The Help Desk: The bookstore of her dreams

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

Dear Cienna,

If you owned an independent bookstore, what would it be like? Would you specialize in mysteries? Cookbooks? Cursed texts bound in human flesh?



Dear Nicole,

I am happy you asked that question because despite my aggressive lack of business acumen, I have strong opinions about how books should be organized. As you know, books are wonderful companions – they are the loyal, shit-free alternative to dogs and significant others – and yet bookstores can be overwhelming, especially for casual readers. Like online dating or pet adoption, it's often hard to know what pleases you until after you've experienced it. (And for readers like me who don't like summaries and don't trust blurbs, picking a book at random or based on someone's recommendation can be horrifying. That is how I stayed up all night reading The Lovely Bones just to make it fucking end.)

For these reasons, my bookstore wouldn't be organized by genre or the alphabet, it would be organized by mood. For instance:

  • Books to comfort you after another school shooting.
  • Books for when you need a gift for your father-in-law's 38-year-old wife for Mother's Day (and other relatives you're politely formal with).
  • Books you probably won't finish but feel compelled to buy because you're insecure about your intelligence and want others to see it on your shelf.
  • Mysteries that don't lead with lady rape or murder.
  • Books narrated by characters who probably don't look like you.
  • Books to give to teenagers that you love but don't know how to communicate with.

There would be a card catalog, alphabetized by name, for people who were on the hunt for specific author. The card would reveal the book's main mood/location, as well as list beta moods that it fits into.

Juveniles would get a free book – their cost would be donating a book, provided it isn't a shit book like the Bible or Atlas Shrugged. Juvenile delinquents would get two free books, provided they could prove they were delinquents.

Finally, we would act as a repository for readers who were disgusted by an author's recent actions, which would most likely involve sexually assaulting or otherwise demeaning women because that seems to be pretty popular. We would collect all of these books and hold semi-regular public trash-barrel book burnings in our parking lot, where we would invite the whole community and charge obscene, baseball-stadium prices for mediocre wine and flaccid hot dogs.

I believe that is the only way to make such a bookstore viable — and if not viable, at least very fun for me.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Let's Dance

The Portrait Gallery: Charles Johnson

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

Sorry to say you already missed Charles Johnson speaking earlier this week, and you probably should have gone. Read what Paul said in the Event of the Week column if you want to wallow in your regret. But not all is lost: you can still buy copies of Johnson's latest book Night Hawks, which seems like a decent close-second option to showing up to seeing him speak.

Kissing Books: The placeholder heroine is...

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

1992’s landmark volume of romance criticism, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, has had a difficult afterlife. One particular specter from romance author Laura Kinsale’s essay haunts the genre like the ghost of a first wife contemplating arson in the attic.

I speak of: the placeholder heroine. I loathe it — both the term and the theory — and I’m going to tell you why.

Kinsale’s original essay uses the term placeholder heroine to mean the reader allows the plot to carry her through the book, enjoyably, even if she knows she would make different choices than the heroine in the story. It’s anti-identification. But the phrase has taken root in the readership as a way of describing a heroine who is so bland and invisibilized that she allows the reader to almost literally take her place as the emotional focus of the story. Bella Swan of the Twilight series, for instance, gets pulled into this discussion a lot, poor girl. Cinderella, too, is assumed to be an empty vessel so the reader can bask in the relief of being rescued.

The idea — and I am describing it, not recommending it or saying it’s automatically true — is that readers pick up a romance because they want to fall in love with and feel loved by the hero, and any heroine who is too specific, too real, or too present gets in the way of the reader’s hoped-for experience.

That some readers go looking for this is undeniably true. The existence of the unfortunate phrase book boyfriends attests to this. Also this verging-on-nihilistic Guardian piece from 2009 about one woman’s tragic attempt to write a category romance; the article reads like a triple-layer chocolate cake made of self-loathing and internalized misogyny — and contains the line which is now branded upon my memory: “Mills & Boon heroines are like madams in brothels. They essentially have to facilitate a sexual encounter between two other people — the reader, and the hero.”

I’m not going to pretend that nobody’s ever rubbed one out over a domineering Harlequin Presents tycoon but good Lord that writer is really stretching a metaphor to the point of absurdity.

Other, successful authors aren’t so vulgar or Freudian, but it’s common to talk about writing heroes they hope readers will fall in love with. It’s widely assumed the reader will establish a sexual/romantic connection with a hero. It’s unclear how much of this is a marketing angle, and how much is what people think the books actually do in practice.

In this framework a romance can be for the heroine, or for the reader, but never both. And for the reader to be at the center of the story, to take the heroine’s place, she has to erase the heroine as much as she can.

I can’t be the only person who gets a little creeped out by that.

Granted, I’ve gone on record as someone who tries to focus on heroines as much as possible, out of feminist and contrarian impulses. The fact remains that there are some nasty side facets to the placeholder heroine conversation: for one thing, the idea that dubcon/forced seduction scenes can get the reader’s consent, if not the heroine’s. I find this, in a word, squicky.

For another thing, for a placeholder heroine to work as described, she can’t have any marks of difference that the reader does not share. Some white readers infamously say they can’t relate to a heroine of color because they can’t or won’t identify with her. Their white awareness of a black heroine’s difference prevents them from being able to disappear into her persona.

And the entire conversation around placeholder heroines is grossly heteronormative and cissexist because it doesn’t take queer/trans people into account at all, as readers or as main characters — though it might go a long way to explaining those parts of m/m romance that are all about straight women playing Now Kiss! with sexy fictional dudes. Because if someone’s internalized the Other Women Are Automatically Competition thing real deep then even the blandest placeholder heroine might be too much, and they can only let go and enjoy things if the whole Woman Question is off the table. (Men are aspirational identification; we’re all taught how to empathize with them.) Sometimes this even comes cloaked as liberal-mindedness, as in many of the comments to this Goodreads poll: a lot of people sincerely believe that gender inequality magically vanishes when the two main characters share a gender.

Let us be clear what a placeholder heroine is not: recognizing a meaningful part of yourself in a fictional character. That is plain human empathy, that is what the push for inclusive fiction is fighting for, that is something every one of us needs and deserves.

The placeholder heroine is the expectation that we have to separate, and choose between, the reader and the heroine in order for the book to do what it promises.

The placeholder heroine as a concept means that we’re only allowed One Completely Human Woman, either us or that chick on the book cover.

Identification, recognition, books as mirrors and windows — these are identification-as-sharing. It’s communal, and comforting, and builds community. The placeholder heroine is identification-as-supplanting. The framework marks a character — a main character! — as replaceable, as a blank space, as a territory to be conquered and colonized. Which is why we have to do it to heroines, who are women, the Officially There To Be Conquered Gender.

When readers go in expecting to be able to take the heroine’s place, they might feel cheated if she is unerasable. Perhaps this is one of the (many) reasons why heroines take the brunt of criticism in reviews, whether they’re difficult or prickly characters or not.

Plenty of readers do not read this way, at all. Plenty of readers are looking for heroines they can root for, who they could imagine being friends with, who are compelling and interesting and funny and just plain fun to be around. Heroines who share their struggles and fears (the surge of readerly love for Portia, the heroine from Alyssa Cole’s A Duke by Default who finds out as an adult that she has ADHD, is a marvelous recent example of this). Me, I love a lonely heroine, your Anne Elliots and Jane Eyres and anyone who secretly worries they’ll never be quite good enough to deserve love.

None of the heroines in the books reviewed below are placeholders. They are rich, vibrant, unique, and uniquely lovable fictional people.

Erase them at your peril.

Recent Romances:

Proper English by KJ Charles (self-published: historical f/f):

When presented with an f/f romance that is also a country house party murder mystery, three immediate questions fix in the mind: 1. Which character is our heroine going to fall in love with? 2. Which character is our soon-to-be victim? and 3. Which character is the killer?

Since Proper English is a prequel to the author’s much-recommended Think of England, we know the answer to number one: Pat’s going to fall hard for Fenella Carruth—who is, unfortunately, presently engaged to our host.

Answers two and three take up the rest of the book, and it’s an absolutely marvelous journey.

I’ve become so used to KJ Charles’ more Machiavellian-minded heroes (hello, Any Old Diamonds and Henchmen of Zenda) that Pat’s directness took a bit of getting used to. Not in a bad way—it was just a more no-nonsense voice than I was expecting, since Pat is the straightest shooter in England. Literally: she recently won the All-England Ladies’ Championship. Once I re-tuned my ear, the rhythms carried me along as always. Pat is intelligent, thoughtful, observant, kind, frighteningly competent, and humble enough to think none of these virtues are enough to make her more than ordinary. This complexity meant that despite her supposed plainness of character (she certainly thinks of herself as plain in figure as well as in intellect), every emotion of hers rang me like a bell whenever it turned up. Pat’s love for her brother Bill, her complicated grief for their two lost siblings, her tumble into attraction and passion—they’re all the more glorious for coming on quietly.

Fen, our other heroine, is one of my favorite archetypes: the bouncy, fluffy, run-on-sentence kind of adorable with undiscovered metal beneath the fluff. She’s an absolute confection and I wanted to fix her a sugary cocktail and listen to her ask endless questions forever. The contrast and chemistry she has with Pat is exquisite, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the copy of Think of England that’s been languishing in my TBR for far too long now.

As for the killer and victim … Lately I’ve been in an Extremely Vintage Murder Mood, watching grainy miniseries with Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, picking up used copies of Highsmith’s best, mainlining any detective show that focuses more on the social puzzles than on the physical detritus of the crime scene. It’s a hunger for something—a feeling, an emotional experience, a palpable resolution, justice. Things that feel increasingly hard to find in the real world.

This book was precisely the thing to sate the appetite.

“These sorts of things are miserable for ladies.”

“Technically, you’re a lady,” Bill pointed out.

“Not for the purposes of a shooting party I’m not, and Jimmy had better remember that.”

“He will,” Bill assured her. “Nobody would invite the All-England Ladies’ Champion to a shooting party and ask her to crochet doilies.”

“Oh yes they would.”

Reverb by Anna Zabo (Carina Press: contemporary trans queer m/pan f):

Reverb as a musical term is about echoes: what you don’t quite hear, what you hear too much of, what whispers on the edges of a note or a chord. A double layer of sound. Anxiety and trauma do something similar to the human body/mind — pain amplifies or muffles a signal, distorting the sound and disturbing the peace. The past is always a little audible in the present.

Readers should go in knowing Anna Zabo’s latest rock star romance starts with a stalker plot, necessary to give our bodyguard hero David and rock queen heroine Mish a reason to collide. But the real stakes in the book are about identity: David and Mish have both fought for decades to become completely themselves, and take pains not to demand anyone else bend or change or sacrifice too much out of respect for the difficulty of being a complete person. They both pride themselves on being the strong one, the caretaker, and they are happy to take care of one another (both in and out of bed — the sex scenes are delightfully switchy). This carefulness is precisely what brings the biggest conflict: two characters desperately in love with one another, deeply invested, who feel they can’t even ask for what they really want because the act of asking feels too much like demanding submission. Better to step back, to hide tears, to die quietly inside without anyone ever knowing.

It’s a little about pride — but a little about boundaries, and it’s complex and utterly gripping.

First two Twisted Wishes books were very much about characters learning how to cope; this book is about capable characters learning how to thrive, which is an entirely different challenge. I tore through the chapters, hooked as always by the vividness of Zabo’s glam-rock world and the dazzling characters — but the more I reflect on the book afterward the more allegorical it seems, like a chess game whose strategy is only revealed in hindsight. The external threat becomes a Gothic gloss on the central emotional dilemma: the villain is someone who demands what he has no right to, someone who overreaches, who ignores the plainest and most basic of boundaries. The stalker (mild spoilers?) is eventually caught but never named, which is a supremely, breathtakingly elegant way to villainize him in a romance with a trans main character where names are meaningful choices and assertions of identity.

The book feels effortless, but the gut-punch lingers — just like any good rock anthem should.

Emotional hangovers were worse than alcoholic ones. She didn’t get drunk that often, but when she did, she could blame the nausea and headache on being foolish.

This wasn’t foolishness, but her life.

Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra (self-published: contemporary m/f):

The #romanceclass hashtag on Twitter has become one of my go-to places to check for contemporary romance: every one of the Phililppine-based authors promoting there seem to have perfected the delicate balance between angst and escapism. This book caught me because I have absolutely no chill where figure skating/hockey romance combinations are concerned — but while I got plenty of insider athletic competence, as promised, I also got a rare and thoughtful view of a real-world city, and what it means to the people who live there, move there, and/or are from there. The romance is solid and the sex is definitely great, but it was Mina V. Esguerra’s marvelous sense of place that really blew me away.

This book is an absolute love letter to Manila — not in the touristy, Here Are My Postcard Views kind of way, but in the sense of a living, changing city, with restaurants popping up and going under, living expenses to navigate, cultural habits to allow for and struggle against (hockey, for instance, is a niche sport in a latitude that never freezes).

Cal and Ram both struggle with the baggage of the past, a lot of which is wrapped up in the literal geography of the city: the rink they both practice in, the neighborhoods where their family members live, the sisig restaurant that’s the only place open late at night when practices are finally done. Cal has spent her figure skating career close to home rather than training somewhere with more resources (Russia or the US), which may have limited her ability to excel in ways she can’t even measure — and Ram has split his time imperfectly between Manila and his emigrant parents in Texas, who have tried to make a clean break with their past even if it means never going back to visit relatives still living in the Philippines. The reader is treated to a complex exploration of what it means when home feels like somewhere you have to leave to succeed: as Cal says, “A better life was always Somewhere Else.”

There is so much unspecified yearning in this book, even outside of the romance, that it left me feeling deeply wistful. This is no accident. According to this thoughtful Goodreads review, it is an absolutely perfect snapshot of a particular kind of disaspora experience, about feeling like you are torn between two places, and have only a tenuous connection with a past and present. The book came out in February of this year, and the best way I can describe it is that it feels like a very February kind of book. A little sad, a bit of winter glitter, and a whole beating heart on display.

He could have offered to stay. Proposed marriage, right there in front of everyone. Ram excelled at down-three-at-halftime kind of pressure. He was game-winning goals record holder. He could pull a fucking grand gesture if he needed to.

But he also trusted Cal, more in that moment than his own hockey warrior self, and if she said he was about to be goaded into regret, he believed her.

Tightrope by Amanda Quick (Penguin: historical romantic suspense m/f):

Why did none of you tell me Amanda Quick’s new historical suspense series included descendants of her Victorian psychic family? This is like my own personal The Force Awakens and it is Gothic and glamorous and pulpy as all get out and I am ridiculously, absurdly happy about it.

A lovely trapeze artist pushes a would-be killer to his death in the first scene; in the second, a humanoid robot murders his creator in the middle of a public demonstration, as the same trapeze artist looks on in horror. It’s a jam-packed 1930s thriller romance just in time for the long, hot, vacation days of summer. We have gunrunners and mob men with hearts of gold, spunky heroines whose wits are as sharp as their tongues, a cursed hotel where a Hollywood psychic flung herself from the roof, several untrustworthy liars, and a missing encryption machine to find before the villain gets their hands on it.

Amalie and Matthias are fun characters — Amalie is especially grand, maybe one of the best AQ heroines ever — even if the romance doesn’t quite hit me in the gut like I wanted. We do get a good, slow burn at the start while the mystery twists the screws. The dialogue snaps with noirish banter, the whole thing’s low on the insta-lust, and despite all the glamorous murder it’s not too angsty or gory or gleeful about sexualized violence. Amanda Quick has been writing books just like this for decades, and I hope she never stops. It’s more slick than subtle, but it’s so nice to be in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing even if you can see the gears turning while they do it. Perfect fluff with a moody glaze.

“Not everyone will have issues with your past.”

“Who is going to trust a woman who may or may not have murdered her lover?”


She froze, hardly daring to breathe. “Is that right?”

“Yes. Your turn. Does my talent scare you?”

“A madman with a knife and a wire necklace once tried to murder me. Knowing that you may be able to tell if I’m lying to you doesn’t even make the list of the top ten things that make me nervous.”

This Month’s Strong and Steely Hero (But Not Like That):

[Swordheart] by T. Kingfisher (self-published: fantasy m/f):

There is nothing that lifts my spirits so much as a smart, funny, queer-friendly romance in a fantasy setting. T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Hugo and Nebula winner Ursula Vernon (among many other awards), and so you know going in that the fantasy is going to be top-notch.

But this story of a widow heiress beset by nefarious family members and a warrior trapped in a magical sword still took all my expectations and blasted them into happy smithereens. Halla is a bright, curious, talkative dumpling of a person with hidden fire, and pairs beautifully with sword-man Sarkis’ grumpy, taciturn, burn-it-down fierceness (think Elliot Spencer from Leverage). They are both too-conscious of their own flaws, and intensely admiring of each other; it made my heart absolutely sing to watch them slowly realize how deeply they’d fallen in love while fighting not to.

This is a world of multiple gods with different approaches to power and people, a past racked by cataclysm, plenty of ground-level small-village social mores, and artifacts with centuries-old magical curses turning up as family heirlooms. Notes of Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, but all the detail about agriculture and livestock is expert, up-close texture.

At one point Halla describes all the ways they could easily live off the land if they weren’t trying to keep a low profile and I danced a little in my chair to see so deep into the layers of this world. It’s rewarding as hell.

At another point we get one of the single funniest bodily-fluids jokes I’ve ever seen written down. It’d be great enough as a one-off moment — but it turns into a relevant plot point later one, with effortless grace. If I thought the author could’ve heard me, I would’ve applauded then and there.

The ending implies there’s a sequel forthcoming and honestly I cannot wait.

Sarkis had been expecting Halla to sob, cry, or perhaps be as sick as Zale. Her remarkable calm in the face of two dead bodies was simultaneously heartening and a trifle alarming. “You’re taking this well,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ve laid out the bodies of my sisters, my mother, my husband, one of the fieldhands, my great-uncle, and Old Nan the cook, when her heart gave out in the kitchen. Dead bodies don’t worry me. It’s the live ones that get you.”

Thursday Comics Hangover: "Augie Pagan" is a pretty great name

  • This Saturday night, the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery is hosting an opening night exhibition of Augie Pagan's art. Pagan makes beautiful and unsettling pop-culture mashups that make you feel slightly uncomfortable but very entertained. Take a look.

  • The shitty comics hate group known as Comicsgate is trying to ban their detractors as transphobic. Fuck Comicsgate.

  • Actually, one more thing about those guys: a big Comicsgate talking point is that liberals have taken over the comics industry in a wide-ranging conspiracy to drag down comics sales and destroy the industry while promoting their progressive agenda all the while. There are many problems with this "theory," but perhaps the most glaring flaw is that if liberals are trying to destroy the comics industry, they're failing pretty badly:

    Comics and graphic novels bounced back from 2017’s sales slump to have their best year ever in 2018...Combined sales in all channels were $1.095 billion, up $80 million from 2017 and a tad up from 2016’s $1.085B.
  • Here's a very good profile of Love and Rockets cartoonist Jaime Hernandez.

Violence, Porn, Curses

Published May 8, 2019, at 12:00

Anca L. Szilágyi reviews Lina Wolff’s The Polyglot Lovers (translated by Saskia Vogel) .

The Polyglot Lovers stares the male gaze in the eye. On the final pages, who blinks?

Read this review now

Looking to GiveBIG? Here are the participating literary nonprofits

Today is GiveBIG, the overwhelming annual nonprofit fundraising day, when basically every nonprofit in town is vying for your attention and your donations. In the past, GiveBig was presented by the Seattle Foundation, but this year, GiveBIG is being put on by two other local nonprofits: Encore Media Group and 501 Commons.

On the About page for this year's GiveBIG, the presenters say that unlike past years, participating nonprofits will have to pay "a registration fee." They argue that this fee is necessary "because the philanthropic support for the campaign is much less than in previous years, when the event was sponsored and largely paid for by Seattle Foundation." It's an unfortunate situation, and hopefully things will be different next year, but for now we should support the nonprofits who are doing good work in this city before we work to improve the situation for GiveBIG 2020.

For your consideration, here's a list of the literary nonprofits taking part in GiveBIG this year, as told in their own words. If you can, please give a little to support the organizations that are doing work in the fields that mean the most to you.

  • The African-American Writers' Alliance, a diverse and dynamic collective of Seattle-area writers of African descent, provides an informal and supportive forum for new and published writers. We help one another polish our skills, provide peer review, and create opportunities for public readings and other media venues. Ultimately the group encourages members to publish individually and collectively, telling our stories in our words and encouraging others to do the same.
  • A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ARCADE's mission is to reinforce the principle that thoughtful design at every scale of human endeavor improves our quality of life.

  • Book-It Repertory Theatre's mission is to transform great literature into great theatre through simple and sensitive production and to inspire our audiences to read. Book-It's Arts & Education Program mission is to provide an interactive relationship between youth and literature through diverse theatrical productions and educational programs that promote the joy of reading, enhance student and teacher learning, and inspire the imagination.

  • Bushwick Northwest delivers literature, music, and songwriting to the Seattle community while building the next generation of musicians and readers.

  • Clarion West is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to providing high quality educational opportunities for writers of speculative fiction at the start of their careers and making speculative fiction available to the public with readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.

  • At Crosscut, we believe that an informed public is essential to solving to the challenges of our time. As the Pacific Northwest's independent, reader-supported, nonprofit news site, Crosscut strives to provide readers with the facts and analysis they need to intelligently participate in civic discourse, and to create a more just, equitable and sustainable society.

  • Densho's mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We offer these irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice for all.

  • Folio is a gathering place for books and the people who love them. Folio offers circulating collections of fine books, vibrant conversations, innovative public programs, and quiet reading rooms, work spaces and meeting rooms. It serves the region's creative community by being an incubator for new ideas.

  • The Friends of Georgetown History is a non profit organization dedicated to celebrating the neighborhood of Georgetown's many contributions to the legend of Seattle's early years. We use the power of history to bring communities together by engaging the public in creative history research, presentation and performance.

  • Friends of the Library of Kirkland:To encourage closer relations between the Kirkland Library and local citizens. To publicize the functions, resources, services and needs of the library. To help the library serve the public by funding special library purchases as well as sponsoring programs for children, teens and adults.

  • The mission of the Friends of Shoreline Library is to support, promote and advocate for the Shoreline Library, a branch of the King County Library System.

  • Friends of Third Place Commons: As a safe, welcoming space open to everyone, Third Place Commons fosters real community in real space. The Commons hosts over 900 FREE community events each year and presents the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market. We nurture a vibrant, thriving community through arts programs like weekly music and dancing, monthly Art-Ins, and local school performances, civic programs like community fairs and public lectures, and social meet-ups like weekly play & learns, game nights, Mahjong Mondays, and more!

  • GeekGirlCon celebrates and honors the legacies of under-represented groups in science, technology, comics, arts, literature, game play, and game design. We do this by connecting geeks worldwide and creating an intersectional community that fosters the continued growth of women in geek culture. GeekGirlCon provides a safe space to spark conversations around social justice while encouraging unabashed geekiness.

  • Your generous gift to Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. With local roots and a global reach, your support of Hedgebrook is a gift with a ripple effect. I encourage you to donate early April 23 - May 7th. All contributions will be processed on May 8th, the actual one-day online GiveBIG 2019 day!

  • Hugo House opens the literary world to everyone who loves books or has a drive to write, providing people with a place to read words, hear words, and make their own words better.

  • Humanities Washington creates spaces for people to explore different perspectives in order to provide context and help bridge divides across communities.

  • Jack Straw Cultural Center is a multidisciplinary audio arts center that exists to foster the communication of arts, ideas, and information to diverse audiences through audio media. We provide creation and production opportunities including radio, theater, film, video, music, and literature. We serve over 10,000 individuals a year through direct services in our facility and over 100,000 individuals through radio broadcasts and podcasts of our artist, youth, and community productions.

  • The King County Library System Foundation provides support beyond public funding for programs and services at all 50 King County Library System locations so that they can better serve the needs of our community.

  • Push/Pull's mission is to: Promote underground art and comics; Foster community between those creating and viewing art; Encourage emerging artists, illustrators and cartoonists; Innovate the way art is consumed by presenting it in a unique environment and with nontraditional events; Stimulate diversity by actively seeking out marginalized and under-represented artists

  • Established in 1991, The Raven Chronicles is a Seattle-based literary organization that publishes and promotes artistic work that embodies the cultural diversity and multitude of viewpoints of writers and artists living in the Pacific Northwest and other regions.

  • Seattle City of Literature manages public and private partnerships, both within our city and abroad, to grow and promote a robust creative economy.

  • Seattle Folklore SocietyTo preserve and foster awareness and appreciation of traditional and folk arts through education, outreach, publication and performance.

  • The Seattle Globalist: Our mission is to elevate diverse voices through media.

  • SPLAB exists to present poetry events, develop the audience & resources to support poetry, lead a bioregional cultural investigation using poetics & poetry festivals & build community through shared experience of the spoken and written word. Key 2019 projects: Cascadia Poetry Festival-Anacortes, 2019: A Tribute to Sam Hamill, August Poetry Postcard Fest, 2 anthologies: Make It True meets Medusario & the Samthology, honoring Sam Hamill & interviews:

  • Tasveer: Our mission is to inspire social change through thought-provoking films, art, and storytelling. Tasveer was founded by two local immigrant South Asian women Rita Meher and Farah Nousheen, in March 2002, with the objective of raising awareness, promoting diversity and inclusion, and dispelling cultural stereotypes about our community, especially after 9/11.

  • A vibrant gathering place in the heart of Seattle, Town Hall fosters an engaged community through civic, arts, and educational programs that reflect and inspire our region's best impulses: creativity, empathy, and the belief that we all deserve a voice.

  • The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library builds community and provides equal access to information and reading materials for Washington residents unable to read standard print.

  • Whit Press is a nonprofit publishing organization dedicated to the transformational power of the written word. Our mission is to promote literary work in support of environmental and social justice issues and to give a voice to women writers, writers from ethnic, social, and economic minorities, and first-time authors.

Book News Roundup: Bad weekend for Seattle media

  • Seattle Times reporter Mike Rosenberg was accused over the weekend of sexually harassing a young reporter named Talia Jane on Twitter. Jane claimed that Rosenberg took on a mentor/advisory role in her direct messages and then made several wildly inappropriate comments. She backed up her claims with screenshots of the conversation, and they're fucking horrifying. Rosenberg told Crosscut's Lilly Fowler that the messages weren't intended for Jane. Jane, meanwhile, is having none of it.
  • Jane has demonstrated an indomitable spirit throughout this whole situation, but the fact remains that she shouldn't have to be indomitable at all. If you're a man who works in media, you should have enough wherewithal to understand that you have power over young reporters who come to you for advice and guidance. This kind of behavior is unacceptable. Full stop.

  • Speaking of power and the media: over the weekend at the Crosscut Festival, former Stranger reporter (and, full disclosure, my former coworker) Sydney Brownstone told the full story of what happened when she tried to write a story accusing Seattle restaurant mogul Dave Meinert of sexual misconduct. Brownstone didn't feel as though she could publish the report at The Stranger:

  • Brownstone eventually published the Meinert piece (and a followup report with more accusations) after finding a new job at KUOW.

  • The moral of this story: We need more and better media in Seattle, and we need fewer men in power at those organizations.

"My deepest education in democracy has been as a member of the community in Seattle"

Of all Seattle's noteworthy political citizens, Eric Liu has to have the most fascinating resumé. After a high-ranking stint on the National Security Council, Liu served under President Clinton as Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy. His future in DC politics was bright, but instead Liu moved to Seattle, where he devoted his life to promoting the idea of citizenship and what it means to be a civic-minded human being. In recent years, Liu founded Citizen University to explore the idea of civic responsibility, and he travels the nation with his Civic Saturday program of events — a kind of secular church that invites people to come together to share ideas and reconsider the idea of citizenship. Tonight, Liu is celebrating the launch of his latest book, a collection of sermons from Civic Saturdays titled Become America, at Washington Hall. The event is free. Liu and I talked on the phone yesterday about citizenship, Seattle, and why serving on the Seattle Public Library Board was more satisfying than working in the White House. This interview has been lightly edited. (Full disclosure: Liu is friends with, and co-author of two books with, my day-job employer, Nick Hanauer.)

The first question is probably something you hear all the time, but I want to get it out of the way early. It's actually something I heard when my first response to Trump's election was to start a book club: Isn't worrying about emphasizing citizenship and civic responsibility during the Trump Administration kind of like putting a Band Aid on cancer?

I think it is absolutely vital during a time of democratic crisis to tend to culture, norms, values, and shared narrative. I think culture is upstream of policy, I think spirit is upstream of law, and I think that the norms and attitudes and mindsets that people have about one another and about what we're doing together here are all upstream of elections and the policy consequences of elections. That's my first point.

The second point — to your book club, actually — I further think that as much as Donald Trump the man poses a menace to democratic norms, one of the lessons of the last few years is just how resilient a system democracy is in the United States. And not just among those who've chosen to resist him, but in communities all around the country right now, people are rebuilding the bonds of trust, relationship and responsibility that make any notion of self-government possible.

I include in that category every kind of club you can imagine. This is a time when I think our highest task as citizens is to start or join a club, to start rebuilding that muscle of association and reckoning with what's going on around you, trying to figure out how you fit into a larger story, trying to figure out what your responsibility is for changing that story. And so to me, whether it's a book club, whether it's things like Civic Saturdays, whether it's a club on something that's not even avowedly about politics like a gardening club, I think that forming and joining clubs right now is one of the most important things we can do as citizens. And particularly where those gatherings are about the deeper moral and ethical choices of our times, I think it becomes especially important.

Could you talk a little bit about your evolution as a civic-minded person?

This past weekend, I was taking part in the Crosscut Festival and I was reflecting about not only the role of organs of local journalism, like Crosscut and Cascade Public Media, but more generally on my education in democracy in Seattle. As you know, before I moved to Seattle 19 years ago, I worked in DC — I worked in national politics — and to look at my bio or my resumé, someone might think, 'you really cut your teeth in DC, you learned what you know at the White House.'

And that's actually not really true. I think my deepest education in democracy has been as a member of the community in Seattle and as a citizen of Washington state. And probably the most signal example of that was the decade that I spent on the Seattle Public Library Board, where I'd still be serving if I weren't term-limited.

I happened to serve on the library board during a time where the system was building out new branches and the downtown Central Library to deliver on this bond measure called Libraries for All that had passed in the late 90s, before I joined the board. And so for the whole time that I was there, we were in 26, 27 neighborhoods around the city and trying to invite people in for what we called in a somewhat hokey title, Hopes and Dreams meetings. Actually, you and I might've met at one of these Hopes and Dreams meetings-

I think so. Way back. Yeah.

Yeah, way back. And sure, it's hokey. And sure, it's inherently a limited format. But the fact is that when you extend that invitation and people start showing up sharing their hopes and dreams for how many materials in other languages your branch should have, or the idea that you need more meeting space because there's no free meeting space in Capitol Hill, or whatever it might be — when you start hearing these things, you realize you've created an expectation that we will not only listen, but try to deliver. And we will do that to the best of our ability. But then where we can't, we have to explain tradeoffs and we have to be accountable to the people who showed up to these meetings as well as others. And frankly, that is just an order of magnitude more concrete a practice of democracy than most of what happens in DC.

So much of politics in DC is just this Kabuki theater of posturing — it's virtue signaling or it's just rallying my base or attacking my enemies. I do this even if I know what I'm introducing is never going to go anywhere. It's for positioning and posturing. And so my education on the library board was just so much more meaningful and rich.

And then, as you know, working with Nick and others, getting things like the Alliance for Gun Responsibility off the ground after Sandy Hook was hugely formative for me. And it was of course gratifying, just as a citizen, to have helped found an organization that has not only changed the laws in our state, but as you know, has changed the frame of the narrative around the very idea of gun responsibility nationally. So again, I worked on guns when I was at the White House and exactly nothing happened. But to be here in a city, in a state, where you can indeed move ideas and change narrative has been a big part of my evolution.

I was at the fundraiser for the Alliance last week, and they talked about all the legislative achievements they've made in the past year. Ten years ago, you couldn't get an elected official to pass a gun safety law anywhere in this country. The Alliance helped the people win at the ballot box so many times that the legislature couldn't ignore the people's voice. It's exciting that we've finally have come around to the point where these gun responsibility laws are passing within the legislature again. But you kind of had to go outside the system and force the issue. So it was a long way around, but it finally happened from the inside rather than the outside.

But it's exactly the long way around that makes democracy a resilient, complex, adaptive system if it's not rigged. We were able to bypass an initially recalcitrant legislature because we had direct democracy as an option here and could go around a rigged legislature that was either cowed or owned by the gun lobby. And then having revealed to legislators that in fact the will of the people is strongly with gun responsibility and if you would like to retain your job, you might want to move in this direction, is exactly how the system is supposed to respond.

Of course it doesn't respond that way in DC, in Congress, and that's true under, frankly, both parties and any administrations of both parties. But that capacity for self-correction is still higher, I think, at the local and state level.

Do you think Seattle was particularly suited for for your message of civic responsibility? Some other places I've lived seem like they might not be as receptive to what you're doing.

I do think Citizen University is a very natural outgrowth of the civic ecosystem of our region. And again, having worked in the other Washington, I know very clearly that an organization like Citizen University, the approaches that we've taken to civic awakening and civic power-building, which are not inside the box of conventional wisdom or policy fights as they usually unfold within DC think-tanks was made possible by being here. That's number one.

And I think, going back to when I moved here in 2000, that there is a civically entrepreneurial spirit here that's as strong as our business, entrepreneurial spirit. This is a town that is not yet finished. You can arrive and raise your hand and start getting involved and pushing things or making change happen or creating new ventures.

But it's also a place where there's enough open-mindedness and freedom from a lot of the frames of conventional wisdom that dominate the New York/DC corridor that our work has been able to thrive here. And I think specifically with Civic Saturdays, these gatherings that are civic analog to a faith gathering, Civic Saturdays are a great instance of a larger approach we've had, which is that Seattle is one of the great places to incubate new civic ideas and then try and spread and adapt them to other places around the country.

For all the reasons I just said and you were alluding to, because there's more openness here, because there's less hierarchy here, because there has always been a higher willingness to hybridize here and try new combinations of things, we could incubate Civic Saturdays here in Seattle. And when we realized that this approach to civic gathering and this approach to awakening civic spirit and purpose could really stick, then we started being able to take it on the road. And that's been true of other programs of ours as well, where Seattle is an apt and fertile place to test new ideas.

So what can people expect from your book launch party tonight at Washington Hall?

We're going to talk about some of the content of the book, which as you know, is a collection sermons that I had written and delivered at Civic Saturday gatherings here in Seattle and around the country, But what you can really expect is a broader conversation just like the one we're having right now, about the deeper drivers of what's sick in the body politic, about what you can actually do from wherever you sit and stand, even if you don't feel powerful or you don't feel connected, how you can in fact web up with others and start making meaning and start taking action together.

And so the format will be, I think, pretty conversational in a way that I'm excited about. Because Civic Saturdays are have you been to a Civic Saturday?

I don't believe I have

So, first of all, I would invite you to come join us in June — June 1st we'll be at the Hillman city Collaboratory for our next one in Seattle. And I'll be in Oklahoma City after that for another one.

But when you come to these, they have the arc of a faith gathering and we always build in a great amount of time at Civic Saturdays for people to turn to each other and talk about questions and prompts. But I think at this event tomorrow we'll have even more of that — more opportunity for people to ask me questions and be in dialogue with me as well as with each other.

Sounds like it's a good way, for people who are curious and haven't taken part, to sort of dip a toe in the proverbial water.

Exactly. Totally. And it's also just a chance for people who, if you feel like you want to be connected to something bigger, if you feel isolated and frustrated with the state of our politics, come be in the company of others and come explore some of these questions in a way that is open-hearted, open-minded and will move you to connect with people in new ways. And then yes, dip a toe into some of what we do at Civic Saturdays as well.

I Who Have Satin


I, I who have nothing
Never reaching the end
I, I who have no one
Never meaning to send

Adore you and want you so
With these eyes before
With nothing to give you but oh
I can’t say any more

Beauty I’ve always missed
He, he brings you diamonds
Just what the truth is
Bright, sparkling diamonds

But believe me, dear when I say
What I’m going through
He’ll never love you the way
They can’t understand

He can take you any place he wants
They cannot defend
Fancy clubs and restaurants
Must be in the end
Pressed up against the window pane

Nights in bright diamonds
I, I who have satin
Never reaching no one
I, I who have beauty

Must watch you go dancing by
With these eyes before
I can’t say any more
When darling it’s I who loves you

Ahoy Comics is back with Hashtag: Danger

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Join Desiree Danger and her crew — super-science-head Einstein Armstrong, and heavyweight bruiser Sugar Rae Huang, as they seek out, and bicker their way through, intense situations, the likes which comics have never seen.

We've got a four page preview, and some stellar early reviews, of this just-released title on our sponsor's page. Check them out, and be sure to pick up this first issue, so you're buckled into your front-row seat from the beginning of the ride!

When you sponsor us, you put your book, event, or residency in front of our readership of book lovers and industry professionals. And you're helping keep Seattle's amazing community of writers, reviewers, and readers vibrant. Want to join us? Check out rates and dates at

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from May 6th - May 12th

Monday, May 6th: Write On! with Charles Johnson

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Northwest African-American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000,, 7 pm.

Tuesday, May 7th: Become America Reading

Seattle author Eric Liu has made it his life's mission to revive the American civic spirit. His Civic Saturdays series of church-like meetings invite secular-minded people to come together and celebrate art, democracy, justice, and community. Liu's latest book, Become America, collects some of his best secular sermons into an inspiring book about what it means to be an American. Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave, Seattle, 322-1151,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, May 8th: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl Reading

Andrea Lawlor's novel is about a shapeshifter — or a changeling, if you prefer— in the 1990s LGBTQ activist scene in the 1990s. This was a time when Bill Clinton pushed against same-sex marriage and gay panic was a regular punchline at multiplexes, so changing shape would probably come in handy. Lawlor will be in conversation with Seattle author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, May 9th: Seattle Prohibition Reading

Brad Holden's latest book describes what Prohibition was like in Seattle. If you think a port city known for its raucous history got completely dry without a fight, you're in for a few surprises. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 10th: Three Poets

Two Seattle-area poets who are friends of the Seattle Review of Books will read work with a visiting poet from San Francisco. Regular readers of this site won't need an introduction to Kelli Russell Agodon or Susan Rich. (If you do need an introduction: Agodon is the co-founder of small but mighty poetry publisher Two Sylvias Press, and Rich is the author, most recently, of Cloud Pharmacy.) They're welcoming Mary Peelen, author of Quantum Heresies, to town. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, May 11th: Planet of the Nerds Reading

Okay, this listing is a top-to-bottom conflict of interest. I'm appearing at Elliott Bay Book Company to celebrate the launch of two comics from Syracuse comics publisher AHOY Comics. The first book is the collected edition of The Wrong Earth, which is the story of a light-hearted superhero who changes places with a gritty, dark version of himself. I have five short stories in that one. And the other book is Planet of the Nerds, which is my first full-length comic. I'll be in conversation with brilliant Seattle arts writer Brangien Davis, and there will be drinks and snacks and fun. Please join me. And here's a graphic for the event made by great graphic designer Mary Traverse:

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

Alternate Saturday, May 11th: Red State Revolt Reading

Red-state America over the last year has hosted the largest strikes in recent American history. Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma and Arizona basically shut down the government with popular support from the general population. Is this the beginning of something big? That's what the new book Red State Revolt: The Teachers' Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics is all about. This is a moderated discussion about the amazing things that are happening in plain sight. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, noon.

Sunday, May 12th: Make It True Meets Medusario Reading

Cuban poet José Kozer and Seattle poet Paul E Nelson have put together an anthology that seeks to shake off the "cliquishness" of the modern age by inviting "poets from divergent languages, cultures, and aesthetics to create a type of conversation, or at least a fertile meeting place for ongoing ideas about poetry." Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Charles Johnson at the Northwest African-American Museum

Retired UW professor Charles Johnson is the closest thing to a Seattle legend that our fiction scene has. Johnson has been retired from the teaching business for a decade now, and he's taken that time to publish a ton of books — a writing guide, a book about his Buddhist practice, and his latest collection of short fiction, Night Hawks.

When I spoke to Johnson a couple years ago, he was in an expansive mood, explaining that the title story in Night Hawks was "about my 15-year friendship here in Seattle with [celebrated playwright] August Wilson. We had really great eight-to-ten-hour dinner conversations at the old Broadway Bar and Grill, which is gone now, on Capitol Hill."

Johnson is perhaps best known for incorporating his Buddhist experiences into his fiction. "I’ve always been a very spiritual person," he told me, and he doesn't see any separation between Charles Johnson the writer and Charles Johnson the Buddhist. "It’s all total, together, you know — art is mind, body and spirit, and they all reinforce each other and serve the creative process, I think."

Retirement has been a great boon to Johnson's literary career. He's been busier and more adventurous in his literary life than he was in his many years as a UW professor. It's the freedom of someone who knows who he is, and what he's capable of, and who finally feels free to do it. Go soak in his freedom for a while.

Northwest African-American Museum, 2300 S Massachusetts St, 518-6000,, 7 pm.

The Sunday Post for May 5, 2019

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

Vibrant Economies

After discovering that the independent bookstore where she worked was shorting its staff on weekend page, Sarah Malley asks about who's really bearing the cost of running a small local business.

If your local indie bookstore skirts labor laws or advocates against them, at the expense of its employees, can you still be sanctimonious for shopping there? If your local indie bookstore is thriving if its employees skip doctor’s appointments they can’t afford? If your local indie bookstore’s trade group doesn’t have resources for booksellers on paid sick leave, health insurance, or wage theft — in an industry famous for its tiny margins — is it an industry you’d recommend joining?
The Cult of "Wrongthink"

If you have a visceral cringe response to Justin Charity's analysis of "wrongthink," you're not alone. Imagine the most frustrating teenage argument you ever had — the one where your buddy or boyfriend twisted every challenge into a personal attack, interested only in scoring points — and you have a perfect picture of conservative discourse today. Nobody's a saint in the current political playing field, but can't we at least be grownups? Silly question, I guess.

The term “political correctness” unites conservatives, libertarians, and vintage liberals in defense of various comedians, rappers, and columnists; and now “wrongthink” unites conservatives and libertarians in defense of George Zimmerman and Alex Jones. “Wrongthinkers” aren’t frustrated with liberals who have somehow failed to discover them, their biases, their anxieties, and their ideas; “wrongthinkers” are frustrated with liberals who have declined to take their ideas and their style seriously in the first place.
The Raisin Situation

Not an inherently funny article, and yet there's something endlessly amusing about reading so many very serious paragraphs built around the humble raisin. The raisin industry! It's cutthroat, backstabbing, borderline illegal. Harry Overly wanted to change all that.

As he tried to make changes in the raisin industry and at his own company, Mr. Overly said he faced intimidation, harassing phone calls and multiple death threats. With his spouse in the last trimester of a pregnancy, Mr. Overly found a note shoved into a crack of his front door that warned: “you can’t run.”

Whatcha Reading, Arthur Wyatt?

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

Arthur Wyatt is a British-born, Seattle-based, writer and computer developer. He's written extensively for 2000 AD, home to Judge Dredd. He wrote about his experiences growing up reading, and then writing, for Dredd, a few years ago for us.

What are you reading now?

In print: Tiamats Wrath, the latest Expanse books. These books totally show their RPG campaign origins by including just about every modern SF trope imaginable, usually in a Hard SF/cyberpunk in space flavor that I like, and this one expands things out with some full on space empire nonsense that I am here for.

Also listening to The Hunger Games, because I’m working on some YA projects and you should learn from the best - plus the kiddo had it as nighttime listening so I could swipe it from her.

What did you read last?

Live Work Work Work Die - basically one guy’s findings from working in tech in hyper-capitalist San Francisco, which somehow manages to be more extreme than working in tech in hyper-capitalist Seattle.

What are you reading next?

The Founder - a different kind of tech capitalism, this time the story of the guy who went from making drive encryption software to being a tech worker to running online pharmacies to bring an international crimelord who eventually got caught setting up multiple assassinations. So good research material for something cyberpunkish, I’m sure, though hard to one up in fiction.

April 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

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

April's Theme: Why Am I Moving Backward

Ok fine YES, the first post-it is the one and only time I’ve ever been on a zip-line and yes that is me, the single special zip-liner who got stuck in the middle. Of the longest line on the course. We all nervously joked about this far-fetched ridiculous mishap that was apparently SO UNLIKELY TO EVER HAPPEN and then at the last minute there I am inexplicably sliding backward— why am I moving backward?? — slipping at increasing speed away from the platform I’m supposed to be landing on— arms left childishly reaching for the professionals who were supposed to catch me there— but didn’t, quite. And now I’m a pendulum, swinging....should we say zipping?....backward....then forward....then backward....forward....until finally stopping in the very middle....of a stunningly vast gap. And know, hanging out. For a very long time. My. Quite. Prominent. Hips. Hanging. In. That. Harness. Full. Bruising. Bodyweight. My tiny distant sisters and father, so far away on that platform, so delighted at my not-arrival there. The guide had to rescue me EVER SO SLOWLY apparently, it’s a SERIOUSLY SLOW PROCESS. The inching along moments make you really aware of your body as bulk. I don’t feel that the guide felt this way about his own body, but I do think we all felt this way about mine. Minutes before this incident I’d been verbally bemoaning the quickness of the zip-line experience, wishing I had more time to enjoy the view. My family reminded me of this fact gleefully after witnessing my impressive feat of backward motion. All told, I think it was quite generous of me to selflessly bestow such joyful memories upon my loved ones. When I asked him why he chose the post-it for publication this month, my still-downtrodden dad paused a long time, then said simply, “It’s a good memory.” I invited him to be this month’s post-it chooser in honor of his birthday, but the second drawing is the only one specifically relating to himself. It’s of my multicolored Turkish lamps, painstakingly acquired over multiple visits to my friend’s home city, all thankfully designated mine in my ex-wife’s division of our stuff and safely arrived in Seattle, now hanging from my ceiling and FINALLY, in the realization of a DECADE-SPANNING DREAM HELD FOR PRACTICALLY THE ENTIRE TIMESPAN OF THIS POST-IT NOTE PROJECT, wired with lightbulbs I can turn on from a switch! Thanks to the kind, patient help of my dad. There’s not really anything else to say regarding the broccoli situation; we don’t need to wallow in it. In case the last image is not as obvious as the clichés that inspired it, with a little help I believe viewers can clearly see I am communicating getting back in the saddle / dipping my toe in. Don’t we all love well-intentioned dating platitudes. In the long run, time has proven I was doing neither of these things.

The Help Desk: Taking the missionary's position

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

Dear Cienna,

Maybe you covered this before, but, if not, I need help. My husband and I read The Poisonwood Bible, and I loved it and he hated it. Sure, you know, individual tastes and whatnot, but it’s more than that. I mean, we disagree over movies all the time and manage to keep it light. But my goodness, he hated it. To me, it read as an affirmation of life and the struggles women have faced, and so when he gets all aggro about how much it sucks and there are no good men in it, so it’s sexist, it’s kind of like he’s attacking me. So, that’s weird. How can I get over myself?

Molly on Magnolia

Dear Molly,

My apologies. I have avoided your question for weeks, much as I avoid questions like “Why do you blame your daddy issues on your mother?” and “What’s the capitol of Minnesota?” — because there is simply no easy answer. You see, I also harbor an irrational hatred of The Poisonwood Bible. Intellectually, I can appreciate Kingsolver’s mastery of having five unique female narrators and, as you pointed out, her focus on the plight of women (not just in this book but others). But yeah, I can’t stand any of her books. I think I suffered a rage blackout for the entirety of Prodigal Summer. I have brought Mrs. Kingsolver as my guest to quite a few book burnings over the years.

That said, your husband’s justification that The Poisonwood Bible sucks because it’s sexist is a hot load of horeshit. Tell your husband books can’t discriminate against fictional men. He can dislike a book for good reasons or no reason at all, but inventing nonsense reasons just makes him look like a turd. (Also, how many popular books, television shows, movies, etc. feature absolutely no relatable, wholly-developed, “good” women in them? Too many to count. If your husband can’t relate to a book simply because of the gender of its main characters, he’s the sexist one.)

But to your question: How do I get over myself? I don’t think you should have to. Your emotional response to the book is what all writers hope for from their readers. You get to treasure that feeling. Your husband didn’t respond to it that way, much as I didn’t. So now he needs to do the polite and loving thing, which is fuck right off and not ruin your afterglow.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Whitesnake

Mail Call for May 2, 2019

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

Portrait Gallery: Urban trails

Thursday, May 2nd: Urban Trails Seattle Reading

Did you know that Seattle has miles of uninterrupted, paved trails stretching as far north as Everett and as far south as Auburn? Craig Romano’s new book is about all the amazing walking you’re missing out on. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Land in spring with a great deal on a shiny new sponsorship!

We have a few weeks open over the next few months for a savvy sponsor to snap up. Our sponsorships can be used for so many things — but the biggest part is that you get your book, event, or message in front of the most passionate readers in the world.

There's more details on our sponsor page, but we'd love to see some new blood trying this effective and comprehensive advertising strategy, all while helping to pay for the columnists and reviewers you see here. So, if you're a new sponsor, we'll knock $25 off the listed price for you to give it a try at a reasonable rate. Sign up here (we'll knock the $25 off on the invoice).

(Pssst, existing sponsors: you're not out. We'll give it to you, too, so don't hesitate to book).

Find out why we have so many repeat sponsors by seeing what happens when you put your work in front of so many book lovers.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Notes on a Free Comic Book Day

As I told you on Monday, this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. You should visit a favorite local comic shop or two, pick up some free books, and maybe buy a few comics, too. Here are some notes on local cartoonists and comic shops for your FCBD:

The BAM exhibition is a bit of a full- circle moment. He’s gone from having a Fantagraphics poster on the wall of his childhood bedroom to displaying the same memento in the vignette titled “MEGG’S SLOW MORNING” at BAM. Megg’s bedroom is a literal mess. The carpet is peppered with various stains, clothes are strewn about and a single slice of leftover pizza sits in the box. The clutter is arresting. In the installation Megg lies in bed as “sentient meat, pounded by waves of futility, unable to move.”
  • And if you don't like the gaudier corporate-comics feel of FCBD, you should for sure check out this showcase of local cartoonists happening on Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Comics:

You can't debunk bunk

Kevin Young's Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News is, in my opinion, one of the most useful books we've discussed in the Reading Through It Book Club so far. As one of our members pointed out, it's a text we'll be returning to time and time again in our future discussions — like The Righteous Mind and Janesville and several others.

Bunk is a historical account of a very particular kind of American con — the loud and boisterous and unapologetic lie, perfected by P.T. Barnum and perpetuated through the years by plagiarists and confidence men and fabulists. What's more, Young ties that lineage of liars and cheats in with America's long history of racism. Our American exceptionalism at hoaxes, it turns out, is a byproduct of America's original sin.

One of the best observations at last night's book club was the recognition that a simple lie isn't enough to make something a hoax. It's not enough to spread falsehoods to make a true hoax: you have to generate a mistrust in the truth, too. By creating an atmosphere in which everything could be false, the most confident liar gets to dictate the reality. It worked for Barnum, and it has worked thus far for Donald Trump.

Young is a great writer — one of the best we've read at Reading Through It. He's funny, his observations are always sharp, and the research he has done for Bunk is truly impressive. (It probably helps that Young is a brilliant poet, too; there's an art to Bunk that no 'mere' historian could summon.

It's become kind of a cliche to complain that sociological book does not provide solutions, but our book club still found ourselves wishing for a second volume by Young titled Debunk — one which provided step-by-step instructions for pulling apart hoaxes. But to employ another cliche, you can't unring the bell of a hoax: once it's out there, it's unstoppable.

The best way to stop a hoax is to kill it before it becomes a hoax, to smother it in truth when it's still just an over-ambitious lie. Occasionally, we'll hear about a hoax collapsing before it even begins — Jacob Wohl, the moronic conservative fabulist, has had several schemes dissolve in daylight, including one poorly attempted hoax this week — but in general, you don't hear about all the tricks that fail to gain purchase.

The fact is, we desperately need to improve our systems of truth-telling and lie-smashing so that they can catch up to the speed of the internet. As Trump has proven, a lie can fly from Twitter to global headlines in a matter of minutes. It's on all of us to be better consumers of media, to learn how to defuse a lie before it explodes in a flurry of shrapnel. In the internet, we have created an unparalleled system of global communication. Now, some thirty years later, we mustprove ourselves worthy of it.

Henry James, Jonathan Safran Foer adaptations coming to Book-It Theatre

Book-It Theatre has announced their 2019-2020 season of book-to-play adaptations. In chronological order starting with fall of this year, the theater company will be staging:

  • EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones
  • THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James
  • THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE by David Wroblewski

You can buy tickets now.

You're a book collector and you probably don't even know it

Rebecca Romney is a principal of Honey & Wax Booksellers, an antiquarian bookstore in Brooklyn. Three years ago, the store founded the Honey & Wax Prize, which Romney, over the phone, explains is "an annual award for an outstanding book collection that was formed by a woman in the United States, age 30 or younger." The deadline for this year's Honey & Wax Prize is June 1st.

Romney explains that prizes for book collections have been given in the United States since at least the 1920s, but that those prizes have more often than not been by and for collections "associated with a university or some other institution." With Honey & Wax, Romney explains, "we were looking to create something that had slightly different parameters" in order to "reach outside of the more traditional methods that people were using."

Romney and Honey & Wax Booksellers founder Heather O'Donnell decided to create an award for collections curated by young women to address the "dismay" in book collecting circles that younger people might not be interested in reading and history and collections. "We felt very strongly that there was interest—it just haven't been gauged by a lot of the rare book trade."

Younger collectors, Romney says, often feel "intimidated" by the antiquarian book trade; they believe that their own collections lack the value of those put together by older or more experienced collectors. And some book collectors, she says, don't even realize that they are book collectors.

"A lot of the women that we sold to were less likely to identify as collectors," Romney says. "We'd be talking with someone about their book collection and we'd say, 'oh, that's such an interesting collection.' And they would say, 'oh no, no, I'm not a collector — I just buy the things I like.'"

A bunch of things you like, Romney points out, is a collection. She and O'Donnell started the Honey & Wax Prize because "we want you to own your identity as a book collector."

The traditional book collecting trade in America is made up of a population that is older than the general population, and pretty overwhelmingly male — or at least the men are louder. There's a kind of ugly machismo in certain book collecting circles — a prickly obsessiveness, a gatekeeping aggression — that turns off younger collectors, and collectors who may not share the same interests as the alpha males in the field.

But Romney quickly found that there's a robust and diverse collecting community in this country. "In our first year doing the prize, we got in contact with a few people who had run book collecting prizes. They told us to expect six to 12 applications of varying degrees of quality."

But that first year, Romney says, "I think we got something like 49 [applications] — way, way more than we expected, from over 20 states."

Those submissions each told a story: "this is my library and I'm really proud of it." Romney says the huge response "gave us a lot of hope. " They were so pleased with the response, in fact, that rather than just one one thousand dollar prize, Honey & Wax gave awards to "six honorable mentions who, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, we were able to give $200 each."

That first Honey & Wax Prizewinner "collected romance novels of the 1920s and 30s." Romney calls this "exactly the type of topic that the people who we might consider traditional collectors would roll their eyes at and say 'who's interested in romance novels?'"

But that collection had a lot to say. Romney says the owner approached the books by "looking at their place in history: what does it say about the career woman narrative in the 1920s? Or what is it saying about women's suffrage, or Prohibition?"

Another collection submitted to the Honey & Wax Prize was dedicated to the Geisha community in Kyoto. But not every one is tied to the distant past. Romney cites another woman who collected public health and safety pamphlets that were distributed in New York City after 9/11.

"If you're going off the beaten path" with your collection, Romney says, "you're probably not going to have as much competition. It doesn't have to be expensive, and you might be creating something of real historical value. Those overlooked things — that's exactly what universities want in order to get that documentation for scholars to study."

Romney urges any book-loving young woman who is eligible for the prize to consider their books in a new light. "Essentially, a lot of us don't even realize we're collecting," she says. "Go and look at your shelves and look for any themes, and you might actually realize, 'I've had an obsession about travel books specifically to Yosemite.'"

"I've had that happen to me too," Romney says. "Suddenly, I look at my shelf and I realize, 'oh, I guess I'm collecting feminist science fiction now.'"

There's a pleasure in learning that you're a collector. "Once you consciously make that shift in your mind, that's going to bring up all sorts of other opportunities. It's just a question of seeing it so that you can take conscious satisfaction in something you clearly already loved doing."

The troll invasion

Comics editor and publisher Michael Davis has been the target of harassment for decades now. And yesterday the harassers upped their attack of Davis — one of the smartest people in comics — with a truly horrifying act. Someone broke into Davis's Facebook page, impersonated Davis's family, and announced that Davis had committed suicide. Davis eventually had to go to the press to prove that he was still alive.

What an evil, ugly act against a fundamentally decent man.

Always low expectations. Always.

Published April 30, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Hugo Meunier’s Walmart: Diary of an Associate .

A comfortable journalist went undercover as a Walmart employee for three months. If you ever worked retail, what he discovers will not shock you.

Read this review now


Ditto, ditto, there, you said it: an absolute wishbone is nobody’s utopia. Obscure, you mirror minnows’ shattered moon. You contain clean veils of milk, a snow or talc as whistle as scissor. Even a faded parachute, lunar and classic, shivers a scintillating shock of chance. But flash back, weary slake, to wavelengths whose celibate pillars skimmed salt’s teacup. That’s where you first reflected nothing. Turnip goose, a beekeeper ghosts your sail, hemming your alpine lace in rays of ridges while a lucid thermometer fireworks in error. After, whispers of gesso fog until you railroad your thaw oracle. Neither port nor pang, yet respiratory in your tentative blizzard of telephone and revolver, you disappear, a faceless keyhole for night-blooming shuttle suds. Unless you reflect, you’ll never lattice, so bludgeon wonder or orbit your meta-ozone to catchlight. Make something of yourself. Make an effort.

We're donating this week's sponsorship to Books To Prisoners

Books To Prisoners has been around since 1973 — that's a heck of a track record that was almost derailed by the Washington State Department of Corrections. If you're wondering where we stand on the delivery of donated used books to prisoners, you can read our interview with Books to Prisoners board member Michelle Dillon. Or you can join us in stating the obvious: it's a good thing when people have access to books. It's a good thing when used books are useful.

The book ban has been rescinded, but we're not on stable ground yet. So this week, the Seattle Review of Books is donating the sponsorship slot to Books To Prisoners. Seattle is an amazing community of readers and writers. This is our way of standing up for those in our community who are hurt by the book ban — and giving our own readers the chance to do the same.

Take a look at our sponsor feature page for more on Books To Prisoners. Follow them on Twitter, sign their petition, or send the cost of a book their way.

We're proud that our sponsorship program is a platform for so many independent publishers, writers, retreats, and events. Our sponsorships are a voice that can be used as you need it to. We're so proud to offer it up as a platform for organizations like Books To Prisoners when they need it. To find out more about our sponsorship program, visit us here or send us a note. We'd love to hear from you!

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 29th - May 5th

Monday, April 29: Women Talking Reading

The premise of the latest novel by superstar novelist Miriam Toews (which rhymes with "waves," by the way) sounds like a gut-punch: eight devout Mennonite women who believe they have been repeatedly sexually assaulted in the night by demons realize that instead they have been drugged and raped by their neighbors. They vow revenge. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 30th: Green Architecture Discusssion

Palestinian engineer and CEO Majd Mashhawari discusses her recycled building-materials startup with Seattle architect Rania Qawasma, who is the "founder of Architecture for Refugees USA and a board member of Architects Without Borders. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, May 1st: Birds of the West Reading

Molly Hashimoto's new book "captures nearly 100 Western species [of birds] using different media, from quick sketches with pen and ink to more carefully planned and vivid block prints." It's a book that will delight birders and inspire artists to look a little more closely at how wonderfully weird birds are. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Thursday, May 2nd: Urban Trails Seattle Reading

Did you know that Seattle has miles of uninterrupted, paved trails stretching as far north as Everett and as far south as Auburn? Craig Romano's new book is about all the amazing walking you're missing out on. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, May 3rd: Commune Magazine Reading

Editors Shyam Khanna, Jasper Bernes, and Chloe Watlington debut the second issue a new magazine that is all about the idea of revolution to overturn capitalism. Commune addresses popular culture and Marxism and everything the kids are into these days. Check it out. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, May 4h: Free Comic Book Day

See our Event of the Week column for more details

Sunday, May 5th: Crypticon

This is the final day of this year's installment of the popular horror convention. More than 5,000 fans of ghastly books, movies, TV shows, and other media will be wandering around scaring each other and being scared. Publishers including Lycan Valley Press and When the Dead Books will be selling their wares all weekend long. SeaTac DoubleTree, 18740 International Blvd, 246-8600,, 11 am, $20.

Event of the Week: Free Comic Book Day

Look, you probably know the drill by now. Free Comic Book Day has become an institution: participating comics shops give away a ton of free comics to literally anyone who drops by, in an effort to draw in new audiences.

The fact is, Seattle is hugely lucky when it comes to comic shops. We've lost a few great ones — rest in peace, Zanadu Comics downtown and The Comics Stop U District — but most Seattle neighborhoods still have a shop somewhere in their immediate vicinity, and that's not common in many American cities anymore.

Why should you visit a comics shop? The odds are good that you already have some favorite graphic novels, so you're familiar with the form. But for me, serialized comics provides a thrill that no other fictional narrative storytelling medium can match. Nobody serializes prose fiction anymore, and serial television and podcasts just don't scratch the same itch. In a world that offers instant gratification in the form of binge-watching and instant downloads, it's nice to have to wait for a month between installments of a story, to read a story as its being created in real time.

And it should be noted that kids love comics — particularly monthly comics, which have a nice transient sense to them. I fell in love with comics because they were so fragile — they didn't have the off-putting air of old, leather-bound books, and you didn't have to be as careful with them. If you ruined a book by accidentally setting it in a puddle of water on a bench in the park, your parents would likely be mad at you. But if you ruined a comic in the same scenario, you'd only be out a handful of pocket change. The disposable nature of the medium, in a weird way, elevates the form.

It's not likely that the stapled, monthly paper comic is going to live forever. The format has too many ties to the old models of publishing, and it requires mass-media numbers to survive, in an age where only niche groups are interested in buying comics. But for now, we have an amazing network of comics shops in this city that are eager to give you a number of comics for free. Why wouldn't you want to take them up on their offer?

The Sunday Post for April 28, 2019

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

This Was Supposed to Be a Story About a Bizarre Anti-Vaccine Rally and a Sedated Bear. Then It Got Weird.

Anna Merlan's coverage of one woman's (not hers) fake news breakdown is pure joy. Merlan's tone is dead-on — deadpan and delighted. The story is nutballs. And at the heart of it all, a nonexistent bear who is not named Ron.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I was working on a quick, weird story about an anti-vaccine activist in Florida who was attempting to hold a rally in her hometown featuring a drugged bear. As it turns out, that’s not the story at all. Here, instead, is a story about someone who worked extremely hard to generate a news cycle involving a rally that they clearly have no intention of ever holding and a real activist who had no idea her name was being used. The bear also seems to be fake, and — despite my initial, hopeful understanding of the situation — is not named Ron.
‘Partly Alive’: Scientists Revive Cells in Brains From Dead Pigs

We don't often go straight scientific discovery on this list, but holy cats! The ability to restore even minimal function to a dead (pig) brain has, well, ramifications, both exhilarating and horrifying. Science is a thousand times more startling than anything fiction can offer.

“We had clear lines between ‘this is alive’ and ‘this is dead,’” said Nita A. Farahany, a bioethicist and law professor at Duke University. “How do we now think about this middle category of ‘partly alive’? We didn’t think it could exist.”
The Moral Order of Panera

One day the executive chairman of Panera Bread woke up and thought: "I could solve food insecurity!" And thus, Panera Cares: a few links in the fast food chain with a pay-what-you-can menu, placed in mixed-income neighborhoods where, presumably, economic boundaries would dissolve and everyone would eat together in dignity and harmony.

It worked just as well as you might suppose. Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein details what happened, and asks an apt but sobering question about our continued faith that entrepreneurial America will save the rest of us.

Is the market a place where we go to solve major social problems? Or is it a place to go while on break from our seasonal job at Target to spend an hour’s pay on a big, floppy sandwich?
The Curious Tale of the Salish Sea Feet

Just one more this week — Kea Krause on the forlorn feet that continue to float to the shore of the Salish Sea, still knotted inside flotation-friendly sneakers, and a "new" way to think about ecology.

Believing we know everything there is to know can cause blind spots in Western science. It may be difficult, for example, when you live in downtown Seattle and work for a tech company, to appreciate that gentle supervision of the land around us is essential to survival. “Because we don’t rely on the land, we are slow to react to what we see as threats,” Nancy Turner, a professor of ethnoecology at the University of Victoria explained about the disconnect between the science of climate change and the governance of our society. But this cognitive dissonance is a construct of colonial thinking and relatively new to a region that’s been inhabited by the Coast Salish people for thousands of years.

Whatcha Reading, Jasmine Silvera?

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

Jasmine Silvera is the author of the Grace Bloods romantic urban fantasy series. The pen name of Rashida J. Smith, who is on the Clarion West board of directors and is a member of the Romance Writers of America, Silvera will be teaching a class tomorrow, Sunday the 28th, through Clarion West on Romantic Elements in Specultive Fiction. Grab a spot last-minute if you can!

What are you reading now?

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s proving to be the rare sequel that might be better than the original (no small feat!)

What did you read last?

I preordered the first novel in the Sixth World series, Trail of Lightning, based on the blurb and the incredible cover last year. By the middle of the second page, I had fallen in love with the world building and the narrator: pragmatic, damaged, powerful Maggie Hoskie. When I’d heard the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, I put it aside to eagerly await the sequel (I’m terrible with unresolved conflicts) Rebecca happened to be participating in a the quarterly SFWA reading series in Kirkland to celebrate the launch of Storm of Locusts last week, so I got to hear her read Maggie in her own voice. I (finally) finished Trail of Lightning Thursday night. Even having read almost twenty books between starting and finishing it during an eight month delay, I fell back into the story instantly.

What are you reading next?

I’ve never been a huge fan of romances about royals, but every entry in Alyssa Coles' Reluctant Royals series has been a delightful surprise. A Prince on Paper comes out on 4/30 and is at the top of my list.

The Help Desk: "Come into my parlor," said the writer to her friend

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

Dear Cienna,

My best friend is a terrible writer. She gave me a draft of her first novel and it’s just unreadable. I can only get a few pages in before I have to make a stiff drink or play a game on my phone or go to sleep. I’ll never finish reading the book. What kind of honesty do I owe her? She doesn’t think she’s the next Margaret Atwood or anything like that, but I suspect she thinks she’s pretty good for an amateur. (She isn’t.)


Dear Anne,

This is why all my best friends are spiders. A faceful of eyes and a groper's paradise of arms, yet they're very lazy writers and readers – they almost universally prefer watching time lapse videos of animals decomposing to books. In fact, it's one of the few things my best friends and my daughter have in common (that and a pact to eat me face first if I die in my sleep).

My point is, your friend should know better than to make you read her manuscript. It would be like inviting you to come watch her practice her tuba for a few hours instead of inviting you to a concert like a decent human being. The only people who are obliged to read writers' manuscripts are other writers. That's what writing groups are for – they are the literary equivalent of a group of spiders watching time lapse videos of animals decomposing. As a crowd they seem to enjoy it, even if it is macabre time waster.

So what do you tell your friend? It depends on how polite you feel like being. I would start with, "It's impressive that you wrote so many words" and maybe end with "but I don't want to read them because they suck."

But again, my best friends are spiders. You could try "... but I don't think I'm your best audience, have you thought about joining a writing group?"

If she really presses you for an opinion, again, be honest: "This is a rough draft, so it's rough. I'll be happy to give it another try once it's published."



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: One of the living

The Portrait Gallery: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

It's Seattle Independent Bookstore Day this Saturday! It's a great celebration, and perfect time to drop by one or five of your favorite local stores. Or, be a hero and do the full 26 store passport stamp, if you're feeling ambitious. Find out more on our Literary Event of the Week column.

Criminal Fiction: Revisiting hometown

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

The gothic-noir force is strong in Greg Iles’ Cemetery Road (William Morrow). Marshall McEwan, recently returned son of Bienville-on-the-Mississippi, has been home just five months after absconding from a high-profile, D.C.-based journalism role, coming home in order to be closer to his ailing father, the publisher of Bienville’s newspaper The Watchman. McEwan has reconnected, adulterously, with his childhood sweetheart, and holds the confidence of the local bookstore owner – a recent hometown-returnee herself – when murder most foul rears its ugly head. Faster than you can say, well, anything, Marshall finds himself tangled in an intricate web of small-town corruption, grafting, Machiavellian manipulation, and familial discord, led by the ultra-shady Bienville Poker Club under whose auspices elitism, racism, sadism, and sexism run rampant. As the dizzying puzzle slowly unravels into its multiple resolutions, the violence tends towards the graphic. But there are also moments of truly serene beauty in the history-rich setting, the unforgiving land-and-waterscape setting, and a bookstore any stockist – and reader – would be proud of.

More gothic elements abound in Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers (Minotaur), at the center of which sits a former Victorian mental asylum, now gaudily transformed into luxury flats. Marianne’s husband surprises her with one of these flats – a second home outside their London base – offering her more time with her ailing mother. Marianne grew up near the asylum when it was known as Nazareth Hospital: her family’s fortunes – everyone in that town’s fortunes, actually – have always been tied to the hospital, which was once the area’s biggest employer. Kelly, a member of the canny Killer Women collective and a practiced hand at inducing pleasurably creepy reading experiences, has been writing terrific psychological thrillers since 2010’s The Poison Tree: in her capable hands, what begins here as an alarm-bell-ringing deception of a husband by his wife evolves into an unabashedly dark tale that throws into sharp relief some of our most critical contemporary issues as well as those of the all-too-recent past.

Chloe or Nicky – which one is The Better Sister in Alafair Burke’s latest head-spinning mystery? Chloe is the OCD-driven, ambitious and highly successful sibling: she’s even nabbed Nicky’s ex-husband, Adam, for herself, along with Nicky and Adam’s son, Ethan. But when Adam is brutally murdered at his and Chloe’s East Hampton home and Ethan is nabbed as the prime suspect, the stage is set for a potential family confrontation that may or may not overwhelm the unavoidable murder trial. Taut-domestic-and-courtroom-thriller aspects aside, Burke is, as always, terrific on the salient cultural details that bring her characters to vibrant life, from social media threads and spot-on Sex and the City references, to Etsy and Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour Rule. All this – plus another appearance from tenacious criminal defense lawyer Olivia Randell – adds up to one hell of a rip-roaring read. (Harper)

Murder hits close to home in Sophie Hénaff’s Stick Together (MacLehose, translated by Sam Gordon). Someone is whacking older gentlemen in Paris and Lyon, and one of the victims turns out to be Commissaire Anne Capestan’s ex-father-in-law. As she and her motley crew of semi-disgraced police detectives do their best to investigate on a restricted budget – in one of the funniest scenes, her colleague uses World of Warcraft avatar software to create an e-fit of a suspect – Capestan has to navigate not just annoying, impediment-producing police bureaucracy but an already tenuous relationship with her former husband. This killing spree is no laughing matter – the murderer is both clever and sadistic – but Hénaff injects delightful shimmers of humor into her novel, imbuing her characters’ lives with a cornucopia of entertaining and tantalizing details, and making the novel’s denouement all the more satisfying.

In Philip Kerr’s posthumous Metropolis (Putnam), during a stiflingly hot summer in Berlin – 1928, to be exact – the Weimar Republic is in full swing as are the city’s sex clubs, bars, and notorious street life. Bernie Gunther, promoted from Vice to the Murder Commission on his way to becoming a full-fledged detective, pursues a series of murder-scalpings of city prostitutes, but something worse is coming: bigotry, racism, and Fascism are on the rise, permeating every element of daily life.

Still reeling, along with most of his fellow countrymen, from his time in the WWI trenches, Gunther drowns his sorrows in alcohol and the occasional dalliance, gets sketched by artists George Grosz and Otto Dix, lends an ear to Lotte Lenya in rehearsals for The Threepenny Opera, and is schooled nicely in the human condition by theater critic Alfred Kerr. In this, Gunther’s origin story – jam-packed with echoes of contemporary alarm bells – he also ventures into the emerging area of undercover work, and beholds some of the more squirm-inducing cabaret activities, the legacy of which is confirmed in Kerr’s Author’s Note: “The Cabaret of the Nameless…reminds me of Pop Idol and anything with Simon Cowell….”

The Quintessential Interview: Hanna Jameson

What do you do when the world as you know it has ended in puffs of nuclear bombs, and you’re stuck in a remote hotel where a murder has been committed? This is just one of academic Jon Keller’s multiple dilemmas in Hannah Jameson’s The Last (Atria), when he finds himself trapped in Switzerland. Having travelled for a historians’ conference, he suddenly finds himself separated from family and friends, and having to create a new way of living with complete strangers. Elements of Lord of the Flies mingle with post-apocalyptic angst, especially when the hotel survivors discover that they are not alone. Jameson, who also writes the London Underground mysteries, lives in London.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

I only have two; my local coffee shop (I always adopt one perfect coffee shop in whichever city I’m living in), or in my bed. There really is no in-between. However, if I was a lot richer I’d do a lot more writing in hotels, lakeside cabins in Maine, and ranches in the Midwest and South. I’ll flesh-out my top five then.

Top five favorite authors?

It varies so much and probably day to day. But right now, off the cuff, I’d say Toni Morrison (who is our greatest living novelist, no competition), Madeline Miller, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, JG Ballard.

Top five tunes to write to?

It’s totally dependent on the project, because each project comes with its own soundtrack and emotional soundscape. Recently it’s been ‘In My Remains’ by Linkin Park, ‘Blood Like Lemonade’ by Morcheeba, ‘Run Boy Run’ by Woodkid, ‘Silk’ by Wolf Alice, and ‘Dona Nobis Pacem 2’ by Max Richter, though I could easily have put Richter’s whole soundtrack for The Leftovers.

Top five hometown spots?

I have a very fluid idea of what my hometown is. Winchester was my home until I was 21 yet I lived in Brighton for almost six years in my early 20s and went through most of the brutal, painful business of growing-up there. I lived in Edinburgh for five months and wrote my most successful book there, finding myself, in a way. London was where I learned the new craft and discipline required to be a screenwriter for a year. They all matter.

That being said, my top five of these places are:

  1. Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.
  2. The Mark Rothko room at Tate Modern, London: I can sit or stand there for hours in the dark looking at those huge canvases. Great place to have a cry and feel things.
  3. Redwood Cafe, Brighton. A cafe that is sadly no longer with us, but I wrote two books there and did a lot of other stuff too.
  4. The Christmas Market at Winchester Cathedral.
  5. By the sea, Brighton.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Superman done right

Some three years ago on this website, I wrote about why Superman is a difficult character to write, and why most writers get Superman wrong. The thesis statement is here:

When you’re writing a Superman story, you’re not trying to find his toughest opponent, or his most difficult physical challenge. None of that stuff—super-speed, laser beams—matters at all. Instead, you’re trying to challenge the idea of morality.

If you'd ask me to name one modern writer who understands that Superman comics need to be an examination of goodness and morality, I'd name Grant Morrison, whose All-Star Superman is one of the first Superman books I'd give to someone who wanted to understand the character.

So far as I can tell, only one other writer in the 21st century has come close to Morrison in terms of understanding why Superman is a compelling character. That writer is Brian Michael Bendis, and he's currently writing the character in both the Superman title and in Action Comics, the title where Superman first debuted over eighty years ago.

The first collected edition of Bendis's run on Superman, The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth, came out back in late February. It immediately demonstrated that Bendis intuitively understands the character of Superman: he's kind, and he's compassionate, and while he doesn't always know what's the best thing to do, he certainly tries to do the right thing every time.

The structure of Phantom Earth is a little bit wonky. The plot involves Earth suddenly transporting to Krypton's intergalactic prison, The Phantom Zone, and it ties in with Bendis's ongoing story involving Rogol Zaar, an intergalactic eeeeevil bad guy who may have wiped out Krypton. (Rogol Zaar is Bendis's biggest misstep in the Superman comics thus far; he's a monster through and through and he's very strong. In other words, he's exactly what a Superman foe should not be.) What seems like a major plot revelation is tossed off toward the end of the book in a jokey fashion that smashes the world-threatening stakes established in the opening chapters. The book is trying a little too hard to impress reader, leaving a sense that it's overpromising and under-delivering.

But it's worth reading Phantom Earth just for the characterization of Superman. He appeals to a super-villain's better nature when she tries to commit a petty crime in the middle of an intergalactic threat. ("Why don't you try helping?!") He never gives up. He worries about setting a good example.

Thankfully, Bendis's Action Comics is at once a great character showcase and a fun Superman story. This is pretty much everything you'd want out of a Superman comic: daily goings-on at the Daily Planet, a mix of villains to fight, a glimpse into what life is like in Metropolis on a daily basis, and an ongoing soap opera.

But most of all, you get a lot of Bendis's Superman. This is a superhero who takes the time to hug and comfort the people he's just saved. He tells them that there's no shame in looking up a trauma counselor. He encourages them to go to the hospital and make sure everything's okay. He makes people want to be better.

Book News Roundup: Deadlines and wiretaps

  • Congratulations to Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna on her Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.
    Claudia Castro Luna was born in El Salvador. She received a BA in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine, an MA in Urban Planning from University of California, Los Angeles, and an MFA in poetry from Mills College. She is the author of Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017) and the chapbook This City (Floating Bridge Press, 2016). She currently teaches at Seattle University. Castro Luna, who will receive $100,000, plans to convene a series of poetry writing workshops and readings along the entire length of the Columbia River, from the point it enters the northeastern corner of Washington to its encounter with the Pacific Ocean, highlighting the importance of this natural resource.
  • To learn more about Castro Luna’s plan, read Brangien Davis’s interview with her at Crosscut.
  • We are speeding quickly toward the deadline to apply for the role of Redmond's Poet Laureate (on April 29th) and the role of Seattle Civic Poet (on April 24th, which is, uh, today.)

  • Here's a Chrome and Firefox browser extension that book-lovers might find handy. If you're looking up a book at an online bookseller, this extension shows you that title's availability at the local library of your choice — in physical, e-book, and audio book varieties.

  • I didn't even know that thesauri needed a defense, but here we are.

  • If you're wondering how not to have Amazon sell your information to contractors, my advice would be "don't own an Alexa-powered listening device in your home," but apparently that's too difficult?

    Bloomberg reported a few weeks ago that Amazon not only records what you say to Alexa but also shares those recordings with contractors. This includes not just the instructions you gave Alexa but also whatever Alexa may have picked up by accident...Amazon shares all that info with contractors, and also gives them a user's first name and Amazon account number, as well as the device's serial number.

"Access to information is not an easy thing to come by in prisons"

Michelle Dillon took a circuitous path to her time as a volunteer and board member with Books to Prisoners Seattle. She studied forensic psychology and evolutionary anthropology before settling on the Master of Library and Information Science Program at the University of Washington. From there, she saw a call for volunteers from Books to Prisoners in the UW Daily.

I thought for sure that I was going to be a public librarian because I thought that that was the population that had the most intense information needs," Dillon says, "and I was completely proven wrong by Books to Prisoners."

Dillon now works full-time at the Human Rights Defense Center, where she fights against censorship in prisons. But the last month or so has been a hectic one for her volunteer gig at Books to Prisoners — particularly since she runs the social media accounts for the nonprofit.

I reached Dillon by phone earlier this week to explain what's happened with the Washington state Department of Corrections' ban on used books, what the status is of the book ban right now, and what you can do to help Books to Prisoners.

How, exactly, did you come to realize that something was wrong?

So Books to Prisoners Seattle started to notice an increasing number of rejections of books from Washington prisons in 2018, and we didn't really have a good explanation why. The [Department of Corrections] wasn't talking to us. So after finally getting sick of it, I starting delving around on the DOC's website in March and finally came across a memo that they had put out that was dated March 12th. It stated that they would no longer be accepting free, used books from nonprofits such as Books to Prisoners.

We've been sending books into Washington prisons since 1973 and we've never had an incident. We sent thousands of books during that time. So we were just blindsided by this, and we pushed back. We started a phone zap [social media call-in campaign] which then ended up becoming a much bigger deal much sooner than I had ever anticipated.

We ended up getting some national coverage from media outlets and a lot of publicity from a lot of authors on Twitter who helped keep this in the public eye. After enough people started getting in the face of the DOC and shutting down their phones and their email inboxes and whatnot, [the public] also turned to Governor Jay Inslee who, the very next week made a public statement saying the DOC really needs to work with Books to Prisoners to resolve this.

Instead of immediately doing that, the DOC tried to double down by releasing a press release that stated there were increasing numbers of contraband incidents, including 17 in 2018 alone, of contraband entering through mailed books. We knew that was bullshit. It's the same line that's been used every single time that a DOC tries to stop the flow of books coming into prisons. It's always about safety and security, always about contraband.

"The Seattle Times got a hold of that list of alleged contraband incidents and, lo and behold, not one of them were tied to the mailed books that groups like Books to Prisoners were providing through the mail."

The Seattle Times got a hold of that list of alleged contraband incidents and, lo and behold, not one of them were tied to the mailed books that groups like Books to Prisoners were providing through the mail. And in fact most of them didn't even involve books at all. A lot of them were just things that came out of this terrible, terrible keyword search for their incident reports for "book+contraband" where they found incidents like, "contraband was found by Officer Booker," or "inmate was booked with contraband."

Finally the DOC agreed to meet with us last Friday, after putting out a partial repeal memo on April 10 that, unfortunately, only included four groups which would be allowed, one of which wasn't even the correct name of a known group. Clearly they hadn't really done their research on this.

So a couple of representatives and some people from the ACLU and some prisoner's advocates met with the DOC on Friday and we are currently in the process of negotiating a bigger, better memo that will hopefully not just rescind the state of access to where it was shortly before they released this universal ban.

Honestly, even that state was not that great, because each prison was allowed how to decide how they wanted to handle mailed books and a lot of facilities were only allowing new books. Even when we would mail in the new books, they were still claiming that they were used books because of bent corners that had been damaged in shipping and all of these other loopholes that basically cut off access anyway.

So we're trying to use the momentum from this terrible botched new policy that they attempted to implement to fight for better, more open, more just, more equitable access for all community groups that want to help prisoners in Washington.

So even though some outlets have reported that the situation has been resolved, the situation is not yet resolved. What do you think the DOC's motivation is in all this? Isn't a reading prison population better than a non-reading population?

We obviously don't know what's going on with the Washington DOC. but I will say that in Pennsylvania they found that their DOC had in fact negotiated a new contract with their tablet provider just months before attempting to institute the book ban, which had changed the commissions that were coming back to the Pennsylvania DOC. It went from a flat commission to incentivized revenue. So if the DOC didn't push enough books through their tablets, they would start losing money.

Given what happened in Pennsylvania, it's not out of the realm of possibility that something similar might be happening in Washington. And what we do know is that right now the Washington DOC has a request for proposals for tablets out. A lot of advocates have been trying to get their hands onto that request for proposal and see what the DOC is attempting to get from any new contract that they might sign. But so far they have been stonewalled.

"…public scrutiny and public shaming has been one of the most effective routes to keeping Departments of Corrections in line."

Okay. All right. That's clarifying. Is there anything that people can do to help you through this process of trying to completely lift the ban on used books in prisons?

What people can do is still pay attention to this issue. Because what we know is that, unfortunately, public scrutiny and public shaming has been one of the most effective routes to keeping Departments of Corrections in line. Without that public eye, they tend to stop returning phone calls, and they tend to stop abiding by these policies and regulations that were set out to keep them in check.

So keep an eye on our Twitter account, which has so far been the most effective way of wrangling people. We will put updates there. If we should need to call upon people to start doing phone zaps again or to start getting higher levels of government involved again, we will need to have a group of people who are committed to acting fast.

I mean, I was blown away by the fact that we got the DOC to agree to a meeting with us in two weeks. That's how committed people have been. And unfortunately, although they would like us to believe that everything has been resolved, we don't have a firm new policy that's going to serve everyone. And now is when we need people to be able to get mobilized quickly.

And in general, now that people are aware of what it is that you do, what can people do to help Books to Prisoners?

We always need volunteers. And we're not the only group who does this, so if there are people who are reading who are not in the Washington area, there are groups all around the country that have a similar mission.

And in fact there are other groups in Washington who are under the Books to Prisoners umbrella. There is Books to Prisoners Spokane, there's Portland Books to Prisoners, which also gets in the Vancouver crowd. We always need volunteers to help read letters and package up books.

We also need financial donations. That cannot be emphasized enough, because we are basically able to send out exactly as many packages during the year as we have money to respond to. We always have more letters than we're able to answer.

We run on shoestring budgets. Here in Seattle we run off an annual budget of about $60,000, and that allows us to send out about 12,000 packages of books every year. Each package of books costs three to four dollars to send, and the rest of the money goes towards rent — which in Seattle is unfortunately not cheap. We need to have an on-site library of books to be able to do our jobs and we need to provide support for our one poor staff member who is contracted at 12 hours a week to help respond to donation requests and oversee all of the volunteer shifts to make sure that we get all of the books packaged up according to prison specs.

People love to give us books — and don't get me wrong, we love to get them. But the problem is our storage capacity. Again, rent is very expensive in Seattle, so we have to prioritize those books which are of utmost importance to us. I guess if people want to donate books, the one thing that we need right now is dictionaries. Always and forever, paperback dictionaries. About 25 percent of all request letters have a request for a dictionary in them.

Most people would never guess that the dictionary, of all things, would be the most requested book in prisons.

It's this humble book that most of us don't even have on our bookshelves anymore because we have the internet, we have libraries, we have bookstores. We just take access to information for granted, and that is not an easy thing to come by in prisons. This is something that I hear all the time from prison librarian friends: no matter how many dictionaries they try to stock, you're never going to as a prisoner be able to walk into the library and find one on the shelf. They are always in circulation.

As you're coming off of this great wave of support, is there anything that you think people should know?

That they should keep their eyes out for other Departments of Corrections who are attempting the same thing. We were able to get a lot of support because Seattleites think of themselves as being a very literary city, and Washington in general thinks of itself as being a very literary state. But this seems to be an unfortunate, let's call it a trend, when it comes to banned books. Other states may not have the kind of coverage and support to be able to respond as quickly to some of these bans, as we saw in Washington specifically. So keep an eye out for other bans in other states because — I hate to say it, but they're coming.

The winning Bastards

Last week, I reviewed Theory of Bastards, a remarkable novel about bonobos, scientific research, and disastrous climate change written by Audrey Schulman. I said that Bastards was the best novel I'd read in months, an actual page-turner of a book that blended literary fiction with sci-fi and anthropological reaearch.

Over the weekend at Norwescon, SeaTac's annual huge sci-fi convention, Theory of Bastards was given the Philip K. Dick Award, which recognizes " a distinguished work of science fiction originally published in paperback form in the United States."

The PKD Award is, in my opinion, one of the most consistent awards of literary merit, which is to say that even if you don't love every award-winner, you will at least find them worthy of your time and attention. So please — don't just take my word for it: Theory of Bastards is something special. Don't sleep on it.

Always Occasional

Published April 23, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country .

As Barack Obama's second inaugural poet, Richard Blanco burst onto a larger stage of American poetry. His latest book examines the complicated relationship between poetry, civics, and citizenship.

Read this review now


so far

Your new favorite blog is by Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has sponsored us before (thank you, thank you, Nicole!), but this is the first time we've turned in her sponsorship copy late. What held us up? She's here to promote her blog, and she sent so many juicy links that we fell down the rabbithole and barely made it back for dinner.

Dieker is the most approachable intimidating person we've ever met. She's a novelist, a freelance writer, a teacher and a speaker. And an editor! Writing about Nicole, you could easily run out of commas (yeah, it happens).

Dieker knows the creative life and what it takes to make money living one, and she's sharing what she's learned through daily posts that are funny, smart, open, and completely without pretension. If you write, edit, teach, or speak for a living — or want to — her blog is exactly the companion you need for the journey. AND she's taking pitches. Hop over to our sponsor feature page for a sample post on the WORK vs. the LIFE, then put her in your RSS feed.

The first half of the year is almost over, and we have just a few sponsorship slots left! Our readers want to be your readers too. Drop us a note so we can hold your spot before the last few slots are gone.

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

Monday, April 22: Poetry on Buses

April is National Poetry Month. This week brings Earth Day. Today, Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit join forces to create an event that celebrates both events at once. As part of the Poetry on Buses program, local poets Jourdan Keith, Patricia Ferreyra, Liz Kellebrew, Paul Mullin, and Simon Wolf will read new work to help unveil a poetry installation at the Northgate Transit Center. Northgate Transit Center, 10200 1st Ave NE,, 5 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 23rd: Poets Spring Forth

Here is an insanely long list of poets who will be reading work at University Book Store to celebrate the closing of National Poetry Month: Christianne Balk, Michele Bombardier, Erika Brumett, Thomas Brush, Joanne Clarkson, Lyn Coffin, Kevin Craft, , Laura Da', Tige DeCoster, Suzanne Edison, Kayt Hoch, Sarah Jones, Carol Levin, Jayne Marek, Robert McNamara, Paul Nelson, Sierra Nelson, Raúl Sánchez, Heidi Seaborn, Martha Silano, Judith Skillman, Lillo Way, and Carolyne Wright. If you can't find someone to enjoy in that list, you must hate the very idea of poetry. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 24th: The Bird King Reading

Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson reads from her latest book, which is set in the waning days of Muslim Spain. Wilson read in Seattle a while ago for this book, but now she's closing out her tour with a Seattle-area appearance. I loved the hell out of The Bird King and I bet you will too. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 25th: Kundiman Showcase

This reading celebrates Asian

American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with Northwest AAPI writers, all of whom are affiliated in one way or another with the great national AAPI poetry organization Kundiman. Readers include Jerome Baek, Dujie Tahat, Diana Xin, Daniel Tam-Claiborne, and Troy Osaki—all Kundiman fellows or friends of Kundiman hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 26th: A night of storytelling with Johnny Moses

Johnny Moses is a Northwest Native Storyteller, which means he shares stories from the Duwamish Tribe in prose and song. Come learn about the history and culture of Chief Seattle's tribe from a locally celebrated author and performer. Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, 4705 West Marginal Way SW,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 27th: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Sunday, April 28th: Much Ado About Mean Girls Reading

Much Ado About Mean Girls is Portland author Ian Doescher's mashup of Shakespeare and the hugely influential Tina Fey-written movie about conflict between young women in high school. I'm all for anything that brings more attention to Mean Girls, even if the movie is maybe more appropriate to be made over into an Austen novel than a Shakespeare play. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 6 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

Every year, Seattle-area bookstores team up to celebrate a very special local edition of the national holiday known as Independent Bookstore Day. While bookstores around the country are celebrating IBD with special events, limited-edition books and merchandise, and snacks, Seattle tends to get a little...extra.

Seattle Independent Bookstore Day features a competition of sorts: if you pick up a passport stamp at every single participating bookstore in the Seattle area — that's 26 bookstores, though you only have to visit one location for local chains like Third Place Books and University Book Store, so it's actually more like 21 stores — in one day, you'll get 25 percent off at all the bookstores for the whole next year. Last year, some 500 foolhardy people completed that challenge, and organizers are expecting more this year.

This Saturday, a pair of new stores are joining Seattle Independent Bookstore Day. First of all, Pioneer Square's beautiful Arundel Books is finally jumping into the fray. They're one of the finest used bookstores in town, and they also partner with a local press that publishes a few titles. And second of all, Madison Books, the sister store to Phinney Books, is officially opening for business on Saturday. (I interviewed Madison Books manager James Crossley late last year during the store's soft opening.)

Each of the stores has their own individual programming, so check with their individual websites for more information. Third Place Books is offering appearances from a slate of authors including Laurie Frankel, Angela Garbes, Eli Sanders, Jill Lightner, Martha Brockenbrough, and more. Ada's Technical Books is presenting maybe the best lineup of the day with a reading from Sarah Galvin, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Emmett Montgomery, and Sierra Nelson.

Whether you visit all 26 bookstores or even just one, it's important to go show up for Seattle Independent Bookstore Day. At a time when corporations are swallowing everything and the perception of infinite choice hides an ever-increasing homogenization of culture, we need these local outposts more than ever. This Independent Bookstore Day, tell the world you care about your neighbors, and your city.

The Sunday Post for April 21, 2019

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

The Metrics of Backpacks

Victoria Gannon is a writer and editor in the Bay Area who tried, for a while, to make a living writing "content" for a technology company. Her account is completely different from the standard-issue tech takedown (which, yes, I'm very fond of posting here). It's tech through a personal and social lens, tech with all of the sexism and none of the shine — full of petty power plays and craft beer as sweet as soda.

On Fridays we have happy hours that begin at three. A service delivers local microbrews to the office. The beers are yeasty and thick, with flavors like peanut butter and oatmeal stout. When the happy hour is announced on Slack, a man will respond by writing “beer” and posting an emoji of a beer mug. Then another man does, and another, writing “beers,” “lots of beers,” “beers, beers, beers,” and then they post gifs of men drinking beer.

I am in a foreign country; these are my hosts.

The Writer as Non-Commodity

Lisa Wells does a lovely job of separating the confusing, mysterious, semi-mystical drive to write and the rather more straightforward desire for approval. This is full of good quotes from writers with surprisingly (to this writer!) well-balanced and healthy inner selves.

What would the writer's life look like if these were the models we learned and followed?

I don’t think these writers are unique in their sense of scarcity. I’m sure scientists, celebrities, entrepreneurs of all stripes, the most talented hairdressers—I’m sure they ride the same waves of warmth and disappointment. Thanks to social media, we now have unprecedented access to all the shit we aren’t getting, all the lists without our names, all the parties we weren’t invited to. And it seems to me, if we hope to have any shot at joy, or at making something of lasting value, we’re going to need to summon uncommon insight in response.
Consider the Golden Mole

If the London Review of Books were Cute Animal Twitter, this is what it would look like: images of a shining, tiny, iridescent mole — and brief but erudite commentary on its evolutionary history. Yes, we just said "squee," both over the photographs and the word "autapomorphic." "Autapomorphic"! Talk about shiny. Follow with this story about the Devils Hole pupfish, in which the environment shows its legal teeth.

The golden mole is not, in fact, a mole. It’s more closely related to the elephant, and though most are small enough to fit in a child’s hand, their bodies are miniature powerhouses: their kidneys are so efficient that many species can go their entire lives without drinking a drop of water. The bone in the mole’s middle ear is so large and hypertrophied that it is immensely sensitive to underground vibrations; waiting under the soil or sand, the golden mole can hear the footsteps up above of birds and lizards; it can distinguish between the footfall of ants and termites. With their powerful forelegs and webbed back feet, they are described by scientists as ‘spectacularly autapomorphic’. They have been like nothing but themselves for far longer than us.

Whatcha Reading, Twitter?

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.

A few weeks ago I asked Twitter to take part in this column. I wanted to throw my favorite three questions to the world and see who responded. Would the answers be different than the (mostly) published writers I normally have in this space? The variety of what you all are reading is really wonderful, and reflected what we always imagine to be the bookshelf of the average SRoB reader. From novels to non-fiction, from environmental to education, from science-fiction to thrillers to YA — nice to see a little of everything here mixed on the collective shelf. Thank you so much to everybody who took part!

What are you reading now?

What did you read last?

What are you reading next?

The Help Desk: How do I made reading the first priority for my second cousin?

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,

When I went home for Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice that my cousin is a terrible father. His son is ridiculously smart. At nine years old, he told me he was interested in studying the Titanic because he enjoyed “the irony of it all.”

But my cousin actively makes fun of his kid for being too brainy, often yawning loudly or complaining that he’s bored when his son talks about books he likes. The most charitable interpretation I can offer for my cousin is that he doesn’t want his kid to be alienated in his rural community for being too much of a bookworm. But there’s not really an excuse.

I moved away from my family because of crud like this, but what can I do to help my cousin’s kid grow up with a love of books?

Steve, Capitol Hill

P.S. Here’s another question: does being my cousin’s kid make him my second cousin? I’m terrible at genealogy stuff.

Dear Steve,

It's a shame your cousin is proverbially pissing on the beautiful gift that is an inquisitive child – especially when studies show that both fathers and children benefit from shared reading sessions. As a new parent myself, I struggle to get my daughter Beatrix interested in books. When I slip them into her cage, she hisses and eventually eats them. At first, I suspected the spiders of feeding her lies about how reading isn't "cool." But perhaps she instinctively knows that the droopy tube sock filled with vaseline and rocks who dines with me each night is no substitute for a father. Or maybe my idiot pediatrician was right and gators are dyslexic (and allergic to tanning spray).

None of that helps you, though – or your jr. cousin jr., which is how I'd pencil him onto your genealogy napkin had Beatrix not eaten my pencil.

I have two suggestions for you: one is cheaper but more work, the other is more expensive but easier.

Here's the cheaper one: Whenever you go to garage sales or used book stores or library sales, buy him books – all sorts of books. Books of all genres and as cheap as they come. Then, depending on how often you venture home to visit family, present him with these hoards of books and watch as his eyes light up and his brain shorts out. (Growing up, I had a family friend who I realize in hindsight was a hoarder but who did this exact thing for me the two or three times I saw her every year and it was the highlight of my childhood.)

If that isn't workable, you could gift him with an e-reader and give him money for e-books on holidays – along with recommendations for your favorites. I prefer physical books to e-books in general, but for a kid who's bullied by his dad, something small and discreet might work best.

Finally, the next time you hear your cousin bullying jr. cousin jr., please stick up for him. Unless he is also equipped with 80 teeth that can fully dismember a goat in 17 seconds, he can't do it for himself.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Erased

Portrait Gallery: Paul Constant

Conflict of interest week continues apace, here at the Seattle Review of Books. As you surely know, our co-founder Paul Constant's debut Planet of the Nerds is in shops now. Turns out, he's never had a portrait from our resident portrait artist. Well, that's something we can remedy.

And mark your calenders: Paul will be appearing to talk about his new series, and the work he's done with one of Ahoy Comic's other titles, The Wrong Earth. That's on Saturday, May 11 at the Elliott Bay Book.

The Future Alternative Past: Gender is a binary: yes or no?

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.

SFFH (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) is a verbal vat boiling over with possible ways of complicating gender categories. The genre even gives out a literary award for doing so — the Tiptree, which is named after James Tiptree, Jr. (70s author Alice Sheldon’s penname).

Foremost among SFFH’s early gender-role questioners is Samuel R. Delany, an out gay black man. In Delany’s 1976 novel Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, citizens of Neptune’s moon switch up the physical manifestations of their gender at will. That Bron, the book’s whiny and unreliable narrator, tries to use this gift to manipulate others into satisfying his desires against their druthers is a source of drama, not an authorial condemnation of the practice. If that isn’t obvious to anyone on reading it, interviews with Delany and his literary track record would back the assertion up. After all, in his first short story, “Aye, and Gomorrah,” Delany arguably anticipated another area of divergence from assigned norms — this time the related norms of sexual orientation — with his depiction of the asexual “Spacers.”

As a Delany disciple, I’ve done my writerly best to represent the fluidity of gender in my own work as well — particularly in my cyberpunk Making Amends stories. In “Deep End” and “The Mighty Phin,” a prisoner is forced to present as a man in cyberspace and denied access to inhabiting a female body. “In Colors Everywhere” takes place on a colony world where gender self assignment is a regular matter of course, from childhood on. And in my fantasy “She Tore,” one of Wendy Darling’s lovers is the shape-and-gender-shifting Tiger Lily.

Four Roads Cross, part of Max Gladstone’s wonderful Craft Sequence, also features gender expression made corporeal via magic. The enchantment responsible for this isn’t the novel’s point — just a milestone in the main character’s career.

That takes care of science fiction and fantasy, and I don’t have any ready examples of horror along these lines. Doesn’t it seem unlikely, though, that fiction which rejects rigid gender assignments would fit easily into such subgenre pigeonholes? Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, for instance, first book in his Machineries of Empire series, reads a lot like military SF — rocket ships, rank, weapons of planet-wide destruction — yet there’s a distinctly supernatural element to it, too. Nebula winner All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is both science fiction and fantasy. Though Gambit implants the consciousness of a long dead man in a woman’s body, Birds leaves gender alone. But both authors are trans, and thus familiar with the boundaries of gender identity and their permeability.

Source and content; subject and background. There’s so much to take into account. So much more than the possibility of subversion of current definitions to investigate. Where should you start? Later in this column I review the most recent book by Rachel Pollack, who like Delany is a genderfloomping veteran. Maybe there. Or if you prefer beginning with newer challengers of the status quo, check out GlitterShip, an audio magazine/podcast of SFFH by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer authors where you’ll find choice stories representing gender in all its fascinating and seemingly endless configurations.

Recent books recently read

Latest in Terry Bisson’s audacious Outspoken Authors series, The Beatrix Gates (PM Press) showcases three Rachel Pollack stories and one essay she wrote exclusively for this book, plus a playful yet revealing interview. Way back in 1971 Pollack “transitioned” (a word she notes didn’t exist at the time) to public acknowledgement of her female identity. With firm grace and poetic candor she confronts changes in language, the ungraspableness of life’s divinity, and the aching hunger we all feel to receive the twin blessings of comprehension and acceptance.

Though slim, this is an expansive volume, a collection of stories burning to be told, yearning beautifully to be read. The mythic straightforwardness of “The Woman Who Didn’t Come Back” and “Burning Beard” perfectly set off the meta-leveled delicacy of the title story, the cult classic “The Beatrix Gates,” which contains a confessional, a fairytale, and a quantum-based far-future extrapolation of the science of self-transformation. Pollack’s comics and tarot-related writings aren’t included in this book, but they’re alluded to in the interview and listed in Bisson’s Pollack bibliography. All serve to illustrate how far the author has traveled and how far she’s willing to help us go.

Miranda in Milan (Tor), debut author Katherine Duckett’s queer sequel to William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, makes of the formerly exiled sorcerer Prospero’s daughter a heroine, and of Prospero himself a power-mad villain. Abandoned by her fiancé Fernando and shunned by Milanese courtiers as a too-vivid reminder of her zombie mother, Miranda seeks refuge in the ducal palace’s secret passages and solace in the arms of her Moorish maidservant, Dorothea. While rooting for the blossoming of their secret lesbian love, I longed in vain for Duckett’s accounts of many of the adventures that fed and watered it.

Couple of upcoming cons

For the third year running I’m recommending that you attend WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention happening in Madison, Wisconsin. Is anyone out there listening to me? Then go. These days no con is without its shenanigans, but WisCon consistently attempts to address its problematic issues and gives voice to those disagreeing with how they’re dealt with. And though my mother won’t be attending this year — she died six-and-a-half months ago — a memorial panel will honor her late-blooming participation in this annual celebration of nonhegemonic fun.

If nonhegemonic fun is what you’re looking for, Balticon is your next best bet. But it’s the same weekend as WisCon, so you’re going to have to pick one or the other. In addition to the requisite panels, gaming, masquerade, art show, and dealer’s room, Balticon offers the three-hour Balticon Short Film Festival and the Compton Crook Award ceremony.Maybe base your decision on airfare? Or maybe on the Guest of Honor line-ups? WisCon’s G. Willow Wilson and Charlie Jane Anders arm-wrestling Balticon’s Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, and Charles Vess — such a tough call.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The barely collected Neil Gaiman

Recently at Third Place Books, I bought a used comic. There's nothing unusual about that sentence. But the comic was written by Neil Gaiman and I'd never heard of it, which is a pretty damn rare occurrence.

Flip past the atrocious Frank Miller cover to the indicia page and you'll discover that Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame was originally published in 2000. Flip even further into the book and you'll learn in the introduction that DC commissioned Gaiman to write Green Flame to close out an anthology title in the year 1988.

Somehow, a Gaiman Superman comic had gone unpublished for twelve years before DC decided to pay artists to draw the book. And then the book almost immediately went out of print after it was published the first time, almost 20 years ago. Given Gaiman's global cachet, this seems like an almost criminal oversight on DC's part.

As a work of juvenilia, Green Flame is a lot of fun. It was written at the very beginning of Gaiman's career, and his dialogue evokes standard superhero fare, not his more literary Sandman comics. These are classic versions of Superman and Green Lantern: clunky, stiff, more than a little bit square.

And the plot's pretty old-school, too — mired in continuity and not necessarily new-reader friendly. Aching from a breakup, Green Lantern seeks out Superman for relationship advice, and the two investigate a mysterious artifact tied to a previous incarnation of Green Lantern. Then everything goes to Hell (literally).

As the heroes progress through the fairly straightforward plot, a few Gaimanisms make their way to the surface of the book. Superman explains that he can't look directly at a magical artifact with his X-ray vision because "it seemed if I could look into it forever." The decision not to show the reader what Superman sees, in a media that is almost entirely devoted to image, must have required some intestinal fortitude, but Gaiman pulls it off, trusting the reader's imaginations — the real special effect in comics — to surpass anything an artist could put on the page.

But the real reason to read Green Flame is to appreciate the differences in the art styles of Gaiman's collaborators. These are stalwart superhero artists: Mike Allred, Kevin Nowlan, Eric Shanower, and more. These artists happily delivered their best work, from Nowlan's dark and creepy exploration of the Green Flame's origins to Jason Little's cheerful, cartoony resolution for the book.

Green Flame could be most charitably described as n early effort, and it is incredibly uneven, though there's real pleasure in watching the collaboration between Gaiman and his very fine artistic collaborators. And watching Gaiman take a stumble on one of his first outings is a genuine thrill. Here is a master of the form just taking his first baby steps into the world.

Mail Call for April 17, 2019

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

The National Book Critics Circle needs your help

National Book Critics Circle president Laurie Hertzel published an open letter asking for literary critics and fans of literary criticism to donate to the NBCC:

Since 1974, the NBCC has offered two kinds of memberships—voting, and non-voting. Voting memberships ($50/year) are available exclusively to working critics and book review editors. Voting members have a say in choosing the John Leonard Prize for best first book, and in selecting candidates for the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. They can nominate their own work for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which carries our only cash prize—$1,000. And they can, of course, attend the annual meeting, run for the board and get further involved in a multitude of ways. We have adjusted our requirements, and you can now join with just one published review.

I've never been a member of the NBCC, mostly due to my instinctual belief in the old "never join a club that would have you as a member" schtick. And if you really want to support literary criticism as a necessary part of the cultural conversation, I'd just encourage you to start reviewing books that you read as a regular practice.

But if you want to support literary criticism in newspaper journalism, supporting the NBCC would be a good thing to do. Simply subscribing to newspapers isn't enough anymore — book review sections of papers are the first to be cut, and book reviewers are seen as expendable in the newspaper business. So donating to the NBCC sends a very specific message to an audience that desperately cares where you're sending your money.

The primate remembers

Published April 17, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway, Hilde and Ylva Østby's Adventures in Memory, Halle Butler's The New Me, and Audrew Schulman's Theory of Bastards .

The books we choose to take with us on vacation can change the way we think about our trips, ourselves, and everything we know.

Read this review now

The blue-collar novelist

Last month, Jonathan Evison was on tour to celebrate the paperback release of his most recent novel, Lawn Boy. When Lawn Boy was first published, I praised the book on this site for its unapologetically blue-collar perspective. It's a novel that is unafraid to address class in Seattle, centering around a Bainbridge Island landscaper named Mike Muñoz who can barely hold his life together under the lingering threat of destitution.

Thanks to its raw class distinctions, Lawn Boy felt unique among all the novels I read last year. It was a book concerned with the same issues that your average American is most concerned about — mainly, work.

On the phone, Evison agrees with my assessment that Lawn Boy sticks out in the modern field of literary fiction. He says he's sick of reading a novel only to discover that "the whole conceit of the book will be structured around the seating arrangements of a fancy wedding in Cape Cod or something."

Evison continues, "I like reading books where people have real jobs." While blue-collar novels are scarce these days, Lawn Boy isn't the only example: Evison praises Northwest novelist Pete Fromm's latest book, A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do, about a carpenter whose wife becomes pregnant with their first child. "It was just so refreshing to read about a guy swinging a hammer and hanging some sheetrock," Evison gushed over Fromm's book. "People with real problems, you know?"

So why are books about ordinary Americans so hard to find? Why are so many novels about people of means? Evison says the "wealth disparity" in books on fiction shelves "speaks to the kind of people that are writing them. In order to break in to publishing, you'll have more of a chance if you're from some kind of money."

And reading has become a pastime for the privileged, too. "I think it's hard to get on the radar of working class people," Evison says. "I think populist fiction is kind of dead." But now that his book is in a more affordable format, "one of my hopes for the paperback is that it can reach a more egalitarian audience," he says.

Evison has worked more than his share of blue-collar jobs — including a stint as a landscaper — but now he's that rarest of beasts: a blue-collar novelist. He doesn't supplement his income with a tenured teaching gig at a prestigious university or a string of high-paid teaching gigs. Novels are his career.

So what's next? "I feel like I'm still learning, and that's the most exciting thing. I'm writing two books right now that I feel are the best things I've ever done." His latest novel is an epic story from multiple perspectives that evokes his earlier Pacific Northwest dynasty novel West of Here. "So much of the book I'm writing now makes me feel like West of Here was on training wheels."

Evison explains, "I've developed so many more tools" to help capture a huge story with an enormous cast. "Now I feel like I've got enough experience. It's kind of like an older ball player where the game slows down and can kind of see it unfolding and they can anticipate better." When you approach writing as a craft — a job that you need in order to survive — you learn how to improve your art without losing touch with the reasons why you're writing in the first place. It's a lesson that most of the the publishing industry could stand to learn.

Book News Roundup: Never go full Franzen

  • Shelf Awareness is hiring a publishing assistant to help coordinate review copies, produce the email newsletter, and other administrative tasks. If you'd like to work in the publishing industry, here's your chance.

  • The Establishment shut down yesterday. The intersectional feminist publication co-founded, in part, by Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo, was drawing over a million readers a month, but it couldn't monetize those readers.

  • Let me repeat: publishers can't turn a million readers a month into any kind of sustainable business model. The internet is deeply broken.

  • You have already heard that yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Richard Powers for his novel The Overstory. Powers is a great, very smart novelist and The Overstory is a very good book. But I do wish that Tommy Orange's novel, There There, had been named the winner of the Pulitzer rather than the runner-up. Powers is in no need of a higher profile, and bestowing the Pulitzer to a debut novelist would have been a powerful statement. Still, the other literary awards — particularly Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom and The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke — seem very on-point. And it's good to see a book from Milkweed Editions on the runner-up list for the Pulitzer for Poetry — Milkweed is consistently one of the best publishers in the US, and they deserve greater attention.

  • Sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe died yesterday. Cory Doctorow wrote a brief but loving tribute at BoingBoing.

  • Did you see Ian McEwan's Guardian interview? Seems the poor fellow Franzened all over himself by blabbing about things he doesn't understand:

There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you. If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.
  • Why is it that when so-called serious white men deign to pay attention to a genre, they have to act like they've discovered it?

But who will review the reviewer?

Published April 16, 2019, at 12:00

A bunch of comic artists review Paul Constant’s Planet of the Nerds .

Turnabout is fair play: Paul Constant has been reviewing books and comics in this town for many, many years. It's time we let people he's reviewed take a crack at his new comic, Planet of the Nerds

Read this review now


This is how it happened: associatively and with feeling. In the trees, I crouched, adhering, quick. There was a bucket, so I kicked it, took a wicked licking at stopgap. My stance steadlong and headfast, I was asked to leave — make my takeaway and say hell no to the hedge. They never forgave the broken plate I refused. No longer their baby, from then on I was B. Somewhere, anywhere else. No risk for the watered, no wear for the warned. Instead of listening, I lessened and lessened, then nothing was left. Nothing to identify or inside me out. Just a bright and liquid surface with no edge — infinity pool tricked out with a system of interlocking sparks. What we tuck away we plug away at in the dark. The clock strikes none, the glass won’t run, interior bonded, bronzed.

Planet of the Nerds is here this week!

Sponsor Ahoy Comics is back to promote our very own Paul Constant's comic debut: Planet of the Nerds. It's a big, fun premise sitting on one of the most beloved tropes of the 80s: jocks are picking on nerds. One jock, in particular, has it out for one big nerd.

Find out what happens this week in the debut issue, and then subsequently each month as the jocks are cryogenically frozen, and transported into today's world, where (sacre bleu!) the nerds are in charge. Read four pages from the first issue on our sponsor's page.

(Because Paul is co-founder of the site, we've also included a disclosure about conflict of interest, there, too.)

When you sponsor us, you put your book, event, or residency in front of our readership of book lovers and industry professionals. And you're helping keep Seattle's amazing community of writers, reviewers, and readers vibrant. Want to join us? Check out rates and dates at

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

Monday, April 15: The Deepest Roots Reading

Local writer Kathleen Alcalá's The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island examines food at the hyperlocal level, using food as a way to explore the region's history, culture, and landscape. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 16: Go Ahead in the Rain Reading

Hanif Abdurraqib's book about A Tribe Called Quest has one of the most striking covers I've seen in a good long while. It also, based on the response the book has been getting online, is a very, very good piece of music writing. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 17: WordsWest

Ilya Kaminsky is a celebrated poet whose next book about his experiences with hearing disabilities, Deaf Republic, will be out soon. Mark Doty is the kind of poet that other poets swoon over. He writes deep and raw poems about his own life that inspire jealousy in all but the best poets. Together, they will read poems at West Seattle's best reading series. C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 18: New Suns Reading

Our own sci-fi columnist, Nisi Shawl, has edited a new anthology titled New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. It features work by writers including Seattle-area genius E Lily Yu, along with Indrapramit Das, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Jaymee Goh. The book also features an introduction by...maybe you should sit down for this...Levar freakin' Burton!

University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 19 and Sunday, April 21st: Bibliophilia

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

Saturday, April 20: Bushwick Book Club: The Parable of the Talents.

The local organization of local musicians, which translates books into original songs, takes on one of Octavia Butler's very best books. Guest-curator DJ Riz Rollins selected musicians for the evening, including JR Rhodes, Om Johari, Tiffany Wilson, Okanomodé, Reggie Garrett, and Nikkita Oliver. This one is going to be special. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave S., 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bibliophilia Storytelling Festival at Hugo House

The fourth annual Bibliophilia Storytelling Festival is the rare literary festival you can attend from beginning to end. It only stretches over three days, and it all takes place at Hugo House. It's a presentation of Word Lit Zine, the magazine produced by Seattle storytelling dynamo Jekeva Phillips, and it incorporates multiple media into the fun. Events include:

I often hear authors complain that the reading format has grown stale, that nobody wants to see someone stand onstage and read a wall of text to a crowd. They're wrong, of course; people still love to attend readings. But it's fun to get some creative people into a room and reimagine ways in which literature can interact with other arts, too. When you experiment with two potent forms like literature and theater, you're likely to invent something interesting along the way.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, April 19th - 21st.

The Sunday Post for April 14, 2019

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

The American Worth Ethic

How does Rain City become Tent City? In part, says Bryce Covert, through an American ideology that links wealth to virtue, poverty to indolence, and assigns benefits accordingly. Fortunately we now have a Commander in Chief who is visible evidence that money and power are an outcome of ingrained prejudice and privilege. And cheating at golf.

Our country has a history of only offering public benefits to the poor either deemed worthy through their work or exempt through old age or disability ... Largesse for the rich, on the other hand, has rarely included such tests. No one has been made to pee in a cup for tax breaks on their mortgages, which cost as much as the food stamp program but overwhelmingly benefit families that earn more than $100,000. No one has had to prove a certain number of work hours to get a lower tax rate on investment income or an inheritance. They get that discount on their money without having to do any work at all.
The Death of an Adjunct

Thea Hunter worked hard — very hard — but unfortunately didn't know how to cheat at golf (see above), so did not benefit from the job opportunities and health insurance that accrue to those who do. Adam Harris explains how an injustice-weakened academic system took her from a "pioneering" researcher, with a world of opportunity, to the hospital bed where she died.

Had she been tenured, she would have experienced a sort of security that tenure is designed to provide: a campus office of her own, health insurance, authority and respect with which to navigate campus bureaucracy, greater financial stability. Without tenure, she was unprotected, at the whim of her body’s failings, working long hours for little pay, teaching large survey classes outside of her area of special expertise. As Terry McGlynn, a biology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Full professors benefit from the exploitation of non-tenure-track instructors.” Adjuncts often do the work that other professors don’t want.
Behind the Process of Helvetica's 21st Century Facelift

So delightful that someone like Charles Nix, who led the recent Helvetica redesign, exists — to care so deeply and unreservedly about smoothing out the ragged edges of the world we read through.

There are moments in your life when you suddenly understand the concept of joy. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about it, but the first proof that we pulled off Helvetica Now micro was one of those moments of my life. Like “Oh my god, the theory is true.” Every hypothesis we had about how a micro type could be made more legible, how it could preserve the impression of Helvetica, it played out.

And I just remember reading 3pt and 4pt type and thinking it’s a marvel because Helvetica always died at 6pt for me. It died at 7pt or 8pt because of the closed apertures, because of the cramped forms and tight spacing. Having it suddenly be incredibly legible at 3pt is one of those moments where the skies open up and the angels sing.

Instead of shaking all over, I read the newspapers.

Colm Tóibín writes with great eloquence about Colm Tóibín's balls. (Also an eloquent account of being surprised by cancer, told with dry wit that does not at all obscure the misery and terror of the experience.)

In those ten minutes, as the pain became so intense that I actually believed I was going to have a baby, I imagined appealing to the pope to let me through. I would apologise for all the rude things I have said about him. I would take back the assertion that he doesn’t mean a word he says. I would withdraw my view that at least we knew where we were with the previous two. With Bergoglio, no one knows where they are. I would tell him that I was sorry I had said this and would promise to be even more emphatically and eternally sorry if he let me through. This kept me busy as the throbbing pain became more and more unbearable. Finally, the nurse called back and told me to get the oral morphine I had used before. She told me exactly how much I could take. If the pain was still there in an hour, she said, I was to call back.
The key to glorifying a questionable diet? Be a tech bro and call it ‘biohacking.’

We've watched tech worship change our city, gut our nonprofits, and clutter our streets with construction and a plague of mid-lane Uber parkers. Now Jack Dorsey and his ilk are disrupting dysfunctional eating? Here's to a world that responds to this the way it should — with an eye roll and a Twitter log-off.

It’s both thought-provoking and aggravating to think about how tech bros have managed to hijack the whole dieting concept. To move from “you’ll never guess how many calories are in just one of these,” to “the experience I had was when I was fasting for much longer, how time really slowed down,” as Dorsey said in his interview.

One wants to grab him by the hoodie strings and bellow, “that’s not mental clarity, my good man — that’s starvation.”

Whatcha Reading, Clare Johnson?

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.

Clare Johnson is a Seattle-based (and Seattle native!) visual artist and writer. Her writing has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Shake the Tree, and Raven Chronicles. And, of course, we feature selections from her long-term auttobiographical Post-It Note Project each week on our Instagram (there's always lots more to see on her Instagram). She has a few posters of the project available — contact her through her website for details.

What are you reading now?

Answering this publicly brings up some real insecurity, a quick gulp of seriously, what AM I reading??? Seeing other writers’ answers is always a little intimidating; before agreeing to the column I had to do some mental checks about whether I could answer truthfully and still maintain any semblance of dignity. Upon consulting my conscience, I decided to be bold and disclose I’m currently reading Waterlog, by Roger Deakin. A close friend sent it as a surprise random February gift, recognizing it as a weirdly perfect observation so astute that my ex-wife had also given it to me over a decade ago, back when we were together in England and I was longing for places to swim outdoors. My reading habits are fickle and slow, confusing to even myself, so despite agreeing that this book seemed written exactly for me, I also had still never gotten around to reading it. The sweetness of my friend’s gesture made it newly urgent and special, so I started the newer copy. Big surprise, if you are me, this book about swimming in the British Isles is ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY DELIGHTFUL. The author travels all around the UK, and just, you know, goes swimming everywhere. And talks about it A LOT. Being immersed in his nerdy enjoyment of each swim’s specifics is the perfect antidote to living in the season where I can’t swim outside every day. It’s dense with water-centric British vocabulary, validating the now-invisible part of me that became an adult there, with Deakin wandering in a strangely natural way into fascinating quirks of history, place, politics, community and lost landscapes, even mystery (what happened to all the baths in Bath...?). I cannot get enough of this.

What did you read last?

A mixture of books, but not in a glamorous “I’m such a good reader” way—more in a haphazard, “I don’t have a good reading routine set up in my normal life” way. Despite loving reading, I’m pretty slow to finish books. Reading at bedtime is hard on my insomnia, and I’m still working on treating reading during the day as a valid part of my work, rather than a crazy indulgence. I am also DEEPLY COMPELLED to re-read everything, further slowing my progress on new stuff; I recently re-read Alys, Always, the first novel by (my former student!) Harriet Lane. I can’t get over how real her prose feels—descriptions of characters, feelings, and especially the North London setting are all shockingly spot-on, like her words found a silent part of me, perceptive and concise in that clever “yes! exactly!” way, yet sneakily unlabored-feeling. She also pulls off a masterfully subtle character twist that floors me every time. Mixed in there I also read Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’, a little late (I bought it at her BREATHTAKING book launch last November) but uncharacteristically fast—collected, her poems make arresting page-turners. Like a series of perfectly executed moments opening clear-eyed cracks in the brutal vastness of erased histories, delicately, determinedly, isolated but also gathering unspeakable heft. I already want to re-read it back-to-back with her first book, Tributaries. I also just finished The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco; my parents gave it to me for Christmas with a tag saying “Can’t remember what this is exactly, maybe you asked for it or know why we’re giving it to you?” I had no prior knowledge of this book, but guys, my parents know me well. Inspecting its jacket, their reasoning was instantly clear to everyone. This novel is like Deadwood meets 1880s Port Townsend....but starring an unstoppable queer biracial gender non-binary Pinkerton Agency Women’s Bureau former detective!!!! ALSO SUCH RUTHLESS WOMEN. Not a feel-good read exactly, and definitely not for the faint of heart—every chapter could be titled More Injuries For The Main Character. That said, someone please make a movie of this ASAP.

What are you reading next?

Well apparently I need to figure that out. Sublime Subliminal by Rena Priest has been waiting patiently in my stack of please-pay-attention-to-me-NOW books on my bedroom floor. Reading with her at Lit Crawl was such an honor—her poetry feels uniquely friendly and fierce, cunningly playful and also urgently serious. In a confusing juxtaposition, Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked is also in that stack, and may win because I impulsively borrowed it from someone who probably didn’t realize how long it takes me to get my act together, reading-wise. I was staring at their bookshelf all through a game night, noting a serious Nick Hornby section—including two copies of this (maybe I’m embarking on a project of only reading books people own two copies of?). I got curious to see how I feel about Hornby as a grown-up. It sounded fun—I have memories of laughing out loud reading About a Boy in my freshman dorm room — but now I also recall an itchy sadness — and just overhearing the movie version of High Fidelity a few months ago made me unspeakably grouchy. Now I’m nervous the generous book owner could be reading; don’t worry, I do always return everything! At the same time, lately I’ve caught myself longing to re-read (for the 5th time?) The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter. It’s billed as “an erotic murder mystery” but key to know is the hard-boiled ex-cop-turned-private-eye is a dyke, and the whole thing is Written. In. Verse. Some of my favorite poetry ever. It’s also past time for another Easy Rawlins mystery by Walter Mosley; life is better when I read at least two a year, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown is up next. If you haven’t read this series STOP EVERYTHING AND GO DO IT. Flawless plotting and atmosphere, jaw-dropping sentences, a joy to read and yet also leanly un-frivolous, interweaving the worthy ugly questions of our flawed country into every piece. I mean, but this is all just my opinion. It’s ok if you don’t like what I like.

The Help Desk: "Funny" books are not

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,

What's the one thing that will ensure that you never buy a book when you see it on the new releases table at your bookstore?

Capitol Hill

Dear Deborah,

How kind of you to ask. I love discussing my pet peeves as much as Beatrix, my exceptionally gifted daughter-gator, loves playing "Got Your Nose!" with kittens.

Pet peeve no. 1: I won't buy books with jacket blurbs that compare the author to a more famous author that I like — I'm routinely disappointed by the comparison and I think it's a lazy shortcut to get people interested in a book. Pitch the book on its strengths, not someone else's!

Pet peeve no. 2: I would rather let ravens pluck out my eyes than read a book that is classified as "humor" or shelved in the "Humor" section of a bookstore, which some stores have. Calling humor a genre is like calling the sun a chandelier: stupid. It's not a genre and the books that are typically shelved there are about as funny as watching Beatrix try to give a kitten back its nose.


Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Mush

Portrait Gallery: The Sound and the Glory

Matt Pentz is a local sportswriter. The Sound and the Glory: How the Seattle Sounders Showed Major League Soccer How to Win Over America is a book about our soccer team, which has been an example for other American soccer teams. He'll be reading Thursday, April 11 at Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Shields up

Published April 11, 2019, at 12:00pm

Ivan Schneider reviews David Shields’s Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump .

Is it fair that David Shields has become Ivan Schneider's beat? He used to talk about Cervantes, but now he needs to remind us of that time we neglected him. Sorry, Ivan! Anyway, here is Ivan looking at Shields book about Trump, which isn't even his latest.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: Politics as character development

A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Tacoma cartoonist Peter Bagge and former Seattle cartoonist James Sturmp onstage at Elliott Bay Book Company. Bagge was in town to promote his third in a series of biographies of notable American women from the late 19th and early 20th century, Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story, and Sturm was here to talk about Off Season, a fictional account of a relationship falling apart against the backdrop of the 2016 election.

As a frequent moderator of multi-author discussions, I try to find a tie between the books and authors, but finding a thread between these two books is pretty tough. One is fiction, the other is non-fiction. One is heavily researched, the other began as a series of formal experiments. One is deeply funny, the other feels like a tragedy.

But eventually, I did find my tie. Both books employe politics as a kind of ambient soundtrack in the background of the stories, and politics plays a very important role in the lead characters' inner life.

In Off Season, the protagonist — an angry and alienated man — becomes more and more attracted to Trump as his chances for reconciliation dwindle. He looks back fondly on the days when he and his significant other were both Bernie supporters; now the divide between them is huge and widening. The closer he gets to Trump, the more we despair for him.

And in Credo, Lane's lifelong struggle in what was likely an undiagnosed case of manic depression or bipolar disorder includes politics when it flares up. Lane became a noteworthy libertarian who wanted the government to leave her alone, and the more political she gets in Credo, the more lucid she becomes.

The choice to employ politics as a background buzz in a comic might offend a few purity-obsessed true believers, but it really makes a special kind of sense. So much of what we say and who we are is now tied up in our politics, after all, that it's become an identifier of everything about us. Tell me how you voted in 2016 and 2018 and I'll likely be able to tell you where you shop for groceries and how you feel about religion. Why wouldn't' a writer want to include that information in story?

The risk, of course, is that Credo and Off Season run the risk of scaring off half the potential audience. It's possible that right-wingers might be offended by the portrayal of a Trump supporter, or that left-wing audiences might be turned off by Lane's libertarianism.

But honestly, I don't think so. Just as in politics, it's lunacy for cartoonists to aim broadly for an audience of "everyone." The audiences Sturm and Bagge want to reach with these books are likely the same audiences they always reach: thoughtful people who trust great artists and are eager to examine the ideas those artists want to explore. That audience is going to love the everliving fuck out of these two books.

Meet the Seattle area's newest publisher, Silent Academy

Even in a region as literate as the greater Seattle area, new publishers don't pop up every day. So when I heard about a new small press called The Silent Academy launching out of Port Townsend this summer, I had to investigate further. What kind of person, in the year 2019, is launching a publisher of poetry and experimental literary works?

It turns out that Andrew Shaw, Silent Academy's publisher, doesn't sound like a fool or a wide-eyed innocent. Instead, he's a globe-trotting former radio and print journalist who has been publishing poetry for most of his adult life.

But as Shaw watched journalism turn into an online-native endeavor, and as his role changed "from a freelancer to staff writer and an editor and then a director of content," he saw the importance of writing take a back seat. Journalism, he says, "become less to do with what I'm in love with and everything to do with selling advertising units or securing revenue streams, and that's the fastest way to kill any kind of art."

"So I quit my job," Shaw says, matter-of-factly. "I concentrated on doing some writing of my own and I was speaking with a friend — writer/artist/musician and inventor Bill Drummond, who has the most fascinating Wikipedia page on Wikipedia." Shaw told Drummond that he was feeling burnt out and lost and Drummond replied, "just do what you do, but do it for yourself."

Shaw had made the move to Port Townsend about four years before, after he and his wife fell in love with the region. "I don't want to be anywhere else now," he says. But is Port Townsend, which is also home to the amazing Copper Canyon Press, big enough for two poetry publishers? "Yeah, definitely," Shaw says, without missing a beat. He's a fan of what Copper Canyon does. "They remind me of Sub Pop — they're small, but they're huge. The Pacific Northwest does seem to nurture and sustain the niche," and Shaw believes that The Silent Academy will find its own niche just fine.

Shaw says Silent Academy's mission statement "changes every day depending on who asks." But if you press him for a moment, he elaborates: "I like the idea that what we want to give people things that they've not seen before, but also provide a home to writers and artists with the freedom to make mistakes and to not necessarily worry about a template of what previous success may have looked like."

"We want to show the accessibility of poetry rather than have it seen as something beyond the normal," Shaw says. This summer, he'll publish Silent Academy's first collection, as well as the first wave of an ongoing series of pamphlets. He plans on publishing just a couple books a year to start, along with three pamphlets every quarter.

Silent Academy is unabashedly analog: "Everything's going to be physical," Shaw says. Ask him what book he wishes Silent Academy had published and he gives two very different answers: first, he's a fan of the "surprising" nature of John Lennon's "A Spaniard in the Works and Garcia Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love, which he says is "exquisite beyond measure."

Ultimately, Shaw believes his art is about planting a flag in the ground and making a statement. "I like the idea of presenting something, rather than actually having a straight debate. So, you know, if you are against tyranny, don't fight tyranny — make something beautiful." As a publisher, Shaw says, he wants to make something "that's counter to the hideousness of what's currently going on. To have joy is an act of resistance."

"That's our mission statement for right now," he laughs.

Born in chaos

According to biographical materials supplied with her first poetry collection Give a Girl Chaos {see what she can do], Heidi Seaborn had a whole life as a traveling executive before she returned to poetry, in the form of a Hugo House class, just a couple years ago. After years of not writing anything of literary merit, the poems seemed to pour out of her.

Chaos is a collection that feels like a memoir. Most of the poems are built around a single moment — a swarm of butterflies surrounding Seaborn, say, who "flirted/with eyelashes/fingers/then flew to Mexico" and set squarely in a very specific place. These are shards of memories from a long and adventurous life.

Seaborn floats in the Dead Sea and stands in line for bad food in East Germany and travels by motorbike through Nepals. In between each poem, it's easy to picture a plane towing a thick red line from city to city across a giant globe, Indiana Jones-style. Part of the joy of flipping pages through Chaos is looking around to see where she's taken the reader now.

Seaborn has a poet's eye; she can find something remarkable in any given moment. You get the sense that even had she stayed in Seattle for her whole life — even if she never left city limits — she would have a book of intense personal poems to share with the reader, and they would be just as fascinating as this travel-heavy volume.

The language here is vibrant and, often, unforgettable. One poem begins with one of the briefest summations of childbirth I've ever read — but one that is as evocative as any I've ever read, too: "—awful scream/& I was done/& it was human." Later in the poem, she sees her baby with his "eyes open/flash of fish under water." The primal visions of childbirth, of making something from nothing, has rarely felt so vivid in so few lines.

It's perhaps a bit obvious to say about a book of poetry from an author who has only been writing for two years or so, but some of Seaborn's writing could use a little refinement. She refers to "playing opossum" in an early poem, for example, which is a cliched arrangement that lacks freshness. A poem about the ocean includes "scuttling" crabs and "the sea claim[ing] its birthright" and several other exhausted words and phrases. Poetry should never lean on those same words that everyone else relies upon for daily use; the whole point of a poem is to give us new toys to break and burn. In Seaborn's enthusiasm to finally land these poems on the page, she allows a few easily dodged cliches to slip through, and the book is the worse for it.

But these are not deal-breakers; Seaborn's poems take us places and expose us to thoughts we've never quite seen in a poem before. She gives us an argument that materializes in the form of gypsy moths:

Their dusty wings powder my hair

before drawing to the light.

Burning bright, singeing wings.

Who hasn't expressed themselves with hateful words that explode into dust and leave trails of fire across the sky? These are the words that hurt, from before they're spoken until well after they've stopped reverberating in the air. This is the power that Seaborn has — an eagerness to reveal new ways to see a world that feels as ancient as language itself. We're glad that she's, finally, arrived.


(Side-scroll to see full lines)


Little birds that can sing and won’t sing should be made to sing.
                  Abroad one has a hundred eyes.          At home not one.

There is a witness everywhere.
                              Keep your purse              and your mouth              close.

Words and feathers the wind carries away.
                  What cannot be cured must be endured.

One must howl with the wolves.
                              When the heart is full                      the tongue will speak.

Little birds that can sing and won’t sing should be at home
                  Little birds that can sing and your mouth close.

Keep your purse and a witness close.
                              Keep your words and feathers and your mouth be endured.

Keep birds abroad and feathers at home.
                  At home                      not one feather will sing.

At home            the wind has a hundred eyes.
                              There is a witness abroad                      the wind at home.

Keep your wolves and your cannot close.
                  Wolves should howl                      must be made to sing feathers.

Should your feathers close                           the wolves will speak.
                              Little wolves that can speak witness everywhere.

Little wolves that can bird and won’t bird should be made to bird.
                  Little birds that can sing should be made               wolves.

Little birds that can howl the wind carries away.
                              Words and birds the wind can sing.

Words and birds and your mouth close.
                  One must close when the heart is full.

One cannot sing with a mouth close.
                  One must howl                      one must sing.

Keep your must and be made to should.
                              Keep your must                      the heart will speak.

Abroad one has a hundred eyes                    at home words and feathers.
                  Abroad one has a hundred eyes                   words cannot be cured.

One cannot speak with a mouth full of feathers.
                                              One cannot speak with a mouth that can sing.

Feathers cannot be made to sing.
                                                                  Feathers cannot tongue the heart.

Keep your heart and your eyes close.
                                              Keep your words and your witness everywhere.

Little birds that can sing the wind carries away.
                  What cannot be feathers should sing and must howl.

What cannot be feathers must be little wolves.
                              Words and feathers must be endured.

Little won’t has a hundred words and should be made to must.
                  Won’t sing a hundred words                      and should not one.

Won’t is a witness everywhere.
                              Won’t cannot howl with the wolves.

Keep your won’t and your should close.
                                                            When the heart won’t the tongue and purse will.

When the heart won’t the words and feathers should.
                  Won’t is at home                 abroad one is made to.

Won’t your mouth close and your wolves full.
                              There is a full mouth everywhere.

Won’t                      speak                      of little                       wolves.
                  Little birds that can witness and won’t witness should be made to witness.

There is a full purse                      and a tongue is your witness.
                              Words and feathers tongue the witness.

Keep your tongue and your mouth has a hundred eyes.
                  Keep your hundred eyes with the wolves                      and howl.

Wolves and feathers the wind carries away.
                              Witness your everywhere and keep wolves close.

Keep your mouth full of little birds.
                  Little birds                      when the heart is full will speak.

When the howl is full                      the mouth will close.
                              When the mouth is close no howl carries.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 8th - April 15th

Monday, April 8: The A List Reading

Seattle mystery author JA Jance is very likely the biggest-name novelist in Seattle right now. Today, she comes to town with one of her Arizona-set books, about revenge and a dead friend and an evil doctor. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 9: The Future of Humanity Reading

Wildly popular science writer Michio Kaku is back on the book-writing game. Tonight he'll be reading from The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. It's supposedly a more optimistic view of the future than the one you've had in your head for at least the last three years. Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave, 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Wednesday, April 10: Cannabis Reading

Cartoonist Box Brown's latest book, Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America is the history of how a beloved narcotic was criminalized. Tonight, Brown will appear in conversation with fantastic local cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. Brown is doing another event in town to talk about the pot side of the book. This should be a fascinating conversation about the craft and art of comics. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 11: Indigenous Futurism

Portland State University professor Grace L. Dillon will discuss "Native-centered worlds liberated by the imagination" through utopian visions in novels, film, and other media. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 1st Ave, 625-8900,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 12: The Sound and the Glory Reading

Matt Pentz is a local sportswriter. The Sound and the Glory: How the Seattle Sounders Showed Major League Soccer How to Win Over America is a book about our soccer team, which has been an example for other American soccer teams. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 13: The Best We Could Do Reading

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

Sunday, April 14: This Life of Mine Reading

Anne Phyfe Palmer is the founding force behind Seattle's popular 8 Limbs Yoga Studio. Her new book is a journal intended to help people capture the unique elements of their own life stories. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Reads The Best We Could Do

Last week, I raved about this year's Seattle Reads selection, Thi Bui's graphic memoir The Best We Could Do. The book, about Bui's family's evolution from war-tossed citizens to refugees to Americans, is a fantastic answer to the kind of questions that lazy comfortable Americans ask about immigrants: why do they come here? Why don't they stay home?

The book is very clear: they don't stay home because home doesn't exist anymore. But Bui does impressive work moving between the macro and micro views of her own story. This is at once a sweeping story of immigration and a closely drawn portrait of a family struggling with a cycle of neglect and abuse and heartbreak. Last week, I wrote that "Like most family histories, [The Best We Can Do] spins forward, then backward, then forward in time again."

Bui will appear all over town this week as part of the Seattle Reads program. There are book group meetings to discuss the book in Magnolia and Columbia City and Northgate Community Center.

On Saturday night, Bui will read at the central library branch downtown, along with a staged reading of the book with local theater luminaries Susan Lieu and Kathy Hsieh. There are also special meetings for low-vision readers and seniors as well. It's almost harder to not attend one of these events. I recommend that you do; this is the kind of book that will make you think differently about your neighbors, in the best way possible.

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

The Sunday Post for April 7, 2019

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

Free Indirect Suicide: An Unfinished Fugue in H Minor

Any excerpt I pull from this stunning, humbling essay by Seo-Young Chu will mislead you. So it's a question of which wrong direction to lead you in, hoping you'll follow it to the whole. The emotional force of this piece is crazy intense; the formal imagination is crazy good.

[No, I truly can't pick an excerpt that will do this justice. Just read it. Go!]
On Flooding: Drowning the Culture in Sameness

Soraya Roberts has so many good points in this article about the sameness of the media we consume (ugh! I mean: the words we read, the television and movies we watch, the art we look at). Somewhere in the muddle between "content creation" and "content curation" and algorithms that choose our preferences for us, we're losing the voices we'd most like to hear.

Now what?

The irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.
Wading Through the Sludge

What's the cost of paperwork? Maybe the right to vote. Maybe access to an education. Maybe the ability to feed your children or keep them housed. Cass R. Sunstein on the burden of red tape, and who carries the real weight of it.

For paperwork burdens, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler has coined a good term: “sludge.” You might want to sign your child up for free school meals, but wading through the sludge might defeat you. To get financial aid for college, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s long and complicated; many students give up and fail to apply to college at all. The right to vote may be the most fundamental right of all, but if the registration process is full of sludge, a lot of people might end up disenfranchised.
Wading Through the Sludge

What's the cost of paperwork? Maybe the right to vote. Maybe access to an education. Maybe the ability to feed your children or keep them housed. Cass R. Sunstein on the burden of red tape, and who carries the real weight of it.

For paperwork burdens, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler has coined a good term: “sludge.” You might want to sign your child up for free school meals, but wading through the sludge might defeat you. To get financial aid for college, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s long and complicated; many students give up and fail to apply to college at all. The right to vote may be the most fundamental right of all, but if the registration process is full of sludge, a lot of people might end up disenfranchised.
The Chinese Burner

What happens when China's tech elite attend Burning Man? Science fiction writer Chen Qiufan's observations from the desert in Utah. The tidbits about his experience at the event are interesting, but even more so is the insight into the tech giants of a dramatically different culture.

In the past twenty years, the Chinese tech industry has experienced explosive growth. Terms like _langxing_ (“wolf instinct,” as in _The Wolf of Wall Street_), _yeman shengzhang_ (“savage growth,” as in, “That was savage, man!”) and _jiangwei gongji_ (meaning a blow so powerful that it flattens your opponent from three dimensions to two dimensions, from the famous sci-fi novel _The Three-Body Problem_) have become popular among Chinese tech entrepreneurs. They act as the first generation of pioneers journeying into the virtual New World. They imagine themselves as packs of wolves in the Mongolian plains who can only survive and emerge victorious through bloody combat, incessantly stalking new territory and prey.

Whatcha Reading, Amaranth Borsuk?

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.

Amaranth Borsuk is a poet, scholar, and book artist working in print and digital media. Her latest work is The Book, which looks at the role of books in the digital age. Borsuk is our Poet in Residence for March (we've published one poem so far: STRAP ON A WITNESS WHEN YOU GO OUT WITH THE TONGUE IN YOUR MOUTH WORN THIN FROM WALKING). She's running a workship today at the Northwest Film Forum that will explore what compels participants about the integration of poetry and images, and they will write, film, and expiriment with developing video poems. There will be a screening of films created in the workshop on April 25th.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Who the Hell is Imre Lodbrog (Outpost19, 2018) by Barbara Browning and Sébastien Régnier. Browning writes fabulous autofictional multimedia novels that include videos and music she creates through a panoply of alter-egos. This co-authored book tells the story of her friendship with a French musician whose real life sounds as though he were drawn from one of her novels. The two strike up a correspondence through mutual admiration of one another's Soundcloud accounts (Browning posts Ukulele covers she records as gifts to friends), and a long-distance friendship and collaboration takes shape. As someone who collaborates often, I admire the spirit that draws them together.

What did you read last?

I recently read Cecilia Vicuña’s beautiful artist's book About to Happen (Siglio, 2017) with a group of Bothell MFA students who are launching an eco-poetic journal called Snail Trail. In addition to exquisite photographs of her landscape-based installations of ephemeral artwork, the book includes poetry and poetics by Vicuña, and some very helpful contextual writing about her work. We are all eagerly anticipating Vicuña's upcoming show at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and her April 16th performance lecture at UW Bothell (which is free and open to the public)!

What are you reading next?

The catalog for Speech/Acts (Futurepoem, 2017), an exhibition of black artists working in experimental poetry curated by Meg Onli at the ICA in Philadelphia at the end of 2017. In addition to photographs of the exhibition (which I sadly did not get to see in person), it includes writing by some amazing poets: Harryette Mullen, Simone White, Fred Moten, and Morgan Parker. Also my former colleague Sarah Dowling's Translingual Poetics: Writing Personhood Under Settler Colonialism (Iowa, 2018), which explores the critical-creative work of multilingual poetry by a number of poets I admire, including Jordan Abel, Myung Mi Kim, M. NourbeSe Philip, Layli Long Soldier, and Vicuña. Both are intense and inviting volumes from which I have much to learn.

March 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 March's posts.

March's Theme: Carried Somewhere Else

When I said that choosing post-its for publication turned into a delightful family activity in February, what I really meant was that both my parents were choosing post-its. While my dad was picking for February, my mom sifted through options for March. This led to some minor disagreements about who got which dates—they were both really attached to the drawing about artists jumping through hoops. Dad won out somehow, keeping it in the February batch; it probably reflects well on everyone involved that no one turned into the terrible villain who tells the guy with the broken back and pneumonia that NOW AFTER ALL THIS he has to choose a different post-it. My mother’s March choices tell extra stories through her perspective. I made the snail to show feeling fragile and ill-equipped, a hesitant snail seemed similarly vulnerable—but also conversely better protected, why don’t I have my own shell at the ready. She chose it because I rescue snails from her garden, relocating them to less treacherous habitats down the street. My companionable concern for their safety makes family members think of me whenever they see snails or slugs; I do not regret that this has led to countless gifts of snail/slug mementos decorating much of my living space. The aunt who uses her bra as an extra pocket was coincidentally about to visit again now. When she arrived I told her about the post-it, made during a similar visit 7 years ago, and she happily exclaimed “well that sounds about right but you know now my friend said I’ll kill myself.” Then explaining “the waves going in you or something when I thought it was the smartest thing,” so now the cell phone is sadly carried somewhere else. There’s a real shifty quality to my grandma’s family’s sentences, I feel like I’m listening in slow motion. In that 7-years-ago March, I was planning a series of drawings inspired by books, rereading old favorites—BUT FOR WORK—a really helpful psychological distinction enabling me to relax into rare hours of reading in bed. My mom’s an English teacher, reading a shared love; she didn’t know what the post-it was about specifically but so many of those favorites were books from her. The art is the cover of The Long Winter, the first chapter book I ever read. It’s hard to revisit those frontier homemaking books of my childhood, historic atrocities pushing at the edges of every main character. But they also show me I’m still 2nd Grade me, my drawings like carefully stocking emotional provisions for the winter of each day. When I said I wished people also liked them for how sad they are, I meant my drawings. But my mother was thinking of being chided for telling sad stories about everyone she meets, distant strangers’ disasters and heartbreak wandering into all our family dinners. She chose the moon drawing because she also loves showing us the moon. I drew it on a trip to visit my friend in Turkey, it’s the bedroom in her partner’s house. We were staying there instead of her own place because it was closer to the hospital; every time I visit her family has an emergency. Except maybe last time I was the emergency. We all have emergencies all the time now anyway, I should visit her more often.

The Help Desk: A loan and unloved

Cienna is visiting her spider farm this week, so this column is a re-run from three yars ago. 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 co-worker and I often trade book recommendations. She has more seniority than I do but we are both in management. She recently went on a vacation and borrowed two of my paperback books that I had recommended to her. But she only came back with one of the books. She said the other one had fallen in the pool and then she ended up giving it to one of her fellow vacationers. She half-heartedly mentioned that she’d look for a used copy of the book to replace it. It’s been a few months and she hasn’t. Any advice?

Feeling Burned in Ballard

Dear Burned,

You are never going to get that book back. We both know that. What you need to do is suck it up and do the adult thing: drop it. Keep lending her books. Likewise, return her books in pristine condition. Smile at her in hallways. Volunteer to partner with her during team building exercises at work. Eventually, ask your spiders to make themselves scarce for an evening and invite her over for dinner. Over a bottle or two of mid-range wine (don’t go cheap, she’s not a monster), ask her searching questions about her life’s goals and ambitions. Press her about family or her partner, if she has one. If she doesn’t have a partner, ask her why she thinks she is not worthy of love? When she’s ready to leave your home at the end of the night, brush your fingertips down her arm, look deep into her eyes and tell her that you admire her. Continue cultivating her friendship. Invite her to happy hours, birthday parties, book readings. Invent inside jokes. Trade family recipes. Text emojis apropos of nothing.

Then, months from now, when the book she failed to replace is a distant memory, invite her to join you at a weekend Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale. The sales are popular and a ton of fun, especially for two best friends who share the same passion and taste for literature.

Offer to drive.

Pick her up.

Tell her you need to make a quick detour before hitting the book sale.

Drive her to the desert.

Tell her to get out of the car.

Then, leave her for dead with nothing but a Danielle Steele novel and 6 inches of garden hose.

Consider it your own version of Naked and Afraid, Book Stealer Punishment Edition.

There are downsides to this plan – if she survives you will likely be written up by HR. But I think we can both agree it will be worth it.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Muppet mixtape

Portrait Gallery: Morgan Parker

Promotional materials describe Morgan Parker’s new book, Magical Negro as “funny exploration of Black American womanhood” and “an archive of black everydayness.” It’s a collection of smart and raw poems about grief and anger and joy and disbelief and everything else that it means to be a black woman in America today. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Kissing Books: The problem with cruel

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.

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.

Heroines are allowed to be frosty, or wary, or lonely, and increasingly heroines are permitted to be angry (some delightful new examples are reviewed below) — but it’s common knowledge among romance authors that if you write a heroine as anything approaching cruel, even if it’s only a single line in a single scene, you are going to get a flood of reviews calling her an ungrateful bitch who doesn’t deserve true love.

The double standards really aren’t hard to uncover. We expect and excuse cruelty from men; we abhor it from all other genders.

Cruel heroes often bother me because so many times their cruelty is paired with vast amounts of political, social, financial, and/or magical power. Aristocrats, bikers, billionaires, SEALs, cops, alpha shifters or vampires or ancient dragon spieces older than humankind — romance will happily fetishize cruelty as long as it’s tied to power and a sick set of abs.

To give one typical concrete example, I once read a cop hero who used police databases to find the heroine’s number, and call her to talk dirty and badger her for a second date while she was at her job at a women’s rape/domestic violence clinic; she agreed because “he would probably just show up at her house anyway” and over the rest of the novel he proceeded to blow past her safewords, laugh at the idea that her body was her own, and take total control of her life.

The author referred to this as a “negotiation.” Reviews are largely positive.

On a panel at this most recent Emerald City Comic-Con, my fellow romance authors and myself talked about the Sexified Villain: characters who are antagonists in the story arc but who nevertheless become fan favorites, romanticized and swooned over. Nicholas Kole flipped the phrase manic pixie dream girl into depressive demon nightmare boy to describe this trope, and it really can be alarming how many people rush to excuse selfish behavior and even outright evil from such characters (Loki, Kylo Ren, and Draco Malfoy being prime examples — but also the Phantom of the Opera, Severus Snape, Christian Grey, and a few incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty both).

Plenty of romance heroes fit this archetype: widowers in a Gothic manor, orphaned billionaires, outlaw gang leaders, etc. An old theory from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women holds that romance arcs function to tame/civilize male power and bend it to the heroine’s benefit, which implies romance novels/sexified villain fandoms are treatments for the symptoms of patriarchy which avoid curing the disease itself. Which is a fancy way of saying that girls romanticize Draco to cope with the fact that Draco or someone like him has the power to hurt them.

But what if it’s a little weirder than that? What if young women and girls learn early on to recognize the lies that patriarchy tells? Girls aren’t really people, for instance, is a pretty easy lie to see through when you are in fact a girl and a person. So you start to assume that everything is lies, because you know that what you’re hearing from patriarchy isn’t credible. You rewrite the script in your head as a matter of course. This guy is bad is therefore something you’d be ready to resist or reject or find alternate explanations for, because you’re used to having to do that same kind of calculation for yourself and every other woman and non-dude person you know.

And since we’re talking media properties, odds are this character is being played by someone cis, thin, able-bodied, white, etc., which means they tick a lot of the same boxes necessary to be considered Officially Beautiful. You take a self-protectively revisionist mindset, a hot actor, et voilà! Sexy Draco!

I find myself performing a similar kind of mental acrobatics all the time — quite deliberately with the Other Woman whenever she appears in a romance (I’m something of a Caroline Bingley apologist), but also among my fellow readers and critics. If I see an author refer to a reader/reviewer as “mean” or “rude” or “snarky,” odds are I’m already halfway to believing the reader’s take on the book. This is not because all reviews are brave bastions of truth (for instance: Voldemort’s one-star review of the first Harry Potter book), but rather because I’ve grown used to seeing sharp, accurate critiques of individual works decried as “attacks” or “bullying” on social media — particularly when those critiques come from marginalized voices calling out racism, ableism and the like.

There is a pronounced culture of we should only say nice things in romance reviewing circles. Not coincidentally, there is also a type of White Lady who cares most vocally about politeness when it works to preserve her personal comfort and self-image. She has also grown up in patriarchy, and believes the lie that she is naturally nice, nurturing, and self-sacrificing. She believes other women are supposed to be those things, too, especially women with less social power — because those are the rules that put her almost at the top of the pyramid, just beneath White Men but above Black Men and Black Women and Queer Men/Women and so on. If you aren’t officially allowed to win, you’ll fight to stay in second place if it means not being last. And you’ll be incensed if anyone you think of as beneath you in the power structure decides the rules need to be thrown out altogether.

If you throw out the rules, second place has no value.

Of course this means that the Venn diagram of authors happy to fetishize male cruelty in fiction and authors who call critics and especially black and brown critics big ol’ meanies is essentially a circle. The playbook is stunningly predictable. You could set your watch by it, if your watch measured internet dumpster fires instead of time. And seeing it play out over and over has taught me that when I see anti-oppression analysis called out as mean — as cruel — it’s code for: This person dares to believe their words have power, when they should be yielding to mine.

Power is the ability to be cruel without consequences. Men who harm women get excused. White women who harm black people get excused. It would be enough to send a romance author/reviewer into a complete tailspin of despair — if it weren’t for all the other authors and reviewers and readers who see the same thing, both in and out of fiction, and are pushing back against it. For example, just off the top of my head:

  • The Governess Affair and Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
  • A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
  • A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
  • A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
  • Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles

All these books feature powerful, cruel men whose power must be broken or tempered in some way by the main characters. These books defend justice, and love, by fighting against cruelty. They use tenderness, honesty, warmth, consideration, blackmail, lies, thievery, arson, and murder — that last because as the author admits: “some villains need to die.” Mrs. Martin’s and A Duke In Disguise are reviewed below, along with books by Alyssa Cole, Rachael Stewart, and Rebekah Weatherspoon. Consider this month’s column not only cruelty-free, but cruelty-defeating.

Recent Romances:

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan (self-published: historical f/f):

Elderly lesbians take revenge for a lifetime of injury and insult while falling in love and literally burning everything down.

That’s it, that’s the review.

What more need be said? It’s exactly what you want based on that sentence, written in some of Courtney Milan’s best and funniest and most righteously infuriated prose. Violetta and Bertrice ought to be new patron saints of romance, with acolytes bringing offerings of chocolate and making cheesy toast over the pyres of contemptible men. And I know that sentence only makes sense if you’ve read the story — but the great generosity of this book is how it offers the reader a wealth of symbols, chants, and charms against terrible men. Against fear and invisibility and helplessness. In the week since finishing this I’ve taken to muttering “Robby Bobkins” under my breath when the terribleness is too much, and feeling my spirits rise again.

We need this book right now. Thank fuck we’ve got it.

One was impossible. One was contained. Alone, Mrs. Martin had felt cribbed in, made of complaints and unable to move. Two was a more dangerous number.

Mr. One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart: (Harlequin Dare: contemporary m/f):

Harlequin’s new Dare line promises books that are “fun, edgy, and sexually explicit” and this juicy little drama nugget certainly delivers on that. This is a corporate-world “well that was some great casual sex — what do you mean we’re now business partners?” romance with high tones of old-school glam: skyscraper heels, perfect martinis, and a sophisticated heroine who knows precisely what she wants in bed. Jennifer is a sharp executive whose business acumen is never undermined by either the plot or the hero, and Marcus is just the right mix of cold corporatism and unrestrained lust. He is walled-off emotionally, but comes off more as stern than cruel. Their connection is electric and the best part of the story — heat and tension and magnetism that twists the emotional knife in a rich and satisfying way. Rarely has a forbidden romance been so plausibly, palpably irresistible.

Unfortunately some of the scene detail in this classic set-up hasn’t worn well. For instance, if I were a chauffeur, and my boss showed up with a disheveled, unconscious woman I’d never seen before and carried her into his bedroom, I’d hope I would have some pointed questions for him. (We know Jennifer was an enthusiastic participant, but the driver does not.) We’ve also got one of those No-Woman Beds I mentioned last month!

So yes, the book was enormous fun, but it also made my critical-historical brain start kicking up the dust of ideas. Dare is a line marketed as aggressively modern, so it begs the question: are the seeming-retro touches in this book part and parcel of that edginess? Regression presented as rebellion? It’s certainly a departure from the light rom-com tone many contemporaries are currently exploring — but if you look back to the pre-rom-com generation, the Jayne Ann Krentz/Judith Krantz years, Dare looks more like a continuity than a clean break. Like a notable nose, that happened to skip one generation of the family. Still, it’s nice to have options, so if you’re feeling like some of that Old Skool tone you’re in for a very good time.

His jacket lay across the arm of the chair, his forearm resting upon it. His other arm was folded, his hand curving over his inner thigh, his trouser-clad legs relaxed and spread. Open and vulnerable. The sight did things to her, things with a potency that almost scared her, and she flexed her fists into the bunched-up fabric of the sheets.

Can’t Escape Love (Avon Impulse: contemporary m/f) and A Prince on Paper (Avon Books: contemporary bi m/f) by Alyssa Cole:

At some point we are going to have to start referring to 2018–2019 as Alyssa Cole’s annus mirabilis. The entirety of the Reluctant Royals series thus far has appeared in that span, as well as two stunning entries in the Loyal League series. And a story in Bingo Love Vol. 1: Jackpot Edition.

It’s like when you learn that Dolly Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” in the same day. How the hell does she keep doing it?, mixed with profound gratitude that we are around to enjoy it.

The first book, Can’t Escape Love, is a novella-length Sleeping Beauty riff: heroine Reggie contracted meningitis in her youth and spent some time in a coma, and then more time coming to terms with the resulting physical and emotional fallout (ataxia, strained family relationships). Since then she’s built up a geek girl social media empire on the verge of becoming a powerhouse, and somewhat repaired her relationship with her twin sister Portia (of #swordbae fame). Gus is the puzzle-solver whose YouTube channel is the only thing that helps her sleep — and who is currently designing a high-profile escape room based on her favorite anime. Which is also a Sleeping Beauty riff. Everything in this novella is so richly layered and thoughtful that it feels like a complete world of its own. There’s not a wasted word in here.

Wealth is often packaged as a fantasy in romance: we’re treated to long descriptions of the hero’s penthouse, or manor, or beachfront getaway. Here it’s Reggie’s home that gets the lush descriptions, but the fantasy is accessibility: an environment that treats the disabled heroine’s physical needs as a matter of course, and is designed to answer them. Wealth certainly makes this fantasy possible — multiple custom wheelchairs are expensive — but there is a significant moral and psychological difference between money-as-escape and using-money-to-escape.

The novella fills in some of the between-the-lines from A Duke by Default: the full-length A Prince on Paper moves events further forward. Took me half the book before I realized what fairy tale we were dealing with, and then I damn near cheered, so you’ll forgive me for keeping it a smug secret so you can enjoy the reveal.

Our heroine is Nya, Prince Thabiso’s cousin, still reeling from the uncovering of her father’s betrayal and villainy in the first book in the series. (Um, spoilers!) Within five minutes I was muttering oh no to myself and wrapping my arms around my stomach to try and hold myself together — one of the great perils of reading romance is that sometimes you look into a book and the heroine stares back into your soul like you’re looking into a secret, agonizing mirror. Nya is lonely and self-conscious, both soft-spoken and sharp-tongued — and always, painfully aware of her own inconsistency. Even trying to write about this feels like I’m splashing my own issues all over this review in a manner that verges on oversharing. I would die for her, we say when we find the heroines who really reflect us — but it’s more than that. I’m dying with her, every time I turn another page.

Nya is glorious, and Johan deserves her.

This book has taken a place on my list of all-time favorites, alongside Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress and Julie Garwood’s The Bride. Do not miss.

His head was dropped down, a mass of wild auburn, but it jerked up as the wooden door creakily announced her entry. She was met with ruddy cheeks and a sharp gaze that resonated within her private hollowness, like the sad moan of wind over the mouths of empty glass bottles.

A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian (Avon Impulse: historical m/bi f):

Finally, a romance highlighting Britain’s class conflict and paranoid fear of revolution in the post-Waterloo years!

That’s not a joke: I’m writing a seditious printer/engraver heroine myself currently, and am thrilled that Cat Sebastian has already brought us a seditious printer heroine to help establish that publishing in the early nineteenth century was often a radical, risky, at-odds-with-the-government-and-the-police kind of enterprise. So definitely part of my pleasure with this one was nerding out hard over names like Hone, Cobbett, Wollestonecraft, and Lord Sidmouth (that jerk).

Usually in duke-centric historicals we look at the class structure from the top down; here we start at the bottom, with heroine Verity Plum worried about actually having enough food to put on the table even before her firebrand brother Nate thoughtlessly invites three of his friends home for dinner. Hero Ash is an engraver (and epileptic) who rents a room with the Plums; he always smells of copper and rosin, the way Verity’s hands are always stained with ink, because when our characters aren’t working they’re worried about working (or cleaning up the workroom after the redcoats toss the shop on a trumped-up search warrant) in ways that will feel painfully familiar to any modern-day freelancer. It’s not all anxiety, however: Verity’s new ladies’ magazine/advice column and a filthy book about famous royal fraudster Perkin Warbeck keep things fun and witty in the best Cat Sebastian style.

The revelation that Ash is actually a duke’s long-lost heir crashes into this comfortable pattern like a cannonball, leaving smoking rubble and shrapnel in its wake. Descriptors of wealth and privilege that would feel matter-of-course in another romance novel here strike the reader as ridiculous, unnecessary, ill-gotten luxury (the value of a long setup cannot be overstated). Ash knows Verity would barely consider marrying him as a tradesman — she’d laugh in his face and call for a guillotine if he proposes as a future duke. Their whole relationship is prickly, argumentative, couched in inside jokes and half-truths and feigned indifference that fools absolutely no-one — and it’s hot enough to burn your fingertips as you speed through the pages.

This is a book about privilege versus principle, and surviving human malevolence, and resisting political tyranny, and I am so very, very happy it exists. Because “there might not be a difference between hope and stubbornness” is a sentence I very much needed to read, and suspect others will too.

Both men tilted their heads and regarded her. “Just out of curiosity, how often would you advise women with errant husbands to have their spouses abducted by pirates?” Nate asked.

“I’d have to look into the costs. Right now it occurs to me that one might arrange one’s obnoxious brother to be taken away. Might be worth a few pounds, especially if you keep bringing strangers to eat my mutton chops.”

This Week’s Polar Opposite of the Cruel Hero Trope

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon (self-published: contemporary m/f):

I’ve been saving this gem for a time when I really needed an uplift, and after the past few weeks in Romancelandia, I’m enormously glad I had something to escape into. Rafe is the absolute opposite of the stereotypical alpha hero: nurturing, considerate, sweet. Adorably wonderful with kids. Still has the sick abs, though, but since sick abs are not a moral flaw nobody’s inclined to complain.

Certainly not cardiac surgeon Sloan, whose six-year-old twins are more than a handful and whose live-in nanny up and quit without notice. Rafe is an emergency call and comes highly recommended by trusted friends. His enormous, muscular, tattooed, bearded biker body is the most tempting thing she’s seen in years — but her children come first, so she’s going to button up all her lust and keep things pleasant and professional and tidy, and everything will be just fine.

Reader, I cackled. We all know how this is gonna go.

There are romances that aim for a lyrical tone, historical texture, champagne fizz and froth. Weatherspoon’s vampire romances are glazed with a bit of pulp glitz, but the voice of this contemporary is best described as a direct motherfucker. Like Rafe himself, Rafe tells you upfront what you’re promised (a buff male nanny) and then just … goes and does it. No hesitation. Childcare, emotional support, cooking, cleaning, and some A-plus dicking — not out of any urge to control or posses, but simply because he cares. It’s pure, golden, every-level-of-fulfillment fantasy on a platter and it’s like water in the desert for Sloan, who spent her youth being a med-school prodigy and then married to a true contender for Asshole of the Universe. She deserves this. She needs this. And this reader loved watching her get it.

Nothing in the world is so good as a book that takes a flimsy, one-liner premise and then treats it with such care and attention that it blossoms into something that feels like a gift.

Sloan wished she didn’t have a visceral reaction to her ex-husband, but any time she was near him she felt like a trapped and wounded animal. She’d chew her own leg off to get away from him. He was handsome as hell and dressed his ass off, but god he sucked.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The Handmaid's Comic

Are we as a society in danger of The Handmaid's Tale fatigue? Of course not — especially when the adaptations of Margaret Atwood's novel have been so good.

It's true that it's harder to watch Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale TV series, now that a woman's right to choose is more imperiled than at any point in the last 40 years. Fiction is treading dangerously close to the daily headlines in places like Georgia. Influential men promoting a regressive, anti-woman agenda — men like spineless evangelical zealot Mike Pence — are barely trying to conceal their contempt for women anymore.

But again, the show is really good, so we still watch it. And even though we may be nervous about Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale sequel due out this fall, she has earned our trust a thousand times over.

And now, Vancouver BC cartoonist Renée Nault has adapted The Handmaid's Tale into a hardcover graphic novel, and again I approached the endeavor with some nervousness. Does the world really need another adaptation of Atwood's dystopian future, now that we're on our way to making it a dystopian reality?

Turns out, yes we do! Adapting literary classics into comics is unbelievably tricky work, usually resulting in a few staid drawings next to gigantic walls of text. But Nault's adaptation is deft and it reconfigures the book into a new medium while respecting both the original text and the rules of the medium. You don't need to have read the original to read this adaptation. It stands on its own as a very good comic.

Nault's delicate lines form a vocabulary all their own. The handmaids look like gaudy red obelisks — tall and pointy and red as blood in snow. But their faces are whorls and knots of anger and frustration. Nalt clearly brings a manga influence to the book — the characters' eyes are large and expressive, and the panel transitions are less action-to-action-oriented than American comics tend to be. But there are plenty of other influences here, too: I see the pinched Puritanical influence of early American illustrators like John Singleton Copley, for instance. It's a timeless mix of art: the book feels simultaneously like an artifact from both the past and the future.

For legal and artistic reasons, this isn't just an adaptation of the TV show. While the basics of design are the same — the handmaids wear the same basic outfits, obviously — the characters do not resemble their Hollywood counterparts in any way, and the comic hews more closely to the book in several important ways.

But let's be clear: this is great comics. If you agree that the most basic definition of comics is a fluid dance between words and pictures, you will very likely be struck by the beauty of this book. Several sequences like a nearly wordless, dense sequence depicting Offred fleeing to a surreptitious meeting in the city reflect all the tension and claustrophobia of a great noir film, all in a single page. And her use of color is masterful, treating the red of the handmaid habits as a visual signpost guiding the readers through to the visual bloodbath of the book's conclusion, when the color spills out of the lines and drips everywhere.

It's been a long time since I've seen this skilled an adaptation into comics form. (You might notice that I have not mentioned the recent graphic novel adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. I assure you that my silence is not an accident.) What Nault has done here is stunning: she has taken a story that has verged on overexposure in recent years, and she has breathed fire into it. This is an adaptation as personal, and as important, as if Nault herself had come up with the story herself.

To the best of your ability

For years, I laughed at the inept people at the beginning of late-night informercials — people who always seemed comically incapable of performing simple everyday functions like making food, or carrying groceries, or reaching items on high shelves. Compilations of informercial ineptitude like this one are all over the internet:

But then I read an essay which pointed out an obvious truth that I never bothered to see: the products in most of these infomercials are intended to make life easier for disabled people. But because popular culture traditionally averts its eyes from disabled people, production companies hire able-bodied actors to demonstrate why these products are necessary. They look ridiculous because they're pantomiming everyday life for millions of disabled Americans, but they're not disabled. It's an act of erasure that stops being funny when you realize the truth behind the scenes.

Last night, the Reading Through It Book Club gathered at Third Place Books Seward Park to discuss Seattle author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. It's a collection of essays by and for disabled people, with the ambitious goal of promoting a society operating under an agenda of "radical love" that is more inclusive and caring.

The conversation was lively and surprising. I admitted that no other book in our book club's two-and-a-half years has ever moved me to tears so often. The vulnerability and frustration in these pages is visceral, perhaps most so in a letter anarchist/performer Loree Erickson posted online before visiting Washington DC. Keep in mind, this letter is intended for strangers:

I use a wheelchair and I am looking to recruit folks to help with my personal care needs (fancy words for getting into/out of bed and going to the bathroom). No experience needed (I am really good at talking folks through it plus what I need help with is pretty straight forward) and ya only have to be sorta buff. I [weigh] around 130lbs, but it is not as bad as it seems. If you're worried about lifting I might be able to buddy you up or maybe you can buddy yourself up with a friend. Two people makes it way easier and yay for safety! :-) It doesn't take that long (around 1 hour — usually less to pee and a bit more to get into/outta bed). I usually pee at 12ish, 5ish and then when I get into bed and wake up. If you don't have a lot of time, even one shift would be so extremely helpful.

If you are interested let me know or if you know anyone else who might be interested, please send this their way (I appreciate people of all genders helping me). I need to know as soon as possible so that I know how stressed out to be. Plus we are coming soo soon! :) Also if you can send me your availability that would be amazing

The warmth and openness and optimism of that open letter broke me wide open.

The idea of disability encompasses so many different experiences — blindness, Deafness, paralysis, chronic pain. Each of these experiences brings its own demands and limitations and truths — there's no single "disability agenda" that can be encapsulated in a single manifesto.

Many members of our book club felt overwhelmed by Care Work. That's understandable — the book is a collection of essays intended for a few different audiences — in one piece, Piepzna-Samarasinha is talking directly to other disabled activists, in another she's aimed at a more general audience. Someone at the book club said that Care Work was the equivalent of taking a 301-level course without taking the 101-level first.

But just about everyone agreed that exposure to these ideas was important. More than half of the group had direct and personal experience with disabled people in their lives, and those experiences helped them to see the world differently. That visibility matters.

I'm still thinking about something a member of the group said last night that I found to be particularly enlightening. She said that architects no longer design buildings with special features for disabled users. Instead, they aim for what they call "universal design." The accessibility of those features — ramps, easy-to-open doors and convenient storage and so on — actually benefit everyone. This isn't a debate that anyone has to lose. Accessible and caring design is additive — it's good for all. The same additive law applies to Piepzna-Samarasinha's radical caring agenda: when you orient your civilization to care for people in need of help, everyone benefits.

Book News Roundup: Are you Redmond's next poet laureate?

  • The City of Redmond is still looking for a Poet Laureate, and you have until April 29th to apply. Important: You do not have to live in the city of Redmond to apply, or to serve as Poet Laureate, though the winner will be expected to travel to Redmond to take part in arts ceremonies.

  • Did you know that Microsoft has an e-book library? They're closing it this summer, and BoingBoing notes that Microsoft is "taking away every book that every one of its customers acquired effective July 1." That's right: you didn't buy the book from Microsoft, you bought a license to read an e-book. Now they're revoking that license. The same thing could happen with Amazon one day, too.

  • Read all about the shitty kids' book that figures into a conspiracy that just may bring down the career of Baltimore's mayor.

  • This year's Hugo Award nominees are mostly women and that is fantastic news.

How you can help fight for the right to read in Washington state prisons

Over the weekend, the good people at Books to Prisoners, a Seattle-based nonprofit that delivers used books to incarcerated individuals, noticed that the Washington State Department of Corrections quietly made a change to their book policy. According to the new DoC rules, the state would only allow select organizations to donate new books to prisoners.

The problem is that nonprofits like Books to Prisoners provide quality used books to prisoners in much greater quantities than any organization supplying new books could match. Over the phone, Books to Prisoners' secretary Andy Chan tells me that the dictionary is always in high demand, as well as books on vocational training, GED preparation, and genre fiction. Without your donated used books, countless incarcerated people will have to go without any books at all.

Last year, Departments of Corrections in New York state and Pennsylvania both tried to pass similar used book bans, but Chan says "none of them have stuck." Outrage from ordinary citizens forced the states to reverse their decisions. Since the Washington DoC's used book ban was discovered, Books to Prisoners organized a "phone zap," in which people called DoC Prisons Division Correctional Manager Roy Gonzalez to demand that he reverse the policy. (Full disclosure: I called Gonzalez and left a message during the political action.) Those calls successfully overloaded the phone system and broke Gonzalez's voice mailbox. And they've gathered more than one thousand signatures on a petition demanding the reversal of the policy. (Full disclosure: I signed the petition.)

The DoC hasn't responded to the protest aside from what Chan characterizes as a "boilerplate" statement claiming that "prisoners in eight out of 12 Washington state prisons have access to a full library." That doesn't explain the change in policy, and, as Chan notes, it doesn't recognize the fact that Books to Prisoners gets plenty of requests for books from those prisons with supposedly full libraries. Clearly, the system isn't getting enough books into the hands of people who need them.

Why would Washington's DoC try this ban when it flamed out so spectacularly in two other states last year? "I'm guessing, because they haven't told us specifically," Chan qualifies, but he suspects that it's what he characterizes as a "mass hysteria" based on the theory that "perhaps used books from nonprofits is one of the routes" for drugs to enter prisons. Chan specifies that nobody has ever presented any proof that "a nonprofit such as Books to Prisoners has ever sent in any kind of contraband," but the organizations are still wrongly identified as a weak spot in the prison's defenses.

Still, Chan wants to be clear that this is all conjecture: "we don't know [the reason for the DoC's ban] because they have not responded, as yet, to our attempts to contact them," he says.

(Side note: Whenever I write about organizations like Books to Prisoners, some jackass will always respond on Twitter with a smug one-line response like "they should've read a book before they went into prison." Respectfully, to whoever is about to respond to this piece with that line: fuck off. Books are how we teach ourselves to be better people. Books help us get into the minds and hearts and experiences of other people. Books foster empathy and they help us aspire to being a little better tomorrow than we are today. There is no crime so horrendous that I would deny someone a book as punishment, and if you believe that the American prison system should be rehabilitative and not simply a place where we stick people until they die of old age, you should feel the same way.)

So what should people do now? Chan wants people to follow Books to Prisoners on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on actions. And he says, "we're going to start contacting Governor Jay Inslee, who is a professed believer in the need to decrease the recidivism rate of Washington state prisoners."

Inslee is currently running for president, Chan notes, "and his very own Department of Corrections is doing something which is, completely contradicting his idea." Obviously, a used book ban isn't going to help with recidivism rates.

"I don't know to what extent they informed [Inslee] that they were going to do this, and the reasoning for why they were going to do this, but he needs to be able to explain to us, if his Department of Corrections is not going to, why it makes sense to have done this," Chan says.

Books to Prisoners is off to a great start with this campaign — they went from discovering the policy to jamming DoC's phone lines in less than 24 hours. But they can't do it without your help. Follow Books to Prisoners on social media and help them out with actions when you can. Any policy that discourages reading in our prisons is a policy that harms us all.

If all Seattle read The Best We Could Do...

Published April 2, 2019, at 1pm

Paul Constant reviews Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do .

Later this month, graphic memoirist Thi Bui will be reading from and discussing her book The Best We Could Do at libraries around Seattle. It's exactly the book that Seattle needs right now.

Read this review now

Vonda N. McIntyre, 1949 - 2019

Sad news: Seattle sci-fi author Vonda N. McIntyre passed away yesterday, less than two months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

An award-winning author of novels and non-fiction and film and TV show adaptations and short fiction, McIntyre also leaves behind another tremendous legacy: she helped bring the Clarion West sci-fi writers' workshop to Seattle in 1971, which means generations of young writers owe their careers to McIntyre.

One of my favorite McIntyre stories revolves around a convention panel where McIntyre grew weary of fans griping about bad sci-fi TV shows. McIntyre recounted in 2009:

I listen for a few titles, and then I say, “Wait a minute. I can’t believe this. Haven’t you people been watching the *Starfarers* miniseries?”

And then I told them the plot.

By the end of the panel, I had everybody eating out of my hand, believing *Starfarers* had existed but had been so misscheduled and unadvertised that every single audience member had missed it. I claimed I had heard of some bootleg tapes floating around but as far as I knew recordings of the show could not be purchased.

A local filmmaker, sitting in the front row, jumped up at the end of the hour and said “I’m going to find those tapes!” and rushed out of the room.

McIntyre then went on to write four Starfarers books, based on her prank at the panel.

That eagerness to create something positive out of boring old fan negativity, that ability to craft a mythology from nothing and have a roomful of fans eager to believe it, is a big part of McIntyre's charm. She willed a community into existence here, and Seattle is the worse for her passing. There will be a public service for McIntyre sometime in the next month; we'll let you know when we know more.



Put the wet trash in the oven and hang your door bouquet. It’s a season of rickety picture hooks and ticketed adjunct sleeping positions. Where a whistle is heard, tiptoe hunchfront hustleaway in a hey diddle goodnight stupor. But bubbling up numbtacks. Take time to heal, so subtle your way out the garden gate full of repressed shimmer. Maybe don’t worry about slithering into last season’s lacks, and let the froth on your whiteness settle. Whip over when you feel a second sleep coming on. If you can’t sit back, sit still. Good ribbons.

Just a few tickets left for Anne Lamott this Sunday!

Sponsor Northwest Associated Arts throws the best events. Did you hear that they're bringing Anne Lamott to town? Seriously. It's right close: April 7. That's this Sunday!

If you're a writer, you already have a copy of her infamous and beloved Bird by Bird, but have you seen her talk? Lamott brings a terrific curiosity and thougtfulness to every topic that pulls her attention. And she's one of those writers — and presenters — who make you realize that you're suddenly fascinated and interested by what pulls her attention, too. It's a powerful thing she does.

Her latest, Alomst Everything: Notes on Hope, tackles big topics with her normal aplomb and heart (but not that kind of heart. Lamott wears the kind that cynics know is authentic), and you will be guarenteed lots of laughs, and probably very few dry eyes in house at times. Find out more about this event on our sponsor feature page, and then grab yourself a seat before they're all gone!

Got an event you think our readers would love? You can sponsor us, too. If you have an opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

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

Monday, April 1: Almost Yankees Reading

I don't focus much on sports in this column because, well, I hate professional sports. But it's hard to deny the connection between bookishness and baseball. There's something about reading and baseball that go really well together — maybe this is just as simple as the fact that it's not uncommon to see people reading to pass the time at ballparks. So to celebrate this link, maybe attend this reading from Almost Yankees, a study of one season in the life of a Yankees minor-league farm team. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 2: Two Poets

Laura Eve Engel is a musician and poet whose most recent book is titled Things That Go. Bill Carty is a Seattle poet who has been published at a ton of places. His upcoming book is titled Huge Cloudy, and he edits at Poetry Northwest. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 3: Unmarriageable Reading

Soniah Kamal's second novel is a Pakistani twist on Pride and Prejudice. For the Seattle part of her tour, she'll be in conversation with Seattle University professor Nalini Iyer. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 4: Magical Negro Reading

Promotional materials describe Morgan Parker's new book as "funny exploration of Black American womanhood" and "an archive of black everydayness." It's a collection of smart and raw poems about grief and anger and joy and disbelief and everything else that it means to be a black woman in America today. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 5: The Outline Trilogy Reading

Rachel Cusk has long been celebrated as a great author, but now that she's completed her Outline Trilogy — three novels capturing the experiences and encounters of a British author — the word "masterpiece" is starting to be thrown around. Come find out why, before you're paying a lot of money to see Cusk read in the very near future. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 6: Cadence: Video Poetry Festival

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave,

Sunday, April 7: Orcas Island Lit Fest

All weekend long, authors including Anastacia-Renée, Keetje Kuipers, Rick Barot, Donna Miscolta, Sonora Jha, and Kristen Millares Young will be participating in a literary festival on scenic Orcas Island. Why aren't you there right now? Orcas Island,

Literary Event of the Week: The Cadence Video Poetry Festival

As you most likely know, April is National Poetry Month. And all month long, Seattle will be celebrating with poetry readings in nontraditional spaces. We'll highlight some of the best events here on this site in the days and weeks to come, but one of our favorite Poetry Month events is already upon us. It doesn't happen in a bookstore, or even in a civic space that sometimes hosts readings. This one happens in a movie theater.

For every Thursday this month, Northwest Film Forum is hosting Cadence: Video Poetry Festival, a collaboration between poetry and film curated by Seattle writer Chelsea Werner-Jatzke. Its mission statement is pretty clear: "Cadence approaches video poetry as a literary genre presented as visual media that makes new meaning from the combination of text and moving image." The second year of Cadence features a wide range of programming including workshops and screenings and the public creation of new video poetry works and more.

On Saturday at 11 am, Seattle Review of Books' April Poet in Residence, Amaranth Borsuk, will be teaching an all-day workshop named "The Image Speaks." The listing for the workshop promises that participants "will write, film, and experiment, conceptualizing and developing video poems that may stretch the bounds of the genre. No experience with either poetry or film is necessary."

Catherine Bresner will serve as poet-in-residence for the duration of the festival, including a display in NWFF's lobby and a youth video poetry workshop on April 13th. Poets who created new work in the workshops will get to screen their work at NWFF on April 25th.

Thursday screenings are themed. April 4th features video poetry created by local organizations including " Interbay Cinema Society, Jack Straw Cultural Center, Mount Analogue, Poetry Northwest, Pongo Publishing, and Seattle City of Literature." And April 18th will feature an international showcase of video poets from Europe and the Middle East.

This isn't a pivot to video, or a bitter attempt to win over future generations through a friendlier medium. Instead, Cadence is an attempt to collaborate on something new by combining two old genres into a bold new field of study. It's National Poetry Month. Go discover a new world.

Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave,

The Sunday Post for March 31, 2019

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

Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem

Like Uber, like Lyft, like other gig economy “innovations,” Air BNB succeeds by slapping a brand and a professional veneer across a personal exchange — in this case, what we used to describe as “crashing with a friend,” except the friend doesn’t know you and is renting you a bit of their home, for a bit of time, with a bit of wariness on both sides.

Putting your suitcase down in a stranger’s home is a bit of an intrusion, even if one we’ve bought and paid for. Are we really surprised when those strangers intrude right back?

Alfie Day told me he found a camera in his rental’s living room while he and his girlfriend were visiting his brother in Bulgaria. Day works in IT, so he performed an Nmap scan to learn more about the devices in the home. He discovered that the host had installed a type of camera that could be remotely controlled to pan, tilt, and zoom in on anything it sees. The expanded field of view meant that while the camera was in the living room, it could discreetly follow guests from room to room. The scan also revealed that the camera had a high-capacity storage system that lets users share very large files quickly across the same network.
Confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people

White people: Shhhhhh. Stop talking. Listen. Ijeoma Oluo has something important to say. Also, just shhhhh.

Every time I stand in front of an audience to address racial oppression in America, I know that I am facing a lot of white people who are in the room to feel less bad about racial discrimination and violence in the news, to score points, to let everyone know that they are not like the others, to make black friends. I know that I am speaking to a lot of white people who are certain they are not the problem because they are there.
Writing Sex for Money is Hard F*cking Work

Sandra Newman supports her novel-writing habit with a somewhat different application of her skills.

As everyone knows, when you’re not in the mood for it, porn is gross. After the first few hours, it was also unendurably boring. Nonetheless it made me horny, in a downtrodden, creepy way. I was disgusted and horny and disgusted by my horniness. I was hornily falling asleep in my chair. I was hornily staring out the window and hornily wondering how I got to this point.
Unfeeling Malice

Michele Pridmore-Brown reviews Aspberger’s Children, by Edith Scheffer, which explores the influence of Nazi ideology on current understanding of “normal” neural function. This is a horror story (Asberger sent so many nonconforming children, especially girls, to their deaths) but also a story about the impurity of science and a case study of how benevolence becomes the rouge on evil’s cheek.

None of this is where Sheffer started. Her initial interest was visceral and personal. She came to the subject thinking quite simply to honour Asperger. Her son, like an ever increasing number of boys in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Asperger, Sheffer assumed, was an early proponent of neurodiversity, someone who promulgated multiple ways of inhabiting the world.

What she found in the archives was far more complicated.

Whatcha Reading, Laila Lalami?

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.

Laila Lalami is a once Seattle, now Los Angeles-based novelist, essayist, and critic. She's written four novels, her last, The Moor's Account, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest, just released, is The Other Americans. She'll be reading next Tuesday, April 2, at the Central Seattle Public Library at 7:00pm, co-presented with the Elliott Bay Book Company. This is one you won't want to miss, and it's free to attend.

What are you reading now?

When I stopped by Brookline Booksmith to sign some books, bookseller Suchi Saraswat pressed into my hands a copy of Carolyn Forché’s What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.

What did you read last?

On my flight from LA to Boston, I read an ARC of Suketu Mehta’s new book, This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto.

What are you reading next?

Tembi Locke’s From Scratch, a memoir.

The Help Desk: Shelfish children

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,

Every time someone asks an author if they have a favorite book of their own, the author mumbles something about choosing between children and refuses to answer. But tell me the truth, Cienna: authors definitely have favorites among their own books, right?


Dear Shannon,

Of course authors have favorites; anyone with pets or children knows that. I myself was an only child for years and even then I wasn't my mother's favorite — I came in fourth behind The Bottle, our family border collie, and a photo of an alligator in a fur coat she found charming.

Then Los came, and the favoritism became even more apparent. He was read books with pop-up mice and fun rhymes, beautifully illustrated and inscribed with love, while I was taught to read whether a medicine bottle for sure said “DO NOT DRIVE HEAVY MACHINERY” in all caps like a direct order — or was it worded more whimsically and listed somewhere after “Take with food”?

Some people change with time, as do their favorites. After 35 years, I have found small ways to worm my way higher into my mother's pickled heart. For instance, if I'm standing in an empty room full of spiders, I can usually rank third — second if I soak myself in gin first. And while children repulse me, I recently adopted a small alligator in a fur coat, which has given us something to bond over. Together, we are teaching Beatrix to read pill bottles. Mother will very likely include her in her will.

You see? Happy endings exist even for the unfavorited.


The Portrait Gallery: James Sturm

James Sturm’s new graphic novel, Off Season, is about a relationship that falls apart in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. He'll be appearing Saturday, March 30, with Pete Bagge at the Elliott Bay Book Company, hosted by our own Paul Constant. 7pm, free.

Criminal Fiction: Time marches on

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

Donna Leon’s Venice-based Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries are rife with musings on the human condition and a rich range of criminal activities, from the most basic petty theft to cold-blooded murder. Unto Us a Son Is Given (Atlantic), the 28th outing for Brunetti, his whip-smart wife, Paola, and his fellow detectives, is redolent, as always, with the sights, smells, sounds, and mealtimes of the water-immersed city: Brunetti uses frequent coffee breaks to mull over his cases, and family dinner time to argue the rights and wrongs of human morality with his chatty children. In Leon’s latest, a pleasantly deceptive lull – imposed by contemplative discussions of familial and non-familial obligations as well as a telling reading of Euripides’ The Trojan Women – is dissolved with deadly force.

A series of road trips provide just a smidgen of the wild action in William Boyle’s A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself (Pegasus). When mob widow and Brooklyn resident Rena Ruggiero brains her neighbor with a glass ashtray during an unwanted sexual advance and then flees to her daughter in the Bronx, she implicates herself and a decidedly motley crew of others in an intricate tangle of violence, car chases, terrifying killers, and the edgier sides of familial function. Like tasty breadcrumbs through a sinister forest, Boyle strews his narrative with welcome cultural markers and references — Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, the Paul Newman of Nobody’s Fool, the now-defunct Catskills resorts, Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, champagne that “‘tastes like rainbows’” — and more than a little bit of straight-talking philosophy. Boyle’s noir novel is an appropriately dark tale of gangster life; it also shimmers with friendliness, affection, humor, and the myriad stories people tell themselves and others in order to survive.

American Spy, a debut novel by Lauren Wilkinson (Random House), tells the story of FBI agent Marie Mitchell and her undercover involvement in West Africa during the Cold War of the 1980s. But it is also about growing up African-American in the 1970s; about the family ties that bind and break; about destructive politics and community-focused advocacy; about the impact of cynicism; about the rejection of that cynicism; and it is about partnerships driven by mutual respect, and parental dotage that is both protective and empowering: “I wanted to form you into agents of change,” is one mother’s message to her children. Laced within this structured, straightforward tale of espionage and manipulation, is a deeply told tale of love in its many, many facets.

In Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party (William Morrow), a gang of old university friends gather for their annual New Year’s Eve holiday – this year’s model features a glamo-rustic hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands – and promptly get snowed in. Also on hand: a lustful Icelandic couple, a morose estate manager, two taciturn workers, and a bevy of shotguns. As the festivities spiral out of control, frustrations and betrayals rear their inevitably disturbing heads. Foley limns the emotional baggage and jealousies that long-time relationships can sometimes harbour, along with, of course, true intimacy and true love. This taut thriller, making canny use of its multiple narrators, also delves pleasingly into the minutiae of the seemingly carefree days and boundless party nights before so-called adulthood hits.

The Quintessential Interview: Elisabeth Elo

In Finding Katarina M. (Polis), D.C. doctor Natalie March knows her mother’s parents’ history of being banished to the gulag, where they promptly vanished into that network of labor camps. But then a young woman turns up on Natalie’s turf, claiming to be Natalie’s cousin: Natalie’s grandmother, Katarina, the cousin claims, is still alive in Siberia. More than intrigued, Natalie sets off to a remote part of Russia on a determined fact-and-grandmother-finding mission. Insistent in its twisting narrative, the novel takes a turn into something darker, stranger, and much more terrifying as it unfolds. Luckily, Natalie remains a compelling companion for the startling journey Elo has generated.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

For serious writing: my desk. For revising manuscript pages: my living room couch or any coffee shop. For early drafts in longhand: my car parked in a shady lot overlooking the Muddy River.

Top five favorite authors?

Edna O’Brien. Edward St. Aubyn. Graham Greene. Shakespeare. W.B. Yeats.

Top five tunes to write to?

I need silence to write. But when I’m getting distracted or I have to do some writing-related task I don’t want to do, I listen to jazz piano. My favorite artists are Keith Jarrett and Akiko Grace. Next comes jazz guitar, especially Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny.

Top five hometown spots?

Coolidge Corner Theatre. Brookline Booksmith for its many author events (and books). Boylston Street because a lot of my life happened there. Pizza Stop pizzeria a block away from my house for its chicken caesar wraps and because it hasn’t changed in 30 years (not an exaggeration). The park across from my house where I go every morning with my dog and always end up noticing the sky because there aren’t any buildings to get in the way.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Thunderbolts and lightning

The first issue of writer Kieron Gillen's Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt was a solid-enough revival. Thunderbolt is a classic superhero who, unlike his peers published by Charlton Comics — the Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom — never really managed to catch on. In fact, when Alan Moore was forced to swap out the Charlton characters for thinly veiled analogs in the book that would become Watchmen, the Thunderbolt analog who played the villain of the book, Ozymandias, probably surpassed his original character in terms of name recognition.

Gillen overtly toyed with that Ozymandias connection in the first issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. The book clearly showcased many callbacks to Watchmen — the nine-panel grids, the Moore-inspired dialogue — and it pitted multiple versions of the character against himself. The book was interesting, but there have been so many riffs on Watchmen that it didn't really stand out.

In the second issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, though, Gillen breaks the damn comic. In a good way. One Thunderbolt crosses dimensions to fight an evil Ozymandias-like Thunderbolt by violating the 9-panel grid in a postmodern assault on Watchmen's rigid structure. Just to add to the book's self-referential flavor, Thunderbolt even notes before he breaks the panel borders that "This level of formalism is dangerous. We could lose some people."

Perhaps. But that kind of manipulation of the rules of storytelling is one surefire way to make me a fan of the book forever.

And then, in the third issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, which came out yesterday, Gillen breaks the book again, sending one Thunderbolt into a completely different genre of comic. (I don't want to spoil the final reveal of the book, which is one of the great last pages in recent comics memory.) It's pretty clear by now that Gillen is out to break the story and the form of comics again and again with every issue. He's doing more than just resurrecting an old character — he's forcing that character to come to terms with his own history in very literal terms.

Just as my regard for the story expands with every new issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, my respect for artist Caspar Wungaard grows, too. He's a very talented artist who can draw the hell out of a scene with two characters quietly talking, but Wungaard also can express some very complex concepts with a frightening ease. The concepts that Gillen unspools here are as complex as if I gave you a pen and a piece of paper and asked you to to draw the fourth dimension, or the passage of time. Wungaard makes the impossible look effortless.

As Thunderbolt himself notes, this kind of formal play isn't for everyone. Plenty of readers will find this series to be a little too impressed with itself. But anyone who is interested in the kind of broad information that a comics page can convey, and anyone who wants to know how hard you can push at the idea of a comic before it breaks forever, will be in heaven.

Aggrieved identity politics snowflakes offended by milkshakes, calls for basic human decency

Heather Antos is a comic book editor who was targeted by creeps in an online smear campaign because she posted a selfie of herself and other female Marvel employees drinking milkshakes. Seriously, that's all there is to that story: Antos spent months absorbing hate because she is a woman who works in the comics industry.

Yesterday, Antos — who now works at Valiant Comics — tweeted "PRO TIP: Industries are small. People talk. Don't be a dick." Pretty innocuous, obviously, but it was enough to convince the conservative comics chud to climb out of their sewers and take great offense:

Social media obviously amplifies the worst of us. It encourages white male victimhood and it makes it way too easy to lash out anonymously. There's a whole subculture of conservative Trump fans in comics who are convinced that they are the mainstream, even as they self-publish themselves into oblivion.

But, c'mon: if you take offense at someone saying "don't be a dick," folks, the odds are about 100 percent that you're being a huge dick. This is just basic arithmetic.

Book News Roundup: The first Seattle Children's Book Festival will be September 28th

  • Save the date: September 28th, 2019 is the very first Seattle Children's Book Festival. It's free, it will happen at Greenwood Elementary School, and it will benefit Seattle school libraries, which is a very good cause. Here's a partial list of authors who are attending, and here's how you can apply to be a participating author.

  • You've only got about five days left to apply to be Hugo House's Writer in Residence.

  • Oprah is bringing her book club back — this time on Apple's luxury TV streaming service, which is debuting later this year.

  • The LifeWay chain of Christian bookstores will be closing this year. That's 170 stores around the country.

  • Bret Easton Ellis is a troll, and I find it's best to ignore him. But if you're going to pay attention to Ellis, you should do what Andrea Long Chu does in this review of his latest book: just totally fucking cream him:
    This presents a problem for the reviewer in my position: namely, whether to take the bait. I could write an incensed review that fiercely rebuts White’s many inflammatory claims, thus giving the impression that they should be taken seriously; if my review were to go viral, it would likely trigger more bad coverage on pop-culture websites like Vulture and Vice; Bret Easton Ellis might trend for a bit on Twitter, where we would all take our best shots at dunking on this dude; and at the end of it all, the author would get to feel relevant again, and maybe finally write a movie that people actually liked. But why bother? For years now, Bret Easton Ellis has been accused of being a racist and a misogynist, and I think these things are true; but like most things that are true of Bret Easton Ellis, they are also very boring.

Martha Silano may not know it, but she's as Seattle as they come

Our March Poet in Residence, Martha Silano, can recall the exact moment that she fell in love with poetry. "When I was seven," she explains, "I had an amazing second-grade teacher who read us a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson and a Poe poem."

But what happened next was the real strike of thunder. "And then when she read Emily Dickinson, it was sort of like the one-two punch. It was just a short poem — 'the rose is out of town' — but I was just absolutely enthralled."

From then on, Silano knew that poetry would be important to her. When she was nine, she recalls, "I told my mother I really needed a notebook," and that began a long history of cramming journals full of writing.

In ninth grade, Silano's appreciation saw a evolutionary leap forward when another beloved teacher insisted that her class go to see Robert Bly read when he was in town. This was her first time seeing a poet read their own work, and it resonated deeply with her: "it was the seventies and he was putting on masks and talking out against the Vietnam War. And I came home just all jazzed up." Bly's reading crystallized something in her: "I want to be a rebel," she realized that night: "I want to be a poet."

Silano went to school in Iowa and the University of Oregon, but she eventually wound up in the MFA program at the University of Washington. On her first night in Seattle, she almost attended a show from a popular new local band called Nirvana.

Since then, Seattle has been her home. "I never left," she says. So does Silano think of herself as a Seattle poet? "Not many of my poems are about Seattle," she demurs. "There was a special Seattle Magazine contest to write a poem about Seattle and I couldn't do it. I love living here, but I don't write poems about Mount Rainier."

Of course, Silano has a direct lineage that can be traced through the tradition of modern Seattle poetry. At UW, she studied under Theodore Roethke's most famous student, David Wagoner. Almost immediately, Wagoner started pulling one of her poems apart. "he said to me at the very beginning, 'if you would just figure out the music, the rhythm, the metrics, all your problems will be solved.' I went home and wrote my first sonnet because I was determined to show him I could get a handle on the metrics."

"I will always say David Wagoner was the teacher who changed everything. He rearranged my brain," Silano says, laughing that even though she's "such a feminist," she's so closely aligned in her educational history with white men — "the patriarchy." To clarify, she adds, "Heather McHugh was there, too and she was really, really important. And Linda Bierds was there, and she was important, too. I mean, I got the trifecta."

A lot of poets know how to kick off a poem with a memorable first line. But Silano's poems stand apart from the crowd because she is fantastic at writing a grabby last line — the kind of closing that leaves the reader with wind whistling in her ears. "I am never ever sure how the poem is going to end" when it begins, Silano says. "There are poems where I have worked on the ending for years, and there are ones where I get them fast — a total trance situation."

"It was Molly Tenenbaum who taught me how to tiptoe out of a poem," Silano clarifies. Tenenbaum, who was in a writing group with Silano for years, taught her that "you didn't have to put a big bow on it. My bows were just too big, and then I got more brave. I unlearned the big-bow ending." Silano has been in poetry writing and writing generation groups with some of the biggest names in Seattle poetry: Kary Wayson, Rebecca Hoogs, Kelli Russell Agodon, Erin Malone. Each of these poets has taught Silano something important about craft, and added to her experience in the Seattle poetry tradition.

It's that brilliant collection of Seattle poets who taught Silano how to expand her poetry horizons and experiment with form. She has written sonnets and pantoums. She notes with pride that she recently perfected a ghazal. "I'm following where the poem leads me," she says. "When I start to write a poem, I have to be prepared that it might not want to be free verse." And then, after a thoughtful pause, Silano adds, "but what a relief when it wants to be free verse!"

Everything is fine(s)

You should read this piece by David Kroman explaining why Seattle might soon vote to eliminate library fines altogether. Turns out, it's a class issue:

“Overdue fines do not turn irresponsible patrons into responsible ones,” the report read. “They only distinguish between patrons who can afford to pay for the common mistake of late returns and those who cannot.”

The columns of power

Published March 26, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Jean Godden’s Citizen Jean: Riots, Rogues, Rumors, and Other Inside Seattle Stories .

Tonight, former Seattle Councilmember Jean Godden will discuss her new memoir at Folio Seattle. Her book starts as a toothy tell-all, but it loses those teeth as the author gets closer and closer to the levers of power.

Read this review now


of that star in Orion
that isn’t a star
but a nebula
giving birth to 100s
of infant stars;
if I’m not half
as helpful, a force
against the dark,
then I’m as green
as just-mown Astroturf,
as the monster my daughter
insists is under her bed
with the lime Hi-Chew
wrappers, the balls
of chartreuse yarn
she never did make
that macramé parrot with.
Jealous like Medea, who doused her hubby’s
flavor-of-the-week with fiery
brew, like the girl who pulls
the braids of the girl she wishes
she could be but can’t
because her mother won’t buy her
white patent-leather go-go boots,
nor will she be spending spring break
in the Bahamas. Oh, jealousy,
Natalie Merchant croons, nodding,
tossing her locks until heck,
she’s making us jealous of her
Oh, jealousy. Jealous of the thief
who shoplifts cake mix, shortening,
a couple tubs of pink goop,
so she can bake her kid
a birthday cake, of a thief
because jealousy steals more
than ten white tapers ever will,
though not jealous of the crickets
stuck in a gecko cage, fat and happy
as they crowd an apple core
at the table of thanks, while inside
a fake rock sleeps the unchirpable.
Jealous, though, of their easy envy
of the uncaged; they know nothing
of prizes and preaching, of poverty,
though maybe a lot about loss, but
not what it means when the radio
says holed up, at large, fleeing.
Loved ones and armed. Says scene,
which today was a place where
people eat. Says senseless says shot
says shooter, says shoot shoot
, but aha, the crickets are silent,
are digging into the soft, sweet flesh
of a Honey Crisp, all for one
like Melville described extracting
ambergris from whales, elbow
to unjealous elbow, or so it appears
crickets don’t covet another
cricket’s chirp, another cricket’s cercus
or palps, though who am I to assume?
I know we all have wants, a desire
to watch Orion rise in the eastern dark,
find the fuzzy star that isn’t a star
in Orion’s sword, home in on that cloud
of dust and gas, stare for so long I forget
my nephew and I will never agree
about guns, who uses them and when,
forget who I am, what I don’t have,
what I didn’t win, stare without resentment
at the cold night, at the place where
a whole bunch of the future is being born.

Get tickets now for the 14th annual Libraries Unbound!

Thank you, Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, for sponsoring us this week.

The world's best book city deserves a great university library — and Friends of the UW Libraries helps the University of Washington continue to hit that mark. We're graced with a university library system that stretches over four cities and houses millions of books.

Friends of the Libraries helps make sure our college libraries are thriving and relevant, not just museums for books. The annual fundraising dinner is your chance to be part of it. Scheduled for May 2, 2019, Libraries Unbound is keynoted this year by Amy Tan and emceed by Mona Lee Locke. As in past years, every single table at the event is hosted by a local literary light. Check out the full list on our sponsor feature page, then grab your ticket before the event sells out.

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

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from March 25th - 31st

Monday, March 25: All Its Charms Reading

All Its Charms is the latest poetry collection by Seattle-area author Keetje Kuipers, who edits at Poetry Northwest and teaches at Hugo House. Kuipers will be joined by poets Geffrey Davis and Erika Meitner. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, March 26: Citizen Jean Reading

Jean Godden was a columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer back when it was a printed paper. Then she was on the Seattle City Council. Her new book, Citizen Jean, tells the stories she was too polite to tell back in the day. Tonight, she's in conversation with Seattle media mainstay David Brewster.
Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307,, 7 pm, $10.

Wednesday, March 27: The Every Other

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, $5.

Thursday, March 28: Radicalized Reading

Cory Doctorow is a very smart writer who knows a lot about copyright and technology and the awful things that people do with copyright and technology. His latest book, Radicalized, lays out four potential near-future dystopias, including a pharmaceutical horror story and a play on Superman. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, March 29: Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga Reading

Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga means Learn to Count in Somali. This is a bilingual book for kids that was created by five Somali families from south Seattle. This is an opportunity to meet the kids and parents who helped make the book a reality.

NewHolly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave S, 206-760-3296,, 5:30 pm, free.

Saturday, March 30: Two Cartoonists

Peter Bagge continues his remarkable series of biographies of great American women with Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story. James Sturm's new graphic novel, Off Season, is about a relationship that falls apart in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. Together, the two men have the better part of a century's worth of experience in the comics industry. I'll be joining them onstage to talk about their careers, their latest books, and whether there's any hope for comics. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, March 31: Hard to Love Reading

Hard to Love is a book by Briallen Hopper that collects essays about love and friendship that fall outside the realm of marriage — the relationships "that are often treated as invisible or seen as secondary." The book's promotional materials promise that it's "a series of love letters to the meaningful, if underappreciated, forms of intimacy and community that are tricky, tangled, and tough, but ultimately sustaining." Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Event of the Week: The Every Other

Doug Nufer is a Seattle original. He's been in Seattle since seemingly forever, publishing challenging Oulipian novels and poems, and reading in every bar, coffee shop, or bookstore that will have him.

For many years, Nufer hosted and curated a reading series called The Bar Room Writers Offensive at Barça on Capitol Hill. Sometimes he'd host wearing a forest ranger's outfit. Other times, he'd wear a suit. He'd introduce writers who excited him and charm the audience with inter-reading patter. Watching Nufer read at Barça, you got the sense that he is happiest with literature when it's alive and interacting in the world.

This coming Wednesday, Nufer is launching a new reading series at Vermillion, right next door to Barça. This series is called The Every Other because it takes place on the last Wednesday of every other month, and it features readings and music.

The first Every Other guest to share the stage with Nufer is Amber Nelson, the poet who wrote the amazing collection The Sexiest Man Alive, which is a series of monologues written from the perspective of People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. You might know Nelson as the publisher of the dearly beloved and absolutely missed alice blue books, but her poetry is good enough that it cures the sting of alice blue's disappearance.

Nufer and Nelson will share the evening with two musicians: drummer Bob Rees and saxophonist Wally Shoup. Shoup is an internationally known local musician who plays jazz all over town and has frequently collaborated with Nufer, including improvised live accompaniment for some of his most memorable poetry readings. He and Rees have played together for many decades.

This is an old-school Seattle literary event: some music, some booze, some experimental readings and art for the joy of art — and all for five bucks. If you're on the Keep Seattle Weird bandwagon in the face of encroaching gentrification and development, you should know that it doesn't get any weirder — or better — than this.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, $5.

Mail Call for March 24, 2019

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

The Sunday Post for March 24, 2019

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

Fuck The Vessel

An absolutely brilliant bit of architectural criticism by Kate Wagner, on Hudson Yards's Vessel (sorry, Hudson Yards's The Vessel). The Amazon Globes are begging for a treatment this smart — and smartly laced with scorn.

What is public space if not that land allocated (thanks to the generosity of our Real Estate overlords) to the city’s undeserving plebeians, who can interface with it in one of two ways: as consumers or interlopers, both allowed only to play from dawn ‘til dusk in the discarded shadows of the ultra-rich? Unlike a real neighborhood, which implies some kind of social collaboration or collective expression of belonging, Hudson Yards is a contrived place that was never meant for us. Because of this, the Vessel is also a Vessel for outrage like my own.
The Reckoning of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center

Bob Mason, one-time employee of the Southern Poverty Law Center, reflects on its founder's firing. An interesting take on the abuses of power that we tolerate when we're on the inside, and what that looks like when the glaze of 16-hour days wears off.

For those of us who’ve worked in the Poverty Palace, putting it all into perspective isn’t easy, even to ourselves. We were working with a group of dedicated and talented people, fighting all kinds of good fights, making life miserable for the bad guys. And yet, all the time, dark shadows hung over everything: the racial and gender disparities, the whispers about sexual harassment, the abuses that stemmed from the top-down management, and the guilt you couldn’t help feeling about the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well, to do the Lord’s work in the heart of Dixie. We were part of the con, and we knew it.
Against Catharsis: Writing is Not Therapy

Memoirist T Kira Madden on the magic trick through which experience becomes memory becomes story.

From then on, as we tell and retell the story of the raft or the wet rock or was it a story about women and oceans? Or resilience? Or vacations? Or the fact that grandfather wasn’t alive to be there? We are essentially only recalling the last time the story was told. The purity of The Memory is gone. It has become texturized, woven, dramatized, for better and for worse. It is both the deepest loss and greatest gift I’ve experienced in my life.
The Gift at the Edge of the World

The New York Times has been doing some cool things lately with microanimation and other subtle (or not-so-subtle) digital tricks. It's an easy hand to overplay, but they're doing a great job with it — using flare in the right places, in the right ways, to set mood and show the story. This illustrated piece by Brian Rea is simply magical.

The island is only about 50 acres, but it's quite easy to get lost. Distances walking in the forest are hard to determine. You spend so much time walking over, under and around branches, brush and fallen trees that a simple hike can quickly become a disorienting journey. There are no straight lines in a forest.

Whatcha Reading, Martha Silano?

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.

Martha Silano is the author of five poetry books, including the just-released Gravity Assist. As the Seattle Review of Books Poet in Residence for March, she's released three new poems over the past few weeks: Angel of the Wind, One More Monarch, and My Mother's Denial, with one more to come next Tuesday, March 26th. She'll be appearing May 17 at the Elliott Bay Book Company with Francesca Bell, Keetje Kuipers, and Tiffany Midge, then again May 22 at Third Place Books in Seward Park with Kevin Craft and Laura Da'.

What are you reading now?

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy, a book about what happens to a poet’s brain under the influence of our current administration, especially its policies regarding the treatment of children, women, the marginalized, the non-Christian, the non-white, and just about everyone else except those in power: the rich as f*ck, well-insured, lawyered-ed, and not terminally or mentally ill, womb-possessing, or addicted to opiates, to name a few. What happens when a writer is pushed to consider the end of civilization as we know it? Our precious ‘what was’ is overthrown by an even more repressive governing council known as the octopus overlords. I can’t even begin to summarize the wonders of this book. The poems express desperation, cynicism, misery and heartbreak, yet somehow there’s levity, playfulness, and wisdom at every turn. The poems are elastic and inflexible, wobbly and strong. In “No Traveler Returns,” the speaker introduces herself as a mother, a lover, a “wild tentacled screaming creature,” “gasoline,” a forgetter, and a knower of numbers. And that’s just the first poem. Shaughnessy’s poems demand multiple readings, which is always a good sign. After half a dozen or more reads, I start to think I have a handle on what’s she’s up to, though thankfully not quite. Is this an accessible book? Not so much. Am I enthralled by the subject matter, word play, voice, and cadences? Hell, yes.

Psst: I’m also currently reading:

What did you read last?

Confession: I had never read Animal Farm. I recently had the pleasure of seeing a stage production of it at my daughter’s school, and I am so glad I did! My daughter had been bugging me for months to read the book before I saw the play. However, after seeing the play I ran home and read the book in one sitting. What’s not to love about Orwell and, in particular, a bunch of talking animals getting languaged out of their fair share? An apt book for our times. I need to read 1984 next (yes, another classic I managed to duck out on), but it will have to wait till the summer, because…

What are you reading next?

Ladder of Shadows by the great Gustaf Sobin (1935-2005). Why? Because I just finished reading Sobin’s Luminous Debris. (Surprise, I am usually reading four or more books at once). Sobin lived for many years in Provence. Spoiler alert: he is not Peter Mayle. Instead, Sobin writes utterly gorgeous lyrical essays about early human history — moon goddesses, weird-ass mirrors, toponyms, the cult of skulls, a Roman aqueduct that went from being a life-giving font of spring water to a way to flush out the sewers of Nimes. No guarantees, but I am positing Ladder of Shadows, with its chapter headings The Sarcophagi of Arles, the Dark Ages A History of Omissions, and Mary Magdalene the Odiferous, will be a spellbindingly good read.

The Help Desk: Got hot sauce in my bag

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


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

Just a little pissed still, Ballard

Dear JLPS,

Nice visual but I like my men to be able to run when I scream for them, not hobble like foundered goats.

I understand your ire. You could obsessively focus on the 12-47 percent of our population who believe women should be kept in a box, have warranties, and if a baby a year doesn't explode from their nether fountains – or worse, if their fountains dry up – their lady parts should be recycled into yummy treats for clever hunting dogs.

But where will that get you besides bankrupt on foot bindings and eventually locked in a size 12 cage in a shithole farm outside an ironically named town like Ritzville, Idaho?

Nowhere, that's where.

Instead, I suggest you channel your frustrations into something productive – like volunteering to help me patent various spider-related inventions because, let me tell you, hot sauce is but the TIP OF THE ICEBERG. Imagine if women could spit venom when provoked?! IMAGINE.



The Portrait Gallery: UNESCO World Poetry Day

It's UNESCO World Poetry day, today. Spend some time with your favorite poets, and perhaps take a moment to read some poetry in translation?

Thursday Comics Hangover: Spider-Man grows up?

One of my favorite aspects of comics is the way they leave time largely up to the reader. A good artist can coax a reader into reading at a certain speed or rhythm through manipulation of panel layouts and spatial tricks on the page, but ultimately, every reader engages with a comic at their own pace. There's no real way to watch a movie at your own pace, but in comics the passage of time is a collaboration between creator and reader.

It's odd, then, that superhero comics always feel so timeless. Many of the characters fans have been following since the 1940s have basically become immortal — ageless beings who wear and discard the trappings of contemporary culture as easily as you or I might swap a pair of pants. When it comes to Superman and Spider-Man, we have no control over the passage of time. They stay roughly the same age forever, and we pass them by on our way to the grave.

Yesterday, the first issue of a new series by writer Chip Zdarsky (who you may also know as the artist of Sex Criminals) lifts the spell of immortality off of one of the most popular characters in comics. Spider-Man: Life Story is a limited series that begins with Spider-Man's origin in 1962, and then it follows the character in "real time" as he ages to the present day. Each book in the series is set in a decade in the character's life, beginning with the 1960s.

This idea has been done before: John Byrne wrote and drew a series called Generations at DC that followed Superman and Batman through the years, allowing the characters to age and have children and pass their legacies on to future generations. But it's just too good a concept to only do once, and Zdarsky's interpretation of the idea is much less gimmicky than Byrne's, which contorted itself into a sort of rhyming structure for no good reason.

The first issue of Life Story allows Zdarsky to use the Spider-Man character to examine the Vietnam War. Though early Marvel Comics are praised for being politically active in a way that DC Comics at the time were not, Marvel's creators largely left the war out of their books. Perhaps including Vietnam in comics would have felt too frivolous. But in retrospect, it's bizarre that Peter Parker never really expressed much angst about the draft.

In Life Story, Zdarsky finally puts Spider-Man through the moral conflict that the character always avoided. He wonders aloud, "What do I do? I have power. Shouldn't I be--shouldn't I have a responsibility to go [to Vietnam]?" Every young person in the late 1960s had to ask themselves some variation of that question, and it only makes sense that Peter Parker, with his guilt and his dutiful nature, would ask those questions.

Life Story is drawn by Mark Bagley, who has become the quintessential Spider-Man artist for at least two generations of comics readers. His work has never had the bizarre edge of Steve Ditko, but in Life Story he captures the wholesomeness of John Romita, and it works perfectly. The book might lack some of its heft if it were drawn, say, by some quirky indie comics superstar. Bagley has spent so many years as a straightforward superhero artist that the moral dilemma of Vietnam feels even more complex when his characters question it.

I don't want to spoil the last page of Life Story, but let me say that it's one of the most surprising final pages I've read in a superhero comics in recent memory. It's a decision that actually feels brave, and it left me panting to read the next issue. This could be the most interesting Spider-Man book Marvel Comics has published in years — possibly since the wildly unpleasant issue in which Seattle cartoonist Peter Bagge imbued Peter Parker with Ditko's Objectivism. This is only the first of six issues, of course, and pretty much anything could happen in the rest of Life Story. But after this first issue, I'm hooked.

Cut off at the source

If you're going to write a book about real people, please make sure that your subjects are okay with having their real names published.

Florida law to make it easier to ban books

Here's an addendum to yesterday's commentary on the conservative war on free speech: A Florida Republican is trying to pass a bill that would make it easier to ban books in schools. Kelly Jensen at BookRiot notes:

This bill comes because of concerns from the Florida Citizens Alliance, which has a history of attempted censorship in Florida schools. What makes this particular bill more terrifying for educators and librarians in the state is that it’s not just parents who’d be empowered to recall a book — any citizen could step forward, deeming a book “unacceptable,” putting not only educators and librarians at risk, but the entire system of education itself.

If it were to pass, teachers and librarians who violated the law could be found guilty of a third-degree felony.

How a "literate and literary stripper" is adapting classic fiction for the burlesque stage

Seattle excels at interdisciplinary arts organizations — groups that combine literature with other arts like music (as with the Bushwick Book Club) and theater (The Book-It Theatre.) And for many years, literature has flirted with more risqué arts, in form of the Naked Girls Reading Series (a Chicago-based series which was exactly what it says: naked women reading stories) and several groups that tie together literature and burlesque.

On April 12th and 13th, Seattle's newest literary burlesque endeavor, The Noveltease Theatre Company, debuts a new production interpreting Baron Munchausen into a 90-minute stage show titled ADVENTURE! Marvelous Tales of the Baron Munchausen.

On the phone, Noveltease performer Sailor St. Claire explains that these dancers have a long history of interacting with books. Both St. Claire and Noveltease dancer Polly Wood participated in Naked Girls Reading, and many of the other performers have roots in the city's nerdlesque scene. St. Claire has a doctorate in English literature.

Her academic research developed in tandem with her burlesque career. As she did her academic research, St. Claire says, "there a lot of conversation between my doctoral work and what I was doing on stage. It's interesting to me from a more theoretical perspective to think about what the relationships between pages and stages are." She explains, "I'm so interested in how bodies appear in literature — what we do when we encounter a nude body in a text, and what we do when we encounter a nude body on the stage."

St. Claire says burlesque, which is "a vocabulary of revealing things," is "a great pairing with literature." Just as literary critics and authors who adapt books to other arts have to unravel the deeper meaning of a text, Noveltease's dancers are metaphorically revealing a truth in these stories by revealing more of themselves onstage.

"My branding game is on point, I guess," St. Claire explains, "as a literate and literary stripper." The road to Noveltease began with St. Claire's partnership with the choreographer Fosse Jack. Together, over the past four years, they've interpreted works by Tennessee Williams and Mary Shelley with original choreography.

What can literate audiences who've never attended a burlesque show expect from Noveltease? St. Claire wants to make sure that Seattle Review of Books readers understand that the pairing is not new or unusual. "Burlesque itself is a literary term," she says, which "refers to a specific genre of literature that has satire and comedy and parody in it. And that's also what translated to the burlesque stage in the 1880s and 1890s."

"The work that we do in Noveltease is to elaborate on both meanings of that literary term," St. Claire explains, "to take how burlesque functions within the context of literature, and then how it has functioned in the context of theater, and explore that through contemporary burlesque."

And St. Claire points out that reading itself is an intensely physical act: "I would assume that an audience that is invested in reading is also invested in the visceral and embodied experience that you have when you're reading something that's really good," she says. "We're just externalizing that. We're putting that embodied experience on the stage."

All that sounds serious, but St. Claire adds, Noveltease is "not like a library. You don't have to be quiet. You're allowed to laugh and be audience members." The goal is "to ask people to encounter literature in a new way."

For the moment, Noveltease is going to focus on works in the public domain — partly for legal reasons, but also because "we have this really staid idea of what the classics are — you know, for all intents and purposes they're generally written by old dead white men," St. Claire says. "I think that in doing burlesque versions of stuff written by old dead white men, there's a lot of opportunity to rework and revise the canon and to attempt to take these stories that belong to a particular perspective and make them stories that could belong to other perspectives." She says future outings from Noveltease aspire to resurrect old works so that they "resonate with a modern audience — to actively queer [a text] or actively make it more feminist."

So what's the process of adaptation like? "We'll read the book, we'll think about how it becomes a dance, and then we'll think about how the dance interacts with the words," she says. St. Claire argues that Munchausen's episodic nature made it a great fit with Noveltease.

In the beginning, the group read the book and asked themselves, "what parts of this are burlesque-able?" The performers chose the passages that they most wanted to perform, and then they began editing the text. "This is language from 1785," St. Claire explains, "so a lot of editing is trying to clarify incredibly long sentences full of embedded clauses, so that human beings now could actually get their mouths around them and say them on stage."

Baron Munchausen, in particular, is a text that is ripe for reappropriation. For years after its publication, authors would add new chapters to the story, republishing the original text with a few new passages and claiming the whole book — and its attendant profits — as their own. St. Claire loves that the book has "an interesting history of theft and appropriation and adaptation as a text." Noveltease is adding to that great tradition, building on the book's legacy even as it strips away some of its mysteries.

Don't play Devin's advocate on the topic of free speech

Shot: Devin Nunes is a heroic defender of free speech.

Chaser: Devin Nunes thinks people on Twitter are too mean, so he's suing the site.
In the suit, Nunes accuses Twitter of having a “political agenda” by allowing two anonymous accounts—“Devin Nunes’ Mom” (@DevinNunesMom) and “Devin Nunes’ Cow” (@DevinCow)—and [political consultant Liz] Mair to attack, defame, and demean him.

The complaint is full of fantastic language like this one:

In her endless barrage of tweets, Devin Nunes’ Mom maliciously attacked every aspect of Nunes’ character, honesty, integrity, ethics and fitness to perform his duties as a UnitedStates Congressman. Devin Nunes’ Mom stated that Nunes had turned out worse than Jacob Wohl; falsely accused Nunes of being a racist, having “white supremist friends”and distributing “disturbing inflammatory racial propaganda”

This is more proof that when it comes to right-wing dickwads like Nunes, "free speech" only matters when it's a conservative doing the talking. They want to actively suppress the language of anyone they dislike. Please, please remember this the next time you read some concern trolling by a conservative pundit or any of their assorted useful idiots.

Destroyer of Worlds

Published March 19, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Sharma Sheilds’s The Cassandra .

Most people don't realize that the race to harness atomic energy took place right here in Washington state. A new novel by Spokane author Sharma Shields stares directly into the horrors of Hanford.

Read this review now

My mother’s denial


can only be compared to the scent
of my Uncle Pete’s Delta 88
the night he hit a skunk.

Dizzy. Nauseous. Breathing
into a pillow. All across
Tennessee and Arkansas —

a warning for speeding
in Paducah, the orange-lit
on-ramps of Memphis,

the flooded fields of Jericho —
my mother in the front seat
refusing to acknowledge it.

It looks good on paper

Our sponsor this week is Rosemary Reeve, author of the Jack Hart mystery series. The third Hart novel, Only the Good, is just as delightful as the first two: fast-paced and thrilling, but generous, too. It's impossible not to like Jack Hart, and not only because his stomping grounds are ours: Hart's a Seattle attorney with a talent for finding himself on the dubious side of the law.

Hart is also a man with a difficult family. His mom is heading into her first marriage; his long-lost father is leaving sizeable legal footprints that only Jack can cover up. When dad's paper mill burns down, it'll take more than a good bottle of wine to keep client Fidelity Insurance on Jack's side. It's a tasty thriller, definitely worth spending your lunch hour on our sponsor feature page.

to sample chapter 1.

We love highlighting independent authors with a Seattle twist, like Rosemary Reeve, and like you. Put your book, reading, or class in front of our readership of writers, industry professionals, and avid book fans — and support the site you come to every day for the best reviews and book news in the city. Grab the last dates in April before they're gone!

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

Monday, March 18: Writing Circle With Hugo House

Seattle stand-up comedian and talented gag cartoonist Brett Hamil facilitates a writing circle in which you can bring a piece you're working on, talk through some problems, and provide feedback to other writers. All are welcome.

Seattle Public Library, Columbia City Branch, 4721 Rainier Ave S, 386-1908,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, March 19: Building Characters

As part of the Hugo House's series of craft talks from established and well-regarded authors, Andre Dubus III will discuss his knack for creating memorable and believable characters with Seattle author Jennifer Haigh.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $15.

Wednesday, March 20: Three Sci-Fi Writers

Three of Seattle's best and best-loved science fiction writers — Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead and Daryl Gregory — will be interviewed by Adam Rakunas, who is a younger Seattle sci-fi writer who is also held in very high esteem.

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

Thursday, March 21: Lit Fix

The sixth anniversary of the Capitol Hill-based reading series features a high-quality lineup: Florangela Davila, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, Jane Wong, and Margot Kahn Case. Joy Mills and Tom Parker will play songs. Proceeds benefit Team Read, which trains readers to teach kids how to read.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 7 pm, $5.

Friday, March 22: Two Poets

Open Books brings two great poets together for a reading. You know S. Brook Corfman for the debut collection Luxury, Blue Lace, and you know poet Malcolm Friend, who is originally from Seattle, for his collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple.

Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, March 23: Poetry Brunch

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Corvus & Co, 601 Broadway E, 420-8488,, 11 am, free to enter but buy some brunch.

Sunday, March 24: Throw-Away Faces Reading

Seattle writer Josef Olsen's new book is about a "string of patricides [in] 1916 Dublin and a washed-up Scottish doctor [who] receives a mysterious manuscript from a fellow Scotsman recounting his dark experiences in the pioneer city of Seattle in 1889."

Spooked in Seattle Ghost Tours, 102 Cherry St, 425-954-7701,, 5 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Poetry brunch at Corvus & Co

Don't get me wrong — I love a good old-fashioned reading. But it's good to see people occasionally grab the traditional formula and shake it up to see what happens. What if your schedule keeps you away from the traditional 7 pm weeknight bookstore event? How do you get new people to show up if you keep following the same patterns?

Luckily, Seattle indie literature enthusiast Kate Berwanger has some ideas on how to bring readings to a new venue. This Saturday at Corvus & Co on Broadway, Berwanger is hosting a literary brunch featuring six poets who'll read as you drink and eat.

The biggest name on the docket is Sarah Galvin, who is perhaps the Seattle poet you should most want to spend brunch with. Galvin is a hilarious and adventurous poet whose work translates well to exciting new venues.

But Galvin isn't the only writer whose name you'll recognize. Sonya Vatomsky is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine, in addition to their debut poetry collection, Salt Is For Curing. Vinnie Sarrocco has a collection coming out this year from Pioneer Square's Chatwin Books.

And you might meet one or two new favorite poets, too: Alexis Lopez, Meredith Clark, and Vi Tranchemontagne will also be reading. This is an array of writers with a good mix of ages, backgrounds, and styles. They're all at different points in their careers. And they're all reading poetry much earlier than they otherwise would.

Whether your favorite brunch beverage is a bloody Mary or a black coffee, you'll likely find the perfect accompaniment for your pancakes and eggs. And who knows? Maybe after you attend your first 11 am reading, you'll never want to go back to sleepy old seven pm readings ever again.

Corvus & Co, 601 Broadway E, 420-8488,, 11 am, free to enter but buy some brunch, 21+.

The Sunday Post for March 17, 2019

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

White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots

Adam Serwer's exploration of America's history of white nationalism, and how it influenced and was adopted by Nazi Germany, is full of ugliness. It's tempting to call it "chilling," but that's a luxury we can't afford — things that are chilling are other than us, different from us, and this is, unfortunately, who America has been and for many people still is.

What's truly chilling is the thought that we might not choose, whenever we can, to be other than this.

Nazi lawyers carefully studied how the United States, despite its pretense of equal citizenship, had effectively denied that status to those who were not white. They looked at Supreme Court decisions that withheld full citizenship rights from nonwhite subjects in U.S. colonial territories. They examined cases that drew, as Thind’s had, arbitrary but hard lines around who could be considered “white.”

The Nazis reviewed the infamous “one-drop rule,” which defined anyone with any trace of African blood as black, and “found American law on mongrelization too harsh to be embraced by the Third Reich.”

On Kids and Comics

This is one of the most delicious weekends of the year to be downtown — our city is filled with superheroes and supervillains, antiheroes and anime, icons and iconoclasts. It's impossible not to catch a buzz from the very serious play of Emerald City Comic Con! In honor of the event, check out this great issue of "All the Books I'll Never Read," a newsletter from bookseller, blogger, podcaster, and sometime Seattle Review of Books reviewer Emma Nichols.

I think comics make difficult topics more approachable and understandable. And let’s be realistic, the world is full of injustice, terror, and bullies. We should prepare our kids, let them know that life isn’t fair, while simultaneously teaching them how to fight back.
W.S. Merwin, Poet of Life’s Evanescence, Dies at 91

As a student of poetry, many years ago, I could have written an appropriately precise and boring encomium to W. S. Merwin on the occasion of his death.

Fortunately, I'm no longer a student of poetry, and I can write instead, simply, that a beloved voice has gone quiet. Margalit Fox says the rest.

Most reviewers praised his relentless deployment of poetry as a talisman against the void; the emotional ferocity beneath the cool, polished surface of his lines; and his use of language so pure and immediate that it could attain translucence.

Whatcha Reading, Tatiana Gill?

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.

Tatiana Gill is a Seattle-based cartoonist, illustrator, and creator of many books focused on addiction recovery, mental health, and body positivity, including Wombgenda: Feminist Comics, Blackoutings: How I Quit Drinking, and the recently released Color Me Thicc: A Fat-Positive Coloring Book. She's appearing with fellow local comic artist and writer Colleen Frakes today, Saturday March 16, from 4-6 PM at Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique.

What are you reading now?

Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions by Russell Brand. My 12-step sponsor suggested we read it aloud to each other, and we're a few chapters in. Brand explains the 12-steps in a very funny, irreverent, and G-word (God) free context, sprinkled with anecdotes from his own life and struggles with addiction. As I have been practicing the 12-steps for years, I find it very insightful and full of laugh-out-loud moments. I have heard people speak of how the language of the more traditional 12-steps, crafted in the 1930s and rich in the G-word, alienates them. I think Brand's more modern translation of the same principles is a valuable resource.

What did you read last?

Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata. It's semi-autographical graphic novel about a college-going man's struggles with epilespy. I could really relate to the subjects of having complicated illnesses and being misunderstood by doctors, loved ones, and society. But some of it was confusing to me, I didn't understand some of the more abstract parts. I guessed that this well-received book is speaking the language of younger people than I, with it's manga/anime style, and I may be past the ideal age range for it at 44. But I did understand what Ata was saying about the need for patient advocacy and community support. Self-care is half the battle and the other half of the battle is asking for help, and continuing to seek out second opinions when met with misunderstanding and misdiagnoses (easier said than done with limited resources, of course).

I also recently read Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead by Tosha Silver which I loved. I love a fruity 'woo-woo' self help book but it's easy for them to be low quality, this one was high quality. It's a collection of essays from Silver's astrology column in the San Francisco Examiner. I was struggling with depression and faith when I read it, and I found an uplifting solace in her words. I could pick up what she was laying down and absorb those sweet post-hippie SF vibes while I was at it.

What are you reading next?

Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds. I am so excited for this graphic novel! I ordered it from the UK, which I do on very rare occasion (I usually borrow graphic novels from the Seattle Public Library, but I couldn't wait for this). I read Tamara Drewe by this British author a few years ago, and it was great - and it's how I learned the word "slag." In this new book the female protagonist is fat, old, and antisocial. When I am consuming media with a female, fat, old, cranky protagonist (which is produced so rarely), I feel the joy of representation, which helps me to relax and enjoy the story. In this rare representation I see someone like me being important and worthy of carrying a story. When it's a skinny, young, outgoing female (or most any kind of male) protagonist, there's a disconnect, it can be harder for me to relate — or worse, I can wind up aspiring to be something I don't have the means to actualize.

The Help Desk: Insert good title here

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,

Sometimes, my eye just catches on a fantastic title. My favorite title of all time is Legacy of Ashes, which is the title of a book that's a history of the CIA. I haven't even read the book, but that title really says it all, doesn't it? I worry that the rest of the book won't be able to live up to the title.

What do you think makes a good title? Do you have favorite titles?

Denise, Maple Leaf

Dear Denise,

Why haven't you read Legacy of Ashes? Go read it now and report back on whether the book lives up to its title. Many classic books have very straightforward titles that get to the person, place or thesis of the whole thing – think Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick – but I feel as if there is a trend among contemporary authors to worry as much about the cleverness of their title as they do about the quality of the work itself, and a great title to a mediocre book is as disappointing as a someone named Sir Shanksalot trying to sell you face cream from a kiosk in the mall.

A great book title alludes to the grist and bones of the work. Here are a few of my favorites: Confederacy of Dunces and Heart of Darkness, both of which are pretty self explanatory, while Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which books burn) and To Kill a Mockingbird (a reference to innocence lost) are more poetically subtle.

I don't write books but I will do almost anything with words for drinks or tips – it's what separates us from the beasts. Here are a few titles I'm currently shopping around:

  • Bigly Word Building: The Making of the Trump Library
  • Putting the Us Back in Pussy: An Unauthorized History of the Girl Scouts
  • Mustache Rides: The Heartwarming Story of a Girl Whose Dad Wouldn't Buy Her a Horse



Portrait Gallery: ECCC

Tons of Emerald City Comic Con events happening this weekend! But after you hit the Convention Center, and still want more, head out for the afterparties. See more on our Your Week in Reading, and Literary Event of the Week columns.

You could be swingin' on a star

Published March 14, 2019, at 12:00

Levi Stahl reviews Gary Giddins’s Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 .

Only Gary Giddins could take on the epic life of crooner Bing Crosby. And only Levi Stahl could take on Giddins's epic-length biography.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: I'll fly away

Sometimes an artist is just too good for monthly comics. When I first saw Nick Derington's art on the recent Doom Patrol reboot, for instance, or Nate Simpson's art on Nonplayer, I was blown away by the level of detail and draftsmanship on the page, but immediately after my first swoons settled in, a second thought lodged itself in my brain: "how the hell is this artist going to hit a monthly deadline?" Simpson, of course, has famously only completed two issues of his comic in eight years. Derington's Doom Patrol saw some delays, but the book was eventually finished a few months late.

Ian Bertram's art in the first issue of Little Bird is like that: it is so mind-numbingly gorgeous, so intensely detailed and vivid and imaginative, that it's hard to imagine how the book will be able to come out on a monthly basis. I haven't been this enthralled with a new artist since Frank Quitely burst on the scene almost two decades ago. It's a European style, very much in the vein of Moebius, but Bertram doesn't sacrifice spectacle for nuance: his characters are just as emotive and distinct as any of the modern masters of character — Adrian Tomine, say, or Emil Ferris.

Created by Bertram and writer Darcy Van Poelgeest, Little Bird is a story of a far-flung future in which Canada is at war with a militaristic Christian United States. A mother, preparing her tribe for war, leaves her child — the Little Bird of the title — in a bomb shelter.

The daughter emerges days later to find her village reduced to splinters and smoke. Little Bird sets out across the wasteland with a few vague directions in mind: "Free the axe. Save the people. Free the north. Save the world."

I don't want to spoil too much of the story. A lot happens in the first issue of Little Bird — it's double-sized for the regular price of a comic — and if you're not a fan of gore you will probably not enjoy this book. But the hyper-violence never feels particularly mean-spirited. There are human beings behind the action, and the violence takes its toll on survivors, just as much as victims.

Maybe, since Little Bird is only scheduled for five issues, Bertram will manage to hit those deadlines. But even if the book winds up delayed by months or even years, I'll be waiting patiently for the next issue. I don't know where Little Bird is going, but I know that like the title character, I'll go to the ends of the earth to see this story completed.

Mail Call for March 13, 2019



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

So you've been asked to moderate a panel...

In the past few weeks, I've been asked several times for advice from people who've been asked to host their first literary panels. It makes sense; we're coming up on convention season — Emerald City Comicon is this weekend, Norwescon is on the way, and AWP is looming at the end of the month — and conventions bring with them a swarm of author panels.

And while it's always an honor to be asked to host a panel, no convention that I know of ever offers advice on how to be a good moderator. So I thought I'd share my advice here. I don't claim to be an expert, or even an especially good moderator, but I've hosted dozens of these things and so I apparently at least know how not to ruin a panel. Here's what I've learned so far.

  • First, and most importantly, unless something huge happens, nobody is there to see you, and nobody will remember you after the panel. (With the exception of the authors.) Your job is to make the panel flow easily and keep the conversation going. So be pleasant, be helpful, and be easy to work with: show up really early, introduce yourself to everyone including the sound guys, ask your panelists if they need anything.

  • Make sure to ask management ahead of time if you need to introduce the authors yourself or if someone with the event will do it. Being caught off guard with introductions is the worst. If you are writing and doing the introductions, be pretty brief — two or three sentences for each author. For the most part people know why they're there, so you're just getting them more hyped up with your intro and adding a little ceremony to the whole thing. But you can't assume that everyone in the audience knows everyone on the panel, so you do need to be informative in your introductions. Touch on the big career moments and keep it moving along.

  • Thank the audience for coming and tell them exactly what's going to happen. "I'm going to chat with the authors for about twenty minutes and then we'll have twenty minutes or so for audience questions, so make sure you have some good ones lined up." Before I ask my last question, I usually let the audience know that we're about to pivot to audience questions in a minute just so they're cued up.

  • Definitely read something by each author to prepare for the event. Then make a big list of questions, starting with really general ones, and then with individual questions for each writer. Avoid spoilers as much as possible. Make sure that your questions end with a question that the author can respond to. Write more questions than you'll possibly need, in case they burn through the questions very quickly. Running out of questions with twenty minutes on the clock is, take it from me, terrifying. Make sure your questions are written down, preferably printed out. Practice reading the questions and introductions aloud three or four times by yourself, at least. I do like ten or twelve times, over the course of three days before the event. As you're doing the event, check off the questions as you go, so you don't start to ask a question you've already asked a second time.

  • I find that asking funny questions isn't a great idea, because they always feel canned when I do them. Being funny when you have a good one-liner based on something the authors said is fine, but don't try to out-clever the writers. Be funny sparingly. Again, nobody's there to see you.

  • Your job is to make the writers look smart and charming. I always try to ask all the basic questions as creatively as possible: Where do you get your inspiration? How did you get your start? What are you working on now? And if one writer is dominating the panel, I try to ask the quieter panel members a specific question, just to try to get them out of their shell.

  • The audience Q&A usually makes the moderator feel like a third wheel on a bicycle, so try to be the one who calls on audience members to ask their questions. If someone in the audience asks a meandering non-question, try to make a question out of what they said for them. If the author says something interesting in response to an audience question, feel free to ask a followup. Have some extra questions in your back pocket just in case nobody in the audience is willing to ask anything.

  • When it comes time for audience Q&A, I always try to call on a woman first. Studies show that if the first audience question comes from a woman, other women are many times more likely to ask a question during the Q&A period than if a man asks the first question. The reverse is not true: men will still ask questions with the same frequency if a woman goes first. This is even true if an audience is overwhelmingly female: if a man asks the first question in a largely female audience, women are still more likely to not ask questions. So if a woman has her hand up at the beginning of the Q&A, I always try to call on them to make the Q&A more inclusive.

  • At the end, thank the audience again, thank the authors, and thank the hosts.

  • That's it! You'll be great! And you'll be even better the next time you host. Eventually, authors might specifically request you to host events, which is a pretty special sense of validation. A really good moderator is a rare thing, and authors love it when someone shows up prepared to do a professional job. If you want to impress your favorite authors, being a competent moderator is probably the easiest way to do that.

Book News Roundup: Save the date for Independent Bookstore Day: Saturday, April 27th

  • At Crosscut, Nikkita Oliver wrote about why Seattle should work to save LEMS Life Enrichment Bookstore in Columbia City:
After recently sharing the LEMS GoFundMe page on Facebook, someone asked me why invest in a business that is failing? Because LEMS is more than a business. Because LEMS isn’t just business as usual. Because this is about community, culture and thriving local Black businesses in Seattle. Because if this were a community center or a park in the traditional sense, we would rally together to save it. Because this is a center for Black community in Seattle.
  • Just a reminder to plan ahead: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day is Saturday, April 27th this year. Start saving your money and planning your route. Free Comic Book Day is one week later, on Saturday, May 4th.

  • Editor Arthur A. Levine, who is credited as the editor who shepherded Harry Potter to American audiences, has left his position at Scholastic and is launching his own independent publisher. This is great news for the publishing industry: we need more presses that are commercially viable but not a part of the Big Three or Four or Five or However Many There Are This Week.

Finding the shape of a poem

In February, the Seattle Review of Books published four poems by our February Poet in Residence, Abi Pollokoff:

These poems challenged me; reading them was like walking into an ocean. I felt subsumed in the language, slightly overwhelmed by the sensation of them. They left me breathless and speechless. I always loved the poems, but it was only by staying inside them for a while, for suspending myself in them, that I started to understand them.

I confess on the phone to Pollokoff that the idea of talking about her poems with her intimidated the hell out of me. Pollokoff writes impressionistic poems that begins with a single image or idea, and the language cascades from there. To me, they're like mountain ranges, or sunsets: beautiful formations that I don't have the vocabulary to properly describe or discuss.

Pollokoff says her writing process is not unlike my explanation of reading her poems. It starts with a sensation and grows more specific over time: "I think to a certain extent, the poem already exists in some form. And as I start working on it, it starts to reveal itself more and more."

"In that sense," Pollokoff says, "I feel like I'm more vessel than writer. I love what language can do. Something I'm drawn to often in poetry is soundplay, and music, and how words can play off of each other to create different kinds of rhythms and experiences that you wouldn't expect."

Her poems reach beyond "the semantic meanings" of the words, to something more aspirational. "Every poem can be a new discovery about what language can bring to the experience," she says. When she talks about writing, Pollokoff uses the language of exploration, of experimentation.

She starts with fragments. "I'm a note-taker," Pollokoff says. "I hear fits of words and I write them down." She then free writes longhand — "sitting down and just writing without stopping and seeing where that goes" — to build "a bit of a language bank." From those words, Pollokoff says, "I start shaping, building, seeing what the page will do." When it feels more like a poem to her, she'll type it out onto a computer and continue editing.

Every poem launches off into different directions. "The Sea Thinks Beyond Itself," for instance, started as a response to Brian Teare's transcendentalist mediation on nature, Companion Grasses. "I had done some free writing after having spent time in this book and I had been thinking about a moment that I had seen over at Golden Gardens." The combination of her own experiences in the book and on the beach in Ballard offered shape and direction to the poem.

So Pollokoff has written poems about Seattle. Does she think of herself as a Seattle poet? "I don't know if I would consider myself a Seattle poet, but I certainly hope to be a Seattle poet," she says. Pollokoff manages the bustling events calendar at Open Books, and her list of Seattle influences is huge: in one breath, she invokes Keetje Kuipers, Jane Wong, and Gabrielle Bates. A dozen more names tumble out after. She's lived in Seattle for five years now and says the city is "starting more and more to feel like home."

Pollokoff is hard at work on a collection of "feminist ecopoetics," in which "I'm setting off to explore how language and nature interact with the body — specifically the female body — and how that experience can exist and unravel." Like how she sculpts her poems from large masses of words, the book seems to be coming together out of a riot of poems. "It's finally coalescing into one project, and into one final shape," she says. She sounds confident — and why wouldn't she? Her faith in the work has guided her unerringly so far.

Free stuff isn't free

Oh, hey! Did you know that some jackasses are still making embarrassing mid-2000s arguments in favor of book piracy? Travis McCrea is a throwback to the libertarian age when the cliche that "information wants to be free" was wrongly interpreted as "basically shoplift whatever you want because piracy hurts no one." For God's sake, people: if you don't want to or can't pay for books, use a goddamn library. There is no excuse for this kind of theft.

Off the Map

Published March 12, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews G. Willow Wilson's’s Off the Map .

Seattle author G. Willow Wilson's new historical fantasy novel is possibly her best yet. It's about the magic of mapmaking and the power of story and faith. It also features a pretty snarky vampire and a horse named Stupid.

Read this review now

One More Monarch


The thing about drowning, it would be peaceful,
though I’d mess it up with panic, the will to see
one more monarch feeding on a milkweed pod.
Even if balmy, as awful as throwing oneself
from a moving van, a condo window.
Tidal beds are definitely not for lovers —
too much dousing, too much desiccation.
Much better to be a barnacle in the brine,
a harbor seal holding your shoes, the divine
a dozen blue dashers circling your head.
Whether standing on the steps
of the Heart Prairie Lutheran Church
or the banks of Pleasant Lake,
whether one’s ticker does or doesn’t
murmur beside a moraine, Death
drives up in his Mini Cooper, sure
as you’ll find the silver-bordered fritillary
all across the transboreal north, nectaring
on swamp verbena and rabbit brush.

Ticket by ticket: Anne Lamott is back!

Our thanks to Northwest Associated Arts for returning this week to sponsor us. Coming up in April, NWAA is presenting another event that's sure to fill seats (hint, hint: get your tickets fast): Anne Lamott is taking the stage again at Benaroya Hall on April 7, 2019.

Maybe best known for her writing guide, Bird by Bird, Lamott's novels and essays are equally beloved and appear regularly on bestseller lists (and in the hands of readers and writers all over Seattle). She returns to Benaroya Hall following last year’s sold-out appearance with an entirely new talk.

Lamott tackles the big subjects with grace, humor, and honesty. Her latest, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope was titled Doomed before her publisher protested. If that sort of wry but stubborn optimism is your style — and if you're living in Seattle, we bet it is — this event is a must-attend for you. Find out more on our sponsor feature page, then reserve your seat.

Got an event you think our readers would love? You can sponsor us, too. If you have an opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

Your Week in Reading: The best literary events from March 11th - march 17th

Monday, March 11: The Human Network Reading

Matthew O. Jackson's new book examines "why people fail to assimilate basic facts" and how human networks "enlarge our understanding of patterns of contagion." This is an interesting look at how social networks intentionally and unwittingly change our patterns of behavior. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, March 12: Torture Machine Reading

Flint Taylor has been a lawyer in Chicago for over a half century. His book about fighting corrupt politicians and crooked police officers includes the case of murdered Black Panther leadership and a police officer who tortured suspects into making false confessions. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, March 13: Gingerbread Reading

Helen Oyeyemi is one of the biggest new names in contemporary fiction. Her latest novel, Gingerbread, continues her exploration of fairy tale tropes in the form of a mother and daughter who share a magical gingerbread recipe. Talking plants are involved, too. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, March 14: Emerald City Comicon at Outsider Comics Boutique

Today marks the opening day of the 2019 Emerald City Comicon, the annual nerdfest that takes over the Convention Center downtown. The main show is all sold out, but there are plenty of big parties and events happening in geeky locations around the city. Tonight, comics writer Magdalene Visaggio will be signing books including Kim & Kim, Quantum Teens Are Go, Eternity Girl, Calamity Kate, and Morning in America at the very fine Outsider Comics in Fremont. Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique, 223 N. 36th St, 535-8886,, 8 pm, free.

Friday, March 15: ECCC Queer Mixer

Outsider Comics teams up with Gamma Ray Games to present an Emerald City Comicon afterparty that is "free and open to all LGBTQ+ people, plus their friends and partners." You don't need a pass to ECCC to attend this show. There will be drinks, games, and opportunities to meet other queer comics nerds.

Raygun Lounge, 501 E Pine St, 812-2521,, 7:30 pm, free.

Saturday, March 16: ECCC Afterparties on Capitol Hill

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Phoenix Comics & Games, 113 Broadway E, 328-4552,, 8 pm, free./Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030., 8 pm.

Sunday, March 17: Friends of Seattle Public Library Book Sale

You have probably been to this sale before. It's the one where you walk in expecting to pick up a book or two and you leave with an aching armful of books for something like twenty bucks. Books at one or two bucks a pop? And it benefits the Seattle Public Library? What's not to love? Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center, 299 Mercer St, 11 am, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Emerald City Comic Con Afterparties

Starting on Thursday, downtown Seattle will be packed full of cosplayers, comics fans, and professionals for the annual nerdy bloodlust that is Emerald City Comicon. The convention, which is one of the earliest major cons in the calendar year, has a reputation for being genial and laid back and warm — it's the convention where the nerd industry comes out of winter hibernation and rejoins the world.

There's plenty to see at the main convention — full disclosure: I'm appearing on the Ahoy Comics Second Wave panel at 12:30 pm Thursday to talk about my upcoming book, Planet of the Nerds — but you don't even need a con pass to enjoy some of the festivities.

Capitol Hill's only comics shop, Phoenix Comics, has become a major headquarters for ECCC afterparties, and this year is no different. As part of their schedule of signings and parties all weekend long, on Saturday night Phoenix Comics is hosting a party to celebrate the popular comics podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, which examines the incredibly convoluted history of the Marvel team of mutants.

But Phoenix Comics is only a pit stop this year for the real ECCC afterparty hot ticket: Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will be hosting a big ol' dance party at Fred Wildlife Refuge to celebrate their music-and-mythology pastiche comic The Wicked + The Divine.

WicDev, as it's commonly known, is nearing the end of its run, and the book — which imagines pop stars as an eternally rebooting pantheon of gods who Ragnarok themselves into oblivion every few decades — has one of the most passionate fan base in comics.

Running from 8 pm to 1 in the morning, this will serve as a nightcap for the convention crowd after the con's busiest day. Expect this to be a sweaty, teary, giddy celebration of one of the glitziest fandoms in all of comics — and maybe a little bit of a farewell party, too. Who says comics nerds don't know how to dance?

Phoenix Comics & Games, 113 Broadway E, 328-4552,, 8 pm, free./Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030., 8 pm.

The Sunday Post for March 10, 2019

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

From Connection to Coexistence

This wonderful essay by Daegan Miller ranges from ecology to personal experience to typography, pulling from between the layers a rumination on the core concepts of environmental action and what they imply for the future.

Environmentally speaking, we tend to stick in one of two places. Fuzzy mysticism, hard-nosed harm reduction — both based on the idea of the connected world, where Elon Musk stirs his delicate wings and on the other side of the globe a hurricane takes down Jeff Bezos’s house.

Miller reminds us of a third, neglected option: an environmentalism that sees the wild world as irrevocably strange and utterly necessary, and where our lesson is not how to control or even steward, but something else entirely.

"In nature nothing exists alone,” wrote [Rachel] Carson. Though she never used the word, coexistence—not connection — is the idea around which her thinking begins to coalesce. It anticipates the work of eco-critic Timothy Morton, who has spent the last ten years (so far) spinning an ecological theory of _coexistence_, and who, like Carson, suggests that existing together isn’t the same thing as being connected. Instead, as he writes in _Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence_ (2016), it is premised on unbridgeable, untranslatable, unknowable difference — “strangeness,” he calls it — between humans and the world.
Travels in Pornland

First up, a note: this piece is about pornography, and there is some description of what the author sees both on film and in person as part of research. The descriptions are not long, but they are blunt, so if you’re uncomfortable with that, skip down. Otherwise, onward!

Yes, the question of whether the “right kind” of pornography can be feminist has been so thoroughly chewed that it’s barely even mush between our cultural critics' teeth. This is still an interesting take, partly because of the sheer breadth of Andrea Stuart’s exploration of feminist pornography and partly because the focus is less on right or wrong and more on female pleasure and power, and how and when and whether porn can abet both.

B’s experience fascinated me. It illustrated that it was not that she had been filmed having sex which was the issue – indeed for her that was liberating. It was that she didn’t rely on the porn business for her bread and butter, that she was already a financially independent, professional woman who could chose to do this or not. She could remain largely anonymous, and thus avoid the taint (however unfair) associated with sex work. It illustrated, in other words, that a woman can only be sexually free if she is also in control of the means of production.

It made me wonder whether, in these, the best of circumstances, whether it is more rewarding to be the performer than the voyeur; doing, living and touching, rather than merely passively watching. In an age where more and more of us conflate doing with watching, it is important to remember that porn is not sex; it is merely its fleshless representation.

Toward My Own Definition of Disability

Ashley Taylor on internal and external narratives around ability and disability. A writer with a difficult but mostly manageable neurological condition, she was surprised to be identified as “disabled” by editors and peers. A careful examination of what it means to claim the term “disabled,” personally, professionally, and bureaucratically.

I do, however, still feel trepidation about what I think of as “coming out” as disabled. I fear that disabled people might see me as trying to exploit a marginalized identity; I fear that drawing attention to my weaknesses might make me the target of ableist discrimination.

At the same time, the more I’ve explored my medical issues, in part by writing about them, the more grounded I feel in reality; no longer do the difficult parts of my life feel disconnected from the narrative I tell. No longer do I have a secret that distances me from others.

The Banality of Empathy

Courtesy of the marvelous Mark Athitakis, a rewarding takedown by Namwali Serpell of the “books make you a better person” trope. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything that deflates Knausgaard by even a few puffs of hot air — but personal pettiness aside, this is very good. Empathy plays a solid role in human behavior, but mostly as a cognitive function, not an emotional one — not the fluffed-up stuff we usually mean when we say books will broaden our world. That old-school way of thinking about empathy — and how stories can inspire it – is pandering, marginalizing, and destructive, says Serpell.

Also, such a lovely takedown of Knausgaard.

Knausgaard captures how our concept of empathy has shifted. This isn’t just putting another person’s shoes on. Rather, the space between people “dissolves”; the reader “assimilates” the other into his or her mind. It’s a kind of ghostly possession or occupation. Knausgaard goes on to give an example of how to access an individual’s experience rather than lazily adopting a generalized, standard account of them. “If we allowed that remoteness to dissolve, what we would see would no longer be the very image of evil, but a boy growing up in Austria with a violent, authoritarian father and a mother whom he loved. We would see a sixteen-year-old so shy he hadn’t the courage to speak to a girl with whom he was in love…” And so, boringly, on. The individual in question turns out to be none other than Adolf Hitler. Knausgaard’s perversity here — using a Nazi to exhort us to humanize others — isn’t that surprising. After all, he named his multi-volume autobiographical opus My Struggle. Many readers feel that its last book is at its worst when he eschews empathizing with his ex-wife, clearly under severe mental duress, because he’s too busy writing about … Hitler.
Unnameable Things

Coming full circle, Kerri ní Dochartaigh on finding hope, in the midst of violence, in the inhuman world. A lovely, lovely piece and the right place to end your reading and begin your exploration of the day.

I hope you never find yourself in a situation where you need to protect any child from witnessing bloodshed on the very streets they have no choice but to live on. But if you ever should, I urge you this: find books about wild creatures for them, find them a microscope, a magnifying glass — anything at all that makes the unknown make sense. It doesn’t matter how broken the surroundings may be, how bombed out; no matter how terrifying every single bit of it all may be. Just find them a way to sit in muck, as creepy crawlies do their do, as bees buzz through holes in concrete walls, as spiders build webs on empty coal bunkers under a sky that — no matter how grey and uncertain – holds room for butterflies, moths, dragonflies and unnameable things; things like whispered hope.

Whatcha Reading, Samantha Allen?

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.

Samantha Allen is the author of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States, and Love & Estrogen. Come see Samantha on Tuesday, March 12 at the Central Library at 7pm. More details on the Seattle Public Library website.

What are you reading now?

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb.

Lately, I’ve been chain-reading books that tell natural history through the lens of a specific animal, beginning with Todd McLeish’s delightful Return of the Sea Otter and Nate Blakeslee’s American Wolf. I just started Ben Goldfarb’s delightfully-titled book Eager a few days ago, and it’s already teaching me that my notion of streams and rivers as narrow, rushing currents is based on having been born into a (relatively) post-beaver world. I really enjoy the process of picking an animal to which I have some sort of aesthetic attachment — I mean, have you ever seen a sea otter groom its face? — and learning how integral they’ve been to both their ecosystem and to human history. Plus, these give me plenty of tidbits to annoyingly spout at dinner parties, like the fact that sea otters have ten times more hair in a square inch than humans have on their heads. I’ll never get sick of that one, even though my friends almost certainly will.

What did you read last?

Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity by Iliza Shlesinger.

I have long been a fan of Iliza Shlesinger, a wonderful performer who sucks you into her routine with goofy voices and physical comedy before sucker-punching you with really sharp social insights. She’s naturally funny, of course, but you can also see how much care she puts into each special. She put that same extra oomph into her book. It would have been easy for Shlesinger to just cash in with a simple celebrity tell-all about life on the road and winning Last Comic Standing but she did something more interesting with Girl Logic, which was a sort of ambitious blend of memoir and social criticism — honestly, something similar to what I attempted to do in Real Queer America. As a transgender woman in my thirties who’s already married to another woman, not all of Girl Logic’s wisdom about relationships and dating was directly applicable to my life — though sections on body image and self-confidence certainly were — but I so admired the craft that went into it. (And, yes, it’s funny, too.)

What are you reading next?

Buzz: The Nature And Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson.

Look, one day I’ll run out of books about specific animals but today is not that day.

The Help Desk: Crossing Jordan

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,

So I tried to read a Jordan Peterson book. It was dumb — a mix of evolutionary science, cognitive behavioral therapy, and bad Bible interpretation. It was clearly intended to attract rootless young men in their moments of need, with suspicious frequent references to the undying pain of being betrayed by a lover. Peterson almost immediately lost me when he referred to men as agents of order and women as agents of chaos.

My question is, should I bother reading the rest? I like to be informed about people who are affecting the culture, and some people think he demonstrates something uniquely toxic about this moment. But I think Peterson is just a gross fad, like The Game or the Jersey Shore. I didn't bother to learn about those two things when they were popular, either, and I turned out okay. Should I forge on to fully know the beast I'm facing, or can I give myself a pass?

Dana, Madison Valley

Dear Dana,

Do not waste the precious time you have on this dying planet reading Peterson. His work is silly. The men who read it are the type of men who ask questions like "what gives you an intellectual erection?" to their cringing Tinder dates and, once rejected, spend whole weekends furiously ironing their pant collections and brainstorming words that rhyme with "white bitch."

From one agent of chaos to another, I suggest you offer to buy a relative, friend, coworker or online stranger/Tinder date who's a fan of Peterson a bottle of cold white wine if they'll spend an hour telling you all about 12 Rules for Life. Then, while they're talking, jovially interrupt and push back on the parts that are bullshit – make his fans defend his lazy thinking. It's how I got through college without reading a single Ayn Rand book while at the same time enjoying my first pregnancy scare.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Special logger

Normally, Aaron Bagley draws his own dreams. This week, he has captured a dream from his son, Baxter.

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics

Portrait Gallery: G. Willow Wilson

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.

G. Willow Wilson appears Friday to read from her new book The Bird King at the Elliott Bay Book Company. See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Kissing Books: The case of the secret trope

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.

“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.

No, I’m talking about those tiny little echoes on the level of the sentence. Ordinary statements that would never stand out until you’ve read them in hundreds of different romances. The secret tropes.

They can make or break your romance in under twenty words.

I have taken to calling these phrases caltrops, and I perversely enjoy collecting them. Because I enjoy tracing patterns, even when the patterns themselves aren’t necessarily pleasing.

And now I get to enjoy ruining them for you, too.

A partial list of romance caltrops:

The Kind of Man/Woman Who: Generally followed by something that can range from mildly stereotypical to outright bigoted or transphobic. But anything that comes after this is going to be irritating, especially when it’s summing up women, because long experience in a sexist world has taught me that dividing women into kinds implies that one kind is going to be Good and the other kind Bad. Kinds of women = someone is looking for an excuse to do something shitty. “Well, I would never call a Good Woman a bitch—but my ex-girlfriend is a Bad Woman, so let’s point out her physical shortcomings in the most vicious way possible and expect the reader to cheer me on because breast implants, as though that is at all a logical chain of reasoning.”

Any Man/Woman Would: The character is about to declare something Inherently Masculine or Inherently Feminine! Usually without this opinion being sufficiently interrogated by the text! These are Rules we are supposed to Accept, for Reasons, and it chafes even in throwaway lines. “Any woman would find the Duke of Burlypants desirable.” Really? Even the queer ones? Or the happily married ones? Or even just the ones who would much rather flirt with lanky Viscount Sardonic over there on the other side of the ballroom? People have different tastes in people. This caltrop places shared gender identity in place of proper character development: I don’t care what Every Other Woman wants—show me what this woman finds irresistible. That’s what I’m here for.

Getting it Out of Their System: Truth be told, I love this one. One or both characters decide to give in to the attraction, thinking that once they’ve scratched the itch it will go away and no longer trouble them. It never works. Never once in all my years of romance has a one-time thing gotten someone out of someone else’s system. Basically, if you are in a romance novel and you think about getting someone out of your system? Ta-da, you’re married now! Enjoy this entire bouquet of babies.

For Their Own Good: At some delicate decision moment in the plot, one character will decide to keep an important secret from another “for their own good,” and I start to grumble and snipe at everything they do next. A lot of readers really dig that kind of secrecy and internalized angst, and more power to them; me, I anticipate the unknowing character feeling hurt and betrayed and it’s a rare book that can make that experience pleasureable for me. Variations include: “it probably won’t come up again,” “it’s too late to say anything now and bringing it up would be awkward,” and the lazy writing of “the other character has now stormed off under a misapprehension so I guess I can’t tell them.” Especially irritating when a hero does it, because I worry they’ll be too easily forgiven for the lapse.

The No-Other-Woman Bed: I’ve talked about this on my own blog before, but it’s worth revisiting because if there’s one phrase I’d most like to ruin, for no good social justice reason, it’s this one. Our hero (it’s always a hero) has finally opened his luxurious bedroom to the heroine (it’s usually a heroine, though it’s entirely possible I’m just not widely enough read in m/m to have seen this caltrop come up there). And there, drawing the eye like a magnet, is the Bed—a bed which no other woman, the hero’s POV tells us, has been permitted to sleep or fuck in. Let’s face it: this is a way of letting the hero metaphorically give his virginity to the heroine, without sacrificing the fantasy of his sexual prowess. He’s super-good at sex—but he’s never had sex right here in this limited slice of geography! That means the heroine is by definition special, because she’s the first! Weirdly, this faux-virginity-taking still leaves the hero in a position of power. It’s a favor, don’t you see? Spare me.

This month’s romances all feature characters dealing with disappointment: thwarted expectations, past hurts, failures, and betrayals. Not everything in the past is necessarily fixable in the present. Sometimes we have to be content with acknowledging the pattern. Sometimes that’s the only way forward.

Appetites and Vices by Felicia Grossman (Carina Press: historical m/f):

Most American historicals I’ve read cluster either around the Civil War or the settlement of the West—but there’s no better way to break that streak than with this strange, fine novel about a gorgeous, fat Jewish heiress and the charming, traumatized opium addict she gets fake-engaged to.

When we meet Ursula Nunes, she is in an upstairs hallway on the verge of tears because her best friend Hugo is explaining that his family refuses to let them wed. Ursula is not in love with Hugo, but they’ve been friends forever and they both saw marriage to one another as an escape from marrying anyone else (Delaware society being unusually full of overbearing fathers and poisonous debutantes). Hugo returns to the party—and Ursula is approached by Jay Truitt, an upper-class son generally considered to be a feckless womanizer, and who, of course, heard everything. He offers to pretend to be Ursula’s fiancé to spur Hugo’s family to change their mind (the Truitts being almost too upper class for the upper classes)—she can then break it off with Jay, who will use being quote-unquote heartbroken as an excuse to run far away and avoid his terrifyingly disappointed father.

Let’s be clear: this is a dumb, dumb plan, and I adore it. Fake engagements are one of those unrealistic romance tropes that I simply eat up—and this one does more than the usual amount of heavy lifting. As our fake couple socializes, they also start to notice one another’s better qualities: Ursula is clever and steely as well as sensitive, and Jay’s charm hides a profound gift for reading people, and a strong moral sense thrown perilously off by personal tragedy and addiction. (Which is, I should add, presented as a terrifying disease and not a quirk standing in for emotional depth. I was very, very worried for Jay in this book.) This is one of those lovely, lonely stories where the characters think so highly of each other, and so lowly of themselves; the contrast is an exquisite ache. The voice is a little eccentric, like classic Judith Ivory, all glints and refractions and implications. And if, at the end, it is a little too generous with the redemption (some of the side characters needed a little more shouting at, in this reviewer’s humble opinion), this is the most forgiveable kind of flaw. Ursula’s arc in particular more than makes up for it: she goes from a trembling, sobbing mess to a give-no-fucks fox without ever losing her sense of herself, and it’s bliss to watch.

She emitted a loud, sniffing, sigh. “Since we have no intention of being lovers then I don’t see what the quandary is. You’re not attracted to me and I’m not attracted to you, but I suppose there is propriety. I shall change.” He closed his eyes, his body throbbing. If she only knew. He listened for the door before relaxing his shoulders. He adjusted the lock. Perhaps he should barricade the door as well.

At His Lady’s Command by Nicola Davidson (self-published: historical f/m):

Remember the super-angsty, Gothic, Wuthering Heights-level firestorm that was The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham?

This story is the mirror universe of that: a careful, caring, sweetly earnest femdom historical with an upper-class heroine, Lady Portia, and a lower-class bodyguard hero, Captain Denham (swoon!). The writing is charming, very sexy and very sincere, and I had no trouble getting through it, but—the memory of the Peckham book is strong and the contrast really makes evident what I found dissatisfying in both stories.

The first book was intensely, unreservedly Gothic. At His Lady’s Command is firmly in melodrama territory: we have sniveling relatives, neglectful fathers, sinister dukes, an heiress in peril, a loyal ex-soldier, secret aristocratic lineages, and orphanages on the brink of being closed by cruel peers. Mustaches are twirled and lovers on the brink of disaster wrap one another in desperate embraces. It’s very charming, but—I cannot believe I am about to write this—I would have liked a few more very explicit sex scenes, or a few more plot twists, or a little of both. As with The Duke I Tempted, I was left mostly but not entirely pleased: the former was too angsty, and this one not angsty enough. I feel like a femdom Goldilocks, going from book to book and finding each one lacking in some trivial way.

But my biggest critique is that Lady Portia, a lady of mature years and strong opinions, an absolute hellion, a domme, and the founder of the Surrey Sexual Freedom Society (not nearly as anachronistic as many readers might assume)…never really takes action outside of the bedroom. The character as described is a terror to men of any station—and yet a mere proclamation from her crappy brother is enough to get her playing the docile bride-to-be and entertaining a host of horrible suitors. Even though she is old enough he can’t legally compel her marriage, even though she has wealthy and titled friends who would happily (and luxuriously) take her, she grits her teeth and goes along because…something about that orphanage? But again, wealthy friends and powerful peers are right there, offering you help and love and loyalty.

What exactly is keeping her a prisoner, except the shape of the plot?

“Oh, how awful, my brother has sold my house and demands I be chaperoned and wear pink and dance with his fortune-hunting cronies, it’s torture!” It sure is, but you could just … not do it? He can’t physically force you to dance, he can’t stuff you into the light pink gown, he can’t tie you to the chair while the maids put your hair in fussy curls. Or I mean, he could, but that would be a different story altogether. All Portia really has to do is grab a spare carriage and make for Scotland with her dishy, muscular, growly, eager-to-please silver fox bodyguard—seriously, Denham is what is colloquially known as *a snack*—et voilà, no more money or marriage problems! Instead, she laments her predicament and gets locked in a bedroom to be rescued. It all ends very happily, but I can’t help but wish she’d been permitted to help make that ending possible.

But men like him, ex-soldiers of dubious birth and no fortune were lucky to even be in the presence of women like Lady Portia. They didn’t dare wish for anything more. Not love. Not affection. Not marriage. Certainly not to be the man she commanded in the bedchamber as well as out of it.

Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles (self-published: historical m/m):

Look, I know you all know how much I love a KJ Charles book by now, and I am staunchly resisting the urge to glom the backlist and tell you all at length how good they all are—but I am only human, and this is a queer Edwardian romance where an impoverished duke’s son and illustrator, Alec, attempts to get revenge on his cruelly neglectful father by hiring a pair of jewel thieves to rob the duchess’ diamonds. And then he makes the terrible but completely understandable mistake of fucking one of the jewel thieves.

It’s perfect. Absolutely, painfully perfect.

Thief Jerry Crozier is sadistic in all the best ways: an amoral, frank-speaking, wily sort of villain. I couldn’t have loved him more. He seduces Alec for the purposes of better controlling him in the chaos of the job to come—but he’s such a thoughtful top and Alec such a willing plaything that it’s no wonder before they’re both in way over their heads, emotionally speaking. The sparkly heist qualities of this book hide some sharp, painful edges, and Charles’ brutally gorgeous prose offers up gem after gem after gem to make the reader laugh and gasp and weep and swoon. Reading this book feels like getting away with something. To describe the precise turns of the plot is to risk spoiling the whole thing—you want the diamond itself, un-smudged by my greedy fingerprints. Suffice to say that this book seized me, seduced me, and left me feeling delightfully Noel Cowardish, languid and leisurely, and wishing I had a red silk smoking-jacket and a glass of aged port to hand.

”If you were hoping I’m secretly funding an orphanage or some such, I’m sorry to disappoint: I steal because it pays. Granted, I only steal from people who can afford to be robbed, but that’s not a moral principle. It’s just that poor people don’t have jewels.”

Crashing Into Her by Mia Sosa (Avon Impulse: contemporary m/f):

The road to true love never did run smooth—and it’s less smooth still when it’s being run by two snarky, skittish types who are desperately trying to do anything but fall for one another.

Eva is a fitness instructor new to LA, who is worried that the fitness classes she teaches aren’t quite enough anymore. Anthony is her best friend’s cousin, a devastatingly handsome stunt performer who teaches workshops for those looking to break into the industry. They hooked up at the cousin’s wedding three months ago, but neither is looking for a relationship and both have declared themselves almost allergic to dating. Really, can’t even say the word. Relationships are a terrible idea, people get hurt—just look at our parents!—and who has the time anyways, so what if we were just friends, you know, friends who go to food festivals and reggaeton concerts and drive-in movies together—friends who get jealous when one friend talks to an attractive person at a bar—friends who then storm out and argue and then pull one another into the truck by the belt loop and reach for the condom and oh no, where are all of these orgasms coming from?

Mia Sosa is one of those authors who does cocky-but-in-that-fun-way banter right (see also: Jamie Wesley, Shelly Laurenston), and there’s just the right amount of snap in the dialogue here to bring out the soft and tender parts once emotions come into play. There’s also a ton of laughter and banter in the sex scenes, which is always something I like to see—sex scenes are so much more fun when the people having them are having fun! In addition we have some top-notch competence porn (stunt training is hardcore), appetizing food descriptions, and zingy epigrams at the start of each chapter. It’s not quite a perfect book—it felt like solutions at the end came a trifle too quickly and easily—but it’s a solid wrap-up to what has been a very pleasing series.

Heat suffuses my face and the pounding at my temples resumes as I line up for the tackle. There’s so much I could say, but I go with an essential truth, a maxim every self-respecting person knows. “Anthony, sweetie, no dick’s that special.”

This Month’s Best First Line

Act Like It by Lucy Parker (Carina Press: contemporary m/f):

Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend.

And there it is, one of the all-time greatest first lines in romance history. I am a sucker for first lines. It was the first line of Julia Quinn’s To Catch an Heiress in college that got me into romance seriously, back in my college years—to the point where my boyfriend at the time noticed, and found an episode of This American Life where they sent a reporter to the national conference of the Romance Writers of America. We listened to that segment on Valentine’s Day, and for the first time in all my years of paid and unpaid work I sat up and went: That is what I should be doing; that is where I want to be.

First lines will change your life.

This book is as superb as everyone says. Lainie is a legendary heroine: sharp, wry, and an honest-to-God diva, unapologetic about her temper and her tendency to throw small objects at people who have displeased her. She’s nice, and good, but not too nice to enjoy a good equal-opportunity shit-talking with her fake doing-it-for-the-publicity boyfriend. Hero Richard Troy is one of the greatest and most enjoyable assholes ever to grace a romance page: he’s blunt, he’s witty, he’s rude—but he’s rarely wrong. When he is, Lainie is swift to correct him in sharp terms he quickly comes to appreciate. Their chemistry is hilariously nonexistent at first—they gloriously, sincerely dislike one another—but one spark is all it takes for things to go up in proper flames. A cast of great side characters and wonderfully awful villains rounds things out: the cheating heartthrob ex, the heroine’s boisterous family, the conniving publicist, the envious television interviewer. I am beyond thrilled there are a whole series of these books for me to read next.

As a teenager, he’d been covered with acne, angry at life, and stuck at an all-boys boarding school. He was no stranger to sexual frustration. It was more than that. He was… God, he was bonding with her. Feelings—warm, strong, nauseating feelings—were springing up all over the place, unfurling in his chest, his gut, his groin. Sinking in deep with their little hooks.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The muscle behind the muscle

Eric Powell's The Goon is one of those rare commercially successful comics that also feels deeply personal. Yes, it's an adventure comic about a mountain of a tough guy who lives in a pit of a city that's constantly under assault from some supernatural menace or another. But it's also a book that feels entirely assembled from Powell's interests — 1940s noir movies, the weirdness of animals, expectations of masculinity — on a bone-deep level. Nobody else could make The Goon.

And did I mention that the book is hilarious? The Goon is full of some great jokes — bawdy humor, physical comedy, reveling in the silliness of phrases like "seafaring trousers" — and very few cartoonists are as good at bouncing back and forth between humor and adventure as quickly and as effortlessly as Powell.

A few years ago, The Goon took a turn for the serious. The storyline edged into darker territory, investigating a romance in the title character's past and the toll that his lifestyle of zombie-punching has exacted on him. And then the book went away for a while.

This year — the 20th anniversary of The Goon's first publication, if you want to feel old — Powell is bringing The Goon comic back with a new first issue that debuts next Wednesday. The preview copy that I read proves that Powell still has a lot to say with the character.

The gap in the title's publication is addressed immediately, with a caption that reads "Welcome home" and a sequence in which The Goon and his sidekick Franky arrive home from a long journey abroad. They expect to be greeted as heroes, but the town loathes them more than ever. One woman berates The Goon that things in town are "as bad as it ever was! Worse! Because you meatheads weren't here to keep things in check."

The Goon #1 mostly involves a resetting of the status quo, in which our main characters have to find lodging — no thanks to a horrible real estate agent — and take up a fight with someone who's not happy to hear about their homecoming. (The excellent sound effect "Ku-PUNCH!" is involved.)

But comics shelves are festooned with flying punches and supernatural threats. The reason you want to read The Goon is for Powell, and the artistry he brings to the book. The Goon's house-hunting sequence brings with it several gorgeously rendered illustrations of houses that are definitely haunted, sketched in a gorgeous washed-out ink and subtle coloring by Rachael Cohen. These dilapidated shacks and gloomy mansions force the reader to slow down and appreciate the effort that goes into every panel. When you step back from the duck gags and the sex jokes, the handiwork of a great cartoonist becomes visible. Powell, with his Eisneresque ability to blend cartooniness with realism, has always been The Goon's greatest strength.

Making sense of Trump, one pattern at a time

Last night, the Reading Through It Book Club welcomed its first author, Seattle's own Martha Brockenbrough. Her book, Unpresidented, is a deeply researched biography of Donald Trump for young readers — though readers of any age are guaranteed to learn something. For a little over an hour, Brockenbrough fielded the group's questions — from process inquiries about her research (it involves a large Excel spreadsheet) to more vague questions about how the country can recover from such a thorough destruction of our norms.

Brockenbrough is a funny and generous public speaker who volunteered all her knowledge and freely admitted when she didn't know the answer to a question. But boy, oh boy, she knew a lot. Through hundreds of hours of work, Brockenbrough has managed to separate the necessary from the unnecessary when it comes to Trump-related information. She doesn't fall for the palace intrigue or wild speculation that plagues the waking hours of many of us. Instead, she recognizes the obvious patterns in Trump's life and pays attention to those things. As a result, she's rarely surprised by anything the president does.

This work came with a price. Brockenbrough admitted that after she finished writing and touring Unpresidented, she became very sick and was basically out of commission for a month — an ailment that she attributes directly to spending every waking hour living in Trump's head. She suffered a condensed, heightened version of the low-level stress and anxiety that we all go through every day when we check the internet to make sure that our country still exists.

Many of the questions from the book club were some variation on the theme of "will we be okay?" Can we survive a president who very likely will, as Brockenbrough suspects, question the legitimacy of any presidential election that does not result in a landslide in his favor? While she can't guarantee a happy ending, Brockenbrough seemed to be hopeful. The nation has survived norm-busting before in the past, she said, and if we can restore a faith in our institutions then things will likely improve.

Unpresidented certainly restored my faith in the institution of journalism. The clarity that Brockenbrough delivers in the book is entirely unlike the chaos that I encounter every day on Twitter or in the news. All through the past month, I keep returning to the opening passage of the book, in which Brockenbrough defines and explains the importance of truth.

When we have patterns and supporting documentation like this, we can feel confident we have an accurate understanding of an aspect of a person's character. We can feel confident it is also fair to include in a biography...Sometimes we define fairness as a balance of positive and negative information. It's an understandable impulse

But this is a bit like saying you can create balance by putting ten elephants on one side of the scale and ten babies on the other. Ten and ten are equal, but they are not necessarily equivalent. Fairness demands a writer examine the whole and select representative parts. It demands a writer constantly consider the credibility of sources. It's not easy work...My goal, as always, was to look for patterns, to find verifiable facts, and to put all of this information into context.

It's rare to see a mission statement delivered with such clear-eyed purpose. One thing is for sure: if we do survive this mess, it will be because people like Brockenbrough have devoted themselves in full to the quest for truth — because they believe that the truth has value, that it matters. Without that north star to guide us, we'll surely be lost.

The robot bookseller uprising will destroy us all

Another reason to prefer independent bookstores over Amazon: I've never had a bookseller encourage me to read hateful conspiracy theories. Ben Collins at NBC News writes:

A book that pushes the conspiracy theory Qanon climbed within the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon in recent days, pushed by Amazon’s algorithmically generated recommendations page.

“QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” which has no stated author, ranked at No. 56 at press time, was featured in the algorithmically generated “Hot new releases” section on Amazon’s books landing page. The book claims without evidence a variety of outlandish claims including that prominent Democrats murder and eat children and that the U.S. government created both AIDS and the movie Monsters Inc.

Elon Musk can talk about artificial intelligence as the threat to humanity's future all he wants, but I'm convinced that the real threat is algorithmic suggestion. YouTube and Amazon and Facebook and all the others don't know the difference between good clicks and bad clicks. And since controversial topics get clicks faster than thoughtful contributions, the hateful and terrible crap rises to the top and is further promoted by the algorithm. I'm not the first person to notice this.

I don't know how to repair our broken society, but I do know that the less you leave the decision-making in your life to algorithms, the happier and better-adjusted you will be. Don't let Jeff Bezos tell you which books to buy; he obviously doesn't give one good goddamn what you read, so long as you pay him for the privilege. Don't give him your business.

Tonight, let Martha Brockenbrough teach you how to read the news in the age of Trump

Tonight at 7 pm, Seattle author Martha Brockenbrough will join the Reading Through It Book Club at Third Place Books Seward Park to discuss her biography of Donald Trump, Unpresidented. Even if you haven't read the book, you'll want to attend. One of the things I loved about talking briefly with Brockenbrough last week was that she just casually drops amazing pieces of information into casual conversation, like how she manages to separate the pointless fluff from the serious information while she's consuming news:

But if you look at it another way, not a lot of stuff has changed with Trump — not since he was a little boy writing poems about winning at baseball and loving the cheers of crowds. I wanted to set up patterns: his father’s business practices, his business practices, his grandfather. I wanted to identify the patterns and see what those told me about Trump and the things that drive him. Once you do that and identify the fact that here’s a guy who’s long been entangled with Russia, here’s a guy who’s long broken the law and cut corners with business — once you establish those patterns, then all the breaking news headlines are frankly more of the same.

This is the kind of stuff you can expect tonight. Come prepared to ask all the questions about Trump's corruption that you've been afraid to ask. And be prepared to laugh: This is going to be a good time. See you at 7 tonight.

The delicious space that is longing

Mesha Maren’s debut novel Sugar Run (Algonquin, 2019) has it all — all being to my mind both desire and longing and all the way these modes of yearning tie us to the land, each other, and everything set to get in our way. The novel takes place in 2007 in West Virginia and follows Jodi, recently released from prison after serving a eighteen-year sentence for manslaughter, as she attempts to reconnect with family land and maybe experience love again with another lost woman named Miranda, around whom "Black Velvet" seems to croon on loop. In preparation for Maren’s reading at Elliott Bay Book Company on Thursday, March 7, we had a conversation about queer desire, longing, and possibility.

How would you define desire? How would you define longing? What is Jodi and Miranda’s relationship to each?

I heard this thing on the radio yesterday about the physiological reason that we crave sweets when we are feeling stressed out or very emotional. The report was saying that our brains use up over half the calories that our bodies take in each day. When you are feeling really sad or stressed your brain is working harder in certain ways, so it sends signals that it needs fuel fast, and sweet carbohydrates are the quickest fix. Listening to that story made me think about how we as human beings are shaped by desire from the most basic level — craving is built into us.

I see desire as a specific incarnation of longing — like longing is this kind of shapeless shroud of craving, and desire is a sharpened, specific form of that craving, when the general yearning gets pointed towards something, or someone, specific. And I think that certain people, and places, are more bent toward longing than others. Some of us like to reside in that nearly painful, kind of delicious space that is longing.

In the novel, Jodi is thinking about her grandmother Effie’s land in West Virginia and she says “Even when she’d been there, on the farm with Effie alive, Jodi had been bending in her mind towards the memories of before, the time when her parents had lived there too. Maybe, she thought, she’d been like that since birth, filled up with a backwards yearning.” And this comes up in various other places in the book too, this affinity that Jodi has for the past or for something that can never be recaptured. She has a tremendous capacity for empathy, and she’s always looking at not just what is there but what is below the surface or what was once there, and in that looking she taps into a deep and continuous form of longing.

For Miranda, I think her longing and desire manifest in different ways. She is deeply unsettled and overwhelmed by her longings, and unlike Jodi, who gets some sort of pleasure out of sinking into that “backward yearning,” Miranda wants desperately to be more tethered to the present moment. When she recalls her pregnancies, she says “It was only in pregnancy that things got simple again and she was nothing more than a collection of sensations. Cold now, warm later, hungry then full, horny, sated. The pills, if she balanced them out right, did something similar but not the same.” It seems to me that for Miranda, longing is this tsunami that is constantly threatening to wash her away, whereas for Jodi, desire is this sweet-sad song that she likes to turn the volume up on.

No matter where Jodi travels, the land is most alive in West Virginia. Can you talk about how you go about deciding when it is most useful for land to come alive as a character?

I think that all land can come alive — even the most commonplace looking sidewalk in suburban America has a great story to tell but it all depends on relationships, which landscapes sync up with which characters’ internal soundtracks. For Jodi, and for me, the land in West Virginia speaks to that deep and abiding sense of yearning. I really think West Virginia is a place of longing, and I’ve been trying to figure out for a while why that is. Ever since white people set eyes on what is now West Virginia there was this sense of desire, people breaking the British law and crossing the Proclamation Line of 1763 to settle in the mountains, and one early colonizer wrote, “It was a pleasing tho’ dreadful sight to see mountains and hills as if piled one upon another.” I think this quote gets at something that is a part of the longing that is woven into West Virginia, the fact that the mountains are so simultaneously beautiful and impassive. It is not a place that loves you back very easily. You can work hard and scratch out a small life on a piece of land, and then the river rises and in an instant it is all gone. There is always a tenuousness to life in West Virginia, but for some of us that just makes us love it even more, like how sometimes you feel stronger emotions for a person who is hard to love than you do for someone who gives back readily.

This book is full of the queer desire for the natural world: the home we find deep within someone else’s body and the home in caves you can literally climb into as you wait for your eyes to adjust. How do you see queer desire or longing at work in your characters' relationship to each other and West Virginia?

In a review for Bustle, Katie Smith said while Sugar Run is a novel about “queer relationships in the South,” it also “asks readers to consider other types of love — specifically, love of a place and love of oneself, in all their deeply melancholy and complicated forms.” When I read this, I felt the most incredible tingling happiness — that otherworldly sensation of having someone see and understand what you are trying to talk about. I felt like if that was what Smith took from Sugar Run, then I had succeeded, because on a certain level that is what the novel is about to me: all the different types of queer love — the ways in which desire changes you and takes you outside of yourself, the way that it feels if that desire is not reciprocated or if that desire is condemned by the people around you.

Queer desire takes on many forms in Sugar Run. For both Jodi and Miranda, their first “romances” were with the land they grew up on, not with people. For Jodi specifically, the land provided friendship and solace, but it eventually became a sort of trap because it isolated her. I see the whole novel as a journey that Jodi is on to learn to love herself, as cheesy as that sounds, she has to learn to prioritize herself over the mountain land, over these women she loves.

When Jodi denies her relationship with Miranda “the word coming out before she had time to think […] the scent of self-hatred as ripe and familiar as her own shit.” I came out in the South, and I don’t know if I have felt, anywhere else, both the strength of community in the queer South but also all the ways in which claiming this identity is a kind of privilege in itself.

I agree entirely, coming out is a privilege, especially in the South. Jodi is extremely vulnerable and very reliant on her relationships to her family and neighbors and she knows that those relationships might change in irreconcilable ways if she talks openly about her sexual orientation. What Jodi prefers is to just not put words on her relationships — but when you don’t put words on something, it can become invisible. When she was younger, in her relationship with Paula, Jodi thought “If she could push back the words — dyke, queer — then everything would make sense and turn out all right. Sometimes though, the terror of it grips her, the knowledge that she is not seen at all, or seen only backwards and out of focus. It is a feeling she is sure will crush her someday.”

I think Jodi is continually struggling with how to balance the power of words: the dark and violent power of homophobic epithets (“the bitter drawl” of Jodi’s brother’s voice when he says “I heard you turned queer”), the power that words have to include or exclude a person (when she’s in prison, Jodi receives letters from “lesbians everywhere, all of them acting like they knew her just because she and Paula were lovers. Alone in her cell, she’d felt so far from their talk of solidarity, so far outside their supposed community”), and the power that words have to free you from guilt and self-doubt (towards the end of the novel Jodi decides to "own up to it, tell anyone who cared to know that she loved Miranda”).

Outside of her hometown, Jodi mentions her accent is “a strange left over burden, something that only made sense here.” What have been some of the greatest challenges or surprises with traveling this novel around to places and readers that may fetishize or miss the nuances of the characters and locations of this book?

People have preconceived notions about almost everything. but certain places, like West Virginia or Appalachia, seem to heavily attract this kind of thinking. As a whole, I think Americans have gotten a lot better about questioning stereotypes, but the interesting thing is that I think that can sometimes result in an almost equally damaging line of thinking — where people say “I know that poverty, violence, and drugs are stereotypes about West Virginia, so I want to see something else, something not stereotypical.” I’ve had people ask me why some of the characters in my novel act in what they think of as “stereotypical” ways (doing drugs, shooting guns, etc.), and I have to say that it’s not that black and white. In order to write truthfully about the West Virginia that I know and love, I have to write about drugs and guns and poverty and violence as well as queer sex, beautiful mountains, and close-knit communities.

Jodi can’t seem to get away from the threat of incarceration. She has a probation officer who sees her as less than human, which is a continuation to how she was treated in prison, and a wealthy environmental activist who pities her perhaps not unlike how she felt pitied by her counselor while incarcerated. At what point in the writing did you realize Jodi’s relationship to limited choices and options, and how did this inform your narrative?

When I started writing this novel I was just writing the pre-prison sections. This was back in 2010, when I very first started drafting scenes, and they were these short little vignettes with Jodi and Paula. I pretty quickly realized that something was going to happen in Jodi’s life that would forever change it, that would mark it as “before” and “after,” but I wasn’t sure what that was at first. I just knew that something would happen that would keep her away from West Virginia for a long time.

When it occurred to me that the change, that the thing that kept her away, would be prison, I started to research narratives about life after prison. My father worked for a nonprofit that sent him into prisons, and when I was a kid I would go along with him, and I can still remember him talking to women about their fears and desires in regards to “life on the outside.” At some point in my research, I stumbled across an article about a program in Colorado, called the Long-Term Offender Program, that was set up to help people who had been sentenced to twenty-plus years. The article was about “life after ‘life’ ” and how difficult even the smallest things, like ordering food from a menu, can be. When I read that, it broke something open in my brain, like that detail about how overwhelming it can be to order from a menu after not having choices like that for twenty or thirty years. It served as the lens I needed to understand just how colossally difficult it is to navigate life after prison. If something that small is so overwhelming, the big life decisions would be so big that you wouldn’t even really be able to fit your mind around them.

Fracking seems to be the height of the societal conflict, a particularly brilliant move considering the amount of change that a place would undergo in the time that Jodi was away. How do you see societal conflicts as playing a role in your fiction? What has your relationship been to fracking as someone from the area and as someone who translated it into fiction?

One of the interesting things about writing a book about a place that you know and love is that sometimes real life plays out alongside the fiction. When I first started drafting Sugar Run, there was no fracking in my area of West Virginia, and most of the research that I did was about fracking in Pennsylvania. I even wondered if it was realistic to put fracking in southern West Virginia. Then, before the book was published, fracking arrived in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. There is now active construction on a pipeline (the Mountain Valley Pipeline) less than ten miles from my hometown.

Part of the reason that I chose to include fracking in the book is because it is fascinating to me how extractive industries can affect communities. On the one hand, we know that fracking (and coal mining and the timber industry, etc.) is super damaging to the environment. But fracking can also provide high-paying jobs (although often local people do not get those jobs), and it also brings money into the area. The men who have those jobs are making a lot of money and spending it in the local economy. In my hometown there are signs that local residents have put up to protest the pipeline, but the downtown motel also has a huge “Welcome Frackers” sign, and I don’t blame them — all these guys in town spending money is good for their business. Of course, the frackers will leave as soon as the pipeline is built, but for the moment they are spending more money than anyone else. In many ways the pros and cons are short-term versus long-term decisions, and sometimes for areas with such limited options, the short-term pros can gleam very brightly, despite the catastrophic long-term results.

It is really not unlike the short-term versus long-term decisions that Jodi is faced with in her own personal life — do I run with what is right in front of me now or do I hold off and maybe end up empty handed?

Mail Call for March 5, 2019

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

When Short Run closes a door, Short Run opens a window.

Last week, Short Run announced the new recipients of their Trailer Blaze residency, which places women cartoonists in the Sou'wester Lodge and Trailer Park in Seaview for an intensive residency and community art experience. This year's new artists are:

Lori Damiano (Portland), Leela Corman (Gainesville), Graciela Sarabia (Pittsburgh), Amy Camber (Seattle), Ashley Franklin (Austin), Kacy McKinney (Portland), Alejandra Espino (Mexico City)

Are you sad that you missed out on this year's Trailer Blaze? If so, then you should probably apply for Short Run's Dash Grant program, which provides $250, community support, a free table at this year's Short Run Festival, and a spotlight on your work. Don't be sad about the opportunities you missed; plan for the opportunities you still have a chance to grab.

The Aggressively Passive Voice

Published March 5, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Richard Chiem’s King of Joy .

Tonight, Richard Chiem reads from his debut novel at Elliott Bay Book Company. It's about a young woman who cuts herself off from the world in order to survive, and it goes to some delightfully odd places.

Read this review now

Angel of the Wind


O angel of the wind angel of the inferno
O angel of the vortex
O angel like a dahlia drooping in the heat
O crescent moon the color of copper of cantaloupe
O angel of the smoke that arrives
from Chelan and Wenatchee
from Cashmere and the Okanogan

O the 577 fires of British Columbia
including the one at Tugwell Creek
threatening five million bees
including the 86,000-hectare Shovel Fire
including the words human-caused

O angel of Seattle dirtiest air on the planet
dirtier than Dubai than Agra than Abu Dhabi
O dirty air the scales differ on how dirty
O dirty like a brick factory like a tannery
O dirty angel with your 217 AQI wings
O helicopters and tankers

O ferocious king of the 85 flame-licking legions
O Furcas like a cruel man with a long beard
O Raum like the crow of close your windows
O Procel who speaks of hidden and secret things
such as just how bad is the air today — was it 7 cigarettes
or 17?

O don’t breathe
O make sure your air conditioner has a filter
O adversarial AC angel
O evil angel guiding children
at the crosswalk in their N95 masks

O nimbus nostalgia
O cobalt and azure
O gust please not from Hamma Hamma
O angel I can’t see downtown
O angel I cannot calculate

O Vassago of the aching throat
O Wormwood blood in the snot
O Solas sneeze and cough
O Dantainian dizzy and out of sorts

O sooty Ronobe searching for children to kill
O Shax O Gaap O Gadreel
O small particulates of which no level is safe

Orcas Island Lit Fest is back!

One of the best surprises of 2018 was the first Orcas Island Lit Fest. The event snuck up on us (and many), appearing full-blown and seemingly out of nowhere onto the literary scene. (Don't worry, festival organizers — we know amazing events don't come out of nowhere! We celebrate your work!)

We’re delighted and grateful to have the Lit Fest here to sponsor us this week, and to give our readers an extra push to get tickets now for the second year of the festival, happening April 5–7, 2019. The lineup is extraordinary; featured authors include Nicola Griffith and Teresa Marie Mailhot, and the list of panelists includes both national and local names that make our hearts flutter.

Three days of writing, readings, panels, and conversation, on one of the Puget Sound’s most beautiful islands? Sign yourself up now. We’ll look for you in the crowd!

Got an event you think our readers would love? You can sponsor us), too. If you have an opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

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

Monday, March 4: A Deadly Wind Reading

In 1962, the Pacific Northwest was ravaged by an unprecedented windstorm known for years afterward as The Columbus Day Storm. John Dodge's new book tells the story of the storm, which has new relevance for those of us who are concerned about severe weather brought on by climate change. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, March 5: King of Joy Reading

Join Seattle author Richard Chiem as he launches his first novel, which is out from the great indie publisher Soft Skull Press. It's about a young woman named Corvus who moves through a world of sex and drugs and trauma. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, March 6: An Evening with Seanan McGuire

Seattle sci-fi and urban fantasy novelist Seanan McGuire, who also writes as Mira Grant, is unbelievably prolific. She has written books including the InCryptid series, the Ghost Roads series, the Wayward Children series, the October Daye series, and more — all in less than ten years. Tonight, McGuire will discuss her career, her body of work, and what's next. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, March 7: Love Life

Love Life is a chapbook published by Pioneer Square publisher/art gallery/bookstore Mount Analogue. Author Patty Gone told Seattle Weekly that Love Life is based on his grandmother's love for Danielle Steele's body of work. This event kicks off a monthlong residency by Gone at Mount Analogue, including an art installation and the screening of a video drama. Mount Analogue, 300 S Washington St, , 6 pm, free.

Friday, March 8: The Bird King Reading

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

Saturday, March 9: Mixed Bag

Two great Seattle readers — Kristen Millares Young and Dujie Tahat — headline the ongoing variety show, which cofounder Jeanine Walker says "will be a tight 90 minutes, no intermission, with two comedy sketches, original music, a puppet and a video." You had me at "puppet," Jeanine. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, $12.

Sunday, March 10: Two Poets

Two Seattle poets — one with a long career and one at just the beginning of her career, read new work at Seattle's only poetry-only bookstore. Come see Laura Da’ and Sierra Golden do their thing. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 6 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: The Bird King book launches

On Twitter last week, Seattle author G. Willow Wilson said that her upcoming novel The Bird King "is in many ways one of the most personal things I've ever written."

Much of Wilson's work — both overtly, in the case of her memoir Butterfly Mosque, or through allegory, as in her conspiracy thriller comic Air — is about the discovery of and maintenance of faith. Her conversion to Islam was a life-changing event, and in many ways she's been writing about that decision ever since.

The Bird King, which she says is "set [in 1491,] at the end of an era of profound and fruitful hybridity between European and Islamic cultures," represents "a symbiotic relationship that quite literally saved Europe's hellenic heritage from being lost." This symbiotic relationship sounds in some ways like the journey Wilson took to Islam in order to feel fully herself, the fusion of cultures that created something new while preserving some essential part of herself.

This week, Wilson debuts The Bird King for her adopted home town of Seattle a full week before the rest of the world gets it. On Thursday at 1 pm, she's kicking off her month long book tour with an intimate luncheon at Third Place Books Ravenna. And on Friday night at 7, she's officially launching the book into the world with a big reading party at Elliott Bay Book Company.

Whether you know Wilson from Butterfly Mosque or from her work writing comics like Wonder Woman or Ms. Marvel or from her excellent novel for young readers, Alif the Unseen, you know that she puts herself in everything that she writes. So you are undoubtedly excited to hear Wilson explain that writing The Bird King "was a cathartic writing experience in this time of frightening upheaval — a reminder that the world has come to an end before, yet humanity persists and remains."

The Sunday Post for March 3, 2019

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

The Making of an American Feminist

I missed Sophia Shalmiyev’s recent reading at Elliott Bay Books, with immense regret. Her review of Eileen Myles’s Afterglow is one of the most vibrant and energetic pieces I’ve edited in my time as associate editor here, and I was eager to see that energy on stage. Nanci McCloskey’s interview with Shalmiyev shows exactly why: Shalmiyev brings a fiercely feminist perspective and the same ambition to critical writing as she does to creative.

Every time I write I might imagine a feminist thinker or writer I wish to speak to directly and I try to do so without any of the pretenses or idealizations that reduce most women in the arts to tropes and clichés. Like Oh, that’s that experimental novelist; or that’s that writer who had been raped. I hate this. I hate that women must be marketed for their pain or their proximity to power, but not for their actual craft. Jean Rhys comes to mind right away. Ok, it is very relevant that she was an unhappy, broke, alcoholic, now what? Her sentences slaughter. Her themes and topics are sliced lemons on newly cut skin.
The Trauma Floor

The contractors Facebook hires to screen content are emotionally scalded, under extreme performance pressure and threat of retaliation from disgruntled moderators, and beholden to confusing, constantly changing, and often ignorant or misinformed direction from Facebook itself — corporate errors that can cost them their jobs.

Next time you log on to the behemoth popularity contest, reflect on the fact that this excruciatingly thankless work also allows our tech gods to continue stretching the income inequity gap until it breaks. Then take the currency of your attention to another vendor.

The use of contract labor also has a practical benefit for Facebook: it is radically cheaper. The median Facebook employee earns $240,000 annually in salary, bonuses, and stock options. A content moderator working for Cognizant in Arizona, on the other hand, will earn just $28,800 per year. The arrangement helps Facebook maintain a high profit margin. In its most recent quarter, the company earned $6.9 billion in profits, on $16.9 billion in revenue. And while Zuckerberg had warned investors that Facebook’s investment in security would reduce the company’s profitability, profits were up 61 percent over the previous year.
The Blaming of the Shrew

Sara Fredman uses television’s favorite antiheroes to dissect how unlikeable women help us like unlikeable men. Painful but apt, and worth reflection heading into 2020.

Looking back, it’s painful to admit that for many in the electorate, Hillary Clinton was the Skyler to Trump’s Walt, the Betty to his Don. We had already spent years seeing her as the Carmela to Bill’s Tony, implicated in her husband’s misdeeds by dint of staying with him, forever tainted by her own moral compromises that, while they paled in comparison to his, were for some reason less forgivable and rendered her eternally “unlikable.” It made sense, then, that when Clinton took a jab at Trump’s penchant for avoiding paying taxes while explaining her plan to raise taxes on the wealthy during the third debate, Trump interrupted to call her “such a nasty woman.” This one, he seemed to be telling viewers at home, is a Skyler.

Whatcha Reading, Abi Pollokoff?

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.

Abi Pollokoff is a poet and book artist. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington, and serves as the events manager for Open Books. She was our Poet in Residence for February, during which time we published four of her poems: To live in ignorance is exactly what, The Sea Thinks Beyond Itself, Urban planning when prayers for the body aren’t enough, and if the mirror.

What are you reading now?

I’m in the middle of a few books: Nonfiction: The Universe Within, by Neil Shubin; Fiction: The Color Master, Aimee Bender; and Poetry: Rose Fear, by Maria Laina, translated by Sarah McCann.

What did you read last?

I just finished up rereading Rusty Morrison’s The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story.

What are you reading next?

I have a few on my list! For poetry, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and I might do some rereading of Pierre Joris’s collection of Paul Celan’s later work, Breathturn into Timestead. My next prose might involve some Hélène Cixous, but I’m not sure what text of hers just yet!

February 2018's Post-it note art from Instagram

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

February's Theme: Time Travel

At the end of January my father unluckily topped off a bout of pneumonia by breaking his back. For days, a week, two weeks, the pain was so acute I routinely caught him muffling isolated stoic sobs; the number of times in my life I’d ever witnessed my father crying quickly doubled, maybe tripled. Everyone became desperate to find anything he could still do, utterly immobilized in pain, to pass time faster. My oddball, surprisingly successful idea was asking him to choose my February posts; it turned out to be a confusingly delightful family activity. He enjoys orderly patterns, and felt strongly in his heart his February choices needed to be from past Februaries. After my assurances that really, truly, he could choose however he wanted, he immediately requested the February when his mother died, declaring (kind of gleefully?) “I’M IN A DARK MOOD.” The first two are right after she died. For me, my grandmother was both a fun friend and a fierce bully—progressively supportive when I came out as a teenager, but she never really loved me the same after I cut off my hair. In later years, she got heartbreakingly mean, seemed to think I was out to get her. She was a force, but always idolized and trusted men above women; I’d visibly sidestepped out of a system she’d believed was all-encompassing. So scary and threatening, there next to her but grown up a mystery. It feels wrong to say this, she was a friend too, goofy and playful, always liked monkeys for some reason. This sudden new friend of hers—I don’t remember her name—swore she’d said these words about me the night before she died. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a sweet thought, a gentle ouch. February 15th I arrived to help clean out her apartment, and surprised myself by telling my dad no, he should take the guest unit, I wanted to stay in Nanny’s room. Slept alone in her bed, braced myself to cuddle into the life she’d just vacated. I use her dishes every day now, feeling a distance, a closeness. In a sweetly protective parent move, the other half of my dad’s dark mood theme was exposing how tough it is to be an artist. The class in question was about writing LGBTQ children’s books; East Anglia is the somewhat obscure part of England I’d been living in before my divorce. Jumping through hoops is most definitely writing yet another funding or fellowship application—noting the time of year, probably at least 3 specific ones—which most definitely resulted in rejection a few months later. Those things are exhausting. Still, I have to say I’m awfully grateful they exist, the handful of times they’ve worked out. Honestly we all need them, and they always work out for someone.

The Help Desk: Is my girlfriend having a novel affair?

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 love that my girlfriend is even more of a book nerd than I am. Whenever I finish reading a trilogy and need something new, she's always there with a new book for me to read.

But the problem is that she's recently started talking to her ex-boyfriend again, and she's been reading books that he's giving to her. It's making me pretty uncomfortable. It feels like they're sharing a secret or something, whenever they talk about books.

I've brought it up to her and she says that I'm being silly and it's just books. But I still feel jealous. I guess I should say she broke up with him because he cheated on her. Am I being silly?

Tristan, Montlake

Dear Tristan,

I understand why this new relationship feels a bit threatening and I applaud you for speaking up. I was recently put in the difficult position of telling a good friend that I was uncomfortable with all the attention she was giving her new "baby." I reminded her that there is nothing a "baby" can give her that I can't besides sore nipples but like your gf, my friend did not take me seriously, which is left me no recourse but to steal her "baby's" identity and ruin it financially. Perhaps then my friend will realize that I am the wiser emotional investment.

Stealing your gf's ex-bf's identity may be untenable or simply not worth it, depending on his credit history (baby credit is as pure as the driven snow). If this is the case, I would encourage you to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can't control your gf or her friendships (and you shouldn't want to). Strong relationships are built on trust and a mutual pact to never get pregnant, so instead of focusing on her, scout around town for new bookworm friends you can make. Join a book club, go to readings, find others who can recommend great reads to you and vice versa.

If this gives you any hope – and it should – I recently met a very nice llama down the street who might be new best friend material. She's quiet and she's been fixed, which are the number 1 and 2 things I look for in a friendship. As a bonus, her body makes sweaters and if we ever get into an argument, I can have her euthanized. Maybe try dating a llama next time?

Kisses, Cienna

Aaron Bagley's slept through today's deadline

JK, he's really just taking a much deserved week off.

He'll be back next week, but in the meantime, why not take a look at some of the amazing dreams he's captured in the archives?

Portrait Gallery will return next week

Christine Marie Larsen is off this week, but that only means it's a great time to go look through the amazing archive of her portraits. She'll be back next Thursday.

Criminal Fiction: More Shakespeare than normal

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

The Vanishing Man (Minotaur), the second of Charles Finch’s trilogy chronicling the fledgling-career days of London detective Charles Lenox, delivers a doozy of a mystery. The action ranges from the inner sanctums of plusher neighborhoods, to the dingy pubs of the East End and the busy thoroughfare of the Thames River, as Lenox pursues a missing painting, a missing Shakespeare play, and a wealthy duke who has, it seems, the power and reach enough to manipulate circumstances as he likes. This historical crime novel is firmly planted in Queen Victoria’s England, gentlemen’s clubs, rigid social mores, newly published sensation Uncle Tom’s Cabin and all, while gently planting the details that reveal the sturdy, nurturing ground from which Lenox grew to be an independent-thinker, generous friend, and empathetic ally. Tucked cannily in Finch’s fiction are brilliantly compelling moments that acknowledge contemporary sentiments as well – “It was exhausting, this arrogance” – as well as a terrifically heart-heating delineation of a character who writes his dedications at the back of the book he’s gifting because “it would be rude to speak before the author.” Ace.

In the dusty, remote, palpably overheated Australian Outback, Cam, one of three brothers is found dead of exposure. Is it a murder mystery, a moral mystery, or a matter of accidental death? Jane Harper’s third thriller, The Lost Man (Flatiron), limns the truly harsh realities of living in isolated circumstances, here in the very specific and pitiless geography of Western Australia, while also unearthing and exposing the vagaries of dysfunctional family dynamics, recognizable pretty much everywhere. As Cam’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, their mother, and Cam’s widow and daughters grapple with coming to terms with their loss, Harper evokes the complexities of love, hate, rage, emotional baggage, and a spot of redemption with a spare language that suits her story’s geographical surroundings – and her characters’ deeply interwoven and even more deeply imprinted relationships – down to a T.

In The Familiars (Mira), Stacey Halls’ arresting debut, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, 17-years-old, wife of the wealthy Richard Shuttleworth, and mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, has substantive reason to believe that her fourth pregnancy in as many years – the previous ones were unsuccessful – will end in both the child’s death and hers. Hiring an experienced and intriguing midwife, one Alice Gray, makes such an immediate positive difference to Fleetwood’s health, that she’s emboldened to act when she realizes that local men in leadership positions are up to no good. But Alice and Fleetwood are caught in in a murderous, all-too-real tragedy – the notorious Pendle witch trials of 1612 – and thus their involvement is fraught with danger. A mesmerizing historical novel that deftly plumbs a darkly textured tapestry of so-called justice to reveal the real crimes being carried out against society: poverty, hunger, hopelessness, misogyny, and that mother of all-time high crimes, abuse of power.

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox (Crown) finds Manchester detective Aiden Waits barely holding onto his career by his fingernails – some of his colleagues prefer not to work with him after his tangle with illegal substances in 2018’s Sirens. As this riveting sequel opens, he and his partner, DI Peter Sutcliffe – for whom the description "grumpy, irascible, and belligerent" just doesn’t even cover it – are called to a shuttered, for-sale hotel that’s had a bizarre break-in. One bludgeoned security guard and one mysterious corpse later Waits and Sutty are immersed up to their eyeballs in a mystery that just won’t quit. Not one to stint on complexities, Knox brings the gritty streets of Manchester, the unstoppable greed of some, the penchant for violence of others, and an enormous heft of Waits’ seriously embedded emotional baggage and chequered past to bear on this shocking, elegantly-wrought police procedural.

There’s a murderer loose on a gleeful killing spree – the targets appear to be pairs of friends who all receive odd little handmade books with quotes from literary works – and, as the recipient of one such booklet, stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck looks to be a future victim. Kim, however, famously has no friends, so what gives? The Next to Die (William Morrow) by Sophie Hannah is a pleasurably convoluted mystery that even has Hannah’s genius detective Simon Waterhouse stumped – not to mention his myriad colleagues and a serial-killer profiler. Meanwhile, Simon’s wife, Sergeant Charlie Zailer, has her hands full working on the Tribbeck case as well as one a little closer to home: just what are her sister, Liv, and Liv’s supposed former lover – and Si and Charlie’s colleague – Chris Gibbs up to, insisting they’ve broken up but still sneaking around together, meeting other couples for lunch? Hannah, a poet as well as a novelist, infuses this engaging outing with the Culver Valley police department with even more wordplay than usual, giving the ever-acerbic police chief Proust some particularly tasty one-liners.

The Quintessential Interview: Don Winslow

Fourteen years since he published 2005’s The Power of the Dog, Winslow delivers The Border (William Morrow), rounding out his war-on-drugs trilogy that included 2015’s The Cartel. This crime-thriller’s action – which picks up immediately after Cartel’s left off – is appropriately grim, violent, and fast-paced. We get up close and personal, for example, with second-generation drug lords, kids who were born rich and have learned more about getting high and getting laid than getting into business. But Winslow also immerses us in the lives of young immigrants, of desperate addicts, of undercover cops and federal higher-ups – the full range of people impacted by the greed, manipulations, and arrogance of the white-collar money-men and the gangsters they do business with, representing, as they clearly do, a brutally cruel supply-chain management system. Like other contemporary crime fiction, Winslow’s mighty brick of a novel takes a swing at the horrific corruption trashing our democracy at the moment, and comes out winning.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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

Top five places to write?

A desk in a converted gas station I rent. My mother’s porch. Any train. A tent. A beach parking lot.

Top five favorite authors?

Shakespeare. Jim Harrison. Bruce Springsteen. Raymond Chandler. Elmore Leonard

Top five tunes to write to?

“Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Bruce Springsteen; “Moanin,’” Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; Beethoven String Quartet # 14; The Serpico soundtrack; “Everything Happens to Me,” Sonny Stitt.

Top five hometown spots?

The beach near the house I grew up in. This fish and chips place on the harbour. The local library. A taco joint on Main Street. This old road that runs from the house, past a farm, to the beach.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Watch out boys, she'll chew you up

So with Saga on hiatus and G. Willow Wilson's impressive five-year run on Ms. Marvel over, what's the comic that I most look forward to reading every month? I'm enjoying a lot of comics right now, but not many of them inspire the kind of anticipation that great monthly comics do.

Probably the book I'm most consistently enjoying right now is Giant Days — every issue of this college series is funny and clever and full of boundless compassion for the main characters. As the protagonists draw closer to their last day of university, I'm left worrying what will happen to the book — I don't want to say goodbye to these young women, but I also don't want them to overstay their welcome. This is the kind of push-pull relationship that good comics can bring out in their readers.

But the book that I'm most looking forward to these days — the one that I absolutely can't stop myself from devouring as soon as I buy my weekly comics — is Portland author Chelsea Cain's Man-Eaters.

The plot, as described in the advertising copy for the first issue, sounds like a pretty straightforward sci-fi allegory: "A mutation in Toxoplasmosis causes menstruating women to turn into ferocious killer wildcats—easily provoked and extremely dangerous."

There's a lot to examine in that premise, of course — giving an overt terror to society's fear of women's sexuality puts an interesting spin on these #MeToo times. But the tone is what turns Man-Eaters from a good idea into a great comic.

Cain and her artists — Kate Niemczyk, Lia Miternique, and Stella Greenvoss — use the premise to explore a satirically heightened Portland Oregon in a bunch of interesting ways. The graphic design in this book is incredible. In issue 6 alone, there are great visual riffs on Google Maps, dog food ads, Soviet propaganda, the terrors of a random YouTube page, and medical forms.

And as she follows her cast of young women around a world that hates and fears them, Cain is pulling together themes from all over popular culture, including song lyrics from "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," along with a pretty good Portlandia-style joke and a very funny running gag about comic book colorists. It's not a horror story — that would be too easy, and so thoroughly 1990s — because there's nothing scary about female sexuality. Instead, Man-Eaters is funny and empathetic and inquisitive and energetic.

Man-Eaters is consistently the most surprising, experimental, and humane book I read every month, and for that reason, this is the book that I am most eager to read when new comic book day rolls around.

Book News Roundup: Save LEMS Bookshop, apply for these sweet publishing gigs

We are raising money for the historic L.E.M.S. (Life Enrichment) Bookstore, the last Black-owned bookstore focused on the African diaspora in the Pacific Northwest! LEMS Bookstore has been around for over 20 years, with all of its time being in Seattle. It has been in its current location for over a decade, serving the Black community and the larger Seattle community with cultural space, books, knowledge, Kwanzaa, and so many more cultural events. All of which we want to continue -- but we need your help.

After my father died, I waited for his ghost. I waited for him in the church that held his body and in my uncle’s house in Indiana where we stayed until the funeral was over. One night a powerful thunderstorm woke me, loud and bright. It reminded me of what summer is in the Midwest, and that I don’t live there anymore. When I returned to Seattle, I continued to wait. He did not show up in my dreams. He did not appear in any of my doorways. His face did not reflect up out of the coffee mugs I took from his house.

If all Seattle read the same graphic memoir

This week, the Seattle Public Library announced their 2019 Seattle Reads selection. This is the program that makes hundreds of copies of a single selected title available at libraries throughout the city, and which then brings the author to town for a series of readings, conversations, and examinations of the book.

This year's selection is a comic book: The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. SPL's site describes the book as...

...a haunting memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for a simpler past. Thi Bui documents her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves in America. As the child of a country and a war she can’t remember, Bui’s dreamlike artwork brings to life her journey to understanding her own identity in a way that only comics can.

It's obviously a great time for Seattle to get together to discuss the immigrant experience, and what it's like to be an outsider in the USA. It will be interesting to see how the Seattle Reads program interacts with a comic: will the book be more accessible to our city's general population? Will it change the way people respond to the text? Will a conversation with a cartoonist be any different than the novelists who've come to the city in the past?

This is an exciting choice for the Seattle Reads program, and I can't wait to see what happens if all Seattle reads the same comic. Copies of The Best We Could Do will soon be available at a Seattle Public Library branch near you, and Bui will be reading all over Seattle later this spring. Check back here for more information as it's available.

What it's like to literally write the book on Donald Trump

Next Wednesday, the Reading Through It Book Club will meet at Third Place Books Seward Park at 7 pm to discuss *Unpresidented*, a meticulously researched biography of Donald Trump intended for young readers. For the first time in our book club's history, we'll be joined by the book's author — Seattle's own [Martha Brockenbrough]( I talked on the phone with Brockenbrough yesterday about what to expect at the book club, what it's been like to hand over so much headspace to such a terrible person, and why it's important to not tune out the news, no matter how tempting that may be.

Thank you for agreeing to come to our book club next week! We're really excited to have you — you'll be the first author to attend one of our meetings. Unfortunately, I'm not sure you'll like this first question. In our book club, we all vote on the next book we'll discuss, and the vote for Unpresidented was closer than I thought it would be. One book club attendee actually pointed at Trump's picture on the dust jacket and said, "I don't want to have to look at that man for a month." Which I found to be a pretty remarkable statement for a book club that started in direct response to Donald Trump winning the 2016 election! So I was wondering if you've had a lot of pushback from exhausted liberals who are suffering from Trump fatigue and if you have anything you say to those people?

They're really talking about the feelings of being triggered by this guy. His face is everywhere. His voice is everywhere. His idiosyncratic diction is everywhere.

About the cover — the dust jacket comes off. Seriously, I can totally understand the feeling of being triggered — because I got to a point where it was very difficult for me to listen to audio clips. When someone is not telling you the truth, you feel insulted. Being honest with each other is an absolute basis for our community — you cannot live in a civil society without honesty being the norm — and the fact that he has so violated this particular norm, I think, is one of many reasons that people feel triggered.

But it's important. We have to look, we have to gaze into the abyss. And you know this is where we, especially those of us who enjoy any sort of privilege at all — meaning we don't fear we're going to be deported based on the color of our skin — we have to brave it.

What was it like writing a book about current events? Obviously, unfortunately, the Trump presidency is still ongoing , and so at some point you had to let go of the book and send it out to be printed. How did you decide how to stop writing this book?

So my previous biography was about Alexander Hamilton, and his story has remained relatively stable for a while now. In many respects with Trump, you know, there's always a new headline, there's always a new outrage, there's always a new something that in previous times would have been a headline-dominating scandal for months.

You know how traditional presidential biographies often go through the first hundred days? My editor suggested [covering just] the first hundred days. But I took a look at what had happened, I made this big huge spreadsheet of the timeline and events, and at the end of the first hundred days he had not yet fired James Comey, there was no Mueller investigation, they had not implemented a plan of separating families at the border. So some of the dominant features of the Trump presidency hadn't happened yet.

So I just decided that's not going to happen — I'm going beyond the first hundred days. My second thought is I wanted the book to feel as fresh and current as possible.

So when he, in Helsinki, once again rejected the conclusions of the American intelligence community in favor of his bromance with Vladimir Putin, and when John Brennan and others were saying 'this is treason,' I decided that's a pretty good place to end the book.

But if you look at it another way, not a lot of stuff has changed with Trump — not since he was a little boy writing poems about winning at baseball and loving the cheers of crowds. I wanted to set up patterns: his father's business practices, his business practices, his grandfather. I wanted to identify the patterns and see what those told me about Trump and the things that drive him. Once you do that and identify the fact that here's a guy who's long been entangled with Russia, here's a guy who's long broken the law and cut corners with business — once you establish those patterns, then all the breaking news headlines are frankly more of the same.

And so my job as the writer was to find a representative dramatic and satisfying ending, and I think a whiff of treason says that nicely.

So you might be able to teach us how to separate the meaningful Trump news from the pointless Trump news?

There's been nothing that's come out since my book was published that is surprising or new for me. It's all in there.

There's always the possibility for surprise — I don't have a lot on Saudi Arabia and certainly the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and whatever Jared Kushner is doing with his businesses. But when you look back, the big themes — lying, corruption, racism, misogyny, bigotry, incompetence — these things aren't changing.

It's compelling to follow the headlines, but really, what's important? Continuing to vote. What else is important? Paying attention to what happens in the Mueller investigation — and certainly in Congressional investigations, but the Mueller one is really historic in its breadth and importance.

And then other than that, we have actual major issues — you know, climate change is huge. The amount of homeless students in Washington State, homeless kids in the Seattle Public School district — that's huge. Let us fight these local and global battles, and know that for us to have up-to-the-minute understandings of the latest scandal that already fits an established pattern is not as important as taking care of ourselves and the people around us.

Are there any aspects of the Trump presidency that you haven't talked about yet that you might like to discuss next week?

Let's see what the news is next week. Like yesterday, for example, Junior said this [Russia] stuff happened in 2006, before Trump ever dreamed of running for office. Bullshit! He's been talking about running for president since 19-fucking-80. You cannot trust a single thing these people are saying. So, there's bound to be some news and we could certainly use it as an example.

class="noindent" Can I ask you, as an expert, why does Donald Trump play "You Can't Always Get What You Want" at the end of his rallies? It's such a deeply bizarre choice for a presidential event.

I mean, he's just probably thinking, 'oh, this is something that they'll like — it's a crowd pleaser.' And he's just a huge dork. He's just this guy who peaked in high school, who wants everybody to love him, who has done poorly in business, has cost taxpayers, like, $1 billion in New York, his billion-dollar loss cost banks and he used it as a tax write-off. He has slurped $2 billion from the public and doesn't have much to show for it. And he just wants to be beloved and cool. It's just amazing he was elected.

Mail Call for February 26, 2019

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

No alternative

Yesterday's news — broken by Crosscut's David Kroman — that this week's issue of the Seattle Weekly will be the final print edition of the alternative weekly has saddened a lot of Seattleites. And rightly so! It's always sad when journalists lose their jobs — even moreso when their good work has been relentlessly undermined by reshuffling and corporate cuts along the way.

Watching the slow death and decline of the alt-weekly in general has been painful. When I first started paying attention to alternative weeklies in the 1990s, they still felt like genuine countercultural documents. I got my start at alternative weeklies, and I've been published in quite a few alt-weeklies over the years. (Full disclosure: for a couple years, the Seattle Review of Books republished pieces in the print edition of the Seattle Weekly as part of a content sharing agreement; no money or ownership ever changed hands.)

But the last two decades have seen alt-weeklies age very poorly. The aging alt-weekly hipsters in management who saved themselves in the onslaught of layoffs and shutterings have soured into reactionary South Park-style conservatives, tossing out clickbait and feasting on outrage, to diminishing returns — look at the LA Weekly and the East Bay Express, among others.

In the onslaught of the internet and the devaluation of print advertisements, alt-weeklies have gone from the freshest source of urban cultural commentary to the stodgiest. It's hard to imagine today's teenagers aspiring to one day write in what's left of the alternative weekly media bubble, in just the same way that nobody in my generation really dreamed of writing for Playboy or any of those other washed-up countercultural dinosaur outlets.

But over the last few years, the Weekly didn't fall into the bitter-old-white-man trap that captured so many other alt weeklies, and they deserve our respect for that. Right up until the end of the print edition, they told compelling stories about Seattleites and tried to make sense of wonky regional politics. They were a publication that was devoted to documenting life in Seattle, the way it looked on the street.

In my 20 years in Seattle, I've seen the Weekly fall and rise: when I first moved here, it was becoming the establishment paper. But under the leadership of arts editor Kelton Sears about five years ago, the Weekly started embracing Seattle's weirdness again, and it became an earnest celebration of what makes this city unique: the comics, the outsider art, the tireless young creators. The Weekly continued keeping that DIY spirit alive in the print edition even after another round of budget cuts wiped out Sears's art section and reduced the print publication to a few sheets of thin newsprint.

The Seattle Weekly will reportedly still continue online, where the "Weekly" part of the name will essentially be meaningless. But starting next week, there will be no alternative weekly published and distributed on the streets of Seattle. And that's a moment worth marking — a complicated legacy that should be noted. Whatever form their journalism takes in the future, the stewards of new media should reflect on the lessons and tragedies and triumphs of the 20th century alternative weekly. They got a lot wrong in the end, but the good times were pretty great.

A family is a promise you make to the future

Published February 26, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Tara Conklin's’s The Last Romantics .

Bestselling author Tara Conklin's new novel begins with a mystery at a poetry reading. The truth is revealed over the course of a decades-long family history.

Read this review now

if the mirror

(Side-scroll to see full lines)


in its gilded frame
                                                                                beheld the body’s greeneries                    something

                                                  a face of leisure
                                                  a leaning in                                    the neck’s question

nothing more
                                                                  than a slung shoulder
                                                  a slipped stem into                                a gilded vase
                                                                                                                          an unstrung bodice

                                                                                                                                                      would it be

                the lady or the thread
                                                  tucking itself into                       a stretching fog

                                                  throating out a call
                              or reply
                                                                                                                          it’s a lovely thing

to be the mirror
                to be the lady

                                                                                                             & with the neck in repose
                                                                                            what’s the throat to do

The Chuckanut Writers Conference has a stunning lineup for you

We're so delighted to have Chuckanut Writers Conference as a sponsor this week! We are always thrilled when a sponsor returns (thank you, Chuckanut!), and we're especially thrilled to make sure our readers are in the know about events like this.

The Chuckanut Writers Conference is laser-focused on making sure writers who attend walk away with the tools they need to do the work. They're bringing an amazing list in this year for classes, readings, and talks — Tara Conklin, Laurie Frankel, and Nancy Pearl are just a few of the names on the list. See the full lineup on our sponsor feature page, then sign up now for the earlybird discount.

When you sponsor us, you put your book, event, or residency in front of our readership of book lovers and industry professionals. And you're helping keep Seattle's amazing community of writers, reviewers, and readers vibrant. Want to join us? Check out rates and dates at

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from February 25th - March 3rd

Monday, February 25: Inheritance Reading

You know those DNA tests that everyone has been taking for the last couple of years? Dani Shapiro took one, and she discovered that her father was not her biological father. Her book Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is about that experience. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, February 26: Warlight Reading

Michael Ondaatje's latest novel is being praised as a return to form for the author — Warlight, about siblings who are broken apart at the end of World War II, is receiving the kind of attention that, say, The English Patient used to pick up. That's saying something. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, February 27: Zadie Smith

How is this not sold out yet? Zadie Smith is one of our best living novelists, and one of the most brilliant cultural critics working today. Seattle Arts and Lectures is bringing her to Seattle and putting her in conversation with Valerie Curtis-Newton a UW professor of theatrical arts. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747,, 7 pm, $35.

Thursday, February 28: Shortest Way Home Reading

Maybe you didn't know that South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is running for president as a Democrat. That's okay. You don't even have to vote for him. But you should definitely learn more about the man, who has an impressive resume: a married millennial gay man who served in the military and who is garnering bipartisan support in a time when people don't stray outside their party. Buttigieg is unlikely to be our next president, but you certainly haven't heard the last of him. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, March 1: Kiyonuk Reading

Sandy Mazen's memoir Kiyonuk: An Arctic Alaska Boyhood is about growing up in a pair of small northern Alaska villages. Expect to read a lot about snow. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, March 2: Word Play

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7:30 pm, $10.

Sunday, March 3: Gravity Assist Reading

Seattle Review of Books's March Poet in Residence, Martha Silano, celebrates her new poetry collection at Seattle's temple of poetry. Local poets Kelli Russell Agodon, Molly Tenenbaum, and Rick Barot will help bring Gravity Assist into the world. It's Silano's fifth poetry collection, and it may be her best.

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

Literary Event of the Week: Word Play at Hugo House

Every year, two local organizations — Seattle7Writers and Bushwick Book Club — come together to do what they do best. For Seattle7Writers, that means presenting some of the best writing in the city. For Bushwick Book Club, that means local musicians transforming great literature into new music.

This Saturday, Word Play brings three local writers together with nine local musicians at Hugo House to create new music. The three authors are:

Laurie Frankel, who I noted in her novel This Is How It Always Is "clearly loves her characters, and is rooting for them to succeed. That gives the book a charm that makes it very hard to put down."

In my review, I said that Anca Szilágyi’s debut novel Daughters of the Air "feels as real and as insistent as the vein pulsing just over your right eye."

And Oliver de la Paz calls Michael Schmeltzer's poetry collection Blood Song a "startling debut" which "is filled with a tenderness capable of turning us to tinder."

On their event page, Bushwick Book Club doesn't say which musicians will participate in the event, and that's a shame.

But whoever musically interprets the books has got some great material to work with: a dark fairy-tale story of a young woman trying to make her way in the world, a story of a loving family trying to help their child be who she is deep down, and a collection of poems from one of our most promising poets. When you're working from that kind of literary source material, you're bound to make some beautiful music.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7:30 pm, $10.

The Sunday Post for February 24, 2019

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

No Deadlines

Robert Messenger, two-time editor at the one-time Weekly Standard, with an essay that is “about something other than the ostensible subject.” The pain and pleasure of deadlines at dailies, weeklies and monthlies; the difficult transformation of the media industry; and, especially, the loss of a lifetime’s profession. Serious but not self-pitying, wry, and interesting enough if you’re a sucker for how-things-work to justify yet another article on the “death” of publishing.

The miracle is not that newspapers are any good; it is that they come out at all. One of the city’s greatest critics once told me that the best advice he got in two decades at the New York Times was when he proposed a new arts column. “Do you know what a newspaper feature is?” an old-timer asked him: “It’s a hole you have to fill with sand every goddamn day”. Not bad as a description of the whole business. It wears you down.
An Honest Living

I need to warn you that this is long, because I think that, like me, you’ll have trouble stopping once you start. Steve Salaita was a professor for two decades; then, abruptly, after a series of Israel-critical tweets, he was not. Here, he writes about choosing to leave the life of the public intellectual, the economic threads that complicate “free speech” in our academic institutions, and the semiotics of the school bus.

The job induces primal expressions of love. School buses supersede their physical structure; they anchor a huge apparatus designed to guard the vulnerable. The machine is outfitted with lights and blinkers calculated to announce its presence. It is excessive on purpose. Nothing is more important than its cargo. SUVs, bicycles, eighteen-wheelers, ambulances, fire trucks — all abdicate their right of way when the stop sign and crossbar swing into the roadway. The school bus is one of the few institutions in the United States that protects the powerless from the depredations of commerce.
Tove Jansson on Writer’s Block

Tove Jansson is so very good at delivering the gracious and the ridiculous side-by-side — giving neither the upper hand, maintaining the perfect balance of sharp and sweet. Here she sits in a park in Paris, writing about being unable to write, which should be the most tedious subject possible. In her voice, it is the opposite.

I can’t understand why I must drag the ocean into everything I write. Furthermore, it’s so fucking hard to go on with something that was so wonderfully simple and I should know this well.

Whatcha Reading, Toni Yuly?

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.

Whole Wide World cover

Toni Yuly is a Bremerton-based children's book writer and illustrator. Formerly a librarian, she studied painting with Jacob Lawrence at the University of Washington. She's appearing Sunday, February 24th, at the Elliott Bay Book Company at 3pm to show her latest book The Whole Wide World and Me. Bring the kids!

Toni Yuly

What are you reading now?

I am a book packrat and at any given time have stacks of books around me that I dart in and out of…I am also in the middle of finishing artwork for my next book and so tend to gather books around me that help inspire the work I am currently doing.

All that said, a couple of the books I am reading right now are:

The Gardens of William Morris by Jill Duchess of Hamilton, Penny Hart, and John Simmons. I love seeing Morris's designs and the flowers and gardens they came from. It also is interesting to read about this eccentric, Victorian workaholic.

Swedish Modern (A coloring Book of Magical Interiors) Janet Colletti - It isn't so much a coloring book but a gorgeous art book that celebrates the work of Swedish designer Josef Frank.

What did you read last?

I last read a great middle grade novel by Kenneth Oppel called, Inkling. It is a fun, fast read with perfect illustrations by Sydney Smith.

What are you reading next?

Next I want to re-read some of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays, especially Self-Reliance and The Over-Soul. I also want to read all of the recent Children's book award winners, Caldecott and Newbery. Here's the list:



The Help Desk: Paperback fighter

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 out this week, so this is a re-run of a column from March of 2016.

Dear Cienna,

A co-worker and I often trade book recommendations. She has more seniority than I do but we are both in management. She recently went on a vacation and borrowed two of my paperback books that I had recommended to her. But she only came back with one of the books. She said the other one had fallen in the pool and then she ended up giving it to one of her fellow vacationers. She half-heartedly mentioned that she’d look for a used copy of the book to replace it. It’s been a few months and she hasn’t. Any advice?

Feeling Burned in Ballard

Dear Burned,

You are never going to get that book back. We both know that. What you need to do is suck it up and