Inside the virus there is a room. Inside the room,
a man. In the man’s hand, an ancient mace. But wait,
he’s not a man. He’s an instruction manual, a step —
by-step to illness. But you are sleepy and misread
Every coronavirus infection starts with a virus particle
as a virus parade, and in your mind, you see it,
a drill team holding a banner that reads COVID-19
and band of genetic material playing drums,
saxophones, flutes. There are floats of hand sanitizer,
baton twirlers in masks. And tonight, you feel somewhat
safe as you are at home watching from your window,
confetti falling down city streets where no one stands.
A new language being built —
it started with Prepare for Social Distancing
then the order, Shelter in Place, a quarantine
to protect others. The paint company rep
showed up with a mask, for my safety he said,
of course. Hands chapped from washing.
Super aware of sneezes, coughs, sniffles
as never before. At the airport, in a crowded
waiting area, this new world burgeoning —
the man next to me moved because the man
next to him snored. The woman next to me
sniffled in regular intervals. All this sudden
hyperawareness, the germs that might be
on the edge of the plastic cup I hold, coconut
milk I bought at the Mexican bar, it tastes
so good. I will not let my life be ruled by fear
of germs. Everyone obsessed with hand sanitizer,
making their own, buying alcohol, cleaning supplies,
toilet paper, to excess. We are in a frenzy—red
states against blue states and someone will decide
who dies and only the rich get test results. And everyone
is going online, and yes, creativity is soaring, exploding,
but we forget the children who will die without
their parents. I walk on the plane seeing red.
During the first days of the Corona pandemic
I often sat in a chair near the road, smoking cigarettes,
half a mile south of a group home that had become
infested with the virus. Three, maybe five times
a week, the shiny blue ambulance that serves
those who live north of the lift-bridge hustled by, siren
wailing, red, white-and-amber lights awhirl, and turned
into the group home parking lot. It became the habit
of an elderly man from the rental cottages across the way
to stand on his side of the road, in a dark overcoat
and surgical mask, hand over his heart, waving
a small flag as the amulance raced back toward the bridge
and the ventilators that chuffed beyond.
One terrible day, after the ambulance made the last
of three deadly runs (it’s said that only two of ten
who went on the vents survived), I called over to him,
after he’d stepped all the way to the pavement
to watch the ambulance make the final curve and the ramp
that led to the south shore. He hesitated, then walked
back to his cottage. I haven’t seen him out since,
though from time-to-time I see what may be a hand waving
slowly, or a half-smile in the tiny window
cut in his cottage door.
I put up a Do Not Disturb Sign. I considered buying
a portable desktop scanner, confronting the phobias
in the basement. My project:
I wasn’t sure, but likely it would not involve the art
of decluttering, the issue of whether the turquoise
t-shirt, its row of tiny songbirds, sparks joy,
would not revolve around a bag of holey socks,
the portable sewing kit I purchased
at the Dollar Store.
Maybe I would spend my days making a raised bed —
not for growing vegetables but an actual bed
with a flowery, bee-glutted duvet.
Or, because sometimes being stuck at home
makes you want to climb the walls,
perhaps my quarantine project
would require roof jugs, t-nuts, self-drilling screws.
Maybe there’s something to be made
from all these broken umbrellas:
a wacky, wiry bouquet. Maybe my project
will become clear once I understand
the glass brain found at Herculaneum,
how it’s possible that inside Neptune
it’s raining diamonds.
Yesterday in Lincoln Park,
fifteen or so rule-breakers
assembled under a picnic shelter,
coffee cups in hand, warming
by the wood-fire as if the world
had turned a page, erased
on social distancing,
not one of them wearing
a mask. I had to still my teacher voice,
which would have chided them
for this get-together.
All over sixty,
As I passed, I heard one woman say,
Last week, I felt really angry.
Stars falter but the business of burglary
is good. Boarded-up shops—not a problem
with a crowbar. Wrench the nails. Make them
squeal like a baby in Mobile then blast
the glass and you’re inside with more pizazz
than a jazz rant.
Grab the flat screens, the speakers and receivers
before the threadbare morning catches you
and cops pull on masks/gloves, run inside
guns drawn but you’re already gone
flickering through fog in a beater car.
Live forever in the era of Corona. Cough
if you’re caught. Say you’re full-on contagious:
the ghost money to heaven. Blow your breath
until everyone’s infected. Watch them run
dizzy as a sermon litany and signing
the sign of the cross.
It’s all in the attitude. Be the woodpecker
tap-tapping at the eves of the house
when the family’s gone.
So many good bugs to chew.
One that started with a roll of the dice,
an election gone awry, a time of fire and flood.
When we started to panic at every pandemic,
went into quarantine playing quarters.
We’ve all become the evil versions of ourselves
just trying to get back to the prime timeline,
the one where everything went right,
when our memories weren’t clouded by calamity.
That butterfly that flapped its wings,
the animal virus gone rogue. We couldn’t buy
butter or bullets. We waited with bated breath
underground. When we emerge anew
it will be with new eyes, our currency
changed from cash to cashews and cheese
sandwiches. You can’t remember the taste
of food without tin. You can’t remember
how to kiss. Your sense of time scrambled.
You learned to throw a knife and gut fish.
The darkest timeline has taken us
the way of apocalypse, earthquake,
supervolcanos, and tidal waves.
We can’t take any more disaster.
We’ve buried too many bodies
and sheltered in place too long to forget.
When we started this journey it was
“nothing left to lose,” now we’re too tired
to remember how fresh fruit used to smell,
the pale pink of cherry blossoms,
the days before the coyotes took over our streets.
In the house, there was another house
and then another —
one made?from a box?used
to deliver her grandmother’s microwave,
the second to ship her
father’s poetry books, and a third?
only she could see.
There was a little bed
where the little seal and little cat
took long restorative naps
and teacups that never failed
to fulfill their promise.
the world where
she lived once??Where she
in front of me
like an exhausted
Type “vivid dreams during pandemic” into your favorite search engine and you’ll get countless articles related to an uptick in dreaming since the pandemic began. There are many theories that as to why there is a sudden increase in dreaming right now – but I’m not going to get into that. I’m here to say goodnight, for now. It’s been over two and a half years since I started posting weekly here at Seattle Review of Books! Since then I have been deep in my subconscious every week, creating work that served my sleeping self, and sleeping to serve my waking self. It’s a trippy thing. I have so much to say about it. Naturally, when the pandemic began I wasn’t shocked about my dreams because I have been dreaming since I can remember, and like I stated – spending a lot of my waking time in dreamland. So, I must say, it delights me to hear that people are currently dreaming more. Yes, there is pain, suffering, and confusion from the pandemic – but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some silver lining. Perhaps the world doesn’t need my dreams right now. Perhaps your own dreams are enough. I’m ok with that.
Thanks Martin and Paul for letting me sleep here for two and a half years. It’s been an honor to have my work on a site that is home to everything books. It has been an honor to tell people that I have a “web comic published by Seattle Review of Books”. If/when Seattle Review of Books rematerializes I will gladly return if Martin and Paul will have me.
I have brushed my hair. I have brushed my animal’s hair. I have swept all the hair from the floorboards and pulled it from the drains. I have rearranged my bookshelf. I’ve told myself I will get better at taking care of things, like house plants. I have fucked the person I love. The person I love has fucked me, there is a difference, and now is not the time to make love. That comes later. Now we are bored and we are angry. Worst of all we are powerless. We are sheltering in place. We are stuck inside and we are exchanging the small amount of power we do have by candlelight. We are fighting about what to do next. I have begged the person I love to stay, I have ordered him to go home. I have said things like, “Before it gets too bad,” and, “You need to do what’s best for you.” I have cried in the middle of the kitchen while holding a pink flower in one hand, and a drugstore thermometer in the other. I’ve said, “Don’t worry,” and, “I love you.” I have promised to get in my car and drive all the way to California if I have to. Sometimes it’s okay to lie. I have painted the trim along my window, a pale bloom. I have watched the neighborhood from the roof sit still. I have watched the construction of the new casino obstruct my view. I have seen it come to a halt, right there in the middle of the skyline. I have watched the whole world pause, but for some reason it feels more frozen on the reservation. I have told the person I love about our tribe’s Salmon ceremony, how we celebrated its arrival, but I have forgotten the details of ceremony. I have called my mother. I’ve asked for her frybread recipe. At least we have food, but this food feels defeated. Still, I have made it for him twice, and each time it didn’t come out quite right, but I’ll keep trying because there is no salmon, because I want to make something good, before he leaves, before I might not ever see him again.
You’d think a romance author would be better with endings. But the end of a romance is really a beginning in disguise: it’s the start of a marriage, a relationship, a new way for the characters to exist in the world. We stop watching, but it’s implied the characters keep going beyond the limits of the reader’s sight. It’s less that romance authors wrap things up, and more that we set up the premise of an invisible sequel every reader has to imagine for themselves.
I don’t know how to write a happy ending for this one. The Seattle Review of Books and this column are going on hiatus — it’s the right decision for a lot of reasons and the archives will still be accessible. But I don’t know how to write the end because I don’t know what the next part is supposed to look like.
It’s been different doing criticism here rather than on my own site — just like it’s different to sing on stage rather than in your living room. Or to publish books rather than scribble in notebooks that never open for anyone else’s eyes. The public nature of the gig and the proximity to so many other writers from so many different genres has had a bit of a crucible effect, pressure and heat condensing my initial impressions into sharper, steelier, and altogether better ideas. It’s pushed me and I’ll miss it dreadfully.
Lately it feels like everyone is trapped in their own separate crucible. We don’t know how the heat and pressure are reshaping us inside and out. We have to get through each day one year at a time. Those of us who are not essential workers have had to retreat from the world. From one another. We have separated ourselves from ourselves, and the break is severe. (Essential workers are having a vastly different experience of this pandemic, and someday we will shudder at the telling.) The times have changed the way I read some of the books reviewed below; context has cast unexpected shades on certain scenes and premises.
The world is transforming before us, its shape going fluid and ungraspable no matter how tightly we clench our hands.
People have channeled their need to reach out: we are collectively baking and knitting and practicing instruments, learning languages, making films, talking about finishing that novel we’ve been noodling with. We are trying as best we can to take refuge in Art, because we cannot take refuge in each other.
Art is another way of connecting and that absolutely includes romance.
Because the great promise of romance is: the central characters never end up alone. It’s a simple, powerful fact, the one constant of the entire genre. You won’t be alone.
We’re not there yet. We’re in the bleak moment, the rough patch, the stormy night full of misunderstandings and third-act twists and the resurgence of old fears we thought we’d left in the past. The time when the villain’s triumph seems almost complete.
I don’t know how long we’ll be here. Everyone jokes that This season of America has jumped the shark and Someone tell the writers room to cut the murder hornets subplot because stories are how we decide what the world around us means. It’s worth thinking about what stories we tell over and over, what stories we keep close to our hearts. Because those stories are the maps we use to find our way forward.
We talk about the HEA meaning happily ever after — but that’s shorthand. The full unabbreviated line is: And they lived happily ever after. Lately I’m really taking note of how it starts with And they lived.
We’ve got to focus on the living part for now. But we can’t entirely forget what we’re living for.
There is a persistent myth that happiness is a frivolous thing to want. That hoping a protagonist — or a person — will succeed and thrive is simplistic, unrealistic, or unsophisticated. Shameful, almost. Because pain builds character, or shows strength, or some such. Lines about the nobility of suffering seem to fall so easily from the lips of the comfortable. Meanwhile we see queer people in every generation fight for their love to be legal and celebrated, and disabled activists fight against the systems that dehumanize us all. We see people of color find joy together in a world that would erase their existence. We see women in prisons revolt against Shakespeare himself and refuse to perform the suicide scene in Romeo and Juliet. Because those women felt those kids deserve better than what Shakespeare wrote for them. How is this not strength?
When the world wants you miserable, invisible, or dead, it is brave to reach for happiness.
Happiness is about more than comfort. More than basic needs. Food, shelter, and safety must be assumed as a starting point, not as an end goal. Happiness seeks fulfillment, passion, growth, and joy. Happiness doesn’t eat: it feasts.
Happiness is the name we give to the richest, most unconstrained expression of our humanity. We have to value it even when — especially when — it feels most out of our reach.
Until the bleak moment is passed, you can find me on my website, Twitter, or my newsletter. I thank every author whose work has appeared in this column, and every reader who has used it for recommendations or reached out to talk more about their experience with the books featured here. It has been an honor and a privilege and the best gig I’ve ever had.
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne (Berkley: historical m/f):
There is a long and glorious history of romance novels that feature spies during the Napoleonic Wars. If Austen and Bront? are first-generation romance forebears, then Heyer and Orczy are the second, and both loved to send English aristocrats into revolutionary France. Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel has been perennially popular in various media for almost a century (stage play, novels, various miniseries and movies, a Blackadder episode, a Tony-winning Broadway show with Terence Stamp as the chilly French villain Chauvelin…). Orczy’s novel is light and charming and romantic and lets all its characters keep their idealism mostly intact.
Joanna Bourne takes things in an entirely different direction. Our spymaster and his future lady meet in prison, starved and tortured and frighteningly close to death. You’re going to need all the content notes for this one: sexual assault of the heroine happens right there on the page, though it is short and deeply empathetic as such scenes go. This one of those romances where even though you know they’ll be safe in the long run nobody feels particularly safe at any given moment. It is incredibly dark and for a romance shockingly cynical about the nature of espionage and the personal/moral cost of lying for a cause. There’s a bleak edge to it that would make even Le Carré proud.
Somehow it was exactly what I needed. It has been a month of personal loss and worldwide upheaval. For four weeks I couldn’t read anything more lengthy than a knitting pattern. I kept picking up books and then putting them back down again, unable to react to the words on the page. Then I started Chapter One of this and could not stop until I’d read the whole thing straight through. It was a minor miracle, and one I’ll be grateful for til the end of my days.
Grey lifted her half out of her chair to kiss her, passionately and possessively, hard upon her mouth. It surprised her, but she was more immediately concerned with receiving and hiding the knife he passed to her. As a declaration of affection, the knife did as well as any number of kisses.
He’s Come Undone by Emma Barry, Olivia Dade, Adriana Herrera, Ruby Lang, and Cat Sebastian (self-published: various settings and pairings):
Someday someone is going to publish something very incisive and scholarly about the history of anthologies in romance: publishers have long used them as a vehicle for discovery, putting bestselling names alongside newer or debut authors to cast lures across multiple reader bases. Self-published anthologies and boxed sets have a shorter, wilder existence. But my favorites are the anthologies put together for the passion of the idea — things like Hamilton’s Battalion or the Rogue anthology series. He’s Come Undone is a whole set of stories where stern, starchy heroes are thoroughly unraveled by love and it is a goddamn delight the whole way through.
This is a deep dive into the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one, but the mix of time periods and pairings kept things fresh and fascinating. I suspect every reader will have their personal favorites (I reveled in Ruby Lang’s “Yes, And…” and Olivia Dade’s murder dioramas and the Secret History-but-queerer-and-happier vibe of “Tommy Cabot Was Here”) but they’re all great short works by authors who know what they’re about. You’re unlikely to find more bang for your romance buck in any other book this spring. Highly, highly recommend.
“Can we agree that we were both idiots —”
“— And just let bygones be bygones.”
Tommy hated that phrase. He wished he could let one single solitary stupid thing actually be a bygone. Instead he was dredging up every one of his ancient misdeeds and spending days turning it over and looking at it from every angle like a jeweler examining a gemstone. But he nodded anyway.
Chaos Reigning by Jesse Mihalik (Harper Voyager: sci-fi m/f):
The third and final volume in this blaster-filled space adventure romance series lands with a bang. Stakes are high, communications are down, and one well-timed betrayal could bring down an empire. Jumping into this before reading the other books would be like sitting a Star Wars innocent down to watch Return of the Jedi (“Who’s this Darth Vader guy and what’s his deal?”) — especially since these books are intensely heroine-centric. This is very much Catarina’s story, which is fine because she’s wonderfully fun, but readers looking for more of the hero’s side of things might find that Alex’s appearance in the previous volume adds heft to the experience. It’s a neat trick to spend two books introducing the von Hasenberg siblings and then to put them all so thoroughly in peril: we feel Cat’s motivation more strongly because we know these people, and we want them to be safe as much as she does. And unfortunately, the one pivotal scene I most want to talk about is at the end and so spoilery I don’t even dare mention which one it is — so slide into my DMs on Twitter because I have Questions and Feelings and I want to know I’m not the only one.
I threw in Star Wars as a joke and a reference I trusted people to get — but now that I think about it, I have a lot of the same questions about that franchise as well. How do we reconcile superpowers with political powers? How do we balance desire and duty? How much does the public deserve to know about the lives and loves of its leaders — especially a public accustomed to living in a decadent, corrupt, and violent empire? These questions do not feel entirely academic at the moment.
I felt his gaze like a physical weight and fought the prickling awareness trickling through my system. He focused on me intently, but I’d bet half my fortune that he also remained aware of everything else happening in the room and could react in a heartbeat.
What would it take to capture all of his attention?
I shoved the question away. He wasn’t for me. Someday, I would marry for the good of the House, and until then, I preferred my men more manageable.
Band Sinister by KJ Charles (self-published: historical m/m):
Sometimes you’re so excited by a book, and the reviews make it sound so good, that you end up not reading it. I think of these books as emergency books, things I know I’ll love and can save until a rough time when I need a guaranteed winner of a read.
If these aren’t rough times, what are they?
The pandemic lens actually worked for me here, considering how much of the plot deals with historical medical care and a main character’s fears for his much-loved sister’s survival. Guy’s deep love and his profound fears for Amanda’s health seared the opening chapters of this book. Often rake-seduces-an-innocent pairings can fetishize the innocence in a way that feels squicky: Ah, someone pure and untouched, right here in my lecherous grasp. And our rake, Philip, does find Guy’s innocence charming — but what truly drives Philip into infatuation is seeing how nakedly, painfully caring Guy is. Guy is a sleepless, unshaven, unbalanced, terrified, hopeless mess until his sister is out of danger; Philip, seeing this, wonders what it must feel like to be the object of such forceful affection. Philip might know eighteen different ways to fuck or be fucked and the Latin terms for all of them — as a lapsed classical scholar who has in fact used Catullus’ filthier works to seduce someone I can assure you that the Latin in this book is impeccable — but he doesn’t feel he’s been deeply, truly loved in the way Guy loves. He’s as allured by that promise as Guy is by pleasure, and the results are spectacular.
“It isn’t complicated, in the end,” Philip said. “We eat, drink, and are merry, for tomorrow we die. Be merry with me?”
In place of a fifth book, and as a final farewell, I’d like instead mention the many other books I’m looking forward to in 2020. May these stories fulfill every reader’s highest expectation and bring us solace and sweet release in the months to come.
Isolation: cold word, with ice in its veins,
not to mention that other sound, “shun,”
at the end. I think of all those rhymed
relatives: nation, duration, desolation,
of cousins, those blood relations
bound to us by skeins of sound.
Alone, cut off from you, loves,
there’s not much to do but study
a patch of jonquils, seven in all,
half-hidden by an upturned wheelbarrow
at the corner of the toolshed,
their white sockets frilled, rain-spotted,
splashed by in-and-out sun.
Why have I, after all these years,
only now noticed them? Who,
before we came on the scene,
planted them in this out-of-the-way spot?
In isolation, there can be solace,
even as the dying die alone,
even as the dead have no place
to rest, exhausted by their tribulation.
Then there are the other dead,
the red-caps crammed in the town square
howling approval when the king
waves his rubbery arms, shrugs and grins,
ripping sense from every ruined sentence,
spitting back nonsense to wild applause.
I’m thankful for a certain kind
of solitary confinement, the kind
where we’re close by being far.
Here, then, are seven jonquils.
Here’s sunlight on their flared skirts.
I give you their stillness, their brief lives.
When they nod, I give you the wind.
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on inmystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns ontheCriminal Fiction archive page
I fell in love with mysteries for the first time as a kid,reading Nancy Drews, Encyclopedia Brown, The Great Brain, EnidBlyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, and my mom’s collectionof Agatha Christies, Dashiell Hammetts, Raymond Chandlers, andGeorges Simenons. I fell in love for the second time as anadult, hoovering my way through character-fuelled literaryriches: Maj Sj?wall and Per Wahl??’s’s Martin Beck, Janwillemvan de Wetering’s Grijpstra and de Gier, Sue Grafton’s KinseyMillhone, Dennis Lehane’s Angela Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie, andWalter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. At the same time, thecomic-suspense stylings of Lauren Henderson and her intrepidprivate investigator Sam Jones led me into the wild worlds ofTart and Tartan Noir. And don’t even get me started onJosephine Tey.
Well-executed crime fiction is compelling on many levels,whether it’s a police procedural, a noirish private-eye vehicle,an adventurous comic heist, or a standalone thriller driven byan extraordinary Everywoman. These stories also serve asengaging investigations into our own world: while keeping usturning those suspense-filled pages, crime fiction often directsus to look unflinchingly at some of the most unrelenting gaps inour societal safety nets, shining an insistent light onpolitical and corporate corruption, sexual violence, racism,xenophobia, bigotry, inequality, and injustice. It examinestheir root causes, while giving voice to those who are normallysilenced.
In our time of toxic politics, overt corruption, a pandemic, anddeafening calls to destroy science, education, refugees’,migrants’, women’s and workers’ rights – civilizedlife, really – these crime-fiction writers’ work canbe, if not a balm, then a heartening reminder that theinvestigative light in fiction still shines bright.
Take, for example, the four books covered by the capsule reviewsbelow: two novels are by long-established and consistentlyexcellent writers; the others are by two of the most excitingvoices to emerge in the mystery-suspense arena in recent years.Individually and collectively they cover not just the darkest ofcontemporary crimes and abuses of power, but the ongoingunderlying fear of difference, all too easily exacerbated andexploited, that drives some to terrible actions and others towork to redress those actions.
With the shuttering of the Seattle Review of Books,this will be my sign-off, for now, afterthree and a half truly enjoyable yearsof penning monthly columns. Please consider this –along with the ones before it– respectfully submitted.
A new novel featuring VI Warshawski, Chicago’s kickass – not tomention ass-kicking – private investigator, is always cause forcelebration. Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (WilliamMorrow) kicks off with Paretsky’s trademark string ofmystery-fireworks: who is the single-monikered Coop who appearsto have a homeless musician’s best interests at heart but isconfrontationally perverse? Is the aforementioned musicianreally a once-famous artist? And what does any of this have todo with a four-year-old mass shooting deep in the heart ofKansas prairieland? Part of the pleasure of going along onVictoria Iphigenia’s crime-fighting ride – as she getsinevitably and relentlessly pummeled emotionally, mentally, andphysically – is to appreciate her all-too-human responses tooddities – from fellow humans to surprise circumstances – thatlife throws in front of her. Her tough exterior and no-nonsenseapproach to tackling the conundrum at hand does not protect hersoft-hearted, deeply empathetic interior as she wins life-savingloyalty from her dogs, uncovers some of the deeper-seatedavarices of her city’s leadership, struggles with our country’sbad behavior, and, with her actions, earns the trust of (nearly)everyone around her, from edgy lawyers to people-shy recluses.
A body hanging from a tree more than disrupts police detectiveManon Bradshaw’s visit to a park with her young son, Teddy: italso marks the start of a broader investigation into whether thecause was suicide or murder, and an even bigger investigationinto a possible human-slavery racket. WithRemain Silent (Random House), the third Bradshawthriller, Susie Steiner flexes her authorial muscles, deftlypainting a comprehensive portrait of the dismal lives of migrantworkers whose presence is so crucial to the host country’seconomy. At the same time, she eloquently captures the savage,ravaging fear that underlies everything from xenophobia andsexism, to plain-old, soul-destroying bitterness. But there’s asofter light shining here too in Bradshaw’s musings onmiddle-age, the gentle teasing that goes on between her and hercolleagues, and even a dose of the tough love that’s sometimesrequired when it comes to lasting friendship. I read this bookin a single sitting, pushed to both tears and laughter.
Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Crime)interweaves two murder mysteries. One unfolds in India where, in1922, Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force inCalcutta has retreated to an ashram in the lush Assam hillswhere he plans to throw off his opium addiction once and forall. The other investigation is set in 1905 London where, as an18-year-old constable with the Metropolitan Police, Wyndhamworked one of his earliest cases: the murder of a young woman inthe poverty-stricken East End. The way that Mukherjee evokesthat part of early 20th-century London – rife withanti-Semitism, xenophobia, bigotry, and that all-too-easytendency to blame the other – feels downright contemporary, agrim reminder of the importance of learning history. But he alsodraws his curtain back to reveal a changing world: in India, wedon’t get to see as much as usual of Wyndham’s sidekick andpartner-in-solving-crimes Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, butwhen we do see him, we see a man whose eyes have been opened,irrevocably inspired by Gandhi’s activism and resistance toBritish rule.
Murder most foul (no, really – wait until you read the baddie’svicious killer-action of choice) collides explosively with thecurrent threat to our independent and local newspapers inMichael Connelly’s Fair Warning (Little, Brown). Whenan old one-night-stand catches up to veteran reporter JackMcEvoy in an alarming way – the woman turns up dead, the copscome to question him – it sets him off on the trail of apotential digital-stalker story, a race-against-the-clockinvestigation that may also involve DNA analytics companies andsome nefarious dark-web action. Rich in its exploration of thereporter-editor-publisher roles – Jack’s conversations with hiseditor, Myron, are pure newsroom gold – Fair Warning isan engaging and terrific reminder of the critical importance ofa free press, showcasing the resilience, integrity, andtransparency that proper journalism contributes to a functioningcommunity.
Sometimes we pretended to know nothing
and it was easy. To sing a requiem of luxury
found by a fireplace, a Moroccan rug, a Norwegian Forest cat.
We could afford to stand six feet away.
We knew the rapture of the microwave,
the infusion of grapefruits with gin.
If this life were drawn in charcoal,
the brushstrokes would connect like strangler figs,
unusual and bold. Not a fiasco exactly. Something worse.
No falling chandeliers and circus ropes
but there was a rumbling heard each night at eight,
the crashing of copper-bottomed pots
and pans across the avenues. This is what we did
to show communion. A homegrown trundling
towards new humanness, the blue mason jars
lined up in extra clean cabinets holding nothing
except the gift of nothing, the clear, runway
fandom of being, a fusion without expectation
or outcome, only the pulse of the air, the promise
of another way to hold nothing, to become nothing,
to satisfy ourselves with pure nothing.
The current run of the Seattle Review of Books is ending soon. For me, it’s over now, with this column.
Yes, our cessation of publication is COVID-19 related, though probably not as directly related as you think. Neither of the founders have died or are ill. The connection between the pandemic and our closure is complicated. Which is a thing SFFH teaches us about changes and their implications: they stack up oddly, they link laterally, they branch. “It’s after the end of the world; don’t you know that yet?” Sun Ra’s Arkestraasked back in the day. I’ve quoted that song here before, when discussing trends in apocalypses. It’s pertinent now, too, when we’re experiencing one.
Yep. hat’s what this is. An apocalypse.
I teach this online course on writing alternate histories, “Turning the World.” One exercise involves querying the ways everyday objects are transformed by the students’ chosen points of divergence. If a cure for equine malaria is introduced into Equatorial Africa in the 9th century, what does that mean for the region’s clothing? Do the newly created riders wear boots? Kilts? Chaps? And do non-riders assume riding costumes as marks of prestige? So forth. So on.
Pacifist that I am, at one stage during its drafting I wanted to write World War I out of my alternate history novel Everfair. But a bit of research revealed that if I did I’d lose one of the primary causes of the Harlem Renaissance, a period crucial to the rest of the plot. What a tangled web life weaves. Reproducing it even partially in fiction is hard work. Extrapolating from it is much harder.
That’s a lot of what we SFFH authors do: extrapolate. Actually, extrapolation is something the whole SFFH community is interested in. Improbable though the current situation seems, we expect to see it develop further. Question is, along what lines? What happens when the status quo stops? After the fat lady sings?
Every apocalypse is also a potential point of divergence in the histories we write simply by existing in the world. From where we are now we can make our way to times and places like those in the Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway or NK Jemisin’s “The Ones Who Stay and Fight.” Or we can wind up in quite different sorts of scenarios. Bad ones. It’s worth studying. It’s worth trying to do properly. Trying to create exactly the effects we most deeply desire, note by note.
And that’s it from me. Thank you for listening all these months. I hope my songs have moved you, and also that they’ve given you ideas for how to go on after their end.
May5, 2020, at 11am
"There’s a crowd gathered at the gates when I arrive – military personnel, a few people I recognize from the medic unit, as well as a handful of curious cadets."
Scroll sideways to see full lines
The first bars I recognized —
fever and sweats, the thorn-caged skull.Then a desperate animal burrowed into my chest,
whose breathing had always been sickle-smooth through grass.
Lights on, I could register this as datum
for slipshod mortality, entered in a faux spreadsheetif not into bed in the cacophonous hospital off Lexington.
Many were being turned away in their homemade masks
as if they wore no emblem of extremity maybe a forehead marked by clayor were instead transparently flaunting their prized secrets
and so at last to recede submissively into dust.
I could register it as a kind of untouchability
when a mosquito bites me and dies. The authenticity of fever: my Sunday revelation. Phone calls
commiserate in a variety of keys.
Also the twin bruises inside my knees
as if the clenching of willpower were absolute to the bone.
It's that time when the body is most confiding, most indoors
and discrete, its membranes swelling to a tympanic throb,needing a certain humidity to linger and cool.
Body will be one day's statistic,
belonging to other people for an hour, pouting with surprised cerise lips.The rest will prove the loveliest of expositions.
Alone, I discover this breathing music
that is called pattern, tracing it through the steampeeling paint from the raddled bathroom wall.
The little animal nuzzling my ribs,its hungry sigh a diminished chord.
There's no easy way to say it: The Seattle Review of Books is going on indefinite hiatus. We'll be publishing a few more columns, reviews, and will have two weeks of daily poems about the novel coronavirus, but that will be it for for the foreseeable future.
This was a painful decision. We believe in Seattle's literary community just as much now as we did on the day we launched the site, if not more. But after five years of daily publication, we find ourselves taxed on a number of levels: the digital infrastructure requires intense and comprehensive work; our staff requires more resources to grow the site and keep it from turning fallow at a moment when resources are less available than ever; and, quite frankly, some of us are exhausted.
The greatest joy of working on the Seattle Review of Books has been reading and publishing all this new work by so many talented writers. We have paid for and published the work of dozens of local poets and reviews by dozens of local authors. We've worked hard to be a home worthy of our amazing stable of genre columnists: thanks to Daneet Steffens, Olivia Waite, and Nisi Shawl for their boundless enthusiasm. We've loved being a regular home for Seattle artists Clare Johnson and Aaron Bagley, who never failed to delight us with their latest work.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to our editorial staff: Mariya Bashkatova, Julie Yue, and — especially — Dawn McCarra Bass, who helped expand the site from a two-hander into an ensemble piece. And Portrait Gallery artist Christine Marie Larsen and Help Desk columnist Cienna Madrid, have been here from the very beginning; there would never have been a site to begin with without their brilliant work.
For all the people and organizations who sponsored this site through the years: thank you. Know that you have helped support some of the most talented writers and artists in the city.It's an honor to be a part of this community. We've made friendships and read books and celebrated people who have changed our lives for the better. We hope that the Seattle Review of Books has enriched your lives even a fraction as much as you've enriched ours.
The site will stay up as a comprehensive survey of five tumultuous years in Seattle's literary history, and hopefully we'll be able to repair some of the back end issues that have interfered with search and archival functions.
We refuse to say goodbye; instead, we'll see you in the bookstores and readings and libraries that make Seattle such a wonderful place to live. Don't count us out completely — we'll be back in some form at some point. If you have thoughts about what that should look like, you can always reach out to us and let us hear your thoughts on the matter.
Thank you, to all you book lovers in Seattle, and from around the world, who became part of our community. It was an honor and pleasure to be part of yours.
May4, 2020, at 11am
"It takes less than an hour for the higher ups to decide I won’t be given the opportunity to be culled at The Sorting on Friday. I’ve been kicked out of Marseilles Military Academy, effective immediately. Secretly altering peoples’ grades is frowned upon harder than I thought. "
May2, 2020, at 11am
"Rodney is smiling. He smiles like he’s got too many teeth in his head. It appears to be his only natural talent: too many teeth."
We all know what happened here, I had great plans and now plans are just laughable, well-loved but worn-out, too threadbare to really wear for any length of time. Just ideas nothing sturdier, shed almost as soon as we try them on. I felt so clever planning how people living artist lives would choose all my post-it publications this year, but now I’m quarantined in Memphis in a vastly emptied warehouse, this indoor luxury ghost town, the art community at home out of reach across the gaping canyon of my rundown computer. The handful of us still here politely keeping our distance, it’s not a time to sit together on the couch, lean our heads in closer over my notebook to peruse the intimate years. So I grabbed a few post-its from the moments this residency—my busy projects—my plans, our plans—were shutting down—this slow motion tumbling interruption—moving actually quite fast—and sent them to Martin. Martin is who I always send these to. I never know what he thinks of my choices, but he does keep publishing them. Over time, all I’ve gleaned is maybe he most likes seeing recent days. Martin is certainly a person in the arts, not just as co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books but also as a novelist and designer. I asked him to narrow my scant sheet of moments down to 4 post-its; these are his choices. I’m struggling with what to say because I want to be uplifting, I want to be amusing, I want to turtle, an escape inside myself, I don’t want to bare my guts right now. I look at these post-its and see my prior months folding over on themselves, falling asleep, piled up blankets on blankets over whatever I was doing before. I’m so sleep-deprived. I’m a little naked and floating just above the rubble, it’s a little unseemly, somehow it turns out I can still go on walks. An invisible rustling behind the buildings, the weather moving overhead. My bedtime body my own solitary toddler, I have to manage it, trick myself into needed rest. The last movie I saw in a theater was a pleasant-enough Jane Austen adaptation and now I just want endless plots I know the end of, and no one dies, that pastoral five thousand miles away. Steeling through my staying-put-here decision instead of rushing into Seattle, bodily goodbyes to family I couldn’t see at home anyway, I palmed my copy of Persuasion and slipped secretly into a dress from teenage summers with long hair. Reading in this starkly air-conditioned concrete bedroom, chair backed against the ghost of a hulking, industrial column emerging through my newer wall, waiting it out like an open window, waiting to be so cold I might sleep. On sudden warm days before the thunderstorms, outside the heat crashes my heart into other places. I walk around on the phone feeling like a million humid vacations, other versions of myself or something about palm trees. Don’t make me talk about money, ok? I think there’s something sweet about my take-out-tofu-craving self I don’t want to sully with the gritty details of an artist’s income. I’m doing ok.
If anyone should be thriving right now – besidesthe politicians making bank off of insider tradingorthe big businesses making bank off of small business loans– it should be me, the woman who spent a decade prepping for theend of the world, whose "life savings" are practical treasuresmost banks won't touch: the gold fillings of my forefathers, abathtub full of dried beans and a cellar's worth of bottledurine.
Yet this pandemic has revealed hidden truths for all of us, hasit not? I personally have been wallowing in an undergroundtrough of truths:
Based on these truths, I've had to make some hard decisions thispast month. For one, I've stopped hoarding urine and gave up onmy dreams of launchingmy own brand of mouthwash. I also tried to return Beatrix to the purse farm I bought herfrom as a pup (or whatever), but they refused to take her. She'sat a very difficult age – too big to be purses, too small to beboots – so it seems I'll remain a mother at least throughChristmas.
I have made the difficult decision to stop writing this columnafter five years. Based on how often my spiders and daughtercurrently follow my advice, I have to acknowledge that peopledon't want to be lectured at right now. Which is why I'mpivoting to launch a new screamcore podcast with my human friendnamed Joe, who is real. It will feature human guests. The formatwill be thus:
"Our first guest is (insert name). Ok, take it away." And thenthey will just scream for as long as they want.
I know I was a little off with the urine thing but I reallythink this is what America needs from me right now.
For all of the readers who have read this column over the years,thank you for meticulously following my advice. To those whohave written in and whose questions I have not yet answered,take heart: I answer them all below.
Dear Eric from Fauntleroy: Under non-pandemiccircumstances, more than three per week separates dedicated booklovers from hermits; you're only misanthropic if at least one ofthose books is Journey to the End of Night orIn Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!
Dear Liam from Eastgate: I don't know aboutever, but the gayest book I recently read wasThe Argonauts. It was good for me in that reminded methat there are bigger hurdles in life than attempting to get asmall business loan (in this climate, no less!) for an artisanalurine mouthwash company.
Dear Rose in Ballard: I, too, often assumecharacters are white unless otherwise stated. Ifthe Barnes and Noble campaignhad been executed better, I think re-envisioning famous literarycharacters as people of color could be powerful. But the maincriticism was that almost all of the books they werehighlighting during Black History Month were written by whiteauthors and that's just a big fat wet fart of a fail on theirpart.
Dear Estella from Admiral: Get your authorphoto refreshed every seven years, preferably in black andwhite.
Dear Devon from Renton: Nowadays I arrange mybooks like I would children, had I bought more of them from thatalligator farm: favorite to least favorite. This allows me toobsessively rearrange them whenever my moods shift, which isoften. In fact, I used to group them by moods. Just don'tarrange your books alphabetically or the spiders in your newhome will mock you.
Dear Pat from Sand Point: I would like to tryBilbo Baggins' seed cakes from The Hobbit. There usedto be a bakery on Capitol Hill that made lemon semolina cakesand they were the best thing I've ever tasted – very tart andsoft but kind of crunchy. I used to imagine they were likeBaggins' seed cakes.
Dear Overworked SPL Librarian: As we arepainfully witnessing right now, the hardest jobs, the mosttaxing jobs, the least financially rewarding jobs – these areoften the most essential jobs. I personally consider librariansto be essential workers. I understand if you're suffering fromburnout and if that's the case, I wouldn't want to convince youto stay in a job you are growing to resent. But on behalf of themillions of people who love libraries and value the work thatyou do, thanks for being an absolutely vital part of yourcommunity, for however long you choose to do it (and when you doswitch careers, just be sure you can continue to be proud ofyourself and the work you're doing).
Dear Ron from Frelard: You are correct:Cats the movie sucked, Cats the musicalsucked, and the book they were both inspired by – authored byT.S. Eliot – also sucked. But I am not a cat person.
Dear Grace from Wedgewood: Where did all theblogs go? The blogs all died because, like newspapers, there isno funding. It takes a lot of emotional and creative energy tomaintain a (great) blog. Without money to pay contributors, allgreat blogs are labors of love with limited shelf lives.
Finally, I would like to thank the creators of theSeattle Review of Books, Paul Constant and MartinMcClellan, for being wise enough to recruit me for my goodadvice. As human beings go, they are both pretty tops.
And dear readers, always remember:
Find a spider,
set it free,
if it bites you,
think of me.
May1, 2020, at 11am
"I want to be better. I want to be a person with ideals she’s strong enough to live by. In my head that’s easy, but in practice, I’m struggling. Confronting others is not my strong suit. Changing myself is exhausting. Part of me wonders if it’s worth it."
Published April 30, 2020, at 12pm
We distracted Tessa Hulls from her graphic novel to cover Machado's Dream House for us. The result is glorious.
April 30, 2020, at 11am
"The lightning bugs are back, zinging around my face, dimly lighting my way forward. Next month is The Sorting. I know: it sounds ominous and needlessly dramatic (especially for the military). It’s supposed to. The Sorting is when we take our final exams and all of our professors, instructors and mentors decide which half of us will stay another year, and which half of us will be cut."
It's impossible at this juncture to tell what lessons we'll drawfrom coronavirus. One response that has literally kept me upworrying at night, though, is that the pandemic will inspire anew wave of American anti-urbanism. Will people be queasy aboutriding public transit two years from now? Will people learn tofall in love with the wide-open spaces of sprawl again? I hopenot, but it seems at the very least like a real possibility.
It's a good time, then, to read interesting work about cities.And Sylvia Nickerson's new comic Creation is awarts-and-all appreciation of city life. It's about acharacter?— seemingly Nickerson — who moves to a rapidlygentrifying neighborhood in Hamilton, a rust belt city inOntario with a population roughly the size of Boston. As Torontoand Vancouver get bigger and wealthier, young artists likeNickerson are searching out affordability in mid-range citieslike Hamilton. Their arrival signals a kind of doom for thepoorer, less privileged residents of Hamilton.
Nickerson shows her new work as part of a neighborhood art walk.She walks around the city with her son. She sketches the city inall its grandeur and grit. Her son becomes obsessed withgarbage, and soon they're observing the people who live in thegutters. She can't protect her child from crime and pollutionand poverty, even as she works hard to build him a better life.
In Creation, Nickerson largely draws human beings asempty outlines, like Keith Haring figures. They're expressive —you can see one human regarding another human with caution, andyou immediately know which economic class each person is from,what their stations in life are — but they lack finer details.Nickerson gives all that detail over to the city itself. Thewindows and walls and detritus of Hamilton are lovingly sketchedon every single page here —?in a style that is not quiterealistic but which feels photographic in some way.
In one two-page spread, Nickerson draws an urbanist's fantasy,with exposed brick and Victorian facades. On the next, she drawsthe cigarette butts and used condoms that she sees on theground. She's not making a judgment about the city; she's seeingit as it is, and reporting back to us. You can't talk about thesoul of Hamilton, she argues, without discussing the classdisparities and the gentrification and the heartbreak and thecrime.
Any honest assessment of a city has to include all thosequalities, and then each person to do the calculus to determinethe value, and if it's worth the cost. For myself, and I thinkfor Nickerson, the cost is worth it. For city-dwellers, a cityis a commitment you make every day with the land and with yourneighbors, and every commitment carries with it a little bit ofhope, a promise of tomorrow.
National Poetry Month was eclipsed by the plague of it all thisyear. What would have been a solid month of readings and publicart and parties has given way to streamed events and canceledbook launches and other pandemic-era disappointments.
The best way to honor National Poetry Month in the middle of apandemic, to the best of my estimation, is to sit with somepoetry books and use them as lenses on the world —?to really tryto think like a poet.
I've been spending the month with two new releases by Seattlepoets from local press Sagging Meniscus'sShorts line of pocket literature:All the Useless Things Are Mineby Thomas Walton andRotalever Relevatorby Doug Nufer.
Useless is a collection of poetic aphorisms championedby Walton called seventeens — 17-word sentences or collectionsof short sentences totaling 17 words. They're sort of likehaiku, and like haiku the best examples of the form aremeditations on the mystery of nature:
Nobody tells you the morning light is blue, bluer than thebluest blue moon. Nobody says that.
The storm passed and when it did it left the plum tree bedazzledas a spinning child.
Some of the seventeens are a cross between a one-liner in astandup comedy routine and a zen koan:
Little man in enormous truck shouts: I don't have a Napoleoncomplex! . . . it's much bigger than that.
Our babysitter drinks whiskey and is usually late, but we don'tmind, we don't have a baby.
Walton told me that he'd prefer readers dip into and out ofUseless, not sprint from front cover to back. Authorsare not always the best at determining how to enjoy their ownwork, but in this instance Walton is correct: you have to keepthe book close for a while, flip around, and see what sticks.
No matter which of the seventeens most appeal to you — themagisterial or the witty —?you will likely find yourselfaffected by this book: you'll start to see the world as a seriesof potential seventeens, just waiting to be written. When youleave your quarantine for the world outside, your eyes will scanaround, trying to find pieces you can frame within seventeenwords. It's a constraint that is at once a manageable size butalso capable of inspiring revelatory moments.
Every Doug Nufer book has its own high concept, a constraintthat effectively becomes the plot, the narrative drive, of theproject. Here's the publisher description of his latest:
Rotalever Revelator is a book made from words thatspell other words backwards: a giant palindrome that containspoems about geography, dams, swamps, celebrities, eponyms, andthe news...Flip the book over, and you haveRotalever Revelator: the same sequence of letters,differently divided into words and punctuated.
This isn't the first time Nufer has made a flippable book — hisAce Doubles homage The Mudflat Man/The River Boys hadthe same basic format — but this time Nufer really digs into theidea of what it means to have a book with two separate but equalfront covers, first pages, and so on.Revelator Rotalever is a mirror image ofRotalever Revelator but also the two books combine intoan ouroboros of language, a long palindrome with two beginningsand two ends, or perhaps no beginning and no end.
Nufer writes himself into the work this time, shouting his ownname into the echo chamber on multiple occasions. The first twowords of Revelator Rotalever are "Nufer snips." Thelast three words of Rotalever Revelator are "...spinsre: fun." Nufer snips and spins the language. Why? For the funof it.
Here's something that many of you have probably encountered atleast once or twice in the past few weeks: when you're on avideo call on your phone and you walk into a room where someoneelse is on the call on their computer, the two video chats beginconversing in a weird loop of screeches and gulps that getslouder and louder until someone has to end the call to silencethe feedback. Nufer has made two short books that are deep inconversation with each other in that way, a closed loop oflanguage that references itself and satirizes itself.
While you can take Useless out on the road with you,pulling the world through the frame of the book,Rotalever is the kind of book that makes you want tostay inside and wrestle, flipping back and forth to see how itspeaks to itself. I got my copy a week ago and it's alreadybattered beyond repair — spine broken, pages bent, edges scuffedfrom turning and re-turning and returning in a palindromicjourney to the end of the beginning and the beginning of theend.
April 29, 2020, at 11am
"Zelda is broken. She sleeps under her bed and most nights wakes up screaming. When I brought her eggs for her hair, thinking it might cheer her up, she wouldn’t even meet my eyes."
A writer with one book is to be celebrated. Two books, andthey can be compared. But when a writer has three, or more,books, you can start to see the patterns of thought in a newway, the things that fascinate them. The threads that connect.
Rufi Thorpe just published her third novel,The Knockout Queen, with Knopf,which I reviewed yesterday(spoiler: I loved it). I pitched her on an interview whereinstead of talking about the new book, we talk about thethemes that are in two or more of her works.
We talked over Zoom one recent evening. This transcript hasbeen edited for readability and legibility.
Looking at your books there were a few things that I saw thatshowed up in either two, or maybe all three books. I wanted toask you about a few of them. The first one I'm going to leadwith is: traumatic brain injury.
The first time that I really had interaction with traumaticbrain injury was because I had these two students when I wasteaching composition to undergraduates who had both fought inIraq, and they were in the same class together. One of them hada traumatic brain injury that was bad enough that he needed torecord class time, because his short term memory was sort ofjust blasted. So he wouldn't be able to do the assignments if hedidn't have a literal representation of what was said in class.He was still got an A in the class, he worked so hard, it wasridiculous. But talking to him about the experience of it, andwhat it was doing to his life and how he felt about being in thearmy was really interesting to me.
I had another friend that was a soldier who had traumatic braininjury, as well. Then sort of by coincidence, really, my husbandis a neuroscientist and his first job right out of his PhD, hestudied attention. Analyzing EEGs, electrical signals in thebrain when you're paying attention or shifting attention. Andthen he worked in a developmental neuroscience lab, and then hegot a job at a company that's building a robot headband that candiagnose both concussion and stroke.? A lot of people, ifthey've had a stroke, they get picked up by an ambulance, andsometimes the ambulance thinks they're just drunk and so don'ttake them immediately to the stroke center. And you know, everyminute is brain.
So, I think about it a lot. I wrote a whole novel about BunnyLampert [one of the main characters inThe Knockout Queen] like 10 years ago. It didn't haveany of the same plot. She was a peripheral character in thisgroup of linked stories. And so and the idea that I had firstgotten for her was from a girl boxer that I met at a party whohad really obvious traumatic brain injury, and had this kind ofcreepy little boyfriend who was her tender, because she was soout of it. I don't know if it was just being hit in the head toomuch, or if there was drugs involved, but she was out of itenough that she couldn't remember why she was there, what wewere all doing, and he kind of would have to soothe her throughthe night. It was so scary to me and I felt so just scared onher behalf. It haunted me enough that I wrote two novels abouther.
What is it about Orange County or that part of SouthernCalifornia, those beach communities, that that are so dramaticor mean so much to you?
Well, I grew up there and I think that then my first experiencesof people and families and reality are all hinged on that place.So that's part of it.
I was born in Texas and we moved to California when I was six.So most of my remembered childhood is in California. But mymother had lived here and she went to UCI and my grandmother hadlived here and so a huge amount of her childhood and her lifewas spent here and California and everything that it representedto my grandparents, they were living in Arizona, and I thinkthat my grandfather had just worked himself into sort of areally drunken, violent, dark place. The idea was that if theymoved to California, he could be good and he could do better.And of course, that didn't happen. And they just continued tohave a horribly destructive marriage for another decade. SoCalifornia is symbolized so much in all the stories that Ilearned as the fairy tales of real life. Like, this is whathappens to people, to women, to marriages are all somehow tiedup with California for me.
There's a lot of class stuff there, too. It's a very opulent,rich area, it's been more working slash from the past, but alot of your characters are facing against that economicdisparity.
Well, and the other thing about Southern California is it's allabout the real estate. You know, real estate plays an unusuallya pressing role on everybody's consciousness. There was a bigreal estate market collapse when I was in, maybe, third grade,where everybody's dad was suddenly unemployed. My mom was asingle mom so she always worked. All the moms came to her andwere like, “can you teach me how to get a job?”
Especially with Corona Del Mar, the opulence I found reallyalienating because it changed so much. I mean the Fashion Islandthat I grew up going to as a twelve year old stealing lip glossfrom Thrifty's was a completely different fashion Island thanwhat is there now.
There was a penny arcade that we would play Mortal Combat at, wewould eat at PF Chang’s. I mean it was like a normal mall at onepoint. Going to it now, it’s just unreal. I feel kind of thesame way about Corona Del Mar. I guess that's part of why I wasable to call The Girls from Corona Del Mar that,because I grew up there and I knew what current is.
Whereas when I started writing The Knockout Queen, wewere just moving to El Segundo and the place had captivated myimagination, but I didn't feel like I knew it. I didn't knowanybody here. We weren't even technically living here, yet.
When I decided to set it here, it was more just that the townfascinated me, as a small town dynamic where you could get thisgossip going and this sense of community. And yet it had all thesame features of Southern California that I was kind of alreadyfamiliar with. Cause there's even, I mean Corona Del Mar shouldbe a small town, but there's a weird, anonymous, zombie feelingto it. It's like people don't even really talk to each other,they just go work out.
I'm curious if the fictionalized El Segundo, and Corona DelMar in your first book, are they in the same universe? Do allyour characters live in the same world?
I'm starting to think so. I mean, I didn't consciously thinkabout it really with the first two, although in a weird way Ifeel like Dear Fang and The Knockout Queen aremore from the same universe thanThe Girls from Corona Del Mar. I couldn't even give youa conscious reason why I think that. But definitely the thingthat I want to write next is I think going to be explicitly setin North Shore with some peripheral characters borrowed fromother books.
Your characters often feel very Californian, but they'reoften, in the books, either not in California or have escaped,California.
I think sometimes it's easier to understand who you are whenyou're not at home. Maybe I only think that because of my life,because I grew up in California and then went to boarding schoolfor high school and then went to college in New York and gradschool in Virginia. And so I was always coming home and leavingagain. So I think that those moments of being in a strange placeand realizing that you're so Californian, or returning back toCalifornia and realizing the ways you don't fit in there thoseare compelling situations to me.
Which is brings up another topic: a lot of your charactershave gone to graduate school, or are looking at things from acertain perspective.
I think one element of that is that plot and propulsivecause-and-effect storytelling is probably the thing that's beenhardest for me, I think that I started and I really honestlythink that one of the reasons I became a writer, and it wassuccessful, was not because I perceived myself to be good at it,but because I found it irritatingly difficult.
I wrote songs, that’s how it started out. I played guitar andbass and I would write songs. And so then I started writingpoetry, and then I went to this summer camp and there wasn'troom in the poetry class, so I had to take the fiction class. Iwas like, how does this work? Are you kidding? I couldn'tunderstand any of it.
They’re like “you know, just make someone up.”
I'm like, what do you mean? How? I can make up jibberish, if youasked me to just, like, fabricate words, I can do that. But whatdo you mean?
So you close your eyes — and then what do you do? How do youmake someone up? How do you know you're making up the rightthing and not the wrong thing?
It was like trying to describe how to go to sleep to somebodythat didn't never slept. I just really didn't understand what Iwas supposed to do. I found story and causality to be reallymystifying. How do you know that anything was not another thing?What's the difference between a sequence of events and a story?And Aristotle is really confusing on that point because a lot ofthe definitions are super technological.
My personal understanding of story, the part that I did feellike I grasped, was the way in which somebody's history madethem who they are in their adult life. That I understoodintuitively from knowing and loving people in my life, seeingwho my mother was because of all the things that had happened toher and the life that she lived.
So, in some sense I think all of my books are an attempt to takepeople in a situation, and then go look at how they got there.The sense of time is almost always moving backwards, and thenworking towards the present. Instead of being interested instories where it's moving into the future, and it's moreconcerned with one event causing another, that is inherentlysuspenseful in the sense of, like, a bomb is going to go off.I'm less able to write those.
That's really interesting because one of my questions wasabout the way that you build tension. You often will plantseeds, and then where a more genre-style writer would make itinto melodrama, and build the tension — you often come in andundercut it. I find it extremely comforting. I like it becauseI always hated stories that pumped up the tension too much,and then they felt, it felt artificial. The story became aboutthat tension line instead, of about the people in the story orthe story itself.
I'm sure everyone else could have looked at myIris-Murdoch-loving, David-Bowie-listening purple-haired selfand been, like, “she loves melodrama.” But I didn't know thatabout myself until I was in grad school and one of my professorssaid “so, you have an addiction to melodrama that makes yourwork unpalatable.”
I don't think he used the word “unpalatable”, but that was theidea. He had a whole schtick about how he would definemelodrama…it was something about the villain having a mustacheand having a bowtie. I dunno, it doesn't make a whole lot ofsense, but I didn't figure out until then that I could leaventhe melodrama with….
You know, my understanding of reality was that it was verydramatic. People have a certain quotient of weird that justexists in their bloodline. The things that happened to me, andeverybody that I knew, were just very odd, and troubling, andviolent, and super melodramatic.
So, sense of reality skews in that direction. And then it was,again, in grad school, and it was a writer — I mean, we weren'teven really friends. I don't think that he liked me at all. Andhe was like, “I don't understand. You're such a funny person,why is your work so completely humorless?”
It just never even occurred to me that I could be funny in mywork. And so then I decided to try that, and I found that that'swhat made it all start to work together. I should have known — Ialways loved comedic novelists. I was a big John Irving fan. Iloved Kurt Vonnegut, you know, so that's sort of when Iartistically felt like it was all jelling. So, to me, the comedyand the melodrama would go together.
Like Iris Murdoch, you don't write huge, large plot drivenfacades. You take people in their real lives and go deep andexamine them This is another way I think you're a lot likeher. You examine them — not from their internal point of view,although certainly do, and there's a little distrust theresometimes — but, often you look at people by how other peopleare talking about them.
Oh yeah. I'm very interested in that. I'm interested in howpeople see each other and their misapprehensions of each otherare super interesting to me. And the ways that we see each otherchange over time. The way that you can think of someone as oneperson and then ten years later you think you can't evenremember how you used to see them because you see them thisother way. And I'm always interested in those kind of lapses.
Iris Murdoch was so obsessed with infidelity and it made me soanxious reading her books. That was always the hard thing for mebecause I loved Iris Murdoch and this is so I first startedreading Iris Murdoch when I was, I guess, eighteen, and at thetime I was living in New York with my first serious boyfriend.For my birthday he had visited every used bookstore in the city,and bought every Iris Murdoch novel he could find. Then he’dhidden them everywhere in our apartment.
Months after my birthday, I would open up the closet and an IrisMurdoch book would just fall out. He didn't even know how manyhe had. So I read all of them, and it was this big gush of justIris Murdoch. I don't think I read anything but Iris Murdoch forsix months when I was eighteen or nineteen. And I found her sothrilling because I loved all the philosophy, and I took a lotof philosophy classes in college and really loved approachingthe world that way. And yet I found the behavior for charactersto be so scary that I would get kind of sick to my stomachreading, but I couldn't stop.
There are these people who talk about Iris Murdoch andespecially males, traditional older male British critics whohave this very, you know, kind of tsk-tsk look at her and herapproach to things, especially because of her many loveaffairs and the people that she was in love with. Like, shewas in love with Raymond Queneau really early. I don't know ifyou've ever read these letters, she wrote to him amazingletters. He was married and he didn't want to have that kindof relationship, but he kind of mentored her as a writer. Shewrote these before she was published about how she washorrible and should never be published. And it was thisincredibly vulnerable person sharing these moments withsomeone they want to get close to.
And I'm hearing that from Iris Murdoch now, who, you know,knowing where she went was is so fascinating, but I alwaysthought it was like her ability to fall in love with peoplethat made her so compassionate to people. She was neverjudging anybody. It was always about compassion or getting toknow them better and fascination and acceptance. And that'smaybe another something you share with her, that you'recaring. You don't let your characters off the hook for thingsthey do, but you're also get close to them at same time. Youdon't, you don't push away from them because they're beingbad.
Well, that's always been sort of one of my problems. What do youdo with the fact that you love bad people? I think I write aboutit because it's been a thing that I had to figure out in my ownlife. You know, in my personal biographical life, but even thestories that I was sort of raised up on my grandparents who weresuper abusive and horrible alcoholics, but my mom was always “mydad was just the best.” And I'm like, yeah, but he was alsohorribly abusive to you.
“Well, he was a really fun guy.” She loves him and he washorrible to her, and ruined her life. How he could be a monster— and not just a monster to other people and you can pretendit's not happening but a monster to you! — and then you stilllove him and see everything that was good in him and everythingthat was broken?
So I knew always that you could see it, that you could let yourcompassion go all the way with someone, even the worst person.But then there comes a point where you have to decide let thisperson keep being in your life? And that was sort of the partthat I had to figure out in my own life.
I kind of fall in love with anybody, you know, I especially likethe more broken someone was really, the more likely they were totell me about their past. And then I could understand the waythat they were. And so then how can you not love someone onceyou see why they are the way that they are? I didn't understandwhat the difference was. And so understanding that I should beseeking romantic relationships with people I admire was a latedawning concept. But even outside of romantic relationships, infriendships and in familial relationships, we often wind upentangled with someone who's going through the big bad shit andis being bad and we know why, and yet they're still being bad.And that conflict is a big one for me.
What are some other themes that I haven't touched on? Arethere things that you think about throughout your work thatyou either do consciously or you notice yourself writing aboutlater that come back at you?
Worrying not only about loving people who are bad, but worryingthat you're a good or a bad person is always there.Misunderstandings and misapprehensions of other people. I likesecrets, longstanding secrets. Also, I guess like bad parenting,I think there's a lot of questions of bad parenting.
Young parenting, like people who are very inexperienced andthrust into suddenly being parents.
My mom got pregnant with me from a one night stand, and was justlike, “well, why have an abortion? I don't think I'm going toget married and have the life I thought I was going to have andso why not?”
So she raised me on her own and then I, as I started publishingbooks, I had just had my first babies and was sort ofunderstanding how much work being a parent is, and how lonelythose years must have been without anybody to coo over — youknow, I mean that's the best part is seeing your child be socute and then having somebody to be like, “aren't they cute?”with.
Sharing loving your kid is this huge way I get through the dayin my life, and the idea that she was alone with it and that shedidn't have anybody to tell when I said something funny, justbroke my heart. So I think about that. I think about how illsuited to being a mother my grandmother was. She just nevershould have done it. She hated children. And she was old. I meanI think she was 43 when she had my mom, maybe it was 41 when shehad my mom's older sister. So she became a mom really late andthen was like, "oh, this is really getting in the way of mydrinking.”
And so I'm always a little bit interested in stories about womenfailing to be good women. Not being able to perform the role asthey understand it.
Published April 28, 2020, at 12:00pm
Rufi Thorpe's third novel The Knockout Queen is being published today. Reviewer Martin McClellan gushed about her last book — does this one hold up?
April 28, 2020, at 11am
"The fire liberated us on day six, but who knows how long Professor Munger meant to leave us there. The bus pulls up to collect us at dawn. By that time, the fire had burned itself out. As hundreds of prisoners mill about, rubbing their arms and legs to combat the cold, Bulldog Frankenstein calls our numbers and we filed back on the bus, where our sacks of clothing and personal items await, including my leg."
From December through last month, for personal reasons, I foundmyself entirely unable to read books. I couldn't focus on anystory — fiction or non-fiction — long enough to achieve the kindof immersion that a book requires of its readers. And while thepandemic has created conditions that you would think would beideal for reading —?unstructured time, less activity, fewerreal-life distractions — I hear from many people that they'reunable to turn their attentions over to a book.
Over the last three weeks or so, I've managed to get back intoreading. Partly, it's because the emotional conditions that wereconsuming my attention have, happily, started to resolvethemselves. But partly it's because I purposefully sought out afew shorter books, to retrain my attention into reading again.Here are two recently published brief books that might help youback onto the reading paths.
Over a century after her heyday, Emma Goldman is newly relevantagain. The urgency with which Goldman wrote about worker rights,about income inequality, and about the growing chaos in theworld has again acquired a contemporary feel.Seattle publisher Vertvolta Press recently reissuedthree of her essays in an attractive little book titledThe Growing Discontent of the Masses, and you couldswear some pieces of this book were written last week.
It must be said that not all of Goldman's writing has aged well.There's a bit about "perversion" between same-sex couples in themilitary that reads particularly badly, and Goldman makesreferences to a few controversies of her day that have lost allmeaning in the modern context. But most of the book has astartling relevance, and Goldman is surprisingly nuanced forsuch a persuasive writer.
I particularly loved this passage:
"What I believe" is a process rather than a finality. Finalitiesare for gods and governments, not for the human intellect...Inthe battle for freedom, as Ibsen has so well pointed out, it isthe *struggle* for, not so much the attainment of, liberty, thatdevelops all that is the strongest, sturdiest, and finest inhuman character.
At a time when "the very foundations of our civilization seem tobe tottering," as Goldman says, "The world is at a loss for away out." Can Goldman's idealistic anarchism find more purchasetoday than it did in the past? Seems unlikely. But then, whoelse has a better answer?
At a time when retail workers are risking their lives forminimum wage, Nino Cipri's clever sci-fi novellaFinna has also found new relevance. It's the story oftwo entry-level employees at an IKEA-like store who must travelinto alternate dimensions in order to find an elderly woman whogot lost somewhere amid all the furniture displays.
You know the creeping sensation when you walk into a huge chainstore that every big box store is somehow connected on theinside? Finna approaches that idea with a horrifyinglycasual sensibility and stretches it across the multiverse: evenin Lovecraftian nightmare dimensions, IKEAs exist. And thatpandimensional tumult serves as an external interpretation ofthe internal struggle of our protagonist, who has just ended arelationship and is trying to navigate to smoother waters.
Cipri is clever enough not to try to stretch the high conceptinto a whole sci-fi series. She doesn't milk the idea for anylonger than it's worth: get in, tell the story, and get out.It's just a glimpse of possibility, without oversharing. In thisday and age of prequels and backstories and multi-platformfranchises, it's practically a miracle.
April 27, 2020, at 11am
"The tattoo takes three days. It takes so long because it hurts. I shriek when she sticks me for the first time."
"In a full-throated defense of free speech," the copy for this event reads, "[Michael] Shermer contends that we cannot condone the censorship of ideas we find disagreeable or offensive without inviting the possibility for the censorship of ourselves." Hopefully host Steve Scher will ask about the paradox of tolerance.
Casey Schwartz's memoir is about her relationship with drugs that were prescribed to manage her attention span.
Dahr Jamail's latest book examines the impacts of climate change on the world, from disappearing ice to dying coral reefs.https://townhallseattle.org/event/dahr-jamail-the-end-of-ice-livestream/
April 26, 2020, at 11am
"I get so excited that for a moment, I forget how hungry I am. But my stomach does not forget. It painfully twists and growls, demanding its meager portion of stale bread. Peaches hands me the slice. Passing it back and forth, ripping off a tiny crumb, pressing the crumb to the roof of my mouth with my tongue and letting it melt away, it reminds me of home. It reminds me of meals with Peasant: totally unsatisfying, wholly shared."
April 25, 2020, at 11am
"Peaches is gone five hours or maybe 30 minutes. I would’ve thought being raised in confinement would’ve prepared me better for this, but no. Time is boiled down to nothing here in prison-bone soup. Sure, you know it’s still there – shadows inch across the floor – but putting your arms around an hour is impossible. Seconds are ok. Anyone can count to 10 or 60, but try doing that again and again and again. There is no nuance in prison."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Cienna is disenfecting her Zoom backgrounds this week, so this is a repeat column from 2016.
Every once in a while I’ll visit someone’s house and see that they have a book, or a basket full of books, on the back of their toilet. I guess this is supposed to be hospitable or something, but all I can think about is how poo-encrusted those books must be.
I’m tempted to steal one of the books from a friend’s house during a party, put it under a microscope, and then mail a photograph of the fecal matter particles to my friends anonymously. But that would be too passive-aggressive, even for Seattle.
But it is disgusting, right?
Colin, First Hill
Please don’t stop with one book. Also take samples of your host’s toothbrush, decorative soaps, air plants, privacy blinds – everything in the bathroom that isn’t nailed down. And don’t stop with one friend – repeat this process at multiple friends’ homes. Then, in the name of fairness, I need you to stare straight into the brown eye of the beast and fecal test yourself, Colin – hands, neck, lips, fleshy pad of the buttocks. This will add credibility to what those in the unscientific community might call your “pervert games.”
And you’re right: Mailing your findings is passive aggressive ?– and no fun! You want to be present, watching your friends’ faces as they realize how you’ve chosen to amuse yourself while an invited guest in their homes. Here is what you do to deliver those results with style: Host a Halloween party. Dress up as a proctologist. Hand deliver results to your guests, in ascending order of least- to most fecally. To offset the creepiness of your actions, give out full body condoms, DIY fecal testing kits and jars of artisanal bleach as prizes.
April 24, 2020, at 11am
"My new roommate has the face of a rotting peach. Her eyes are bruised and sunken, head sheared close to her skull, round cheeks, and she’s missing teeth. I don’t know how many hours I’ve been here, sitting on the cold cement floor of our cell, clutching the book and staring at the hated wooden leg. I don’t have the energy to fight but I do it anyway."
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on inmystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns ontheCriminal Fiction archive page
Over a months-long time period, glaciologist Felicity Lloyd hasbeen having odd blackouts, losing hours at a time: the primaryreason appears to be her fear of her abusive husband comingafter her. When she manages to obtain a career-changing job thatwill take her to halfway around the globe to Antarctica, shegrabs it with both mittened hands. But the therapist she’s beenseeing in Cambridge, Joe Grant, is uncovering and solving a fewmysteries of his own when it comes to Felicity, and the parallelplotlines soon converge into a satisfying double helix thatthriller author Sharon Bolton excels at.The Split (Minotaur), her latest foray into darkpsychological territory edged with a taut police procedural,delivers some of Bolton’s best chills so far – and that’s reallysaying something.
The Lost Orphan (Mira), Stacey Halls’ follow-up to2019’s mesmerizing The Familiars places us firmly inGeorgian London, with its richer-than-rich Mayfair residents aswell as those urban dwellers inhabiting the direst of slums. Inthe first pages, Bess Bright approaches the city’s FoundlingHospital with her new-born daughter: as a market shrimp-seller,Bess simply doesn’t have the means to support the child. Sixyears later, Bess returns to the hospital with her savings,determined to bring her daughter home. In the first of multipletwists in this wily tale, Bess is informed that her daughter hasalready been claimed by someone using Bess’ name. Halls’sophomore effort, a properly Gothic thriller with deliciouslydark deceptions at its heart, thrums to life with her eloquentlywrought details of London life – from its demure, oppressivedrawing rooms to the labyrinthian East End streets and sinuousThames – while evoking shiver-inducing shades of Wilkie Collins’The Woman in White and Sarah Waters’Fingersmith.
In The Last Hunt by Deon Meyer (Atlantic; translated byK.L. Seegers), Captain Benny Griessel of the elite Hawks policeunit and his partner Vaughn Cupido investigate murder most foultied to a train: it’s murder on the South African Rovos Express.Meanwhile, in France, a former freedom fighter is pulledunceremoniously back into a struggle he’d considered part of hispast. Meyer deftly unites these two strands while interrogatingcontemporary South Africa politics, European history andarchitecture, and crimes most foul – all the while sprinklingengaging pop-culture references such as Harry Potter, Dr Seuss,and Australian crime-fiction giant Peter Temple into hisnarrative – weaving a finely tuned page-spinner that’s anabsolute pleasure to read.
New York City is the multi-faceted protagonist in hair-raisinglywonderful The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit).Cities have souls, is the speculative premise in this compellingand adventurous novel, and the Big Apple, the most fabulous ofthem all, boasts no fewer than one soul per borough, fiercelyand artfully possessed by an arts administrator, apublic-library employee, a former white-collar man, amathematical whiz, and a rapper-turned-city-councilwoman.Together, they must pit themselves against a creepyvirus-spreader, a Woman in White who is scarily reminiscent ofNarnia’s White Witch as well as channelling the ugly specter ofwhite supremacism. Contemporary fireworks explode and historicalsparks fly in Jemisin’s superb literary symphony of flawedsuperheroes finding each other and discovering their collective– and urgently necessary – power.
Already having established herself as a veritable queen ofcreepy thrillers – 2018’s Jar of Hearts is a case inpoint – with Little Secrets (Minotaur), JenniferHillier firmly retains that crown. Marin Machado is browsing ina festive pre-Christmas Pike Place Market with her four-year-oldson, Sebastian, negotiating the option of a lollipop for goodbehaviour, when every parent’s worst nightmare comes to pass:while Marin is engaged in a texting exchange on her phone,Sebastian vanishes. Per the security camera footage, someonedressed as Santa Claus left the premises with the boy, but 16months later, the case is still wide open. Marin, already down adepressed and overwhelmed rabbit hole, has hired a privateinvestigator to pursue the case. But when the PI brings herevidence that Marin’s husband, Derek, is having an affair,Marin’s razor-sharp focus on finding out what happened to herson turns in a new, dangerously obsessive direction.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (a Canadian serial killer who'sin prison for life, and the wife who helped him, who's now outof prison), who inspired two books of mine so far (Creepand Jar of Hearts). Seattle, where I lived for eightyears. Therapy, where I explore all my childhood traumas. Theshower, where I seem to solve all my plot problems. And themovie Se7en, because the story never fails to bothimpress and horrify me.
Top five places to write?
The living room sofa, the backyard deck, the bedroom, the diningroom table, and my office. You probably wouldn't think I evenhad a home office with those first four, but I feelclaustrophobic in it, so I only write in there if I absolutelyhave to.
Top five favorite authors?
This is the hardest question – how to choose only five? I'll doit really fast. Off the top of my head: Stephen King, RileySager, Meg Gardiner, Chevy Stevens, and Alafair Burke.
Top five tunes to write to?
I can't write while listening to music, but I'll play music inbetween bursts of writing. The songs that are always on myplaylists are "Creep" by Radiohead, "Moonlight Sonata" byBeethoven, "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, "Bobcaygeon" by TheTragically Hip, and "Air on the G String" by Bach.
Top five hometown spots?
Kerry Park in Queen Anne, which has the best view of the city,and is the very last place my husband and I visited before wemoved back to Canada. Un Bien on 15th Ave, which makes thegreatest sandwiches I've ever had. Golden Age Collectables, astore on the lower level of Pike Place Market that brings meright back to my childhood. CenturyLink Field during a Seahawksgame (oh how I miss the roar of the 12s and the taste of garlicfries). And Occidental Square, where, after leaving a Guns N'Roses concert early to get home to the babysitter, we heardSlash playing the opening to "Sweet Child O' Mine"from three blocks away. That guitar solo soared as high as thesky, and I will never forget how it sounded.
April 23, 2020, at 11am
"A prison bus is waiting to pick us up in the courtyard. It’s a faded yellow school bus with bars on the windows and the word 'Wrightgate Prison' stenciled into the side. In the coming days I will think about the life of that bus, how its intent was transformed from 'we believe in your future' to 'we believe you have no future.'"
When I read (and loved)the YA comics adaptation of Anne of Green Gables acouple months back, I was excited to learn that the artist, Brenna Thummler, hadwritten and drawn an original YA graphic novel of her own. It'scalled Sheets, and it was published in 2018.
The protagonist of Sheets, a 13-year-old girl namedMarjorie Glatt, is struggling with some big issues. "It'sdifficult to list, in order, the things I hate," she tells thereader on the first page, "But I can say with no uncertaintythat laundry and ghosts are currently tied for first."
Marjorie's mom passed away a short time before the story begins,and her father is struggling with depression, leaving her tomanage the family laundromat. The business is falling apart, andMarjorie doesn't have time to process the changes in her life.Meanwhile, some ghosts — represented traditionally, as emptysheets with two eyeholes cut out — are taking up residence inthe laundromat, complicating the situation even further.
Thummler is a phenomenal cartoonist. Her work inSheets is busier, more claustrophobic than thewide-open spaces of her work in Green Gables. At times,the pages feel almost thick with wrinkles, like mishandledlaundry. Characters invade Marjorie's personal space — and so dowe, as the panels cling tightly to her face as she wonders whatshe's going to do. We can't help but hover anxiously aroundMarjorie. We want the best for her.
I read an advance preview copy of Yoshiharu Tsuge'sThe Swamp, a collection of short stories by a 20thcentury manga master published this month by Drawn &Quarterly. The Swamp is intended to be the first in aseries of Tsuge volumes from the Canadian comics publisher, andit's easy to see why he deserves the deluxe treatment.
The short stories in The Swamp are of high literaryquality. These are quiet vignettes about seemingly banalencounters, but Tsuge excels at sketching out characters thathave just a hint of desperation sweating underneath. Though manyof the stories are set in samurai times, Tsuge's themes andinterests are universal. In fact, if Raymond Carver made manga,the comics might resemble something like The Swamp.
The small men at the centers of these stories are all broken inbeautiful ways. "The Phony Warrior," the story that opens thevolume, is about a notorious traveler whose ego has grown solarge that it's consumed everything around him. "An UnusualPainting" finds a hotheaded young man becoming absorbed with ahermit's weird artwork. A couple's growing unease with eachother becomes laser-focused on an innocent little bird withqueasy consequences in "Chirpy."
The stories in The Swamp are laid out in traditionalmanga-style, meaning the book is to be read back to front, andeach page is read right to left. But Tsuge's characters don'tresemble the characters of, say, Akira as much as theydo the Muppets: they have button eyes and expressive eyebrows,and their body language is broad and relatable. It all has thefeel of a puppet show for adults: entertaining, a little bitweird, with a naughty undertone to the whole exercise.
April 22, 2020, at 11am
"I follow Nicole’s advice, kind of. I don’t practice what I’m going to say to Zelda but I do wait for a good time to say it – egg night, when we condition our hair together. We’re both in a pretty good mood on egg night."
Seattle poet Susan Rich was overjoyed when her poem "Pregnant with the Dead" was selected for inclusion in the Visible Poetry Project (VPP), which "partners thirty filmmakers with thirty poets to create visual interpretations of original and classic poems" over the course of National Poetry Month.
Filmmaker Tova Beck-Friedman selected Rich's poem to adapt into a short film. "Given that this poem is meant to honor my ancestors and its subject is intergenerational haunting, I was especially thrilled," Rich wrote.
Every relationship between poet and filmmaker at VPP is different, but Beck-Friedman and Rich collaborated on the video in a way that accentuated their strengths. Rich recorded a reading of her poem at Seattle's Jack Straw Cultural Center for use in the film. "I was happy to do the voice over of the poem but beyond that I felt this was [Beck-Friedman's] film," Rich told me over email yesterday.
In one of their early conversations, Beck-Friedman had the idea of presenting the poem alongside archival footage of the Holocaust. The concept of recording a dancer to interpret the poem also came up. "During the call (from what I can remember) one of us came up with the idea of creating an interplay of the archival footage with a dancer," Rich explained.
VPP pairs each film with a producer, and in her open letter Rich says that during production the assigned producer, Mia Shelton, said that "the interplay of dancer and archival footage was very effective."
But the night before National Poetry Month began, Rich got an email from Sofia Bannister, the managing director of VPP, advising her that VPP would not be playing "Pregnant with the Dead" after all, and that they were planning to "hold onto [the] film until a later date." The email said this decision was made as a "response to the COVID-19 pandemic...in an effort to bring the community of Visible Poetry Project together during this time of crisis."
Rich pushed back in an email, and was told in response that the film "did not fit [VPP's] programming needs." After Rich questioned further, Bannister replied that "the board feels uncomfortable releasing a film which trivializes the gravity of your poem." Finally, in the fourth such exchange according to Rich, VPP admitted that the board had "concerns about the overlay of the dancer being detrimental to the gravity of the piece." VPP contacted "a professor whose doctoral studies were in Holocaust cinema" who "expressed extreme discomfort with the piece."
Finally, the board concluded:
...in an assembly of six people, three of whom have ancestral legacy with the Holocaust, all six found the video offensive, we determined that ratio would likely be reflected in the general audience as well.
According to Rich, VPP "described the dancer as 'gyrating,' which implies a sensual movement, but there are no gyrating movementsin the piece." Rich says that even with this justification from the board, their conclusions are "a mystery" to her.
VPP appears to be well within their rights to not host "Pregnant with the Dead." It's their festival, after all. Of course, it would have been easier for everyone involved if they had noted any concerns during the filmmaking process. And it seems downright unethical to vaguely blame the pulling of the film on coronavirus when that appears to have nothing to do with the actual reasoning behind the decision.
But it's not reasonable anymore, after the 2016 election and its resultant online chaos, to be a free speech absolutist. There are plenty of good reasons to not display a piece of art or host someone else's free speech. Just because it's technically legal to espouse neo-Nazi views in a public space, for example, it is our duty as members of a responsible society to discourage that speech. Likewise, I'd hope that any worthwhile comedy venue or broadcasting platform would not air racist, sexist, or homophobic "comedy" that wraps hate speech in the clothing of a more demure standup routine. Subtext and intent carry meanings that are just as valid and important as the strict reading of a work.
With all that said, "Pregnant with the Dead" doesn't strike me as a work that's intended to offend, nor does its text or subtext come across as glib or diminishing. The dancer is clearly interpreting grief and emotional pain. You can question the efficacy of the communication all you want — that's what criticism is all about — but I don't think you can reasonably conclude that Rich or Beck-Friedman were attempting to make light of the Holocaust with this work.
Ultimately, if VPP wanted to keep audiences from watching "Pregnant with the Dead," they failed miserably. Rich has been very open about her experience with the organization, and she's encouraged people to watch the film on YouTube. Here it is, so you can decide for yourself:
And in recent days, Beck-Friedman and Rich have learned that a well-known European curator has accepted "Pregnant with the Dead" for an online film festival this summer. In the end, the film will be seen by many more people as a direct result of VPP's actions to stifle it.
April 21, 2020, at 11am
"The trains are rolling in today and tomorrow. All the cadets are returning to base after idyllic holidays eating turkey and cranberries off of craps tables, or whatever it is they do. Our attack is the big news greeting them. They show up at my door, a constant line of drive-by gossips who want to 'see if I’m ok' and 'by the way, how is FL Stewart?' Someone spread the word that I saw him without his helmet, even though I didn’t really. I didn’t tell anyone about that except the superiors – not even Zelda. "
we have loved
each other long
that what I don’t say still
echoes in the mind,
I am so bored
of raising facts:
my husband knows
better than to tell
me what to do, speaks
his care so that
I don’t have to eat
my fear of going alone
to the grocery store
I have choices like
that day one month ago
when I asked my son
to please stop
you are Chinese
April 20, 2020, at 11am
"I sense we’re running away from the center of town. I feel eyes on us but who knows if they’re animal or human and really, who cares? Perhaps they catch a glint of light off of FL Stewart’s helmet or my cyborg leg, or the dull glow of our comms bracelets. Perhaps they fear us. In the harsh light of day, that thought would make me sad. At night, it makes me feel powerful."
Monday April 20th: Protecting Consumers to Defend Democracy
Richard Cordray, former Director of Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, reads from his book Watchdog: How Protecting Consumers Can Save Our Families, Our Economy, and Our Democracy and takes your questions.
Tuesday, April 21st: The Truth About America’s ‘Deep State’
David Rodhe discusses his book In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America’s “Deep State" with Steve Scher.
Wednesday, April 22nd: Climate Change And Farmland
"To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, PCC Farmland Trust presents national bestselling authors and mother-daughter duo Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, who bring a multi-generational perspective on the environment, the climate crisis, and our food system."
Thursday, April 23rd: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues
Whiting Writers Award-winner Clifford Thompson talks about his new book What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues, an autobiographical account of race in an America that elected Donald Trump as president.
April 19, 2020, at 11am
"It’s Thanksgiving week and the base is deserted. Most of the officers have gone to wherever home is and all of the cadets with families also got permission to leave for the holiday, so everyone who’s left is a lot like me: unmoored. It makes the tenor on campus different. The cadets who are left have a kinder vibe to them. Less aggressive. It’s a reminder that even though we’re trained to work together, we’re competing to stay here."
April 18, 2020, at 11am
"Over the course of the next two days, Rodney’s lies become my lies as I repeat his story to a parade of officials. It’s only when I can’t remember a lie that I tell the truth: “I can’t remember.”"
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s mostvexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation tosend your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to readerotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questionsto email@example.com.
My fellow booksellers are trying to unionize. I just don'tknow if it's worth the time and trouble, when independentbookselling is such a low-paying job. It's not like Powell'semployees are driving around in Rolls Royces, and they've beenunionized for a couple of decades.
I get the importance of unions in general; my uncle works ata grocery store and he says the union has been great for him.But for a low-margin business like bookselling, it seems likethis is just going to be a big timesuck that actually doesn'timprove our workplace conditions. Should I vote to unionize,even if I don't think it will help? I don't want to let mycoworkers down.
[Neighborhood withheld to reserve anonymity]
Yes, you should vote to unionize. Unions aren't perfect but showme a governing or organizing body that is. Life is bleak rightnow, give your coworkers a win.
That's why this year, I let Beatrix eat the Easter Bunny. (Iknow she's an alligator but she's still my daughter. And at herage, believing in the Easter Bunny is a bit pathetic. Don'tworry, we gave him a good send off – I stuffed him full ofchocolate and into a little velveteen vest first.)
Be skeptical but optimistic, engage in the process, and maybeit'll surprise you. We sure as hell surprised that bunny.
April 17, 2020, at 11am
"'Hey Legs,' Rodney greets me for our morning run. I have prepared for this moment but my knees are still shaking a little."
Have you spent some times really looking at your shelves, lately? Maybe at that book you were sure you wanted to read, but aren't ready for? Maybe you've alphabetized, or arranged them by color, or by genre? Maybe you've rediscovered some old favorites?
If you haven't looked yet, maybe now is the time.
Pick your favorite shelf. Let's make #shelfsies a thing — post your collection on Twitter or Instagram and tag us. Tell us what you're reading, and what inspires you about the books there.
(Once in a while, we take a new(ish) book out to lunch and giveit half an hour or so to grab our attention.Lunch Date is our comment on that speed-datingexperience.
Who's your date today?
Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of GoodCooking, by Samin Nosrat. One-time chef at Chez Panisse, food writerand food champion, Nosrat approaches cooking (and eating) withan enjoyment and humor reminiscent of the impossibly joyfulJulia Child. Nosrat is beloved for her essays, cookbook,and television show, and the"pandemic cooking"podcast she co-hosts with Hrishikesh Hirway is firm ground in ahurricane of crazy.
Salt Fat Acid Heat is a book about cooking and acookbook both. The first 200 pages (just about) are a mastercourse in simple cookery based on the four elements in thetitle, dotted with brilliantly useful watercolored sketches —for example, a swash of green that helps visualize the acidityof a long list of ingredients. The second half is a selection ofrecipes that are good both for dinner and for practicalexperimentation
Where'd you go?
To the kitchen! Because, well, that's almost the only optionright now. (Though you should get takeout from your favoritelocal restaurant, and we often do — thank you, Seattlerestaurants for continuing to feed us all).
I am a reluctant and ham-handed cook, terrified of the words"to taste" and allergic to recipes with more than sixingredients. My favorite recipes include only one ingredient,which is "frozen pizza." However, like many peopleright now, I've been backed into the stove by the "shelterin place" order, and I'm enjoying that specific flavor ofguilt that comes from being miserable at one's good fortune inhaving food to eat and a home to eat it in.
What'd you eat?
I made Nosrat's receipt for pasta with broccoli and breadcrumbs,because I loathe broccoli and it was a natural way to exorcise(or exercise) self-loathing. Nine ingredients total; subtractdifficulty points for olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt,but add points for "sprinkling crumbs," which arean entirely separate recipe hidden within the recipe.Cheaters never prosper, Nosrat.
How was the food?
Surprisingly, edible. Surprisingly edible! The flavor of thebroccoli is softened by the longish cooking time, and thetexture — all those unbearable little pebbles of broccoli! — issmoothed out as well. And, in truth, once you coat anything withenough parmesan and breadcrumbs, it's basically pizza, isn't it?
What does your date say about itself? From thepublisher's promotional copy:
In the tradition of The Joy of Cooking and How to CookEverything comes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, an ambitious newapproach to cooking by a major new culinary voice. Chef andwriter Samin Nosrat has taught everyone from professionalchefs to middle school kids to author Michael Pollan to cookusing her revolutionary, yet simple, philosophy. Master theuse of just four elements—Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat,which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, whichbalances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines thetexture of food—and anything you cook will be delicious. Byexplaining the hows and whys of good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid,Heat will teach and inspire a new generation of cooks how toconfidently make better decisions in the kitchen and cookdelicious meals with any ingredients, anywhere, at any time.
Is there a representative quote?
Here's one that very much represents Nosrat's approach to food,which is hands-on and unpretentious in the extreme:
Get rid of the shaker, dump the salt in the bowl, and startusing your fingers to season your food. You should be able tofit all five fingers into your salt bowl and easily grab apalmful of salt. This important — but often unsaid — rule ofgood cooking is so routine for professional cooks that whenworking in an unfamiliar kitchen, we instinctively hunt forcontainers to use as salt bowls. When pressed, I've ever usedcoconut shells.
Will you two end up in bed together?
We will definitely have lunch together again, and dinner, manytimes. It's hard to pinpoint why Nosrat's approach is so ...approachable. It helps that she's a presence, with an unabashedlaugh that's accessible across media. It helps that what she'steaching is how to taste, as much as how to cook, and how totaste is one of the scariest bits of cooking for all religiousrecipe-followers.
And this really is a moment for a book like this and a cook likeSamin Nosrat. Food is surrounded by fear right now; fear ofshortage, fear of contagion, fear that the world will neverchange back. Nosrat tells us that even if everything isn't okay,we can change in ways that aren't fearful. Something we need tohear.
April 16, 2020, at 11am
"I watched a girl your age get tased in the street. We’re trained to use tasers as a de-escalation tactic when confronted with two or fewer suspicious individuals (more than that and we tear gas them). But after seeing it, I don’t really understand how it can be considered a de-escalation tactic. It was brutal. I still sweat when I think about it."
We're now on our fourth week without new comics beingdistributed to comics shops around the world. That doesn't meanthat new comics aren't being made —?it seems like we'll beseeing some announcements from major creators about independentquarantine-produced comics sometime soon — but it does mean thatNew Comic Wednesday is no longer really a thing, for now.
But the digital distribution of comics is still happening. Andthere's a brand-new comic that 21 creators are selling to keeptheir heads above water.Parsley Sage Rosemary & Quarantine: Recipe Comics forSocial Distancingis a cookbook collecting 21 cartoonists' favorite recipes incomic form. Full-color PDF copies arefor sale on Gumroad right now on a name-your-price basis.
Edited by Melanie Gillman, Parsley featurescontributions from cartoonists including Priya Huq, Shing YinKhor, Shan Murphy, Sarah W. Searle, and Steenz. The recipesrange from fried chicken to dal to frijoles negros, and thecartooning style ranges from primitive to highly stylized. It'sa great way to sample a wide array of young comics professionalsand figure out how to navigate new paths through the tired foodin your pantry. My favorites include the recipe for rice buns,illustrated in a swoopy, classic magazine illustration style byMegan Rose Gedris and Mel Gillman's "extremely customizable"recipe for beer bread, which is crisply illustrated enough toserve as a full-back tattoo.
Another new book from high-profile creators had a surpriserelease yesterday, though it's been in the works since beforeCOVID-19 was even a thing.Panel Syndicate, the pay-as-you-go creator-owned comics hub,released Friday, the first issue of a supernatural mystery comic written by EdBrubaker, illustrated by Marcos Martin, and colored by MuntsaVicente.
Martin is one of the most kinetic artists in the field, and he'sknown for his elegant, simple renderings. With Friday,he's adding some complexity, and it is gorgeous — Edward Goreyis listed as an influence, and that seems head-smackinglyobvious when you stare at the spooky forests and melancholytowns in the background of the book.
Brubaker has unfortunately labeled Friday as a"post-YA' comic. I'm not entirely clear what that means —Brubaker cites a number of books for kids and teens asinspiration for the book, and while *Friday certainly falls onthe darker side of the spectrum, I don't see anything that Iwouldn't hand over to a literate and goth-friendly mature teenreader. If anything, the "post-YA" title, which Brubaker admitsin a note in the end of the book, is "just A" when takenliterally, feels like Brubaker is just slightly embarrassedabout working with children's entertainment.
But whatever you label it, Friday is an interestingfirst issue with interesting lead characters, it's as gorgeouslydrawn as the best of Martin's work, and it seems to be headingin some weird directions. Even if today were a normal New ComicBook Day with the usual available options, Friday wouldmost definitely be a standout title — and likely the best bookof the week.
Seattle City of Literature is asking Washington residents to petition Governor Inslee to reclassify booksellers as essential employees. Here's the most important part of their rationale:
I just sent a letter to the governor asking him to classify bookstores as essential businesses during this crisis. This would give bookstores the opportunity—if they feel comfortable doing so—to support their communities with adapted business models, including curbside pick-ups and deliveries, virtual story times, online book groups, and more.
That "if they feel comfortable" is the most important piece. If booksellers can safely make a living right now, they should be able to. But they should also be able to accept unemployment if they'd rather not put themselves or their families at risk. If you agree, sign the petition.
April 15, 2020, at 11am
"They have a term for the work Rodney has me doing: it’s called a Rodney Favor. Nicole, who was raised on base so basically knows everyone, tells me that’s what the other Year Twos call it. In fact, it’s become an inside joke/insult: Rodney Favors are tasks you could just as easily do yourself."
Way back in 2018,Seattle Review of Books co-founder Martin McClellanreviewed Jez Burrows's ambitious book of semi-found flashfiction, Dictionary Stories, praising Burrows for possessing "a mind that is alwayssearching, always creative, always looking for an amusement orgame." At the time, Burrows lived in San Francisco, butjust last month, he moved to Seattle. As part ofour ongoing New Hire series, which interviews new literary figures on their arrival in theSeattle area, I talked with Burrows on the phone last week. Itwas a weird time to move to the city, what with the whole globalpandemic and all, but I found Burrows to be a charming andengaged conversationalist. What follows is an edited transcriptof our conversation.
Thanks for making the time to talk. We do a regular interviewfeature here called New Hire where we talk to writers who'vejust moved to Seattle about their expectations and hopes.Obviously we've never done one under these circumstances, withthe city under lockdown from coronavirus. So-
That was about to be my first question, if you had talked toanybody since everything has happened.
No, this is the first. I guess up top I would just like toask where you're coming from, and why you moved toSeattle?
Sure. So, immediately I'm coming from San Francisco, which iswhere I've been for the past eight-ish years. But, as you canprobably tell from the accent, I'm not necessarily a local.Before San Francisco I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and I'moriginally from Devon in the southwest of England. But SanFrancisco was the one American city that I've spent my entiretime in the US up until now, so Seattle is city number two.
I've figured out that I really like the west coast in general,and from the very first time that I visited Seattle — and Ivisited a lot over the years that I've lived in the US — when Istepped off the plane, I remember distinctly thinking, "Oh,this is British weather. This is what British weather feelslike. This is very comfortable." There was something veryenvironmental that spoke to me.
It just seemed like it was a welcoming place with some welcomingpeople. And I was also just very ready for a change from SanFrancisco in general.
When did you officially move here?
I got here on March 5th, so I think I had at least maybe fivedays of blissful — not ignorance because things werehappening — but I was at least out in the world and shakinghands. Or there were a few [bumping] elbows [as a greeting] atthat point; it was at a point where the elbow thing still felt abit absurd, and now I feel vindicated. I think I had about fivedays of freedom and then straight into lockdown.
Are there any resources in Seattle, as a writer, that you'rehoping to enjoy, if they ever reopen?
I had applied forresidency at the Writer's Room at the Central PublicLibrary, because [Seattle Review of Books co-founder] Martin[McClellan] had told me about it and suggested that it would bea good fit. I think I applied maybe five days before the publiclibrary system shut down.
And Hugo House as well. Every time I've glanced at theirsyllabus for past classes that they've done, or upcoming classesthat they were going to do, I was always really struck by thebreadth of what was going on and the people who were coming into speak and to teach. So hopefully at some point in the futureif and when they reopen, those are the two things I'd be veryexcited to finally gain access to.
So what sort of writing projects are you working onnow?
The plan, before everything, was to start something as soon as Ihad moved. The project that I pitched to the Central Library, iskind of a story about a sectional group of artists, but it istold entirely through the sort of didactics and the wall textsfrom the museums where their art would have been displayed.
It's sort of about curation, and I'm just really interested ingroups of artists in general. I saw this fantastic retrospectiveof the Bauhaus at the Barbican when I was in London severalyears ago and I was really struck by it. I've seen a lot of theBauhaus work before — it's all very familiar —?but what I lovedin the exhibition was there was just a ton of ephemera:photographs of all of the members hanging out, correspondencebetween them, materials from the school, none of which I hadever seen and all of which put all of the work that I did knowinto a brand-new context. So I wanted to write about a historyof art without actually showing you any of the art.
And that's ultimately probably still the project that I want towork on. But progress has basically stopped, I will say, for thetime being, for multiple reasons. That's the next big thing onthe horizon, hopefully.
It seems like your work has a lot to do with the intersectionbetween graphics and text in interesting ways. It's notcomics, but there's always something with that sort offrisson, that sort of energy between words and images.
That definitely resonates. You're right, it isn't quite agraphic novel. I'm trying to think of a good example. I thinkHouse of Leaves is always the one that comes up, butthat is more to do with typographic layout than it is to do withimages versus or with text. But that is a fascinating book inand of itself. Do you know Leanne Shapton? Are you familiar withher work?
Maybe if you give some titles I might, but not offhand,no.
Her most recent book was called Guestbook, and thenthere was another one called Swimming Studies, but theone that I really love is called... I'm going to look up thetitle because I love a massively overlong title. Okay, the fulltitle isImportant Artifacts and Personal Property from theCollection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, IncludingBooks, Street Fashion and Jewelry.
It came out in 2009 and, to all intents and purposes, it lookslike an auction catalog. So there's a lot of photography ofobjects kind of isolated on block color backgrounds and each ofthem has an auction number and then a description of the objectand-
Oh my God,I reviewed this book when it came out. I know exactly what you're talking about. I love thatbook.
I adore that book. It's over a decade old now but I alwaysmention it to people when I'm trying to think about books thatdo interesting things with text and image that aren't justone-to-one illustrations or something closer to a graphic novel.And the other thing that book really does wonderfully is it alsoreferences an existing format and then tells a novelistic kindof story through it, but in a really sly way.
And if there's another thing that I like playing with, apartfrom just images and text, it's forms — like borrowing theformat of an auction catalog and then using it to tell a breakupstory, essentially. I have referenced that book so, so manytimes to so many people. It's just a great one.
Not to get an army of angry internet people all over me oranything, but I think that's one of the things that didn'twork for me with House of Leaves that I think didwork really well with that book: was there was a constraint.There were rules to Shapton's book, whereas inHouse of Leaves, to me it felt like the visual aspectwas coming out of nowhere. I think having a really goodconstraint and a solid set of rules is one of the mostimportant things that people who do this sort of visualinteraction don't often grasp.
Absolutely. Well, yeah, that's the hope anyway. With the artistbook, originally the plan was for it to just be entirely walltexts. I love how rigid a constraint that is, but over time as Istarted drafting early attempts, I remembered that that kind ofwriting — that sort of curatorial art-speak — is really tiringto read at length.
And I'm not trying to make that kind of writing totallyauthentic. I want to introduce elements to it that will feelcloser to prose but still feel like it's a curator talking toyou about art. But I think I'm probably going to have to massagethe constraint a little bit to also include descriptions ofephemera and correspondence between members. I still thinkthat's a neat constraint. I hope it won't spiral out of control.
When you're writing, is the place where you are important tothe writing, even if it doesn't figure into the book? Whenyou're reading something that you've written, can you recallwhere you wrote it?
My first book proper, the Dictionary Stories book, wasa hundred-plus very short-format fiction stories, and it isreally wide-ranging in terms of where it is set. But when I canconvince myself to look back at that book, which is hard, I dosee links to my life in San Francisco. There was a story,inexplicably, that was happening in a Russian bath, which issolely because I had found a fantastic Russian bath in HuntersPoint in San Francisco that I went to a lot.
There are tacit references to places in San Francisco or thingsthat I would do in San Francisco a lot, but I don't really thinkthey were for anybody else but me. I wasn't trying to evoke SanFrancisco.
I am curious, though, having just moved here, about the tone ofSeattle as a city. I've been told about the Seattle Freeze, butI know a handful of people here who are all very lovely and verywelcoming. But I don't yet have a sense for what it feels liketo just be a person out in the city walking around, and what themood of it is, and how it feels when you crest over a big hillor when the weather is at its best and when it's at its worstand how that feels, relative to San Francisco.
So I'm looking forward to seeing that, how and if that affectswhat I'm writing. But also it's probably quite likely that thisnext book is likely going to be set in London, so, again, itwon't be a one-to-one reference. But, like I said, when theweather here is at its gloomiest it does feel like home, whichis nice. So I may lean on that a lot.
Are there any bookstores that you've visited before thatyou're excited to get to once we can get to placesagain?
Pretty consistently, every time I've visited I've been toElliott Bay. Which feels like the obvious answer, but it'sobvious for a reason. It's a fantastic institution. A number ofpeople have recommended — is it Twice Sold Tales?
Yep, that's a classic.
When I got here, I almost pulled the trigger on an apartmentjust as things got bad and did not, ultimately. I've ended upstaying with friends in Queen Anne. But it is likely that I willend up somewhere in the Capitol Hill area.
What are some of your hopes for the city? As a writer, do youhave any expectations of the city where you live? Do you thinkthat Seattle can do anything to support you as a new residentof the city, as an artist?
Honestly, I think eight years in San Francisco is the longestI've been anywhere where I haven't grown up, and I never reallyplanned to be there as long as I had. And though I left it stillkind of liking it, I definitely felt like I didn't have anymomentum anymore. Toward the end of my time there, I put muchmore energy into being nostalgic for things that I had done, asopposed to getting excited for things that I could do.
So really, anything that Seattle has that is different is goingto be a blessing. And the nice thing is that I don't really knowwhat exists yet. I'm a walker. I walked all around San Franciscoand don't drive, and that's one of my favorite ways to explore anew place and to get a feel for it on the ground. Some of themost memorable moments, or inspiring moments, that I had in SanFrancisco were a result of long walks and discovering thingsthat I had no idea existed.
So I think maybe this is a bad insight because it's just theseare the sorts of things that any large city will provide, butSeattle was an intentional choice just because in my gut it feltlike the right place to be, and enough of a difference from SanFrancisco that I needed.
And also it just has a different kind of natural environment.And I love a Redwood, but I've seen a lot of them. And I've beentold there's a rainforest out here, so I've got to find that.
I think that answer makes it sound like I just kind of pickedSeattle off of a map and there wasn't really anything specificthat I liked. But it's more of just an openness and a trust inthe few things that I have seen that have been good andinspiring and makes me feel kind of at home, away from home.
This Friday,Vinnie Sarrocco is launching his latest book of poetry intothe world in a Facebook partyat 6 pm.The Moon as Understood by Skyscrapersis Sarrocco's second book of poetry to be released in a year—?his debut collection,Poems for the Garbage Mancame out last fall. (Both books are published by local pressChatwin Books.)
Sarrocco, a North Carolina native, is becoming a fixture on theSeattle poetry scene. The figure he cuts has a retro air to it:that untrained, willfully blue-collar, masculine space-takingenergy and a fun reading style that inspires broad laughter atpoetry open mic nights. If Sarrocco came to town a coupledecades ago, you could picture one of Seattle's street poets,like the late great Harvey Goldner, taking him under their wing.
It's easy to see why Chatwin Books has devoted so much of theirresources to this young poet. Sarrocco has a knack for findingan image that grabs your ankle and won't let go. InGarbage Man, he sings a praise song for a particularfeisty seagull "teeming with virility," standing "four feettall/duck-footed, daring any car/or lawyer to get froggy." Thebird, Sarrocco imagines, would pick a fight with "some hipster'sJetta" and the car would see the worst of it. It would be, hedeclares, "A clash of egos worthy of a renaissance fresco."
This streaming launch party likely won't be as raucous as anold-fashioned boozy Seattle open mic night. We do our best thesedays to politely not mention the sterility of streaming events,but maybe Sarrocco's earthy enthusiasm and wild sense of humorcan inject some much-needed humanity into our shared digitalspace.
I’ve stopped wearing gloves when I’m gardening
My hands missed touching
something else alive
Savoring the feeling of plants and soil
remembering when we stood
with our feet
in wet sand
shoulder to shoulder
like roots and stems
April 14, 2020, at 11am
"So I finally did it – I finally got to run off base! It’s very different here than Reno. The city never got bombed, for one thing. Chicago did though, and that’s about 70 miles away, so it’s basically become one big tent city from here to there. The really weird thing is, my running partner says the gutter-tricks have started communicating between cities, and nobody can figure out how. Like, when we change up how rations are delivered or prepare for a big street sweep, they seem to know. We’ve been robbed like crazy lately, I guess."
Last week, we made a call for entries from poets who are sequestered at home, writing about coronavirus. We have received so many amazing responses. In them, so many moving stories, reflections, and thoughts about our current weird, and somewhat unbelievable world.
Today, we begin publishing those poems, one a week for the foreseeable future. A bit later today we're getting started with a 9-line poem by Whitney McBride that stopped us short on first read.
If you have submitted work, we have not responded yet to everyone, but will be doing that over the coming week. If you would still like to send us a poem, we are still accepting submissions.
Also last week, we ran a letter from a reader in our advice column, The Help Desk, where he asked if poetry was a scam. After Cienna cut him down (it was a stupid question) it made us think about why poetry matters.
Maybe it doesn't, to you (although, if it doesn't, I doubt you read this far), and that's fine. But for those of us to whom poetry is like a secret language, a fingerhold on a rip in reality that uses deceptively simple words to change the way we think, poetry is powerful. Being offered another perspective is a good thing, right now. Being offered a peek behind our own certain constructs feels necessary.
Normally we run our poems Tuesday at 10am, but we're running McBride's poem today in a high-profile spot normally reserved for reviews: 12pm on a Tuesday. We hope you'll join us each week for the series.
April 13, 2020, at 11am
"The letter is waiting on my bed when I get home. It smells like cigars, the signature smell of Circus Circus, the scent my mother always wears. I rip the letter open"
This is the day of the week when I typically tell you whatevents are taking place in Seattle this week. But nobody ishaving events right now because of —?well, you know —and so this space has been event-free for a few weeks.
This week, though, we got a listing for a couple of interestingonline events. One is a celebration of bestselling novelistElena Ferrante that doubles as a fundraiser for booksellers, andthe other is a discussion about pandemics with local authors aspart of Third Place Books's new virtual reading series. Here'swhat they have to say about it:
Europa Editions has launched “Our Brilliant Friends,” anafter-dinner book club and watch party that meets every Mondayat 6 p.m. Pacific Time (9:00 p.m. ET on Zoom), an hour beforethe HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartetairs. Tickets will be sold for a suggested donation of $5 andall proceeds will benefitthe#SaveIndieBookstorescampaign, which was launched last week with the support of JamesPatterson, Reese’s Book Club, the American BooksellersAssociation, and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
Events begin with a panel conversation among prominentFerrante fans, followed by a brief reading by translator AnnGoldstein from Elena Ferrante’s new novel,The Lying Life of Adults (Pub date: September 1,2020). At 10:00 p.m., attendees are encouraged to stick aroundin the Zoom chat as they watch and react to the newest episodeof My Brilliant Friend on HBO.
For the April 13 event, co-hosts include McNally Jackson,Elliott Bay Book Company, and City Lights Bookstore. Guestswill include Alexander Chee, Sarah Treem (The Affair), andMichael Reynolds. Future events will include John Freeman,Lauren Groff, and many others to be announced.
Join Betsy Gaines Quammen and David Quammen for alive-streaming discussion on coronavirus outbreak, religiousconspiracy, and movements agitating against shelter in placeorders, hosted by Third Place Books and Torrey House Press.Gaines Quammen is the author ofAmerican Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in theWest, and since her book tour has been postponed, David and Betsydecided to collaborate and talk about both of their books andhow they intersect at this very moment. David, who wroteSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic,will cover the topic of disease outbreak, and Betsy will talkabout responses to outbreak focused on rebellion andconspiracy.
As governments and communities work to stop the spread ofCOVID-19 with stay-home orders, Ammon Bundy, son of ClivenBundy, is currently agitating against disease relatedrestrictions in Idaho. But as the White House easesenvironmental protections and recommends suspension of habeascorpus, could Ammon have a point? We hope you can join us forthis casual, hopefully fun, informative and best of all, notcontagious live event from Betsy and David's living room toyours.
No purchase is required to view this event, but attendees areencouraged to purchase American Zion andSpillover from Third Place Books:
If you have any virtual literary events happening in the nextfew weeks, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pass the posts alonghere.
April 12, 2020, at 11am
"Ok, maybe I screwed up. I come to this conclusion while doing my morning PT exercises in an empty gym, following an uncomfortable evening in a room with someone who definitely wished I’d had my tongue removed instead of my leg. "
April 11, 2020, at 11am
"I’m getting ready for work when he shows up at our door with a chocolate bar and a copy of Crime and Punishment, and I’m both delighted and confused because I haven’t told anyone it was my birthday – not even Zelda. My smile is so big and dazzling it could make a sunflower moon in my direction."
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s mostvexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation tosend your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to readerotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questionsto email@example.com. Cienna is teaching babyspiders to appreciate villanelles, so this column is are-run from 2016.
My entire life, I’ve suspected poetry to be a scam. Peopleonly pretend to understand poetry because they don’t want toseem like idiots. I’m right, aren’t I?
Don, Maple Leaf
Let me ask you this, Don: Who exactly would poetry be scamming?The billions of people who don’t read it or the thousands ofpoets who could make more money robbing public fountains forpennies than they ever will off their words?
Poetry isn’t a scam. It’s just another shit-upon art form, likeopera singing and rodeo queening. And like opera singing androdeo queening, it has its place – the bathroom. A morning tripto the toilet is the perfect opportunity to ingest one poemwell. It is quiet. You are trapped. Your attention has no placeto wander but across the page.
Sure, some poems are willfully opaque. Some writers like beingmisunderstood because it makes them feel smarter (and smuglymisunderstood). But most good poets are looking to connect withreaders and while you might not catch on to every allusion, withpractice you will get the gist and hopefully, the gist willresonate.
I have a stack of poetry books on the back of my toilet. Hereare three of my favorites:The Colossus and Other Poems by Sylvia Plath, whom youmay have heard of;Ceremony for the Choking Ghost by Karen Finneyfrock,who is a local poet, and whose collection is a remarkabletribute to her sister’s death by heart failure; andVoyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, whowrites about the portrayal of black women in art and history.
I don’t pretend to understand everything going on in these booksbut I think the ritual of trying makes me smarter.
April 10, 2020, at 11am
"My cheeks are wet and trembly when she finishes. I haven’t heard that nursery rhyme probably since my abuela, my namesake Roberta, last sang it to me. The loving melody acutely reminds me of what’s been absent from my life nearly ever since."
April9, 2020, at 11am
"Afternoon drills are probably the most important part of the day – it’s the only time that our entire company comes together, all 200 first years, 100 second years, and 50 third years. The most accomplished third years lead the drills under the guidance of the drill sergeant. FL Stewart is a notable exception to this rule. He’s only a second-year but also sometimes leads the afternoon drills, in addition to our morning drills. Like today."
Last week,I alerted youto a creative new distribution plan to save comics shops and themonthly print comic model. That plancrashed and burnedmere hours after my column was published. Nobody has come upwith a better idea in the week since.
The big publishers aren't putting out new comics, and the wholeindustry is on pause. So what now? Well, if you can, you shouldbuy comics direct from the creators. And a Pacific Northwestcartoonist just so happens to have a new collection that's worthyour time.
Last year,I interviewed Portland cartoonist Sarah Mirkabout her project to create and publish one zine a day for ayear. "I’m really trying to get away from perfectionism andfeeling like things have to be pretty, or things have to beperfect," Mirk told me.
"It’s about the process of making something every day andsharing it with the world — good or bad," she explained. "Andpart of the point of it is to show people that you can do thistoo. You can make things and put them out in the world."
Now Mirk has collected the best books from the project in a $12oversized paperback book called Year of Zines!You can buy it directly from Mirk online. I received my copy in the mail yesterday, and it's just thething to scratch my new-comics itch.
Most of Year of Zines! is made up of traditionalnon-fiction comics: Mirk shares her thoughts (on being a tallwoman, on the personalities of public transit systems, on how tobail out detainees) and etiquette tips (like how to take acompliment and how to talk to people who are going through badtimes) in short comics essays.
But there are other comics here that are more experimental: Mirkmakes some collage comics that condense the whole SundayNew York Times down into a few panels (including afictionalized Bari Weiss essay about cheese mites that is likelymore informative than any column Weiss has ever actuallywritten) and she collects self-portraits she's drawn over theyears into a kind of reflexive autobiographical zine.
Mirk's enthusiasm for zines is palpable; she spends much ofYear of Zines! encouraging the reader to make zines oftheir own. It's a book that celebrates creation —?imperfect,unjealous creation —?as its own good. That's an attitude that wecould use more of in our self-quarantined lives.
April8, 2020, at 11am
"Professor Munger paces before the class, the brass on her chest flashing. 'A quarter of you will one day command squadrons or even fleets of individuals whose vaunted mission is to protect the interests of the United States. You will oversee men and women trained to kill, and who are eager to exercise their training. In this class, you will learn how to identify the enemy, be it abroad or at home, and lead your forces to neutralize all threats – both active and passive. You will learn how to put aside your personal values and beliefs and act in the best interests of the country you serve.'"
Friends, do I have a book recommendation for you. No matter whoyou are, no matter what your reading tastes, I can assure youthat Bainbridge Island writer Jon Mooallem's brand-new book,This Is Chance!, will speak directly to you at this moment in time.
Chance! is the deeply reported account of three dayssurrounding an earthquake that struck Anchorage, Alaska in thespring of 1964 — the largest earthquake in recorded history.Mooallem centers the story on a young radio host named GenieChance who talks Anchorage's citizens to safety, disseminatinginformation, coordinating rescue efforts, and sending messagesof hope to and from people spread across the broken city. It's astory with the happy message that when the worst things happen,humans get together to do their best.
You can see where I'm going with this. Human beings around theworld are right now sheltering in place in an effort to protectour weakest and most vulnerable neighbors from coronavirus. Someof us are on the front lines. Some of us are working jobs thattwo months ago would have been considered non-essential but arenow the backbone of our civilization. We're all communicating,and we're all trying to get by. It's a slow-motion disaster thatwill leave all of us changed. Chance! reminds us thatthe change that is happening to many of us right now will be forthe better.
Mooallem is taking some big swings in this book: the structureand themes of Chance! are deep in conversation with noless of an American classic than the Thornton Wilder playOur Town, which happened to be playing at the bigtheater in Anchorage at the time of the quake. This conversationencompasses the biggest topics we're all facing right now:mortality, optimism, impermanence, loss, and the uneasy feelingof being swallowed by the tremendous scope of the universe.
I talked with Mooallem on the phone earlier this week about hisremarkable book, what it feels like to have a book launch getsquashed by a global pandemic, and his race against the clock topreserve living history at a time when many witnesses to theAnchorage earthquake are passing away. What follows is a lightlyedited and trimmed transcription of our conversation.
After Trump was elected, I spent a long time waiting for thefirst post-Trump book, the first book that felt like anadequate response to Trump's election. I don't remember onebreaking out from the pack. But when I was reading your book,it felt like I was already reading the first post-coronavirusbook, because—
I thought you were going to say it was the first post-Trumpbook. Which, in some ways, actually might have been right.Because I think it was really after the election that I sat downand really tried to do the proposal [forThis is Chance!]. I feel like that was probably wheremy state of mind was — an unimaginable disruption.
That's interesting. So was this book about you trying to finda happy place after Trump's election?
Oh, no, I wouldn't say that. I had been collecting researchabout Genie, and about the quake, for a few years before then.This theme of unanticipated, very violent-seeming disruptions,was always what drew me to it. And I think we can all relate tothat in a personal way — that our own personal worlds sometimestake these swerves.
So, it wasn't that suddenly the election happened, and I hadthis new way to approach this story. That was just very much inthe air then, just as it is now.
It's funny, because there's a part of the introduction that Ikeep seeing people taking pictures of on social media. It's thatlast bit that says, "A terrible magic can switch on, andscramble our lives."
I remember writing that in early 2018, and thinking that,"this reads like I'm talking about the election." Andnow, it reads like I'm talking about Coronavirus.
Your book is a one-stop shop for terrible disasters. So, Iguess it's an evergreen.
Yeah. Like how every Christmas they playIt's a Wonderful Life, maybe every time there's adisaster, people can read this.
I haven't actually yet spoken with an author whose booklaunch was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. How are youdoing? It seems like your publisher must have had a pretty bigplan in mind for the launch.
Yeah. Definitely for me, it felt like it was going to be a biglaunch. I think I was supposed to go do eight or nine differentevents, the last of which would have been this week up inAlaska.
I really have struggled to find a way to talk about it, becausethe honest truth is, I don't even really feel like I've grappledwith any of that on the emotional level. Partly because I'mdoing the very healthy thing of just being grateful for what Ihave to be grateful for, and then, also — less to toot my ownhorn — because it's just so frickin' confusing right now. Mykids are home, so I just haven't had the mental capacity, Iguess.
I think at some point, I'm probably going to end up feelingresentful about it. I guess something was taken away from me.But I don't really have any cogent feelings about it just yet.
It's definitely true that there's been a lot more mediainterest, I think, than there maybe would have been – justbecause it feels so timely, in a weird way. But this is a momentthat I've been looking forward to for years, literally. And it'sgreat that I still feel like people are finding the book, andreading it. But it would have been nice to have just a littlemoment where I could feel like I was celebrating it,unabashedly.
Were you aware, fairly early on, that things were going tonot happen? These launches from New York publishers areplanned out way in advance.
So, you probably had a plan in your head for months.
Yeah. They set the pub date last April, I think, and events wereall worked out, I think, by the end of last year.
The weird part of that was being where we live [in Washingtonstate, which was hit early by the coronavirus pandemic], andtalking to people in New York in late February, early March.There was a big disconnect between my concern and growingpessimism and the view in New York, which was, "Well,nothing's happening here. We're all fine — let's just take itday-by-day."
And that's not to fault them, but it did make it strange. And inretrospect, I don't know even if we had two extra weeks, when Istarted worrying about it, to come up with some kind of Plan B.I don't think we would have had any real substantive differencesanyway. So, it's a wash. But that was definitely a very strangefew weeks.
And then, there was just one day when I got this cascade ofe-mails that everything was canceled, one by one.
We're not getting preview copies from publishers right now,so I bought your book from Third Place Books. I loved it, andI thought it was actually the perfect book to read rightnow.
But it's also very impressive on a technical level. The factthat you interact with the structure of Our Town sothoroughly in This Is Chance! is a hugely bravething. There are nine ways this book could have failed and oneway that it could have worked, and I think you found the onethat worked.
Oh, thank you.
When, in the course of writing the book did the structure ofthe book become apparent to you? I can't separate the storyfrom the structure in my mind, which means you did it well.How did that take shape?
Wow, thank you so much. That's what every writer wants to hear.I guess I don't really know how to answer that.
I think that the Our Town thing is just like it'sdescribed in the book: I really had done a lot of research, andmet a lot of people, and been up to Anchorage. I knew a lot bythe time I finally brought myself to read Our Town —for a number of reasons. One is because I didn't think it wasgoing to be that cool; I thought it was just this hokey play.
So, when I did finally read it, and I got to that first partwhere the stage manager character just offhandedly tells theaudience that this kid that's on stage delivering papers isgoing to die in a war, I was gobsmacked by it, because that wasthe experience I was having reading about all these accounts ofthe time. I was just Googling people, one-by-one, and not to becrass about it but there's a body count that you just see prettystarkly. Like, "Okay. He's dead. She's dead." And yousee how they died, and you just get the ending to all thesestories.
So, I felt like that stage manager is really the onlyrepresentation I've ever seen of this phenomenon that I'mhaving, and what luck that it also happened to have a place inthe story itself.
So, I think I knew right away that I could do that in the story,that there'd be something really powerful about just quicklyflashing forward and seeing, "Where are they now?"
Honestly, I was a little ignorant. Some of the parallels didescape me. It didn't even occur to me until pretty late that Iwas telling a story that took place on three different days, andOur Town was a story that took place on three differentdays.
You're asking me about mechanical things that, I think, it'seasy to articulate after — you can come up with reasons why theywork. But I don't know. It just seems like it should be thatway, and then you try to do it that way in the best way you can.And then hopefully, it works.
It didn't work for everyone, I can tell you that.
Sure. It's a pretty bold move, so, of course, there are goingto be people who are going to take issue with it.
I think the trick is it didn't seem bold, because it just seemedlike the best way to do this.
I don't talk about writing a lot so it's hard for me to know ifI'm making any sense.
It makes total sense to me. In the first few pages, youintroduce a couple of characters and then explain how theywere going to die, many years in the future. It was a littlejarring at first, but there's also something very tender andintimate about having that information right off-the-bat. Andreading a book about a disaster and knowing that these peopledon't die because of the disaster is a little bit of goodnews, too. It was really striking. And I didn't realize howmuch that experience of reading mimicked your research for thebook until you just said that.
The bit you're talking about is with these two radiobroadcasters. One of them is Ty Clark, a very suave Don Draperfigure of the station. And right after I tell you that he dies,the next thing that happens is, he's on the radio, ecstaticallycalling this dog race.
I felt like there was an emotional thing that happened to mewhen I held those two facts up next to each other in my mind,and that really seemed to be the emotions that people werehaving after the earthquake, too.
There's this feeling after disasters, and I think some peopleare having it now too, where you just look around at things thatyou took for granted, and realize that they're fleeting, andthat they're precious, and that they're unimportant. But they'reso vital.
I think you get that same thing when you consider a singleperson's life in its entirety. It's a feeling I was trying towrite about, because people felt this at the time of the quake,and I felt in the process of researching it. And so I just wantto get people to feel it as they're reading, too.
Was Genie always at the center of the story?
Yeah. 100%, absolutely. She was definitely the center, and ifanything, she became less central to this story as I learnedabout other people that I wanted to include, and otherstorylines I wanted to follow.
I learned about the quake and about Genie, I think, almost atthe same time. I found this report that she'd compiled after thequake, where she collected people's experiences: They would justsay what happened during those four-and-a-half minutes of theearthquake for them.
And I knew that she had been on the radio all weekend becausethis was written up in her little bio with the report. And italso said that her family had recorded some of those broadcasts.And that was what set me off, was just trying to find thosetapes. As someone who writes true stories, any time that youhave an inkling that there's some big cache of detailedmaterial, you want to go chase it.
This story is not quite at the edge of living memory, butit's getting there. Somebody trying to write this book in 20years would have had a much more difficult time than you had,obviously. Did you feel at any point like you were racingagainst time to get these stories for the book?
Yeah, I felt that almost every day. It was very unsettling,actually, for two reasons. One is, because you feel the storyslipping away. Literally, people were dying as I was writing thebook. There were definitely two very important interviews that Idid, and those two men did not live to see the book finished.
There were others as well. I had the experience in Anchoragewhere I was having coffee with a really important source for thebook, the son of Bram, the owner of KENI. I said, "I'mreally desperate to find contemporaries of Genie, if there's anyleft — any people who knew her as equals." And he said,"You might try Ermalee Hickel." She was Wally Hickel'swife; he was a big Alaskan businessman and politician.
I wrote the name down, and the next morning I woke up in myhotel, I went downstairs to the lobby, and on the front page ofthe newspaper was an obituary for Ermalee Hickel. She had justdied the previous day.
There were definitely uncanny experiences like that.
And then, even when I would find a lot of these people, I wouldoften have much more detailed knowledge about what they had doneand said during the earthquake than they could remember. BecauseI had these interviews that they had done at the time, thesevery exhaustive interviews with sociologists, for example, orthe interviews that Genie had done.
It's not because they're 85 that they can't remember, it'sbecause it was 50-something years ago. They could have the bestmemory in the world, but they're not going to remember what timethey showed up at the police station on a Saturday morning.
So, it did feel like the story was slipping away. And then,also, to be totally honest it made me uncomfortable to feelthat. Because it almost felt like hubris: like, "if I don'ttell this story, it's going to be lost forever!" That kindof thing. And that didn't sit well with me, either.
When you were talking to somebody and they were counteringtheir own narrative from before, did you feel the need tocorrect them, or did you let them go? Do you let them livewith the version they have in their head?
Oh, that's interesting. No, I don't think there was ever ascenario where I was ruining something for anyone. I thinkmostly they just didn't remember. So, I would tell them, andthey'd go, "huh." Or, "Okay, sure. If you sayso."
There definitely were cases where people told me things thatthey remembered very clearly that I could prove were not true.And I guess in those cases, I didn't push it. Because also,maybe I am wrong. But there wasn't anything of suchgreat consequence, where I felt like I was robbing anything ofanyone.
I should also say that those people were really still valuablepeople to talk to, because they could tell me just about whatlife was like in Anchorage, even if they didn't rememberparticular details about the narrative. I learned so much fromthem about what it was like to live there at that time, what itwas like to live in the four-and-a-half minutes of the quake.Which everyone remembered perfectly.
Independent audiobook service Libro.fm is looking to hireten laid-off booksellers to bring to their team for rolesincluding sales, proofreading, and experts-in-residence inkid's books and fiction.They are accepting applications through tomorrow.
If you're looking for something unique to read, you shouldknow that Push/Pull in Ballard has put a lot of itsinventory online. It's nowa very large online storefrontfull of zines, small-press books, artwork by local artists,pins, and more.
Our thoughts today are withBarnes & Noble warehouse workers in New Jersey, who are currently striking to demand increased workplaceprotections against coronavirus.
Chloe Aridjis's novel Sea Monsters isthe winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The judge's statement praised the book as "a stunningexploration of the ways its brilliant teenage narrator’sinterior and exterior worlds are both fluid and inopposition. This dreamlike near-fable of equal partsphilosophical and intellectual vigor is a book unlike anyother; a true standout and a gift for these times in whichwe are all craving escape.”
April7, 2020, at 11am
"“Let’s go around the table,” my new friend Ryann is saying when I approach our regular group for dinner. Like Zelda, Ryann is an orphan. The government must have some orphan recruitment initiative. “Who would each of you choose, if you were given the choice?”"
April isNational Poetry Month. Normally, we run a Poet in Residence during April. But giventhe situation in the world, with millions of people stayinghome, we thought doing something more democratic might beinteresting.
We're asking poets to submit works about the coronavirus,however you might interpret that (in fact, our last Poet inResidence, Arianne True,left us with one such poem). We want work that you have written while being stuck athome.
It's worth acknowledging that being at home does not make oneproductive. Many have responded to the stress and anxiety ofthis time by not producing art, and that's an okay response. Wehope you are safe and taking care of yourself.
But for those of you are channeling your experience into yourcraft, we'd like you to share. Thank you for entrusting us withyour work.
If all that sounds acceptable to you,please submit your work here. Thank you!
Sponsor Sophia Gallegos has brought her harrowing retelling ofthe July 16, 1918 overthrow of the last Tsar of Russia. InMashka: the Unlocked Secrets of an Imprisoned TeenageRoyal, she turns her narrative eye to the Tsar's middle child, MariaNikolaevna.
Just nineteen when the revolution came, her father was takeninto custody and the family was sent to a residential prisonruled by the vengeful Ural Soviet. Inside the Ipatiev House, thefamily struggles to adapt, and survive.
Gallegos has captured the last hours of the infamous familythrough the eyes of Maria, casting a narrative, fictional lighton mysterious events that have been speculated on for a century.
It's thanks to sponsors like Gallegos that keep independentoutlets like the Seattle Review of Books running. Ifyou're interested in how you could become a sponsor,you can find out more here, includingour weekly rates.
April6, 2020, at 11am
"That night, I don’t sleep. Part of it is excitement. I’m also terrified that if I fall asleep I’ll wake up and my leg will be gone. So I spend the night beneath thin sheets, running my right foot up and down its new mate, toes dancing on graphene-coated bone and memorizing the curves of the blade."
Catherynne M. Valente's sci-fi comedy "about an intergalactic battle of the bands " found a place on Seattle Public Library's list of uplifting books to read during quarantine because it "is perhaps operatic in scope (in a comic vein, at least) but is more rock than opera."
Theo, a bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books, says this first novel by Adam Ehrlich Sachs reads "like a deliriously convoluted yet impeccably timed joke"
Laura at Elliott Bay Book Company says Ursula K. LeGuin's collected novellas "span multiple genres and, taken together, make a great introduction to the career of an incredible writer."
If you have some yoga experience, King County Library recommends the audio version of Shiva Ree's Yoga Sanctuary"A Guided Hatha Yoga Practice for Home and on the Road because it's "a great advantage not to have to look at a screen while balancing your poses!"
Open Books's Gabrielle Bates asks in her recommendation for José Olivarez's poetry collection: "What and who is home? What and who is lineage? How to navigate the in-between spaces of nationhood, body, and cultural identity?"
Wendee at Queen Anne Book Company says Ross Gay's collection of 102 short essays about delight is just what you need: "These days, who wouldn’t appreciate a collection of essays that makes us feel good," she asks?
We return once more to the Seattle Public Library's uplifting books list for new author Cat Sebastian's The Soldier's Scoundrel, in which a "familiar Regency opposites-attract romance becomes something freshly seductive."
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.
I am living for 3 months at an artist residency in Memphis, Tennessee. People in the arts abound here, all of whom I’ve known only a matter of weeks. This moment confuses me. Who do I ask to choose post-its? Which of these myriad artistic strangers should peruse my pages of suddenly exposed intimacies, peer into my brain’s late-night privacies, where are our boundaries in a place like this. It’s fine with you—I’m not standing next to you—I don’t see you seeing me. But all this is an illusion because that was when I sent these off for publication at the beginning of March, now I’m still in Memphis but no one is in my vicinity, this place all closed-up. Back in the time of being-here-pre-pandemic I dealt with my boundaries conundrum by asking 4 different people to each choose a single post-it. While fancier and fussier, this method also somehow seemed lower pressure. I asked the people I’d spent the most time with, not other residents—rather locals, casual colleagues who were delighting my days with random banter, sudden honesty, strange commonalities, smiling generosities, punches of laughter, the occasional 1997 made-for-TV musical. Ash at the closed-for-now cafe makes visual art and co-owns a video store / music venue across the street; something about her moody-humor-witchy-movie-nerd vibe made my mid90s-teen-queer-in-Seattle self feel like I understood where I was. Her since-high-school buddy Tori works the morning shift at the cafe and is trying to find her way back into art making, after years focused on her kids. She returned in the evening during Ash’s shift to choose post-its; Tori stating immediately that she would definitely choose the snails but also needed to see every single one anyway, Ash following along for a time till settling confidently, pleasingly characteristically, on demons. After picking carefully through all of 2019 and up to the present, Tori kept her word and stuck with the snails, I’m learning a love of snails really brings people together. Ash said, “this is perfect, I’ve been thinking about my demons a lot.” She and Tori then admitted they are very different kinds of witches, we all laughed, Tori’s powers are only for other people. When I made that post-it I’d misread the usual “confront” somewhere as “comfort” and was so sad to find it was no one’s genius, just my eyes’ mistake. I wanted to keep the mistake forever, nothing about me wants an argument. COMFORTING IS EVERYTHING; my demons are anxious. But then I get on the plane and land somewhere else, in wintry Idaho to suddenly visit a cousin as the case may be, transitions never as terrifying as the night before, and look where I find myself. We’re all hidden all over the place. Joy chose that one at the end of the night, she said she’d explain why later, and then everyone left. Joy does public engagement for the arts organization and writes fiction and leads clever free Saturday art workshops and talking with her incited the most expansively pummeling waves of aforementioned laughing. That laughter was STEALTHY and SERIOUS, ALL-CONSUMING and a LITTLE BIT DANGEROUS because I’d often stop by her desk when I meant to be on my way to the bathroom. Danielle, who curates projects at the adjacent high school where I was working, chose first and fastest, earlier that afternoon. Danielle is an amazingly helpful facilitator of all things arts, while also maintaining an air of elusiveness that pulls off the hilarious (to even herself, I think) trick of being both low-key and ironclad. She wanted to see the smallest number post-its, just the month that I’d been there at that point, laughed at several, grabbed the wrong horoscope. I think that’s where I’ll choose to disappear.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s mostvexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation tosend your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to readerotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questionsto firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello! I am feeling very helpless at the moment with all thecoronavirus pandemic unfolding around me. I still have a dayjob, I can work from home, and my housing is secure, so Iacknowledge my privilege here.
I want to use that privilege to help others, but every time Iopen my social media feeds I feel like I'm getting a firehoseof desperation right to my face. Everybody needs money rightnow, and not just the usual charitable organizations. Everybookstore I shop from needs money. The booksellers at thosebookstores need money, and many of them have been laid off.Local artists need money. Local charities need money. Localarts organizations need money.
I don't have that much money to give, but I've got some. I'vealready bought big gift certificates from a few localbusinesses as investments into their future, but I just don'tknow if I'm doing the right thing. Is it better to spread whatI have around, or should I be looking to make the biggestimpact? Should I be giving to arts organizations, or should Ibe giving to charities that are actively saving people'slives?
Just tell me what to do, please, Cienna.
Sheltered in Place
Take a deep breath, make yourself a quarantini (two shots ofhand sanitizer steeped with your favorite Tic Tacs) and try tounpucker yourself.
It's true: people are exceptionally needy in these uncertaintimes. Unless you've been preparing for global catastrophe foryears – unless you've got a bunker full of wedding dressespurchased online from bitter divorcees that can be reconstitutedas toilet paper OR as wedding dresses for the farm animalsyou've also been hoarding in your bunker and need to see marriedoff ASAP because NO ONE lives in SIN under your dirt roof NOSIR!!! – well then, you might be shitting exclamation pointsright about now.
Me? I am living my best underground life. As a child, I wasgiven boxes full of honeybees for Christmas. It taught meresiliency and to never shake presents.
Take another deep drink of that quarantini. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Now then: what you're doing is great. Continue buying giftcertificates to book stores.Consider donating to an arts relief fund. Oran emergency relief fund to help restaurant employees(and restaurants). The thing to remember is, there is nodonation too small. Just find a cause that feels right to youand support it.
And remember: money is precious but so is your time. There aremany people in the world who aren't thriving in a bunker,wondering if it's unethical to marry a horse to a goat withouteither of their consent. (And arguing with herself about whomakes the prettier bride.)
Chances are, you know at least one person who is suffering inisolation, who is stir crazy or lonely or scared or depressed atthe news they can't seem to stop reading. Call your friends.Send them books. Reach out. Write them letters!
Money is not always the solution, sometimes your time meansmore.
Or, you know, bee boxes are fun.
I have a friend whose 28th birthday is in early April, andher boyfriend broke up with her in January, so she's beensheltering in place on her own. What's the best book to sendas a gift for someone who will likely be entirely alone as sheenters her late 20s?
That depends – is she still weepy about it or did she think toherself "that fucker beat me to it"?
If she's sensitive and needs an uplifting read, I suggest:
Fly Girls, a nonfiction book on five women who made aviation history,which might be a nice change of scenery during social isolation.
The Story of My Lifeby Helen Keller. Read about her life and wallow in the shamefulknowledge that some days it's too hard to put on pants thatbutton.
If your friend is in a bitter-but-funny headspace, here are afew fun options:
April3, 2020, at 11am
"Medic 13 is attached to the hospital. I dread it. Not because the therapists are terrible or anything, but I’m usually the only person in there, unless someone has twisted an ankle or something minor. It’s quiet, cold and lonely. I’d even take Shanna’s resentful presence next to me at this point."
Happy 215th Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen! Born today in1805, the prolific Danish writer is best known for hisre-telling of fairy tales, Andersen wrote novels, and many formsof non-fiction.
"There was a proud Teapot, proud of being made of porcelain,proud of its long spout and its broad handle. It had somethingin front of it and behind it; the spout was in front, and thehandle behind, and that was what it talked about. But itdidn't mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was rivetedand full of defects, and we don't talk about our defects --other people do that. The cups, the cream pitcher, the sugarbowl -- in fact, the whole tea service -- thought much moreabout the defects in the lid and talked more about it thanabout the sound handle and the distinguished spout. The Teapotknew this."
—?from "The Teapot"
Every month, Olivia Waite pulls back the covers, revealing thevery best in new and classic romance. We’re extending a hand toyou. Won’t you take it?
Olivia is on break thismonth, so we're using this time to re-run one of her earlycolumns. In fact,it's her very first from 2017. Enjoy!
Every first Thursday, this column will showcase four new romancereleases and one revered classic or foundational influence fromyears past. All five books will end with a Happily Ever After,or at least a Happy For Now. (HEA and HFN for short — and nowyou’re in the know.) Many of these romances will be historicals;many will be LGBTQ; many will have a paranormal or SFF setting.Sometimes we’ll have all those things in one book, because Ilike all those things and romance is generous and full of gifts.Some books will be sugar-sweet with a single delicate kiss atthe end; others will be hot enough that just cracking the coverwill set off all the smoke alarms in a three-block radius.
No children will be imperilled, no women assaulted simply forshock value. The dogs will always live.
It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve loved this genre all my life. Istole my first romance novel from my mom’s shelf at the age offive – a kinky space opera romp by Johanna Lindsey. ImagineJupiter Ascending starring Slave Leia and Conan theBarbarian, and you’ll have the general idea. Mom, appalled, tookthe book away when I was only halfway through. It took me tenpre-internet years to find another copy and get to that happyending, but I did it. Romance readers: we’re unstoppable.
And I kept going. I read Julie Garwood in high school, JuliaQuinn in college, and Jeannie Lin in grad school. I sold myfirst romance manuscript a year after graduating, watched mypublisher go down in flames five years later, and startedself-publishing my backlist in between writing longread analysesof individual books. You know, for fun. I have more romances onmy shelves than I can possibly ever read, and more ideas forromance novels than I can ever write.
A mystery is at heart about justice, just as a science fictionstory is about envisioning the future and fantasy is aboutimagining worlds profoundly different than the one we inhabit.Romance is the only genre whose formula is specifically andexclusively about people: the characters are strangers at thebeginning and lovers at the end.
Romance novels are important because people are important.
And romance novels are at the center of a lot of people’s lives.Last week, on the farther coast, two thousand romance authorsand industry professionals gathered for the Romance Writers ofAmerica’s annual national conference. This is not a fan event,but a professional one. Authors bought old friends rounds at thebar and swapped marketing tips with editors and self-publishers.They are mostly women, and along with all the craft and businessworkshops, they talked about feminism, about race and systemicbias in publishing, about disability and queerness and genderand religion. They have a great deal to say about women’s placein history, in literary culture, in the modern world and in thefuture.
Romance novels are good fun, and romance novels are bigbusiness. It’s a fascinating tangle of passion and money andmeaning, and I’m so happy to be here to talk about it.
The Ruin of a Rakeby Cat Sebastian (Avon Impulse: m/m historical)
Lord Courtenay is appallingly gorgeous, shockingly lewd, andsocially outcast. Julian Medlock is upright, prim, and polishedwithin an inch of his life. Each man openly loathes what theother stands for — so it’s a good thing for the romance thatthey’re both such frauds. This is a story about peeling backlayers, about the walls people put up to defend theirtoo-squishy hearts, about taking risks and making mistakes andtrying again. Also the best example ofsex-scenes-as-character-twist I’ve seen recently. If you likediscovering the nurturing side of a Byronic hero, or watching apriggish accountant-type verbally cut someone to ribbons in hislover’s defense, this is your book.
Julian felt about Courtenay’s looks the way radicals thoughtabout money: that it was deeply unfair and problematic for oneperson to possess such a disproportionate share.
Rogue Desireanthology by Adriana Anders, Dakota Gray, Amy Jo Cousins, EmmaBarry, Stacy Agdern, Jane Lee Blair, Ainsley Booth, and TamsenParker (self-published: contemporary, various heatlevels).
If you’re looking for escapist fluff you won’t find it here —the tone of this resistance-themed anthology is unsubtle, raw,anxious, and fierce by turns. Future historians and critics ofromance fiction will make much of the way a certain orangemalevolence lurks unnamed in the subtext. At times this book, soviscerally of-the-moment, poked too hard at wounds that arestill raw and tender. At other times, though, the sublime gleamsthrough. High points include Jane Lee Blair’s true-heartedpastor hero who cusses with sailor fluency, and Tamsen Parker’ssharp-sweet final story featuring a Jewish heroine whose workingtitle was, no joke, “Hate-Pegging Conservative Josh Lyman.”Anthologies are always useful for testing out new-to-youauthors, whether you like your books heavy on the sizzle (DakotaGray) or populated by policy nerds (Emma Barry, who provided theadvance copy. She knows my weaknesses far too well).
There was no excuse not to hold on with both hands when youfound love. They’d work the rest out. First, though, they hadto get through the sedition.
Havenby Rebekah Weatherspoon (self-published: eroticcontemporary).
Rebekah Weatherspoon writes some of the best sex scenes around(and now has the Lambda Award to prove it). Her latest is thestory of a smart-mouthed Manhattan fashion buyer and a surly,bearded tree of a mountain man: bonded by a shocking tragedy,they try to work out their tangled emotions through dark,beautifully nasty sex. It’s a terrible idea and everyone knowsit, including our hero and heroine. This is BDSM romance for theadvanced set, by an absolute mistress of the genre — the sex iscertainly kinky, but the real danger is in the feelings. Thiscouple’s story is like watching an avalanche in slow-motion:grand, strangely beautiful, and terrifying. I have read moreextreme scenarios (Tiffany Reisz, anyone?) but never had myheart in my mouth quite this much. Readers in search of whatslinks in the shadowy corners of the heart (and associatedorgans) will find this memorable and satisfying; those in searchof less-intense fare should check out the candy-coatedSugar Babynovella trilogy or the juicy, queer-centric, pulpy fun of theVampire Sorority Sistersseries. (Rebekah createdWOCinRomanceto promote books written by women of color; I am both a Patreonsupporter and a member of the monthly book club.)
“Push back turning you on?” she says as she slips on her bra.“A little bit.” “I mean, I can make today a living hell foryou, you just say the word, Master Shep.”
Hoodwinked Heartsby Ainslie Paton (Carina Press: contemporary)
Everything in this heist romance is dialed up to eleven. Imaginea thousand Leverage fanfics piled up high, covered inglitter and set on fire. Hero Cleve Jones is a master burglarand lifelong conman. Heroine Aria Harp is the one person he’snever lied to: his mentor’s rebellious daughter, ashaved-headed, scorpion-tattooed identity thief (!) with amile-high chip on her shoulder. The story is brief and fiery andrough as a striking match. The prose is hyperbolic and luxuriouswith occasional sharp shocks of electric truth. At one pointthere is an extended theft-and-fart-joke scene that does forflatulence what Wodehouse does for hangovers. Ainslie Paton maywell be allergic to literary restraint, but let’s not offer tocure her until she’s written a few more books.
Cleve didn’t duck. He said the words Aria warned him not tosay, “I love you,” then he stood there like a stone monumentto men too smart to know better, so she swung at him andconnected with his jaw.
Your Scandalous Waysby Loretta Chase
This was the first Loretta Chase I read and it upended all mythoughts on what heroines could be/do in a Regency romance.
Even if she’s embroiled in some light scandal, the typicalRegency heroine is virginal, earnest, and morally abovereproach. Francesca Bonnard is none of those things. Not sinceher titled husband broke her heart, ruined her name, anddivorced her by act of Parliament. Now Francesca is a notoriouscourtesan in Venice, seducing the crowned heads of the Continentand wearing spectacular jewelry and low-cut gowns to the operafive nights a week. Her first POV line is a showstopper:“Penises. Everywhere.”
Due to the scandal of divorce, Francesca is an exile, and shepines for the glitter and social whirl of London lost. It’s asthough she’s grieving the loss of the romance-novel story of herfirst marriage — the ballrooms, the aristocratic suitor, thedazzling courtship. Francesca is an ex-heroine as much as she isan ex-wife.
Nevertheless, at the novel’s end, Francesca is once againwedded, wealthy, titled, and planning parties for the height ofthe Season. She is, after all, still the heroine ofthis romance novel. The text never punishes her for hersins or forces her into a humiliating repentance: instead,everything that British society holds against her (manipulatingcallow young royals, seducing the hot jewel thief next door,refusing to let men boss her around) helps her get to thissecond, better HEA. She may be a fallen women, but she’s neitherbroken nor weak.
It’s downright inspiring.
April2, 2020, at 11am
"Every cadet on campus is assigned a job – upper cadets get the plumest jobs. They are campus guards, teacher assistants and drill sergeants in training. Nobody’s quite sure what us rookies will be stuck with. Maybe I’ll be emptying trash cans after all."
Yesterday, comic shop point-of-sale software developer ComicHub announced a plan to save the brick-and-mortar comic book store model. (And as Heidi MacDonald noted at The Beat, the plan was not an April Fool's gag.)
The idea is rough at the moment, but it would involve customers buying print editions of comics from their local comics shops, which would then be delivered once the distribution and printing mechanisms went back to work, post-coronavirus. Buying those print editions would give the customers immediate unlimited access to digital editions of the books, hosted on ComicHub. So, basically, customers would be buying print editions of comics on credit while getting digital access to comics immediately, and the revenue streams for comic shops would stay open.
Of course, there's a lot of questions about this plan: Can it scale to satisfy global reader demand? Can ComicHub convince every shop and publisher in the industry to agree to this model? Will the reading experience be enjoyable enough to keep people's interests? Will brick-and-mortar retailers — typically a pretty tech-phobic bunch of people —?shy away from the possibility of training their customers into reading digital comics? It seems like if the answer to any of these questions is "no," the whole emergency model falls apart in a huge way.
It's noteworthy that bookshops aren't having this problem. I ordered a new release from Third Place Books last week and got it in the mail within two days —?in part because unlike comic shops, bookstores enjoy the capacity to order and receive books from multiple distributors.
The one distributor to every comics shop in the country, Diamond, announced this week that they'll be unable to pay the money they owe to various small comics publishers. This could cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the comics industry from the bottom up. Can a digital distribution model created from scratch in a few weeks make up for Diamond'scollapse? Unclear.
But at this point, it's pretty clear that the comics industry as we know it won't survive unless the people in power get creative about the basic problem at the heart of everything right now: how to get a comic book from creators to publishers to readers, with as little friction as possible. Without that elemental part of the equation solved, everything else will fall apart.
Short Run isposting short coronavirus-themed comics (many by localcartoonists) on their Tumblr. Here's hoping this is the first step toward a CoronavirusComix anthology in time for this year's Short Run Festival.
Seattle City of Literature has assembleda list of coronavirus-related resources for the literarycommunity.
Tomie dePaola, the author of the Strega Nona series ofchildren's books,passed away yesterday at the age of 85.
At leastDolly Parton will read bedtime stories to usfor the next ten weeks.
April1, 2020, at 11am
"After a few minutes, they break us into groups of 50 cadets, each assigned to a wrestling ring. The rules are simple: two plebes enter the ring; first one who crosses the line loses. Unlike at the hospital, though, the winner stays in the circle and keeps choosing their opponents until they’re beaten.'Then the champion of the rings will each compete until we have a winner,' FL Stewart explains to the crowd. 'And that winner will receive a prize.'"
Last month, Melbourne bookseller Ellen Cregan came to Seattle aspart of a bookseller exchange program founded by Melbourne Cityof Literature and supported by Seattle City of Literature.Cregan, who isthe marketing and events director at Melbourne's Readingsbookshop, worked at Third Place Books for a weeklong residency.Unfortunately, the timing of her trip left a little to bedesired; Cregan had to return home early due to the globalcoronavirus pandemic. I had the pleasure of meeting Creganbriefly while she was here (albeit from a social distance) andfound her to be an enthusiastic and thoughtful ambassador forher city. This interview was conducted over email after Creganhad returned to Australia.
How did you get interested in bookselling?
Like many other booksellers I know, I studied Arts at university(in my case, it was literature and creative writing), andworking in a bookshop seemed like the perfect retail gig to takeme through my undergrad. I started off at a very smallindependent book shop with a slightBlack Booksvibe, but after a year there, I moved on to my current employer,Readings. I don’tactually work on the shop floor anymore -- my current role is inour marketing department. But this move to behind-the-scenes hasallowed me to learn about a totally new side of bookselling.
Why were you interested in Seattle as a destination? Did youhave any expectations of the city's literary life?
Initially, I decided on Seattle as a destination because Iwanted to see how indie bookselling worked in a place whereAmazon is so huge. In Australia, the threat of Amazon looms butit hasn’t really taken off (yet). When I did a bit more researchabout Seattle, I was also amazed by the number of small andspecialty booksellers in the city: I figured that any place ableto sustain that number of indies was bound to have a supervibrant literary scene, and that cemented my decision.
Can you talk a little bit about the plan for your visitwas?
Pre-pandemic, the plan was for me to do all sorts of things inthe shop, including sitting in on and hosting some events,visiting some local literary conferences, and spending some timewith Third Place’s schools outreach person to see what youngerreaders are into in Seattle. I was also going to check out someLibraries and other bookstores. And then beyond my week inSeattle, I had also planned to visit bookstores in other partsof the US.
And obviously, you landed just as the pandemic was reallygetting out of control here, and coronavirus's spread here andat home cut your visit short. What were some of the othereffects—were you not able to do anything that was on theitinerary that you were looking forward to?
The timing was really horrible on my trip! When I boarded theplane in Melbourne to head over to Seattle, the Australian PMwas on the news telling everyone it was still safe to go to thefootball, essentially saying it was business as usual. By thetime I’d arrived in the US, the conversation in Australia hadcompletely changed —?people were getting really scared, andthings were shutting down. I was really sad to not be able tosee any literary events. This was something I was really lookingforward to, and it was a shame that my timing was so bad withregards to this!
Further afield, the thing I’m really into that isn’tbook-related is music, and I was really keen to go out and seesome local bands play while I was in Seattle. I was also excitedto go and visit art galleries and museums and all of those fun,touristy things.
What were some highlights of your trip?
I was still able to go on a (limited) tour of Seattle’sbooksellers, guided by the very excellent Stesha Brandon fromSeattle City of Literature. This was definitely the mainhighlight. And it was actually very interesting seeing howbooksellers were adapting to not being able to trade normally —The Book Larder in North Fremont were closed to customers, andonly operating as an online store, but they were also usingtheir demonstration kitchen to cook meals for local frontlinehealthcare workers. That was really nice to see. I also got togo on a lot of really nice walks -- I’m extra glad I choseSeattle for my visit, because nature is everywhere, and thelockdown didn’t extend to the walking trails.
Bearing in mind that you didn't have the full experience,were there any big differences between bookselling in Seattleand bookselling in Melbourne?
There seems to be much more positivity from booksellers inSeattle than in Melbourne. I met so many enthusiastic careerbooksellers at Third Place, and that’s sadly not something I seeso often in Melbourne. Seattle booksellers seem more hopefulabout the future, despite recognising the challenges faced bythe industry. And the Seattle booksellers I met were much morewilling to be nerdy in a wholesome and unrestrained way —bookselling in Melbourne feels like more of an outwardly trendypursuit.
Did you find any new books from your trip here?
I bought so many books on my trip, especially after I learnt Iwas going home early. I got some great recommendations fromThird Place booksellers (The Bookish Life of Nina Hillwas an amazing balm for my long and stressful flight home), andI also just bought a bunch of things from the new releases tablethat I hadn’t seen yet at home. As well as this, I bought somezines fromLeft Bank Books,which is something I like to do in any city I visit -- I thinkzines give such a great little portrait of the localliterary/arts community.
Were there any experiences that you didn't get to in yourtrip that you'd like to get around to on a returntrip?
I definitely want to come back and see some literary eventshappen! And also see the libraries in action -- everyone I metin Seattle spoke so highly of the city’s library system.
Is there anything you'd like Seattle's literary community toknow about you? About Melbourne?
Well for me: I was so impressed by the city, even as it wasoperating under a pandemic! And for Melbourne: it’s far away butworth a visit. I think Melbourne and Seattle actually have somuch in common (lots of bookstores, a deep love of coffee,temperamental weather) and many Seattlites would feel right athome in Melbourne.
Are there any authors from your home that you're particularlyproud of that you want us to fall in love with, too?
Well first of all, that Australian (and Melbournian) writing isreally excellent. Australians hold onto a lot of culturalcringe, and can tend to be quite self-deprecating, so the factthat we produce so much great writing can get lost under our ownnegative chatter. Some of my absolute favourite Aussie writersare:Robbie Arnott,Jane Rawson, Krissy Kneen, JamieMarina Lau (whose book iscoming out in the US via Coffee House Press very soon!) andJennifer Down.
March 31, 2020, at 11am
"The comms band is how they keep track of us. It’s also how they communicate with us and how we can communicate with each other. (It also tells time, so I wasn’t totally wrong.) It still feels weird to wear it, though. When we went to war with China, it became patriotic to hate technology, since they made all of it. Once their government began using our phones like homing beacons for their bombs, the smashing parties started."
This country has a way of forgetting
the dead. Of making me forget, too.
I read about other places
where dead are visited and headstones washed,
places where altars bring them home to us
once a year or always. Growing up, I heard
not to breathe passing graveyards – or what?
No one ever said. I’ve only stopped doing it
this year. I don’t know where my three
gone grandparents are, not their remains.
The fourth wants to be ash on the ocean.
I have never been to the grave of someone
I knew and we have no place in our homes
for our dead. They find places to come anyway,
out and around, Chloe chuckling at me on a bus
over the University Bridge, Kim-An by my desk
or driving out of town. Mark and Ed, Nadine.
We have no idea what to do with the bodies.
They end up chemical in corners by the highway
with the soft feet of caretakers, the held breath
of passing children. It is most of a forgetting.
We left the dead behind to come here. My people,
too. A decade on foot, guns and graves at our backs,
graves at our feet, who visits them?
I haven’t yet. And the tall northern villagers who
came on steamships, the bodies, flowers, songs
now an ocean away. My dead lie trailside and across
the salt ocean, becoming lands I have never walked.
Don’t have the right names for. Hope to tread,
and will tread with reverence. Will breathe
when I pass, and will pause. Will trust the hands I feel
at my back, dozens, almost solid where
they make contact. Of course we have broken
how to be with death when the old earth
of their bodies is too far to fall to. Nowhere
to kneel and keen. Sometimes no names to
call, or the wrong words to call them in. Losses
we can’t name in the language they happened.
Today, I am scared for names I know, loss I’m afraid
to become fluent in. Under which tender bodies,
whose palms I have pressed to my lips, graves may open.
But this week, after months of blue fingertips,
there is just enough warmth in the damp spring
to leave the window open a breath at night
and wake up every morning, when we do wake up,
SponsorHandheld Press hasre-issued Vonda N McIntyre's debut novel from 1975,The Exile Waiting. It establishes the world made famousin her beloved novel Dreamsnake, a post-apocalypticworld, following the thirteen year-old sneak thief Mischa,struggling to support her addicted and complicated brother anduncle.
Also included is a reproduction of McIntyre's short story"Cages", first published in Quark 4, in 1972.
Whether you dip in to re-read a favorite classic, or to discoverthe early work of one of SF's most unique and powerful voices,The Exile Waiting will show exactly why McIntyre wonboth the Nebula and Hugo for her writing.
We've published a full chapter on our sponsor's page, so read before you purchase, if you would like.
But Handheld Press also wants to support our stores, and wouldlike you to considerpurchasing the book from Island Books, on Mercer Island. Support a local business, and receive acopy of a wonderful debut novel by one of Seattle's mostinfluential and unforgettable writers.
The Book Larder has started to post recommendations on Instagram, including the new cookbook Bakerita: 100+ No-Fuss Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Refined Sugar-Free Recipes for the Modern Baker by Rachel Conners.
Janis at Queen Anne Book Company calls EJ Koh's memoir The Magical Language of Others "Gorgeous, lyrical, painful, poignant and hopeful."
Paper Boat Booksellers is closed for the next few days, but on Instagram, a Paper Boat bookseller called The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai "my latest obsession," adding that it's "a really great book to read over this time home."
Vel, "employee number one" at Ada's Technical Books on Capitol Hill, recommends James Gleick's great biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. It's a stunning and accessible portrait of a troubled pioneer in quantum mechanics.
"Llewellyn likes to collect small, ordinary things," Ravenna Third Place Books bookseller Halley writes about In a Jar, a children's book by Deborah Marcero. "One day, while collecting the cherry red syrup light of a sunset, he meets Evelyn and together they collect feathers and buttercups, the sound of the ocean, and the long shadows of summer."
Rachael at Elliott Bay Book Company praises a new edition of Dodie Smith's classic coming-of-age novel I Capture the Castle for its " immersive experience" and "very witty writing style.
Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique features Abbott, a comic written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivela about "Hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott" who investigates the supernatural circumstances of her husband's death.
March 29, 2020, at 11am
"They give me a roommate and a leg, but neither is quite what I wanted. The leg is a simple plastic peg-like thing that straps to a girdle-like harness I wear around my waist. I’m disappointed; it is nothing like the intricate machinery of First Lieutenant Stewart – or FL Stewart, as I hear others call him. I can’t run with this leg."
March 28, 2020, at 11am
"'You,' she says, pointing at me. She motions to the chair. I’m irritated – this is the worst possible day to be late to PT."
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s mostvexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation tosend your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to readerotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questionsto email@example.com.
I read once that books made in the twentieth century withcheap pulp and bad glue would fall apart much sooner than oldbooks, using good paper and good bindings.
What books will you miss most when they're gone, and whichones would you read that stuck around, if the book apocalypseever comes?
Sandor, University District
The book apocalypse is here. It rode in on the shoulders ofCOVID-19, closing libraries and other "non-essential"businesses like bookstores across the country. (Do not get mestarted on the "essential-ness" of certain businesses.Marijuana stores are about as essential as Tweeze Parlors andPottery Barns.) You can't even return library books in my town.They don't want their filthy sneeze trappers back.
So here I am, without any new reading material, self-isolatingwith a thousand pessimistic spiders. Any time I am hungry orbored, they tell me to eat my young. And thanks to a nation ofwildly misplaced concern, I am now out of toilet paper. (Thatincludes my diploma from Prepper U, which was also printed ontoilet paper.)
If you'd like me to put sprinkles on this turd and call itdessert, the one upside is that I have the time to dig throughmy library and revisit old favorites. Here are a few upbeat onesI'd recommend right now:
If you have human children you have not yet consumed, I alsorecommend:
March 27, 2020, at 11am
"In the five or so months I’ve been in PT, some patterns have emerged. For instance, you can tell when the brass is scheduled for a walk-through because the floor becomes slick with clean, and even the handprints on the walls look slightly buffed. This morning is one of those mornings. It amazes me that so many years after the war, the hospital is still so full. Many are vets with shaky hands and haunted eyes, but many others are young, like me. And their wounds are fresh, like mine."
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on inmystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns ontheCriminal Fiction archive page
A horribly damaging Madoff-style Ponzi scheme gyrates at theheart of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel(Knopf). Mandel’s follow-up to her terrificStation Eleven circles around the lives of two siblingsnavigating the world of haves and have-nots: Vincent is a womanwho manages to reach a pinnacle spot in the monied world; Paulstruggles to find any kind of perch for himself, finally doingso by dubious means. But nothing stays in place in thisimmersive read, and the various characters who interact withPaul and Vincent, impacting inexorably on their individualdestinies, are so vividly drawn that the novel has the feel of acharacter-collective approach rather than being solelyprotagonist-driven. From a super-savvy investor to the nefariousinvestment manager and the employees who enabled his financialswindling, and on to Vincent’s so-called best friend during herwealth-infused days, it’s the interconnections and interactionsbetween Mandel’s characters that give this novel its pliabilityand its spirit, while myriad moody settings – including adesolate containership and a forest-hidden, super-luxe hotel –contribute to its densely-layered atmosphere.
Peter Swanson does deceptively dark mysteries really well –especially when they contain gleeful elements of cosiness intheir structure. In Eight Perfect Murders (WilliamMorrow), one Malcolm Kershaw, a bookseller and crime-fictionfan, finds himself neck-deep in his own mystery: someone appearsto be using a list of, well, eight perfect murders that Malcolmpenned in an off-the-cuff moment on his bookstore’s blog yearsearlier. The round-up included grisly and twisty classics suchas Malice Aforethought, The ABC Murders,Deathtrap, Strangers on a Train, andThe Secret History, and someone appears to betaking great pleasure in replicating or referencing thosefictional killings in real life. Propulsive, perplexing andhighly satisfying through to the final nail in the coffin – soto speak – Eight Perfect Murders offers a tantalizingpiece of pretty much near-perfection in page-turning book form.
In Olen Steinhauer’s The Last Tourist (Minotaur), on a30-hour ferry across from the Canary Islands to Spain, CIAanalyst Abdul Ghali listens to an outrageous, conspiracy-leveltale, huge chunks of which encapsulate “a story from the darkside of capitalism.” Abdul’s been sent to find out what MiloWeaver, former CIA agent extraordinaire, knows about a shadowyorganization known as Massive Brigade as well as its connectionsto other internationally-flung mercenaries. Deftly sandwichingone timeline within another, Steinhauer paints a chillingpicture drawn straight from contemporary headlines: over thedays that I read the book, I sometimes had trouble separatingcircumstances in The Last Tourist from the real-lifenews, primarily because they actually appeared to be convergingin an alarming fashion. A brainy, brilliant,multiple-thrills-a-minute chase across the globe – and acrosssome of our most hallowed infrastructures – will have you eyeingtomorrow’s news with a different, discerning mindset.
Two nifty little mysteries lie at the center of AndreaCamilleri’s The Safety Net (Penguin), nimbly translatedby Stephen Sartarelli. During a manic period in the life ofVigàta, all the townsfolk are madly hunting through theirSuper-8 films from the 1950s in order to provide potentialfootage and imagery to a visiting film crew from Sweden. Oneman, Ernesto Sabatello, discovers an oddity in his attic: everyyear on a specific day, at a specific time, his father filmedthe same patch of wall. As Inspector Montalbano ponders thesecelluloid artifacts, he also gets involved in a school shooting:no one is hurt, but the motivations of the armed invaders proveelusive. In the latest instalment in his entertaining Montalbanoseries, Camilleri, who died last year, applies his old-schooldetecting to the modern mysteries of social media and the waysof young teenagers, while rhapsodizing philosophically on thevarious forms of protection that people provide for themselvesor demand of others.
In the opening pages of The Red Lotus (Doubleday) anurse, Alexis, and a hospital administrator, Austin, meetkind-of-cute during one chaotic Saturday night in the ER. Well,apart from the bullet in Austin’s arm that is – and apart fromthe fact that in a Bohjalian book, the course ofmost things, including true love, rarely runparticularly smoothly. Six months down the road, Alexis andAustin, still in their honeymoon phase, are on a biking trip inVietnam when Austin goes missing. Alexis, a formidable woman whoreadily applies her ER nursing skills to deciphering the suddenmystery, quickly becomes the most compelling voice in thisstory: with each of her discoveries, the central puzzle bothdeepens and expands. As always, Bohjalian creates a mesmerizingtale, a timely socio-political-business story with humanfrailties, illusions, dis-illusions, and strengthsfirmly at its center.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
Top five places to write?
Top five favorite authors?
Nope. Forgive me. I have too many writers who are friends. But Iwill tell you that among my top five dead writersmight be:
Top five tunes to write to?
I write in utter silence. But five songs that can inspire meare:
Top five hometown spots?
March 26, 2020, at 11am
"From there, I graduate to squatting, hopping, lunging. They strap me into machines meant to stretch and strengthen the mangled quad and hamstring of my stumpy leg. I push up. I pull up. I sit up until my abs feel torn in two. I am given two small breaks for eating. On Sundays, I get a shower."
Yesterday, my home-base comics store —?that'sPhoenix Comics & Games on Broadway — shipped me thelast week of new comics that will be available in America for awhile, along with a gift certificate that I can use when it'seventually okay to leave the house again. I can't review any ofthe books, obviously, since they're on their way to me now, soit seems like a good time to look around and see how the comicsworld is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Valiant Comics is releasing downloadable PDFs of tradepaperbacks and first issues for freein an ongoing Twitter thread that updates everyweekday. You might want to check outthe first issue of Doctor Mirage, enjoyJuan José Ryp's beautiful art in Rai #1, or check in onfan-favorite character Faith.
If you buy a gift card from your local comics shop, VaultComics will send you electronic preview versions of thefirst issue of two of their new titles, Hundred Wolves #1 and Heavy #1.
The new publisher AWA is offering the first issue of itsfirst book, The Resistance,for free to readers. I like the way they've put some thought into how to readthe comic on a web interface — rather than just dividing itup into pages, you scroll downward, losing a sense of thebook as a physical thing. Unfortunately, the plot of thebook, written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated byMike Deodato Jr., might be too much for readers right now:it's about a pandemic that wipes out 95 percent of humanity,leaving the rest with powers.
No doubt there will be more free and promotional books in theweeks to come.
At the moment, the whole comics industry is waiting to see ifpublishers will abandon comics shops and go digital-onlydistribution for the next few weeks and months while shops areclosed, and whether customers will follow if they do. I hopethey don't; at the moment the only real digital comics retaileris Comixology, which is wholly owned by Amazon. It wouldn't besmart for comics to go from one monopolistic distributor toanother, and there are too many good retailers who would not beable to survive that business transition. As with everythingelse right now, we have to wait and see.
SRoB tipper Alex let us know about #coronavirushaiku, a series of haiku shared by the Twitter handle Worker Writers School, which is an organization that provides creative writing classes to workers.
This one by Paul Hlava is especially moving:
Today’s #coronavirushaiku is from Paul Hlava, a medical technician in Seattle, Washington. Thanks to writer and union organizer @alexthegb for helping to spread the word about this project in the Seattle area. #coronavirus #covid_19 #seattle #washingtonstate #poetry @PENamerica pic.twitter.com/NZbfKR0KSM— Worker Writers School (@WorkerWriters) March 17, 2020
It seems to me that the weird time-bending qualities of this coronavirus quarantine are particularly suited to haiku: days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like years, but moments are still moments. Maybe if we make enough of the moments, if we really appreciate them for what they are in all their agony and beauty, time will start flowing again.
Now that Washington state is sheltering in place, Seattle'sindependent bookstores have taken their acts online. It's aparticularly cruel twist of fate for our booksellers, who pridethemselves on their personal touch. There's nothing like abookstore, after all, for meaningful human interactions thatremind us what's best in life.
But they soldier on. Just yesterday, I snuck in one last phoneorder in to Third Place Books and I placed an online order atElliott Bay Book Company —?both including large gift certificatepurchases that count as investments in the future of Seattle'sbookselling community. It struck me as I was buying the booksthat coronavirus has thoroughly affected my reading tastes,changing my patterns in deep ways. My purchases yesterday werecookbooks and escapist fiction, while just a few weeks ago Icouldn't read enough current events titles.
I'm not alone; in the few weeks between coronavirus's intrusioninto Seattle's daily life and today, our city's reading life hasabruptly changed course. I was talking with some booksellersover the past month about how their customers have adapted andreacted to the long periods of solitude.
At Secret Garden Books, the last real moment of normalcy wasMarch 3rd, the launch day for Hilary Mantel’s much-anticipatedThe Mirror & the Light. Secret Garden's events manager, Suzanne Perry, described aclamoring of customers that evoked memories of Harry Potter booklaunch parties, with people bunching up and ignoring the newpleas for social distancing in order to buy the final novel inMantel's Cromwell trilogy.
Third Place Books managing partner Robert Sindelar told mecoronavirus has affected the reading habits of the store’scustomers in some not-so-subtle ways. “You probably don't wantto read [Emily St. Mandel’s harrowing pandemic novel]Station 11 right now,” he laughed. Instead, Sindelarhas been encouraging customers to check out James McBride’s newnovelDeacon King Kong, which he read and loved. “It’s full of heart and it’s funnyand it’s about community — a great escape book.”
Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company, told me theexpanding coronavirus fears have inspired interest in booksabout domesticity and comfort. Alison Roman’ssimple-but-satisfying cookbookNothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Overhas been a self-quarantining bestseller, along with JennyOdell’s manifesto for slow living,How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
“I’ve been selling more fat books than usual,” Phinney Books andMadison Books owner Tom Nissley told me. Vasily Grossman’senormous novel about life in Russia during World War II,Life and Fate, has proven popular for hunkering down for a few quiet weeks.“People need a book right now that will take them somewhereelse—even if it's Stalingrad,” Nissley said.
No doubt our tastes will continue to evolve as the diseaseeventually recedes and we can emerge from our houses again. Ican't predict what will be an un-cocooning bestseller once theseweeks —?or months? — have passed. But I know that, like you,I'll be turning to Seattle's booksellers for their guidance onwhat to read next.
Artist Trust has launched a COVID-19 relief fund that is open to Washington state artists. You can see if you qualify on their submissions page.
Beloved Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney has contributed an excellent hand-washing guide to the Washington Post. It makes use of Forney's greatest talents: her friendly and explanatory style, her wondrous sense of economy, and her gorgeous illustrations of hands. Now that Steve Ditko has passed away, Forney has a claim to the greatest illustrator of hands in the business today.
Last night, Governor Inslee announced that all non-essential businesses in Washington state will close tomorrow for at least two weeks. He closed his speech by paraphrasing a passage from Whitman's "Song of Myself." Watch here:
I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalk’d in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you;
How he follow’d with them and tack’d with them three days and would not give it up,
How he saved the drifting company at last,
How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from the side of their prepared graves,
How the silent old-faced infants and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men;
All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.
March 24, 2020, at 11am
"When I open my eyes, the ceiling is smooth and bright white and I think: Prison can’t be this clean. Vivian is sitting next to me when I turn my head, which confirms I am in purgatory, not prison. I hurt and something is wrong, but it’s a faraway feeling, like shouts heard down the street."
sliced flightless swapped skyline
a swabbing tongue of
cheap vinyl spilling foam
newborn neon faded
she aches like a new mouth
her ears crack old teeth
sky blue shreds of once red crescent
flag over the open room dust
still falls and sprawls on sills
sidewalk ferns howl loud in the cold
(fiddles sprung in splits of city)
(grown even in ices white and divisive)
March 23, 2020, at 11am
"The soldiers have motorcycles. My soldier – his PO badge says “Franks” – slides on his bike and tells me to climb on, so I do. When I wrap my arms around his waist, his badge skims my wrist. I’ve never been on a motorcycle, just like I’ve never been to a farm, and I’m a bit thrilled at the adventure of it."
Kimberly at Queen Anne Book Company recommends Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, calling the story of two teens from disparate backgrounds who forge a friendship "Funny, awkward, sweet and empowering."
Jesse, who's been selling books at Elliott Bay Book Company since before I started there in the year 2000, recommends Madison Smartt Bell's All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti. He calls this novel set during the only successful slave rebellion in modern times "One of my all time favorite novels, and the best historical novel I've ever read."
Sarah at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park recommends We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, a children's book written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac. She singles the book out for spotlighting "the Cherokee practice of giving thanks as a family and as a community."
Did you know that Seattle cookbook store The Book Larder has a podcast? In the most recent episode, writer Lukas Volger talked about his new cookbook, Start Simple, which offers a bunch of recipes that all draw from the same pool of eleven simple ingredients.
Tom, the owner of Phinney Books, calls Tressie McMillan Cottom's book Thick: and Other Essays one of his favorite books from last year. He says it's packed with "funny, paradigm-shifting commentary about, among other things, the brutal cost for a black woman of being presumed incompetent and the rationality of the 'irrational" spending of the poor."
Open Books booksellers Alexander praises Donna Stonecipher’s poetry collection Transaction Histories for its obsessive attention to objects and the freewheeling association of museum exhibits.
Becky at Secret Garden Books loves Julia Baird's biography Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, a celebrated biography which follows the life of the Victorian Age's namesake.
March 22, 2020, at 11am
"I need to get close to a Peacekeeper but I don’t know how to make a Peacekeeper need me. Hell, I don’t know how to make my own family need me. My brother and sister definitely don’t need me, and Pops only needs me when he thinks I’m my dead sister."
March 21, 2020, at 11am
"Eventually, the quiet of the street returns to normal – a soft quiet comprised of sighs and whispers instead of the deafening quiet of fear. My toes, my calves, my thighs are pulsing with the insistent throb of limbs about to go on strike, so I move to stand. The runner grabs my arm and jerks me to the ground."
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. Cienna is busy reading the latest installment of Road Runner, so today's question is a re-run from 2016. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m friends with my local used bookseller. She recommends books to me, and I recommend books to her, and I sell books back to her, and everything is pretty great, for the most part. I know I’m lucky to have such a wonderful bookseller in my life.
But the other day, after I brought a big haul of books in to sell to her, my bookseller friend left a note on my Facebook wall that said, and I quote, “Stop dog earing your books!” Please bear in mind that this note came after she gave me over a hundred dollars in store credit for those books. She didn’t mention the dog-earing at all during the entire transaction while I was in the store.
It’s true that I dog-ear my books, Cienna, and I know it’s not okay. It’s a bad habit, like pulling out your own eyebrows or picking at pimples. But I feel a little hurt by the public shaming, especially considering that she’s never brought this up to my face.
Now I don’t want to go into the bookstore anymore, and I know that’s reactionary of me and more than a little silly. How do I salvage this relationship? Or should I only buy used books online from now on?
I assume your bookseller friend is a decent person because all used booksellers I’ve ever met are much better people than me – the kind of people who don’t try to lure neighborhood children into their basement just to prove what bad parents they have.
Nevertheless, even booksellers can be cowards when it comes to interpersonal confrontations. Most of us would prefer to avoid the emotional feedback we receive – the hurt, confusion, embarrassment – when we tell someone we care about something that they probably don’t want to hear. So we email them our criticisms. We text. We Facebook. And while that eliminates the special hell of an awkward interaction, our victim doesn’t get the reassurances that physical feedback provides – tone, eye contact, a smile, maybe a hug. The mostly nonverbal cues that let people know they are valued, even when being criticized.
Receiving criticism via social media feels like a slap you didn’t see coming, even if it is well-intentioned. I know the urge is to respond in kind digitally, but I don’t recommend it. I recently did this and it cost me two friendships – one human, the other a spider I had named after my friend, who I had to ritualistically kill, dismember, and mail to my ex-friend in 11 tiny envelopes.
It takes guts to confront someone about their behavior. It’s hard. But that is how strong friendships are built – in person, not over social media or texts. So this is what I suggest you do: Visit your favorite used bookstore like normal, buy a few books, and when your bookseller friend is ringing you up, say something like, “I think you owe me a happy hour drink.” When she asks why, explain to her that you were a little embarrassed and offended that she chose to criticize you over Facebook for dog-earing your books, and that in the future, you’d prefer it if she talked to you in person about the physical state of the books you bring in for trade. But that she can make it up to you with that drink.
March 20, 2020, at 11am
"The streets are quieter now, aside from the occasional rooster. A tired hush settles over shadows that seemed alive mere hours before. Under a street lamp, I catch eyes with something. At first it looks like a feral cat, the eyes are so low to the ground, so intense. Then I see the hand. He’s a thin man with no legs, just a torso propped on the ground, one large hand reaching out and pointing at me accusingly. I jerk back a little and clutch the shoes tighter, then feel ashamed. He won’t be taking my shoes."
Our bookstores have been with us for years, whenever we needthem. Now, they need us —?look atour list of ways that you can support local bookstores, and ourlist of things local comic book stores are doing as well, and find a way to give back and make sure they're around whenwe're able to visit them again in person.
LANGSTON is proud to partner with Ijeoma Oluo, Ebony Arunga, and Gabriel Teodros in support of the Seattle Artists Relief Fund. We are providing administrative support and are part of the oversight committee for the funds. We are working together to ensure artists will be paid out from the Fund as quickly as possible. If you are a Seattle area artist in need of some help please read through the link and apply via the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-artists
Now steel yourself for bad news.
When we closed our doors, we also closed off the vast majority of our business without any prospect of it returning soon. As a result, we have been forced to make the unthinkable decision to lay off the vast majority of you in the coming few days. Many people have spoken publicly demanding we pay our employees and extend health insurance for the duration. No one can possibly know how much I wish I could make that happen. We are simply not that kind of business – we run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another. We have worked hard over the years to pay the best possible wages, health care and benefits, to make contributions to our community, to support other non-profits. Unfortunately, none of those choices leave extra money on hand when the doors close. And when the doors close, every possible cost must stop as well.
We are disappointed to cancel the events, but we are currently working on ways to surface the important conversations and civic dialogue that take place during the Crosscut Festival. We will be following up with more details in the days ahead.We also plan to be back bigger and better than ever in 2021!
March 19, 2020, at 11am
"The only reason I caught Peasant the first time was because I was snooping. Sick of the view from my room, I wander into hers late one night to see what alley views the backyard holds. Instead of my sleeping 13-year-old sister tucked in her bed, I spy her out the window. She looks both ways and opens up the rusted chain link gate."
Every Wednesday, customers pour into Seattle's comic shops tobuy their favorite titles from the week's shipment of newcomics. This week, that ritual became the latest casualty of thecoronavirus pandemic. Some of the Seattle area's comics shopsare open for business and welcoming customers;we don't encourage that you browse these shops.Quite simply, a new comic is not worth the life of the mostcompromised person in your life. But almost all of the comicsshops in the area are offering shipping, curbside pickup, andother amenities to keep you stocked in new comics for theduration of your self-quarantine. Here's a list:
Arcane Comics & Moreis offering $5 flat fee shipping.
Comics Dungeonis also offering mail order.
Fantagraphics Books'free shipping sale ended yesterday, but they will didprovide a few nifty pandemic reading lists for everyone —from escapist fare to apocalyptic books for those who wantto just roll around in the doom of it all.
Golden Age Collectablesis happy to mail you any comics, games, toys, or moviememorabilia your heart desires.
TheGrumpy Old Man's Comics, Art, & Collectablesis offering shipping and doorstop pickup.
Outsider Comicsoffers curbside pickup.
Phoenix Comics & Gamesis offering mail order, curbside pickup, and courierdelivery.
Push/Pullgallery in Ballard offers online orders and has a handyguide to helping the store at the bottom of the website–?something every comics store should consider right now.
If you can, please patronize a few of those stores. The next fewweeks are going to be tough for them, and the comics business isfamously unprofitable. Our spending right now is more than justabout keeping us entertained; it's about choosing what kind of acity we want to find when we emerge from this quarantined coma.A Seattle without comic book stores wouldn't feel like Seattleat all.
Brendan Kiley wrote last night for the Seattle Times that the city of Seattle has put over a million dollars toward coronavirus relief funding for artists, in addition to rent relief and other programs. And meanwhile, Ijeoma Oluo's fundraising efforts for Seattle artists is going phenomenally well. This won't come close to solving all the problems Seattle's arts community is facing, but it's a strong start.
Published March 18, 2020, at 11am
"I remember when roosters used to crow at dawn but now they crow at dusk. You can hear them start up in the late afternoon, like warbly trumpets that clash with the rhythmic buzz of the cicadas. Day or night, their message is the same: Get up! the roosters say. Now is the time when things happen."
Last Friday morning, when the Seattle area was just beginning torealize the impact that the coronavirus would have on all ourlives,the workers of Elliott Bay Book Company announced that theyhad formed a union, and that Elliott Bay's store management immediately agreed torecognize the newly formedBook Workers Union.(Full disclosure: I worked at Elliott Bay from 2000 to 2008,both as a bookseller and as a manager.) It was a watershedmoment in the history of the bookstore, in the middle of afull-blown economic crisis that is still unfolding now. I talkedwith Sam Karpp and Jacob Schear, two members of the union, onMonday. Schear and Karpp both helped organize the union, butthey note that since the organization is so new, there is nointernal structure and so they hold no special titles or uniqueroles within the union.
So first of all, congratulations! I have to aJS, first, aboutthe day you announced the union. It was the day that thenation was really coming to terms with the idea thatcoronavirus would be breaking down normal life on almost everylevel. I can think of one or, at most, two other days in mylifetime, the first being 9/11 and the second being,maaaaaaybe, the first day of the financial collapse in 2008,that would be a worse news day to announce something likethis. In terms of earned media, it was pretty much the worstday to get attention. So can I aJS you for a little bit ofinformation about the timeline, and whether you consideredworld events when you were announcing the union?
SAM KARPP: It was pretty much all we talkedabout for the weeks leading up to [the announcement] as we weretrying to get everything else ready. We had just about everyconversation possible, from whether it was the right time tomove forward to, like you said, what the press would be likegiven the situation.
Ultimately, we decided that given the precariousness of thesituation, it was actually more important than ever that we moveforward despite the decreased press and everyone else'sattention being on other things at the moment. Both because thesituation has really made visible things that are always presentbut not always as visible, like the precariousness of smallbusiness and the people who work in small business, but also Ithink we felt like everyone needed something positive to latchonto in this moment and we thought we could maybe be a part ofthat.
JACOB SCHEAR: We're very happy and confidentwith our decision to have gone public when we did. We'reentering into a moment...I don't know if you have heard this,but the store has just closed [the physical store but stayedopen for phone and internet orders] through [March] 31st.
I saw that announcement just before I called you.
JS: We're entering into this moment ofprecarity, both for ourselves and the store, and we feel thatbeing mobilized and organized as workers we'll be best able toensure that the bookstore makes it through whatever comes next.We have so many ideas for how to keep the store running throughthis. Our coworkers have so many great ideas, and we reallythink that we can put those to work because we have a collectivevoice at work.
When I worked at Elliot Bay — I don't know if this is stilltrue or not, so you'll have to fact-check me — Peter [Aaron,Elliott Bay's owner] did annual or twice yearly staff meetingswhere he went through the finances on a pretty granular level.It was certainly more detailed financial information about therunning of the company than in literally any other job thatI've ever had. He talked about the money that was coming inand the money that was going out and where it was going andall that. Is that something that's still going on or is thatsomething that you were hoping to have more of a handin?
SK: He does still do, usually twice a year, thefinancial rundown of the store.
One of the impressions that I always got from those meetingswas that there wasn't a whole lot of extra money floatingaround. There's the old cliche about how nobody got into thebook business to get rich. What kind of benefits do you thinkthat the union can give to its booksellers, knowing that thepool of profits is relatively small, if it's there atall?
SK: I think given the extenuating circumstancesof our moment, things like wage increases are going to take alittle bit more of a back seat, at least immediately. We want topush for things like making sure that employees are taken careof throughout the COVID-19 emergency: Things like having a sickbank, increasing sick hours that are available for employees. Wehave already seen direct action taken by the store for cleaningprotocols, things of that nature. Those are the emergencynegotiations with management that we're pushing for immediately.
JS: I'd like to preface this by saying thatJacob and I have both been involved in the organizing prettycentrally up to this point, and we understand our role as havingbeen to basically get us to this point — to win the union. Atthis point it's going to be time for all of our coworkers tostep forward and articulate what it is exactly that they'relooking for, which we have some ideas about.
I think one thing I'd suggest is that there are a lot of thingsthat have to do with the conditions of our labor that has to dowith the extent to which, or the channels through which, ourincredibly talented and passionate coworkers are able to expresstheir voice in the store. And ultimately what that means is thatpeople want the freedom and creativity to do what they love,which is sell books. We do think that there is a possibility forgains in terms of things like wages and benefits. But for a lotof people, the main point was that freedom to determine theconditions of their work and to be able to express themselves atwork.
SK: I think of the employees having agency anda voice in the workplace as ultimately truly benefiting ElliottBay by being able to retain employees who love what they do,love being at the bookstore, and making it into a viablelongterm job for people.
You did not know that management would necessarily recognizethe union when you were getting ready to announce it, is thatright?
Were you surprised they did?
SK: Yeah, we were extremely surprised, butextremely pleasantly surprised. We came forward with very, verystrong support both within staff — just percentage-wise — andalso with strong community support as soon as we were public onThursday. So I think that those things contributed. I also thinkthat it's worth applauding management and Peter Aaron, the ownerof the store, for not taking the extremely anti-democratic stepsthat they could have taken to try to prevent us from forming ourunion — [steps] that they are legally allowed to take, given thestate of labor law.
JS: And I think that our message has alwaysbeen one of positivity — of wanting to ensure the long-termsuccess and longevity of Elliott Bay. And I know that'ssomething that they've made clear that they really appreciate. Ithink we do have a lot to gain by working together.
SK: Given that we all share common interests,which is maintaining Elliott Bay and continue making it evenbetter, I think it was really wise on their part to be able tosee that common interest.
Did you talk with other bookstores with collectivearrangements? Like, I know that Powell's has unionized, andLeft Bank Books in the Pike Place Market has been worker-ownedfor decades, since it was first formed. Did you talk to eitherof those two, or any others?
JS: We didn't really talk with anyone directly.We definitely did research and looked at other places. We havesomeone who in fact did work at Powell's who was part of ourorganizing committee who shared her experience working in aunionized bookstore, but we didn't have a whole lot of directcommunication with other unionized booksellers.
SK: But we did look to other bookstores thathad unionized, and the kinds of things that they were doing.
Early on we spent a lot of time with a wonderful Masters inHistory down in Portland, whowrote their thesis on the Powell's unionization drive. So we learned a lot from studying that. Totally fascinatingread.
Can you talk through just a little bit — somebody else willwrite the master's thesis I'm sure — but just an overview ofwhat it was like to organize the store?
SK: So it's a long way to think back, but Iguess the main answer is that we took a lot of time to make surethat we were thinking about how we're going to reach out topeople, spending a lot of time talking to them, hearing theirconcerns. We already have, and we're blessed to have, reallystrong social connections. A lot of our coworkers are ourfriends, which makes it a lot easier to talk about this stuff.Over the course of many, many months, we were able to get to apoint where we had a little over 80 percent support.
JS: I would just say, from the get-go, everyonewho was involved was just very, very committed, and consistent.So we had a weekly meeting that we just rigidly stuck to, andplans for each week that were stuck to. And I think there wasjust a lot of follow-through from everyone. Everyone was deeplycommitted to it from the start.
Do you know what it's going to look like now? Will you beinvolved in weekly meetings with management? Are you in thewar room and doing crisis management as this pandemic goeson?
JS: One of the things that we were able to getas a result of our formation and announcement on Friday was thatmanagement agreed to sit down with us immediately to negotiateabout what we were going to do with the COVID-19 situation.
I don't want to go too far into the details of the kinds ofthings we were negotiating about, but basically we wereconcerned with how people were going to cope in the event ofhaving to close or reduce hours. But also a substantial portionof what we wanted was basically the creation of channels toreach out to staff and let them produce ideas that would help usget through this. We've had a wealth of creative ideas come infrom our coworkers that we will be expressing to management assoon as possible — possibly later today.
Long term, we will sit down and negotiate for a contract, whichwill probably involve more regular meetings and such. But at themoment it's a crisis and all our focus is on this.
Was there anything else that you wanted to say to ourreaders?
JS: I would say the most important thing thatyou can do, both for the union and for the bookstore, is toplease order a book online during this time. We're trying to find creative ways to reach out to ourcustomers and working on a number of different ways to engagewith our community. But we'd appreciate whatever you can doright now, whether that'sordering a book onlineor doing a pre-order, orre-tweeting us, or buying a gift card. I think people are looking for acommunity during this time and we're going to do whatever we canto try to make that happen for people.
SK: I think that we're going to show throughthis process that workers and small businesses can both benefitfrom workers organizing.
I realize it's a difficult time, but I think that we all want toencourage anyone who's thinking about this kind of stuff to talkto your coworkers — even if it's not forming a union, you havethe right to talk about this kind of stuff and work together tomake the world a better place.
These are abnormal times. People are working from home, peopleare homeschooling their children, people have been laid off fromtheir jobs. People are scared, and uncertain, and it's prettyclear that things are unreliable, and weird, and we're inuncharted waters.
We know a lot of readers of theSeattle Review of Books have a little more time ontheir hands right now than they maybe would like to have.Recently an author came to us with an interesting proposition tofill your time.
Bianca Brutaldo — not their real name — recently completed workon a YA novel titled Road Runner. It's set in anAmerica not too far in the future — one in which the safety nethas failed and national pride has taken a beating. It stars aremarkable young woman who is capable of more than she couldever imagine.
Bianca believed — and we agree — that this is a story Seattlecould use right now. So, because these are unusual times, wedecided to embark on a little experiment: Starting today at11am, we're going to publish Road Runner in aserialized format. Each morning, we'll publish a chapter of1,000 or so words until the end of the story. We'll leave thewhole book up for a while, and then we'll take it down. It willjust be around for as long as we need it.
Of course, serialized novels are an old tradition in publishing.This seems like a time to reinvestigate some of the oldpleasures, to see if there's still joy to be found there. We'reproud to present Road Runner, and we hope you'll let usknow what you think.
I find Jenna Fischer to be a charming and charismatic comedicperformer. I've never aspired to any kind of an acting career,but I found her craft-based memoir,The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide to be a fun andinteresting bit of realism about what it means to be an actor inthe world of film and television. (I especially recommend theaudiobook, which she reads herself.)
That said, yesterdayFischer screwed up on Twitter. Here's a screenshot:
Fischer was retweeting Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, whosaid "Fake news is free. Real news is behind paywalls. Take downthe paywalls during #coronavirus please." Fischer amplified thatmessage by adding "Yes!! @latimes and @nytimes - Most stories onyour sites I can’t read!!"
The most refreshing thing about the tweet was the replies, whichwere largely friendly reminders to Fischer that journalistsshould be paid for their work, and that a paywall protects theright of journalists to be paid.
Please bear in mind that virtually nobody was yelling at Fischerthat she should be cancelled, nor do I believe they should havebeen more vitriolic. They were just reminding her that herseeming act of populist concern for the dissemination ofinformation carried with it a very real price.
So far as internet dust-ups go, this is all very mild. I creditthe calmness of the backlash with Fischer's online presence,which feels very authentic. But it's noteworthy because itreminds us that if you can afford it — if you're an actor whomakes royalties from The Office, or if you're a techbro who created Donald Trump's favorite social media platform —you should definitely pay for your journalism.
It's an easy thing to forget! Paywalls are obnoxious, and we arebiologically driven to dislike barriers. But this is a modelexample of how to gently remind others when we forget about thevery real human cost of writing.
you spread grass for
clover slow like parting
a lover your fingers
shorter than I thought
hold flowering tops
point at eagles, cleavers
yellow-striped necks slip
their shells off logs
ripple duckweed, water lilies
my boiled hands point you
to spiderwebs thick with pollen
blown down from cottonwood
the webs move like dress hems
when the lake breathes out
the first thimbleberry
of summer collapses
on your palm and you
speak to me soft as its
stem and downed leaves
across the inlet
can you hear hawks
call from branches
full of crows
If the coronavirus pandemic hadn't happened, author Stephanie Land would be reading her runaway bestseller Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight. Instead, I encourage you to listen to Land read the book in the audiobook version, which you can buy from Libro.fm and kick some of the sales back to Elliott Bay Book Company. In her own voice, the story feels even more vibrant and emotional and compelling.
See our Event of the Week column for more details.
In Laura Munson's brand-new novel, "Three women, from coast to coast and in between, open their mailboxes to the same intriguing invitation" from a dying woman. It brings the strangers all together in a way that changes all their lives.
One of the definite negatives of audiobooks is that nobody has figured out how to do a graphic novel version of them. So you should order your copy of Tait Howard's new comic The Sunken Tower from Third Place Books, which was originally going to host this reading and is now offering free shipping on all purchases for the rest of the month.
Neither of the readings that were going to happen tonight have audiobook versions that I can find, so while you're ordering The Sunken Tower from Third Place Books, you should make sure to order a copy of The Course of All Treasons, an Elizabethan mystery with intrigue and adventure, from them too.
Did you know that The Poetry Foundation hosts audio files of hundreds of poets reading their own work, for free? This World Poetry Day, I'd encourage you to go find a poet you like and then click around the site until you find a new favorite poet.
Today would have been a fundraiser for the excellent women's writing organization Hedgebrook, which offers women writers a beautiful place to be alone and write and celebrate each others' work. That fundraiser was canceled for obvious reasons, but if you love the work of Hedgebrook writers like Ruth Ozeki, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth George, and Sarah Waters, you should kick them a few bucks.
Everything that I said last week about readings in the timeof coronavirusis just as true this week: we can't in good conscience recommendthat you attend a reading in this environment. Even if you'rehealthy, you are risking the health of others if you gather ingroups right now.
But we need books now more than ever. And authors, publishers,and independent bookstores could use our support right now, too.So I want to direct your attention to a big event on Tuesday:Local author Matt Ruff is publishing his latest novel,88 Names.
Usually, a rollout from Matt Ruff would be a big damn deal: he'sone of Seattle's finest writers, a polymath who never writes thesame kind of book twice.Our own Nisi Shawl published an advance review of thevideo-game-centric thriller just last week, raving that...
...In Matt Ruff’s calm and crafty hands, mystery gets interwovenwith the survival imperative, and dedicated play leads toconsequential discoveries.
But we can't go out and celebrate Ruff's latest the way hedeserves right now. So we have to do the next best thing: Let'sall agree, in one of two social-distancing-approved ways, to buythe hell out of this book.
The audio version of 88 Names will be available onLibro.fm on March 17th, and like all Libro.fm purchases, you can devote a part of theproceeds from your sale to your favorite neighborhood indiebookstore.
Or, if you prefer physical books,Ballard bookseller Secret Garden Booksis Ruff's home store, and they're selling autographed copies. Ifyou give them a call, they'll ship you a fancy first edition orhave a copy waiting for you at the counter to pick up with nophysical contact necessary.
One day — hopefully not too far in the future — we'll all beable to get together and throw a big party to celebrate Ruff'slatest novel the way it deserves. But for now, it's important tocome out and give the book some financial support, to show thatSeattle takes care of our own.
We must stay home, we must flatten the curve. Vulnerable membersof our community need it, your friends and family need it. Thisis a once-in-a-century moment, and we must rise to thecollective occasion and care for our community.
We also want to support our favorite local indie bookstoresduring this unprecedented moment. The loss of business is huge,and we want to weather this storm with our favorite storesintact.
Here's what local indie stores are doing —?support them, andmake sure they have income when things are so hard:
Island Books on Mercer Islanddoes free delivery on the island, curbside pickup, and freedelivery. Store owner Laurie Swift Raisys alsowrote about her experiences trying to sell in this timeon Slate.
Golden Age Collectables— the world's oldest comic shop! — is closed temporarily. Ifyou have a box with them, they will still get subscriptions,and can mail comics, with free shipping for orders over $50.If you’re a walk-in customer, you can setup a temporary boxto make sure you don’t miss out. Best way to contact them isvia email
Know of more stores we should be listing?Send us a tipand we'll look into keeping this list updated.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at email@example.com. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
Let's step into writer Molly Young's office to sync up for a deep dive into corporatespeak. She finds more than a few pain points in her biting takedown of so-called garbage language and an exploration of its origins and raison d'être. Read this if you'd like to laugh out loud at her one-liner barbs aimed at corporations and feel uncomfortable about what lies at corporatespeak's foundation: anxiety about meaningless work and an attempt to package nothing into something, like turning maple syrup into all-natural, low glycemic-index sports fuel.
Our attraction to certain words surely reflects an inner yearning. Computer metaphors appeal to us because they imply futurism and hyperefficiency, while the language of self-empowerment hides a deeper anxiety about our relationship to work — a sense that what we’re doing may actually be trivial, that the reward of “free” snacks for cultural fealty is not an exchange that benefits us, that none of this was worth going into student debt for, and that we could be fired instantly for complaining on Slack about it. When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem. Empowerment language is a self-marketing asset as much as anything else: a way of selling our jobs back to ourselves.
If you've ever read any article online, you've probably seen the low quality pay-per-click ads that appear beneath or adjacent to the content, typically with frightening pictures and copy like "Minnesota women hate this mom" or "Seven weird tricks for losing eighty pounds." And if you've seen those, you've probably seen the one touting a "gut doctor" who is absolutely "begging" you to stop eating a certain vegetable. Vox goes on a hunt to find the doctor and his vegetable. I'm so thankful that someone is finally answering the question of which vegetable we should throw out, so I don't have to click on the ad!
There is a gut doctor, and he begs Americans: “Throw out this vegetable now.” This news is accompanied by a different image nearly every time. This morning, the plea appeared at the bottom of an article on Vox next to a photo of a hand chopping up what appears to be a pile of green apples. At other times, it has been paired with a picture of a petri dish with a worm in it. Other times, gut bacteria giving off electricity. The inside of a lotus root. An illustrated rendering of roundworms.
As everyone already knows or is coming to realize, there are very few silver linings during a pandemic, which has already exacted a heavy toll in human lives and economic uncertainty. One small consolation is that some of us (it's me: I'm some of us) might be able to use the socially isolating weeks ahead to free ourselves from the fear of missing out and the worry that someone somewhere is having fun without us.
On Friday, as I finished up my second day of working from home, I realized something strange. Even though a severe virus was spreading throughout the city I live in, I felt a sense of calm about the weekend ahead. Not because of any diminished concerns about COVID-19—I’m closer to a hypochondriac than a finger-licker on the health anxiety spectrum—but because of the virus’s social consequences here in Seattle. Namely, that fewer people would be out and about on Friday and Saturday nights, doing exciting things and meeting exciting people, and thus making me feel less lame.
Reading Through It is the book club that the Seattle Review of Books started in 2016 directly after the election of Donald Trump to president of the United States. We started it with Mark Baumgarten, then of the Seattle Weekly, and parterned with Third Place Books in Seward Park. Last week was the final Reading Through It lead by the Seattle Review of Books, but the group will continue under the leadership of the wonderful South Seattle Emerald.
For over three years, over 40 books, we tried to understand the cultural moment that lead us to elect such an incompentent, boorish, narcissistic, racist, unprepared and underserving man to lead our country. We covered racism, class, technology, environmentalism, sexism, hoaxes, economics, trans issues, and sociology. Did we learn? I did. I can't say we ever squared the circle, but we sure did a lot of filing on it. I want to thank everybody who came and talked, and sought answers with us. There were some startling good discussions, laughs, and every month, community. That was one way we found to fight back.
What did you read last?
December: Hillbilly Elegy, by JD Vance.
January: Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine.Her's our preview of the evening. "Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric first caught America’s attention when a young African-American women named Johari Osayi Idusuyi read it at a Trump rally in late 2015. Idusuyi, who was seated directly behind Trump in a video feed of the rally, pulled out Citizen and started reading it after she realized exactly the kind of event she had attended."
February: Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit.Here's a preview of the evening, and here's our review. "But there’s something banal about Bush when compared to Donald Trump. Bush was just the mediocre son of a president who accidentally rose to power. Trump, at this early date in his presidency, is at best a chaos agent and at worst a complete and utter moron. He could likely be a Russian puppet. He is unfit to be president on multiple levels, and he has surrounded himself with white supremacists who seem eager to actively tear down America as an institution. While we’ve had incompetent presidents before, we’ve never seen anything like Trump. At some points, reading Hope in the Dark feels almost like a reminder of a more innocent time."
March: Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.Here's our review. "I’ve always wondered why Republicans vote so clearly against their own interests — why people from poor states vote to diminish the safety net until it’s barely a cobweb, why cities that desperately need infrastructure and education reform vote to slash taxes on the wealthy. I could never figure out their motivation, and that always bothered me."
The book also made an appearance in a Lunch Date column.
April: What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians.Here's our wrap-up. "This is not to say that the current situation is not grim. As book club attendees pointed out last night, Trump’s policies are causing incredible damage to foreign relations, to the environment, to the very idea of truth. But perhaps the realization that Trump is an inept and hateful president is at least a little more comforting than the pre-inauguration fear that Trump was a brilliant and hateful president. He can still cause a lot of damage — he can still destroy the world, even – but he is not a planner, and he is not a rational thinker. An identifiable challenge is always preferable to an unknown challenge."
May: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.Here's our wrap-up. "But the thing is, The Righteous Mind is an incredibly difficult book to discuss. Haidt digs deep into theories of division and supposition and morality. With remarkable clarity, he explains why we believe what we believe. But when I try to explain what Haidt proves in the book, I’m left repeating bland platitudes: You must find common ground in order to bridge political gaps. Our beliefs aren’t constructed solely on logic. We place ourselves in ideological bubbles, and we use confirmation bias to “prove” our beliefs to ourselves."
June: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen.Here's our wrap-up. "But it’s highly unlikely that Putin expected Trump to win the presidency, and it’s very likely that now Trump is president, Putin is improvising and trying to make as much trouble as possible. In this scenario, Trump is still an unwitting pawn, but Putin is just as flabbergasted and confused as the rest of us as he tries to navigate this new world he unwittingly helped to create."
July: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer.Here's our review. "For all the hundreds of billions they’ve spent in their efforts to not pay taxes, all the Koches have really won is a slowing of the clock of progress. Their goal is to turn time back to the 1950s, to destroy the progress made by people of color and women and minorities. Really, though, all they can do is stall for a while before they’re outnumbered yet again."
August: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.Here's our wrap-up. "Aside from the refreshing lack of Donald Trump talk, I most enjoyed how the conversation about Evicted was rooted in local current events. We discussed Seattle’s checkered history with low-income housing and the city’s inadequate response to homelessness and rent spikes. Most of us agreed that the answer was not to simply stick ugly low-income housing off in a corner of the city, but to incorporate housing into all parts of Seattle, to create a city where poor and rich live side-by-side, so they can better understand each other."
September: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, by Naomi Klein.Here's our wrap-up. "In fact, the book club’s discussion of No Is Not Enough seemed to come from two diametrically opposed poles. Some folks thought that Democrats needed to encourage a slate of big, bold policies like free college and universal health care in order to win votes. Others thought that Democrats would have to be much more pragmatic to win. Some were uneasy with Klein’s full-throated support of Bernie Sanders. Others argued that Sanders was the only template for future Democratic candidates."
October: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, by Noam Chomsky.Here's our review."Just about everyone at last night’s book club had a complaint about Requiem. Many were upset with the way the book continually referred to the 1950s as a golden age for America, when in fact the comfort of the middle class at that time was constructed on the backs of minorities. I hated the fact that Henry Ford was unapologetically cheered in the book as a positive force for the American worker, when in fact Ford was an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer. Some resented the fact that the book criticized contemporary political economy without offering solid solutions."
November: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson.Here's our review. "I tried to explain the ignorance of my white upbringing with a story: I had friends who, three years ago, earnestly asked “why are police officers shooting so many black people all of a sudden?” It never occurred to them that they were just now hearing of an ongoing epidemic because social media made those voices impossible to ignore; as far as they knew, this rash of shootings had never existed before they heard of it. They never could’ve guessed it from the media and the culture that they had consumed their entire lives."
December: Tales of Two America, edited by John Freeman.Here's our wrap-up. "People talked a lot about feeling hopeless. And that’s to be expected — this first year of Trump’s presidency, with Congress and the Supreme Court tilted in his favor, was bound to make us feel powerless. But at the end of this year, as we tilt into 2018 and its midterm elections, we have to shake off that feeling of powerlessness and embrace our own capacity for change."
January: Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil.Here's our wrap-up. "So for the record, an algorithm is just a process — often a tedious repetition of a formula — that plays out in a fraction of a second. It’s often used as a filter, or an interpreter, or a solution to a problem. But like any tool, algorithms can be used for good and bad purposes. And algorithms are always the creation of humans, and they always contain some very human flaws."
February: Economics in Wonderland, by Robert B Reich.Here's our wrap-up. "Speaking as someone who has interviewed Reich and reviewed many of his books, I think some of those complaints miss the mark. Reich is interested in building an economic vocabulary for progressives, to give them an array of cohesive ideas through which they can understand and explain the world. He’s an educator first — his preferred title is “Professor Reich,” not “Secretary Reich” — and not a journalist. He is a gifted lecturer and a top-tier economic thinker, and he’s devoting his talents to explaining middle-out economics to a broad audience."
March: Janesville: an American Story, by Amy Goldstein.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "Janesville stars men and women from every one of Janesville’s myriad economic layers. Some of the laid-off factory workers have the resources to find new work. Others grab onto any job they can, because their lives literally depend on it. Teenagers plan for a future that is more tenuous than expected. Paul Ryan is a character in this book — his time as Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 election earns special attention — and his concern for the citizens of Janesville feels earnest and real. Not all of these people will survive until the end of the book. All of them will be profoundly changed."
April: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, by Angela Nagle.Here's our wrap-up. "But are the men who call themselves men’s rights activists and gamergaters and white separatists online really “transgressive?” If you take them at their word, in fact, they’re regressive: they want to return to what they imagine to be the glory days in America, when white men were at the top of the pyramid and everybody else was considered to be a second- or third-class citizen."
May: The Line Becomes a River.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "He’s trying to get good at his job, he tells his mother. He’ll figure out what it means later, he insists. But his dreams are trying to tell him what it means now. A wolf haunts his sleep with the threat of impending violence. He is grinding his teeth to bits. He is anxious from lack of sleep. After one particularly violent dream, he realizes he must make peace with the wolf, and he addresses him as “brother.”"
June: Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.Here's our wrap-up. "But even those who disagreed with Dunbar-Ortiz’s methodology agreed with many of her conclusions. Gun culture in the US simply is different than everywhere else, and it’s really remarkable how many of the institutions we simply assumed always existed are fairly new inventions. (The concept of a police force, for instance, is much newer than most people think.)"
July: Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann.Here's our wrap-up. "Members of the Reading Through It Book Club had a lot of great insights about how Killers relates to our modern era — particularly in the methods that white looters used to attack the Osage. The grifters and murderers understood instinctually that the way to attack and to dehumanize a people is by breaking their families to pieces. These are the same methods that the Trump administration is using on the border today: they’re targeting an entire culture by dividing families and othering them while they are weakened and mourning."
August: The View From Flyover Country, by Sarah Kendzior.Here's our wrap-up. "As we talked through this member’s concerns, some of the shine came off the book. We agreed that Kendzior tackled serious, important issues lyrically and with great verve and passion, but if she had offered greater historical context around some of her topics, or perhaps had framed this collection more as essays than journalism, it could have preempted some of the holes in her arguments."
September: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, by Kurt Andersen.Here's our review. "I would have appreciated if Fantasyland touched more on the systemic causes of these mass delusions. Economics and demographics have no place in this book. Andersen’s tirades about the increase of LARPing and video games among adults, for instance, ignore the increase in disposable income among American adults, or the decrease in birth rates, or the increase in four-year college attendance, or any of the thousand other factors that led to the proliferation of renaissance faires in America. Instead, he cites the increased neediness of American adults as just another piece of flotsam in the river of American delusion, no different than the rise of anti-vaccination protesters."
October: The Nordic Theory of Everything, by Anu Partanen.Here's our wrap-up. "Our conversation at the book club last night veered toward the cynical. We had a big discussion over whether one person’s actions — particularly in an overwhelmingly liberal city like Seattle — can make a difference in the country. Every time we talked about the possibility of choosing a better system, an ugly truth would rear its head."
November: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind., by Yuval Noah Harari.Here's our wrap-up. "Along those lines, one big takeaway from the book was the way Harari tries to demythologize the human race. We are not the end result of millions of years of evolution, nor are we the pinnacle of life on earth. But the very thing that makes us special — our ability to cooperate through shared communication and stories — also convinces us of our own supremacy as a species. We are gods in our own minds, Harari argues, and he implies that it might be best if we let go of that arrogant assumption."
December: Call Them by Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit.Here's our wrap-up. "'Patriarchy unbuttoned' is a pretty great turn of phrase for the current moment, with Kavanaugh bellowing and Lindsay Graham shrieking and basement warriors everywhere whining about men’s rights. It’s two words that distill everything, a pure display of Solnit’s power."
January: Fight Like a Girl, by Clementine Ford.
There was no wrap-up for this book.
February: We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival, by Jabari Asim.Here's our wrap-up. "There was much to discuss in Asim’s book. The essays are not just gorgeously written; Asim placed them perfectly in relation to each other. The first essay is about the importance of truth and the lies people tell; it immediately framed Asim as someone who cares deeply about honesty. The second essay is about the pleasures of strutting, of feeling comfortable and happy in your own body, and the joy that Asim takes in lyrically describing his own tendency to strut is infectious."
March: Unpresidented, by Martha Brockenbrough. Martha was kind enough to join us for this discussion.Here's our interview with her from before the group met. "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."
April: Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.Here's our wrap-up. "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."
May: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, by Kevin Young.Here's our wrap-up. "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."
June: The Mueller Report.Here's our wrap-up. "As the world saw in his quietly outraged public appearance last month, Mueller has a profound sense of right and wrong, but even his G-Man morality is nothing compared to his devotion to the law. Mueller announced that he could not indict a sitting president, and that he would have cleared the president of indictable offenses if he could. The inference, of course, is that President Trump committed indictable offenses, but Mueller is bound by duty to not say that out loud."
July: Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity, by Thomas Page McBee.
There was no wrap-up for this book.
August: The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review "Best is a refugee story, a story of war and suffering and hope. Bui narrates as her family flees Vietnam and makes their way to America. Her parents aren’t heroes — her father is a downright cruel parent, subjecting his kids to fear and confusion. But Bui’s compassion for him allows her to find a path toward, if not acceptance, then at least understanding."
September: This America: The Case for the Nation, by Jill Lapore.Here's our wrap-up. "But patriotism used as a weapon isn’t true patriotism. Unlike the hatred of nationalism, patriotism is a positive force — a common understanding of who we are and where we’re going. Is it even possible to bring together Americans under the guise of patriotism anymore? Would a reinstatement of a robust civics curriculum help, or perhaps two years of mandatory community service for all young Americans? Is there any way to restore something we can all experience in these hyper-personalized times?"
October: Drawdown: The most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken.Here's our wrap-up. "One of the most interesting avenues of discussion had to do with the way that the book centered white men — it’s edited by a man, and it features essays largely by men, and the chapter on how policies benefitting women could help the environment mostly consisted of reproductive rights, as though bearing children is the only value women possess. Thunberg has helped decentralize the conversation from a masculine frame, and so Drawdown already feels regressive, though it was only published last year."
November: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, by Sarah Smarsh.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "This is the book you wished Hillbilly Elegy could have been. Smarsh remembers her poor upbringing with a delicious, wistful ache. The book is not dipped in nostalgia, and it’s not playing up the poorest Americans as pure-blooded saints, either. It’s a canny observation of the way that macro-level systems can affect the tiniest portions of our lives — often without our even noticing."
December: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "As robust as Winners Take All may be, it seems only the tip of the iceberg. By book’s end, it was clear that Winners Take All offered just a glimpse into the influence of market-driven approaches to solving societal problems. Giridharadas claims to be something of a reformed MarketWorld participant, a born-again public servant perhaps. But I wonder which topics he excluded from the book, intentionally or not, courtesy of his own proximity to the subject."
January: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier.Here's our wrap-up. "You’ve likely heard many of the arguments against social media, and you likely still use social media. Maybe you feel guilty about it. Perhaps you recall a time when you were off social media and you felt more relaxed and engaged and generally happier, but you still find yourself numbly refreshing your feeds, desperately looking for something new. The mechanics of this are simple meat and chemistry: the dopamine hits, the fear of missing out, the boredom of waiting in line at the grocery store."
February: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.Here's our wrap-up, and here's our review. "The absence of the grand imitation-Baldwin gesture in Coates’s personal reflections make him an organic, fluid character in Eight Years in Power, one with the right voice to tell the complex story of Barack Obama’s presidency and Coates’s (and so many people in Black America’s) failed waltz with the idea that America might be better than its grievous sins. For Coates, a hardscrabble wit from the streets of Baltimore, the reverie is short lived. Yet throughout the book, he doesn’t discount it, or Obama’s power or meaning to black people and the price they and he paid for Believing in White America far, far more than white America wanted to believe in them."
March: Good and Mad: the Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, by Rebecca Traister.Here's our wrap-up. "We talked with admiration for Traister’s remarkable book — Good and Mad rushed out of her in a handful of months, accompanied by a wave of catharsis that easily spreads to readers — and its many epiphanies. We discussed how the book ably identified the schism between white women and those who don’t enjoy the same privilege as white women — women of color, LGBTQ women, disabled women. We talked about what it means to relax into your anger, and how that’s freeing; that women who learn how to be okay with their anger do not broaden into a lifetime of anger. Instead, when you learn how to be angry in a healthy way, it removes anger from your life."
What are you reading next?
Next month, the South Seattle Emerald takes over hosting duties; their first Reading Through It title is Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, although please check in with Third Place Books to see if the group will go on, given the current social distancing due to coronavirus.
My friend says there's no such thing as a good dirty book.She hates all sex writing, and thinks the curtain should fallto "protect the privacy of the characters."
I'm a total narrative voyeur, though, and I want to knoweverything about them. That kind of intimacy is largely why Iread fiction!
She says I'm creepy. I think she's prudish. What do youthink?
Sexit, Phinney Ridge
It’s really all in how you are able to read and comprehend abook. For instance, Hemingway believed in the Iceberg Theory ofwriting – that the deeper meaning of a story shouldn’t beevident, it should be implicitly revealed through the writer’scareful crafting. His story "Hills like White Elephants" about ayoung woman struggling with her boyfriend’s pressure to aborttheir baby is a classic example of this, as is "Fuck Me Faster,"wherein another young woman struggles with her best friend’sfather’s thrusting speed – a metaphor for aging and, ultimately,his mortality. When he comes, they both cry, as will you.
Perhaps your friend just has intimacy issues. It's perfectly ok;most people do. But the way to address them isn't avoidance; itis acceptance.
As a good friend, I encourage you to track down the classicA Time to Bone by Lug Gruntwood, and gift it to yourfriend. It is both a celebrated history book and an eroticclassic. You'll know it by it's detailed cover art – a somewhatshy-looking penis pointing at the mysterious opening of a shavedanus.
The protagonist, an archaeologist, takes readers deeper intothat proverbial cave, one filled with meaning and a certainsweet sadness, when he hires a new assistant, a young man ofquestionable scientific background who fails to follow protocolin handling both artifacts and anuses. Your friend will laugh,she will cry. She will learn something about archeology and justhow wide an anus can be stretched when handled with delicacy andcare.
Last night,Mayor Jenny Durkan's office announcedthat all Seattle Public Library locations will close at 6 pmtoday and not reopen until at least April 13th.
This is the right thing to do for the city, and for our libraryemployees. High-traffic public locations like this can't beproperly maintained to the hygiene standards necessary to combatcoronavirus. The return date on all physical loans out at thistime will be extended through April 13th, and the digitalcollection will still be available to patrons.
As I said, this is a perfectly reasonable decision. The citysimply can't ensure the safety of patrons and staff, and so thelibraries must be closed.
What is unacceptable, though, is what this means for the city'sunhoused population. Here's the paragraph of the releasepertaining to our unsheltered neighbors:
Many vulnerable populations, including people livingunsheltered, rely on community centers and libraries to providecritical hygiene services. That’s why Seattle Parks andRecreation (SPR) will continue the shower program for those inneed at Delridge, Green Lake, Meadowbrook, Miller and Rainiercommunity centers, and all [Seattle Parks and Recreations]bathrooms and handwashing stations will remain open.
This city simply doesn't have enough safe and clean places forhomeless individuals to go. I can attest from personalexperience that it's possible to walk for literal miles betweenpublic bathrooms in Seattle, and the huge distance betweenavailable showers is laughable.
Of course our librarians shouldn't be on the front lines of thiscity's housing crisis. But we've allowed the situation toatrophy to the point that my first thought when I read that thelibraries were closing was that homeless people will die becauseof this decision.
Through years of neglect and austerity, Seattle has finally hitbottom: there's almost nowhere for our unhoused neighbors to go.Coronavirus has revealed who this city cares for, and who itdoesn't.
As we explained in our Your week in reading column, we're not supposed to gather. As part of social distancing, it seemed irresponsible for us to recommend readings for people to attend. Instead, we're offering different audiobooks every day, many tied to readings that would have happened. Stay home, stay safe, and let's slow the spread of this pandemic so that our health system can take care of the people who need it the most.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates fromher perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, andhorror. You can also look through thearchives of the column.
My first viral Tweet was an admonition to all and sundry to washtheir hands. I included my rationale for getting takenseriously: “This is a science fiction author talking to you.”Why? Because SFFH trains us to think about this stuffbefore it happens.
Global pandemics are standard genre scenarios. Horror overflowswith zombie-inducing microbes such as those featured in MiraGrant’s deliciousFeedand Amelia Beamer’s adorableThe Loving Dead. Science fictional apocalypses have switched in living memory(mine) from nuclear war aftermaths to eco- and medicalcatastrophes. One of my favorite combinations of these last twocurrently fashionable tropes is James Tiptree, Jr.’s very briefyet typically mordant short story “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain.”
It’s been said that Horror is not so much a premise as a pointof view. Stephen King’s fourth book,The Stand, is a science fictional premise fleshed out by a horrorauthor: weaponized influenza kills 99.4% of Earth’s humanpopulation. The flu plays a more positive role in my 2016 novelEverfair: exposure to a milder variant of the virus inoculates peopleof color in that country and along air canoe trade routesbetween Africa and East Asia. This makes them less prone tocatching the deadly 1918 mutation — and thus puts them in abetter position to prevail against colonialist manipulations.
That historic 1918 flu pandemic has served as a model for many anasty imaginary one. For example, the fever in the Philip K.Dick Award-winning novel Life byGwyneth Jonescauses civilization to stutter nearly to a stop. Diseases inFrank Herbert’sThe White Plagueand Joanna Russ’sThe Female Manselectively infect genders, a reflection of how the 1918 flu’sfatalities skewed toward the young.
The lessons SFFH authors have learned from history are many.ReadingZone OneorClay’s ArkorThe Year of the Floodor any of the dozens of their stories about infectious diseasesof the future will give you easy access to these lessons. Whatcan be learned from them about how to proceed here and now?
For starters, support transparency. Lies, eventhose told for citizens’ own good, inevitably backfire in thesedystopian and apocalyptic imaginaries. Hiding an infectiousdisease’s origins, vectors, fatalities, symptoms, spread, orother facts simply makes a bad situation intolerable; likewiselying about them.
Next, we’re taught the virtue of anticipation.No use sitting stuck in motionless traffic after the shoulderlane of the highway out of an infected area has filled up. Nouse providing the anecdote proving that containment measuresneed ramping up. Extrapolating to the next data point on aninfection’s incidence graph depends on knowing where theprevious ones fell, so transparency comes first. But then wehave to act on the knowledge that our world is changing, hasalready changed.
Washing hands is avant garde, not old fashioned. Fist bumps areno longer ghetto chic; they’re mainstream.Adapting to the new normal is one of all SFFH’smost basic lessons. Genre immersion helps us understand thatthere’s no use pining for the way things used to be. Youth is noprerequisite for this understanding; a more importantqualification is love of what scholar Darko Suvin calls “cognitive estrangement,” known to fen as“sensawunda.”Can you accept a rapidly developing reality, or is your mindstuck inside the parameters of the former status quo? How muchuncertainty do you dig in your literature? Would you like toacquire a taste for more?
Finna(Tor.com), the neat new novella by Nino Cipri, starts and endsin uncertainty, and spends the majority of its 136 pages inworlds where anything could happen. Low-seniority retailassociates Ava and Jules are sent through their IKEA-likestore’s endemic wormholes to rescue a customer. As they executetheir minimum-wage mission they encounter and overcomelarge-mammal devouring easy chairs, blood-slurping cashregisters, and city-sized socialist submarines. Cipri’s brisklyfunny treatment of the heartache these two also endure (they’verecently broken up as a couple) combines with his edifyinglyclear insights on how to escape hive minds and other dangers, toproduce an adventure both lighthearted and substantial--athought-provoking romp.
Otherwise Award(formerly James Tiptree, Jr. Award) winner Matt Ruff’s latest,88 Names, depicts another facet of the new normal: virtuality. Ruff’sprotagonist, John Chu, is a "sherpa," a paid guide togame worlds. Chu heads a crew of five with various talents:tanking, or absorbing in game violence dealt by the customer’sopposition; healing; and dps-ing, or handing out“damage-per-second” blows to player and non-player characters. Aglossary at the book’s end helps non-gamers sort out theterminology, and along with each chapter’s epigrams paints aneasily comprehensible background for the novel’s action.
That’s crucial, because most of the action takes place in theWorld-of-Warcraft-likeMMORPG(Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Call to Wizardry,with side excursions to the CIA Factbook’s simulation of SouthKorea, an outer space shoot-em-up game named Alpha Sector, andan ancient text-based tour of a fantastical circus’s midway. Chupursues clues to the identity of his mysterious new client Mr.Jones through a couple of real life locations too, but his maintheater of operations is online.
Currently there’s very little policing of the internet, and thusno sure way to know the age, gender, or race of those youinteract with there exclusively. The same applies to theinternet of 88 Names. As you’d expect from the authorofLovecraft CountryandSet This House in Order, that’s less a bug than a feature. In Matt Ruff’s calm andcrafty hands, mystery gets interwoven with the survivalimperative, and dedicated play leads to consequentialdiscoveries.
Supposedly I was going to be one ofFogcon’s two Guests of Honorlast weekend. A few days before I was scheduled to fly there, Icanceled in tears. I’m 64, and with my many health issues I findmyself in a high-risk group when it comes to COVID-19 exposure.
Gathering together with others is probably not a good idea rightnow for anyone. I participated in Fogcon virtually, courtesy ofZoom, an online conferencing software product. It’s not the onlyone: there’s the ubiquitousSkype, for instance, and the allegedly revampedGo to Meeting. Warning: Listening to non-virtual participants while Zoomingmy panels was suboptimal; they sounded as if they were talkingthrough the anuses of dead frogs. A better microphone may be inorder, or a phone passed round with accompanying squirts of handsanitizer. Or aSecond Life-like venue created by congoers and those who love them.
If the coronavirus pandemic had not happened, tens of thousandsof people would have been cramming into Washington StateConvention Center for Emerald City Comic Con today. Cancellingthe event was the right thing to do;?it's our duty to avoidlarge groups to protect the elderly and other vulnerablepopulations. But ECCC is a huge financial component of manypeoples' lives — artists, comics shops, publishers, writers —and the loss of that income could be catastrophic for them.
This weekend, a few enterprising folks are doing their best tobring the ECCC experience to you, giving a chance to directlysupport the artists who've been hit hardest by thiscancellation.
TheVery Very Shopping Network debutsat 2 pm on Twitch this afternoon. It's an ECCC-flavored riff onthe QVC Shopping network, allowing people to buy comics andmerchandise from the comfort of their own couches, hosted bySeattle cartoonist Jen Vaughn and Jazzlyn Stone (who alsodesigned the graphics) and produced with Aaron Oak, JulieWagness and the staff ofVery Very Spaceship.
For three straight days, the VVSN will present eight hours ofprogramming with authors and cartoonists who were slated toappear at ECCC, including Cat Rambo, Kate Leth, and KelMacDonald, and comics publishers who had planned to present newbooks at the show, including Dark Horse Comics, Oni Press, andTKO Presents. There will be flash sales, giveaways, and otherunique opportunities to connect with comics creators. Here's acalendar of VVSN events:
At roughly the same time, indie comics publisher Iron Circuswill bepresenting Pajamacon on their own Twitch Channel, with guests including Steve Lieber and Chris Robeson.
Other ECCC-related sales happening online that you should knowabout:
Oni Press isselling a bunch of its ECCC merchandise for 10% off, including a totally sweet Achewood tote bag.
You can finda virtual Artist's Alley online at Tumblr, full of prints, pins, and other merchandise for you tobuy.
Other artists and publishers will be getting in on the act,too, using the#ECCCOnline Twitter hashtag.
Obviously, nothing can replace the meatspace-y thrill of makinga real human connection with a beloved creator. But thesevirtual comic conventions do provide the other big benefit ofphysical comic conventions: the opportunity to discover excitingnew creators and publishers. If you were to just devote half ofthe money you were going to put toward ECCC into the artists whoare taking part in the virtual convention going on this weekend,you'd be changing lives for the better.
In America, the sad fact is that artists are among the most economically vulnerable citizens. Those artists who are brave enough to make a living of their work are often one big event away from financial destitution.
From the cancellation of Emerald City Comic Con to the endless slate of canceled readings around town, the coronavirus has hit Seattle's arts community very hard. Dozens of writers and singers and artists have lost out on events that could have supported them financially for months, and there's no safety net for artists —?no sick days, no family leave.
Thankfully, Seattle artists are looking out for their own. Local bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo has launched a GoFundMe to raise $100,000 to support artists affected by coronavirus. She writes:
I know that so far every speaking engagement I had for the next month has been cancelled or postponed, and I’m in the very rare and privileged position to be able to weather this financially. Many are not.We’re seeing canceled events through the end of this month and it's probably going to continue to grow. A large percentage of artists supplement their incomes with part time jobs often in the service industry which is another industry that is being hit hard. ...This fund is aimed at helping those in the greater Seattle arts community who have been financially impacted by cancellations due to COVID-19, with priority given to to BIPOC artists, transgender & nonbinary artists, and disabled artists - but we will try to help as many artists with need in Seattle as we can.
I know that everyone is asking for money these days — perils of living in a hugely unequal country where the majority of people are one paycheck away from disaster — but this is a very worthy cause, and if you have anything to give, you should give it. Oluo has done artist fundraisers like this in the past, and she's about as trustworthy a cultural figure as we have in this town. Your money will absolutely be put to good use.
Likewise, if you, or an artist you know, has been hurt by coronavirus cancellations, please apply for some of these relief funds here. Don't be afraid to ask for support; if you're a writer or cartoonist who contributes to the cultural life of this city, Seattle owes you a debt. It's okay to reach out to your community when you need help.
If you're in the music scene, you likely know Kelton Sears fromhis influential band,Kithkin. If you're an artist in Seattle, you remember Kelton Searsfrom his short but mighty stint as the young and vivacious artseditor at the Seattle Weekly in the months just beforethe paper's collapse. If you're in the Seattle comics scene, youknow Kelton Sears by his boundless love for the Short RunFestival and his incredible animated comicTrash Mountain.
The point is, if you participated in virtually any Seattle artsscene over the last decade, you know Kelton Sears. His passionfor the city and his energy for the arts scene seemedunstoppable, which is why I was shocked to hear that late lastmonth, Sears had left Seattle and moved to New Orleans.
Sears arrived in New Orleans late last week. I spoke with himyesterday on the phone as he was watering tomato plants in hisnew New Orleans home. What follows is an edited and condensedtranscription of our conversation.
May I ask why you decided to leave Seattle?
My girlfriend [photographerAllyce Andrew] and Ihave been together for seven years. She is super-Cajun — like,her grandma's first language is Cajun French. She grew up inLafayette and Louisiana — the heart of Cajun country.
She moved up to Seattle right after she graduated college inLouisiana, because she really liked Sasquatch and she liked themusic scene. But after seven years she just really missed theculture and her family. And I think she was also starting toexperience the same old story you hear about Seattle a bunchnow: she went there looking for a really fun, vibrant artscommunity, which is still there and was there. But a few yearsafter she got there, people started leaving for LA and New Yorkand the neighborhoods started changing.
And as a photographer, probably around 2017 or 2018, she wasjust like, "man, there's not really much I want tophotograph anymore." Because her whole thing wasphotographing shows and artists that she liked. And for me, theWeekly had fallen through by that point. I had lovedbeing a big cheerleader for the Seattle art scene — I reallyappreciated and relished that role over at the Weekly.It was really fun to seek out local music and try to show it toas many people as possible.
I think after the Weekly fell through and my girlfriendstarted talking about wanting to go back to Louisiana, I justrealized I'd been in Seattle my whole life — my family moved toWashington from Texas when I was four — so I've never reallylived anywhere else.
And the few times I've been in New Orleans, I loved it. It'sreally messy, but in a great way. The thing that sold me was onetime we were walking down the street and there was just a fourfoot hole in the sidewalk, but they just put stakes around itand a bunch of beads. It was like a big celebration: "Lookout for this hole!"
So we just started talking about [moving to New Orleans] moreand more. It was sad for me, because I love the Northwest. Ihave a Cascadia tree tattooed on me and in Kithkin, a lot ofthat music was about being in the Northwest and what that meant.And I loved covering Northwest artists and being really rootedin a place. At first it was kind of scary to me, but now, beinghere, I really love it and I think we made the right decision.
Is there anything that you think Seattle could specificallybe doing better to support its artists?
Besides the friends that I had made in college and I had alreadymade through Kithkin, I started to feel a lot more isolatedthere. I think part of it is just because there aren't as manysort of gathering spaces now. [Pauses.] Maybe that's not true—?I think they're just further on the edges of the city. There'scool things happening in Beacon Hill and in South Seattle and Ithink there's still fun, cool DIY stuff happening way up north.The structure of the city just started to feel atomized, Iguess.
[After the Weekly,] I startedworking at DigiPen, whichI loved. So I'm not going to sit here and trash-talk tech,because I think tech is really cool. There's a lot of kids doingreally awesome freaky stuff at DigiPen, and I love that. But itis true that I'd walk around Capitol Hill and look around and belike, "this didn't use to be here. And I don't know any ofthese people."
Again, it's that same old story. As far as what Seattle could dodifferently, I don't know. I was talking to my dad about it theother day and he was reminding me that Seattle's always been aboom-and-bust city, and it's in a boom right now and that makesit harder for freaks, but it's great for other people.
But who knows? Maybe once we finally start taxing Bezos and therest of them, maybe it'll bust and then the freaks will comeback. I am really reluctant to trash-talk tech, but I'lltrash-talk Bezos all day.
One thing that really attracted me to New Orleans was thisartist calledGeography of Robots. He incorporates these South Louisiana landscapes into thisalternative-future video game set here calledNorco. And seeing that people here are interested in making freakydigital art really attracted me to this place. Because it doeshave that messy, wild vibe to it.
Coming here from Seattle, I'm really interested in how theinternet can be messy and wild again, too. I feel like there'sonly, like, three websites that any of us go to anymore. I'mreally interested in doing some web stuff inspired by thisplace.
I think that tech-versus-art conflict is kind of a falsebinary. It's more of a class issue.
Absolutely. Yeah, that's absolutely true.
But Americans will look anywhere other than at class, right?It's the one thing that we don't talk about.
Yeah. Obviously New Orleans isn't immune to that. I'm not goingto also pretend that this is some amazing paradise, because Iknow they've got a whole big problem with Airbnb pushingeveryone out of these neighborhoods, and gentrification andstuff.
But already being here a few days, just as soon as we moved inall of our neighbors came out and were shaking our hands andsaying hi and, "Hey, come to our fish fry." Thatwouldn't happen in Seattle.
I remember way back when I was still atThe Stranger and you started writing for theWeekly, I told my bosses at the time that I thoughtyou were the future of arts journalism in the city. I lovedwhat you were doing with gif recaps of events and yourcoverage of teeny-tiny indie acts, and I was encouraging themto find room to hire you. And of course, they went a differentway, eventually getting rid of most of their artsstaff.
And then you took over the arts coverage at theWeekly, and then that fell apart, andCity Arts closed. And I don't know if thereis a future of arts journalism left in Seattle. Doyou have any thoughts on media and arts coverage based on yourexperience?
It's such a bummer. I grew up in Seattle readingThe Stranger. I grew up reading you. And one of thereasons I was really passionate about comics and newspapers — abig part of that was Short Run, but another part of that wasjust like reading Tony Millionaire in The Stranger. Iwas 12 going, "This is nasty! What is this?"
It's kind of funny, now, that all the Weekly boxes arefull of Pet Connection Magazine. I like pets, they'regreat. But it is also really sad, just because there's a lot ofpeople who are still doing great stuff in Seattle, and they justdon't get covered. No matter how much sort of scrappy,independent spirit you have, at some point you want some sort ofrecognition from people outside of your basement.
That's just a human thing. And I feel like the state of artcoverage in Seattle right now is still so focused on the obviousmajor players. There's this upper tier of artists in Seattle whohave broken through, one way or another, and they're knownentities. And a lot of papers just only cover them.
There's just so much amazing music being made in — not even justSeattle but Tacoma, Bellingham, Olympia, too — that doesn't getcovered, but which I think is so crucial to the real identity ofthe region. That was something that I really wanted to make apoint of at the Weekly: we're only going to cover localstuff, and of that local stuff I'm going to really try to focuson the things no one's talking about.
With City Arts gone and the wayThe Stranger is — I mean The Stranger stillcovers freaky art stuff, but you know everything that's going onwith The Stranger: it's definitely very, very different. — Ithink for people trying to be freaky [in Seattle], you can'tafford to be there and no one wants to cover you. It's a bummer.
Coming to New Orleans, there's a great alternative paper calledAntigravity. It's full of comics. It's got horoscopes. They're alwayscovering weird bands here. They always put little bands playingin a basement on the cover. It's all black and white. It is veryscrappily put together, but it's great. I picked it up the otherday in a coffee shop and saw a bunch of shows I want to go to.On Thursday, we're going to go to a show that was inAntigravity.
That's how it should be. Newspapers should be this thing you canpick up and immediately hook into your community, instead ofjust reading about what Allen Stone is doing this week.
So say somebody is talking to you and they're making theopposite trip. Say her girlfriend's moving to Seattle to takea job, and she's going along for the ride. She's a poet andmusician. What advice do you give her, if she doesn't know thescene, but she wants to make the most of it?
I think the key in any place, but especially Seattle, is just totry your best to find the community. If you're a poet, go to theHugo House. If you're a musician, find those DIY spaces quick. Ithink my fondest memories of Seattle were when I was really,really plugged into the community there. And I think that'sstill possible. There absolutely is still an arts communitythere that is thriving, even if they're not getting mediacoverage.
I think in Seattle, that's especially important because it is soeasy to kind of get in that rhythm: you go to work, you comehome, it's dark and rainy outside, so you're like, "wellI'll just watch Netflix and stay in."
After we finish setting up all our furniture, we're trying to goout and meet people. I think it's maybe a little harder inSeattle — if you aren't already a part of that establishedcommunity, it can be a little scary just because I think peopleare a little less warm in general.
So just find your people and really rely on them and try tosupport them. As an artist in Seattle, I feel like when you arein a community, people are so quick to celebrate you and hookyou up, and I just think that's so important. The community thatI had there was amazing and I think if someone was going there,I'd say just try to put yourself in the places where that wouldbe.
What are you going to work on now? Are you doing any new artnow that you're out there?
I'm working on my next big GIF comic. It's actually set in thewest coast still, so I haven't left Seattle completely. It'sabout two trees. You're going to start at the bottom of thewebsite and scroll up instead of the other way around. It's allone single panel stacked on top of another — just one giantcolumn and the panels are really tall, following these two treestalking to each other, and you're scrolling up their trunks asthey chat, and time is passing behind them.
Wow, that sounds amazing and I can't wait to see it. Did youhave any messages you wanted to send Seattle?
Cherish the trees. The trees there are so cool. We have picturesof Northwest forests up in our apartment. I love the trees here— they're great. But it's just different out there.
I'm sure there'll be plenty of people here who would bewilling to send you photos of trees if you gethomesick.
I hope so.
The biggest selling point of a neighborhood bookstore willalways be that it is in your neighborhood. We don't expect thebookstore down the street to carry every single book in stock —we expect it to stock interesting books, to host interestingevents, and to have a personal relationship with us —?to beour bookstore.
But right now, with Seattle in the thrall of a coronavirusoutbreak, we can't expect everyone to visit their bookstores. Ifyou're feeling ill, you shouldn't leave the house. If you haveat-risk people in your lives, you shouldn't go to crowded publicplaces unless you can help it.
For whatever reason you can't leave the house, Third Place Bookshas got you covered. For the next four days,TPB is offering free shipping on any online orders. If your self-quarantine is leaving you alarmingly low on newbooks, this is a welcome development and you should take TPB upon their offer immediately.
Meanwhile, Elliott Bay Book Company is doing something a littlemore intentional and long-term to deliver books to your home.This week, the Capitol Hill bookstore announced(sub)TEXT, a bimonthly poetry subscription box. For $125 per year, Elliott Bay will send you a care packageevery other month containing:
- a book of poetry chosen by a bookseller who loves it
- a handwritten letter about what makes each title notable
- a custom bookmark
There may be other items, like prints or other exclusive items,included with certain boxes. This isn't exactly a new endeavorfor Elliott Bay; the bookstore has for nearly two decadesoffered theMaiden Voyage subscription program, which sends first-edition debut novels to members six monthsa year. But it's interesting that they're throwing their weightbehind another program now —?another sign that the next frontierfor neighborhood bookstores just might be your home.
you cut paper to stars shape
my fingers to tent poles and place
them under the night to hold up
those carved constellations
all of this like my palms don’t try
to sweat you out like my eyes will
forget your mouth laughing had you
meant to rest your arm on mine
so I felt your heat when you left
Returning sponsor Northwest Associated Arts is bringing Fran Lebowitz back to Seattle! Writer, iconic New Yorker, fashion icon, and brilliant mind, Lebowitz keeps audiences on their toes with her quick wit and delightful contrariness.
The evening will be hosted by Seattle’s own writer and wit, David Schmader. Information on how to grab tickets for the April 19th appearance is on our sponsor’s page.
It is sponsors like Northwest Associated Arts that keep The Seattle Review of Books running and paying writers. Why not take a look and see if a sponsorship is right for you, too?
MONDAY, MARCH 9TH
Gretchen Sorin, author ofDriving While Black, is scheduled to read from her new book at Town Hall tonight.It tells the true-life story of the Green Book, a travel guidefor Black Americans who needed to know safe paths throughAmerica at a time when they would be lynched for being in thewrong place at the wrong time of night. The book connects theburgeoning world of automobile travel in mid-20th centuryAmerica to the rise of the civil rights movement.
TUESDAY, MARCH 10th
None of the readings I could find tonight had a relatedaudiobook, so instead I thought I'd recommend the audiobook I'mmost excited to listen to this month:Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth. It's the story of two rogue egg inspectors who decide tosteal a million chicken eggs, and the post-apocalypticchicken-based future that their actions may or may not cause.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11th
In a coronavirus-free world, we would urge you to go listen toE. Latimer read from Witches of Ash & Ruin at ThirdPlace Books Seward Park tonight.Instead, we're asking you to consider buying the audiobookinstead. It's a coming-of-age story of a young bisexual woman who iscoming into her own as a witch, in a world of serial killers andgods and inter-coven drama.
THURSDAY, MARCH 12th
Black Brother, Black Brotheris Jewell Parker Rhodes's latest novel. It's about two brothers—?one who passes for white, and one who passes for black. Theirdisparate stories provide a bracing example of how different theexperiences of Black and white Americans are.
FRIDAY, MARCH 13th
Poet Cathy Park Hong's new book of memoir and culturalcriticism, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning,is about "her relationship to the English language, to shame anddepression, to poetry and female friendship." The minor feelingsof the title relate to the inherent contradiction of what itmeans to be an American when you're subliminally told all thetime that Americans are white.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14th
You likely know Laurie Halse Anderson for her deeply personalbook Speak. Now, she's back with a bookend toSpeak,titled SHOUT. Written in free verse, SHOUT touches on therecurring themes of Anderson's work —?surviving sexual assault,fighting against patriarchal power structures, building a newpath forward —?with a new energy and rage inspired by the #MeToomovement.
SUNDAY, MARCH 15th
One of the things I loved most about Greta Gerwig's filmadaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is thatit cut up and rearranged the classic novel, recontextualizing itfor a new generation and finding new ways to add drama to awell-known narrative. If you watched the movie and haven't yetread Alcott's original novel,Libro.fm has an unabridged version for sale for $4.99. Now that you're in self-isolation, you have time to devote toLittle Women, to find out why it's a cornerstone ofAmerican literature and why it was a sensation for young womenat the time — maybe the first time that many American womenrecognized themselves in a character.
Every Monday here on the Seattle Review of Books, we recommend one literary event — usually a reading, but sometimes a sale or another kind of function —?for every night of the week. But advising people to gather in public places is a tricky proposition, given that Seattleites are being urged by King County to not gather in groups of 10 or larger due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Public health workers are some of our favorite people, and we respect their guidance. The whole point of being a good neighbor and a good citizen is caring about everyone's health. Even though many of you reading this are healthy, able-bodied people who would no doubt shrug off coronavirus, there are alsothousands of members of your community — the elderly, the immunocompromised —?who are at risk. So we can't in good faith encourage you to leave the house and gather somewhere that puts people at risk.
Then, too, there's the problem that events all over Seattle are being canceled at a rapid clip as travel becomes more and more constricted. We can't necessarily promise that a Thursday event we're telling you about today will still actually happen on Thursday.
But at the same time, we want to support local bookstores, and those bookstores are having a really tough time of it right now. Sales are slumping precipitously due to coronavirus, and they're not likely to climb back to normal levels for at least a couple of weeks.
So instead, we're going to try something different: we're going to recommend an audiobook by an author for every day of the week. Generally, but not always, the author will be one who was scheduled to appear in Seattle this week. And then, we'll link to the audiobook on Libro.fm, which allows you to direct a portion of your sale to the independent bookstore of your choice. That way you get a great new reading experience, you get to support a local indie bookstore, and you don't have to leave the house.
Nothing will ever replicate the joy of attending a great reading with a room full of like-minded book lovers, but for an outbreak-inspired compromise, we think this is about as good as it gets. Check back here at noon to find seven recommendations for your week in readings.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we lovedreading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup ofcoffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat!Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us firstname.lastname@example.org. Need more browse? You can alsolook through the archives.
This Sunday, three fascinating examples of storytelling withdata and charts, from literary geographies of well-known authorsto mapping time in Antebellum American history books:
My dream is to be multi-talented enough to work forPudding.cool, but alas, I amjust a devoted reader for now. This data story uses geographicalinformation from the author’s life and the settings of theirbooks to find out which authors really “write what they know,”down to the mile. It also does deep dives on prominent authorslike Kazuo Ishiguro, a product of early emigration to Britain,writing about the preserved Japan of his childhood, and ToniMorrison, who uses her hometown of Ohio to represent an escapefrom the ghetto. I would say read on, but really you’ll want toclick around:
Ishiguro’s family immigrated to Britain from Japan when he wasonly five years old. In his wonderful 2017 Nobel lecture, heoutlines his experiences grappling with his identity in relationto his geocultural roots, both as a child and an adult. He citesas a pivotal moment in his literary career the night he foundhimself “writing, with a new and urgent intensity, about Japan”after a few weeks of attempting to set a story in Britain. Thatnight sparked a journey that would turn into his first novel APale View of Hills. The book, he says, was his way of preservinga Japan that was borne of and existed only in his mind, “towhich (he) in some way belonged, and from which (his) drew acertain sense of (his) identity.”
Fairy tales were just bright, musical Disney films until Ireceived a hardback version of Grimm’s when I was eight. Theywere...grim — I didn’t like them. In college, I read RobertDarnton’s The Great Cat Massacre, and learned that thereason these stories felt so dark was because they were firstand foremost morality tales designed to scare young childreninto submission. Apparently an early version of “The Little RedRiding Hood” ended with the Wolf persuading the child to get innaked in bed with him — yikes! Lapham’s Quarterly traces allfairy tales back to just four archetypes:
Emma Willard, a feminist educator, pioneered the visual displayof history, and her beautiful, though teleological, timelinesturned history into cartographies. Here’s a great essay from oneof my favorite online magazines that considers at the ways inwhich her sense of history — a march of progress, showed up inthose thoughtful, curious timelines that influenced a generationof American history books:
All of North America’s colonial history merely formed thebackstory to the preordained rise of the United States. The[Tree of Time] also strengthened a sense of coherence,organizing the chaotic past into a series of branches thatspelled out the national meaning of the past. Above all, theTree of Time conveyed to students a sense that history moved ina meaningful direction. Imperialism, dispossession, and violencewas translated, in Willard’s representation, into a peaceful andunified picture of American progress.