives up. He worries about setting a good example.

Thankfully, Bendis's Action Comics is at once a great character showcase and a fun Superman story. This is pretty much everything you'd want out of a Superman comic: daily goings-on at the Daily Planet, a mix of villains to fight, a glimpse into what life is like in Metropolis on a daily basis, and an ongoing soap opera.

But most of all, you get a lot of Bendis's Superman. This is a superhero who takes the time to hug and comfort the people he's just saved. He tells them that there's no shame in looking up a trauma counselor. He encourages them to go to the hospital and make sure everything's okay. He makes people want to be better.