Reading On Your Feet: Walking Beacon Hill with Jia Tolentino and Lindy West

Thanks to independent audio book service and the huge catalog of audio books available for loan through the Seattle Public Library, audio books are more accessible than ever before. We like to take books out on the town with us, listening to them as we take in Seattle from a pedestrian's-eye perspective. Reading on Your Feet is an occasional column about what happens when we take books for a walk around the region.

What are the books?

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. (Full disclosure: Lindy West is a friend of mind and a former coworker and I can't give her an impartial review; luckily, this isn't a review, just an account of listening to her book.)

Where did you walk?

Beacon Hill.

Who reads the books? How's the audio presentation?

Both these books are read by the authors, and they're both pretty great. Tolentino is a clear and straightforward reader of her own work, but I really enjoyed how she couldn't at times contain the emotions behind what she was reading. When she talked, for instance, about internet trolls, the disdain in her voice added an additional weight to the book. Same with Lindy West: when I worked with her at *The Stranger, Lindy would often begin her stories as conversation or rants, thinking her way through aloud before she ever wrote down a single word. That makes audio books a very straightforward medium for her.

What did you think of the books?

I listened to these books one after the other this fall, and while they don't have a lot in common — Tolentino isn't as funny a writer as Lindy; Lindy doesn't have that precise, New Yorker-y air that Tolentino brings to her work — they do both write long chapters early in their respective books on internet trolls. Specifically, they talk about how aggressive men trolling women on the internet in the early part of this century eventually turned into the despicable alt-right hordes who are now making the world terrible for everyone. These two chapters of these two different books feel almost in conversation with each other, and listening to them reminded me that I was one of the naysayers at the time, arguing that internet trolls should be ignored and not regulated or cut out of the equation entirely. I was wrong, and now the world is poorer because none of us listened to Tolentino and Lindy. Both these books are smart and funny and heartbreaking and fantastic.

How was the walk?

Almost every weekday, I walk by the Veteran's Hospital on Beacon Hill on my way to work. Over the last year, a tent village had built up near the hospital. Many of the residents of the village were veterans who were receiving care at the hospital, and they simply didn't have any place to go. One fall day, though, as I was listening to The Witches Are Coming, I realized: the tents were gone.

The village had been swept by order of Mayor Durkan. Now, whenever I walk past this empty stretch of land, I think about the veterans who used to live in the tents (one tent had a hand-lettered sign on it that read "YES, FEED THE ANIMAL — ME!") Where are they now? Are they close to the hospital, still? Do they still get the care that they need? Are they someplace where they can feel secure? When will we ever fix this terrible housing crisis that we've created? How long did it take me to realize that the tents these people called home had been gone?