The Help Desk: The other Help Desk

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

Dear Cienna,

We can’t help but notice that several months after your weekly advice column, The Help Desk, launched on the Seattle Review of Books — to be specific, the first one was published on July 31, 2015 at 10:01am, PST — the New York Times Book Review is preparing to launch a literary advice column this week called Help Desk. You've written nine of these columns so far. Our question is: what the fuck do you think is going on there?


Martin and Paul, downtown

Dear Martin and Paul,

Ideas are always stolen, they don’t even have to be great ones. Russia stole the idea for invading Ukraine from the Poles, Michael Jackson stole moonwalking from the moon – or at the very least, astronauts – astronauts stole Tang from diabetes, and diabetes stole my grandmother’s pancreas. There’s no use being a frown clown; that’s just how the world works.

Here’s a more personal example: For awhile now, I’ve planned on having a baby and naming it Spite. The baby changes depending on my audience – for instance, if I’m frustrated with my grandmother and her lazy pancreas, Spite is half-black because it makes her deeply uncomfortable. I’ve told a few close friends about my Spite baby, including the spider that lives in my bathroom. Lo and behold, I get home from work yesterday to find my spider friend has hatched 1,000 babies on my bathroom wall. You guessed it: that bitch named every one of them Spite.

I could take it personally. Hell, I could shovelize her and her offspring in a heartbeat but she’s done nothing but be a good friend and sympathetic listener who knew a great idea when she heard one and ran with it.

The New York Times can offer book advice. They can even steal the name of our book advice column. But this is the same media outlet that taunts its readers with achingly beautiful portraits of homes we can never afford in places only those too poor to leave reside (“What You Get: $900,000 homes in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Ohio”? Go fuck yourself, NYT), and thus it will never possess the charm, compassion and practical advice of a single woman living in a $500 rental full of pet spiders.



The only Help Desk endorsed by spiders™.