Book News Roundup: You can't spell "free" without "fee"

  • Here's a Seattle Public Library FAQ about the new no-late-fees policy that's going into effect in 2020.

    We no longer charge late fines as of Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. On that date, we will also clear any late fines you currently owe from your account. You may still owe other Library fees, including lost-item charges.

  • Nicole Brodeur at the Seattle Times Broke the news that the newsstand at First and Pike in the Pike Place Market is going out of business on the last day of the year.

  • As we conclude this year of atrocious news alerts and awful headlines, it's great that "they" has been selected as the word of the year for 2019. It's useful, it's inclusive, and it's powerful. Use "they" whenever you can, please.

The gift that keeps on giving

Published December 17, 2019`, at 12pm

Paul Constant reviews HistoryLink Staff's Seattle at 150: Stories of the City Through 150 Objects from the Seattle Municipal Archives, David Workman, Leonard Forsman, Mindy Roberts, and Brian Cantwell's We Are Puget Sound: Discovering & Rediscovering the Salish Sea, and Jim Kershner, the staff of HistoryLink's Transit: The Story of Public Transportation in the Puget Sound Region.

Here are three big beautiful art books to give to the Seattleite who's been extra-good this year.

Read this review now



After Columbine, the administrators decided
we should drill but not frighten the children, not
lock down but announce: Teachers get your red folders.
We joked we’d riffle our desks for folders, forget
to switch off lights or lock the doors. We unrolled
butcher paper over windows, practiced crawl and cover.
Even in the dark, live shooter wasn’t possible.

Red folder is a slim memory, twenty years later,
ice storms of shots and so many birds snapped from the sky.
When I was in New England I saw my first bright cardinal
on the grounds of a fancy school and I thought how that flash
was a Christmas card from my youth, red gash of bird
on a snow-covered branch and oh, the berries,
little gestures of goodwill, drawn in crayon.

Change the life of a bookseller in need

One in five booksellers has an emergency financial need, and when they do, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation is there to help. That's why, this week, we've donated our sponsorship to help raise awareness, and support them.

Right now, through December 31st, Penguin Random House is matching donations up to $15,000, so your dollars will go twice as far as they normally would.

Please consider helping out bookstore employees, who often operate without a safety net. Having resources available in times of need can make a huge difference in the life of someone you interact with on a regular basis in our community.

If you think your message would benefit from being in front of our readers, check out available dates on our sponsor page, and make sure you grab one before they’re all gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 16th - December 22nd

Monday, December 16th: "A Christmas Memory" Reading

Beloved University Book Store bookseller Brad Craft celebrates a favorite Seattle literary scene holiday tradition with his annual reading of the classic Truman Capote story. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, December 17th: Journey to Publication

Local authors Evan Roxanna Ramzipoor, Noelle Salazar, and Kira Jane Buxton discuss what it was like to bring their books through the process of publication.

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

Wednesday, December 18th: Gears of War Reading

Joshua Ortega, the local author of Gears of War comics, reads from his latest book, which centers on a military tour of duty in "the harsh reality of battle, loss, and the waning hope of victory." University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 5 pm, free.

Thursday, December 19th: Native Womxn Writers Celebration

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

Friday, December 20th: Once Upon a Time in Space: A Play for Kids!

Woodinville Montessori School students present a play in Third Place Commons that takes the audience through fairy tales and outer space. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 11 am, free.

Saturday, December 21st:

Elliott Bay's booksellers present readings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and more beloved children's holiday books. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 11 am, free.

Sunday, December 22nd: Sunday Morning Wordplay

With the literary calendar dying down for the year, maybe you need a word fix. This event features logocentric games including Prolix, Wordsters, and Fictionary. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 11 am, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Native Womxn Writers Celebration

It's important to remember that Seattle literary history didn't begin with Richard Hugo, or the journals of the founders of Seattle. For hundreds of years, the stories here were indigenous stories of the land and the people and the weather of the Northwest. These stories are the foundation on which everything else is built — all the stories we tell on this land today.

But Native stories aren't just stories of the past. They're still unfolding. And in fact our Native writers are leading the way with some of the most vibrant, curious, introspective, and powerful poetry and prose and fiction being produced in the Northwest today.

This Thursday at 7 pm, Hugo House is hosting the Northwest Native Writers Circle for a showcase of Northwest Native womxn writers. Expect readings and onstage interviews and conversations about what it means to be a Native writer today.

Readers include Laura Da’, Rena Priest, Storme Webber, Arianne True, Sara Marie Ortiz, and Sondra Simone Segundo. They represent the Eastern Shawnee, Acoma Pueblo, Lummi, Haida, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Alutiiq peoples, among others. They are spoken word performers, poets, travel writers, editors, and musicians. They don't have one monolithic narrative to share; they each have their own stories. When put together like this, side-by-side and interwoven, they are unstoppable.

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

The Sunday Post for December 15, 2019

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

The commercialization of the commercialization of Christmas

It’s the time of year again to listen to the same seven Christmas songs recorded in the 1950s, make the same cookie recipe, and rewatch A Christmas Story. Hallmark knows this and is on deck to provide what we’re jonesing for, churning out nostalgia-filled Christmas movies following time-worn formulas. Emily Todd VanDerWerff reports from the epicenter: ChristmasCon, a Hallmark-sponsored Christmas movie convention.

But we’ve recently entered a very unusual era for Christmas as a nostalgia-driven holiday, because the period so many adults, from baby boomers down to millennials, are nostalgic for was a period of overt, capitalist excess and mass-market Christmas entertainment. Christmas past is no longer a time before industrialism or a time before World War II.

It’s a time when everybody was watching the same thing on TV. So when Hallmark Christmas movies explicitly romanticize Christmas past, they’re romanticizing an era of popular entertainment that didn’t question for a second that the leads of a romantic comedy would be white, straight, and cis. They’re romanticizing an era when Charlie Brown was already complaining that Christmas had gotten too commercial.

What a bestseller really tells us about a book’s popularity

This is for those who’ve always wondered what it actually means for a book to be on the New York Times bestseller list. I was surprised to learn that not all purchases made in bookstores necessarily count toward inclusion in the list because not all bookstores report their sales to the newspaper. (Spoiler alert: the publishers NPR talked to for this piece said Donald Trump Jr.’s book still probably would have made it on the list without the Republican National Committee’s bulk order, though it certainly helped.)

Nobody quite knows what goes into making a New York Times bestseller. The paper doesn't reveal its methodology, other than to say in part that it's based on a "detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers." So I asked the people who are in the best position to make educated guesses about a book's sales, and who watch the lists closely: publishers.
How the internet killed feminism

Soraya Roberts examines the rise and fall of feminist blogs in this piece, from the birth of big ones like Feministe and Shakesville at the start of the millenium, to the decline of the category in the current decade. The main crux of this well-researched history of the feminist blogosphere is the division and tensions between white feminist blogs and intersectional blogs — the topics they chose to focus on, their monetization strategies, and the disproportionate media attention and credit white bloggers received.

While a group of mostly white, mostly New York-based feminist bloggers were making their names in the aughts, it was the radical selfless activists on the margins of the blogosphere who erected the scaffolding for the feminist internet as we now know it today. As Brittney Cooper, co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective, told me, “The wokeness that we see in this generation is indeed a direct result of all of this labor.”
Little Women was always big

We still have two weeks left to reread Little Women before Greta Gerwig’s version makes its way to theaters. Full disclosure: I can’t be sure if I read it as a child or if it was one of those works that reached me through cultural osmosis — characters in children’s books are constantly reading it, Bart and Lisa read it on The Simpsons, and Joey (of all people) reads it on Friends and has to put it in the freezer when it gets too scary. I remember the book being quite thin in my hands, which makes me think it was an abridged copy. This makes sense when you look at it as America’s first huge franchise for children and young adults, with sequels, spin-offs, and many movie versions. Hillary Kelly’s timeline in Vulture gives a primer on its history as a “super-franchise,” starting from the inception:

Louisa May Alcott, who grew up in Massachusetts in a family of abolitionists and was taught by Henry David Thoreau, had been writing saucy fiction under a pen name (stories like “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment”) when her publisher suggested she write a book about girls. Her first thought? “Never liked girls nor knew many, except my sisters.” So she based her book on them (she was Jo).

Whatcha Reading, ACT Theatre's production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

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.

It's a special holiday treat! ACT Theatre has been putting up their production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for 44 years. A classic Seattle theater-going experience, each year the cast and team find something new, something unique, and something contemporary to blend in to the holiday classic. This week, we're thrilled to have director Kelly Kitchens, and the two alternating Scrooges, Peter Crook, and David Pichette joining us to talk about what they're reading. Thanks to them for taking time out of their busy schedule to participate — and you have time to see the play, yet! It'll be on stage through Sunday, December 28th — more information here. If you haven't experienced it yet, you're in for a treat. Don't miss it.

Kelly Kitchens is the director of A Christmas Carol. She's a professional director, actor, adaptor, and teaching artist based in Seattle.

What are you reading now?

Milkman, by Anna Burns

What did you read last?

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

What are you reading next?

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

Peter Crook plays Scrooge. A Juilliard trained actor, who spent time in New York and Los Angeles doing film and television, he moved to Seattle in 1989, and has been in countless productions since, including a few turns as the old humbug.

What are you reading now?

Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions Volume 1 , by Frank Harris

What did you read last?

Worm at the Core, by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszczynski

What are you reading next?

Quichotte, by Salman Rushdi

David Pichette also plays Scrooge. A veteren Seattle actor, he's been working in this town over thirty-five years, Pichette's production list is impressive and daunting.

What are you reading now?

Reign Of Elizabeth I by James Anthony Froude, Chateaubriand's Memoirs, and re-reading the Earl of Clarendon's History Of The Great Rebellion.

What did you read last?

The New Negro: The Life Of Alain Locke, by Jeffrey Stewart, and Soul, by Andrey Platonov.

What are you reading next?

Defender Of Peace, by Marsilius of Padua.

The Help Desk: Volume control

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,

At some point, my bookshelves crossed a rubicon. Five years ago, my bookshelves were made up of two-thirds books I'd already read and wanted to keep, and one-third books I wanted to read someday.

Then, gradually, the percentage split between books I treasured and books I aspired to read broke along an even 50/50.

But now, something like 4/5th of my bookshelves are made up of books that I've tricked myself into thinking I'd read one day, even though I'm probably never going to read them. (Sorry, Gertrude Stein, but it's probably never going to happen between us.)

It's important for anyone to have a few to-be-read books hanging around their home. But at what point does this get unhealthy? I think if you were to total up the amount of time it would take me to read all these aspirational books on my shelves, that number would far surpass the amount of hours I've statistically got left in my life. I literally have more books than I could ever read. How do I get this savage garden under control?

Edward, Capitol Hill

Dear Edward,

There are two questions I ask myself whenever I consider getting rid of something:

1) Does its presence create a psychological burden I am unable or unwilling to carry? 2) In the event of a house fire, would I mourn its loss?

These two questions have succinctly ended two relationships and enriched countless second-hand stores. (When you envision a significant other trapped in a house fire and chuckle, it's time to Marie Kondo them.)

Here is a third question that might be relevant to you: can I still tell what color my carpet is?

I have a relative who is a hoarder – a real hoarder, not someone who uses the term to blithely describe their exuberant spending. The kind of person with mental health issues who is eventually forced to use a window as the door to their house. This relative actually had a small fire break out at home. The fire was quickly contained, but once the fire department was on scene they insisted on removing everything from the house and hosing it down with water as a safety measure. When a life's worth of stuff was removed – mostly books and records – my relative marveled at their carpet because they'd forgotten what color it was.

Don't become that person if you can help it. Happy holidays!



Aaron Bagley’s Dream Comics: The Village

Aaron Bagley has the week off, so here's a classic from a few years ago.

Portrait Gallery: Shauna Ahern

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

Saturday, December 14th: Enough Reading

Subtitled Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It, Shauna Ahern’s new book is a memoir about what it’s like when a woman who has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy finally decides she’s good enough. You may know Ahern from her popular Gluten-Free Girl series of cookbooks. The Neverending Bookshop,7530 Olympic View Drive, Unit 105, 425-415-1945,, 5 pm, free.

Thursday Comics Hangover: This comic wants to heal America

When I interviewed breakout cartoonist and comic writer Ezra Claytan Daniels back in October, he was excited to talk about his newest project, "a nonfiction political essay that I wrote with the intent to communicate certain moralistic and philosophical political ideals to problematic white people."

You could tell from Daniels's tone that he was nervous and excited to get the book out into the world.

All the comics that I do have a very strong sociopolitical agenda beneath the genre trappings that I candy-coat these ideas in. But I started to feel really disenchanted with that approach, because I felt like it was really easy for people to take the wrong message from things that are too obfuscated through genre conventions...So I was trying to think of ways to communicate ideals a little bit more directly. And so I came up with this zine that kind of explores the narrative origins of empathy and the evolutionary origins of narrative — why we, as humans, try to wrap all of our life’s experiences in narrative terms; and how that narrative worldview shapes our perception of empathy; and then why it’s easier for us to feel empathy for some people than others.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took me forever to do it. It’s like 60 pages, but each page is one panel so it’s actually a pretty short book. But I asked a couple of leading psychologists to consult with me on the book, so I got their feedback: Adam Waytz [author of [*The Power of Human*](] and Paul Piff who [did the rigged Monopoly study that became a viral TED Talk](

Daniels concluded, "the central idea is to create something that’s super-palatable, it’s super-easy for people to understand, but it’s still got some intellectual depth to it, so it’ll give people something to think about."

I bought a copy of the book, a handsome little tract called Are You at Risk for "Empathy Myopia?", at Short Run. At five bucks, the thing feels like a steal: it's classified online as a minicomic, but it has a spine and it's in full color. (If you missed it at Short Run, you can buy it online from Radiator Comics. Daniels also wants the book to be spread far and wide, so it's available to read for free on his website.)

The truth is that there aren't many comics in the world like "Empathy Myopia" — at least not that I've seen. It might be closest in tone and in format to Chick Tracts, honestly, though that comparison does a disservice to Daniels. It's a short, dense exploration of how narrative interacts with our brain to change the way we perceive the world and the people in it. There's an excellent discussion of what it means to have privilege. And then there's an application of those ideas to the world created by social media, and a pitch to break free from the narrative strictures that we're presently trapped in.

As an experiment, "Empathy Myopia" absolutely meets Daniels's criteria: it is, in fact, "super-palatable" and easy to understand, and it does have intellectual depth. Daniels sees the book as a way to explain to alt-right trolls and Trump supporters why and how they've become a force for destruction. I'm not entirely sure that actually putting Trump in the book, and a panel depicting a Trump supporter as a slovenly man outside a trailer, will necessarily win over the hearts and minds that Daniels wants to win.

Still, this kind of comic — this investigative, explanatory polemic — is perfect for comics. It lays out a complex set of thoughts in a very easy-to-digest format. I wish some publisher would get into the business of commissioning these from cartoonists with something to say about the world, and then getting them into the hands of as many readers as possible. More creators should make comics with saving the world as their primary goal.

Book News Roundup: "The charred black bones of the farmhouse coughed and hissed and exhaled into the early morning fog"

  • Seattle Public Library published a great list of audiobooks read by Seattle-area performers. What a great idea for a local angle on a medium that feels very detached from place.

  • We've heard that Scry Magazine, the self-described " locus for interconnected, unpredictable, and substantive conversation between Editor Quintan Ana Wikswo and transdisciplinary artists, activists, creators, scientists, shamans, thinkers, soldiers, transgalactic interlopers, philosophical perambulators, and otherlings," which went on hiatus last year, is about to start back up again. Read more on Quintan Ana Wikswo's Facebook page.

  • If you just want to stop absorbing terrible information about the world for a moment and laugh, Justin Tapp's Chili's menu as reimagined by Cormac McCarthy is extra-hilarious. (Thanks to SRoB tipper Aaron for sending this on.)

  • I was at the GOP Convention in 2012 when Clint Eastwood pulled his "talking-to-a-chair" schtick. It was even weirder in real life than it was on TV. But still: just because Eastwood is a conservative weirdo doesn't mean his art is invalid. However, Eastwood's latest movie, Richard Jewell, reportedly fictionalizes a true story by depicting a real-life journalist — who has long since died and can't defend herself — having sex with an FBI agent in exchange for inside information. This is low. The fact that Jewell poses as an indictment of the media for falsifying a story only makes the whole thing even worse. Every story is political, but not every story is a political tool. It seems like Eastwood crossed that line here.

Seattle Public Library to provide meeting space for group that traffics in anti-trans rhetoric

At the Seattle Times, Crystal Paul reports on the controversy that has unfolded after the Seattle Public Library rented meeting space to an organization that's widely criticized for anti-trans rhetoric in its Central location downtown.

That organization, the Women's Liberation Front, which non-ironically refers to itself by the acronym WoLF, has made a habit of spreading their hateful, exclusionary message under the banner of "free speech." WoLF has spoken at the Heritage Foundation in what NBC News called an "anti-transgender panel." (Susan Shaw wrote a great response to that event in Ms. Magazine.) WoLF has repeatedly teamed up with conservative Christian groups to oppose trans rights and, as Rani Baker at LGBTQNation notes, their track record on actual feminist issues is suspect.

Back at the Seattle Times, Paul writes:

The Gender Justice League, a Seattle nonprofit that advocates for gender and sexuality justice, said in a statement they will speak with SPL leadership to help them consider the issue’s complexities.

“The end result of a hate group using the library as a venue to ‘critique’ the existence of a minority group creates a hostile environment and is unacceptable,” they wrote.

WoLF is not listed as a hate group in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s extensive documentation of such groups in the U.S. However, WoLF has frequently been referred to by others as a hate group or trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) group, including in an online editorial for *Out Magazine* by Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project.

The event is currently scheduled for February. In a statement, SPL City Librarian Marcellus Turner says WoLF presented the event "as a women’s rights talk and presentation," and that SPL is...

...exploring every option we have in response to this moment, talking to other libraries who have been through it, scheduling discussions with our transgender staff and community, and consulting with the City of Seattle’s legal department on our options.

If SPL allows WoLF to go through with their event, The Seattle Review of Books will share information about protests and provide resources for our trans neighbors. You cannot seriously claim to be for civil rights of any kind if your platform involves policies that dehumanize, terrorize, and shame another group.

Holiday recommends: Here’s the book that Kate Berwanger would give to all of Seattle

We’re asking people who made a splash in 2019 one question: If you could give everyone in Seattle one book as a gift this holiday season, what book would you choose and why? This week’s gift-giver is Kate Berwanger, the prolific indie writer and event producer who has taken the city by storm over the last year or so. You can visit her shop on Etsy or drop by the retail space she co-founded, Ace of Wands, in the Georgetown Trailer Park. Give some special attention to her great poster-zine full of recommendations of books written by women. For her book recommendation for all of Seattle, Berwanger recommends...

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce. I was shopping at Elliott Bay for a book that should have lived on the shelf next to this one. It wasn't there, but Tierce fell into my hands. And I won't spoil a perfectly good gift by explaining why I'm giving it to you.

The thorny, everyday lives of Staten Islanders

Published December 10, 2019, at 12:00pm

Donna Miscolta reviews Claire Jimenez’s Staten Island Stories .

Claire Jimenez’s Staten Island Stories examines the lives of Staten Islanders and the complex relationship between identity and place.

Read this review now

Word Medicine

Words removed from the Oxford’s Children’s Dictionary, their replacements, & other favorites


The President of the United States believes he is a victim.
He loves the words witch and hunt and very very bad.
He says believe me and in times gone by we would have
known the spell to slit his tongue as it twisted verity
and poisoned humans in his mouth. We would have conjured
goblins to change his arms to twigs, his head to a walnut.

If we had faith in vocabularies of imagination, apricot,
catkin, and lark could appear in the State of the Union.
Liquorice could become a tenet of the law. The United States
could trade its gold-eyed raptor for a porpoise or a radish.
But we have deal, celebrity, endangered. Food chain, database
and just plain base. Let’s hear emolument clause.
Now here’s a word, witch. Wicked.

Get noticed by readers

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Events, books, offerings — what does great in our program is things that readers love. We have some days left in December that would be a perfect testing ground for your upcoming campaigns. Take a chance on a week with us, and see how the most dedicated, engaged, and passionate book audience in the Pacific Northwest responds.

Check out the dates on our sponsor page, and make sure you grab one before they’re all gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 9th - December 15th

Monday, December 9th: Migrating to Prison Reading

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández's new book examines immigration prisons in America, using personal stories to put a face on the victims of a truly inhumane system. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Tuesday, December 10th: Seattle Writers + Artists

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 6 pm, free.

Wednesday, December 11th: 50 Barn Poems Reading

Amber Nelson, Nadine Maestas, and C. C. Hannett help author Zac Smith debut his new book, which is, in fact, a book collecting fifty poems by Smith about barns. How's that for truth in advertising? Solo, 200 Roy St, 213-0080,, 8 pm, free.

Thursday, December 12th: Revolutionary Love Reading

Rabbi Michael Lerner, a "social theorist and psychotherapist," makes the case in his new book that the one real crisis that's doing the most damage in the world today is "driven by frustrated needs for community, love, respect, and connection to a higher purpose in life." Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Friday, December 13th: Copper Canyon Press Showcase and Holiday Book Sale

Every year, Port Townsend poetry publisher Copper Canyon Press, which publishes some of the best poetry books in the world, presents a showcase reading and one-publisher book fair at Hugo House. This is a chance to get some great personalized poetry books (maybe at a discount) for a gift for your loved ones. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, December 14th: Enough Reading

Subtitled Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It, Shauna Ahern's new book is a memoir about what it's like when a woman who has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy finally decides she's good enough. You may know Ahern from her popular Gluten-Free Girl series of cookbooks. The Neverending Bookshop,7530 Olympic View Drive, Unit 105, 425-415-1945,, 5 pm, free.

Sunday, December 15th: Short Stories Live: A Rogue's Family Christmas

"Julie Briskman, Kurt Beattie, Marianne Owen, and special guests Nancy and Joe Guppy" share Christmas stories with a rapt audience as a special holiday outing of Town Hall's popular series. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 2 pm, $15.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Writers + Seattle Artists

Earlier this fall, Cascadia Magazine founder Andrew Engelson announced that the magazine was "significantly scaling back" its publication schedule. Engelson continues to publish a weekly newsletter and some great work like Kristen Millares Young's essay on writing for the Seattle PI before the print publication shut down.

And Cascadia continues to promote local writers by publishing poetry and, occasionally, putting on interesting events. Tomorrow night, Cascadia will take over Vermillion bar and gallery for a free show that juxtaposes four local authors with four local visual artists. Here's how Cascadia described the event:

You’ll hear readings of new work by former Seattle civic poet Anastacia Renée; prose writer Kristen Millares Young; fiction writer Ruth Joffre; and poet Shankar Narayan—each reading original pieces published online at Cascadia Magazine. Each reading will be accompanied by a collection of images from four Seattle-based visual artists: painter and installation artist Carol Rashawnna Williams; artist, illustrator, and filmmaker Sarah Samudre Salcedo; artist, poet, and illustrator Clare Johnson; and Monyee Chau, an artist who works in a variety of mediums.

It's a fun idea, and it's the kind of thing that Cascadia does well: it combines disciplines and ideas together in a great big party that celebrates this place we call home. This event will feature time for audience questions, and it should also serve as a celebration of what Engelson accomplished in setting up Cascadia and an opportunity to toast the beginning of a new future for the magazine.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 6 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for December 8, 2019

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

My boyfriend and I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Texas, and I invited some long-time friends from graduate school. We had become friends due to timeliness and proximity to alcohol, but maybe not because we were agreeable people. In September of 2015, we had wound up in the same Japanese history seminar that ended at five in the afternoon, and the graffitied student bar peddling subsidized beer for £1.50 was only a poky cement courtyard away. They are now reading and teaching in their dream doctoral life, and we spent Thanksgiving bickering over political ideologies. Nobody came out ahead; in those debates, we are all losers. So in this Sunday Post, I’m allowing myself to be extra-pedantic and share some quite long, dry, but I believe, important reads given similar factors of timeliness and proximity.

These reads are about the institutions of our modern, Western, liberal world: the Constitutional Convention, the software of American policy-making, and the bastion of well-read affluence (or neo-liberal rag, depending on your sensibilities), The Economist. Maybe they’ll make you foam at the mouth with rabid approval. Or maybe you’ll make it through a paragraph or two before you roll your eyes and never read a Sunday Post by me again. In which case, five years from now I might invite you to Thanksgiving with my family.

Noah Feldman’s Prepared Statement

This first one you’ve likely already read, or heard and watched in any case. It’s Professor Noah Feldman’s opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee. I returned to Seattle just in time for Twitter to blow up with Benedict Cumberbatch trending (new Sherlock season?!), only to be rerouted to another impeachment testimony (worst crime novel adaptation ever). Since I was at work, I went straight for the text, linked above. And I’m glad I read it first as a transcription, and I urge you to read it as well. Academics, trained in long-form analytical articulation, shine in writing where they might otherwise falter. Call me old-fashioned, but seeing words on a page invites considered dissent; speaking invites interruptions.

Through the blandness of a typed document, you are less distracted by Feldman’s uncanny resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch, his Franklin Pierce hair manicure, and his barely restrained smugness. I was able to admire the detail in his historical scholarship, the way he brings to life the minutiae of a centuries-old but weighty disagreement, and a precise turning point. I could also step back to consider the implications of this originalist interpretation, clearly in an attempt to pander to the Republicans in the room.

After Benjamin Franklin also spoke in favor of impeachment, something remarkable happened: Gouverneur Morris changed his mind. Morris had been convinced by the argument that elections were not, on their own, a sufficient check on the actions of a president who tried to pervert the course of the electoral process. Morris told the other delegates that he now believed that “corruption & some few other offences to be such as ought to be impeachable.”
To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving

While a long, detailed, and highly specialized read, this essay in the Texas National Security Review gives a hypothesis and solutions for something I believe a lot of us wonder about viscerally all the time, why is there such a generalized distrust in government? For Philip Zelikow, the answer is much more mundane than political flash or right-wing media or partisan stalemate. He describes the faltering not of politics but policy, of the actual craft and discipline of policymaking. He compares this craft to engineering — it works best when it is methodical, repeatable, and high-quality, and its agents highly-trained in assessment, analysis, problem-solving, and even the mundanities of rigorous record-keeping. We caught a glimpse of this distinction a few weeks ago listening to the testimonies of Fiona Hill and David Holmes versus Gordon Sondland. The battle of the notetakers and the phone-callers.

I learned so much from this highly competent piece about systematic incompetence, and left wishing this piece had a broader audience. It deserves it.

The software of substantive public problem-solving overlaps with the formal procedures of government, but it is really a different subject. The software of policy is about how policies are crafted within a given set of processes and constraints. Software includes methods or routines for the way the substantive work is done, at the level of the individual professional and the institution. At every stage, the software includes organizational cultures for getting and evaluating information, for doing analysis, and for recording what is being done.
How the Economist shaped the liberal mind

New Statesman commissioning editor Gavin Jacobson reviews Alexander Zevin’s Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist, an intellectual biography of not a person, but a weekly magazine that calls itself a “paper.” Its subscriber list is famous and wide-ranging, its circulation global, and style guide is summed up by this instruction: “Pretend you are God.”

But like the Constitution and the engine of our policies that make up a government, an icon is shaped not through omniscience, but through humans and what they know of the world, through their relationships (some quite literally married into the magazine), their priorities, their supporters, their convictions or petty rivalries, their taxes and their balance sheets. That’s why it’s story is written as a biography.

But it is at the level of ideas that the Economist has acquired its reputation as the lodestar of liberalism and as a guide to the doctrine of the age. This began in the mid to late 19th century under the editorship of Walter Bagehot, who Zevin rightly calls a “totemic figure” and “the name most associated with the paper”. Born in 1826, Bagehot became editor of the Economist in 1861 after marrying James Wilson’s daughter a few years before.

On capitalism, Walter Bagehot was less fanatical than his father-in-law, favouring a graduated income tax, state ownership of the railways and legislation to make factory work safer. But he was a firm believer in the nation’s imperial destiny – not only because colonisation is what the British did but also because it opened up new vistas for capital.

Whatcha Reading, Peter Zheutlin?

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.

Peter Zheutlin is a Massachusetts based journalist and author. Before writing full time, he was a lawyer, a professor, and Public Affairs Director of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Of his eight books, his focus lately has been on dogs and their relationships with humans. His latest, The Dog Went Over the Mountain: Travels with Albie: An American Journey, is a road-trip story inspired by Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie. Zheutlin is in town, today, reading at the Lake Forest Park Third Place Books, starting at 6:00pm.

What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro (famous, of course, for his multi-volume biography of LBJ). It’s a daunting 1,100 pages, but Caro is a great storyteller.

What did you read last?

I just finished, Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc. and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber. Weber is the recently retired, legendary NY Times obit writer. I picked it up because a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Times “Overlooked” series (obits, mainly about women and people of color, who were overlooked by the Times in their time), Weber wrote an obit about the subject of my first book, my great-grandaunt Annie Kopchovsky (better known as Annie Londonderry) who circled the world by bicycle from 1894-5.

What are you reading next?

Next up, I think, is All They Will Call You by Tim Z Hernandez. It’s about the 1948 plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon (CA) of a plane carrying 28 deportees, all Mexican farm workers) back to Mexico. The crash became the subject of the Woody Guthrie song, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).”

November 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 November's posts.

November's Theme: I’ll Show You What I Show You

My friend Laura is an undeniably formidable poet, choosing November’s post-its like a poet too; she said she’d been thinking about framing. She bookmarked scores of pieces that subtly draw attention to their own framing — words that add something you could never glean from the picture — or only match the imagery if you’re me, suddenly framing the scene in a different light — moments set on stages, my implied gaze impacting the theatrical frame — images embracing their own drawn-in frame — information boxed off, or fighting against the frame of the page — I could go on — I suddenly want to wax poetic about a queer gaze and modes of looking in ways I’m terrifyingly unequipped for academically — I will not go on. Laura’s choosing plan cleverly articulated something that locks fingers with my entire post-it endeavor, and feebly trying to verbalize it here makes me again feel how formidable she is. Hours into writing about our friendship I’m now deleting in huge gulps, saved somewhere else, unsure how to tell what’s for everyone when we are not everyone. It’s safe to say I love her fierce delightful brain, her wit surprising and inevitable every time I see her like it clocked me in the chest exactly what I’d been waiting for all day. She pulled off a mystifying trick of ultimately choosing post-its that life proceeded to echo back at me all month. I’m flying as I type, traveling away from my sister in New York. It’s her “maybe most prized possession” in the first post-it, improbable treasure cast away on the street outside her short-lived job bartending in an alienatingly trendy hotel. The trunk, plastered with antique theater posters and 1960s Time Magazine covers, was one of many left behind by 2 older guys who explained their dance company in the 1950s-60s had used them for carrying costumes on tour. After tortured self-debate about the impracticalities, my actor sister strong-armed a cab driver into letting her bring the trunk in, hauling it home to new life as a beloved-yet-awkward coffee table, and now, years later, her partner’s “closet”. (Laura, strange genius that she is, was privy to exactly none of this information when she chose it.) This trip I’m hurtling home from also meant times with the toddler starring in the second post-it. I talk on the phone with his dad year-round, but once a year I find myself able to wander uptown into their home and daily life, know their kid. He knows my painting on their wall as Clare, knows it better than he knows me. He’s lived his whole life with this thing I made, when I only hung out with it for a few months. My superlative freedom is walking alone at night. Someone took it from me 18 years and 10 months ago but I was unspeakably lucky and grabbed it back later, going through the motions till I stopped startling, I never flinch when my streetlight shadow overtakes me from behind now, I know I’m lucky, feel it through my legs and fingers every walk home. The fourth post-it is a trainee ballerina, the best in the showcase, we were in the front row so I don’t know if anyone else could hear her. Whisked away mid-dance and I’ll never know where the rest of life takes her, I guess dancers heal from injuries all the time, she just kind of crumpled. I told Laura about it soon after, she knew what the drawing was without asking. In closing, I know just 2 people who say it tickles me — Laura, and my sister. Looking back in my journal didn’t help, that night I was thinking of so many people I love. I said to Laura, “This one’s gotta be you, right?” Is someone rushing out a doorway laughing? Is it me? I might figure it out, but it’ll be too late to tell you then. When I described it to my sister, she said “It was me I bet. I did all of it.”

The Help Desk: Thou shalt not covet your brother's wife's book deal

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to Cienna Madrid is still digesting Thanksgiving dinner, so please enjoy this encore presentation of a column from three years ago.

Dear Cienna,

My brother married a gazillionaire heiress. She’s really, really nice. She’s generous, takes the whole family on luxury vacations where she pays for everything once a year, is crazy about my brother and they are, like, sickeningly cute together. And, she’s beautiful, and smart, and has a big degree and a real career on top of it all.

Anyway. I can’t help it but feel like trash around her. I dropped out of high school and had drug issues, and did stuff I’m not proud of. Now, I have my shit together like no other time in my life. I did it through writing, and sweating my pain and failure out of every pore in my body until my skin was clear. My life is really, really good now, and I’m working on my first novel, and I’ve been getting good feedback from my writer’s group, and I have an agent that I’m talking to.

But goddammit, my sister-in-law just sold a novel. She did it to this big house with a star-studded agent, and I just know it’s going to sell a gazillion copies. I mean, she’s Ivy League, so she’s smart and deserves it, but I just can’t help but feel like it’s so unfair. I feel like trash next to her, and she could stop working and give away her money every day of her life and still have enough to buy a country, but I have to struggle for every scrap. I don’t begrudge her, but I can’t help but feel jealous and awful, and I want to be a good sister to her too.

Help me, Cienna! What should I do?

Sister Heart, Capitol Hill

Dear Sister Heart,

Succumbing to jealousy is graceless and exhausting, like signing on to be the principal dancer in a clubfoot ballet.

I have been seethingly, sweatily jealous of two women as an adult: a fellow writer who I felt unfavorably compared to and the girlfriend of a man I briefly loved, who unfortunately shares many of my passions and hobbies (with the exception of breastfeeding spiders). Unlike you, there were no warring feelings of love for either woman. I felt only ugly things. At one point, I fantasized about the vainer one contracting jaw cancer and having her lower jaw removed so perhaps — just perhaps — she would post fewer pictures of herself doing things I loved to do (with the exception of breastfeeding spiders) with people I loved on the internet.

I wish I could say I overcame those feelings but I didn’t, not really. Fortunately, they burned so hot that they mostly burned themselves out. Once my all-consuming jealousy had collapsed into an emotional bruise that only ached when I acknowledged it, I was able to privately concede that neither woman deserved the emotions I ascribed to them. They had unwittingly threatened parts of my identity that I cherished, at times in my life when I felt especially vulnerable.

You, Sister Heart, are in an enviable position: You’re at a very good place in your life, you respect the woman you envy, and it sounds like you have a good relationship with her. You should know that her successes don’t undercut your own — the insights of a billionaire heiress writer are likely radically different from the insights of an ex-drug-using writer (and frankly, your life sounds more fascinating). There’s room in the publishing world for you both.

Looking back, if I were in your position and had a relationship with either woman, I would have exorcised my demons by telling them how I felt, in my own clubfooted way. Like, “I mostly enjoy your writing but I hate that people compare us because we’re both women.” Or: “I will probably always resent that a person who was so important to me treats you better than he ever could me. Sorry about that. Also, would it physically kill you to take a picture that didn’t prominently feature yourself in it?”

Sometimes I still fondly remember the jaw cancer.



These Seven-league boots were made for walking

Printer’s Ink was a weekly publication out of New York that kept eyes on the printing and advertising trade. In their February 8th issue, from 1923, they noticed a curious advertisement that sprung up in Seattle. “Seattle was greeted by a powerful newspaper advertisement, a full page in size, picturing Seattle as a rising giant among cities, striding forward in ‘Seven League Boots.'”

“These articles are not advertisements in the sense of selling land or promoting private interests,” it went on to say. “The space is paid for by the Puget Mill Company for the sole purpose of arousing Seattle to a unity of purpose and to a full realization of its present and potential greatness…Let us make 1923 a record year!”

This nice bit of early promotional branding was echoed some years later by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in a 1945 promotional pamphlet: “Seattle Strides forward in Seven League Boots.” Coming off the war, with Boeing strong and soldiers returning home, the Chamber wanted to remind us that “YOU have a part in this new era. YOU and the Seven-League Boots you wear will hep make us the nerve center of a New Empire.”

The term has fallen out of common use. Seven-league are mythical boots that you could wear, and gulp 21 miles with each step. Slightly underwhelming by today’s standards of wonder (we’re more interested in light speed, warp, and hyperspace), seven-league were once a mainstay of fantastical stories.

On foot, or even horse, in the olden days, a trip to Everett from Seattle would have taken at least a day of travel. What a dream to do it in just over a step. In early modernity, the dream turned metaphor, and seven-league boots came to symbolize aspiration above one’s current ability.

Seven-League Boots have been on my mind since last Saturday, when I attended the opening night of Book-It Repertory Theatre’s Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s likely you’ve heard of the 2004 Studio Ghibli film of the same name. It’s possible, given the site you’re reading, you are also aware of the 1986 Diana Wynne Jones novel that it was based on.

And now, in the land of Seattle, home of seven-league advertising, the exemplary Book-It has put up a holiday production that carefully tears the pages from the book, and pastes them back together with music for glue.

It’s a restaging of their own original show, in fact. Book-it put up an earlier production in 2017. The new version, which shares a couple of cast members, has been tweaked quite a bit — and although I didn’t see the earlier production to compare them, word on the street is that this production turned some of the earlier version’s frowns upside-down.

With the first heavily choreographed opening number, the cast right up against the lip of the stage in their intimate theater space, the vibe is literal and somber. It switches to earnest, then whimsical, before devolving into madcap. It’s a two-and-a-half hour romp through a fantastical story in a fantastical land (Wales, but also a magical kingdom called Ingary).

A milliner, the eldest daughter, runs the business with her mother while her younger sisters are sent off to study baking and witchcraft, retrospectively. There’s talk of a wizard, Howl, very powerful. There’s a witch, the Witch of the Waste, who comes down and, for mysterious reasons, curses the eldest daughter and turns her into an old lady.

Sophie, that character, is played by Rachel Guyer-Mafune, and is one of the great joys of the production. Her bright-eyed young Sophie turned into a delightfully cranky and direct woman who accepts her curse magnanimously, reveling in not having to care, anymore, what people thought about her. I hadn’t really considered how key an aged accent could be to a character until I saw the transformation live. Like nearly all on stage, Guyer-Mafune was obviously having a grand time, but her impeccable timing landed some of the biggest laughs of the evening. And, how great that this piece revolves around the story of a (supposedly) old woman. Don’t get to see that, too often.

Andi Alhadeff, who played a number of roles, also was fun to watch. Bigger than the stage, her Witch of the Waste was bombastic, deliciously evil, and operatic. All her roles, in fact, were colored brightly, and played with with a plume and wink. Each character set apart from the other with a particular accent — from ‘r’-rolling high queenish, to Welsh (one suspects that Gin Hammond, the dialect coach, was effective in her role with Alhadeff, and the rest of the cast as well).

In the only odd note of the evening, Nicholas Japaul Bernard, in the role of Howl, was on voice rest after illness. He mimed his performance, while composer and lyricist Justin Huertas gave him voice (spoken and sung) from off stage. The effect was slightly surreal, as if Howl was so powerful a wizard so as to not require speech to communicate, his mouth still and shut while a voice boomed from the speakers. Bernard delivered despite the awkward circumstance, but I’m sure subtitles and small acts of timing were lost in translation, as was his own voice, which I wish I wish I could have heard.

I walked away humming a few of the more catchy refrains (and, to my companions, shrieking one memorable one, to make each other laugh). The music is bright-lights and broadway bold — it’s chipper and, for the most part, memorable. It’s played by three musicians who at times sound like thirty, and infuse the room with strings and woodwinds, recalling European folk-music by way of New York aspiration.

The staging, like the music, seeks to evoke more than prescribe, with some key elements used in multiple ways, constantly being reset by a flurry of actors coming on, going off, moving this way and that, all carrying a hat, or cake, or other useful prop. It’s kinetic and fun to watch, like a puzzle done and undone again, the pieces turning and moving, something always moving. Like the castle that moves in the story, the stage is never truly set.

The cast devoured this performance. Not a one didn’t throw themselves full in with a contagious abandon, never out of control but perhaps coming a bit close at times.

That’s why I would go — I wouldn’t necessarily go in for the plot (it’s charming and fun, but it’s not the there, here). I would for the music, which at times teases towards saccharine, but overall has some nice sing-along melodies and weaves well into the emotional landscape of the story — and, at times, setting up some nice comedy. I would, for the fun spirit of a holiday production that isn't about a holiday, and which older kids will certainly have a grand time encountering.

For a theater the size of Book-It, whose productions are always looking towards the possible, this feels like a particularly big reach. The program notes that it is a new musical in development, which, okay, sure perhaps there will be tweaks to come, so it’s fun to see all the no matter, try again, fail again, fail better right here in the Seattle Center.

I keep thinking about the size of the stride compared to the length of the legs doing the walking. Seems like they’re going for something decidedly grand here. Looks like they even got fancy new boots. Somebody’s paying attention to how Seattle is supposed to aspire, and that’s something worth showing up for.

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Weird ticket

Portrait Gallery: Writers in the schools

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

Sunday, December 8th: Writers in the Schools Annual Group Reading

This year’s Youth Poet Laureate cohort will read, including our Youth Poet Laureate, Wei-Wei Lee. I attended the Youth Poet Laureate reading at Lit Crawl, and it was a lively and entertaining reading by some very promising young poets. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Kissing Books: On the twelfth month of romance

Olivia is taking a much deserved break, after a banner year. But a month without her biting, incisive, and passionate (both with a 'com' in front of it and without) is too long! We've assembled a year of her columns here, to hold you over until she's back, in January.

December 2018: Something out of the ordinary

Holidays are points on the timeline where the ordinary world cracks open a little and something numinous filters through. In the Catholic calendar I was raised with the weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent, which (like Lent in the spring) is officially, theologically different from the long stretch of green-robed months labeled Ordinary Time. Holidays were by definition extraordinary times.

Some holidays we fixate on more than others, as a culture. Some of those timeline cracks we take a narrative crowbar to, prying the opening wide to get more of the magic out. Christmas, for example, is always being worked at, even in tales that never breathe the name Jesus. There’s a kind of secular magic that turns up, though centering it on a Christian holiday still puts a great deal of pressure on people of other faiths. I think it’s telling that we classify Christmas stories as general fiction, even though they often feature clearly speculative elements. Mortals encounter ghosts or angels or spirits; magical objects change the course of a character’s life; supernatural agents work secretly for the betterment of all. A Christmas Carol is a time-travel book and a ghost story, though people look at you funny if you recommend it as such.

This year, heading into the darkest months, it feels like we need that magic more than usual. We need the oil to last longer than it‘s supposed to; we need ghosts to take gloomy mercy on our errors; we need a kindly supernatural hand to guide us toward a better, happier future. Maybe it’s that vast yearning that cracks open the world in the first place — you can’t make changes without first desiring change. And stories are how we come to understand what we want to be different. So many of those magical stories always seem to come back to very real, very human goodness: generosity, kindness, charity, hope, and love. It has to be more than coincidence....

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January 2019: The can't both win, but we can

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

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

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

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February 2019: Whiteness, amnesia, and the uses of historical accuracy

We talk a lot about historical accuracy in our commercial fiction. I would like to talk a little bit about accuracy in our history of commercial fiction.

Let me take you through a case study.

Back in that dimly remembered epoch known as The Year 2015, author Stephanie Dray made a racist joke while finishing a novel about Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter. Screenshots were passed around; many people spoke up about how harmful this was; Dray and her co-author Laura Kamoie (who also writes as Laura Kaye) apologized , saying their book about a wealthy white woman was really meant to illuminate the evils of slavery, and kept their heads down long enough for the conversation to move on....

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March 2019: The case of the secret trope

“She wasn’t the kind of woman who…”

And just like that, my shoulders are up around my ears.

They tell you romance is easy to write because the ending is a given, when in fact the opposite is closer to the truth: romance is difficult to write well because every reader’s standards for being persuaded to believe in the happy ending are unique and painfully particular. I’m not just talking about the big tropes: your marriages of convenience, your enemies to lovers, your small town prodigals come home to make good....

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April 2019: The problem with cruel

April is the cruelest month, according to one of our crueler poets — so what better time to talk about cruelty in romance?

Cruelty, as a character trait or behavior, is largely the province of male main characters, especially in m/f romances. Heroes get to curl lips, issue scornful declarations, hold themselves aloof from the suffering of lesser beings; heroes have eyes like ice chips, and dungeons full of whips and shackles, and inflict punishing kisses upon their love interests.

Heroes can never really be too cruel: so long as you offer a compelling enough backstory (some woman betrayed him, his family abused him, his government ordered him to murder and torture) you can excuse almost any kind of cold-heartedness....

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May 2019: The placeholder heroine is...

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....

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June 2019: Characters exist to be thwarted

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....

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July 2019: Summer murders

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....

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August 2019: Assertive contact

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

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

But thoughts escape us. Texts remain....

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September 2019: Opposites intract

Among romance readers, there is a strong belief that the main couple of a (non-poly) book must show balance.

This can mean the characters are parallel in some way: childhood sweethearts, second-chance romances, and friends-to-lovers tropes all start by establishing the characters as a pair. Two equivalent weights on the story-scales. A matched set, even before our couple have worked out the issues standing between them.

Other times, balance means means contrast. This is where a lot of your archetypes come in: the billionaire and the waif, the ray of sunshine and the grump, Beauty and the Beast, demigod paranormal hero and physically fragile mortal heroine with a reservoir of emotional resilience. Contrast is good because it generates conflict, and tension, and these are the engines that turn a mere series of events into a proper living story.

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October 2019: Monster mash

October is an ideal time to talk about monsters. Both the literal kind — Beauty and the Beast is one of the great narrative threads of the romance genre — and the more metaphorical kind. Romance has plenty of both. We have werewolves and bear-shifters and aliens and paranormal characters with terrifying abilities. And we have frighteningly powerful men: dukes and billionaires and SEALs and cops and warriors and spooky house owners who may have murdered their first wives (or just keep her imprisoned in the attic, pick your poison). Less commonly, but more interestingly, we have monstrous women: abusive mothers and unrelatable heroines, emotionally broken creature hunters and ice queens and traumatized women whose survival has turned them bitter or cold or suspicious.

It is impossible to add up every kind of monstrousness in romance and get a clean, unambiguous result about being a monster means. Every book that grapples with it reinvents the definition to some degree. You have to take it case by case: Are the monsters the heroes, or the villains, or is it a mix? (Paranormal worlds do a lot of the latter, as we’ll see in this month’s books). Watching who self-identifies as a monster can be instructive: plenty of villains do it, yes, but plenty of leads do it too only to be proven wrong and reclaim their humanity.

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November 2019: Le grande geste

Jane Austen’s most popular proto-romances are rather ambivalent when it comes to the grand gesture.

In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy of course tries to hide his generosity from the Bennet family: he swears Lydia to secrecy (as if that was ever going to work) and gets palpably awkward when Elizabeth dares to break silence and thank him for it.

In Persuasion , published posthumously, there is no final grand gesture at all — a single letter, secretly delivered, brings our characters into harmony with one another. An earlier version of the story saw Captain Wentworth being maneuvered into asking Anne Elliot about her assumed plans for matrimony — which has a little bit of the savor of the grand gesture’s public risk — but in the end Austen edited this out in favor of something much more intimate....

plus reviews of:

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Thursday Comics Hangover: The enthusiast

David Lasky has been making comics here in Seattle for decades. He's been the heart of the Seattle cartooning community through its many iterations: he always shows up, he's always quick with a supportive word, he's always eager to teach a class. And he's developed a deep institutional memory for Northwestern cartooning.

I don't mean to paint Lasky here as some kind of backward-facing comics version of Seattle historian Mossback. The best thing about David Lasky is that he's always intensely curious about the capability of comics: all the infinite ways you can convey information through a page of cartooning.

At this year's Short Run, Lasky debuted the ninth volume of his annual Manifesto Items series of books, which collects his short, generally page-long comics work. The works in the latest issue of Manifesto Items were created as part of his teaching curriculum and at the DUNE cartooning meet-ups over the last year. In other words, they were created in the spirit of experimentation. But the presentation of the book isn't half-assed, or photocopied together on the night before the show. This is a lavish, full-color presentation with all kinds of visual special effects.

"I feel that short comics can be every bit as good and as challenging as long ones," Lasky writes on the first page of Manifesto Items. And it's true: you might not find too much to love in a novelist's experiment in hyper-short fiction, but a deeply considered and elegantly constructed single page of comics can feel like a complete project.

One page of Manifesto Items tells a complete story about the changing of the seasons in six non-representational panels depicting abstract black outlines backed with bold oranges and blues. "Breathe in the coolness," one dusky blue panel reads, with a word balloon pointing off panel that says "AH!" Another panel which seems to show clouds at sunset urges the reader to "Smell the leaves as you walk." In less than 30 words, it's a tone poem that puts you directly into the experience of walking around Seattle on a crisp fall day just as it prepares to tip into a dreary winter.

Another page demonstrates how dots on a comics page could stand in for two fleas having a conversation, the eyes of a smiley face, or the focal points of a fleshed-out character who "could be the star of a best-selling graphic novel."

Lasky's at his best here as he teaches about the limitations and possibility of the comics mediums. He points out rarely used panel transitions. He composes a short essay on how panel shape is just as important to the rest of the story as character or plot of dialogue. He demonstrates how to tell a story using a simple nine-panel grid and a purply blue set of watercolors. His questing mind is breaking down comics to their most elemental bits and seeing how they work.

Lasky's agenda is pretty full these days. He's working on a long history of the Georgetown Steam Plant. But I hope he'll consider doing a slightly more process-oriented version of Scott McCloud's indispensable Understanding Comics, teaching these kinds of very specific lessons about what a standard comics page can and cannot do. Very few cartoonists are capable of Lasky's tendency to work at a very high level while still keeping an eye on the most basic components of how comics work. Lasky spends a lot of time teaching novices how to make comics, but the truth is that the whole industry could use a refresher course in the wonder of comics. No one is more suited to be our guide in that particular adventure than Lasky.

The economic crime that dare not speak its name

As someone pointed out last night, many of the books we've discussed in the Reading Through It Book Club can be assigned to one of two categories. One the one hand, there are the books that address American problems on a deeply personal level. Here, I'm thinking of books like Sarah Smarsh's Heartland and Amy Goldstein's Janesville. On the other hand, you have the books about systemic abuses that create the American problems. One example of those high-level looks at American injustice is Jane Meyer's Dark Money. And another is the book that we discussed at last night's meeting: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas.

One of the things that members of the book club most appreciated about Giridharadas's deeply reported look at economic inequality and the ways that wealthy elites disguise and explain away their power is the way that the author doesn't villify every one of his subjects. While Giridharadas does write about some real monsters in this book, he also allows for the fact that billionaires are entirely surrounded in feel-good bubbles, and that many of them genuinely have no idea that the good they do in the world is dwarfed by the harm that their wealth hoarding has done. He attacks "good" left-wingers with the same vitality that many economic writers reserve for only conservative subjects.

Giridharadas is a gifted journalist and a compelling writer who can bring a striking clarity to a complex issue. Phrases from the book effortlessly wound themselves directly into our conversation as a kind of shorthand — "win-win" showed up a lot, and a phrase like "elites" that is often interpreted to mean "people I don't like and want to frame as snooty" had a very direct and clear definition that we all understood.

Put simply, until Giridharadas came along, we simply didn't have the vocabulary to describe the particular kind of grift that America's wealthiest citizens are employing. There's something so insidious about the way that the wealthiest billionaires use charitable giving as a shield against all criticism that most of us haven't been able to identify the scam taking place in plain sight.

It's so rare to find a thinker who identifies something that has previously gone unnamed. The late comedian Harris Wittels really hit on a very specific and common situation when he coined the word "humblebrag," for instance. Giridharadas might not have given us a single word to describe the very particular abuse of power and wealth that he identifies in Winner Take All, but he has perfectly diagnosed the societal sickness behind our most pressing economic issues. But now that the words have been spoken, we can't help but notice this abuse of power wherever it happens.

Downtown Barnes & Noble to close January 18th

Over Thanksgiving weekend, shoppers at the downtown Barnes & Noble in the Pacific Place mall were greeted at the downstairs entrance with a large sign. "This Barnes & Noble is closing on Janauary 18th," the sign reads in large letters. Below that, it continues, "Thank you for your patronage over the past 22 years." The sign also directs shoppers to the chain's Northgate location and the Barnes & Noble website.

The announcement probably shouldn't come as a surprise. In addition to Barnes & Noble's well-documented corporate decline, the Pacific Place mall downtown has been suffering from closures, empty storefronts, and a massive remodel that has left the space virtually gutted for months. Combine that with a weak retail climate for brick-and-mortar stores, and the closure practically seems inevitable.

Still, this is a big moment in Seattle bookselling. When the downtown Barnes & Noble closes, there will officially be no bookstores in the downtown retail core. (The downtown Seattle flagship of Barnes & Noble's closest competitor, Borders Books and Music, closed when the chain went under in the summer of 2011.) While there are quite a few bookshops in surrounding neighborhoods like the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, and Queen Anne, this will be the first time in decades that shoppers won't be able to browse the stacks of a bookstore without leaving downtown Seattle.

This is not the only recent local closure for the flailing bookselling chain. In January of this year, the West Seattle Barnes & Noble closed, leaving no new bookstores in West Seattle for most of 2019. (Just a few months ago a beautiful independent bookshop called Paper Boat Booksellers opened on California Ave, filling the gap that Barnes & Noble left in the West Seattle bookselling scene.)

The Northgate Barnes & Noble listed on the sign as an alternate location for shoppers is going through its own retail apocalypse of sorts: the Northgate Mall has largely been sealed off from the public during a massive reconstruction project, with a half-empty food court at one end and a meager few shops at the other. Anchor stores like Nordstrom and J.C. Penney have abandoned Northgate, likely putting that Barnes & Noble's future in peril, too.

According to the chain bookseller's own website, there will be 10 Barnes & Noble stores within 50 miles of Seattle once the downtown location closes, including the Northgate store, the downtown Bellevue location, and a store near the Westfield Southcenter Mall.

Holiday recommends: Here's the book that Andrew Engelson would give to all of Seattle

We're asking people who made a splash in 2019 one question: If you could give everyone in Seattle one book as a gift this holiday season, what book would you choose and why? This week's gift-giver is Andrew Engelson, the editor-in-chief and founder of Cascadia Magazine. Next Tuesday at Vermillion, Engelson and Cascadia are hosting an all-star reading pairing four local authors (Anastacia-Renée, Kristen Millares Young, Ruth Joffre, and Shankar Narayan) with four local artists (Carol Rashawnna Williams, Sarah Samudre Salcedo, Monyee Chau, and our own Clare Johnson. Here's Engelson's pick:

I'd give everyone Tracing the Desire Line by Melissa Matthewson (Split Lip Press). It's an absolutely gorgeous series of linked essays about giving in to the urge to stray in a long-term monogamous relationship. Matthewson lives on a farm on southern Oregon, and in addition to a sharp and honest dissection of her changing marriage, she weaves in observations of the flora and fauna bursting with life around her, glimpses of the small beauties that come with raising children. It's book very rooted in the Pacific Northwest both in its subject and sensibility, the sort of writing I've tried to publish at Cascadia.

Castaways on pig island

Published December 3, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Johanna Stoberock’s Pigs .

Johanna Stoberock just won the 2019 LaSalle Storyteller Award. Her latest novel uses metaphor the way some novelists rely on plot or character to keep readers turning pages.

Read this review now

Johanna Stoberock wins LaSalle Storyteller Award

Artist Trust has announced that Walla Walla author Johanna Stoberock is this year's recipient of the LaSalle Storyteller Award. The LaSalle Award, which gives $10,000 to a Washington state storyteller with no strings attached, is one of the most consequential awards in the region for writers. Past recipients include Anca Szilágyi and E. Lily Yu, both of whom have published mesmerizing works of fiction. Stoberock's most recent novel, Pigs, was published this fall by Red Hen Press. You'll be hearing more about that one on this site later today. Congratulations to Stoberock, and congratulations to Artist Trust for continuing to highlight some of the most interesting writers in Washington state.

When You Are Old and Full of Sleep


I will bring you an orange, fat and sharp,
and cloves in hot cross buns,

psalms from bushes holding their leaves
through winter.

I will bring you golden fish
in a bowl,

suns teetering the edge of oceans,
and my dress embroidered with lemon floss.

Stay on target

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Events, books, offerings — what does great in our program is things that readers love. We have some days left in December that would be a perfect testing ground for your upcoming campaigns. Take a chance on a week with us, and see how the most dedicated, engaged, and passionate book audience in the Pacific Northwest responds.

Check out the dates on our sponsor page, and make sure you grab one before they’re all gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best events from December 2nd - December 8th

Monday, December 2nd: Surviving the Peace Reading

Peter Lippman's Surviving the Peace is about the twenty years following the war in Bosnia. It's an account of what happens after war and after genocide, and how a region tries to come to terms with the unthinkable human cost. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, December 3rd: Filipinx Lives

Two local Filipinx writers — Ricco Villanueva Siasoco, author of short story collection The Foley Artist and Angela Garbes, author of Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy — discuss culture and identity and creativity. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, December 4th: Seattle at 150 Reading

A panel of historians and city archivists discuss the new book Seattle at 150, which chronicles the history of Seattle through 150 totemic objects.
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, December 5th: Turn Around Time Reading

David Guterson's latest is a collection of poems about the pleasures and peculiarities of hiking in the Northwest woods. I enjoyed it! Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, December 6th: The Lines That Make Us and Seattle Walk Report Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Nathan Vass, The Lines That Make Us. Susanna Ryan, Seattle Walk Report Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 6 pm, free.

Alternate Friday, December 6th: Dead Astronauts Reading

Sci-fi maestro Jeff VanderMeer brings his latest novel, Dead Astronauts, to Seattle with a rare visit. I'll be interviewing him onstage, and he'll be reading and taking questions from the audience. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, December 7th: WTO 20th Anniversary

The Washington Fair Trade Coalition hosts a retrospective on this, the 20th anniversary of the WTO protests. Topics for discussion include how "trade policy affects labor rights, environmental protections, public health, immigration, food security, indigenous sovereignty, people-powered movements, data and e-commerce, and militarism." Later in the evening, Lori Wallach and Joseph Stiglitz will speak. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 3:30 pm, $20.

Sunday, December 8th: Writers in the Schools Annual Group Reading

This year's Youth Poet Laureate cohort will read, including our Youth Poet Laureate, Wei-Wei Lee. I attended the Youth Poet Laureate reading at Lit Crawl, and it was a lively and entertaining reading by some very promising young poets. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Susanna Ryan and Nathan Vass in conversation

I hate to drive. I hate cars in general. Driving makes me anxious and angry and dumb. I prefer to get around Seattle by walking or taking transit.

Seattle is better on foot. When you're moving slower, you can appreciate the subtle ways that neighborhoods gradually change and morph, one into the other. You can see the detail that goes into the older buildings. You can find the amazing network of pedestrian paths that web outward from the city to Everett and Auburn and Redmond. You can really see where you live.

And on transit, you develop an understanding of who you're sharing your city with. You get to see your neighbors, understand how they live their lives, eavesdrop on which books they're reading. Taking transit makes me feel more connected to humanity. We're all going somewhere, and the vast majority of us are good and decent people who'll give up a seat for others who need it.

This Friday at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, two local authors who exemplify the two best ways to get around town are going to be in conversation. Nathan Vass, the Seattle bus driver who wrote the excellent essay collection The Lines That Make Us, will be in conversation with cartoonist and local historian Susanna Ryan, author of the comic collection Seattle Walk Report.

I loved both these books. Vass's impeccably designed volume — it looks like a bus schedule — collects slice-of-life stories, observations about the changing city, and deeper thoughts about humanity and art. Ryan's comics are funny and enthusiastic peeks into the overlooked treasures of Seattle daily life: the finer details of civic infrastructure, the bizarre things people leave behind on the street, the history that we walk by every day.

Putting these two authors together is completely inspired. They're both young, optimistic, earnest observers of everyday life. This should be a conversation that every Seattleite would find to be inspiring — no matter how they get around. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 6 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for December 1, 2019

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

This is a season of longing. It may be a sweet, shivery longing, if there's a hope of getting what you want. Or spare and aching longing if outcomes are uncertain, the feeling you get from the warm light of a stranger's closed-tight window. Either way, it's more powerful than the small, excitable yearnings of greener seasons. It builds on decades (assuming some advancement of age) of palimpsested holiday expectations.

At worst, at this time of year, the entire world is a stranger's closed-tight window — because the big longing of the holiday season is for home. Home, however you define it: a person, or many; a place; a gathering. Or: an end to wandering, an end to wondering. Home as the place where, when you are there, you know it's where you should be.

That's the sharp tip of the knife, isn't it? This is the time of year when you're supposed to know where you belong, which almost no one does for more than half a heartbeat.

Ten of my recommendations for good writing habits

Writing can be a kind of argument with longing — a way of articulating a belonging (not accepting, let's not get crazy) relationship to the world. Lydia Davis's advice on taking notes speaks to this: observe, she says, express. Learn to see how the world belongs to itself. Learn to tolerate the longing that comes from being in the world.

I do a lot of writing and note-taking on trips: in airports, on airplanes, on trains. I recommend taking public transportation whenever possible. There are many good reasons to do this (one’s carbon footprint, safety, productive use of time, support of public transportation, etc.), but for a writer, here are two in particular: 1) you will write a good deal more waiting for a bus or sitting on a train than you will driving a car, or as a passenger in a car; and (2) you will be thrown in with strangers — people not of your choosing. Although I pass strangers when I’m walking on a city street, it is only while traveling on public transportation that I sit thigh to thigh with them on a subway, stare at the back of their heads waiting in line, and overhear sometimes extended conversations. It takes me out of my own limited, chosen world.
The homeownership obsession

Homeownership! One of the most expensive ways to (try to) satisfy the longing for home. Homebuyers imagine a house as the setting for all sorts of belonging: social, economic, familial. Katy Kelleher tracks the political and social changes that are packed into that myth. And note: as an experiment in belonging, if homeownership fails, it can be awfully hard to shake loose.

There are two different tales we tell ourselves about houses. The primary story is not about ghosts or demons or red rooms or ghouls, but rather about bright futures, long lives, children, grandchildren, and hard-earned success. The second story, the darker story, is about the horror of being trapped.
What's wrong with me?

Chronic illness is a deep kind of unbelonging, an unsettling from the self. Meghan O'Rourke documents all the forms of longing that come with an autoimmune disorder: for company, for certainty, for the lost state of good health.

As my flare subsided, I kept up with the dry brushing. The metered portions of non-dairy kefir. The flax seeds and the cinnamon. The monitoring of my lab results. Then, as I was staring at my array of brown pill bottles one spring morning, fretting about having run out of one of my supplements, a flicker of rebellion stirred in me. I wasn’t nuts—I had improved on the new regimen. But I had become trapped in my identity as a “sick person,” someone afraid of living. If my mission in life had been reduced to being well at all costs, then the illness had won.

Whatcha Reading, Peter Lippman?

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.

Peter Lippman, a Seattle native, is a life-long human rights activist and journalist. He's written for the Christian Science Monitor, The Progressive, and The Seattle Times, among others, mostly on the topic of Bosnia-Herzogovina, and the surrounding region. His book Surviving the Peace: The Struggle for Postwar Recovery in Bosnia-Herzegovina was just released by the Vanderbilt University Press. Lippman will be discussing the book next Tuesday, December 2nd, at the Elliott Bay Book Company, starting at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

Klezmer: Music, History, and Memory, by Walter Zev Feldman.

What did you read last?

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder.

What are you reading next?

My Parents, an Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You, by Aleksandar Hemon.

The Help Desk: White whine

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 doing terrible things to a turkey right now, so we're happy to re-present this column from three years ago.

Dear Cienna,

I know we have to be very careful these days. I mean, political correctness or whatever you want to call it. But, just because you like books by the Marquis de Sade doesn’t mean you want to do the things inside, right?

Just because you like a white male writer doesn’t make you bad, right? What about us who just want to read whatever the fuck we want and don’t want to have to freaking justify it to everybody?

Bellevue Man

Dear Bellevue Man,

I doubt anyone is arguing that you should disavow all white male writers, as they’re ubiquitous. You might as well proclaim that you don’t like your beaches sandy. But a lot of people agree that white male authors have historically received, and continue to receive, a level of reverence, attention, and clout simply because of their race and gender, and maybe we should make an effort to find some new voices. Nevertheless, I am sorry to hear you’re feeling oppressed by the literati. It’s hard to feel unfairly judged for something you can’t help, like your ethnicity, gender, or preference for books authored by white men. What you need to do is find a group of like-minded peers with whom you can share your burden. I would suggest you drop in on a support group – like those offered by Seattle Counseling Services – but I suspect your kind would not be welcome there. Instead, head down to the Hard Rock Cafe with a copy of Charles Bukowski’s Love is a Dog From Hell (or anything by Hunter S. Thompson) and belly up to the bar. Order one of Marshawn Lynch’s favorite drinks – Skittles Sangria or a Patronessy – and wait for another white man to sidle up and compliment your taste in literature and hip appropriation of black culture. I suspect that after a few weeks of this routine, you will have amassed your own fawning book club. No longer will you and your brethren have to stand in the shadows like the millions of other white men who like to read works by millions of still other white men. Finally, you too shall be free.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Pool to piss in

Thanksgiving, from our tables to yours

It can be hard to think of things to be thankful for when all we hear about is the dying planet and the latest scandal embroiling our government. As immigrants (Julie was born in Beijing, China and Mariya in Tomsk, Russia), it's been especially tough to listen to detractors dismiss the accounts of dedicated first-generation and second-generation American public servants on the basis they were not "American enough." Nevertheless, this year, this year, we're thankful for our families and the ways we carve out places for our cultures to exist while celebrating the original immigrant holiday — Thanksgiving.

Each year, we braid together our old food traditions with new American ones and make them our own. We can take the elements we like about Thanksgiving (family, friends, the time to appreciate what we already have) and try to push back against the rest (colonialism, erasure of Native American lives and rights, and an ahistorical understanding of the holiday). From our Thanksgiving tables to yours: a few recipes our families make, to inspire you for a future Turkey Day when you’re finally tired of turkey or mashed potatoes!

Julie: A Chinese-American Thanksgiving in Texas

Each time I return to Dallas for Thanksgiving the highlight is the potluck. My family and the families of about seven of our friends (a homegrown surrogate extended family) gather in one house, and every family brings a few dishes. The ideal ratio of dishes and people is about 1:1.25, which makes for a jaw-dropping buffet. Someone will bring fish, which symbolizes abundance. There will invariably be some Chinese takeout classics like barbecue pork and drunken chicken. There’s always a fabulous array of vegetable dishes - stir-fried lotus root, chive dumplings, about five variations of tofu product (silken, firm, dried, fermented, just the papery skins knotted and braised, or stuffed then fried, or fried then stuffed), lots of garlicky greens. Dessert is usually store-bought pecan pie, homemade cakes, and sweet soups with red bean and sticky mochi or tapioca and coconut milk. One of the grown children, finally home but unfortunately politically corrupted by some liberal coastal city, might be volunteered to bring mashed potatoes for “American Dream” optics, even though it’s always left over. One family will be assigned to roast the turkey, but will rarely consider the gravy – the only reason to have turkey at all.

When turkey is optioned amidst such a feast, it makes for an utterly disappointing centerpiece. Its only redeeming factor is its silhouette. The breast is so stubbornly dry that you have to pull it out of the oven every thirty minutes to reintroduce it to its own fat. And it’s so comically heavy that when you take the carcass out, you’re simultaneously at risk of spraining your back, spilling hot drippings over your wrists, and dropping it before you get it to the counter. At that point, I’m always reminded that it’s just a dinosaur that has outlived its heydey. A manufactured nineteenth-century tradition monopolizing our tables, when tastier fowl were likely also present at the table in 1621.

Roast chicken is crispy, goose is rich, but the best is duck. It’s just big enough to feed a crowd without being unwieldy, and fatty enough to stay moist. Here’s my mother’s recipe for a jasmine tea smoked duck that she sometimes brings to the yearly potluck, if she’s feeling ambitious. The fat from the duck drips into the tea leaves and spices, and the whole bird comes out burnished and perfumed. It is complicatedly impressive, a true celebration dish. Like all Chinese recipes, it has next to no measurements. Apologies in advance, but I could not get more precise approximations out of my mom: “They’re just going to have to try it a couple times if they want to get it right,” she said.

Of course.

Recipe: Jasmine tea smoked duck


  • One whole roasting duck
  • Salt
  • Whole Szechuan peppercorns
  • Rice, ground into a fine powder
  • Loose-leaf jasmine tea (a cheap one!)
  • Plain flour
  • Brown sugar
  • Two bay leaves
  • One teaspoon whole cloves
  • One dried tangerine peel or fresh peels from 5 clementines
  • Two star anise
  • Two dry red chili peppers (optional, should you want some heat)
  • Honey for glazing

Step 1. Pat the duck dry and set aside. Combine 3 parts salt and 1 part whole Szechuan peppercorns in a dry pan, and toast until the salt is light brown, stirring frequently. The peppercorns will become fragrant. Take it off the heat to cool. Once cool, grind the salt and peppercorn mixture until peppercorns are finely ground and evenly distributed through the salt. Rub the mixture all over the duck, as well as inside the carcass. Place the duck in a container large enough to hold the duck and cover. Refrigerate overnight.

Step 2. The next day, preheat your oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Line a roasting tray with aluminum foil and oil a rack that fits into the tray. In the bottom of the roasting tray add equal parts ground rice, flour, jasmine tea leaves, and brown sugar. There should be enough to coat the bottom of the pan about half an inch. Add the spices and mix to combine. Put the oiled rack over the spiced rice and tea mixture. Place the dry-brined duck on the rack - the bottom of the duck should not touch the rice.

Step 3. Make a foil tent over the duck to form a smoking chamber. You’ll need a large piece of continuous foil that’s big enough to tent over the roasting tray so no air escapes. If you don’t have a large enough piece, fold the edges of multiple sheets together tightly to form a larger sheet. Tent the foil over the baking tray. Make sure that there’s plenty of room in the tent; there should be space between the foil and the duck. Then press the foil around the edge of the roasting tray and seal tightly.

Step 4. Roast for 3 hours, but adjust based on how hot your oven runs. Once cooked, take the bird out, remove the smoking tent, brush honey over duck and broil on high for 3-5 minutes to crisp the skin. Let the duck rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Mariya: A Russian-American Thanksgiving in the PNW


Every year, my family hosts Thanksgiving for a large group of friends — mostly Russian immigrants like us. The table heaves with main dishes and side dishes because we've gone with the strategy of making two full meals and jamming them together instead of Americanizing Russian dishes or Russifying American ones. Russian winter salads and all manner of open-faced toasts mingle with turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

I've always been the most aesthetically interested in Shuba salad, a root vegetable and pickled fish bonanza with rainbow layers. It's a traditional New Year's dish in Russia and other former Soviet states, and holiday tables don't look correct without it to me. Shuba is a perfect marriage: so cheerful and fanciful with its vibrant colors, but so practical, filling, and creamy in a long, cold winter with its reliance on root vegetables and mayo. There's discomfort and anxiety in feeling different, so this was not a dish I invited my friends to try growing up, but I'm coming around to it. It reminds me a little of Rachel's trifle in Friends. Potatoes…good. Beets…good. Herring…good? Mayo-based dishes can be a little controversial, but the older I get, the more I want to eat them.

It was my job to peel the vegetables, the large, colorful shapes of the cooked potatoes, beets, carrots, and eggs cooling together on a plate, ready to be turned into color-coordinated piles of Lego-sized pieces and then layered. For the pièce de résistance, the magenta of the beets blends with the white mayo to create thea pink fluffy blanket on top that is this salad’s namesake (shuba means “fur coat”).

Recipe 1: Shuba Salad


  • 4 fillets pickled herring
  • 1 onion
  • 3 medium beets
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • Salt

Step 1: Boil the potatoes, carrots, beets, and eggs in a large pot until fully cooked and easily pierced with a knife. Remember that the eggs and carrots will take less time to cook than the potatoes and beets.

Step 2: Grate the potatoes, carrots, eggs, and raw onion into separate piles using a box grater. Dice the herring into small pieces.

Step 3: Layer the ingredients in a serving dish to create the salad, starting with a layer of herring, followed by a layer of onion, then a layer of potato, a layer of mayonnaise, a layer of eggs, and a layer of carrots.

Step 4: The final layer is made of beets with a coating of mayonnaise on top to create a vibrant pink color.

(Adapted from: Dressed Herring )


Another staple of Russian New Year's meals, Olivier salad features perfect cubes of multicolored vegetables in a mayonnaise dressing. Bright color is a theme here, as is mayo. Essentially this is a potato salad, but in my mind's categories it lives so far away from summer 4th of July potato salad that I was surprised when I saw it being referred to as such in a recipe online. This dish is simply called Russian Salad in some places (I saw it on a few restaurant menus in France as "salade russe"), so its PR campaign as a Russian staple has been strong.

Recipe 2: Olivier Salad


  • 5 medium potatoes
  • 4 or 5 hot dogs or diced ham
  • 5 pickles
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 can of peas
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 onion
  • Mayonnaise to taste (3/4 cup?)
  • Salt

Step 1: Boil potatoes and carrots until fully cooked and easily pierced with a knife. Hardboil the eggs and simmer hot dogs until fully cooked.

Step 2: After the vegetables and eggs have cooled to room temperature, peel them.

Step 3: Dice the potatoes, carrots, eggs, hot dogs, pickles, and raw onion into equal cubes.

Step 4: Gently stir together with the mayo, salt, and canned peas.

Despite the reservations some people (rightly) have about the history of Thanksgiving and what it represents, an encouraging thread of hope stands out in the narrative: Thanksgiving was a gathering of immigrants. Just as our parents over the years have resorted to readily available grocery store substitutes for what would have been staples in China or Russia, the Pilgrims tried their best to recreate a familiar feast to celebrate a long-awaited harvest.

Now centuries later, when the holiday food has become steeped in tradition and recycled year after year, we forget how alien the first Thanksgiving must have felt to the Plymouth settlers. With none of the basic English staples of beer, bread, or butter, the recently-arrived Europeans sat down gratefully to plates full of unfamiliar ingredients like squash, pumpkins, corn, wild berries, and lobster. It was as much a meal to toast a new beginning in a new land as it was to reminisce at year’s end.

So with that, we hope you’ll bring back some of this original wonder to your Thanksgiving tables with some new foods, be it pickled herring in a fluorescent salad or smoked tea under any other bird but a turkey. It’s probably too late this year, but the good thing about Thanksgiving is that it comes back around every twelve months. Otherwise, these recipes are equally good for the rest of the holiday season, the new year, or your next dinner party.

Mail Call for November 27, 2019

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Mail Call! #bookhaul

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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.

Holiday recommends: Here's the book that Susanna Ryan would give to all of Seattle

We're asking people who made a splash in 2019 one question: If you could give everyone in Seattle one book as a gift this holiday season, what book would you choose and why? Our first recommender is Susanna Ryan, the cartooning sensation behind the always-delightful Seattle Walk Report Instagram feed. Ryan's fantastic first book, Seattle Walk Report, is available at fine independent bookstores everywhere, and if you're looking for a signed copy to give your favorite Seattleite this holiday, she will appear in conversation with local author/bus driver Nathan Vass at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park on Friday, December 6th. Here's Ryan's holiday gift selection:

Recommending a history book as a holiday gift for every single person in Seattle feels a bit like handing out toothbrushes on Halloween, but I think all Seattleites have something to gain from reading Seattle at 150: Stories of the City through 150 Objects, an approachable, well-curated book that uses documents, photos, and ephemera from the Seattle Municipal Archives to shine a light on decisions that have shaped the city since its incorporation in 1869. Pairing interesting finds from the Archives with short, thoughtful paragraphs about their significance, this book manages to be both an engaging entry point for folks new to exploring Seattle's history and a delightful read for even the most devoted local history nerds. If we want a vibrant "Seattle at 300" in 2169, I believe that having a citizenry with an understanding of where we've been is essential. Give the gift of perspective with this satisfying book!

The facing page

Published November 26, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Make It True Meets Medusario , edited by José Kozer, Paul E. Nelson, Thomas Walton.

Cultures converse in an anthology that combines Northwest poetry with a neo-baroque movement from Latin America.

Read this review now



Light, the broken order;
Hate, the ancient wheel;
Death, the open water;
Birth, the shepherd’s seal;

Sleep, the augur’s gamble;
Love, the upturned nail;
Joy, the ringing anvil;
Lust, the tattered sail.

Pain, my master’s reason;
Age, the prophet’s dance;
Youth, the fickle season;
Faith, my lover’s hands.

Please consider giving to Northwest Harvest

We've donated our sponsorship this week to Northwest Harvest. Since 1967, Northwest Harvest has been doing the important work of providing food and resources to those who are hungry and in need across the Northwest.

If you are able to, please give to Northwest Harvest, and support their important vision of ending hunger in Washington State.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 25th - December 1st

Monday, November 25th Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future Reading

Photographer Barry Schneier famously captured a Boston Bruce Springsteen concert from May 9, 1974 that helped launch the singer's career. Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future collects many of Schneier’s photographs. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, November 26th: The Witches Are Coming Reading

Seattle's own Lindy West has published her latest collection of essays, about feminism, the internet, Donald fucking Trump, trolls, and popular culture. It's just as funny, as smart, and insightful as you've come to expect from Lindy. (Full disclosure: I worked with Lindy and she's my friend. But this is indisputably the hottest ticket in town.)

Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $20-80.

Wednesday, November 27th: Hangdog Days Reading

Jeff Smoot is a mountain climber. His book Hangdog Days documents the 1970s, which was a revolutionary time for mountain climbing. The book is a 2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition Category Finalist in Mountain Literature. Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 547-8127, free.

Saturday, November 30th: Indies First

See our Event of the Week Column for more details.

Sunday, December 1st: Beyond the Valley Reading

Ramesh Srinivasan's new book "describes the internet as both an enabler of frictionless efficiency and a dirty tangle of politics, economics, and other inefficient, inharmonious human activities." He profiles the people who have both made the internet into the necessary cesspool it is today and the people who are fighting to make the internet better. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Indies First

One day after the horror that is Black Friday, local bookstores are celebrating Small Business Saturday with a celebration called Indies First. Its a reminder that your independent bookstores are ready and waiting to help you find the perfect holiday gifts.

I urge you to do your shopping at independent bookstores this year. Don't do it because they're amazing local institutions — though they are. And don't do it because they're better for the local community than online retailers — though they are that, too. Do that because they're the best shopping experience, and they'll help you find the book that's just right for you.

I know I’m biased, because I come from a bookselling background, but I think a good independent bookstore is one of the most compelling reasons to live in a city. You can tell the quality of a city by its independent bookstore scene.

I don’t need to tell you, a reader of the Seattle Review of Books, all this. But you might need a reminder that if you love a bookstore, the best way to demonstrate your love is by buying stuff there — especially during the holidays.

You could do worse in life than to be known as the person who always gives books for gifts. In fact, I’d argue that books are the perfect gift: they’re personal and the receiver thinks of the giver the whole time they’re reading the book.

When you give the gift of books you bought at an independent bookstore, you’re really giving two gifts at once. You’re giving the book, of course, but you’re also investing in a local institution and improving the quality of life in the city you love. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I want for the holidays.

Find the independent bookstore nearest you:

The Sunday Post for November 24, 2019

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

When the tea reaches its boiling point in fiction, so too may the story

Let's start out with a steaming mug of tea. Refreshing on a hot day or comforting in the dull Seattle winter, tea can be as versatile in literature as it is in real life, and writers from Proust to J. K. Rowling use it to create atmosphere and develop characters. In this piece, journalist Nina Martyris catalogues a few of the ways writers like Dostoevsky use tea anecdotes to convey emotion and drive their plots forward. I can never get enough tea content, so I was riveted.

Hot tea — it has to be unhealthily hot — has a deep emotional relationship with the drinker. Its dimensions encompass far more than the gustatory, starting with its magical ability to get chronic malingerers out of bed every morning. That first chastising sip constitutes a tiny tour de force of hope that, like a tingling hot bath, cauterizes other pains.
What tweets and emojis did to the novel

If our attention spans are worse now than ever before, why was there so much love and media frenzy for Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series and Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle? Both are long, sprawling, and detailed, basically the opposite of a tweet. Looking back on the last few decades of literature, Charles Finch argues that it's how these books contrast with the bite-sized media and rapid news cycle we've grown used to that makes them so appealing. Ferrante and Knausgard zoom in on the interiority of one human life, and we can't stop reading because we're starved for autofiction that lets us explore another’s consciousness for longer than the length of a blog post.

I don't know if I agree with his conclusion that modern media has made space for works like these, but I do know that I was so immersed in Ferrante's novels that I couldn't think about anything else when I was reading them.

...what makes autofiction seem essential is that enough people felt an attraction to its length, gravity and honesty to make it, implausibly, into a phenomenon. That must mean something. But what? Perhaps the explanation lies in how starkly whole Knausgaard’s and Ferrante’s books appear to be. The lives we lead on our phones and computers are at once irresistible and uneasy — jittery, depressive, deceptive. As our social lives, typically the dominion of the novel, have partly mutated into a flow of adjacent but isolated images and captions, autofiction’s careful human pace is a protest that no matter how it may seem, we still haven’t quite merged with our computers. Not yet.
What newspapers can teach us about web design

The idea of "above the fold," grid systems, and nameplates/headers are just a few concepts web design lifted from newspapers — the original websites. Here, Frederick O’Brien explores what we can learn from centuries of newspapers to understand and improve web design. The two types of media share simple but hard-to-execute goals: grab attention, convey important information efficiently, and keep users coming back. In addition to being able to build on newspaper design principles, websites have the advantage of more specific user data and the ability to make changes quickly. This piece sent me off on a tangent — exploring the latest Society of News Design's Best News Design award winners — which was fun.

When you dig into the basic principles of news design, overlaps with the web are frequent and oftentimes indistinguishable. Many web design best practices can be traced directly back to news design. When it comes down to it, websites are made for users to engage with, and hopefully return to. Newspapers have been playing that game for centuries, and winning.
As one, the internet lets off steam about meandering, detail-obsessed authors

And finally, catharsis for anyone who's ever felt personally victimized by Herman Melville's long-winded descriptions of whale anatomy: a Twitter thread calling out detail-oriented authors who can't stop droning on and on about their pet subjects. For Hugo, it's the Paris sewer system; for Tolstoy, it's farming. Was your fave spared?

Whatcha Reading, Mariya Bashkatova?

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.

Mariya Bashkatova studied comparative literature and cognitive science in college and now works as a product manager. She's fairly new in Seattle and is still trying to decide on her favorite bookstore in the city. (Suggestions are welcome!) She's interested in translation and languages and is currently trying to learn Spanish using Duolingo based on the false premise that it should be easy because it's basically the same as French. She's also helping us out as an editor, so you'll be seeing her name around the site going forward. Welcome, and thanks, Mariya!

What are you reading now?

I usually read one book at a time. Right now, I'm reading She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the two New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story. It's fascinating to follow the steps of their journalistic process and learn about the details of the investigation. It's also nausea inducing to read the specifics of Weinstein's abuse of women and reckon with how wide-ranging and thorough the cover-up was.

What did you read last?

I just finished We Begin our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed. It's not a book that would normally jump out at me because it's about professional cycling, but I was drawn to the cover design and glowing blurb from George Saunders. The writing is tight and focused on blinkered ambition and striving, in the form of a cyclist in the Tour de France whose team engages in low-level doping. Before that, I read No One Belongs Here More Than You, a really lonely short story collection by Miranda July.

What are you reading next?

Next on my shelf is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I’m also planning to read The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, who’s giving a talk at Elliott Bay today at 7pm. I've been meaning to read White Teeth by Zadie Smith for years, so I'm finally going to read it in a book group.

The Help Desk: Among friends

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

Dear Cienna,

A local novelist's new book just got a glowing review in a major review outlet. That's great!

The problem is, I happen to know that the writer who wrote the review — also a local writer, by the way — is a good friends with the local novelist. They've been in programs together and they've done readings together, and they hang out together. The review, of course, mentioned none of this. There's no way it can be considered an impartial review.

My sense of fairness is sorely being tested right now, Cienna. Is this kind of incestuous familiarity between reviewer and reviewed considered acceptable in the reviewing community? If not, should I let the outlet know, or would that make me a lousy snitch?

Hollie, Crown Hill

Dear Hollie,

You're right to feel affronted. It's common for artists and critics to socialize and work in the same small circles, but failing to disclose a personal relationship with a subject is egregious and unnecessary.

When making a new human friend, I first invite them to send me a notarized document affirming that yes, they are engaging in an act of friendship with me freely and willingly, which I submit to all local papers in the "announcements" section for three weeks. At that time, I instruct them to meet me at Friendship Bridge, which is the name of a real bridge for some reason. At the apex of this bridge, we hold hands and chant "friendship, friendship, friendship" three times for the world to see.

Instead of writing to the reviewer's outlet, I advise you to contact the reviewer directly and ask them to explain themselves. Perhaps they can – perhaps the relationship is not as close as you perceived it to be (for instance, reading at the same event doesn't meet the "disclosure" criteria for me, as individuals who are invited to read rarely have a say in who they read with – or even know beforehand).

If they can't, perhaps you should submit your own announcement to the reviewer's outlet rejoicing in their relationship. It's the honest thing to do and who doesn't like to celebrate friendship?



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Luggage

Criminal Fiction: Ok, turkey

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

When four cutthroat investment bankers are summoned to an unoccupied office building on a Friday night, they assume it has something to do with their team’s recent financial failures and potential staff changes at the firm. In Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room (St. Martin’s Press) Vincent, Sylvie, Jules, and Sam all have good reason to fear being fired; individually, of course, each of them is determined to ensure they won’t be the one to go. Then their collective elevator ride in that empty building turns into an escape-room challenge, pitting them one against the other. Goldin weaves her narrative-thriller magic deftly, interspersing the bankers’ predicament with a parallel narrative of life at the investment firm in all its excessive, soul-crushing, venal glory. Partly inspired by Goldin’s own experience during a humiliating job interview, Escape Room limns the adrenaline-fueled, dog-eat-dog halls of Wall Street to generate a clever and provocative page-turner.

Both Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard are guilty of burning the proverbial candle at both ends in The Night Fire. Granted, they each have their hands full not just with a shared case, but with separate, individual ones on top of that. Still, the lack of proper sleep – you’d think – is bound to catch up. At least that’s what Bosch gently nags Ballard about, as she banters back with an, “Okay, DAD!,” attitude. While Ballard pursues the mysterious death-by-fire of a homeless man, and Bosch assists his half-brother Mickey Haller on a court case and its follow-up, together they puzzle over a murder book that’s been hidden by an early mentor of Bosch’s, John Jack Thompson: why did Thompson, a well-respected detective, bury the unsolved case and how can they solve it nearly 30 years on? As Bosch and Ballard make their way around the best City of Angels eateries, chewing over the evidence as well as the tastiest food the Big Orange has to offer, their ability to work as a team and their growing appreciation of each other as a trustable colleague comes to full-blown fruition. The entire book is a kind of ode to complementary partnerships, in fact, highlighted in Connelly’s dedication to the actor who brings Bosch to palpable life: “For Titus Welliver, for breathing life into Harry Bosch. Hold Fast.”

The chance of a lifetime – akin, husband-and-wife team Paddy and Finn agree, to winning the lottery – brings the couple to the gatehouse of a posh rural residence in the wet and wild village of Simmerton in Catriona McPherson’s Strangers at the Gate (Minotaur). Simmerton is located more than a few stones’ throw from, well, pretty much anywhere, but a partnership at a local law firm for Paddy and a proper job as a local deacon for Finn cheer their career prospects immensely. With little trepidation, they head off to a welcome-to-the-neighborhood dinner with Paddy’s new boss and his wife, Tuft Dudgeon, who, with her freewheeling cooking and cigarette-smoking styles, is one of the most enjoyable characters in recent mystery-lit. But all is not idyllic in Simmerton, a locale simmering with intrigue: with an unexpected spot of murder, a bevy of curious characters, and endless days of dreich, damp weather, McPherson delivers a maze of a thriller that will keep you guessing, turning pages, and staying up well past your bedtime.

Lisa Jewell is super-skilled at conjuring stories from the inside out: by the time you’ve immersed yourself in the early narrative of The Family Upstairs (Atria), you realize you’re in the middle of a humdinger of a tale, one with a compelling history and more collective emotional baggage than could fit in the hold of an Airbus A380. A long-lost inheritance, Gothicly toxic family dynamics, cultish activities, a derelict mansion in the center of London, a pair of amateur sleuths, a long-ago baby coming of age, and the wily ways of dubious personalities masquerading as saviors are just a few of the elements Jewell uses to spin her story of suspense and psychological thrills and chills. From protagonist Libby Jones — holding down a kitchen-sales job, paying off her mortgage, counting her pennies for extras, and holding out for Mr. Right — to the vagaries of early crushes, vulnerable personalities, and focused deviousness, Jewell’s recipe for suspense more than delivers, including the scariest acknowledgement of all: people may not have murderous intent in their hearts, but that does not necessarily make them less like to kill when pushed into a corner.

With Your House Will Pay (Ecco), Steph Cha breaks from her terrific Juniper Song trilogy, but her fiercely incisive and insightful writing shines on. Cha delves into a historical crime – the 1991 Los Angeles killing of a young African-American girl, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean-American woman, Soon Ja Du – viscerally transforming the violence and its aftermath into a rich, clear-eyed narrative. Cha tells her story from both families’ points of view, drawing us ever-closer to an underlying question: in today’s America, in which direction does justice, fairness, and the way forward lie? The deeply affecting answer holds no spoilers, just an irrefutable and certain realization that the only way for justice to be found in America is by communities uniting together rather than allowing themselves to be divided. But just as effective is Cha’s ability to build empathy for each one of her characters, reaching into their individual life stories – their dark and light elements alike – and crafting a tale that’s utterly humane.

The Quintessential Interview: Rene Denfeld

On the raggedy streets of Portland, Celia, the eponymous Butterfly Girl (Harper) in Rene Denfeld’s new novel, finds her place among the homeless. Two street-friends, Rich and Stoner, try to offer her some protection, but really, they are all equally vulnerable to others’ bullying, beatings, and worse. When Celia’s path crosses that of Naomi, protagonist of Denfeld’s The Child Finder who is now on a determined mission to find her lost sister, a horrific range of crimes collide. Delineating the impact of absent and incapable parents while also inscribing the life-arc of a kidnapper and killer, Denfeld’s novel shimmers with a quiet intensity, throwing the despair of homelessness into sharp relief while ferreting out the good guys as well. It’s a well-told tale of survival against formidable odds, of the power of stories to console and shore up determination, and, most refreshingly, of finding your way home.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

My day job has been a huge inspiration. For over ten years I've worked public-defense cases as an investigator, including death row exonerations. What could be more inspiring than that? My kids are also inspirations. I'm a long-time foster mom who has adopted three kids from foster care and fostered others. I love how stories come to us, and the best way to experience that is to live a full, interesting life. So my top five inspirations would be my justice work, fostering, reading, going for long walks, and the beauty of life.

Top five places to write?

I have an antique roll top desk with a magic key. It feels like magic! I also take my laptop with me everywhere and catch moments in waiting rooms, outside prisons, and so forth when working and parenting. Everyplace is a place to write!

Top five favorite authors?

Don't make me do this! I admire so many. Toni Morrison, Jane Smiley, Ernest J. Gaines, Katherine Dunn, Cheryl Strayed….

Top five tunes to write to?

I stop hearing when I write, so I'm afraid whatever music might be playing is lost to me. I only hear the sounds inside the story. If there is music being played inside the story then that is what I hear. The sounds inside The Butterfly Girl were the sounds of the skid row: horns honking, people fighting, music blaring from open strip-club doors. I would hear snatches of songs from the strip clubs and bars: Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Van Halen. The bittersweet twist of those songs in the presence of a 12-year-old fighting to not be trapped into trafficking herself.

Top five hometown spots?

I live in St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, and I'll arm wrestle you that this is the best place ever. I love Cathedral Park, Baltimore Woods, Pier Park, Slim's Restaurant & Lounge, and our lovely little brickhouse library.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Hail Florida

The latest minicomic from Seattle cartoonists Marc Palm and Brandon Lehmann, Florida Man and the Golden Tickets to Heaven, is a story based on a single joke. Luckily, it's a good joke. You've likely seen the (now retired) Florida Man Twitter feed that treats every tawdry news story involving a drugged-out poaching crime spree as another installment in the continuing adventures of a single bargain-basement superhero named Florida Man.

Heaven plays that premise straight: Florida Man wears wraparound sunglasses and sports a mullet. His costume is a sleeveless t-shirt with Florida's outline on it and a pair of flip flops. He just wants to hang out in a parking lot and enjoy life. Then an alien shows up and offers to take Florida Man to a "planet made entirely of drugs." The catch is that the trip will cost $10,000, and Florida Man has to dig up the cash in advance.

Much has been made of the classism and culture-gawking of the Florida Man phenomenon, but Lehmann's story for Heaven mostly keeps its comedy out of the realm of mockery. Instead, it's a sleazy American tall tale in the classical sense: Florida Man is a larger-than-life hero having exaggerated adventures that meander around from place to place and getting more and more bizarre, like the tale of Paul Bunyan.

Palm's illustrations for the book — a single panel per page like a children's book — are minimalist but striking. Sometimes a panel will consist of nothing but two figures interacting, but those poses — say, a cop handcuffing Florida Man — feel exactly true to life. Palm is fast becoming one of Seattle's best cartoonists: he's getting into a zone where every line he puts on paper is exactly the right line. Even in a situation where the book is clearly a bit of a lark, the art of his cartooning is undeniable.

Publishing: As white as it ever was

Please click through and read Patrice Caldwell's very important thread about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry.

Tonight, two of Seattle's best nature writers talk about writing non-fiction. Here's what to expect:

Tonight at Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Seattle Times books columnist Mary Ann Gwinn will be interviewing two Seattle authors about the art and craft of writing nonfiction books. Lynda Mapes this year published a fantastic book that examines climate change through the life of one remarkable tree, and David B. Williams's fascinating Stories in Stone: Travels through Urban Geology has recently been published in paperback. Both Williams and Mapes are remarkable chroniclers of the natural world; they capture the mystery and the science of nature in clever narratives. This should be a great conversation for lovers of literature and aspiring authors alike. We called Williams on the phone to get a little more information about the event. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about the panel and what people can expect from it.

Basically the panel is centered on nonfiction writing and the process of nonfiction writing — with an emphasis on both Lynda and I working particularly in natural history. What's the process? How do you go from an idea to research to organization to telling your story? How do you know when you're done with the book? Really sort of the whole process, every aspect of it.

Do you have an audience in mind for this?

My guess is with Folio, and with a few of the writers who are hoping to come, I'm guessing we'll probably hit a broad range from more experienced to less experienced. Both of us have been involved with books — working with both national and local publishers — for many years. I think we bring a pretty broad perspective to it.

One of the most common complaints I hear about nonfiction books, and that I've actually levied against several nonfiction books in reviews, is that it would be better served as a magazine article. A lot of nonfiction books feel like they're padded-out articles. I was wondering if that's something that you've encountered as a reader.

I've read a number of books that, as you say, feel like a magazine article on steroids. You ask, "why didn't they just do this in 10,000 words instead of 80,000 words?" And you have this feeling that everything the person ever learned was spit out onto the book. I think that is definitely a truism. I've seen that in many books that I've read.

I think that Lynda and I are more judicious about pruning our books, and trying to tell stories that are more compelling, and not weaving in every fact that we have, though we're both obviously very focused on getting the facts right.

Actually, this has happened to me: I'll write an article and then an agent will get in touch and ask if I could turn the article into a book pitch. A lot of the time, I don't think it's even necessarily the author's fault, it's that the industry always wants more of the same, a known quantity.

My books, for better or worse, have been driven by my particular passion for a subject. I've always been the generator of the idea versus having someone asking me to expand on it.

But you definitely have that feeling. I think Susan Orlean's book about libraries was that way. It would have been better as something much shorter. She's still a brilliant, amazing writer, but I had problems with it.

Yeah. This kind of padding is maybe the worst thing that you can do in the attention economy: it wastes people's time. But I think it's very hard for writers to say no to that kind of attention from an agent or a publisher.

It's the classic problem: you do all this research and you think it's really interesting and you want to put it in the book. You've done all this research. If you're a diligent researcher, you have the possibility of doing too much research and just wanting to get all the facts down. So how do you recognize when to prune? I like to think that I've gotten better at that over the years, at trying to not feel I have to put a brain dump into the book. And Linda certainly does a beautiful job of that.

You traditionally work curiosity-first?

Very much so, yeah. I've been very lucky that every book I have written has come out of something that really fascinated me. Stories in Stone was something I'd been interested in for years and finally decided, 'okay, I either have to give up this idea or try and write a book about it.' And I was fortunate enough to be able to write a book about it. Then the book I did on Seattle's big engineering projects, Too High and Too Steep, was something that interested me, and as I researched it I found it more and more interesting. That drives me as a writer.

Your curiosity is definitely always apparent on the page. Have you done a lot of teaching of this kind of thing?

I have not. I have done very little — almost no — teaching of writing.

So how did the format for this came though — as a conversation, as opposed to, say, a lecture?

Mary Ann is friends with both Lynda and myself, and we have talked about the process of writing together or separately over the years. With Mary Ann so involved in the book world, I think that's something that has always interested her. We wanted to do something a little bit different than just talk about the book, and we wanted to have that interaction with Mary Ann, who's so smart.

Is there anything about about Folio that appeals to you as the venue for this?

I think they're so interested in the culture of the book, and the culture that grows out of conversation of books. It's one of the most literate places around in a place that's so focused on books. It adds another layer to that conversation that's taking place around us.</;p>

I think what Lynda and I bring is that we're both grounded in this place. We're writing from a perspective of Seattle and Puget Sound and trying to connect those stories. It's not to say that any other nonfiction writer who's from outside this area wouldn't have that perspective. But our perspective is so strongly tied to this area that I think we bring something special that outside writers wouldn't necessarily have — not better or worse, but just different.

My next book is about human and natural history on Puget Sound. Lynda and I are sort of on parallel paths, since her next book's on orcas. I'm taking a wider ecosystem perspective than Lynda, but we parallel each other in some ways. It'll be fun to be in conversation with Lynda about that and think about, again, how do you tell the story of a place? She is doing it by focusing specifically on one animal and I'm doing it on the broader perspective of trying to connect the ecosystem to place through a variety of different animals and different stories. So, it should be fun.

Will you ever switch to buying mostly ebooks?

I'm always interested in literary agent Nathan Bransford's annual poll about ebook adoption. Every year, he polls his readers about whether they're ever going to buy mostly ebooks over paper books. Bransford's fans tend to be more aggressive ebook adopters, but the poll is falling into a fairly predictable pattern. Unless something drastic happens, it doesn't seem like ebooks are ever going to take over the world.

Know her name

Published November 19, 2019, at 12pm

Julie Letchner reviews Chanel Miller’s Know My Name .

Reviewing Chanel Miller's Know My Name, Julie Letchner is a clear lens for anger and a clear voice for women.

Read this review now

The Vow

(Side-scroll to see full lines)


We remitted my father this year to the nameless earth,
where no gods churn the ground with their invisible hands
and no resurrected form yet retains his strange acuity. We eulogized him
then went about our business, dazed for a time, then made a vow
to spread his ashes where he and his wife had left

their disparate passions. The business of the living is to return

the memories of the dead to a verbal corpus and to return
their myths to a physical place on the earth
and perhaps find some measure of comfort in what is left

after their ashes are wind-borne. My hands
tremble at this thought, the emptied vessel, the vow
to ascribe meaning to a meaningless death, to forget in him

a terrible iniquity and thus a childhood lost: yet also to find in him
such boundless joy among the aspen and evergreen, the return
to the garden, before the temptation and Adam’s vow,
before he rose up from God’s cruel breath and the earth,
before his own trembling hands
had limned the contours of his nakedness, and hers. All that is left

is this jar of desiccated dreams, all that is left
of my father is a thimbleful of questions. I still see him
when I dream, driving an empty bus, his hands
curled around the door handle like Charon on his return
from the River Styx, ferrying me and my daughter from the earth
across the threshold. Sometimes he vows

we will be safe on our journey; in other dreams, he vows
nothing, but is consigned to the end, rolling onto his left
side in silence like St. Lawrence on hot coals, the earth
finally collapsing in around him.
He was a martyr even among the living, and in return
we grieved at his every step downward, our hands

bound by his prophecy, knowing his hands
were summarily free to fashion his end. Yet I vow
that this is not his end, and that in these words he will return
if only for a moment from the edge of that darkling plain, where he left
Blake and Arnold to confer with him
under the shadow of the Earth.

This is my wish, to return his voice to the living; to feel his hands
once more upon my shoulder as I walk the earth, and to vow
this is not all that is left of him.

A novel that asks what happens when all the lights go out...

Seattle-based sponsor Orson's Publishing is a small-press that puts out "gutsy books for gutsy readers."

Like Wounded Tongue — this novel by Garrett Dennert takes place in a future world without electricity, a total blackout. Masked tribes war over pockets of the new world.

A middle aged-scavenger in Waco, Texas meet Vitri, a hearing-impaired orphan. They agree to travel east together, into the darkness of their world.

Read a gripping full chapter from the novel on our sponsor's page.

It's sponsor's like Orson's that make all the content you read this week possible. We've got some prime spots available in the coming weeks before the holidays — make sure your winter event, or book, is in the hands of people looking for great gift ideas for their literary loved ones.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 18th - November 24th

Monday, November 18th: The Great Pretender Reading

Susanah Calahan's book The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness is about a study in which sane people in the 1970s tried to get themselves committed to mental institutions. At the time, the study revealed some uncomfortable truths about our mental health system, and now Calahan is unveiling some uncomfortable truths about the study. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Tuesday, November 19th: We Are Puget Sound Reading

The latest reading for the new book about our beautiful, life-giving body of water features Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman, Mindy Roberts from the Washington Environmental Council, and Les Purce from the Orca Recovery Task Force. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Wednesday, November 20th: The Every Other

Doug Nufer's newest reading series presents great Seattle authors Thomas Walton and Jeff Encke, along with solo saxophone by Scott Granlund. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, free.

Thursday, November 21st: The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook Reading

Naomi Tomky is a gifted food writer. This is the latest stop on her tour to celebrate the release of her new book, The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook: Salmon, Crab, Oysters, and More. The book contains some 75 recipes for curries, appetizers, main dishes, and more. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, November 22nd: Hugo Literary Series

In the Hugo House's latest Literary Series outing, writers Hannah Tinti, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Richard Chiem will read new work along the theme of "Taking Liberties." Amber Flame will perform music that meets the theme as well. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $25.

Saturday, November 23rd: Holiday Bookfest

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Phinney Center,, 3 pm, free.

Sunday, November 24th: It's About Time Writer's Craft Anthology

"Seattle’s longest-running prose and poetry reading series" celebrates a new anthology that collects a few of the many craft talks that are a signature of the series. The book's editors, Esther Altshul Helfgott, Peggy Sturdivant and Katie Tynan, will be joined by Bethany Reid, John McFarland, and Susan Rich. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Holiday Bookfest at Phinney Center

Look, you can only pretend that the holidays aren't coming for so long. Eventually, the calendar makes you pay for your procrastination. With that in mind, why not get your friends and family autographed books this year? And also, why not get all your holiday shopping done in one Saturday afternoon?

The Holiday Bookfest at Phinney Center features readings, signings, and other book-related events with an enormous collection of Pacific Northwest authors in one place. It's been going for a decade, and it benefits local organizations like Pocket Libraries and the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Why wouldn't you go?

Here's a list of authors who'll be attending:

  • Kathleen Alcala
  • Erica Bauermeister
  • JL Brown
  • Lynn Brunelle
  • Deb Caletti
  • J Anderson Coats
  • Tim Egan
  • Elizabeth George
  • Jennifer Gold
  • Jennifer Haupt
  • Lyanda Lynn Haupt
  • Beth Jusino
  • David Laskin
  • Louisa Morgan
  • Kevin O’Brien
  • Anna Quinn
  • Kim Brown Seely
  • Gina Siciliano
  • Rachel Lynn Solomo
  • Garth Stein
  • Nathan Vass
  • Urban Waite
  • Tara Austen Weaver
  • David B. Williams

If you can't find something for everyone on your holiday gift list this year in that lineup, I don't know what to tell you.

Phinney Center,, 3 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for November 17, 2019

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

Seattle winters are long and dark and wet, and I sympathize fully with anyone who dreads them. I’ve had my own years where the dark winter got inside me, and years when the first clear and sunny day brought tears of surprised relief.

It’s not helped by the current atmosphere of generalized apocalyptic shitstorm (“GAS”). Social media carries some of the blame for that, but then there’s simple reality: our government currently is a shitstorm, and we’re generally trying like hell to avoid an apocalypse.

Crisis of this magnitude calls for heroics, but it also calls for small, good things. Keeping your mind clear of the enemy, making sure the tenor of your being (with thanks to the friend who’s loaning me that term) pushes the dark away instead of bringing it closer. For example…

This tiny bookstore on wheels brings books to towns whose bookstores have closed

Jenn Fields shares her joy in Jean-Jacques Megal-Nuber’s tiny home bookmobile. “Au Vrai Chic Littérère” is jam-packed with books and somehow still bright, comfortable, and calm. Megal-Nuber travels with the bookmobile through rural Alsace, sleeping in its miniature loft at night and opening the doors during day to villagers who no longer have bookstores in their town.

Dreamlike, and full of dreams.

[The] tiny home-turned-library is gorgeous on the inside. The light-colored pine throughout, including the bookshelves, gives it a bright interior.

“I wanted a little feeling of a cabin and an aura of a small bookstore, which both evoke a lot of dreaming,” Pauline Fagué, a designer at Maison qui Chemine, told Architectural Digest of the design.

The secret to enjoying a long winter

Depression and anxiety are tricky things, and it takes more than a shift in attitude to shift the black dog. But, Jason Kottke found, accepting the presence of a smaller, seasonal dog can make room for a little light.

Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings.

The complicated role of the modern public library

I have a friend, a woman with a lovely, curious mind and a deep sense of courtesy, who will only return library books to the branch where she checked them out. Her graciousness toward the librarians who wrangle returns, and her desire to protect each branch’s collection, are admirable if eccentric.

But: what’s more library than circulation? And not just the movement of books from one shelf to another, but from hand to hand, across the city and across social strata. Libraries aren’t perfect, and they aren’t the greater levelers of society, but they’re closer than almost anything else we have. They’re a refuge and a respite and a place where we learn about each other, from the page and from the person. A place where when you have to go there, they almost certainly will take you in.

The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.
How to unlearn everything

Alexander Chee cuts brilliantly to the heart of white writers who want advice for writing about people of color, or straight people who want to write queer. Instead of a diatribe, or anger, he brings to the table some straightforward and strengthening advice: write the stories only you can write. His approach is clear and respectful without giving ground — an antidote, if you’ll pardon the trite close, to the apocalypse of anger that has overtaken what we are, collectively, together.

Given all the excellent writing about the challenges of rendering otherness, someone who asks this question in 2019 probably has not done the reading. But the question is a Trojan horse, posing as reasonable artistic discourse when, in fact, many writers are not really asking for advice — they are asking if it is okay to find a way to continue as they have. They don’t want an answer; they want permission. Which is why all that excellent writing advice has failed to stop the question thus far.

Whatcha Reading, Jazno Francoeur?

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.

Jazno Francoeur is a polymath: after a career in visual effects for Walt Disney Animated Features, he moved north to teach animation at DigPen in Redmond, where he's also headed the department. He's travelled the world helping DigiPen open new programs in Singapore and Bilbao, and also teaching in Thailand, China, Lebanon, and Japan. He's a musician, photographer, and poet. He's currently our Poet in Residence for November — we've published two of his poems so far: "Via Sacra", and "Fireweed".

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems.

What did you read last?

My last read was Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan by Zack Davisson.

What are you reading next?

My next read is What the Ice Gets by Melinda Mueller.

The Help Desk: Books for the seasonally affected

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

Dear Cienna,

I'm really struggling right now. What book have you read that made you feel most hopeful about humanity?

Diane, Leschi

Dear Diane,

I'm sorry to hear that. Many of my human friends struggle. Some have been struggling for exactly the last three years; some struggle every winter. Like you, many have turned to me for help. At first, I tried making them Cactus Patch dolls to encourage them to be less needy, as my own mother did for me as a child. From this I learned that not everyone's face is as heavily calloused as my own, and that even people who brag about how much they "love nature" are not as grateful as they should be when receiving such a present.

You're wise to ask for a book. Unfortunately, I can't point to one book that makes me feel hopeful about humanity. The act of reading makes me feel hope. Within books you find more imagination, emotion and vulnerability than people are conventionally allowed to express in our daily lives. Even if many books fail at being a complete triumph, all books are an intense labor of love. That should make you feel hopeful.

But if cactus hugs and basement philosophizing don't make you feel any better, try these books:



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Still asleep

The Portrait Gallery: Herman Melville

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

One-hundred and sixty-eight years ago today, in 1851, Moby Dick was published. Melville wrote one of the great romances of our time, as Ishmael wakes for the first time with Queequeg.

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade—owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times—this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.

The Future Alternative Past: The smell of a world that has burned

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

Jimi Hendrix sang us the truth over fifty years ago in “Up from the Skies,” one of his many SF songs. This world is burning. Just ask California. Burning. Deny it all you want, or all our corporate would-be masters want, but science says the planet’s climate has changed, warming suddenly and significantly due to industrial activity. Long a plot device driving fictional futures imagining extraterrestrial colonization, ecological crises are real, here, now.

Admitting that takes a certain audacity. It’s a species of boldness Octavia E. Butler displayed in her Earthseed books--especially the first, Parable of the Sower. In Sower, members of a vanishing middle class hunker behind the walls of gated communities, increasingly the prey of roaming homeless have-nots, eventually heading northward to escape heat and drought. When Butler wrote the books in the 1990s they were set in the near future of the 21st century’s early decades. Our present.

What’s next? Much of the SFFH I most admire is about moving on from the status quo. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 novel New York 2140, NYC is flooded but not abandoned. Like Venice, its buildings’ upper stories are inhabited, and water transport is the norm. The city’s inundation is shown to have positive points for the wealthy, as when eating certain types of seafood conveys higher status. The art scene, of course, is located in its damp and dangerous lower stories. And yet, despite depicting literal and blatant stratification of this kind, Robinson supposes ways for his wide spectrum of characters to get the best of capitalist oppression.

In Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz, humanity adapts worldwide to the new geography of global climate change. Submarines and reclaimed tundra make corporate expansion into formerly frozen wastelands profitable. Likewise, Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising showcases the potential for exploiting oil deposits uncovered by melting polar ice. Buckell also raises the possibility of remediating the mess climate change is making of his not-too-far-distant future, though said possibility is fraught with danger.

Hopeful takes on the outcome of current ecological trends are now viewed as a SFFH subgenre. It’s called solarpunk. The first solarpunk anthology, Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável was published in Brazil in 2012, and in an English translation in the US in 2018. The 2017 solarpunk anthology Sunvault collects work by me, Daniel José Older, Kristin Ong Muslim, and other up and coming authors. There’s a pertinent Australian anthology as well: Ecopunk!: Speculative Tales of Radical Futures.

Of course people talk about solarpunk novels, too; some of that talk is meant to repurpose books that predate the literary classification solarpunk, including titles I’ve named here, such as Sower and Arctic Rising. Some of it is commentary on more recent works consciously identifying as solarpunk. And some of it’s about bias against the category.

A couple of decades ago I worked as a slush reader for the Science Fiction Book Club. One of my contacts at Baen Books told me their company had a secret policy against publishing books in which climate change was a given. They swore up and down that though Baen would deny it publicly, any manuscript which treated global warming as a scientifically proven theory was summarily rejected. While Baen has a lot of good things going for it — such as a free online library stocked with dozens of books — it’s not doing much to support solarpunk. Then again, neither are any of the other major publishing houses, despite that wistful quotation about capitalists selling us the rope to hang them with. Time to braid our own and tie it into optimistic nooses.

Recent books recently read

This Is How You Lose the Time War (Saga Press) by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is many things at once: a romance, a time-travel adventure, a spy thriller, a paean to the dying art of letter writing. The authors’ winged prose perfectly captures the exhilarating giddiness of loving and being loved, as Red and Blue, agents working for rival empires, hide honeyed messages for each other in the ashes of their warring operations. Tenderness, danger, daring, wit — Time War has them all. Plus birds, berries, seals, skeletons, and extracts from Mrs. Leavitt’s Guide to Etiquette and Correspondence, a volume sadly nonexistent — in this universe at least. In other words, these pages are strewn with myriad delights.

Just as wonderfully, renowned Bangladeshi author Saad Z Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday gleefully mashes up fantasy and science fiction in a way I’m coming to expect from cultures outside the genre’s historical borders. When melting glaciers free a cranky djinn, he teams up with a lone-wolf soldier to trouble the too-calm tenor of a Kathmandu both post-apocalyptic and techno-Utopian. The djinn, the titular Lord of Tuesday, wants to party really, really hardy. As in, to the destruction of automated bars and the depletion of months’ worth of alcohol stocks. Ostensibly the soldier (aka the Gurkha) wants to help the djinn accomplish that mission, but he also has his own agenda involving an investigation of the supposedly incorruptible AI keeping score of inhabitants’ “karma” points. Relating the pair’s exploits with charmingly brisk humor, Hossain depicts inevitable human weaknesses mingling with surprising human strengths, then blends the resultant melange with his other sfnal ingredients — believable new weapons, perpetually resuscitated desires, catastrophic loss of breathable atmosphere, and more — to achieve a refreshing vision of a future beyond labels.

An upcoming con

I’m only going to talk about one con this column: Arisia. The year’s earliest of the two big Boston-area SFFH conventions, Arisia aims to be its regions most inclusive as well. A look at their website’s write-ups about 2020’s Guests of Honor affirms their success. There’s Arthur Chu, anti-Gamergate activist and Asian-American commentator on fandom’s racial divides; Kristina Carroll, initiator of the Month of Love and Month of Fear challenges, which have reached out to numerous artists and inspired amazing new work; and Cadwell Turnbull, a rising star of an author whose acclaimed first novel, The Lesson, is set in his native US Virgin Islands. Support coolness! Join! Attend!

Thursday Comics Hangover: Missing persons

Printed in a deep muddy brown ink on cream-colored paper, Seattle cartoonist Kelly Froh's latest comic, The Downed Deer, looked different than every other book at Short Run this year. The cover, featuring Froh peering into a mass of branches and vines, evokes something darker than most of Froh's work — more complicated, more serious. This cover is not lying to you.

The Downed Deer begins with Froh and her real-life partner, cartoonist Max Clotfelter, driving through rural Florida. They see something strange — a disheveled man running into the woods — and they keep driving. Then, Clotfelter has to go into the woods to pee. He doesn't come back out.

As Froh camps by the side of the road in a vigil for the missing Clotfelter, she becomes a bit of a media sensation. The police investigate his departure, and find no leads. Froh appears on TV news and local women bring her food. She sits there staring into the dense vegetation of roadside Florida, trying to will Clotfelter back into the world. Then, more menacing things start to happen.

When I picked up The Downed Deer at Short Run, Froh told me not to flip through the book; she said seeing some of the later pages would ruin the book's surprise. Now that I've read The Downed Deer all the way through, I see what she means. But even knowing that the ending is surprising doesn't sap the book of its impact.

The indicia on the inside front cover of The Downed Deer makes it clear that the book "is a work of fiction." But Froh has been drawing herself in autobiographical comics for so long now that her "character" feels familiar to us, and so the horror of the book strikes a little deeper than it would with all-new characters created just for the story. Despite the clear and up-front insistence that the book is fiction, Froh's regular readers, who have grown accustomed to the cartoon Froh standing in as a one-to-one avatar for the cartoonist herself, can't help but wonder how much of the story is true.

Adding to the impact, too, is the book's blending of styles. As usual, Froh's self-portrait is just made up of a few lines — one big rounded mass of hair, no differentiation between her eyes and her glasses, a plain t-shirt and jeans. But Froh (the character) camps out on the fringes of the dense forest, which Froh (the artist) illustrates in deep detail: the leaves on bushes could also be a reptile's scaly skin, the branches of trees could be people waving off in the distance. Are those snakes or switchgrass? It's unclear, and thrillingly so.

It's been a while since I've read a horror comic that worked as elegantly as The Downed Deer. It's unsettling from beginning to end, and the book builds to a crescendo worthy of a classic Twilight Zone episode. It's dark and menacing and wondrously effective comic storytelling.

VIDA announces 2018 count results

More than pretty much any award or publication date announcement, the annual event we most look forward to every year in the literary calendar is the release of the VIDA count, which tallies the gender identification of authors at literary magazines for the previous year. (We spoke with Nicola Griffith right at the launch of this site about the importance of counting voices, if you need a refresher.) This year, VIDA has demonstrated a little progress toward gender equity: "For the first time since the beginning of the VIDA Count, not a single one of the 25 literary magazines counted in the [Larger Literary Landscape] had fewer than 40% of women writers in their total publications." But VIDA still names names of bad actors, identifying the "feckless five" sites that are still overwhelmingly male.

Representation of nonbinary writers is still vanishingly small. Hopefully their inclusion in this count can begin to move the needle. We also missed data on race and ethnicity this year, but the rationale — VIDA is taking time to re-think their Intersectionality Survey in response to feedback from their community and their own team — is a good one. Still, we look forward to seeing a more nuanced view return next year. We also hope to see the new and improved intersectional component better ingrained into the initial gender conversation, rather than as a separate index.

Don Mee Choi wins translation prize

Seattle poet Don Mee Choi just won the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for translating Kim Hyesoon's collection Autobiography of Death from Korean to English. In the announcement, the prize's judges say that "Don Mee Choi’s translations deftly activate a visionary poetry of great speed, volume, and vision. The collaboration between Hyesoon and Choi continues to energize and challenge contemporary world Anglophone poetry into a zone beyond borders."

The secret of classic comics, according to Paul Tumey: "Things fall apart."

I interviewed Seattle author Paul C. Tumey last month about his book Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny at Elliott Bay Book Company. The book is an anthology of some of the earliest pioneers of comics art from the funny pages, and Tumey is a fantastic guide: he can explain the nuances of comics as well as just about anyone, and his passion for the classics of the funny pages is infectious.

Pretty much every film buff knows that the early years of cinema is a wasteland of lost art, as very few of the first silent films were archived. When I told Tumey that I feared the same was true of comics, he had some good news: in the middle of the 20th century, America's public libraries were eliminating their archives of old newspapers, but "before they did, they photographed them for microfilm," Tumey explained.

Granted, the switch to black-and-white microfilm means that the vibrant colors of many old Sunday comic strips have been lost forever, but Tumey is grateful that most of it exists at all. "It's amazing that this stuff's still accessible," he says. "It's only about a hundred, 120 years old. That's not too long in the span of things, but in America, that's forever."

But to make Screwball!, Tumey couldn't just rely on digital archives of old newspapers. "In addition to the five years of research [on the book,] I also spent five years looking at eBay," he laughs. Tumey would bid on classics of the form, and he'd frequently get outbid by one of the handful of comic strip collectors out in the world. For those strips that he couldn't dig up through internet bidding, Tumey says the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library at Ohio State University is "a tremendous, resource for books like this and for comics scholars." After he gets his hands on the strips in the best condition he can find, Tumey says Photoshop ensures that he can "clean this stuff up so it doesn't look too bad."

One aspect of these early cartoons that has been lost to time is the actual process of cartooning. I asked Tumey about the density of the jokes on these giant pages — one large Sunday page could have four dozen visual gags going on in the background. Were they all drawn out in elaborate detail, or were the artists winging it as they went along?

"I do have an original by Clare Victor Dwiggins, who was notorious for crowding background details," Tumey says. "You can see that the main figures are penciled. However, he may have just drawn the background gags in with an ink pen."

Part of the vibrance of the early cartoons comes from their immediacy. "They had to create one of these a day," Tumey says. "The dailies were just a few panels, but the Sundays were big. This was a lot of work, and some of them were doing two and three strips at the same time. So, I don't think they spent a lot of time on them—it's very spontaneous."

It's important to note that Tumey didn't collect Screwball! to archive the past. He wanted to create guideposts for the future. Tumey has been a part of Seattle's comics community for decades, and he thinks these classic cartoons are "a vital art form and a part of our lineage." Tumey wanted to put the book together so "modern cartoonists could look at it and go, 'hey, this is kind of similar to stuff that I do or stuff some other cartoonist does.'"

"For me this stuff is as fresh as a comic that was created last week," Tumey says. "So I wrote about it from that perspective and I deliberately avoided a stuffy academic tone."

But this isn't just a reference for cartoonists. Tumey thinks that we could all use a little screwball in our lives. "Most humor these days has an undertone of irony and cynicism," he says. "One of the things I love about the humor in these comics is it's not ironic, it's just silly for being silly's sake. The undercurrent of screwball comics is a sense that the world is absurd, that things will fall apart. These comics are tributes to the second law of thermodynamics, which is that things fall apart eventually." So if everything's falling to chaos and ruination, you might as well have a good laugh about it.

Jane Austen's first novel coming to a Seattle Stage this week!

Do you know about sponsor Noveltease Theatre? They adapt classic books into neo-burlesques: good-natured parodies of great books to reclaim and rework the canon from a sex-positive, queer, and feminist standpoint.

Their latest production is Jane Austen's own Northanger Abbey, and they're putting it up this Friday and Saturday night, November, 15th and 16th. Some tickets are still available, but grab yours soon to make sure you get a seat. Head over to our sponsor's page to read more about the what and where of the event: the why is obvious. Good fun!

If you want to reach our readers, like Noveltease and other sponsors do, great news! We've got some great deals on upcoming weeks in the primetime of the holiday season. Check out our sponsorship page for more information, or if you're ready to book, check out dates and prices!

The visible woman

Published November 12, 2019, at 12pm

Paul Constant reviews Gina Siciliano’s I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi .

Artemesia Gentileschi is having a moment right now in the Pacific Northwest, appearing in young adult novels, plays, and the Seattle Art Museum. A new comic from Fantagraphics looks to contextualize the Renaissance painter for a new generation.

Read this review now

A Short Run is bigger and better and bigger than ever

The Short Run Comix and Arts Festival this year looked a lot like Short Runs past: there was a tremendous bake sale; more zines, comics, and books than any human being could read in a lifetime; an animation project; activities for kids; speakers and art shows; legendary local creators and brand-new young cartoonists with their very first books. It's a convivial celebration of hand-made art — the kind of art that is made for its own sake, to represent a perspective that doesn't get time and attention in the mainstream media.

Short Run is, in short, always one of our very favorite events in the Seattle literary calendar year. Most years, it winds up being our single favorite event. It's all about balance: there's a mix of young and old, familiar and new, fun and serious. Short Run is meticulously planned, but it still feels like a really good afternoon hang with all your friends. This should be impossible, but somehow it works.

But there was something different about Short Run this year: it was packed. Every Short Run in the history of the festival has been crowded. But this year's Short Run felt, from beginning to end, almost besieged with comics and zine fans. Some publishers we talked to said they were selling far more books than in festivals past, and a few cartoonists said they were seeing more people take interest in their work. More than one person worried that the fire department might be called to shut the show down for overcrowding.

That said, the crowding didn't feel dangerous. Everyone was polite as they tiptoed around each other to get to a mobbed table. Children were given wide berths and watched after affectionately by strangers. People, in short, weren't assholes about it: we were all there for a common purpose, after all, and that purpose ultimately boiled down to fun.

In our first circuit around the floor, we checked in with many of our perennial favorite local Short Run attendees. A short overview, though you'll likely be hearing more about many of these books in the weeks to come on this site:

  • David Lasky, Seattle's Comics Goodwill Ambassador™, brought two new books to the show: volume 9 of his Manifesto Items collection of the short comics, sketches, and assorted works he's worked on over the past year; and a new book of cat sketches. Lasky also brought along a preview of his upcoming graphic novel history of the Georgetown Steam Plant, which he and Mairead Case were commissioned by the city to produce in 2017. The book looks ambitious and densely researched, and we can't wait to read it.
  • Marc Palm, the Mad-Magazine-published local cartoonist who does sex and violence better than just about anyone, brought a new collaboration minicomic with Brandon Lehrman about the mythical "Florida Man," a mulleted demigod in reflective wraparound sunglasses.
  • Everybody's favorite debut cartoonist of the year, Susanna Ryan, a.k.a. Seattle Walk Report, continued to enjoy the loss of her anonymity by exhibiting her wonderful collection of Seattle walking cartoons and a mini made just for the show: Seattle Coal Chute Crimes of the 1930s. Here's hoping this is the first of a new densely researched series of Seattle history comics from Ryan.
  • Short Run co-founder Kelly Froh debuted a brand-new comic called The Downed Deer, a moody work of fiction that takes a surprising turn.
  • Colleen Frakes was proudly showing off a remastered and expanded tenth edition of her Ignatz Award-winning young adult fable Woman King.
  • And Short Run co-organizer Mita Mahato, whose paper-cut comics poems always take different forms and formats, was at the show with a delicate and compact series of short poems about animals, It's All Over. Mahato has demonstrated a vast and growing empathy for the animal kingdom in her work over the past few years, and this gorgeous palm-sized collection looks like another evolution in that direction.

We can't wait to dig in to all these books. Stay tuned for reviews as soon as we can devour them.

Over the last year, Ezra Claytan Daniels has rocketed from relative obscurity to become the king of indie comics. His sci-fi thriller about the quest for eternal love, Upgrade Soul, has been nominated for just about every award in comics. The afterlife quest comic he wrote for cartoonist Ben Passmore, BTTM FDRS, has been a bestseller for Fantagraphics Books. And we were excited to get our hands on a copy of his new polemic, Are You At Risk for "Empathy Myopia?" A Thought Experiment for Privileged Readers, which he described to us in an interview last month. Daniels is pitching the comic as a way to resolve the broken political discourse in this country — is that all? — and when he handed us the book, he had a suggestion: "Make sure to give it to your most problematic family member," he laughed.

In the world of New Fears, the circuits are miswired. Flip on the light, and you disappear; take scissors to your hair, and a dark gash appears across your eyes. In four precise squares per square page, in sharp black, cyan, and coral, Anuj Shrestha draws subtle nightmares that subvert the expectations of illustration. An illustrator with work in the New York Times, Wired, and more, Shrestha owns the art of small stories, and the chills he invokes with the macabre translate quickly to the pragmatic: a world where dinosaurs become jets become ocean, where perspective transforms child staring through a fence into children staring out. He's drawing out our fears — which are rapidly becoming old.

Moniker Press (Vancouver, BC) is about small runs (ahem) and ephemera, and especially collaborations between writers and visual shows how multiple artists can transmute an idea, batting it back and forth like two cats with a mouse. Viorica Hrincu's short series of poems approach a loss of something considered essential to beauty, which is essential to being loved. While Hrincu’s measured verse plays out, page by page, Melissa Soleski's illustrations build crazed, uncertain stairways, host strange hair-creatures, weep and discover the brightness of flame and flower.

One thing we noticed at Short Run this year: Riso printing is so hot right now. The sheer number of gorgeous, hand-printed books was through the roof compared to Short Runs last. Simply put: people's work looked really, really good. It's still hand-made, but there's a professionalism and an artistry to risograph printing that mass-produced paperbacks simply can't touch. The inclusion of so much riso printing definitely drove up the per-item average cost at Short Run to heretofore unprecedented levels — this kind of artistry doesn't come cheap — but it made the show even more beautiful than ever.

We're always glad to run across Laura Knetzger at her table. After falling hard for her series Bug Boys a few years back, we make sure to check out what's new in her world. The big news, of course, is that Penguin Random House is putting out a collected Bug Boys in February, so that is something to look forward to in the new year.

Sadly, that meant no new update of the ongoing comic this year. Instead, we picked up the first issue of her new Kaleidoscope, a book with three original medium-length comics. Unlike Bug Boys, these stories carry adult themes, and use magic and fantastical situations, in what feels like the "real" world, to explore the power in relationships, sexuality, and earnest desires — both unfulfilled, and perhaps, in one case, better left unfulfilled. They are about showing another being your feelings, and discovering where their's may, or may not, join with yours.

Like Bug Boys, they are thoughtful, sweet, and tender in a kind of vulnerable way that Knetzger uniquely embraces, instead of playing it down with irony or other tricks of removal. It reinforces the thought that Knetzger is a truly brave writer — not in the autobiographical sense of inviting you into her personal minutia, but in the sense that the themes she explores appear to be the things that engage and concern her, both philosophically and in her interpersonal relationships. She's like the fantastical Iris Murdoch of Seattle's indie comics scene, and we're lucky to have her.

A nine-year old traveling with us was quite taken with The Galactic Contest, a mini-comic from Fredrick Dobler, from Olympia. Not only that, but Dobler, and his tabling companion, sat and asked the nine-year old about his own comics making, and engaged him in a conversation where they took him seriously and listened to what he was creating. Very kind and appreciated, and the comic is good fun — about an earthling abducted by aliens and placed into a contest to save humanity.

We stopped by the Compound Butter booth to see co-creators Jaya and Jessie Nicely, who travel up from LA to visit Short Run each year. Their delightful quarterly food magazine explores food through cultural and community lenses. The Fall 2019 issue has many delights, including a photo series on the Artist's Diet (artists include Georgia O'Keefe:"Chili Verde with Eggs and Garlic Oil in her breakfast room at Ghost Ranch", and Marcel Proust: "Strong Black Coffee, Boiled Milk, and a Croissant in his bed with his mail delivered on a silver tray"), and many other pieces grouped around the theme of Tradition. If you love food content and writing, and haven't checked out Compound Butter yet, you are in for a real treat.

Dear Lois is a magazine subtitled "in the company of growing women", and intended for a teenage girls who might be seeking guidance from adult women on the complications of being a young woman in today's world. "Dear Lois is the older cousin who won't make fun of you for asking 'dumb questions'", is how it's put in the intro to issue 1.

The brainchild of Seattleite Mariah Behrens, Dear Lois is another indie magazine (like Compound Butter, mentioned elsewhere in this article) that raises the bar for indie work. It's absolutely gorgeous — printed in Vancouver at the storied Hemlock Press, with thoroughly considered design and illustration. It feels relevant and cool enough to reach its intended audience, while carrying no advertising that might minimize or twist the message. Sections like "Advice pages", "Your body", "Your ambition", "Your character", and "Your community" speak plainly and artfully. It's wonderful work, and all the more impressive as the mission of a single person.

Tory Franklin's work is graphically rich and technically breathtaking. We walked by her table and looked at her oversized short-edition book Vasilissa the Brave. We thought about it throughout the rest of our stroll through the hall, so we went back and bought a copy to take home.

The truth is, some expensive pieces will haunt you, and it's our firm belief that if you are haunted by a comic, you should pay the ghost heed with an offering, which has the added benefit of supporting the artist in their making. Buying the work turns the specter into a real book you can hold and carry with you and even write about after the fact.

This big (approximately 19.5" by 11"), but not long, book is screen printed and hand-painted, in the style of Russian Lubok prints. A re-telling of a famous Baba Yaga story, Franklin's version, with large walnut-ink colored type and a ten hand-colored pages, is the kind of artist's book we'll put on our tallest shelf, and pull out many times over the years just to appreciate how something as commonplace as a book can feel both magical and humane at the same time. Our yearly Short Run splurge, and we don't regret it for a second.

Magda Boreysza's children are becoming — becoming wolves, becoming foxes, becoming tigers. And wolves, foxes, and tigers are becoming girls, from the outside in. Wakeling: How to Transform is a gorgeous reversal of all those fairytales in which young men have the privilege of flight (why would anyone stop being a bird?) and young women are foxy seductresses. Boreysza's girls practice hard, wear masks in the hot summer sun, give their human skin and bones over to win fur and feathers and claws. Instead of growing up, they take on real power. What's stunning about these transformations is that they're only possible on the page, where one thing can be two, or three, or more, without ever not being one. In the same way a book can be more than a movie, these drawings demonstrate how far special effects still have to go.

Serendipity is a great joy of Short Run — the unexpected pairing. Here's one: Nature Is Not My Favorite (Rebekah Markillie), with Vantage #3 (Eroyn Franklin). Nature Is Not My Favorite is the antidote to waldenponding: a short (about the size of a hand of cribbage) essay questioning Northwest nature-worship: "When the world burns, will I have missed some cataclysmic truth by not walking on the same dirt path thousands of other feet have trudged across?" It's true: like the infamous Everett photo, we are all celebrating transcendence we don't, for the most part, experience. Check out Markillie's zines + things; we could have bought everything at the table.

Just as we're hanging up our hiking boots, Eroyn Franklin jumps into the fray. Since 2012, Franklin (co-founder of Short Run — thank you, Eroyn!) has documented a handful of long walks in her Vantage series. Vantage 3 captures a multiplicity of journeys in a disorientingly intricate origami piece — a paper fortune-teller where each future opens from micro to macro. It's a celebration of the long-distance tromp, spent staring at your feet until the world startles you by being bigger than you are.

We are big fans of cartoonist Sarah Mirk, and we were very excited to finally score a copy of her polyamorous sci-fi comic Open Earth at this Short Run. But the real star at her table were the literal hundreds of zines she's made this year — one new zine made for every single day of 2019. We dug through boxes, scanning for five or ten titles that appealed to us, and we came away with a variety of comics: Proud to Be a Socialist, Parts of the Vulva and Vagina That Are Named After Dead Men, Transit Systems as Fictional Characters, and more. In the midst of her most prolific year yet, Mirk is demonstrating the true spirit of Short Run: communication for the sheer exuberance of it, in a populist, mass-market format that is at once low tech and high empathy.

As always, the Seattle Review of Books left Short Run with our collective pockets a few hundred dollars lighter, but with a renewed enthusiasm for Seattle's world-class cartooning community. The joy of it all is to see the infinite variations that artists can enact with just ink and paper, and this year's haul is a wide-ranging collection of work that serves as a testament to art for art's sake.

About that overpopulation, though. We couldn't help but wonder if this is a crossroads year for Short Run. We heard from multiple exhibitors that they struck up conversation after conversation with customers only to hear that they'd traveled from far away to attend the show — some from California, some from the Midwest, some from the East Coast. Short Run, in short, is becoming a destination.

Of course, it was only a matter of time. I don't think there's any other convention that offers table space at such low prices to cartoonists and that doesn't charge an admission fee for attendees. Short Run is meant to be as affordable and accessible as possible, and the cartooning community has risen to that challenge with joy and enthusiasm. That means a lot of people have embraced Short Run as a community, and like anything that you love, those cartoonists have talked about their community to friends, and the friends want to take part in the community now.

So can Short Run grow any bigger while still remaining Short Run? Moving to a bigger venue would probably require the festival to charge more. Adding days to the floor show might strip some of the fun for the exhibitors. Charging a set fee at the door might turn away some of the starving artists who need the show most. It's possible that Short Run can keep going at the same size for the foreseeable future. But the problem is that it's such a beloved festival, with such dedicated fans, that it's hard not to envision more and more people wanting to take part.

We worry because we care. Short Run is simply the best party we can imagine, and a party isn't a party without that small-but-nagging concern in the back of your mind that it's going to end. We want it to go on forever, and we want everyone to know the exuberance and enthusiasm and pure love that we have enjoyed for so long at the show. Is that too much to ask?



In spring, fireweed sprouts around Puget Sound,
rose-tipped cairns that lure a flock of seagulls
downward, winter-worn, to make a hill’s crown.
In the mouth of the bay, a tugboat’s hull
severs the slack water like black fabric,
the shape of the prop-wash a dull green trail
that opens as a fan. The captain flicks
his cigarette butt against the ship’s wheel
and turns south to the beach, taking a fix
on the basalt cliffs at the shoreline’s rim,
their chalk-white shelves collapsed above the rocks.
He charts a constellation on his arm,
the face of a hill which blooms in a rash
the birds now spiraling upward like ash.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 11th - November 17thj

Monday, November 11th: The Starless Sea Reading

Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus was a bestselling crowd-pleaser of a novel. Her newest is a love story involving pirates, a secret book, mysterious organizations, and lots of adventure. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, November 12th: For Love of Orcas Reading

This is a reading to celebrate a new anthology about the beloved sea mammals. Contributors to the anthology, including Sarah DeWeerdt, Bob Friel, Paula MacKay, Brenda Miller, Adrienne Ross Scanlon, and Jill McCabe Johnson will all read.

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

Wednesday, November 13th: A Marvelous Life Reading

Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth has written a new biography of Stan Lee that examines Stan Lee's legacy in full, including his controversies and his failures. Lee has been praised to the heavens, so it's nice to get a little perspective on the man in full. Fingeroth will appear in conversation with local cartooning expert Paul C Tumey Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, November 14h: You Failed Us Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

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

Friday, November 15th: Pigs Reading

Johanna Stoberock's much-praised new surrealistic novel is about four children who live on an island that contains all the world's garbage. They live in a kind of harmony on the island with trash-eating pigs, but then things get weird. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, November 16th: Watershed: A Poetry Workshop

To celebrate an environmental installation by architectural artist Oscar Tuazon, Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna presents a poetry workshop to discuss and consider water in all its forms. Poems written in this workshop might be included in the Tuazon exhibition. Henry Art Gallery,, 2 pm, $10.

Sunday, November 17th: Writing the Other

In this free workshop, Seattle sci-fi author (and Seattle Review of Books columnist) Nisi Shawl teaches how to write fiction about people who have different gender, race, and abilities than you.
Seattle Public Library, Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave S, 684-4711,, 2 pm, free.

Event of the Week: You Failed Us reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

At a time in their life when many kids are focused on having fun or getting into the best colleges, Garfield High School senior Azure Savage has written and self-published a book. That level of concentration and motivation in any young person is admirable; my teen years, at least, were packed full of unfinished novels that I worked on for a few hours before quitting in disgust.

But Savage has not just written a book; they've written and published a memoir that doubles as a work of journalism. Even more impressive, the book is highly critical of Savage's own public school experience. You Failed Us: Students of Color Talk Seattle Schools features Savage's own story alongside dozens of other Seattle Public School students. It's a scathing indictment of our public school system.

Savage recounts their own experiences in Seattle Public Schools, starting with a kindergarten teacher who lumped children of color together in a group of "bad" kids and the white kids as "good" kids. You Failed Us recounts personal stories of institutional racism and sexism and ableism that many students have endured.

Savage has been reading around town this fall, but this Thursday is kind of a big deal: they'll be presenting the book at Elliott Bay Book Company in conversation with Seattle journalist Marcus Harrison Green, who founded the South Seattle Emerald and is a columnist at Crosscut. It's another remarkable milestone in a remarkable year for a remarkable young Seattleite. Let's give them our attention and try to do better.

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

Sunday Post for November 10, 2019

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

This week, three pieces about bodies: the mortal in a stark piece of Chinese non-fiction, the political in a stirring Brazilian poem, and the insane in a magical English short story.

Searching For Bodies

I found this story while researching Chinese literature on bodies for my Hugo House writing class (Winter term class catalogue available tomorrow!). Originally published in 2005 and translated into English in 2019, Ma Jinyu explores the art of corpse preservation in Shanxi mining towns in this piece of creative nonfiction. The detail is astonishing, you can almost smell the oil cakes and mutton, the bitter fragrance of a Chinese medicine counter, the stark nihilism of the villagers. You’ll shudder at the mention about the scalding water where the morticians bathe the bodies of dead miners, cough at the dust rising up with the motorcycles. It’s just a plain good story that makes you feel unmistakably, ferociously alive even when all it talks about is the dead.

But no matter how you washed the deceased you couldn’t get them clean, because their blood had stopped circulating and their pores wouldn’t open. Especially around the eyes, the skin was always as dark as if it had been covered in eye shadow. Old man Liang said that they usually used laundry detergent, dipping a towel in a little water to scrub the skin clean. But even if they used a lot of detergent, places like the face, hands and any areas that had been injured or had open wounds would remain covered with coal dust and soot that couldn’t be cleaned away, “not with a lifetime of scrubbing.”
Poem to be Read on Inauguration Day

In the US, the word impeachment is everywhere. But before we even arrived at the possibility of impeachment we witnessed an inauguration, before that, a victory and a defeat, and before that, an election, and before that, a different president, and before that, a different world. In the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines, Asymptote, a journal of translation, published a 2010 poem from Brazilian poet Alberto Pucheu, “Poem to be Read on Inauguration Day.” This poem first ran in one of Brazil’s largest newspapers the day before the October 2010 election, where the outgoing president was one of the most popular of all time, and the eventual victor was Brazil’s first woman president, who six years later was eventually (and controversially) impeached for corruption – a strange, paralleled inversion of our own political reality.

Pucheu was inspired by “Praise Song for a Day,” the Elizabeth Alexander poem read on the day of Obama’s inauguration. You can see the echoes: strangers passing each other the streets, the mundanity and violence of our lives, the hope of love, communion, and survival. But Pucheu’s is also a defiant refutation of the political apathy that has led to a world where “killable bodies” flee “athletic gunshots,” where we dream of “bar codes on the backs / of necks… making / bodies available to a machine that would insist / on recognizing them by some number/ in which we would never recognize ourselves.”

Going up or going down a street,
we attest to this hiatus of unknowing
between the abandoned body and the different lives
that try to colonize it, between the naked life
and the living garments that cover it,
between raw life and whatever part of it is cookable,
between open life and lived life.

Mina and Mirka Move to the Village

A vinegary excerpt from a short story by Victoria Manifold in The Lifted Brow, an Australian magazine, is a ride through lunacy, decay, death, village gossip, frogs and Old Testament-like natural disasters. If you liked the magical claustrophobic intensity of One Hundred Years of Solitude, you’ll love reading this. Two sisters, the pretty and glamorous Mina and the sharp and wry Mirka, become widows simultaneously, and move back into the dilapidated mansion where their mother is, quite literally, shrinking away from the burden of sanity. I won’t give too much away, but it’s so visceral and acidic, you’ll find yourself clutching your tongue to your teeth the whole time.

Every day the milk would sour as soon as the sun rose but neither Mina nor myself would condescend to acknowledge it. Instead we drank it in lumps from the bottom of china bowls, each daring the other to admit the taste was vile. Mina would stare straight into my eyes and ask “Are you enjoying your breakfast Mirka?” and I would stare straight back and answer “mmmmmmmmm,” whilst rubbing satisfied circles all over my paunch, “And you Mina?” I would ask, “how is your breakfast?” “mmmmmmmmm,” she would say too, rubbing her own paunch even more vigorously and displaying even more satisfaction.

Whatcha Reading, Trixie Paprika?

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.

Trixie Paprika is a company member of the delightful Noveltease Theatre (we've written about them before. She's playing John Thorpe in Noveltease Theatre's adaptation of of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which is running November 15th and 16th at the Auditorium at U-Heights. You can find more information here on their site, or if you're ready to to buy tickets to a literary burlesque show, then you can fetch them here. Don't miss out!

What are you reading now?

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. A friend of mine recommended her work, and I have absolutely torn through it. Jemisin's sci-fi/fantasy world building is phenomenal, and she manages to make her social commentary clear without hitting you over the head with it. I've been blown away by how different her characters are from one another, as well. So far The Fifth Season is as emotional packed and riveting as the rest.

What did you read last?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Honestly, I didn't expect to like this book at all, as war stories aren't really my thing. But the attention to detail in the characters and the central question of destiny vs. free will was compelling, and I appreciated an historical gay love story that didn't map modern identities onto the characters.

What are you reading next?

A little unconventionally, my next book is a collection of original Wonder Woman comics that I've had for a while but haven't delved into. After seeing the movie Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women, I was curious about these original comics, and from a first glance through, they are definitely full of scenes that in another context could be considered kink. And that's fascinating. So I'm looking forward to reading more.

The Help Desk: We Don't Need Another Hero

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 husband is trying to get our four-year-old son into comics — Spider-Man and Superman and all that stuff. I don't want to be a snob, but I think that superheroes are emblematic of toxic masculinity, and the idea of an individual taking the law into their own hands is pretty fascist when you really think about it. Plus, so many superheroes are billionaires, which is just morally disgusting.

My husband loves superhero movies, and so I don't want to deprive him of sharing this love with his son. But how can I counterbalance the ineffable mainstream cultural grossness that this colorful slab of pop culture is weighing down on my son's brain?

Allison, Fremont

Dear Allison,

Reading a few Batman comics won't magically turn your son into a misogynist any more than it will a billionaire (if books had that kind of power, Lord of the Flies would be my Bible and half the people I grew up with would've have made it past second grade, SQUEEEE!). Plenty of good nerds were raised reading Bat- and Spider-man comics and can differentiate between fantasy and reality. None of the comic book nerds I know are vigilantes. None of them can even run a block without puking. And most have great and stable partnerships with smart, capable women. (Or at least they have me as a friend, which counts as maybe partial credit?)

So! It seems here that the antidote to toxic masculinity is (in part) having strong women in your life that you love and respect. It's also having smart people around to talk through the themes found in comic books and explain why some of them might be outdated figments of a (more) misogynistic culture.

So do both of those things, and also maybe buy your son Bitch Planet1 or Ms. Marvel or Planet of the Nerds2for Christmas, and start your own comics tradition with your son.

Kisses, Cienna

  1. Its contents might be a bit mature for a four-year-old, however. Unless you want your son to learn about female masturbation before he goes to preschool.

  2. Written by this site's very own Paul Constant, who did not endorse this reference but hey, he wrote a clever comic grappling with 80s stereotypes of toxic masculinity and nerd culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (see, also, previous endnote.)

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: The club

The Portrait Gallery: Saeed Jones

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

Thursday, November 7th: How We Fight for Our Lives Reading

You likely know Saeed Jones from BuzzFeed, where he covered books and culture in such a way that even the mainstream had to pay attention. Jones is also an accomplished poet, and now he’s the author of How We Fight for Our Lives, a memoir about his coming of age. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000., 7 pm, free.

Kissing Books: Le grande geste

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

Jane Austen’s most popular proto-romances are rather ambivalent when it comes to the grand gesture.

In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy of course tries to hide his generosity from the Bennet family: he swears Lydia to secrecy (as if that was ever going to work) and gets palpably awkward when Elizabeth dares to break silence and thank him for it.

In Persuasion, published posthumously, there is no final grand gesture at all — a single letter, secretly delivered, brings our characters into harmony with one another. An earlier version of the story saw Captain Wentworth being maneuvered into asking Anne Elliot about her assumed plans for matrimony — which has a little bit of the savor of the grand gesture’s public risk — but in the end Austen edited this out in favor of something much more intimate.

Now, of course, after two hundred years of books, films, and television love stories, romance aficionados have come to anticipate sweeping declarations/acts of atonement like so many now enshrined in the RomCom Canon. Boomboxes held up beneath a window, cue card confessions on a snowy London street, blue French horns stolen from candlelit restaurants, pop tunes belted into a microphone with a surprise marching band accompaniment. A declaration in front of the Queen. One thousand anguished airport pursuits.

The modern grand gesture is painfully, necessarily public, shading sometimes into cringing embarrassment (on the part of a character, or sometimes the audience).

One imagines Jane Austen would be appalled.

I can’t help but speculate a little on how this lines up with the division between love (as sexual/romantic affection, courtship, partnership) and marriage (as social structure, alliance, dynastic strategy, or government institution). Current Western culture takes it as a given that love is what marriage is for — but any half-hearted glimpse into history will show just how recent an innovation that attitude really is (one not-too-ivory-towerish recommendation: Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz). Jane Austen is one of the first writers of what’s come to be called companionate marriage — but her ambivalence still preserves a line between love (personal), and marriage (societal).

It is not a politically neutral question to expect true love to be public.

Disability can affect a person’s access to public space, attention, and consideration. Anti-miscegenation laws were on the books in living memory. Queer couples’ confessions of love involve quite different risks than do those of the hetero setero. Romances novels that engage with these margins often end up looking rather Austenish: quiet, intimate, even a bit secret. Or else the public/personal division is part of the central problem — take Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, & Royal Blue for example, or Alyssa Cole’s brilliant Loyal League series.

I don’t have any earth-shattering, actionable insights about all of this. It’s just been a bit on my mind. Christmas is harvest-time for romantic comedies (with or without ghosts) and this is the part of the pattern I’ve been trying to puzzle out.

This month’s books are a mix of quiet revelations and all-out spectacle. On the quiet side we have a pair of 1920s queer ladies, two disaster bi lovebirds in small-town California, and a couple on opposite sides of an urban garden. On the side of spectacle: two Regency naturalists in a rom-com retelling and a jewel thief wooing a prickly detective with stolen opals and self-abnegation.

(Note: I will be taking the month of December off, so I will see you back here in January with hopes for a fresh new year!)

Open House by Ruby Lang (Carina Press: contemporary m/f):

This second book in Ruby Lang’s dazzling Uptown series (they stand perfectly wonderfully on their own, companions rather than a continuity) features a real-estate broker drowning in student debt and an accountant turned reluctant organizer, who square off over the fate of a renegade community garden in Harlem. It’s witty, it’s thoughtful, it’s a little bit of a heartbreaker. And it may be one of the best uses of the We Can’t Both Win trope that I have ever, ever seen.

We Can’t Both Win asks one of the most powerful questions in romance–or really in all philosophy: how do we resolve the unresolvable? Who has to compromise, to bend, to give in? And why? In romance the answer is always love, of course–but the characters can’t give in for generalized, abstract capital-L-Love. That’s a cop-out and we know it.

No, the best resolutions here involve something specific, and it has to be at least a little bit of a surprise for the reader. That’s how you get the deepest gut-punch of the emotional payoff.

This book gets it. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just know that it was perfect and I wish I could reread it a thousand more times.

Ruby Lang continues to shine, her prose the best kind of snappy contemporary writing–and then it started knocking me flat on my ass. Magda and her perennially disappointed sisters. Oliver and his grumpy friendships with the elderly women gardeners. The stubbornness of grief, the struggle to get one’s life back on track, the way lust and attraction can blossom into affection and loyalty and joyful sacrifice.

And the sex scenes? Whooo boy. I was a wreck. There’s one in a blacked-out New York that I’m going to be thinking about for years to come.

If you need a little bit of springtime as the leaves begin to fall, this is the book to reach for.

”One bed,” he repeated stupidly, his brain spiraling out in inappropriate ways.

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon (contemporary bi m/bi f):

Rebekah Weatherspoon writes the best people. Just the best: big, burly hunks with thighs like oak and hearts as tender as springtime, smart and scrappy witches taking charge of themselves and their lives even when the shit’s hitting the fan, queer folks and found families for days. This book is the follow-up to Rafe and is just as much of an escape and a joy — only instead of a buff, tattooed male nanny, we’re treated to a beautifully fat, bisexual Scotsman (with the accent!) named Mason, who plays seventeen instruments, cooks for a living, and would really enjoy being pegged.

Oh, and according to her late aunt’s will, Xeni has to marry him in order to inherit a family fortune. What is a grieving bisexual witch supposed to do?

Take the gorgeous man to bed, of course — because it would be fun, and her friends are far away, and funerals are awful, and her family’s giving her hell, and sweet, sexy Mason is the best thing about this whole mess Xeni has found herself in.

I’m going to do give you a lengthier than usual excerpt: I just want to show you the sheer pleasure of watching these two people in challenging circumstances find ways of connecting and being kind to one another. (And then banging for days, of course, but you’ll have to pick up a copy of your own if you want to see the sexy stuff.) It’s a joy and a gift to the reader, in the author’s boldly generous style.

She didn’t realize the ground was damp until she’d let her weight settle into the grass, and she couldn’t bring herself to care. She couldn’t be bothered with the small group of mourners who were watching her lose her shit. Xeni pulled her knees to her chest and then stared at the water. She wanted to cry, desperately needed to, but her body refused. Still, she needed just a moment to try and take it all in. She had about three seconds to pretend her pain was private before the unmistakable drone of bagpipe music rose behind her. Xeni had forgotten how fucking loud the bagpipes were. She closed her eyes against the sound and forced herself to breathe.

It was another ten seconds or so before Xeni realized what song he was playing. “Another One Bites the Dust” was a hilarious selection for a send off, but maybe not the most appropriate. Her head turned automatically. For some reason, she didn’t expect to see Mason looking back at her, his large brown eyes rimmed red. He continued to play even as she raised an eyebrow at him, questioning what exactly the fuck was going on, but all he did was shrug and roll his eyes, the sadness on his face disappearing for just a moment. Right. It wasn’t his song choice.

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (Avon: historical m/f):*

My favorite new critical tool from this year (thanks to Jennifer Hallock) is the chronotope: a specific way of representing time and space in fiction. Regency romance is a chronotope — and so, of course, is high school. From noir-inspired mysteries like Brick to Jane Austen-in-Los Angeles in Clueless to Shakespeare retellings like 10 Things I Hate About You, turning classic literature into high school narratives is something of a cottage industry.

My Fake Rake is the rare reverse: a genderswapped She’s All That where the hero is the one getting the makeover, set among the intellectual set in Regency England. It’s also the first book in a new series, based around five former schoolmates who bonded after one day’s discipline.

Yes, it’s a Regency Breakfast Club. Yes, I loved it.

The translation works because high schoolers and 19th-century aristocrats are both groups obsessively fixated on social status, sex, and money. Also dancing! (The waltz scene in this book was unusually gorgeous.) I giggled through half of it and cried through the rest. I’m on record as being a staunch fan of Eva Leigh (and her Zoe Archer books as well) and this is some of her best work.

Lady Grace Wyatt is wealthy and brilliant and wants a partner who can share her passion for natural history. She knows just the man, a dashing explorer — except he admires her mind, and has made it painfully clear he sees her only as a mind, not as a marriage prospect. What better way to catch his eye and spur his interest than by being courted by a fashionable, flirtatious dandy?

But Grace doesn’t know any dandies. She knows Sebastian Holloway, anthropologist and one of her closest friends. Who, if he removed his spectacles, would be rather stunningly attractive. And who, unbeknownst to Grace, has been half in love with her ever since he loaned her a pencil on her first visit to the library all those years ago.

At this point in the description, you already know if you’re in or you’re out. This is the purest kind of melodrama, fluffy but with moments of raw angsty goodness, and a rather spectacular amount of drama at the end. It is completely over the top and full-commitment in every way, and I had an amazingly good time throughout.

Before Grace could object, the duke plowed on. “In any event, I would ask you to take note of the men outside, and how they interact with the ladies. Not the older gentlemen who’ve settled into a comfortable middle age. The younger set.”

“The ones with the tightest breeches,” Grace noted. Her pencil moved in rapid strokes. “Showing off their thighs in an evident courtship display. Very common within the animal kingdom.”

“Are you sketching?” Seb asked. “Male thighs?”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course. We have to use every available avenue to record our findings.” Grace held up her journal, and, true enough, she’d marked the paper with very accurate drawings of male femoral regions. She hadn’t neglected the crotch areas, either.

Gilded Cage, by KJ Charles (self-published: historical m/bi f):

I’ve been waiting many months for this book. The one where we finally get to spend a whole novel basking in the razor-edged light of Susan Fucking Lazarus, spiritualist fraud turned detective turned terror of the London criminal classes.

And my god, she’s just as glorious as I’d dared to hope.

This novel is as finely balanced as a blade from a master smith. The steely weight of a mystery plot, where our hero Templeton Lane’s life hangs in the balance as a jewel thief being framed for murder. The gleam of a second-chance romance, with its long-simmering resentments and reveals, which delivers several punches to the reader’s gut. And the sharpest, cuttingest banter this side of a screwball comedy. Our characters have deep feelings, impossible longings, and wracking vulnerabilities; quite naturally, these commonly express themselves as insults, denials, and wry asides. It makes the few moments of pure, shining sincerity burst like fireworks and make me silently cheer.

Susan is wary and intelligent and hedges her bets whenever possible. She hides her emotional truths as deeply as she can, even from herself. She hardly turns a hair when lying to the police, pursuing leads, interrogating suspects, or doing any one of a number of reckless, questionable things in the pursuit of justice. But ask her to explore her feelings? Ask her to trust someone with her heart? Ask her to hope?” She’d rather swallow rusty nails.

Templeton Lane, our aristocratic younger son turned mining laborer turned jewel thief, is much the same, wounded and self-isolating — except that he is incapable of hiding how much he adores Susan Lazarus. It spills out of him at the most inconvenient moments. He has every reason to mistrust her after years of simmering silence, no reason to think she’d forgive him all the things he screwed up before. But he just can’t help himself. It’s not long before he’s offering everything — his presence, his absence, anything she might want from him — and contrast between this hapless yielding and Susan’s prickly principles just lights up the love scenes like gangbusters. Favorite characters from past books/series make elegant, effortless cameos, and justice when it finally comes is fierce, bloody, and grimly joyous.

All this and a stolen opal necklace, too. Heaven.

“You’re the last person alive with a reason to help me. You would have been first on my list of people to ask, given a choice.”

“I dare say I’m the only detective you know,” Susan pointed out, somewhat snidely. She wasn’t sure why she felt snide, but she did.

“I know plenty. You’re the only one we ever thought was dangerous. I’d prefer to have any three of the Metropolitan Police on my tail than you.”

Susan felt her cheeks pink, enragingly. “Yes, well.

This Month’s Twentieth-Century Historical With Queer Ladies

How to Talk to Nice English Girls by Gretchen Evans (Carnation Books: historical bi f/f):

Many of my favorite historical romances are ones that rebel against the Regency/Victorian chronotope. I am fond of midcentury romances, medievals, Tang Dynasty duologies, and increasingly, romances set in the 1920s, either British or American or pretty much anywhere else. There’s something endlessly flexible about the Roaring Twenties: you can go full glamor with flappers and bootleggers and the newly modern cities; you can go hardscrabble with self-made businessmen and young single women joining the public workforce in numbers for the first time; you can go dark with the trauma of the Lost Generation, or anarchy and the labor movement, or the rise of fascism that would so trouble the thirties and forties.

Or, as in the case of Gretchen Evans’ quiet but thoroughly engaging novel, watching two quite different women slowly figure out how to carve out a life together to spite uncaring society, disapproving family members, and their own worst tendencies.

This is a very precise, small-scope novel in terms of perspective. We spend the whole thing in one heroine’s head, and because Marian’s world has been kept so close and limited — she’s grown up in her pretty sister’s shadow, dutifully obedient to her parents, never traveling too far from the manor house where she was born — even the smallest changes can feel transformative and perspective-shifting. When her titled father’s American business partner brings along his brash, short-skirt-and-red-lipstick-wearing, booze-tippling daughter, well, it’s no wonder that Marian is dazzled.

But never swept too far out of her orbit of good sense and caution. I always worry, when novels begin with a quiet, biddable heroine, that she’s going to have to make some sort of enormous, reckless mistake for which she must atone. It stresses me out in advance. Spoilers — but we get nothing like that here. Marian’s inner steel is tempered by Katherine’s fire; Katherine’s rashness is grounded by Marian’s steady admiration. A delicate thread of narrative tension holds the whole thing together until the end. It is precisely as the title promises: nice.

Marian began brushing the sleep-pressed waves from her blonde hair. Unlike Cecilia’s, Marian’s hair was not pale blonde or luminous. It was darker, more like the colour of straw. It didn’t glow, it just looked dead and flat. It never seemed to catch the sun or shine in the lamplight at a ball. Everything about Marian felt like a rough imitation of Cecilia: her eyes were blue, but a light, unsettling colour that made her look far too clever to be trusted, her cheeks and jaw were pale and angular instead of rosy and round, and she never attracted others like Cecilia did. It was almost as if everything beautiful got used up in Cecilia and all that was left for Marian were the rough and faded bits.

This book is the perfect antidote to Hillbilly Elegy

Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth is the anti-Hillbilly Elegy. Smarsh's book is smarter than J.D. Vance's, it's more compassionate, and its understanding of class and race dynamics is generations beyond Vance's.

That word "class" is perhaps the most important one to understand Heartland's appeal. At the beginning of the book, just at the dawn of the Reagan era, class is an invisible force that touches everything in America: like gravity, class is everywhere and it affects everyone, even though nobody spent much time thinking about it.

For Smarsh's family, class is what held them down. Smarsh comes from poor Kansas stock — the kind of proud folks who were always just running shy of of financial catastrophe. In Heartland, Smarsh explains the various crises that afflict the lives of poor Americans: abuse, drug addiction, dangerous jobs, lack of health care coverage, and exploitative practices. She dispels the bootstrap idea that any American can break free the chains of poverty with the simple application of a little elbow grease. She makes it all real and raw on the page.

Just about everyone in the Reading Through It Book Club last night enjoyed and appreciated Heartland, with many of us considering it to be one of the best books we've covered in our three years. We appreciated the elegance of Smarsh's arguments — she provides one of the most cogent explanations of how white privilege transcends even the harshest class distinctions, for instance — and we were moved by the compassion of her story.

It's true that Heartland doesn't offer any prescriptive policy solutions for the problems depicted in the book, but in the end it didn't leave us feeling hopeless. Instead, it helped us to understand the situation we're facing with a little more clarity.

For most of Smarsh's life, class was America's silent obsession. Nobody talked about it, but we were all painfully aware of class distinctions at every minute of every day. And we mostly held on to the idea that class could be overcome with a little bit of bootstrap-pulling. That lie is starting to fall away. More and more, where you're born in America and who you're born to defines you for your entire life.

It's possible now for Americans to have a wide-ranging and honest conversation about class without embarrassing anyone. That's bad news for the wealthy who have profited off of Smarsh's family's impoverishment; it means that people are starting to realize exactly how they've been screwed. When that awareness shifts from a hunch to indisputable reality, those lines of class are going to look more like battle lines.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Coin-Op is the best, most beautiful comic you've never read.

Peter and Maria Hoey are making comics that look completely unlike anything anyone else is doing right now. Their comics have the formal playfulness and serious graphic design of a Chris Ware, the emotional inquisitiveness of a Dan Clowes, and the visual sense of play of a Mary Fleener. Their books are dense but packed with popular culture references and genre tropes — they're cinematic in the true sense of the world, in that they're fascinated with film theory and history. If you haven't read their Coin-Op collection, and the comic series of the same name, you are, basically, reading comics wrong.

This weekend, the Hoeys will be in Seattle for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, and they're bringing a new comic with them. Issue 8 of Coin-Op is, to my mind, their best work yet. It's packed with six short comics on the theme of "Infatuation," and their sense of formal play and emotional heft is remarkable.

The first story in this issue of Coin-Op, "Rear View Mirror," is a loose retelling of the Orpheus myth starring two cartoon characters named Saltz & Pepz. It incorporates jazz, classic Disney cartoons, myth, and Clockwork Orange iconography. Between the Kubrick references, the deep and resonant exploration of the two most American art forms of all — comics and jazz — and the David Lynchian infusion of subliminal terror, the story packs a whole graphic novel's worth of ambition into ten pages.

But to my mind, far and away the best story in this exemplary collection is "Intersection," a formal study of the choices we make their repercussions. The story opens with a man and his wife celebrating their anniversary. He leaves the house to pick up some champagne and he gets hit by a truck. When he comes to, he's young again. He meets his future wife years before they actually met in his past life. Do they fall in love no matter what? Or do the shifting circumstances prove that all love is conditional on time and place and cosmic chance?

The Hoeys are making art that most mainstream publishers would never touch. It is uncompromising and intelligent and formally playful. They are exactly the kind of artists you should support at Short Run, and Coin-Op issue 8 is a brilliant introduction to their work.

Book News Roundup: Nothing rhymes with Orange

  • Last week, The Seattle Public Library announced that next year's Seattle Reads selection will be Tommy Orange's acclaimed debut novel There, There. Orange will be in town on May 16th and 17th for several events around town.
  • I haven't read There, There — it's one of those books that all of a sudden everyone had read and loved, so I didn't feel like my time as a reviewer would be best-used by giving it even more attention. But now that it's going to be a part of the civic conversation in Seattle next spring, I'm excited to finally dig into my copy so I can talk about it with the rest of you.
  • One writer I'm not excited about is Richard Ford, the novelist who once spat on Colson Whitehead at a party over a negative review and has a very troubling history with regards to reviews and race. Ford is being honored by The Paris Review next year in a ceremony that will feature Bruce Springsteen. I swear I aged twenty years writing that last sentence. This is another disheartening sign that the elder generation of arts gatekeepers won't hand over the reins to young artists until they simply can't hold the reins anymore.
  • These assholes who are upset that the new Watchmen TV series is about politics are the same assholes who completely misunderstand the Watchmen comic series, which was nothing so much as a refutation of everything that Thatcherite England stood for. Rorschach is not a hero, he's the exposed Ayn Rand undercurrent of superheroes. If you're upset about race being inserted into Watchmen, you are — and I do not say this lightly — a racist.
  • The Washington Post announced that they would be publishing The Mueller Report Illustrated in December of this year.

Help Claudia Castro Luna write the Columbia River

Hopefully we'll be talking to her about this in depth soon, but you should know that Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna has launched a Kickstarter to publish a beautiful book of poetry about the Columbia River. The goal is to send the book to "all 67 Library Districts and all 27 tribal libraries in Washington State." You can buy the book in paperback or deluxe form on Kickstarter, or you can buy multiple copies to sponsor a library. Learn more below:

Sarah Mirk is creating one zine a day, and she's bringing them to Short Run

I've known Sarah Mirk for over a decade — we both worked at The Stranger but since she moved to Portland in 2008, I've happily transitioned from a coworker to a fan. Mirk is an advocate for everything great in the world: feminism, comics, sex-positivity, and zines. Late last year, Mirk embarked on a project: She decided to create one zine for every day in 2019. She's on track to finish the year a champion, and she's bringing some of her best zines to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival at Seattle Center this weekend. We talked about why she has tabled at almost every Short Run, what she loves about zines, and what kind work she'll be bringing to the show.

Here are just some of the zines Sarah Mirk has made in the last month or so. (Photo by Sarah Mirk; used with permission.)

You come to Seattle every year for Short Run. What do you like about it?

It's just a really well-run festival, and everyone who's tabling is making really interesting work. It's a festival that is all independent creators, so there's no big companies — there's not a focus on mainstream super-commercial comics. It really feels like everyone who's there is passionate about what they're making and they're really invested in putting their work out into the world, rather than buying the new Captain America shirt.

And I think the way that the festival is run is really thoughtful. It feels really inclusive. It feels welcoming: they make sure that all the creators get lunch, and it's really affordable. A lot of festivals are kind of stressful because the table costs so much, and then the whole time you're worried about making your money back, but Short Run has kept their prices really low. So for somebody like me who's tabling, and I'm selling zines for $2 each, at the end of the day I can still come out ahead because the table doesn't cost that much at all. So I really appreciate that they keep it accessible and keep it inclusive and are less focused on making money and more focused on building community and being able to create a space for people to share their work.

That is maybe the best description of it I've heard. I agree.

Over the summer I went to San Diego Comic Con and it was just so gross and I hated every minute of it. It was really alienating, actually. I'm somebody who makes comics and loves to read comics and I didn't want to be there at all because people are more interested in just buying stuff — t-shirts and Marvel-branded hats and action figures and stuff. And I was like, 'who here is actually making time to draw or making time to write or making time for self-expression?' Which is what I see comics as being all about: a way to express yourself and put your thoughts and feelings out in the world. And a lot of comic shows are more about spending money than about, you know, sharing your voice and listening to other people's voices.

That seems like a maybe a pretty good segue into your zine-making project. Can you talk about that? I don't remember seeing the beginning of it, I just noticed you started doing it.

It started January 1, 2019. I actually started last year during October. You know about the Inktober challenge?


Okay. So for Inktober I thought, 'Oh, I'll make a zine every day in October and see if I can do that.' And I got to the end of the month and it was just super-fun. I had loved making them and people love reading them and I had many, many more ideas for zines and I thought, 'I know I have at least a hundred more ideas for zines. Maybe I can have 365 more ideas for zines.'

I just liked the idea of having an excuse to make myself draw for at least an hour every day. So that was part of the challenge.

I'm working on a longterm book project that's not going to come out until next year, and so I wanted to make something every day that I could share and put out into the world, to just have something that I'm making that's immediate, rather than having to wait a year for anyone to see my work.

Also it's something that's just for me, and it's just for fun. I'm really trying to get away from perfectionism and feeling like things have to be pretty, or things have to be perfect. It's about the process of making something every day and sharing it with the world — good or bad. And part of the point of it is to show people that you can do this too. You can make things and put them out in the world.

Do you have any favorites of your 200-something-something children?

Yeah. Let's see. Today is 261 — it's always surprising. I'm publishing them all on Instagram and I'm trying not to get attached to the Instagram addictive system of what people like and what they don't like. You know, I should just measure it in what I think the quality is versus how many likes it got.

Oh, you mean like you've been measuring hearts?

Yeah. And so the ones that I like are usually really weird and aren't always the most popular. I made this one that was imagining different public transit systems as pop culture figures. So, like, New York's MTA is Joyce Byers from Stranger Things, because it's like super stressed out and communicates only through blinking lights.

And Sound Transit in Seattle is Hermione, because it's cold and like, "Oh, we know best." And really it does get you there, but it's kind of an asshole. That was just an insane idea that I had and I made up a zine about it. I really thought that one was funny.

Other ones that are my favorites are ones that have had the biggest impact. I did a zine about like funding bail bonds for immigrants in detention, and I made it literally at two in the morning because I was reading the news and getting super upset and depressed and I was like, "What do I do?" And so I started reading about bail bonds, and then I made the zine about bail bonds and published it at 3 AM and then people all over the country asked me for copies of it. So I scanned it in and sent a PDF to people and I sent it to at least 50 people who have printed it out and distributed it themselves.

I pitched in $50, and I had dozens of people tell me that they read that and then pitched in themselves and it went viral on Twitter, and it seems like a lot of people pitched in. So, that one feels really cool. This idea I had at 3 AM led to dozens of people donating money to this cause and hopefully getting some people out of detention. That's pretty cool.

So those are two of my favorites and they're kind of on the opposite ends of the spectrum of what I make. One is just a funny zany idea that I had. Another one is more like political action.

So what do you do with the zines when you finish them? I see some of them on Twitter.

I post them every day on Instagram and then I also run a Patreon. And so people who support me on Patreon get the print copies of them all. At the end of the month I photocopy them all.

Okay. Wow. That's a lot of paper.

And that's part of the reason: they're all on actual paper. They're not digital, and they're almost all black and white because it's cheaper to photocopy.

Are you going to do anything with these when you're done? Are you bringing some to Short Run? Can you talk about what you're bringing to the show?

Yeah, I'll be bringing a whole bunch of these to Short Run and selling them for $2 each. I'm also selling stickers that I've made and then copies of the graphic novel that I wrote that's called Open Earth — it's a queer sci-fi story in space. And then I'll have copies of The Nib, a comics magazine that I work for.

Do you think you're going to do anything with the whole project at the end, or is this just a thing to see if you can do it — kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only with a lot more work?

Yeah, I actually just got a grant from the Regional Art and Culture Council here in Portland to publish a book of the zines.

So I'm going to collect a hundred of the ones that I feel like are the strongest and put them into a book along with some direction on how you make your own zines. Each of these is just one piece of paper that's folded up, and that's something that I really love to show people. I do workshops on how to make them because it's so accessible and so cool. And the book will also be in the Creative Commons. So the content is made to be photocopied and shared and given away.

I'm sure some people wonder about how long it takes to do them. I know you said one of them was like an hour. Is that generally typical?

I aim to spend an hour making zines every day. Some of them wind up taking me more like an hour and a half. An easy one will be half an hour. And a more tricky one will be like two hours.

And then I have some more complicated ones that I've been putting off — ones where I've interviewed people and then take their quotes and make them into a zine. Those ones I'm putting off, because they take me a long time to go through the interview, write down the quotes, figure out which ones to use, condense it into basically eight sentences, and put it on the page. That takes a long time. I have a backlog of more important ones I've been putting off in favor of doing ones about Scrub Daddy, you know?

I enjoyed that one, too.

That one took me maybe half an hour. The process for it, people often wonder, is I just fold up a piece of paper so it becomes a little booklet, and then draw the images in pencil. And then I write in the text and then do inking, and then grays or colors on top of that. I don't just start drawing with a pen on paper. I always start with a pencil first.

People, for some reason, think I just draw them free hands without penciling. No, there's an eraser involved.

Do you have any advice for people attending Short Run for the first time?

I would say for people who are attending Short Run, it's not all about just buying comics. Of course if you can buy something to support somebody, that's great. But if you just stop by and say "hi, I love your work," that's really nice.

It's definitely weird when someone comes by the table and reads my stuff and then walks away without saying anything. I think some people do that because they feel bad because they're not going to buy anything. And you know, I kind of don't care if people buy anything as long as they're excited about the art and excited about comics. I'm happy to talk to them.

Lunch Date: What we talk about when we talk about talking about books

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

Who’s your date today?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, by Leah Price. Subtitled "The History and Future of Reading," it's about…the history and future of reading. Why print books aren't dead, why people say they are, why everything anyone says about reading is wrong. You know the sort of thing.

Where’d you go?

I was going to take this book out on a real date, to Mulleady's in Magnolia — Irish pub, not fancy, but well-regarded. As it turned out, though, I made dinner for us both at home. I thought we'd get along better than we did….

What’d you eat?

Farro, roasted mushrooms, crumbled parmesan. Appropriately, I read as many pages I could take while distracted by boiling water, beeping timers, and several sorts of salt. We are neither good nor enthusiastic cooks in this house.

How was the food?


What does your date say about itself?

From the publisher’s promotional copy:

Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day's news, the willingness to be alone.

The shelves of the world's great libraries, though, tell a more complicated story. Examining the wear and tear on the books that they contain, English professor Leah Price finds scant evidence that a golden age of reading ever existed. From the dawn of mass literacy to the invention of the paperback, most readers already skimmed and multitasked. Print-era doctors even forbade the very same silent absorption now recommended as a cure for electronic addictions.

The evidence that books are dying proves even scarcer. In encounters with librarians, booksellers and activists who are reinventing old ways of reading, Price offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike.

Is there a representative quote?

It’s hard to choose a representative quote without feeling that you’re stacking the deck. But let’s try this one:

When familiarity wanes, so does contempt. Once scarce and sacred objects, books entered European life half a millennium ago thanks to paper (a portable and durable medium of which Europeans were late adopters) and print (which changed books from rarities to be worshipped to tools to be used). In restoring the printed book to a pedestal at the very moment when it's being shunted to the edges of everyday life, we circle back to the era when print looked like the latest newfangled gimmick. Perhaps print is to digital as Madonna is to whore: we worship one but use the other.

Aside from the arguable (not really) misogyny of the closing metaphor, is there anything in this passage that is not cliché, either literal (pedestals! newfangled!) or rhetorical (this so that, this and that, this to that)?

Will you two end up in bed together?

I'll be honest: I anticipated writing a full review of this book but gave up after the intro and half a chapter. No, wait, I'll be more honest: I anticipated writing a full review of I Don't Think of You (Until I Do), but that book was so interesting and tantalizing and well done that I stopped (after reading and before writing), wanting more time to digest it, even though it's composed of only 101 short passages over 103 pages (or 104 if you count the illustration of mice fucking).

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, on the other hand, tells you everything you need to know straight from the title. That is: every sentence is a take, hot or cold, an echo off of something someone else has written or said. It is ironic for the most frequent author of this publication's Sunday Post — which is really nothing at its worst but a collection of takes and at its best a collection of amusing takes — to crook a brow at another hot-taker. Still.

Most people who read, and perhaps I should say all, know why they do. The "why" is not homogenous, though many reasons are common enough that readers feel community with each other: childhood isolation comforted with stories, a vast curiosity answered with pages (print or digital). No evidence base can prove or disprove the value of the word as story. No double-blind trial can tell a reader more than they already know.

Does that sound romantic? It's not intended to. In fact it's simple practicality. People read because it's necessary to them to do so. Watching football is necessary to others. We don't need reading to be special or privileged; it is what it is, to each of us. True, it does not cause concussion, unless done very badly, and in that way it is superior to almost all sports.

This is a long way of saying that a book about the value of reading seems beside the point, no matter how well done (which is not to say this book seemed particularly well done, at least over the course of a few dozen pages). Talking about the economic impact of on independent bookstores, and how different shifts in the market or in public consumption affect the chances that we'll all be able to continue on with our favorite way of interacting with words, is interesting and useful. Talking about whether books affect compassion, or ameliorate depression, or whether print is archaic or the original bleeding edge, is like throwing the barn door wide while complaining that it wasn't locked.

So, no. We won't even be just friends. There are too many other books to read!

Via Sacra


I was buried beside an olive tree
with a lamp, three figs, and a loaf of bread.
I was never a mother, nor a wife,
my duties conferred to the sacred flame
to attend the vestal hearth in winter,
to bless the Tiber’s water with my palms,

and then relieve the burning in my palms.
The Sacred Way is just beyond this tree,
where my lovers visit every winter
to share my memory with leavened bread
and hold their blackened fingers to a flame.
I was never destined to be a wife

they knew they could not take me as a wife:
the random lots were held against my palms
and made my fingers curl into a flame
then open as a blossom on a tree.
My mother wept; my father gave me bread.
We walked to an empty house in winter

just beyond the Sacred Way in winter,
my dowry paid in full– not as a wife
but rather as a holy child, whose bread
had crumbled to ashes between her palms;
I watched him pass under the olive tree
bending low, as a hand cupped to a flame,

his body disappearing like a flame.
All the days of my twentieth winter
were marked through every season on this tree:
proscribed from vagaries of man and wife,
I rubbed its soothing oil between my palms
and gazed from windows when we made the bread,

when I crushed the grain into flour for bread.
I pressed bellows, bearing the oven’s flame
to watch the bodies grow between my palms,
rising from dust, hardening in winter.
I was never destined to be a wife,
to be embraced by lovers near this tree

or kiss their palms, which hold the leavened bread
before an olive tree; or lift a flame
to see their winter eyes expect a wife.

It's Election day in Seattle and Washington state. Please vote.

If you live in Washington state, it's Election Day. There's no big sexy headliner on the ballot this year — no Trump, no mayor — but it is vital that you vote. Please vote.

And if you tend to shop at independent bookstores because you don't want to give Amazon your business, you should know that Amazon has a lot invested in this election — to the tune of 1.5 million dollars, which is far and away a record in our city politics. No less a national figure than Robert Reich has delineated who the Amazon and non-Amazon candidates are in the majority of our City Council races. The Seattle Review of Books isn't endorsing anyone in this election. I have my preferred candidates, and so does the management at Amazon. But this is what I want you to take away from this post: if you and I disagree on a candidate, or all the candidates, I still want you to vote. Please, please vote.

Washington state can't make voting much easier for you. They mail the ballots to you, they pay the return postage, they have placed ballot boxes all over the city. If you're not sure about who to vote for, I advise checking out a resource like the Progressive Voters Guide, which links to a number of endorsements around the internet. It only takes a few minutes of your time, and it always feels great to turn that ballot in. Please, please, please vote.

You have until 8 pm tonight to return your ballot. Vote, please.

Thank you.

Short Run Comix + Arts Festival is this Saturday!

Short Run Comix + Arts Festival, which is this Saturday the 9th in Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center, is our sponsor this week. We're so pleased their here, because we absolutely love Short Run. In fact, they use a quote from us on their webpage that says it best:

“In virtually no time flat, Short Run has gone from ‘let’s put on a show’ to ‘this is the heart and soul of Seattle’s creative community.’ Imagining a Seattle without a Short Run is as unthinkable as a Seattle skyline without a Space Needle.”

Make the time to go — it's a fantastic celebration that only happens once a year. Don't miss it! Head over to our sponsor's page to find out all about it, including some of the additional programming that is happening this year.

If you want to reach our readers, like Short Run and other sponsors do, great news! We've got some great deals on upcoming weeks in the primetime of the holiday season. Check out our sponsorship page for more information, or if you're ready to book, check out dates and prices!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 4th - November 10th

Monday, November 4th: All You Can Ever Know Reading

Nicole Chung's memoir about being born to Korean parents, adopted by white people, and raised in rural Oregon has been recognized by almost every major book review publication as a tremendous achievement, and it's been long- or short-listed for many great awards besides. Here's your chance to hear part of the story from the author herself. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, November 5th: Permission to Feel Reading

Marc Brackett is "Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University." His new book is about developing emotional intelligence in adults and in children. It's rapidly becoming a major text for educators around the country. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 6 pm, free.

Wednesday, November 6th: The Gentle Order of Boys and Girls Reading

Dao Strom's book of four novellas centers around young Vietnamese women in America. Strom is a poet and a memoirist and she's definitely going to win a major literary award one day. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, November 7th: How We Fight for Our Lives Reading

You likely know Saeed Jones from BuzzFeed, where he covered books and culture in such a way that even the mainstream had to pay attention. Jones is also an accomplished poet, and now he's the author of How We Fight for Our Lives, a memoir about his coming of age. Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000., 7 pm, free.

Friday, November 8th: Short Run Marathon Art Show

Maybe you have to work all day on Saturday and you can't get to Short Run. It happens! People often have to work on weekends, and there's no shame in it. But if you can't make it to Saturday and Sunday Short Run events — see our Event of the Week column for more details — you should definitely come for the kickoff party at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown. The Marathon Art Show and Reception features artwork from a number of Short Run heroes, including Marc Bell, Jasjyot Singh Hans, Malaka Gharib, Seattle Walk Report, Mike Centeno, Chloë Perkis, and Rumi Hara. Fantagraphics knows how to do these art openings right, so this is going to be a good one. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110,, 6 pm, free.

Saturday, November 9th: Short Run

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Fisher Pavillion at Seattle Center, 11 am - 6 pm, free.

Sunday, November 10th: Short Run

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Various locations and times.

Event of the Week: Short Run! Short Run! Short Run!

You know we're huge fans of Short Run here at the Seattle Review of Books. This year, we've already interviewed
Jasjyot Singh Hans about his amazing poster for the festival
, Ezra Claytan Daniels about the political tract he's debuting at the show, and Jul Gordon about her textile comics that will be on display at the show. You have a sense of the breadth and depth of work that's available at the show.

But now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty: Where do you need to be and what do you need to do? The complete answer is on Short Run's website, but here are a few details you absolutely need to know:

  • Short Run kicks off on Thursday night with a big showcase featuring Gordon, Singh Hans, Glynnis Fawkes, Malaka Gharib, and November Garciaat at Vermillion from 7 to 9. It's 21+ and it's free.
  • As is tradition, Fantagraphics Book Store and Gallery kicks off a big art show the night before Short Run starting at 6 pm, featuring artists including the Seattle Walk Report.
  • At the big show at Fisher Pavillion at Seattle Center on Saturday, you should definitely walk around the floor at least twice: once to see all the artists, and then a second time to pick up the books you want to buy. Be sure to visit the art show at Vera Project across the way!
  • And you'll want to rally for the afterparty on Saturday night, which this year is a country-western-themed dance party featuring DJ Scorpio Tail — just five bucks, from 8 to 11 at the Vera Project.
  • On Sunday, Short Run artist T. Edward Bak will be presenting his new book Not a Place to Visit, about the changing face of the environmental movement, at the Seattle Public Library downtown starting at 1 pm
  • Right after that, you can run up the hill for Malaka Gharib's reading of her memoir I Was Their American Dream at Elliott Bay Book Company, starting at 3 pm.
  • Then, you have until 6 pm to race to Georgetown for a musical performance at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery from cartoonists Danielle de Picciotto and Zak Sally, with cartoonist Chris Cilla signing his new work.

Short Run keeps getting bigger and better respected with each passing year, and 2019 looks like the year that the festival semi-officially spreads to a multi-day experience. Sure, the floor is only open on Saturday, but the events happen all weekend long. This is a great town for comics year round, but it doesn't get any better than Short Run weekend for a celebration of the form by its greatest practitioners and most enthusiastic fans.

The Sunday Post for November 3, 2019

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

Meghan Daum to millennials: get off my lawn

This was my breaking point with Meghan Daum: In 2018, she published “Nuance: A Love Story,” where she details her realignment with the alt-right over the course of long, lonely nights with YouTube’s algorithms. I read this essay waiting, waiting, for the turn — “and then I realized I had allied myself with racist, anti-woman, anti-human propaganda” — but it doesn’t come. Instead, Daum ends on a mild note about belonging and loneliness and nuance. It’s the kind of ending that’s possible only for someone secure against the very real and mortal outcomes of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, or whatever hopelessly un-nuanced terms you prefer.

Emily Witt’s critique of Daum’s latest book, which dives deeply into similar themes, is nuanced and rational. Witt focuses on “alternative optimisms” — worldviews that lean away from the traditional complaints of cis white feminism (without denying their reality) and lean toward ways of being that don’t simply correct but reinvent the status quo. As satisfying as it would be to see Daum roundly thrashed, this gentle but firm redirection is probably a better path.

The books that made sense to me at the time were those that questioned the primacy of the heteronormative family. Lauren Berlant’s thesis in her book “Cruel Optimism,” from 2011, that “the heterofamilial, upwardly mobile good-life fantasy” is no longer tenable has become the underpinning assumption of the millennial progressive left and millennial sexuality. I saw hope in the alternative optimisms in Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” and Tim Dean’s “Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking”—queer theory, at least, was more skeptical that there was only one way to be in the world.
She went from a liberal non-voter to burning books with white supremacists. Here's why she finally left the movement.

Along similar, or at least parallel, lines, a profile of Samantha, a young woman who joined the alt-right to please a boyfriend and then (with some intervening events) left. Samantha’s road toward sympathy with the alt-right was also paved by pseudo-intellectuals like Jordan Peterson; like the frog in an over-used metaphor, her skin thickened as the water grew hotter. She quickly rose in the ranks as an expert recruiter of other women, hard to do in a cause that has as a core belief the subordination and worthlessness of women.

Samantha’s departure from the movement was as anticlimactic as her arrival: a gradual accumulation of pressure from outside the fence, similar to the process that pulled her in in the first place. It’d be great to think that this is true for the majority of alt-righters — that they’re operating less on principle than on a desire for belonging, and specifically to belong to something that feels special, private, better. But I think Samantha was just lucky enough to get off the ride before it entered the final tunnel.

She asked him to imagine a house was on fire and 10 people were inside, five of them black and five white. He could only save five. Wouldn't he save the white people first? The man said he would save whomever he could reach. Samantha thought, 'That's what I would do, too.' But she didn't say anything. "I felt like most of the time I was in there, I was waiting for someone else to say, 'We know this is all bullsh*t, right?'"
Zadie Smith on her markedly different style in London versus New York

And now, a reminder that life is also light and silly and full of joy — no, it’s not kittens! I should have made it kittens, you’re right. But how about Zadie Smith, describing in all the glory of Zadie Smith’s prose, the excruciating problem of dressing properly for a two-continent life?

Some New York memos, collective and unindividuated and everywhere, are simultaneously signs of widespread social transformation, and therefore heartening to see. Afro hair worn natural, boys in sequins and eyeshadow, gender-neutral separates. Others drive me to distraction. For three winters in a row, I swear there wasn’t a woman in New York who didn’t own a ribbed woollen hat with a fake-fur bobble on it (although when I emailed friends in London, it sounded as if it was just as bad over there). And last fall, the ubiquity of teddy bear coats made me feel violent towards teddy bears, as a breed.

Whatcha Reading, Ben Clanton?

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.

Ben Clanton is a Seattle based "authorstrator" of children's books, and coiner of great portmanteau words. He's best known for the charming, hilarious, and adorable Narwhal and Jelly series of books. Clanton has just won the Washington State Book Award, in the "Books for Young Readers (ages 6 and up)" category, for the third in the series, Peanut Butter and Jelly. Narwhal's Otter Friend is the latest. Congratulations, Ben!

What are you reading now?

Most of my reading is via audiobooks! I listen to them when illustrating my own books, but also every other moment I can find such as when driving, doing dishes, and falling asleep. Currently I'm listening to Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones. I had listened to another of his biographies recently about Jim Henson which I found fascinating. I love hearing about the lives of creative people and what inspired them. I've especially been captivated by these biographies by Brian Jay Jones because the creations of both Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss were big parts of my childhood and their work has definitely influenced my work. Last night I was listening to the story of how much Dr. Seuss struggled to write The Cat in the Hat with such a limited number of words. I decided to accept the challenge and try to write a beginning reader myself. I'm not off to a very good start! It is super hard!

With my kids I have been rereading The Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham (love her style!). We've read those books many times! Also popular at bedtime has been the Claude series by Alex T. Smith. Oh, and The Book that Eats People by John Perry and Mark Fearing is a favorite with my son currently. That is such a fun one to read aloud. Mr. Pumpkin's Tea Party by Erin Barker is another we've enjoyed multiple times recently. Other picture books being read this week include Grown-ups Never Do That by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney (the illustrations are incredible!), and Henry and Bea by the brilliant Jessixa Bagley.

What did you read last?

Last week I listened to a few of the books in Tui T. Sutherland's Wings of Fire Series including Darkstalker and Poison Jungle. Dragons are always a favorite for me and Tui's characters are so real. I also listened to Master of the Phantom Isle by Brandon Mull and Return of the Temujai by John Flanagan.

What are you reading next?

There are a few books coming out soon that I am excited to read such as Starsight by Brandon Sanderson and The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer. I've also been meaning to listen to Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee and the latest Ransom Riggs.

October 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 October's posts.

October's Theme: We Both Survived

In August when I drew these I was at a residency in Boise, living a high-ceilinged-house life by the river. There are many reasons why this “I have a house and an art job in Boise” life meant a lot to me, but the one that matters forever is my cousin Ryan. We are, somewhat improbably, friends for life—ours is a deep meaningful friendship and also the kind where me saying things like “forever” and “meaningful” here is going to make both of us laugh at me in a REAL DEEP WAY. He came to my residency-culminating public event on an inconvenient end-of-summer weeknight, prompting happy feelings of touched gratitude in me and also an earnest internal panic of OH GOD NO now Ryan is going to see me READ POETRY. (You can relax, we both survived. My writing made him laugh and made his older sister cry, so I maybe deemed it my most successful reading ever.) To celebrate the magic of living nearby for so much longer than our usual visits, and knowing his birthday’s in October, I invited Ryan and his wife Kristin to choose the post-its for this month. The rest of my years were holding down the fort in Seattle (surprise! I do not carry thousands of post-its on my person everywhere I travel), so they had to choose from what I’d made while there. They each picked a different swimming moment; during that month, work on my manuscript gave way each evening to swims in the parks across the river (or, on some 100-degree days, in the river itself—a sort of thrilling liquid treadmill plus pebbles and fish, if you will). I’d tramp along the bike path in my tiny rag of a towel, past the surfers (!!!) and over a bridge, to my choice of 3 different swimming ponds. This daily excursion led to many observations on Boise (the rollerblading thing is NO JOKE), often later preserved forever in post-it. People and dogs and bikes and paddle boarders and kayaks and surfers and skateboards and other wheel-based endeavors I don’t understand were everywhere, like smallish-city life is some giant urban planning playground. Striding home after a swim I looked up and startled, expecting to dodge this bike—but instead it was a hand—from a guy on the bike—reaching out to high five me about my shaved head. Considering further post-it options, I’m pretty sure Ryan remarked wryly that the big question is how narcissistic do you let yourself get—but I love it when people choose memories we share, so I’m glad they both indulged a little. Kristin went straight for the sleeping porches. Perhaps you, like I, have spent decades assuming sororities have normal college roommate arrangements—albeit in big fancy gender-segregated houses with a cook. WELL WE WERE WRONG. I’d heard the phrase_ “sleeping porch” thrown around and understandably pictured some kind of grandiose-mansions-screened-porch-summer-nights thing, until one night when Kristin and Ryan and I were talking about how they met, joking about our differences and college memories and cozily teasing, random stories. Completely beside the point, she mentioned being on early wake-up duty in her sorority. I needed explanation. “Oh you know, you have to go around waking up the girls who’ve got early classes, tapping them.” Tapping them? Why not set alarms?? “ would wake everyone up.” It took SO MUCH conversational backing up before I believed I was truly understanding her. To my utter confusion, in this context sleeping porches are actually internal rooms where 20 to 40 women sleep in tightly-packed bunk beds, sometimes even stacked 3 bunks high. Trying to wrap my head around the amount of trouble people go to for the privilege of such a living situation SHOOK ME TO MY CORE. And here Kristin was all casual about it, just laughing at me, blithely clobbering me over the head with a tiny piece of knowledge she had never considered to be surprising, or obscure. Ryan chose the final post-it, of a walk we took in the foothills one night after work. I think we were aiming for sunset, but it was a last-minute decision, he trying to squeeze in dinner with the family first and me grasping at one more page of writing. We were a little on the late side and gently unsure of where we were going. Channeling our mothers’ can-do spirit of logical leaping and haphazard optimism in the face of insufficient planning, we charged immediately up the most vertical path. At the top it became suddenly apparent that it would be far too steep down for me to go back that way, and that this was not in fact the top. We were also swearing at ourselves a lot, but in a not discontented way? Scrambling up the dry, rock-hard dirt of each sharp ridge, feeling totally alone in the quiet of a dying day, we’d catch surreal glimpses of other people, tiny pairs in the distance poking up jauntily in improbable places. Some questions became embarrassingly urgent—where did these different paths go? Would any take us back to the car, instead of literally slipping down the cliff we’d walked up? How long before the decisively deepening dark completely obliterated our already limited navigational guesswork...or were My Side Of The Family’s notoriously weak ankles going to be the bigger problem. But here we are, safe and sound in our separate cities now: we made great choices, calm and endlessly amused by our stupid selves, suddenly there was a sunset somewhere, Ryan’s phone had a flashlight function, that ominous green was just a dog with a glow stick, the sunset a sliver in the dark like it was hanging around in other neighborhoods, had its back to us.

The Help Desk: The talking cure

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,

We have a real piece of work in our book club. Never reads the book, always has too much to say, never stays on topic (most likely because he never reads the book.) I get the sense that he loves the book club and it might be one of his only real social outlets, but his obnoxiousness is starting to scare off other members of the club. Do you have any ideas on how to gently train a bad book club member into a better book club member?

Ann, Avalon

Dear Ann,

It takes time and patience to re-train adults to honor even basic social mores. My mother has had a persistent case of Munchausen by proxy ever since I hit puberty. I still must have a service animal taste test all of my meals when she's around for the holidays. (Don't worry, I use spiders now. It has shaved hours off my Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve grave digging.)

There are three routes you can take.

1) Tell your book club that you've noticed the conversation veers off topic pretty quickly. So, for the first half hour or so, you're going to try and keep the conversation on topic as much as possible. Remind people that if they haven't read the book, they can grab something to eat and quietly enjoy the discussion.

2) Get a talking stick. I know: I, too, hate talking sticks. But! I've heard they work for some groups – especially groups that have quieter folks who don't speak up as much. You can float it by your group with, "Hey, I've noticed that some people don't talk much during book club. I'd like to hear what everyone has to say. What do you guys think of using this talking stick for a bit just to train ourselves to give everyone a chance to speak?"

3) Nominate the next mouthiest person in the group to moderate discussions. Equip them with book-related questions. When your mouthy guest jumps in with his own thoughts, train them to chant, "Interesting point. How does that relate to the book?" Again and again and again.

Just as I have to remind my mom every holiday season of the notarized letter on my fridge that says, "In the case of Cienna Madrid's sudden and mysterious death, check her mother's pockets for poison," you will have to remind your badly-behaving attendee that his input is only welcome if it's on topic. If all else fails, gentle poisoning may be your next best option. Eating unripe persimmons makes a person's mouth go numb. Maybe feed him a basket of those? 'Tis the season!



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: David Lynch

The Portrait Gallery: Happy Halloween!

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

Happy Halloween, one and all!

Thursday Comics Hangover: For popular consumption

In the last week of September, Heidi MacDonald at the Beat reported, Raina Telgemeier's comic book memoir for young readers, Guts, was the best-selling book in the country. Not the best-selling comic book in the country — the best-selling book, period. When I picked up a copy of Guts at the beautiful new Paper Boat Booksellers in West Seattle this weekend, the bookseller remarked that it almost certainly was the young shop's bestselling title of all time.

It's curious that the bestselling comics artist in the country is someone who most mainstream comic fans have never read. I've been seeing Telgemeier's name for years now and I'd certainly never read one of her books before. I decided to amend that situation.

Guts is a memoir about Telgemeier's childhood battle with a nervous stomach. Plenty of adult readers will likely relate: it starts as a weak stomach and then, as Telgemeier's social and school life becomes more complex, it becomes a full-on problem. She becomes afraid to eat anything — cheese, cabbage, mayonnaise.

The stakes are low, but to ten-year-old Telgemeier, they couldn't feel any higher. Guts does a good job of keeping the problem in perspective: as the young Telgemeier worries that she's never going to be normal again, the world keeps turning around her. She winds up going to therapy, and it helps a little. The story is gentle and empathetic.

But is Guts good comics? Sometimes it seems that popular comics have to be bad in order to gain ubiquity; some of the most-read comics in the country, after all, are Dilbert and Garfield. But Telgemeier is a gifted cartoonist. Though she could stand to develop the backgrounds in more of her panels, she delivers a variety of perspectives, rhythms, and sizes on every page. These books are likely to inspire thousands of young people to take the comics apart to see how they work, and Telgemeier offers plenty of craft for those readers to emulate and explore.

And in the background of Guts, young Raina Telgemeier is constantly working on her comics. She's drawing memoir strips about her life, or trying to convince a friend to collaborate on a comic. The elder Telgemeier seems happy to share those rudimentary proto-comics with her readers — a few of them are displayed in the book — as an encouragement for readers to follow their art. It's quite possible that one day earnest young readers will be able to combine the hundreds of pages of autobiography Telgemeier has published into a single arching narrative about the growth and development of a cartoonist. In terms of influence and reach, it could very well be the most important comics autobiography of the 21st century.

Mail Call for October 30, 2019

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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.

Cascadia Magazine to scale back publication schedule

Andrew Engelson, founder of Cascadia Magazine, delivered some sad news in his most recent newsletter.

We aren’t shutting down, but we’ll be significantly scaling back what we offer. This newsletter will likely shift to a weekly digest. We’ll still publish occasional journalism, poetry, essays, and fiction online at *Cascadia Magazine*, but it will be more infrequent.

I interviewed Engelson back in January of last year about Cascadia and what his goals for the magazine were. Two years in continuous operation for a publication with no outside major investors is a big damn deal, and team Cascadia should be proud of what they've accomplished. We look forward to seeing what they can do as they scale back to a more humane schedule.

Ezra Claytan Daniels is breaking the idea of what comics can be

Ezra Claytan Daniels made one of the splashiest comics debuts in recent memory. His book Upgrade Soul — a high-concept sci-fi novel about cloning, the pursuit of eternal life, the concept of the self, and love — was nominated for just about every major award in the comic book business. And his gentrification horror story BTTM FDRS was published this summer by Fantagraphics to great acclaim. Last week, Daniels debuted an app version of Upgrade Soul and a soundtrack album for the comic. I spoke on the phone with him about genre, the limitations of comics, his new political minicomic, and why he enjoys Seattle's own Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, where he will be exhibiting on Saturday, November 9th.

Have you been to Short Run before?

Yeah, I went once before. I went last year, and I squatted on Ben Passmore's table. He was a special guest and we were on tour so we happened to be going through Seattle and he carved out a little corner for me on his table and I set up some books and sold them.

Okay. And even though you were basically stealing money from Short Run by squatting at someone else's table, they asked you back?

Yeah, totally.

Is there anything that's unique about Short Run that convinced you to come back one year later?

I love Seattle. I lived in Portland for six years, and I have a lot of friends in the Pacific Northwest, so any excuse to come back up in the area, I always jump onto it.

I also really like that Short Run's only a day, so it makes it a lot easier to commit to, if I want to spend some time seeing people that I know in the city that I'm visiting. Some shows, like New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con are four or five days long. Who can take that much time away from their responsibilities to go to a show that's that long?

And also I saw that you're going to be bringing a new sort of small press book to Short Run. Can you talk about that one a little bit?

I'm not very good at talking about it, but it's a nonfiction political essay that I wrote with the intent to communicate certain moralistic and philosophical political ideals to problematic white people.

All the comics that I do have a very strong sociopolitical agenda beneath the genre trappings that I candy-coat these ideas in. But I started to feel really disenchanted with that approach, because I felt like it was really easy for people to take the wrong message from things that are too obfuscated through genre conventions.

So if you take the X-Men, for example: The X-Men were designed as a civil rights allegory — which everybody knows and everybody loves to bring up when we talk about the history of political agendas in comics. But it's so easy when the X-Men, the actual team, are almost all cast as white people for white readers reading those books to take away the lesson, not that black people and minorities are oppressed, but that white people are oppressed.

So I was trying to think of ways to communicate ideals a little bit more directly. And so I came up with this zine that kind of explores the narrative origins of empathy and the evolutionary origins of narrative — why we, as humans, try to wrap all of our life's experiences in narrative terms; and how that narrative worldview shapes our perception of empathy; and then why it's easier for us to feel empathy for some people than others.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It took me forever to do it. It's like 60 pages, but each page is one panel so it's actually a pretty short book. But I asked a couple of leading psychologists to consult with me on the book, so I got their feedback: Adam Waytz [author of The Power of Human] and Paul Piff who did the rigged Monopoly study that became a viral TED Talk.

Wow. I can't wait to read that one, because the first thing that comes to mind for me with the combination of politics and comics are the old Steve Ditko Objectivist rants

I'm not familiar with those.

Oh no? He did a bunch of black and white comics that were about objectivism on Ayn Rand and...

Oh, okay.

Kind of the opposite of what you're doing, sounds like. They're about how there's no society, there's only the individual and there's lots of illustrations with big spheres with mouths talking to men in suits and the men in suits cast the spheres aside. They represent the voice of doubt, or society.

Wow. Sounds great.

They're very interesting. They're hard to read and they're a little bit bonkers, but I don't know of any other people who have done things like this in comics form. Is it okay to call it a polemic, or what is it exactly? Do you know?

I'm not even really sure what to call it. I'm not huge on labels, so whatever people want to call my stuff, I'm fine with it. I'm not going to claim to have created a format. I think I'm looking to things like The Nib, which is a good example of an approach to political comics that isn't reporting current events, but adding kind of a subjective perspective on some of these ideas.


But the central idea is to create something that's super-palatable, it's super-easy for people to understand, but it's still got some intellectual depth to it, so it'll give people something to think about.

I'm a biracial artist, I'm half Black and half white. And I feel like I'm in a very unique position because of my ethnic background to communicate some of these ideas to my white family members, specifically.

I just feel like I'm kind of preaching to the choir sometimes. When I do shows like Short Run — I mean, I love Short Run and other shows like Short Run; these are the people that I want to spend my time with. But selling a book like BTTM FDRS, which is a very political book, to people that come to Short Run is not really communicating these ideas outside the circle of people that already feel the same way that I do.

I'm sorry, but I hadn't read Upgrade Soul, until I found out we were going to do this interview, but I loved it.

Oh, great. Thank you.

And I really liked the way you use genre. You could write a description of the book that sounds very much like a mainstream commercial comic, and then you made it a very sort of deep and thoughtful and fascinating and squirmy story that I just really dug. Can you maybe talk a little bit more about how you feel about genre? It seems like it cuts sort of both ways, right? You're injecting these sort of deeper ideas into genre, but you're also sort of smuggling genre into a different audience a little bit, right? I don't think that Fantagraphics, for instance, has published a whole lot of genre work before BTTM FDRS.

Yeah, I guess I never thought about that. I'm fighting the good fight of spreading genre ideals into a highbrow literary crowd.

It does go a little both ways. You're smuggling on both sides.

Yeah, totally. I'm cut from the Rod Serling cloth in trying to do stuff in the tradition of creators that were using genre as a Trojan horse to disseminate their political ideals. But I am starting to feel a little bit disenchanted with that approach because it's so easy to get things wrong.

So I don't know what the future of my career looks like. I like working in genre because I just love science fiction and horror. So I think in doing a story like BTTM FDRS, there are very real ideas that I wanted to get across in that book. And I think a big part of slathering those ideals in horror and sci-fi and comedy is just because it was easier on my mental health to go to those places. I can play around in this fun sandbox of toys rather than a sandbox of library books and political essays.

Of course, the book's been out for a little bit and now it's got this interesting second life in the form of an app and a soundtrack. One of the things that really draws me to comics is the way that it sort of puts time in the hands of the reader in an interesting way, right? Of course, there's the page turn, which cartoonists use to create suspense or surprise or something like that, but there's a lot of internal work that happens when you're reading a comic. You can control the timing and the tempo of the comic as a reader in a way that you can't when you're watching a movie. It seems like as a creator you're maybe taking some of that back a little bit in an interesting way. The characters in the app blink and the word balloons sort of appear and disappear. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship, whether you see this as changing the idea of time in the reader/artist dynamic in comics?

The answer is absolutely not. The developer, Erik Loyer, and I, went through painstakingly long discussions. Just from talking to me for the past 15 minutes, I'm sure you can imagine the type of discussions I was getting into with Erik, the developer, about the definition of comics and how far we should take advantage of the technology at hand before it stops feeling like reading a comic.

"The thing that defines comics, just like the thing that defines prose, is the reader's control of the element of time."

And you got it exactly right: The thing that defines comics, just like the thing that defines prose, is the reader's control of the element of time. So as soon as something happens in a digital piece that the reader doesn't control, like anytime there's movement in a panel or something animates, or someone speaks, or even if there's a literal sound effect like a tire screeching as a car pulls away, it's a jarring effect to the reader because it's something that's indicative of time that the reader hasn't controlled.


And putting together the dynamic of reader interaction for Upgrade Soul, that was our golden rule that we could not deviate from. That said, there are things in the app like the blinks, that we threw in, that totally go against that rule. But people thought it was really funny and weird, so we kept it in. And this is a little secret: The blinks only happen in the first 20% of the book, and then, after that, the characters stop blinking.

But other than that, the main hook of the app is the reactive score [composed by Alexis Gideon] and that also adheres to the same tenets of control of time that the comic book does. So as you're swiping through the panels, every panel transition triggers a change in the music. The music keeps perfect time with every emotional beat in the story, so you're controlling the music in the same way that you're controlling your pace through the story.

That sounds amazing. I'm glad you put such thought into it. The mainstream publishers have done some — they call them motion comics, usually.

Yeah, totally. And those things never catch on because they always come across being like crappy animated films. As soon as something moves and it doesn't move with the fidelity of an actual animation, it sets up this reaction in the reader: "oh, that moved but it was really crappy looking."

Do you have a preferred reading experience for the story? The app or the printed comic?

It's a very complicated history, but Upgrade Soul was originally developed for the interactive app. It was developed for the app that we just launched. The entire thing has been a self-funded project. We launched it in 2012 with the intent to serialize it, so we would release a new chapter every couple of months. We got about halfway through updating the story and then we just put it on hiatus because we weren't making enough money on it and we were bankrolling it out of pocket.

I kept working on the book and then, when I finished it, I sold it to Lion Forge Comics. But I carved out the interactive rights because I always knew I was going to come back and finish the app. So since Upgrade Soul came out as a book last year and got all this attention, it seemed like the perfect time to try to bring it back.

What am I?

Published October 29, 2019, at 12pm

Paul Constant reviews Christine Day’s I Can Make This Promise .

This Saturday, Seattle author Christine Day reads from her debut middle-grade novel at the Neverending Bookshop. It's a book that unveils the history of Native American peoples in the Pacific Northwest through the eyes of an endearing 12-year-old girl.

Read this review now



While you work in the garden
dig holes in the swallowing earth

I put my hands in the soil of words,
ungloved, I sift out the little rocks

Your miraculous back and arms
pull up undreamed dreams

My pen rolls into storms
of laughter and tears

You stop, feel
rain tapping your cheek, your shoulder

We both come inside
there is no other place necessary

David Treuer to appear at The Seattle Public LIbrary

Sponsor The Seattle Public Library wanted to make sure you were aware that they're bringing David Treuer to the Central Library, Thursday, November 7, at 7pm.

Treuer's acclaimed latest The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee recasts Native history, and blends reporting with memoir. A finalist for the National Book Award, longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence, Treuer's book is having a huge impact.

Come hear him talk about his work. There's much more information on our sponsor's page, and links to The Seattle Public Library's page about the event.

We're so grateful for sponsors like The Seattle Public Library, who bring such amazing events to our city. Returning sponsors like them know our readers love to hear about what's happening in Seattle. You can tell them, too, with your own sponsorship. Take a look at our Sponsor pages for more information. We have some prime holiday spaces open to get the word out for people in the present shopping mood. We'd love to talk to you about them!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from October 28th - November 3rd

Monday, October 28th: Winners Take All Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $21.

Tuesday, October 29th:

Birds Fall Silent in the Mechanical Sea is a new anthology from new publisher great weather for MEDIA. This event features readings from Kate Berwanger and Ellen Meny, Douglas Cole, Bryn Gribben, GG Silverman, and Sonya Vatomsky. There's also an open mic night.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, October 30th: Booktoberfest: Ales from the Crypt

The Seattle Public Library presents an evening of "spine-tingling tales of terror from beyond the grave." (Does Little Women, for instance, count as a tale from beyond the grave? The author is dead, after all.) Floating Bridge Brewing, 722 NE 45th St, 206-466-4784, 8 pm, free.

Thursday, October 31st: Booktoberfest Halloween Horror Movie Marathon

This is not strictly a reading or a book-related event, but it's Halloween and there are no readings that I could find and it's at the library, so let's stop worrying about details and live a little. This is a marathon screening of the films A Bucket of Blood, Little Shop of Horrors, Carnival of Souls, and Night of the Living Dead. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 3 pm, free.

Friday, November 1st: How to Do Nothing Reading

Are you sick of the goddamned internet sucking up all your attention? Are you tired of picking up your phone to look at a single text message, only to find that twenty five minutes later you've been watching guinea pig videos for no reason? The author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy can help. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Saturday, November 2nd: I Can Make This Promise Reading

Local author Christine Day presents a middle reader novel about a young Native American girl who finds information about her family that leads to other questions.

Neverending Bookshop, 7530 Olympic View Dr Unit 105, 425-415-1945, 2 pm, free.

Sunday, November 3rd: Floating Bridge Group Reading

Winners of the Floating Bridge prizes for poetry publications—chapbooks and poetry collections — read their work: Jory Mickelson debuts Wilderness//Kingdom, Katrina Roberts launches Lace, and Elizabeth Vignali presents Endangered [Animal]. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Winners Take All paperback release party at Town Hall Seattle

Tonight, author Anand Giridharadas takes the stage at Town Hall to read from the paperback edition of his exciting book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. I generally try to focus on local authors in the Event of the Week column, but Giridharadas is important enough that he deserves this spot.

Winners is a book about how the super-wealthy elite use philanthropy as a shield to protect themselves from criticism, and to add to their own coffers. It's the kind of book that actually makes waves: Giridharadas has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of criticism from the status quo in the year since the book came out, and so now people are finally discussing the problems inherent in the philanthropy system, and the worsening inequality it causes.

It helps that Giridharadas is an old-school big journalistic personality: with his leather jackets and his sky-high hair, Giridharadas summons the carefully cultivated image of a public intellectual. Think Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, and Joan Didion — the kind of bracingly honest writers who develop cults of fans. It's a rarity these days, but Giridharadas is using his newfound fame to great effect: he's throwing bombs and speaking truth to power on cable television news shows. This kind of criticism never would have been so publicly aired without a personality like Giridharadas to propel it to our attention.

Tonight at Town Hall, Giridharadas will be interviewed by Steve Scher. If you haven't read this book, or if you have read this book, or if you're curious about what it's like to be in the same room as a journalistic superstar, this is the event for you.

And if you want to discuss the book with other readers, please save the date: On December 4th at 7 pm at Third Place Books Seward Park, the Reading Through It Book Club — a joint presentation of Third Place Books and the Seattle Review of Books will be discussing Winners Take All. (All are welcome, with no purchase necessary.) This is the kind of book you read, and fall in love with, and evangelize over, and discuss endlessly. In other words, it's a book by a superstar.

Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $21.

The Sunday Post for October 27, 2019

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

The great American press release

Here’s a reminder of what “lynching” really means, from New Orleans writer Maurice Carlos Ruffin: not a set of shallow associations, but a history bleeding like poison into the present-day reality of our country.

Once, in mixed company, another friend and I mentioned how pervasive lynching imagery was. A white friend admitted that she had never seen a single photo. I was shocked, but not surprised. A lynching was a warning. She didn’t need to be warned.
How Mary-Kay Wilmers became Britain’s most influential editor

In the wake of Patricia Lockwood’s epically devastating re-assessment of John Updike in the London Review of Books, a profile of the LRB’s editor-in-chief: an 81-year-old woman with a gimlet gaze and a fearless sense of what “the paper” is and does.

I asked Wilmers how she intended to mark the 40th anniversary in the paper. Was she going to do something special?

"No,” she said, very offhand. “It’s just meant to be good.”

What happens if building more housing doesn't work?

Alex Danco asks a question that should be chilling for Seattle. There’s no question that we need more affordable housing (more affordable housing, and more-affordable housing). But more housing doesn’t mean prices drop, for the same reasons the rich always get richer.

The thing with positive feedback cycles is that they necessarily come to an end, unless there is some enormous reservoir of resources they can draw from in order to keep perpetuating. In the housing market, the basic mechanic through which this keeps perpetuating is: banks lend money to homebuyers; the more freely they lend it, the higher it will drive house prices. This has two mutually reinforcing consequences: people will need bigger mortgages, and the bank will be able to issue them, since they’re allowed to lend up to a specific leverage ratio that is now buoyed by rising home values.

Whatcha Reading, Joy McCullough?

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

Joy McCullough is the Seattle-based author of the young adult novel Blood Water Paint, for which she was just awarded the Washington State Book Award, and which was also long-listed for the National Book Award. The book is based on the life of Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi, a gripping, tragic story of resilience and defiance against a brutal society deliberately designed to keep women oppressed. We are incredibly lucky that right now, in Seattle for the first time, you can see a Gentileschi painting in person at the Seattle Art Museum's exhibit Flesh & Blood, now showing through January. McCullough will also be appearing October 30th at the Gage Academy of Art on Capitol Hill in conjunction with a Masterpiece Lecture Series lecture focused on Gentileschi. Congratulations, Joy, on your recent accolades; we're so grateful for your work bringing Gentileschi to new audiences!

What are you reading now?

I just read Know My Name by Chanel Miller and it is an absolute must-read for anyone who is able to read it. (Trigger warning for sexual assault.) The survivor of the highly publicized Stanford rape case tells her story with devastating clarity. It is both heart-wrenching and hopeful and it tells the story not only of one horrific act of violence, but the broader story of being a woman in this world.

What did you read last?

I am currently reading The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. It’s equal parts true crime and science history, set in a compelling, cinematic era. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but this one is filled with so much intrigue and story that I’m really enjoying it.

What are you reading next?

Up next, I’m planning to read Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, one of our greatest authors of books for kids and teens. His latest is on the short list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It’s a collection of interconnected short stories, each focused on a different kid’s walk home from school. Reynolds is an extremely innovative writer and master storyteller and I’m really looking forward to this one.

Walk, run, Lit Crawl 2019

Lit Crawl is one of our favorite adventures of the year, more so this year with an extra round of readings (our tired feet!) and two new members of the team on board: Julie Yue, and Mariya Bashkatova joined Dawn McCarra Bass, Paul Constant and Martin McClellan to cover the night this year. Even five of us could catch only a fraction of the incredible talent on display — in a single night! — but we did our noble best. Kudos to the Lit Crawl organizers for continuing to make this event bigger and better, a landmark moment in the literary year.

Phase 1: 5:00 p.m.

"A woman's work," Intrigue Coffee and Chocolate

It's a gift to start Lit Crawl at a coffeeshop, the oldest-school place for words to be read out loud. And it's a tribute to the Lit Crawl organizers that the not-small room at Intrigue (really! It's huge!) was crowded at 4:45 with people eager to start the night.

Mineral School — the residency program founded by Jane Hodges — is well known to Seattle Review of Books readers. We loved seeing Hodges read her own work after supporting so many other writers. The excerpt she read from a memoir in the works, a piece on an aging relative's loss of cognizance, was poignant but not mawkish, wry but not silly. Taking care of the dying has, indeed, always been women's work.

In a set of readings on women and work, there is no avoiding the unpleasantness of men in the workplace. For Kristen Millares Young, it was the A1 editor, one of a series of men to mistake her self-possession for an invitation to possess. Millares Young is one of the best readers in Seattle; her voice is strong and warm and carries anger and humor equally well. She's also one of Seattle's best essayists, producing rich, thoughtful, human work time and time again. You can read "Every Woman Keeps a Flame Against the Wind" in Proximity Magazine. If you have the chance to hear her read this, or anything else, aloud, take it.

The lovely surprise of the reading (we expected good things from both Hodges and Millares Young) was Jean Ferruzola, who we hadn't heard before. Ferruzola is a quiet reader, so everybody got quiet to listen. Her writing is personal, funny as hell, and incredibly smart. "Sadness can be a problem of narrative," she said, before relating a painful story about a man in power who asked for something he shouldn't have. Ferruzola captures exactly how the shocking, arrogant persistence of such a request can lead to surrender — and how violation can become the author of a woman's story.

Stinky and Spooky with a Side of Magic at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library

One member of the audience stole the author's book right off the reading table at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library. He ran away with the book, cackling. Another member of the audience disrupted the reading with raucous laughter when the author read the word "butt." Nobody in the audience even blinked. The authors were used to this kind of lawless treatment, and even seemed to enjoy it.

These three local children's authors kept things relaxed and fun for the children in attendance. Donna Barbra Higuera enlisted her fellow authors in a scripted reading from her upcoming picture book about El Cucuy (which, Higuera explained, is "The Mexican boogeyman," who is "much scarier than the American boogeyman.") Mark Maciejewski read from his second book in the “I Am Fartacus" series, Electric Boogerloo — his was the reading with the celebrated "butt" in it — and Kim Baker presented her upcoming middle-grade novel The Water Bears, about a boy who survived a bear attack. Every Lit Crawl should begin with a reading where members of the audience feel comfortable enough to lie on the floor and giggle openly.

Y-We Poetry Reading at Northwest Film Forum

What a great way to start the night, listening to three artists near the start of (what we hope will be) a lifetime of explorations — all three presented with the cool confidence and self-awareness of more tenured writers.

Lucia Santos was first, reading a series of poems, including one titled "Poems my Notes app rearranged". She spoke of wanting to write about the world “on a more abstract level" and had some wonderful imagery in her work.

Azure Savage, who recently came out as trans-masculine, wrote You Failed Us: Students of Color Talk Seattle Schools with the intention of causing "systematic change in education". They interviewed forty students of color, all of whom attended Seattle Public Schools at one time or another, about their experiences. Savage said the perspective of students of color is the one they wanted to share most, because that is the perspective that gets heard the least. They collected the interviews, and then used the themes that emerged as chapter groupings. They talked about the book reaching people in power who are listening — the entire project an astonishingly mature and capable approach, both art and journalism, in working to enact change.

Robin Hall's project was more inward facing: she explored self-hatred and body image, how there were many places she could go where people would tell her to love herself, but none where she could honestly express the negativity she carried — the feelings she felt she needed to step through before finding that self-love. She is interested in "systematic change in how we view our bodies.". Like the other two Y-We alumni, she showed up, tackling personal, difficult issues with impressive vulnerability.

Y-We stands for Young Women Empowered. The group offers multiple programs for diverse young women, including a writing retreat camp.

Phase 2: 6:00 p.m.

"Playing with Dough" at Elliott Bay Book Company

Has there ever been a better combination than books and baked goods? Yesterday's talk paired gluten-free gougères, gluten-free banana bread, and (gluten-rich) pasta crackers with a panel discussion by cookbook authors Jeanne Sauvage, Linda Miller Nicholson, and Aran Goyoaga.

Cooking is so personal and ritualistic, and these three authors are all invested in the way that food is inextricable from our family histories, our childhoods, and our sense of comfort and home. This relationship is especially evident when you develop a food allergy or intolerance and suddenly need to rework beloved family recipes.

Jeanne Sauvage, author of Gluten-Free Wish List, said she had to "learn new ways of eating and connecting with heritage" after she developed a gluten intolerance and could no longer eat the same foods she'd been enjoying since childhood. Her book focuses on tweaking classic baked goods to make them gluten-free while keeping their nostalgic and familiar flavor.

Linda Miller Nicholson said her mission is to "bring joy to people through food" and also to sneak some vegetables into her child's pasta, so her new book, Pasta, Pretty Please, is a kaleidoscope of rainbow pasta enhanced with vegetable purees. Her bright stage presence matched the colorful pasta, and I believed her when she said she's made pasta by hand at least once per week since the age of four. She also has great tips for cooking pasta, including a recipe for the appropriate salinity of pasta water that was almost too titillating to include in the cookbook.

Blogger, food stylist, and photographer Aran Goyoaga spoke about her food journey: from a child growing up in a family of chefs, to a young person living with an eating disorder, to an adult returning to cooking as a source of healing and nourishment. Her cookbook, Canelle et Vanille: Nourishing Gluten-Free Meals, grew partly out of her writing about her past and family traditions in the Basque country in Spain.

This is one reason we buy cookbooks — not just to learn a recipe (there are more expedient ways of doing that) but to learn someone's story through food and to step into a world where all the china matches (or is artfully mismatched).

"COAST|noCOAST issue 2 release" at Vermillion

The joy of a journal reading is the mix of voices and genres, trying to find the aesthetic throughline while enjoying the differences. COAST/noCOAST is a new journal, only in its second issue (release to come in December or January), but its editorial voice suits the stage. First- and second-person readings by Alayna Becker and prose editor Katie Lee Ellison went immediately to the hairline crack between personal and political; Ellison's piece, which centered on her Jewish father's swastika-imprinted rug was particularly compelling.

Erich Schweikher, also co-editor, read a mix of work — his own, and poet (and third co-editor) Charles Gabel's. Schweikher said he's been writing the same poem for 20 years, and has finally given in to it; you could hear the way those years have worn some edges off and sharpened others in his verse: words and sounds bouncing against each other with a casual skill. It's interesting to hear one poet read two poets' verses. It brings out the style of each more strongly. Or maybe that's just a tribute to the poets' strength, to hear both voices so clearly even when spoken through the same throat.

The Seattle Review of Books is an unabashed fan of Mita Mahato's work — those delicate but unfragile poems cut out of paper. Kudos to Vermillion for accommodating the screen that allowed her to combine reading with a slideshow of the collages that are essential elements of each poem. Only Mahato could write about "the planet as a square of blue paper in a rectangle in a comic strip" while punning about flat-earthers and transforming Blake's Tyger into a tiger-headed robot.

Mahato is working on a short, gorgeous, and heartbreaking series of images on the changing boundaries between humans and other animals, hopefully ready for Short Run. Not ready for Short Run but now eagerly anticipated by everyone in the audience: a visual sonnet sequence, based on her residency in the Norwegian Arctic, in which a polar bear serves as her Petrarch's Laura. "The sonnet is a form that necessarily deals in puzzles," she said, and climate change is a puzzle she won't let go of. If only poets, and comix artists, could be president.

Seattle Youth Poet Laureate cohort at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library

"This one's for my mom, but if any of you moms out there can find something in it, maybe it's for you," announced a poet whose name we didn't catch at the Youth Poet Laureate cohort reading. Based on the poems we heard, there are a lot of proud mothers out there. Maia Pody read about fingernails as symbols of beauty standards and also carriers of dirt that stays with us, just under the surface and impossible to fully clean. Marina Chen read a poem about expectations and obsessions written to another: "you, the reason there's chocolate on my cell phone." Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Wei-Wei Lee read a poem to her friend Gabriel, "who isn't here today, but that's okay because I could never say this to his face." It was a poem about a car ride fraught with emotions, about steeling your voice to feel confident and squeezing feelings of inadequacy into something smaller and easier to manage. The poems were raw and exploratory, bouncing off each other and works of art — Chen references The Little Mermaid; another poem responded to All the Light We Cannot See. It's the kind of reading that reminds you why we love poetry when we're young: because it's how we make sense of the world and explain ourselves to ourselves.

The Poet Salon at Northwest Film Forum

A live podcast recording during LitCrawl! The Poet Salon hosts Dujie Tahat and Luther Hughes (usual third host Gabrielle Bates couldn't make it tonight because of travel) interviewed Natalie Scenters-Zapico. New to the area, Scenters-Zapico is Poet in Residence at the University of Puget Sound, and her most recent book Lima :: Limón was released in May by Copper Canyon Press. (The title comes from the Concha Piquer song "A la lima y al Limón", a cautionary tale about a thirty-year old unmarried woman. The children who live near her look up at her window and caution each other not to be like her. Thirty! Unmarried!)

Scenters-Zapico read three poems and answered questions from Tahat and Hughes, talking at length about growing up in the twin cities of El Paso/Juarez during the rise of the drug wars. The conversation ranged from writing about the desires and physicality of the body to watching her home towns become a "test-tube for modernization"; how femicide was a common context during the violent years, and what it's like to grow up on the border, surrounded by fliers for missing women. "The documents of death," she called them. "The documentation of brutality."

"We must be careful how we perceive border spaces", she said, tying together events in Juarez to missing indigenous women in America, where reservation land often abuts oil industry fracking and remote areas. She spoke to how no one in our country pays attention to these women disappearing, and how wrong that is. We must be careful how we perceive border spaces; we need to pay attention to border spaces.

Scenters-Zapico's poetry is absolutely sublime — you'll be able to hear for yourself when the episode is released, although picking up her book in the interim would find you richly rewarded.

Phase 3: 7:00 p.m.

“Haunted by Heartbreak" at Ollie Quinn

Desire, grief, and heartbreak were the ghosts of the night, though the light wood decor and hanging pothos plants of Ollie Quinn are less “haunted house" and more “Swedish coffee shop." Jessica Mooney, an SRoB contributor, opened the event with a lyrical essay from her just-released chapbook, Parting Gifts for Losing Contestants, illuminating a tangle of miscommunication, loss, and language breakdown in a relationship. "I don't know how to say what I mean," she read. "Taxonomy remains mysterious."

Poet Keetje Kuipers's performance made me want to immediately go out and buy all of her poetry collections. She opened (appropriately for the spooky theme of haunting heartbreak) with "Finally," a poem about sex in a cemetery, which intertwined lust and love with death and featured the indelible description of cartilage grinding into "dust finer than the finest semolina flour."

Kuipers described one of her collections, The Keys to the Jail, as "the saddest book that's ever been written," and it's true that the poems she read carry heavy emotion. The past is constantly flitting in and out of them, mingling with the present and continuing to haunt the living. In "Told You So," from her newest collection, All Its Charms, she described using the old boxers of "the man I thought I'd marry" to clean up her daughter's orange juice spill. In the same piece, she recounted crying on the shoulder of a former lover before going to a clinic with the intention of getting pregnant, "worried that whoever I loved next would never know my body when it was beautiful." The room was silent while Kuipers let the line sink in. "How could I have been wrong about so many things?" she finished, to a hum of agreement from the audience.

We also got to hear a new piece from Anne Liu Kellor, memoirist and creative writing instructor at the Hugo House. In the candid and open essay, she explored having a crush on a carpenter while dealing with some reverberations from her husband's long-ago unfaithfulness. Kellor connected with the room and created a warm environment and some big laughs.

Poet, writer, and disability justice activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was unfortunately not able to attend the event, and we missed her.

Apocalypses Now at Bauhaus Coffee

Woodinville author Alexandra Oliva noted that her first novel, The Last One, was a post-apocalyptic story about a reality show colliding with the end of the world, and so it would have been perfect for the apocalypse-themed reading at the new Bauhaus Coffee space on Harvard Ave. But she's almost done with her second novel and in another place mentally, so she read a new piece about the emotional desolation of a new city. There are always more than enough apocalypses to go around, after all.

Jennie Melamed's apocalypse was a fantasy story, about a badly burned knight warning his kingdom that a dragon was swiftly approaching. Ruth Joffre read poetry about rising seas and selections from a novelette about people obsessing over sour candy and ice cream cake even as a virus mercilessly wipes humans off the earth. It's appropriate that Joffre offered calamity by multiple choice: No single apocalypse is enough for one person. When it comes to the end of the world, we each contain multitudes.

Hedgebrook reading: Strangers in a strange land at Capitol Cider

Ah, Capitol Cider. One of the favored Lit Crawl destinations — full-service food and drink! Also one of the loudest, with at least half the room there for the cider and the other half for the words. But the mic was good and strong, and the readers cut right through.

Kathleen Alcala kicked off the session with her piece "Strangers in an estranged land", tying her Spanish-Jewish history to early immigration, when Spain made it clear to Jews that their choices were to convert, to get out, or to die. "Being persecuted does not make you a saint," Alcala said, pointing out that "life, as long as it was somebody else's, was cheap."

Wendy Call spoke of visiting Bogota, Columbia, and meeting an artist named Daniel who brought her to a mural he made, showing nine people who were victims of the violence and drug wars. "I need to clean it," he told her, "wiping his hand along the mural and looking at the dark ghost on his fingers."

Ellen Forney showed that her humor and spirit are just as sharp when not paired with her wonderful comic art. She spoke of crying in public and the things she does to avoid it. One part of the story involved eavesdropping on a metalhead and his mother in a movie theater as they chatted about song names. She also recommended looking up the mammalian diving reflex, in which immersing your face in cold calms your body. There is, of course, just the option to let the tears fall in public and not worry about how people might react — but a good story needs a tension point, and Forney found plenty of humor around finding your cheeks wet when, perhaps, you feel ashamed that the context might not warrant the expression.

Phase 4: 8:00 p.m.

“Making of Seattle" at Elliott Bay Books

While many LitCrawl events focus on a host of writers sharing poetry and prose around a single theme, this final food event at Elliott Bay Books dove deep into the process of writing a cookbook with one author, Julien Perry. Her newest cookbook, Seattle Cooks, shares quintessential recipes from forty local chefs. In conversation with food writer and author Kathleen Flinn, Perry describes how she managed to wrangle forty restaurant chefs into trading their food scales for measuring cups.

"It was a nightmare," said Perry, about convincing restaurant chefs to translate their dishes for the home cook. Unlike the film Ratatouille, chefs don't keep a trove of recipes in a robust card catalog. Their staff learns simply from watching them make it. What's normal for a chef – working with vast quantities, long lists of specialty ingredients, smoke guns, sous vide machines – is far beyond what even the most ambitious home cooks are ready for. One grilled octopus dish had so many components that the first iteration of the recipe was a full seven pages long. The editorial process was just as arduous — five rounds of editing, five rounds of copyediting, and then multiple rounds of proofs. Pro-tip: don't leave the recipe testing to the last minute!

This was an unrivaled opportunity for anyone who has ever wished to write a cookbook. Kathleen Flinn shared insights on how the genre has changed in the era of online personal branding. Keyword search has allowed niche cooking to become viable. The visual tyranny of Instagram has changed the economics of book publishing — the cost of full-bleed color photographs is now a necessary expense.

A final delicious perk: there was so much food from whole evening! Sockeye salmon and gingery noodles, still more gougères, chewy snickerdoodles, and chili from Jack's Barbecue, one of the restaurants featured in the book.

Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women at Corvus & Co.

This special Lit Crawl edition of the popular reading series — inspired by the works of authors like Aimee Bender and Alissa Nutting — was a high point of our evening. Series host and curator Kate Berwanger's piece, a creepy, gorgeous short story about a woman whose body and surroundings begin to turn into plant matter, probably hewed closest to the idea of "surreal fiction." But Vivian Hua's "true story" of a man who decided to drive to California based on the demands of Tupac's ghost was charming and fun, and Kate Bernatche's macabre story about cannibalism was such a gutsy choice (sorry — the pun was unintentional but we're keeping it) for a restaurant serving burgers and chicken wings. Jalayna Carter's poems about labyrinths and headscarves and coats named Sheba were so exuberant that only a true pedant would complain about the readers meeting, or not meeting, the dictionary definition of surrealist literature. It was a powerful showcase, with a variety of talent sharing the work they're most excited to share right now — in other words, what Lit Crawl is all about.

Failing Gracefully with Friends at Capitol Cider

Kilam Tel Aviv hosted this block, introducing his two co-readers before coming up for stage time himself.

Aviona Rodriguez Brown brought a trained theatrical presence, physicality, and vivaciousness to her storytelling. She talked about her Afro-Latinx history and how it differed from her siblings'; about recognizing the moment where she first saw her blackness reflected by people and became truly aware of her color.

Jamaar Smiley followed, with a performance of two of his jaw-dropping works — infused with beat, hip-hop, and complex rhyme-schemes that, at times, echoed Neo-romantic cadence, Smiley's work explored themes of racial identity through metaphors of the natural world, including that most Northwest-y of fish, the salmon. His vivid images came rapid-fire, creating a sense that you are riding a wave of images — you're just just catching one allusion as he drops a second or third, your brain barely keeping up with his. Truly astonishing work — and, amazingly, he performed both very long pieces from memory. Highly recommended if you get the opportunity to see him perform.

Then Tel Aviv was back up, bringing home the theme of failure. He read from a chapbook where he asked local artists and creators to answer questions about how they approach their work and then paired those pieces with poems that, he said, "failed" — or, that were rejected by publications. He read slowly and seriously, taking time to let his poems land, before the punchline of rejection. A fun concept, well put together. It was nice to hear it performed.

Phase 5: 9:00pm

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Bar" at The Pine Box

Due to technical failure (see “Biggest Regret") and ensuing scrambles, we missed the beginning of Darkansas author Jarret Middleton's reading — which surely would have spooked us to the bone. But what we did hear was two hilarious takes of horrific-but-not-quite-horror stories from New York author Chavisa Woods and short story author and screenwriter Ramon Isao.

Woods read from the eponymous short story of her collection Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country, the wry interior monologue of a queer goth having a hell of a hard time in the Bible Belt. One of the must-do's: "I would highly recommend a non-consensual, surprise Southern Baptist exorcism." But you have to prepare to do some legwork before your friends and family will conspire against your soul. For example, go to Bible study dressed like you're going to "kill a Marilyn Manson concert" and read aloud from Old Testament passages about gruesome child sacrifice. Death is everywhere in the country, Woods finished, "all we love is ourselves, all we kill is ourselves."

Death and religion also reared their heads in Isao's chilling imaginary about our dystopian future. A father takes his son to see the last tree in the world, as he did when he was a boy. Having never seen a tree before, his son is less than impressed: "It's just a big stick, Dad!" This atmospheric, sarcastic short story tells of a brave new world where climate change has turned everything into a desert, greenery worship is now a religious cult, racial segregation is real again, and AI learned to write music that made people cry. His world felt strange and harsh, yet so, so familiar.

The long, dim cabin of the Pine Box made the perfect setting for these genre-bending readings. As people piled in with jugs of ale and listened to the violent ironies of our old religions and bittersweet predictions of our future, you can't help but feel like this was a scene that's happened so many times across so many millennia. We're still just a bunch of big-brained apes who learned to tell each other stories, again and again, in new and different ways every time.

Writing Against the Body at Ada's Technical Books & Cafe

The quick walk up the hill was brutal — why, oh why, are the events so far apart! — but the promise of these four poets made the choice an easy one.

Previous Seattle Review of Books Poet in Residence Abi Pollokoff hosted the evening, first introducing Laura Titzer, who beyond her lyrical and engaging poetry, is an artist and community food organizer.

Laura Wachs was up next, reading work questioning her unknown birth mother, wondering about the connections and thoughts she is unsure if they shared. Other pieces about recovery from eating disorders were raw, visceral, and very real: a confrontation and a naming.

Joyce Chen said that "I write about how time exists in the body" — she spoke of how her mother, and the immigrant's dilemma of wanting a parent who is American and local, but who doesn't sever the connection to history and the past.

Abi Pollokoff closed the night — and Lit Crawl, for those of us who picked this as the last venue. She read from a series of new work that she called "a feminist eco-poetic." Pollokoff is a present and powerful reader, using rhythm and repetition to bring moving waves of emotion to her pieces. It was great to see her give voice to some of the white space she uses to keep words apart (and together) on the page — a kind of concrete melodiousness that evoked something of songwriting for me, as if she started with a melody and stripped everything that rhymed too close until it was just the cadence of words.

Weed the People at Rachel's Ginger Beer

"So this is my first time doing theater in the round," Leila Marie Ali joked at the beginning of the Weed the People reading. Rachel's Ginger Beer on 12th Avenue, it must be said, is a terrible venue for a reading. The ceilings are high and a few of the customers are very loud assholes. But the Lit Crawl crowd — ever troopers — are used to making do with non-typical readings venues. We circled around the readers to listen to them talk about their relationship with marijuana.

Ali, for instance, is a tour guide at the Herban Adventure Tour. "Now I'm like the Weed Queen but, full disclosure, my tolerance is very low," she joked before launching into an epic poem about the history of marijuana prohibition. Ahnya Smith, founder of the Colored Cannabis Collective and host and curator for the evening, said she was floored the first time she saw Ali read her work, and it's easy to see why: she's charismatic as hell, prowling the floor and drawing the audience in.

Smith, Ali, and poet Nadia Imafidon made the political theme of the evening a personal one, talking about what it means to be Black women trying to take back cannabis culture from the white people who criminalized it and are now gentrifying it. Imafidon's poem about being told to "take a breath" when she expresses her displeasure says it all: in certain venues, a woman of color simply isn't allowed to be herself. So there's a special kind of joy in these women carving a poetry venue out of the middle of an obnoxiously loud bar, demanding the space and the attention they deserve. As a symbol of the world the authors were aspiring to build, it was just about perfect.

Biggest Regret of the evening

Due to a Google Maps mishap, one of us ended up eight blocks south of Bauhaus Coffee at 9:07 p.m., and couldn't make it to “Winter in America" to watch Robert Lashley, Christopher Rose, and Paul Hlava Ceballos share their poetry inspired by jazz poet Gil Scott Heron. What a miss — we're sure it was phenomenal! We'll catch you next time. (Bauhaus — update your Google Maps address!)

The Help Desk: No Rush!

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 sing karaoke? I do, and I just lost a friend because I wanted to sing “Tom Sawyer,” and she hates Rush that much. But I had to listen to her sing fucking “Old Town Road” FIVE times in one evening and I didn't pitch a fit. Is it too much to ask someone to sit through 3.5 minutes of prog rock they don't like just to let a friend have a turn?

Geddy Lee, Rock Box

Dear Geddy,

I have a friend whose go-to karaoke song is Pat Benatar's "Hell is for Children." It is a five-minute song about child abuse. If I can tolerate 19 years of listening to that, your friend can tolerate four minutes of Rush without being a crybaby whiner. There are few rules to karaoke, but one is that you do not get to nix another person's song choice. Repeating the same song – let alone five times! – during one night of karaoke is what's truly offensive.

Tell your friend she is a mannerless pig and stop inviting her to your karaoke nights out, for the sake of whatever is left of your friendship.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: El Camino

The Portrait Gallery: JA Jance

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

It's JA Jance's birthday this Sunday, the 27th. Happy birthday, to one of the reigning queens of mystery.

Despite desires to be a writer when she was young, "my first husband imitated Faulkner and Hemingway primarily by drinking too much and writing too little", and declared there could only be one writer in the family, and it was to be him. Hello, 1968.

Year later, divorced, a single-mother with two kids, she would write from 4am to 7am before going to work selling life insurance. She sold a few books after a false start, and the rest is an impressive track record of showing up and writing books that a large amount of people clamor to buy when they're released.

She writes multiple series at a time, publishing some 70 books to date, if her Wikipedia page is accurate. Among them, a book of poetry.

Another thing Wikipedia notes: she's raised $250,000 for charity by asking bookstores to donate part of proceeds from her appearances.

You've given a lot to the book world, and inspired countless writers who followed you. Happy birthday, Judith Ann Jance!

Criminal Fiction: Treats for tricksters

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

Former FBI Special Agent Corie Geller is chafing at the Long-Island-suburban-bit in Susan Isaacs’ Takes One to Know One (Atlantic Monthly Press). Recently married to Mr. Seriously Perfect and happily mothering his teenage daughter Eliza, Corie loves her new life, and yet…. In an attempt to get out of her home-office a bit more — she reads reams of books in Arabic as a paid-for literary scout, as well as occasionally doing contract work for the FBI — Corie’s joined a luncheon roundtable of fellow freelancers including a landscape artist, a packaging designer, a gardening expert, and a speechwriter. But the more she eyes up one of her lunch colleagues, the more she wonders about him; that wondering soon turns into a determined bit of sleuthing. Ably aided and abetted by her dad, a retired cop who spends his days streaming NYPD Blue, Bosch and Death in Paradise, and her best friend, the super-stylish Wynne, Corie follows her spidey sense down a compelling rabbit-hole of a mystery with seriously hot water at its base. Issacs, who kicked off her bestselling-author career in 1978 with the entertaining and entertainingly titled Compromising Positions, has not lost one whit of her wit, smarts, and tongue-in-cheek humor.

With The Long Call (Minotaur), Ann Cleeves departs from Vera’s Northumberland and Jimmy Perez’ Shetland for the rural communities, towns, and beaches of North Devon. Her new police procedural series features Detective Matthew Venn, who grew up in the area as part of a fundamental church community, and fled its claustrophobic embrace as soon as he could. But now, investigating crimes on his home patch, his childhood history and ties inevitably intrude into his current cases. His sergeant, Jen Rafferty, has historical baggage as well, but holds down her own as a single professional mum raising two kids.

The opening of Long Call is classic Cleeves: a body is found on the beach, marked only by stab wounds and an albatross tattoo. Dogwalkers, beachcombers, birding enthusiasts, and community-support workers populate the novel and add intriguing heft to a murder mystery that appears to involve an inclusive community center run by none other than Venn’s husband, Jonathan. With this new series, Cleeves shines her authorial light on another striking part of the UK, showing off its landscape and locals to immersive effect.

The visceral visuals of the Alien films meet the sci-fi-comedy-horror of 2001’s Evolution in screenwriter David Koepp’s debut novel Cold Storage (Ecco). In 1987, a pair of wise-cracking military operatives are shipped to Australia to deal with some kind of anomalous, fast-growing organism. Some 30 years later, two storage-unit security guards — who meet-sort-of-cute on the job and get in a few wise-cracks of their own — discover that an ingenious fungus is definitely among us. One baby daddy, a passel of TV-obsessed bikers, and a storage-unit client later, the now retired military operatives find themselves in a race against time, battling what may possibly be the most horrific green goo ever. Start placing your casting bets now.

In Linwood Barclay’s Elevator Pitch (William Morrow) something — or someone — is playing havoc with the elevators in New York City’s finest high-rises. Starting with one terrifying Monday morning massacre through a nail-biting, corpse-accumulating week, a tenacious journalist, a besieged mayor’s office, and a pair of detectives try to make sense of an escalating and frightening pattern of violence and mayhem in the Big Apple. Cannily bookended with the tantalizing promise of actual elevator pitches in elevators, this clever, pleasurably convoluted, and fast-paced thriller imbues each of its myriad characters with personal stories and emotional baggage aplenty. Barclay’s latest will keep you turning its pages, guessing, second-guessing — and out of elevators for at least a week.

The Quintessential Interview: Nevada Barr

Nevada Barr authors the Anna Pigeon mysteries, a terrific series set to maximum effect in the stunning scapes of American national parks, from Yosemite and Glacier, to the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Barr’s latest, a standalone psychological thriller, has the same intricacies and engaging plotting that mark the Pigeon novels. But What Rose Forgot (Minotaur) leaves indelible traces of its own distinctive pleasure, infused as it is with Rose Dennis’ mix of chutzpah and smarts. When Rose wakes up to find she’s incarcerated in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, it takes all her nous to figure out a) what the hell happened, b) how to save herself, and c) how to put things right. Great, rollicking fun, with the door left open for potentially more entertaining shenanigans from Ms. Dennis, a superslick mash-up of Emily Pollifax and – as one character notes – Chris Cagney. Barr lives mostly in New Orleans, and partly in Ashland, Oregon.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

This is a more complicated questions than one might think at first: Place inspires me, good writing, good art, good people inspire me. Bad writing, rotten art, and evil people really inspire me. Mostly it is the bizarre, hideous and wonderful antics our species gets up to at any given moment that inspire me.

Top five places to write?

Breakfast restaurants. My desk. Airplanes. The sofa. My bed.

Top five favorite authors?

Another tricky question. Mystery: Elizabeth Peters. Romance: Lisa Kleypas. Sci-Fi: Robert A. Heinlein. All others: Jane Austen.

Top five tunes to write to?

Old time gospel and Willie Nelson

Top five hometown spots?

Ashland’s Shop’n Kart. Audubon Park, New Orleans. Lithia Park, Ashland. Panola Street Café, New Orleans. Greenleaf Restaurant, Ashland.

Thursday Comics Hangover: We need a hero

Why is it that all of a sudden people are getting Superman right again? I would argue that with a few noteworthy, high-profile exceptions (Mark Waid and Grant Morrison) the last twenty years or so of Superman comics have been disappointing. They've focused on the sci-fi trappings of the character, or gotten mired in generic superhero drama, and so they've failed to capture what makes Superman so essential.

But as I've noted before, Brian Michael Bendis's Superman comics — in Superman and Action Comics and, likely, in Legion of Superheroes — have been dead-on in their representation of Superman. He's humble, optimistic, positive, and just generally good. He's closer to Mr. Rogers than to Captain America, and that's exactly as it should be.

And last week, another book came out that captured the essence of Superman: written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gurihuru, and lettered by Janice Chiang, Superman Smashes the Klan is the perfect Superman book to pass on to children who are interested in reading about the world's first superhero.

Smashes is based on a Superman radio program from the 1940s that pitted the hero against the Ku Klux Klan, which was enjoying a revival in post-Depression America. The radio play is largely credited with making the Klan shameful again in polite American society — smashing the Ku Klux Klan in real life.

This book adapts the radio serial, adding some additional material and fleshing out Superman's story to make it more of a standalone adventure. This is very much early-days Superman: he can leap, but not fly; he makes mistakes; he hasn't explored all of his own weaknesses and limitations yet. He gets around by running on top of electrical wires, and he doesn't know his own origin yet.

When the Lees, a family of Chinese-American immigrants, move to a fancy Metropolis neighborhood, the Klan embarks on a campaign of terror to scare them away. Superman gets involved, even as he is dealing with his own questions of what it means to be an immigrant — albeit one from another planet.

The story is slick and fast-moving, with some gross-out jokes to keep young readers amused and interested. And Gurihuru's manga-esque artwork evokes the clean lines of Max Fleischer's old art-deco Superman cartoons without being slavishly tied to an ancient model sheet. The lines are sleek and kinetic, here, and the whole book is fun to read and easy on the eyes. There are two more issues of Smashes to come, and I hope the collected edition starts showing up in Scholastic Book Fairs around the country.

So why are so many people getting Superman right in the modern moment? Maybe it's because we need a Superman. With white supremacists creeping back out of the shadows and into the real world, and with alt-right cartoonists actively fighting against the idea of social justice in comics, maybe we really need Superman to remind us what we're capable of, and what we've already achieved in the not-so-distant past. Maybe we just really need Superman to save us right now.

Mail Call for October 23, 2019

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Book News Roundup: Get me Ron Vara!

Jul Gordon is coming to Short Run, and she's got textiles

It's hard to believe, but the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is coming up in a few short weeks, on November 9th. As always, the festival will feature an array of exciting young artists from all over the world. A while back, I interviewed Jasiyot Hans Singh about his amazing poster for the Festival, and this week I exchanged emails with an amazing German cartoonist named Jul Gordon about her work and what she hopes to experience at her first Short Run. Gordon is charming and candid about her process and goals, and if you have any tips on Twin Peaks attractions, be sure to hit her up at the festival.

We're looking forward to seeing your work at Short Run! How did you get connected with the show?

Last January, I was one of the incredibly lucky 15 invited comic artists to Pierre Feuille Ciseaux near Angouleme, France. It is a comic residency - 15 artists draw a cooperative comic together for a week at a huge table at a lovely place in the countryside and present it at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme afterwards.

It's organized by the Association CHIFOUMI. I met Anders Nilsen there — he was organizer and also artists in some of the past PFC meetings, and took part as an artist this time. He recommended my work to Kelly Froh of the Short Run Festival.

Have you been to Seattle before? If no, do you have any expectations of the city or hopes for your trip?

I have never been to Seattle before.

I love Twin Peaks and therefore I'm very exited about the invitation of the Festival to do a "Twin Peaks Road Trip“ on Sunday.

If I could stay longer, I would love to visit the National Parks for several days - or follow recommendations for beautiful places outside the city - but unfortunately, I can only stay for the time of the festival.

I hope I will meet someone who knows about interesting exhibitions or spots in the city. As the Festival organizers have been very friendly and helpful so far, I think I have a good chance.

Are there any artists you're excited to meet at the show?

I recently discovered Jasjyot Singh Hans's *Big Girls Book" at the Comic Festival in Hamburg, Germany. It's so cool and strangely drawn.

Generally I'm looking forward to discover lots of artists and publishers at the festival. And of course I am happy to meet Anders Nilsen again.

I love how creatively broad your work is. I don't think I could identify a specific style that you work in, because each of your comics look different from the others. Do you try to always come up with a new style with each strip, or does the style fit with each specific story you're trying to tell?

Thank you. I'm not sure how to answer this question. I don‘t think the comics look completely different from one another. I think I try something, and after it's done I am not happy with it and think I should try something else: for example, to use color after working with black and white, and vice versa. And often after a bit more time has passed, I look at something older and think it was not as bad as I thought.

And also it's somehow right that I try to fit the style to the thing I tell. For example in "The Parc" one of the characters, "Theresa“, lives in a place that looks like the biggest building in the world (a shopping mall in Chengdu, China). It stands in an abandoned park which resembles the gardens of the Habsburg dominions. Her place is full of antique expensive furniture — it's crowded and chaotic, but beautiful at the same time - and she is lethargic/depressed and tries to fend off her neurotic and sadistic brother who insists on lending money from her. Her room was one of the first pages I drew for this comic. I tried to combine the beauty and heaviness of her situation and how she feels. (It's page 47 in the linked PDF).

Or in "Do you tend to cry“, I tried to be strict about how the room is created, because it s a kind of stage. The characters are actors who perform an intimate play. I wanted to use as few lines as possbile to keep it clear and concentrated.

One of the things that Short Run told me they loved about you was the way your comics spill off the page: organizer Kelly Froh said you make 3D models of some of the sets of your comics, and that you're also telling some comic stories through textiles, which sounds amazing. I was wondering if you could share your theory of comics—when your comics move off of the paper, are they still comics? Or are they something new?

Actually, the spilling off the page has rather practical reasons: I decided to build the 3d model of The Parc to save time: It was important to me that the perspective and what is visible from which angle is correct. This was because I needed a reason to create some strength and inner logic in the drawings, and the most obvious reason is: this is how it's built, so this is how it's drawn.

After I spent a lot of hours trying to imagine what would be in this or that background from one perspective or another, I decided that I would be way faster if I just built the model in one day. It also helped to keep to the decisions I made - I would not forget them because of the model.

And yes: it saved tons of time. I wouldn’t say the model is a comic. It's a model of the scenery.

Concerning the textiles - I was looking for a way to present the comics in a way that seemed attractive to me in exhibitions. I thought it should be big and colorful and easy to carry. So far, I've only adapted panels of comics I drew before to present them in exhibitions. I haven't created a textile comic that stands for its own so far.

I love how in your work, the "camera" often pulls way back so we can see your character's full bodies, and the environment where those bodies are. There's maybe a little bit of loneliness in those panels, but also a feeling that the viewer has a kind of omniscience—that we can see everything, that there's nothing to hide. Often, a panel can at once make me feel like a character is very lonely while at the same time making me feel very affectionate toward her because she seems to be so vulnerable and open in her loneliness. Is it fair to say that alienation is a theme in your work? Do you feel compassion for your characters?

Thanks again! Although I would not say that there is nothing to hide. I'm interested in characters who think they have a lot to hide. I feel a mixture of compassion, hate, interest, affection, love - depends on the character. I don't feel very much affection for Emigrant P. in the beginning, for example. But in the end, somehow he deserves compassion because he is so lost even though he is a racist dumbass.

What work are you bringing to Short Run?

I will show some textiles of "Do you tend to cry?“ and a textile for a short comic about office work and prints of Emigrant P.

And I will read from an unfinished comic on Thursday evening. It's called "Route will be recalculated“ and I posted some pages on instagram as a sneak preview.

And I try to draw my dreams every morning and am about to prepare a book of them. I will bring the first prints of this long-term project, printed by Cold Cube Press.

The 2019 GAP recipients for literature are...

Yesterday, Artist Trust announced the recipients of their Grants for Artist Projects (GAP), which gives a $1500 grant to selected artists. This project-based grant is a lifeline to artists who live in Washington state. The GAP grant winners in the literary arts for 2019 are:

  • Jennifer Berney, Thurston County
  • Sara Brickman, King County
  • Jon Gosch, Spokane County
  • Margot Kahn, King County
  • Chelsea Martin, Spokane County
  • Brenda Miller, Whatcom County
  • Abby Murray, Pierce County
  • Arlene Naganawa, King County
  • Tamiko Nimura, Pierce County
  • Wendy Oleson, Walla Walla County
  • Troy Osaki, King County
  • Madeline Ostrander, King County
  • Mary Pan, King County
  • Katie Prince, King County
  • Lisa Wells, King County

Congratulations to all the winners. We can't wait to see what you do with these grants.

Moving pictures

Published October 22, 2019, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass reviews Shaun Tan's Cicada, and Jostein Gaarder & Akin Düzakin's Questions Asked.

We put two picture books side by side to see what they have to say to grown-ups (that's us!).

Read this review now



July 15, 1992
2:53 am

My sister begs me to let her come to my loft apartment after my nephew’s funeral. “You never let me come over. You never let me spend the night. Come on.”

The giggling chatter, the tinkling bell like kissing sounds she is making with her lover, which are keeping me awake, suddenly stop.

From below my loft, I hear, “uh, oh,” followed by the butterfly laughter of their kisses.

This is no false alarm like the last time when she chatted delightfully all the way as our father drove us to the hospital only to be returned home with the twin girls still nestled inside her.

This time the blue dye from the patterned Indian fabric stains my Japanese cotton mattress, my futon ruined by the tattoo of embryonic fluid.

She instructs me, smiling, to get pads from the convenience store at the corner.

I walk pass the first living marsupial I’ve ever seen, both of us scared.

possums on the porch
my sister’s future dangling —
a family scatters

Are you ready for Lit Crawl? We are!

Lit Crawl is back for the eight year, and they wanted to use their sponsorship slot to make sure you knew: it's happening this week, Thursday the 24th!

Each year, Capitol Hill is taken over by writers, artists, and readers who come out to hear local authors they love, and discover talents new to them. It's a grand time that shouldn't be missed — one of the highlights of the Seattle literary calendar each year, and something that we here, at the Seattle Review of Books never fail to attend.

Find out more about the festivities on our sponsor's page. Thank you to Lit Crawl for throwing such an amazing party each year, and also for sponsoring this week!

Hey, did you know we have a rare openings in November? That's prime holiday advertising time — make sure to get your book or event in front of the holiday crowd. Find out more on our sponsorship information page, or if you're ready to book, dig right in!

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

Monday, October 21st:

Christopher Ryan's book Sex at Dawn, an anthropological study of the history of sex and what we can learn from it, was a bestseller that reimagined the possibilities of sex. His latest book, Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress, questions the idea of progress as a central human pursuit, with plenty of historical examples. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, October 22nd: Behind the Veil: A Night of Femme Horror

Local literary organizer extraordinaire Kate Berwanger invites six local writers to tell spooky stories inside the Pine Box, which used to be a funeral home The press release indicates that "this is a black-tie affair. Masks, veils, and other disguises strongly encouraged." The Pine Box, 1600 Melrose Ave,588-0375,, $25.

Wednesday, October 23rd: Parting Gifts for Losing Contestants Launch Party

Seattle writer Jessica Mooney's eagerly awaited new chapbook, Parting Gifts for Losing Contestants, is a collection of essays about grief. Mooney will be joined by Seattle poet Sarah Galvin, and she'll be interviewed onstage by arts writer Leah Baltus. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, October 24th: Lit Crawl

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Various locations and times.

Friday, October 25th:

Author Madeline ffitch was born and raised here in the Northwest, and so was Helen, the main character of her new novel Stay and Fight. When Helen moves to Appalachia, has a child, and then tries to go back to the land, the local authorities try to intervene. This is a wonderful novel about freedom, nature, communities, and responsibility. At this reading, ffitch will be joined by brilliant interviewer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, October 26th: Three Poets

Indiana poet Rosalie Moffett joins forces with Seattle poet Bill Carty, and local poet Natalie Scenters-Zapico. The three of them have new (or new-ish) books out and they're all exciting poets who are doing great work. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, October 27th: Imaginary Friend Reading

Stephen Chbosky, author of cult favorite The Perks of Being a Wallflower, returns with a long-awaited new book. It's about a child whose imaginary friend seems to be born of stress but actually may have more sinister origins. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 6 pm, free.

Event of the Week: Lit Crawl returns, bigger than ever

Hands down, the Event of the Week is Thursday's Lit Crawl, which brings together the city's many literary talents for one orgiastic evening of pub-crawl-style short readings around Capitol Hill.

This year's Lit Crawl has five phases of one hour each, starting at 5 pm and then continuing every hour afterward: 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm. The sixth and final phase is a big old afterparty at Hugo House. These readings are mostly intended as samplers, introducing you to a number of authors you might not have otherwise discovered.

As is tradition, I'm going to lay out three different themed tracks you might take at Lit Crawl. These are just a few of the suggestions; you can find the rest of the gigantic schedule on Lit Crawl's site.

TRACK 1: No White Dudes

  • Start your night at 5 pm at the Shafer Baillie Mansion Bed & Breakfast for a reading by trans and queer authors of color including Ana Walker, Luzviminda “Lulu” Carpenter, J Mase III, and Nic Masangkay.
  • At 6 pm, Berkeley poets Jongmin Jerome Baek and Emmanuelle Gauthier will read on the topic of rape, consent, and the word "no" at Office Nomads.
  • For the 7 pm slot, run on up to Vermillion for the reading by Georgia Stewart McDade as part of the African American Writers Alliance's programming.
  • Next, at 8, scramble to Corvus & Co for Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women, featuring Kate Bernatche, Vivian Hua, Jalayna Carter, Ellen Meny, and Kate Berwanger.
  • End your night at the Writing Against the Body reading at Ada's Technical Books, in which Joyce Chen, Laura Wachs, Laura Titzer, and Abi Pollokoff will discuss what it means to have a body.

Track 2: Scary Stories, Told in the Dark

  • At 5 pm, visit the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library where children's book authors Mark Maciejewski, Donna Barba Higuera, and Kim Baker will discuss boogeymen, farts, and a bear.
  • Run to Capitol Cider for the 6 pm reading of Poems to Scare the Hell Out of You, read by librarians Misha Stone and David Wright, featuring "Shambling spirits and serial killers, and things that stare at you from pickling jar."
  • 7 pm kicks off at Ollie Quinn with a reading about haunted heartbreak featuring Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Keetje Kuipers, Anne Liu Kellor, and Jessica Mooney.
  • At 8 pm, it's back to the Capitol Hill Library for "a literary seance" of Late Night Scary Tales for adults and older children.
  • And finally, the Pine Box hosts a straight-up horror reading, featuring writers Jarret Middleton, Chavisa Woods, and Ramon Isao.

Track 3: Literary Icons

  • This evening of local literary institutions begins at 5 pm at Northwest Film Forum with organization Y-WE celebrating young women writers with readers Robin Hall, Azure Savage and Lucia Santos.
  • At 6 pm, storied poetry collective Margin Shift takes over the Stumbling Monk for a reading including Woogee Bae, Eddie Kim, and Nadine Antoinette Maestas.
  • At 7 pm, local writers colony Hedgebrook takes the stage at Capitol Cider with local legends Ellen Forney, Wendy Call, and Kathleen Alcala,
  • Visit Spin Cycle at 8 pm for a reading from remarkable local poets like Jane Wong, Quenton Baker, Santi Holley, and Shayla Lawson.
  • At 9 pm, Jack Straw, the local organization that helps writers present their work better, takes over Spin Cycle for a reading from Jack Straw fellows including Christianne Balk, Rena Priest, and Sylvia Byrne Pollack.

The Sunday Post for October 20, 2019

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

The Turbotax trap

I’ve always thought of Turbotax sort of like those individually wrapped slices of “cheese product” — I know slicing my own cheese isn’t hard; I know it’d improve lunch if I did. But, in the everyday calculus of time and attention … well.

Despite those annual moments of Turboweakness, I had no idea until this episode of the fabulous Reply All that the “free” software was born out of an agreement with Intuit (and other, less successful companies) that effectively restricts the US government from offering free electronic tax filing to its citizens. Well!

With its monopoly on “free” filing successfully established, Intuit has used every trick in the book, and invented several new ones, to obscure the path to free tax filing for its users. It’s insane to think how much actual productive positive change they could have made in the world with the money and energy that have gone into bilking people who are, in many cases, already scraping the bottom of their bank accounts.

Propublica has been reporting on this story for some time; you can find a slew of links at the bottom of the Reply All link above.

Every fall before tax season, the company puts every aspect of the TurboTax homepage and filing process through rigorous user testing. Design decisions down to color, word choice and other features are picked to maximize how many customers pay, regardless if they are eligible for the free product. “Dark patterns are something that are spoken of with pride and encouraged in design all hands” meetings, said one former designer.
We need to talk about The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree is one of the most gruesomely off-key books a child could read. It’s a claustrophobic morality play in which one character engages in escalating degrees of self-mutilation in hopes of winning the other’s attention and affection. The happy ending? The survivor sits, haggard and bent with age, and rests on the corpse of his lifelong worshipper.

This take is a little too mild for my tastes, but it carries the weight of appearing in the NYT’s Parenting column, where hopefully it will save some children nightmares — and a lifetime of bad relationship decisions.

We don’t know what motivated Shel Silverstein to write “The Giving Tree.” In a rare interview, he said it was about “a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes.” But we think it’s best read as a cautionary tale about love. Although the tree seems to take joy in giving to the boy, their relationship is entirely one-sided. The tree is perfectly happy to destroy herself under the guise of “love” for the boy. That’s not love; it’s abuse. Even an editor of the book, Phyllis Fogelman, felt that way. “I have had qualms about my part in the publication of ‘The Giving Tree,’ which conveys a message with which I don’t agree,” she said in an interview. “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”
A survey of my right arm

Ge Gao’s writing arm betrays her, first with pain, then with uselessness. This essay, which explores her loss from both personal and philosophical perspectives, is charmingly self-aware — who would not feel self-pity, robbed of their right hand? And yet who, knowing themselves self-pitying, could help it?

I started wondering whether the pain disabled me from writing and creating work, or whether my illness covered up the parts that had already been disabled — that were not capable of producing enough substantial matters in life to satisfy my body and mind. A broken arm could be a visible excuse. It made more sense than a malfunctioning mind. It had gained more sympathy from friends and strangers, too.

Whatcha Reading: Ben Guterson

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.

Ben Guterson just won a Washington State Book Award in the Middle Grade (ages 8 and up) category, for his book Winterhouse — the first book in the Winterhouse Trilogy . He's a Seattle native who spent ten years teaching public school on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and rural Colorado before working at Program Manager at Microsoft. He lives in North Bend with this family. Congratulations, Ben!

What are you reading now?

I’ve been on a Plato kick for the past month-plus and am trying to make my way through the majority of his works — I’m on The Republic right now. My parents had the entire set of the Great Books of the Western World along a hallway in our home when I was a kid, and I was always drawn to the volumes. I’ve slogged through the collection’s “Ten Year Reading Plan” a couple times over the years, but I’m not sure I’ve soaked up nearly as much I’d like, so now I’m trying to move through the books a little more conscientiously. This past summer I read Herodotus and Thucydides (the Landmark Books editions of both are fantastic); and now I’m on Plato, though I’m also reading some middle-grade books from the 1940s by Elizabeth Enright. I spend a lot of time with middle-grade novels, given the audience I write for, and it’s a pleasure to read Enright’s sincere and charming books. For contemporary middle-grade novels I like Trenton Lee Stewart, Jessica Townsend, and Colin Meloy, who moonlights as the frontman for The Decemberists.

What did you read last?

I read two bizarre novels at the end of summer — Remainder by Tom McCarthy, from 2005; and Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javier Marias, from 2007. I’m a big Marias fan and have been wanting to read the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy for some time, so I was glad to jump into the series’ first book. Strange story, but most of his stuff is strange, I think, in interesting ways — dense with conceptual detours that see Marias pacing off about twenty steps more than I ever would have imagined, all absorbing. I’d heard about the McCarthy book for years — I once came across something where Zadie Smith said it was among the best of the decade, so that intrigued me. I found the story increasingly off-putting, though, as it progressed, despite its concern with matters I generally find of great interest in literature: authenticity, fabrication, and memory.

What are you reading next?

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth, and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I like to work through the books of a given author in chronological fashion, and I’ve been moving through Roth’s novels for the past half-decade by reading a handful each year. Roth, Bellow, Ishiguro, Graham Greene, Saramago, Marias, Nabokov, and Elana Ferrante are my favorite novelists, and I’ve tried to read most of their stuff. The Catton book, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, looks right up my alley — mysterious doings and lots of interwoven stories, from what I gather. I’m also about to tackle a little more Plato before attempting some Aristotle.

The Help Desk: Panel panic

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 taking a break at an unimpeachable spa, so this is a rerun from 2016.

Dear Cienna,

I never figured out how to read comic books. This sounds silly, I know, but every time I look at a page, I don’t know where to start. This word balloon? That box with text over there? Starting in the upper left corner doesn’t seem to work for a lot of comics pages. I’m 35 years old and I’ve tried to read all the comics everyone says I should read: Persepolis, Palestine. I never get more than a few pages in before I develop a terrible migraine. But my friends, particularly the guys, say I should keep at it. Is it okay if I just give up?

Deborah, Hawthorne

Dear Deborah,

I get it. Personally, I can’t read read technical instructions or nutrition information without bleeding from my eyes. If you’ve given graphic novels your best effort, feel free to do what I do whenever a well-intentioned friend confronts me with technical instructions or nutrition information and threaten to burn their house down. (Practice saying to your guy friends, “I am a strong independent woman and if you wave that shit in front of my face again I will burn your motherfucking house down with gasoline and fireworks.”)

If, however, you want to give the medium another shot, I suggest you relax and treat them as you would children’s books: look at the pictures first and then, if you feel inclined, read the text. Remember: you’re not being tested on the material so who cares about comprehension? Also, maybe try reading a fun graphic novel before diving into beautiful-but-bleak works like Persepolis and Palestine? I recommend Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It’s at least equal parts funny and bleak.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Winter store

The Portrait Gallery: Chris Abani

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

Alternate Friday, October 18th: Mining for Awe

Chris Abani has done it all: he’s a novelist, a memoirist, a poet, and a political activist who has been sentenced to death. He’s also a beloved teacher, and so this lecture, about employing awe as a writer, should be a real inspiration for you writers out there. He’ll also be interviewed by Hugo House writer-in-residence Kristen Millares Young. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $15.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Can you teach a new dog old tricks?

Tomorrow night at Elliott Bay Book Company, I'll be interviewing Seattle author Paul C. Tumey about his massive new art book, Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny. It's a huge collection of brief essays of cartoonists from the beginning of the 20th century, when the modern comic strip was just getting started as an art from, along with over 600 cartoons and illustrations — many never before reprinted.

Even if you're not a comics nut, you've likely heard the names or know the work of three of the cartoonists highlighted in Screwball!: Rube Goldberg, whose name literally became the name of his elaborate machines devised to perform very simple tasks; Krazy Kat creator George Herriman; and EC Segar, the cartoonist who came up with Popeye. Tumey smartly focuses on the lesser-known work of these cartoonists, rather than going over the greatest hits that have been covered again and again.

Segar, for instance, drew a series of strips about commuting in Chicago. One of them, "Looping the Loop" was an observational strip about life in the big city in 1919: bizarre clothing trends, interesting noses on pedestrians, a series of comparisons between classic sculptures like The Thinker and Segar's gawky characters striking the same poses. You can draw a straight line from these gag strips to MAD Magazine.

But the total unknowns, the cartoonists who elevated the medium to an art form and then disappeared, are perhaps most interesting. Consider Clare Dwiggins, a cartoonist known as "Dwig" who devised one strip as a sequel to a classic of American literature. As Tumey writes:

In the early 1940s Dwig returned to his "old-fashioned Tawin stories with *Huckleberry Finn*, a new daily strip for the Philadelphia Ledger Syndicate. The stories offer wacky adventures, such as a 1940 continuity in which the boys travel the Mississippi River not on a raft, but inside a giant robot duck. Also in these years, Dwig penned a series of gentle, silly Tom and Huck comic book stories for Street and Smith. These are tucked, like a flower in a machine, inside heroic titles such as *Doc Savage Comics*.

It's true that these old strips require a kind of learning curve. They read as more than a little stilted in modern times — partly a consequence of outdated language and partly a difference in the way comics portrayed time and action over a hundred years. But Tumey is a great and observational guide who will hold your hand and contextualize each of the works. He also, presumably, selected some of the most accessible work from this bygone era for modern audiences to enjoy.

Comics have always been a disposable art form. They were thrown out with the newspaper, and children read them and re-read them until they fell apart. With Screwball!, Tumey is snatching these treasures from the scrap heap and presenting them to audiences a century or so later. Comics have moved on, it's true — there's more variety in the figures' sizes in the panels, the balloons aren't quite as packed full of words, and artists feel empowered to play with perspective and pacing in ways that were unimaginable back in the day.

But maybe today's cartoonists can learn something from these strips, too. For one thing, the level of detail in each panel — the sheer amount of story and art crammed into each square inch — is much denser than most of today's comics. And for another, the slapstick comedy in these strips is much broader, much more physical, than most of the comedy you'll find in comics today. Tumey is excavating more than just a nostalgia trip: he's pointing to a lost form of communication — one that can inform a whole new generation of artists.

Bookstores in Tacoma and Portland are looking for your help

A couple of bookstores in our region are running crowdfunding campaigns in an effort to stay in business.

Mother Nature's Child

Published October 16, 2019, at 10:00am

Paul Constant reviews Madeline ffitch’s Stay and Fight .

Born-in-Seattle novelist Madeline ffitch is coming back to town next week for a string of appearances all over the region. Her surprising novel Stay and Fight reimagines the essential American relationship between humans and nature.

Read this review now

Don't miss Jeanette Winterson Wednesday night at the Central Library

Jeanette Winterson is coming to Seattle for the first time since 2011. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it could be because, like many of her generation and orientation, she was often typed as being a lesbian writer, as if queer fiction and writing isn't for everybody. Her cogent, thoughtful, outsider explorations of gender and sexuality deserve a bigger audience in the United States, besides the one she's well-lauded for writing about the past 35 years. Her novels are rife with magical realism, science fiction, general weirdness, and wonderfully obdurate characters. They're often — usually — quite fun.

Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was released in 1985. Her twenty-eighth book, Frankissstein, was just released in the states (it's been out since May in Winterson's home of England). It's been longlisted for the Booker already, so if that goes well she can add it to her already long list of accomplishments, including an OBE.

My first encounter with Winterson's work was 1989's Sexing the Cherry, a book I read around the time of its publication, which was also about the same time I was introduced to Borges and to Angela Carter. Both of those writers show through Winterson's work. Early in Cherry, she writes:

"Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle. These are the journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time."

Her new weird, and wonderful, book opens with Mary Shelley going for a naked walk around Lake Geneva in the rainy gloom — during the now-famous "Year Without a Summer", caused by the explosion of Mount Tabora. At this point in the narrative Shelley hadn't started writing Frankenstein, yet, but she's obviously ripe to:

"Here I am, in my inadequate skin, goose-fleshed and shivering. A poor specimen of a creature, with no nose of a dog, and no speed of a horse, and no wings like the invisible buzzards whose cries I hear above me like lost souls, and no fins or even a mermaid's tail for this wrung-out weather. I am not as well-found as that dormouse disappearing into a crack in the rock. I am a poor specimen of a creature, except that I can think."

On her walk, she sees something:

"A figure, gigantic, ragged, moving swiftly on the rocks above me, climbing away from me, his back turned to me, his movements sure, and at the same time hesitant, like a young dog whose paws are too big for him. I thought to call out but I confess I was afraid."

If naked Mary Shelley having a vision in the rain is your idea of a good start to a book, you're in for a treat.

But Frankissstein is more than the story of Shelley and writing the first science fiction book, it's the story of a trans doctor named Ry, who is falling in love with Victor Stein, an AI researcher, amidst the backwash of Brexit. And, of course, the story includes sex robots. And lots of romance.

Winterson featuring a trans character prominently in her new book is a political, and humanist, statement. In England the debate over trans acceptance and rights is absolutely bonkers, raging between trans-rights activists and many old-school feminists who have been labeled "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" or TERFs.

Winterson was asked about this in an interview recently:

"We don’t know that if our world was genuinely inclusive and tolerant that there would be such agony, such body dysmorphia, such a need to find another gender. There should be more than two genders anyway, of course there should, it’s daft. People don’t always feel either that they are totally male or totally female, and we haven’t done very well with that.”

Winterson has been an out lesbian since she was 16 when her adoptive-mother gave her an ultimatum: stop seeing that girl you're seeing, or you'll have to leave the house. Winterson chose homelessness and being out over comfort, and told her mother that the girl made her happy.

"Why be happy when you can be normal?" was the reply. One way to understand Winterson is that she used that title for her autobiography. Which, incidentally, was the last book she toured to Seattle.

So come out and see her Wednesday at 7:00pm at the Central Library. Pick up a copy of Frankissstein, and get it signed. It's a rare treat to have Winterson in Seattle, we should make sure she's very welcome.

...but the flesh is weak

Published October 15, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Timothy Egan's’s A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith .

Timothy Egan reads from his latest book at Town Hall tonight. It's his most personal book yet — a travelogue of his spiritual experience walking a pilgrim's path in Europe.

Read this review now

Tongues of Fire


July 14, 1992
10: 00 AM

we step out of unfamiliar cars, in an unfamiliar neighborhood into an unknown church.

this is my nephew’s funeral. his light brown hair and skin gathered in an urn. this is neutral ground, not Presbyterian, not Catholic, not the place of forgiveness.

named for his father
he never saw his daughter —
lineage of fire

we are the frozen chosen, the uptight upright, the pet name labels for Presbyterians — appropriate. my father, his grandmother sit as crisply as their clothes, held together by the corset of middle class indignation. this must be a proper service, no charismatic calls to death, only silent weeping until the Big Man takes the stage.

best friend, brother man
carrying a boom box
burns up pretense

it seems my nephew had one wish for his funeral, one. so, any best friend must carry that cross no matter how strange to the pulpit. he ascends, rippling with tears, a 6-foot river, 2 feet wide, we wade in the water. he is our spiritual and we are ready to sing with him, best friend, river rippling.

what song will he give us? what piece of my oldest nephew will he pull from the fiery furnace of the hotel burning, the room that had consumed him? i had always told him not to smoke in bed.

we are waiting, the thought of the lyrics climbing into our throats. Stand by Me? Lean on Me? What will it be? We begin to weep.

push the button
truth echoes through the chapel —
hypocrisy flowers

the music begins. the familiar beat and then, “Oh my god, Becky, her butt is so big. I like big butts and I cannot lie; all the other brothers can deny…”

we are a frozen scene.

after the funeral, nieces, nephews and aunties, all the same age, sneak away to smoke, drink and tell the truth until after midnight.

our laughter —
church bell chimes heralding
his ascent

Saving the Salish Sea starts with finding out how to save the Salish Sea

Sponsor Seattle Public Library is bringing an important event to your attention this week. "Recovering the Salish Sea starts with you," says the banner on the website for the important new book We Are Puget Sound: Discovering & Recovering the Salish Sea.

The book contributors are gathering at the Central Library, Wednesday, October 23rd at 7:00pm. This event is free and open to the public. Come learn why our efforts to recover our natural environment are crucial. Find our more about the event on our sponsor's page.

It's sponsors like the Seattle Public Library, bringing you crucial local events like this one, that make our site sing. You, too, could sponsor the website, and join the ranks of happy, returning sponsors like the Seattle Public Library. Find out more on our sponsorships page, and if you're ready to book, check out our available dates.

Floating above the end of the world

Yesterday, the video game Fortnite hosted a strange event, exposing a fascinating and modern act of marketing-driven storytelling in the age of the internet. They took the whole damn game offline during a Sunday, one of their busiest days, and replaced it with a black hole. They took a known thing (millions playing a game and spending money with them) and replaced it with one of the biggest question marks in entertainment history.

If you are not a gamer or teenager, Fortnite is a video game where 100 people are transported in realtime to an island, on the "Battle Bus" — a flying blue school bus suspended from a hot-air balloon. Players jump from the bus and skydive to locations on the island where they run around, collect weapons, and shoot each other. A storm, encircling the island, contracts during the game, forcing players into the same small geographic region. The last person standing wins the match.

Knowing that tells you almost nothing about the game. Its popularity has to do largely with its theming, which is cartoony, playful, colorful, and fun. You start your time on the island with a pickaxe, which you can use to break through walls, trees, vehicles, and other random items. As you do, you collect steel, brick, or wood, and you can use those materials to build structures for defensive reasons, or to reach areas you can't reach by running or jumping.

The weapons, and other goodies, are hidden in glowing gold chests that thrum an angelic chord when you get near, randomly placed llama piñatas, vending machines, and supply drops that fall from the heavens as a wooden create suspended from a weather balloon. They offer a player ever better weapons to choose from, and eliminating another player causes them to lose their loot, giving more opportunities for strengthening your gear.

Graphically, it’s bloodless — the hyper-masculine agro style of other similarly themed video games is traded for self-effacing humor and weirdness. If you play as the default skin (or, character theme), you get randomly assigned one a few default characters, who are differently gendered and skin-colored. If you’re uptight about playing as a black woman in a game, Fortnite is not the game for you.

Free to play, Epic Games, Fortnite’s publisher, makes its money (and they make a lot of it) through selling limited edition skins, upgrades, and other in-game purchases (like little dance moves called emotes, so you can literally dance on the grave of your enemy) that won’t improve your game play, but certainly allow you to kill your friends with your own limited-edition personal flair. Think of the appeal of hard to get sneakers, and you get the idea.

Looking at a very successful franchise, Epic Games knew that the passion and attention of people who love to game is fickle, and soon would move on to another shiny new thing. In order to keep the game fresh and interesting, they’ve come up with a series of updates called Seasons, where the map of the island changes, sometimes in dramatic and strange ways. Weather changes, regions become renamed, and entering them sometimes temporarily remakes your skin as you penetrate the veil of the region, say, as an old west town, or more recently, as Gotham City, replete with bat signal in the sky.

Beneath these seasons, a series of changes in the map has brought on a meta-narrative about the world and its reality. Epic Games has never come out and said what the narrative is outright, it’s up to the individual players, working together, to weave the meta-narrative from dropped scraps of information. An aggregate story emerged, through taping those scraps together into little conspiracies, with the best suggestions winning. Epic, no doubt, watches and responds, offering just enough to keep the game engaging and interesting, but not enough to be prescriptive with any of their over-story.

A glowing purple cube, called Kevin, appeared, spreading strange anti-gravitational powers. New exclusive skins, which you can earn through competing in challenges, appear — including one called the Visitor, who in an earlier season was seen programming and escaping in a rocket — an event that preceded many strange effects and changes on the island.

It’s this teasing game-within-a-game that captures the attention and interest of gamers when they’re tired of the game action itself. Some in-game puzzles — some trivial, some hinting at larger puzzles — are pursued by players who come to the island not to fight, but to play amongst the battlers, trying to avoid getting swept up in the action until the storm forces them to, and earning skins and points as they level up.

And so it has gone, with Epic Games making a series of smart decisions one after another, until last season when a too-powerful weapon (a mech suit that could hold two players working in unison) appeared, and threw the balance of the game off. People were upset, and other games, such as Overwatch, started capturing more attention.

And this was the state of the world as we came into Sunday. The Visitor is back, building another rocket — and leaving strange audio recordings around the map talking about time loops. A countdown appeared above the rocket, ending at 11am PST Sunday, October 13th.

Epic games tweeted that the end is near, but said little else. They didn’t have to advertise a thing, their players spread the word for them, the mystery too peculiar and intriguing to avoid. What ever is going to happen!?

Just before the event, Epic removed most of the player modes (in the normal game, you can go into battle solo, as part of a team, or play in a split-down-the-middle kind of game where everybody is teamed up). In lieu of them, a team fight called “The End” was the only option available. In the game, people gathered around the rocket and the warehouse structures in its vicinity, building huge scaffolding and structures to better watch what was to come. And, of course, picking each other off and re-spawning into the game.

But, then suddenly, all weapons were taken away, as was nearly every in-game option, leaving everybody standing around with their default axes. For once, players gathered and stood near each other, high in air on the built structures, watching.

The rocket launched, the first stage separating and falling to the ground, and it broke through the atmosphere and disappeared. The sky splintered. Then, moments later, the rocket reappeared from a different cosmic rift, rumbling across the map, horizontal to the ground. Then another, from a different angle, and soon a dozen, a hundred rockets came to the map, zooming overhead and hitting various locations, blowing them up. Then, they gathered around a massive meteorite, affectionately called "the meatball", which has been hovering menacingly over the map for the entire season, and crashed into the ground. The meteorite followed the many rockets, and was absorbed into the island.

The players were whisked high into the air, suspended off to the side of the island, with a birds eye-view of the entire land.

A mysterious orb, hanging out in a lake where many strange events have taken place over the seasons, created a massive force field. The meteorite, entering the atmosphere through another rift, crashed into this force field, pushing through, causing a massive implosion.

All matter sucked into the implosion, including two tomatoes and the Battle Bus, and then the players.

What the end of the event looked like.

The screen went black, and after a few moments, a blue-circled black hole appeared. A light, eerie, ethereal music played. Numbers appeared occasionally, causing people to watch closely and create more conspiracy theories. Millions of people, instead of playing a game and spending money, are staring at a screen with a blue disk. People who have spent a lot of money upgrading their avatars are upset, and feel they may lose their money. But that idea seems unlikely — this is a marketing event, not an art statement. The game will be back, and no doubt, will see a surge of new interest thanks to the stunt.

But in the meantime, Fortnite deleted all the tweets in in their Twitter account, and changed their avatar to black, only posting a live stream to the black hole. Their instagram, same, and their Trello account. They’re playing up the mystery with lack of knowledge, lack of press releases.

Logistically, overhauling the game is a massive effort. All the new code must be pushed into production, everything needs to be tested and assured. One tweet posited that they needed to upgrade all of their servers to handle the new map, and that means hours, if not days, of downtime.

So, this has been a very busy day for Epic Games staff, in contrast to the internet rumors of record numbers teenagers stumbling outside, shielding their eyes from the sun. This mystery, masking the boring, complicated, logistical pedantry of a major system upgrade and new release, is a nice magic trick. Don’t look at the broken login screen, look at the black hole and the strange numbers. Spread wonder to your fans, not frustration.

When will the service be back? It’s been down for nearly six hours as of this writing. Will there be a new map? Other upgrades? Nobody really knows, although leaked pictures hint at what’s probably to come.

This coordination and interplay, the ability to theme and market a game upgrade, is a perfect confluence of everything the internet offers best: fans chattering and spreading the word, the ability to distribute and push software changes remotely to the whole world at once, the strength of massive servers offering the same experience to millions at the same time. And, a whole lot of marketing chutzpah, born from knowing exactly who the people playing their game are, and what will engage them most intensely.

Imagine the Mall of America. 40 million visitors annually (says the internet). What if they started leaving clues around the mall, removing stores and replacing them with mirror-world experiences, changing known things for unknown?

What if they closed the doors one Sunday during peak tourist season? What if they put up mysterious signs outside, and people just gathered to watch them? How much money would they lose?

That’s what Epic Games has done. The comparison to Mall of America is bad in one sense — Fortnite has 250 million registered players, not the measly 40 million mall visitors. Mall of America generates about $2 billion annually for the state of Minnesota; Fortnite generates about $2.5 billion for Epic. Scale wise, they’re in the same ballpark, give or take $500 million.

But a retail establishment of that size closing for a day? It's economic suicide — it could never be done. It's the platform, the method, and the game itself that has allowed for this to happen in this way, at this time.

That's all because of the narrative. The sense that, when you’re done deciding what gun is your favorite and leveling up your skills so you’re not dying in the first few minutes of game 1, that there is something left to chase, something left to do, something left to think about — this is paramount to the success of the franchise.

When the internet was new, there was a lot of talk of hyperlinked stories and writing. People wanted to engage the new technology in advanced ways to tell stories, but the few experiments felt like little more than mediocre choose-your-own-adventure novels. The technology wasn’t ready, truthfully. For every reader who loves books like House of Leaves for its narrative and layout weirdness, just as many were annoyed by having to turn a heavy book sideways to get at the plot. Readers don’t want reading to be harder, they want a good story compellingly told.

Games like Fortnite are more akin to cinema than novels. They are the child of Star Wars, of Lost, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and the comics that it was drawn from). They are the perfect marriage of technology, psychology, marketing, and storytelling. They are hugely successful, and worthy of paying attention to culturally, even if you are not a fan of the games themselves.

A future is being foretold now, as a little black hole on millions of streams. Teenagers and kids will talk for the rest of their lives where they were the day Fortnite went dark after The Event they called The End. As cultural events go, this is going to join the ages.

  1. One genius thing about Fortnite: in some games, when a player eliminates you from the game, your point of view switches to a floating view right behind them, so you find yourself rooting for the person who took you out of the game. If someone eliminates them, you move to the third persons' point of view. You learn tricks this way, seeing how successful players do it, and your stake in the game doesn’t end when your play does.

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

Monday, October 14th: Here We Are Reading

Aarti Shahani's memoir about moving from India to Queens as a child in the 1980s as an undocumented immigrant is titled Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares. It's about her process of becoming an "official" American through the immigration process — which many immigrant families now don't have the opportunity.
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, October 15th: A Pilgrimage to Eternity Reading

Tim Egan is one of Seattle's best known writers. His New York Times column alone would earn him national fame, but he's also written a series of great books that illuminated very specific — and very important — moments in history. His latest book, though, is a big departure: it tracks Egan's own progress on a European trail that has long been popular with Christian pilgrims. It's an interior spiritual journey paired with a real, physical journey. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $35.

Wednesday, October 16th: Libraryoke

As part of Seattle Public Library's excellent Booktoberfest celebration, librarians converge on Columbia City to promote a book-themed karaoke night. But you don't have to sing to have fun: According to press materials, you should "Feel free to bring books to swap and share, as there will also be a book exchange. We will have suggested songs ready for you to choose from, and you can check out the Baby Ketten song catalog online or via their app for more inspiration." The Royal Room, 5000 Rainier Ave S, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, October 17th: Everyday Cry-sis: Existential Dread in the Technocratic City

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Push/Pull, 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, 789-1710,, 6 pm, free.

Friday, October 18th: SCREWBALL! Reading

Seattle author Paul Tumey's big, beautiful art book looks deeply (and amusingly) at the great comic strip artists who helped shape American comedy (and modern comics) forever. You'll find near-household names like George Herriman and EC Segar and Rube Goldberg here, but you'll also learn about some lesser-known cartoonists like Gene Ahern and Gus Mager. The author will give a presentation and then he'll appear in conversation with Paul Constant, who is me. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Alternate Friday, October 18th: Mining for Awe

Chris Abani has done it all: he's a novelist, a memoirist, a poet, and a political activist who has been sentenced to death. He's also a beloved teacher, and so this lecture, about employing awe as a writer, should be a real inspiration for you writers out there. He'll also be interviewed by Hugo House writer-in-residence Kristen Millares Young. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $15.

Saturday, October 19th: Bushwick Book Club

The group, which invites a collection of local authors to compose original music based on a work of literature, gathers to celebrate and interpret Stephen King's surprisingly great writing manual and memoir, On Writing. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7:30 pm, $10.

Sunday, October 20th: Jack Straw Reading

The local organization, which teaches writers how best to present their work through the spoken word and recordings, invites their latest class to read new work. Readers include Samar Abulhassan, Christianne Balk, Gabrielle Bates, Shankar Narayan, Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Rena Priest, and Michael Schmeltzer. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Everyday Cry-sis: Existential Dread in the Technocratic City

The best of Seattle-based cartoonist Myra Lara's work, to me, reverberates with a certain brand of modern anxiety. Sometimes she'll draw a strip in which everything looks to be molded out of balloons: large, round loops that look simultaneously inviting and fragile. Other times, she'll draw super-cramped cityscapes that your eye can get trapped in.

It's not all emotionally fraught, of course: Lara paints gorgeous, calming portraits made up of chunky blocks of color that are as calming as her other works are tense.

But right now, the world is a pretty tense place, and this Thursday, Lara kicks off an art show at Push/Pull Gallery in Ballard that is devoted to Seattle as it is right now: politically turbulent, socially uncomfortable, and economically unequal. It's called "Everyday Cry-sis: Existential Dread in the Technocractic City."

Her description for the event explains its themes:

When the neighborhood Prius has the tasteless Malthusian slogan "Seattle is Full", you know you're in the technocratic city. When superyachts are "sustainable" but your commute is not, you know you're in the technocratic city. When police are thanked during private "community" Pride events but queer and POC spaces are still overpoliced, you know you're in the technocratic city.

The text for the show concludes with a promise to help attendees discover a "coping mechanism." But can there be any answers?

One of the things I like most about Lara's work is that she aspires to more. Her recent zine "In This House We Believe in the Just City" lists the causes and effects of Seattle's exclusionary housing policies, but she also takes time to list all the rights that every American in the 21st century should enjoy, including health care, education, and housing. She rails against predatory housing loans and extols the power of human-scaled urban planning. In her work, there's no condemnation without a celebration of a basic human right.

We've all seen too much darkness in Seattle lately. A media organization owned by Sinclair has announced that the city is dying and warned that, unless we ship our unhoused population to a prison island, we will all drown in shit and have everything taken from us in a barbaric crime wave. Our artists are being forced out and while there's always room for another pricey restaurant, some of our favorite neighborhood locations are closing. It's time to break down the systemic fear and loathing and make room for something better. If anyone can visualize a better path forward, it's Lara.

Push/Pull, 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, 789-1710,, 6 pm, free.

Here are your 2019 Washington State Book Award winners

Last night at the downtown Library, the 2019 Washington State Book Awards were announced and celebrated in a big old bookish jamboree. This year's list of nominees was the finest in recent memory; the judges must have been under tremendous pressure to select a single winner from each category. It really, truly, was an honor to just be nominated this year, because it placed you in company with the best authors this state has to offer. But because you can't have an award without a winner, here's this year's list of honorees:


So Lucky by Nicola Griffith (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Read our review of So Lucky, and read an interview we published with Griffith on the very first day we published.


Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’ (University of Arizona Press)

Laura Da' was our Poet in Residence for November, 2018. Read our interview with her, or the five poems we published during her residency:


Arctic Solitaire by Paul Souders (Mountaineers Books)


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Seal Press)

Tatiana Gill wrote and drew a graphical review of So You Want to Talk About Race for us, and Christine Marie Larsen also featured Olou as a subject in The Portrait Gallery.

Picture Books

All Are Welcome, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Books for Young Readers (ages 6 and up)

Peanut Butter and Jelly, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton (Tundra Books)

Middle Grade (ages 8 and up)

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt)

Young Adult (ages 12 and up)

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (Dutton Books for Young Readers)

The Sunday Post for October 13, 2019

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

In memory of the critic's trade

I’d give a pretty penny to know whatMark Athitakis wrote in his “too-earnest” unpublished response to this essay on the diminishment of classical music coverage. What caught my attention was the idea that critical coverage can be a history of otherwise ephemeral arts. More obviously applicable to live performance than words on a page — but books are ephemeral in the moment that they’re read, and that moment is what we hope reviewers (including ourselves) will capture.

... a lot of history has already been lost – and the private recordings that find their way onto YouTube can only tell us so much. Many local newspapers have either folded or been taken over by big companies with minimal interest in presenting any sort of intellectual record of a given place. The critics are mostly gone and – as astonishing as it may seem to some of those we have tossed and gored – I think we will be missed. Maybe composer and critic Virgil Thomson said it best: “Perhaps criticism is useless. Certainly, it is often inefficient. But it is the only antidote we have to paid publicity.”
How cities reshape the evolutionary path of urban wildlife

There’s something very Annihilation about the idea that the real evolution of wildlife is happening not in the wild — the traditional locus for ecologists and biologists — but in urban spaces, where killfish develop dioxin-resistant DNA, white-footed city mice outpace the immune systems of their country cousins, and brown rats become super-smellers, ready for anything New York can throw at them. And something hopeful and desperate and very New Weird about, as one scientist puts it, “reconciling with our changed world.”

Like so many of their scientific peers, urban evolution researchers are grappling with the question of how their work can help us make this new environmental reality a bit less grim. On the surface, at least, their inquiries can seem largely aimed at addressing theoretical matters—notably the issue of whether the evolution of complex organisms is a replicable phenomenon, like any ordinary chemical reaction. Cities provide an accidental global network of ad hoc laboratories to test this question: Office towers the world over are fabricated from the same glass panels and steel beams, night skies are illuminated by the same artificial lights, auditory landscapes thrum with the noise of the same cars, food waste comes from the same KFCs and Subways.
D'Amico inspiration for a character in his lawyer's 'prepper' novel

Receiving someone else’s mail after a move provides an unsettling glimpse outside the bubble, especially when the post office delivers a stack of prepper catalogs: “ghillie suits” modeled by the world’s most awkward-looking white men, no-prescription-required antibiotics (the trick: order for your fish), guns, guns, guns, guns.

Right on time, here’s Port Townsend resident Joe D’Amico, starring as a prepper (which he is) in a series of novels authored by his lawyer, Greg Overstreet (also a prepper, also a character in the series, and, startlingly, a one-time state government employee). In the book, D’Amico’s alter ego sells guns inscribed with the coordinates of a “rally point” where buyers can unite after society collapses. In real life, D’Amico sells guns inscribed with the coordinates of a “rally point” where buyers can unite after society collapses — or he did until just a few years ago and plans to again.

I cannot find any lesson or pithy point to pull from this one — it just seems monstrously silly and terrifying all at once. Watching for the end of the world, sure! I’ve seen who’s in the White House. But there’s a little-boy glee to the prepper movement, combined with grown-up brutality, that’s as scary as anything I can imagine.

During that interview, Overstreet held a military-style rifle and wore a fake beard, hat and sunglasses to disguise his identity. “Glen Tate is not my real name,” he tells the interviewer. “It’s a pen name. I have to cover up my identity because I work in government, in politics and law. Writing a book about the collapse of the United States and all the dirty stuff in my state capitol of Olympia where I live and work in Washington state is not really looked upon highly.”

Whatcha Reading, Paul C Tumey?

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.

Paul C Tumey is a comic scholar, writer, and artist based out of Seattle. He's just released the epic Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny, which looks at the "disruptive, manic, and surreal verbal-visual comedy" of the great comic artists who invented it — like George Herriman, Rube Goldberg, and EC Segar, just to name a few. You can see Paul in conversation with our own resident comic writer, Paul Constant, next Friday, October 18th, at the Elliott Bay Book Company.

What are you reading now?

I'm one of those people who reads several books at the same time and weaves from them an ongoing tapestry of interests, vicarious experiences, and knowledge. I don't want to hog space, so I'll just mention a few. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee. This non-fiction book came out earlier this year. It tells the story of Hernando Colon, perhaps the most ambitious book collector in history who also happens to be the son of Christopher Columbus. One thing I love about this book is it reveals Hernando's efforts to assemble a vast collection of all printed materials, including broadsides, pamphlets and what we today call ephemera. If comic books had existed back then, he would have put them into his library. In the ephemera line, I am also reading Jay's Journal of Anomalies by the recently departed (or should I say vanished?) Ricky Jay, the great magician. This is a reprint of his fascinating and highly eccentric newsletter which shares arcane information and rare art about extraordinary people, animals, and machines taken from Jay's astounding archives. Another book I am totally absorbed in is Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo by Joe Adamson, written in 1973. This lively book is the best and most fun biography of the Marx Brothers I have ever read. Writing Screwball! revealed fascinating connections between the humor comic strips and comedy films of the first half to the 20th Century and that set me off on a rewarding reading binge around the great early film comedians.

What did you read last?

I just finished the brand new Treasures Retold: The Lost Art of Alex Toth edited by Dean Mullaney. Toth was one of the greatest artists to work in comic books in the 20th Century. His understanding of how to craft a sequential visual narrative is unparalleled. This thick, oversized volume collects hundreds of pages of obscure, rare Toth comics which have been carefully curated and restored. It's really a giant, fun comic book. I also recently finished Roughing It by Mark Twain, one of the funniest books I have ever read. There's more than a little screwball humor in Twain's work — or at least the roots of what became screwball humor. I read the University of California edition, which includes the illustrations.

What are you reading next?

We've had some very promising looking new releases in comics and so I will be reading these next. At the top of my pile is Pittsburgh by Frank Santoro. His comics are few and far between and offer a truly singular reading experience, more like poetry than comics. Because he is more concerned with the underlying and secret power of visual storytelling, his work is less detailed but paradoxically more vivid. I understand Pittsburgh is his first autobiographical work. I am also excited to read the just-released The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga. Although this cartoonist has been around for years, I am just now discovering him. This book is a long, complex and tangential stream of consciousness narrative that takes place in the mind of his continuing character, Glen Ganges, over the course of one sleepless night. It seems very Joycian. I also plan to read Bill Schelly's recently updated memoir, Sense of Wonder. Bill just died unexpectedly. A Seattle-based writer and comics historian, he was a friend I wish I had gotten to know better. His biography of Harvey Kurtzman, published by Fantagraphics, is a masterpiece. Reading this memoir he left us will help me, I think, to accept that he has gone to the great comic book convention in the sky. That's something reading does magically well: connects us to those who have gone.

The Help Desk: Always on offense

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

Dear Cienna,

I volunteer to read magazines and books that aren't on tape yet for the blind community. I was reading about a study the other day, and the study was "double-blind." I paused, then just read on (because my job is to present the words as written not edit), but I started wondering about the derivation of possibly offensive terms.

But now I don't even know if that term is offensive. Maybe it's a previously innocent word, like “niggardly,” that is best to avoid because it is better to be thoughtful than pedantic. But I don't know how to know. Is there a definitive place to find a list of terms that are offensive and ones that are safe to use?

Scarlett, downtown

Dear Scarlett,

First off, I recycle, so don't think you're better than me.

Just kidding!

I was actually speaking to a blind woman about accessibility last week and she said this: “When a certain population can’t access the content that you’re creating, you’re saying that they’re not human enough to have the chance to access it, whether you want to say that or not."

Your voice is giving people valuable access to other peoples' creative work. Thank you for that, and congrats on having a gold-plated soul.

As for whether "double-blind" is offensive, I am a terrible person to ask. My favorite words are the offensive ones. I love "cunt" as a pejorative; it feels good to say. (Friends and various cunts have suggested I find a new pejorative, so I did: "cunt-licking cocksucker." It's not gender specific, it also has a very good mouthfeel, and I can't think of a scenario in which a cunt-licking cocksucker wouldn't be the most popular person in the room, so it's not really even an insult.)

I do think that using "blind" as a metaphor for ignorant or unknowing seems ableist. I recommend reading this fascinating blog discussion on that very topic (don't skip the comments! Politest fighting you'll find on the internet!). It convinced me that there's no reason not to employ "anonymous" in lieu of "blind" whenever possible.

That said, language is a living, evolving thing. There will never be a master list of words that are offensive and words that are "safe" to use, and even if there was, no one would agree on it. The most you can do is what you're already doing – being thoughtful and sensitive to the multitude of ways words can be interpreted.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Lego Baxter

The Portrait Gallery: Washington State Book Awards

Saturday, October 12th: Washington State Book Awards

Okay, Paul is hosting this one, but you can’t really consider this to be a conflict of interest: have you seen the list of nominees for the Washington State Book Awards this year? It’s amazing. Like, we haven’t seen a better collection of books nominated for these awards in, we think, ever. Tonight, the authors will get together to celebrate the winners and honor each other. Don’t let the fact that I’m hosting the ceremony keep you away, because this is going to be a special night. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday Comics Hangover: One Joker shy of a full deck

I'm sorry to report that the Joker movie is a dreadful affair. Joaquin Phoenix's acting is very good — though I've seen him do better in The Master and Her — and the supporting cast is excellent. But the movie doesn't really have anything to say. It's just a Joker origin story, pulled out of a comic book setting and planted smack in the middle of a 1980s Scorsese New York City. "Serious" bad stuff happens, and the movie is relentless in its repetition of bleak events. Aside from one very funny piece of physical comedy, there's no punchline here. It's not clever or, really, very funny.

I just don't get why the filmmakers decided to juxtapose the character of the Joker against Scorsese's New York. There's not really any friction there. Now, if they plopped the Joker into the middle of a romantic comedy, or a World War II movie, there might have been enough friction to make a reimagining feel worthwhile.

And I have one great example in mind: Last month, DC Comics published a Harley Quinn comic called Breaking Glass that was written by bestselling young adult comics author Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by veteran comics artist Steve Pugh. It begins as a straightforward young adult story — Harley is a new girl at a foster home who has to learn how to fit in at high school — and it ends with a bold reimagining of the Batman characters for a new generation.

First, let me just say that Pugh, who has been drawing beautiful horror comics since the 1980s, is perhaps doing the best work of his life in Broken Glass. His work has always carried an uncomfortable realism with it, but here the discomfort has been leached away. It's a realistic style that's given just enough comic-book wildness through Pugh's monochromatic coloring. Each page has its own palette — one page is tinted in stately browns, the next is a bright, vivid red — that reflects its main character's discombobulated inner emotional state.

And about that main character: aside from her original appearances in the 1990s Batman animated series I've never been too much of a fan of Harley Quinn. Too many male comics writers handled the abuse aspect of her relationship with the Joker too poorly, making her a toxic role model for men and women alike.

But in Breaking Glass, Tamaki handles Quinn's psychological issues with great care and empathy. Quinn finds a community in a drag troupe, and she learns to love herself in her own unique way. And her relationship with the Joker — who is thankfully presented here as an alter ego and not a demented omnipotent force of chaos — has some twisty depth to it.

I wouldn't give Breaking Glass to any very young readers. There's swearing and violence and some emotional complexity that middle-grade readers might not be able to handle. But for someone in their mid-to-late teens who can handle the occasional R-rated movie, Breaking Glass is the rare reimagining of the Batman story that doesn't just put everyone in a new costume and tell the same tired stories all over again.

Tamaki introduces the Batman universe to a young adult fiction framework and then proves that she has enough ideas to stretch on for six or seven more books in this style. Unlike the been-there-seen-that vibe of The Joker, I want to see more of this world as soon as possible.

Mail Call for October 9, 2019

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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.

"You don't have to talk like the kids:" A conversation with Gretchen McCulloch and Kieran Snyder about the linguistics of the internet

Earlier this fall, at the downtown offices of augmented writing platform Textio, I facilitated a discussion between internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch and Textio CEO Kieran Snyder, who holds a PhD in Linguistics and Cognitive Science from the University of Pennsylvania. (Full disclosure: Seattle Review of Books co-founder Martin McClellan is a Textio employee.) The event, to celebrate McCulloch's delightful new bestselling book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, turned into a lively conversation about workplace language, irony, and what it means to navigate the strata of internet language history. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Gretchen, I was surprised by how many internet fads and trends I had forgotten, reading your book.

Kieran Snyder: Same.

Like "doge" — is that how you pronounce that one? Anyway, it seems like a lot of what you're writing about in this book is the relation of irony to language, and how irony gets closer to and further away from language.

So I don't know if you've seen this, but there are Facebook groups where young people join and pretend to be old people — where they'll be writing like old people. There'll be a post, like, "I LOVE JESUS" and then somebody in the comments is like, "MY SON TIMMY DIED LAST NIGHT IN A C