Portrait Gallery: Arthur Rimbaud

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

Poet and libertine Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854. If you're a super-fan, you can buy the gun Verlaine used to shoot Rimbaud (non-fatally, in the wrist).


On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.

I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gipsy,
Through the countryside - as happy as if I were with a woman.

Arthur Rimbaud
March 1870.

Read more poems by Rimbaud

Get painted by Christine!

Christine is taking on a limited amount of commissioned portraits, in her Seattle Review of Books style, in advance of the holidays. If you want a portrait of a friend, loved one, pet, or even yourself (immortalize your bossest selfie!) for your own wall, or as the most thoughtful gift you can possibly imagine, then please do reach out. There's more information on her website.

Book News Roundup: Subscribe to Moss, get book club advice, and prepare for the dark and gritty funny papers

Penguin wrongly lost confidence in the power of the printed word and invested “unwisely” amid the rise of eBooks, one of the company’s bosses has admitted.
  • Novelist Brit Bennett, whose new novel The Mothers is one of the most buzzed-about books of the fall, wrote a guest post for Seattle Public Library about the importance of libraries in her life.

  • Speaking of the Seattle Public Library, librarian Misha Stone was on KING 5 the other day talking about book clubs. — what makes book clubs work, what books book clubs are reading these days, and so on It's definitely worth your time:

Thursday Comics Hangover: The city gone by

When I was younger, I didn’t really understand the appeal of Ben Katchor’s strip Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer. It has always been easy to see that Katchor is a talented artist — every panel is a beautifully composed portrait of urban life, every person in each panel has their own unique personality and history. But something about the strip resisted my attentions. I couldn’t find a character to identify with in Knipl, or any situations that spoke to me. I chalked it up as one of those rare strips — Prince Valiant is another — that is clearly of high quality, but which never really grabbed my attention.

Drawn & Quarterly just reissued the first real Knipl graphic novel from Katchor. It’s titled Cheap Novelties, and it’s a beautiful book, designed to look like it’s been wrapped in old newsprint, with the strips reproduced in a larger-than-life format. I thought I’d give it another try, as I’d done on multiple occasions over the years, just to make sure Katchor’s work still didn’t work for me.

Every once in a while, a reading life suddenly shifts dramatically, and a once-impenetrable work of art instantly melds with your subconscious. That’s what reading Cheap Novelties was like for me. From the very first page, I immediately understood the point of the Knipl strip, and of Katchor’s work. I eagerly read Cheap Novelties and found myself wanting to reinvestigate all of Katchor’s books.

The thing I had never quite understood about Katchor’s strip is that the city is the main character. Every page in Cheap Novelties is about some strange aspect of city life: a failing chain of flophouses, the diminished prominence of kosher slaughterhouses, the variety of paperweights used to hold down newspapers at newsstands. They’re little tributes to disappearing aspects of city life, some real and some fictional.

Katchor works at the boundaries of nostalgia and the black hole of memory created when something disappears from our shared experience. I’ve heard plenty of people reminisce fondly about the simple and immobile analog pleasure of landlines, for example, but very few people can remember the satisfying heft of carrying a desktop phone in their hands, or the weird, voyeuristic frustration of sharing a party line with their talkative neighbors. You don’t long for the disappearing city that Katchor documents in Cheap Novelties, exactly, but you do want to acknowledge it, to pay it tribute somehow by bearing witness.

In one strip, a movie theater removes its large marquee and replaces it with a smaller, more stylish sign, we are informed, “in an effort to look modern,” and “to save on electricity,” and “to be taken seriously,” and “to be tasteful,” and “to improve the block.” Our hero, eager to watch a film, walks right by the marquee-less movie theater without noticing it. “I thought it was around here…must be farther,” he mutters to himself. “Maybe those lights in the distance.” The name of the theater (The Bosporus) and the film (An Autopsy for Two) are just extra punchlines on top of the poignant vignette.

Cheap Novelties doesn’t aspire to make cities great again, and it’s not interested in wallowing in the past, or whitewashing history into something wholly admirable. But in every strip, Katchor is throwing a wake for some quotidian urban object or another, admiring them for the purpose that they served, even as he acknowledges that the world has moved on. If you’ve never appreciated the appeal of Katchor’s work, I urge you to give Cheap Novelties a try. Katchor admires and celebrates a city that has suddenly become irrelevant, and his work has a way of suddenly finding a new relevance when you’re ready to see it.

Count how many notifications you get while reading this review

Published October 19, 2016, at 12:00pm

Jonathan Hiskes reviews David M Levy's Mindful Tech.

What you hear all the time is: you should stop looking at your phone. Or, there's nothing wrong with looking at your phone. What about looking at distraction from a different perspective? That's what David M Levy has done in Mindful Tech, and Jonathan HIskes takes us through it.

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from October 19th - October 25th

Wednesday October 19th: Margin Shift

Four poets — Elizabeth J. Cohen, Natasha Kochicheril Moni, Kelle Grace Gaddis, and Nadine Antoinette Maestas — read new work at the Seattle poetry collective’s latest gathering. Gaddis and Maestas are both UW graduates, Colen is a teacher at Western Washington University, and Moni was published by fabulous local press Two Sylvias. Common AREA Maintenance, 2125 2nd Ave, (253) 224-0746. http://commonartspace.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday October 20th: Libraroke

If you’re looking for a rare karaoke tune, the wizards at ggnzla Karaoke are your best bet in town. (They have “Mama Said Knock You Out” on rotation.) Tonight, you can join Seattle Public librarians with booze and “bookish” karaoke. Drink literary-themed cocktails and talk books until you’re slurring your words. Bar Sue, 1407 14th Ave, 328-0888, http://spl.org. Free. 21+. 9 p.m.

Friday October 21st: Overpour Reading

Seattle poet Jane Wong is a phenomenal talent. She’s young for a poet, but she’s already won a ton of awards and recognitions (the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, the Kundiman fellowship) and tonight she’s debuting her first full-length poetry collection, Overpour. Tonight’s the night when a promising, impressive talent finally becomes a celebrated author. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Saturday October 22nd: The Elements and Rock Is Not Dead

See our Literary Event of the Week column for more details.

The Elements: Love City Love, 1406 E Pike St., http://twitter.com/lovecitylove. Free. All ages. 7 pm.

Rock Is Not Dead: Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, http://fantagraphics.com/flog/bookstore. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Sunday October 23rd: Les Amants Book Brunch

Word Lit Zine publisher Jekeva Phillips celebrates the launch of her new poetry collection, Les Amants: Lovers and Other Strangers, with a Sunday brunch reading featuring mimosas and pastries. I’ve been writing about literary events in this city for over a decade now, and this, weirdly, is the first brunch-themed book launch I can recall.Common AREA Maintenance, 2125 2nd Ave, (253) 224-0746. http://commonartspace.com. Free. 21+. 11 a.m.

Monday October 24th: The Wangs vs. the World Reading

Debut authors are storming the gates at Elliott Bay this week: Brit Bennett reads from her much-acclaimed The Mothers on Tuesday, but for my money Jade Chang’s novel about a Chinese-American family that suffers a streak of bad luck is the one to beat. Her reading tonight should be funny, smart, and fascinating. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday October 25th: #Journalismsowhite

Seattle has its fair share of intelligent, curious, thoughtful journalists, but GodDAMN is the Seattle journalism scene incredibly white. Like, blindingly so. Tonight, a panel of journalists from outlets like the Globalist, the South Seattle Emerald, and Grist get together to discuss what this homogeneity means and how to diversify the scene. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

The James Franco Review is getting a new name and new leadership

In a post this morning, James Franco Review founder Corinne Manning announced that she is stepping down from the Review after the next issue, which launches on November 1st, and that Monica Lewis will be taking over as publisher, with current managing editor Nicole McCarthy staying on in her current role. Further, the publication will be changing its name. (The new name has not yet been announced.)

The name change is probably a good idea. When Manning announced the James Franco Review, the name was a good joke, a way to grab attention using a white-male-privilege judo flip. But the mission of the Review is vital: to provide authors with a space where every submission is treated with the respect and equal attention that it deserves. It's grown into its own, and it deserves to step out of the shadow of celebrity.

As for Manning, she's also stepping down from her responsibilities as co-founder of The Furnace reading series. The Furnace is shutting down with a big party on December 2nd, as Anca Szilagyi announced in a blog post earlier this month. Manning will be taking the time to focus on her own writing. Which is a great thing! She's a talented writer who deserves to give her writing the time and attention it deserves.

However, this means that there are gaps in the Seattle literary community now. It's time for you — yes, you, reading this — to start your own reading series, or literary magazine, or community space. 2017 can be your year. Start your thing, let us know about it, and do your part for Seattle. We need you.

Literary Event(s) of the Week: The Elements and Rock Is Not Dead

Autumn in literary Seattle brings with it an abundance of choice. Any given night offers at least three decent options for literary events to attend—many of them entirely free.It would be a great problem to have if it didn’t mean you missed so much fun thanks to the overstuffed readings schedules. October and November pass blithely through when-it-rains-it-pours territory and skate directly into a monsoon.

Case in point: this Saturday night delivers not one but two comics anthology debut parties. At the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown, comics authors Mark Campos and Noel Franklin debut a new collection called Rock Is Not Dead with special guest cartoonists and music from Amy Denio. At Love City Love on Capitol Hill, comics collective THE HAND debuts their second anthology, The Elements. No matter where you choose to spend your Saturday night, you’re bound for a fun comics-centric evening.

The back cover copy for Rock Is Not Dead says the anthology was born out of a need to rebut KISS’s Gene Simmons, who in a 2014 interview pronounced rock and roll to be dead. “Rock ‘n Roll is not a business model,” the anthology exclaims. “Rock ‘n Roll is an attitude, a paradigm.” The comics, short fiction, and attached CD of cover songs are supposed to prove that.

Speaking as someone who has grown boundlessly bored of white men playing guitars, I remain unconvinced about the vitality of the genre, but Rock has some excellent comics in it. Franklin and Campos’s “Not Too Soon” is a beautiful, smoky broken love story set in and around the Egyptian Theater, and Wm Brian Maclean’s “Never Trust a Junkie” is a vibrant celebration of motion and color.

The Elements is thematically looser: it’s just a collective of Seattle-area artists presenting their work as a single unit. The best of the lot is Robyn Jordan’s story of a woman who desperately wants a child. She visits a tarot card reader, who then delivers some bad news. The story ends with an account of Sarah and Abraham from the Old Testament, and it concludes on a moment of decision. The confidence in Jordan’s cartooning is inspirational: a full-page depiction of the tarot reading delivers a dense spray of information in as few lines as possible, and it’s not until you give your eye time to soak in the whole thing that you can appreciate how much work went into the page.

A lot of The Elements is like that. Rachelle Duazo’s “Shower Scene” can to a prurient-minded reader represent nothing more than a comic strip about two naked people making out in a shower. But it’s really a complete history of a relationship, from beginning to end, captured in the motions and gestures of sex: one lover kneeling before another, fingers clenched together into an exploratory knot. Comics don’t get much more, well, elemental than this: raw emotion, delivered in a few representative lines on a page.

The Elements: Love City Love, 1406 E Pike St., http://twitter.com/lovecitylove. Free. All ages. 7 pm.

Rock Is Not Dead: Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, http://fantagraphics.com/flog/bookstore. Free. All ages. 6 p.m.

Talking with cartoonist Noel Franklin about her new award, Short Run, and her next book

Yesterday, Artist Trust announced it was supporting 61 Washington state visual artists, musicians, and writers with its Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) Awards. This year's awards amounted to $91,000 in total, with most of the artists getting $1,500 each toward their latest projects. One of those GAP winners was Seattle-based cartoonist Noel Franklin. We talked with her over email about the award, her (relatively brief) career as a cartoonist, and what she's working on next.

Congratulations! What do you think you'll be doing with the award money?

Artist Trust GAP funding is a fixed amount - $1,500. I’ll be investing that directly into creating and printing a sample chapter for my graphic memoir, Girl On The Road. This means spending money on the unexciting but necessary things like laser jet ink cartridges, pens, paper and – most importantly – a high-quality printing of the work as a stand-alone mini-comic.

You seem to have a lot of work coming out right now; was that by design, or is it just how comics works?

It’s a little bit of both. The main reason for everything coming together this month is due to The Short Run Comix and Art Festival happening on November 5th. Short Run is great at catalyzing cartoonists – everybody wants to have something new to celebrate at the event. For example, I have a collaboration with Anne Bean, (“Coyote and Butterfly Woman”) who is putting together a series of updated fairy tales and traditional stories from around the world, which she wanted ready by Short Run. I’ll also have one page in Extruder, a local comics chronicle that is set to premiere at the event.

But two other publications are ready by chance. I was able to put out a zine-style minicomic of stories (“Can’t Say”) that were published in anthologies and journals simply because I have the rights back, now. Also, my collaboration with Mark Campos in the Rock Is not Dead anthology was contracted almost two years ago, but the publisher decided to put out an accompanying CD, which pushed back the project release date. I’m excited to be premiering that at Fantagraphics on October 22nd.

Can you talk a little about your new work?

The big news is that I am actually drawing the graphic novel right now. The new title for the manuscript is Girl On The Road, and it’s a travelogue, of sorts, that explores friendship and grief through my travels across America. There are not a lot of true, gritty stories about female friendships out there, and very few about women just hitting the road on a whim. I want to create the kind of story I would have benefited from when I was in my early twenties and driven to go on adventures with little cash and no compass.

Every other story I’ve created has been in preparation for this work. Most of my autobiographical short comics incorporate some element of Girl On The Road – a theme or a setting that is also planned for inclusion in the larger work. My collaborations and comics journalism have allowed me to test out and develop techniques for use in a book-length story. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to publish in Seattle Weekly, as I can experiment in a fun one-page format.

All of these publishing opportunities have helped me to be a better artist. Every graphic novelist wants to do the best work they possibly can, but because Girl On The Road is based on the true story of my friendship with Deborah Penne, who died on Alaska Flight 261, I feel it’s even more important to do well in order to honor her memory.

You only started doing comics fairly recently, correct? Why comics?

Right. I published my first minicomic in June on 2013. By that time, though, it became apparent to me that becoming a cartoonist was the natural next step in my creative evolution. I hold a degree in printmaking from Western Washington University and I was an avid Slam poet in the 1990s. Bring those two experiences together and you’ve got comics – the sweet spot where my love of lush black and white imagery meets the economy of language that poetry demands.

I don’t think I would have gotten here, however, without my ongoing friendship with David Lasky and other cartoonist I met in the 90s simply by being in Seattle’s creative community at that time. I had worked at the infamous “Seattle One” Kinko’s in the University District with other cartoonists, and lived in a house of friends frequently visited by artists like Jason Lutes and Rich Tomasso. I was invited to Fantagraphics’ parties. I was accidentally in the epicenter of the new comics renaissance, pounding tequila and asking cartoonist if they want to hear some poetry. It’s had a long-lasting influence on me.

What's been most surprising thing you've learned about making comics?

The most surprising thing to me about comics is how many perspectives people bring to cartooning. I’m a story driven artist and I love creative nonfiction, but there are cartoonists out there who make sequential art just for the love of creating beautiful lines, or inventing mythical creatures, or attempting to shock people, or to support social justice causes, or for world building as apposed to world documenting. I love it. I love that there is such a diverse community of creators out there making things from so many different impulses and points of view. I may not be into everything that’s being made out there, but unless someone is creating work specifically to hurt others – which I have, unfortunately, seen – then I fully encourage everything that people are doing.

What's your advice for someone getting started in the field now?

Since I am basically just getting started in the field myself, I don’t have any solid “industry” advise to offer, but I would say to just do it. Create what you want to create and work to be good at it. And seek support. I wouldn’t be awarded grants if I didn’t apply for them. Comics are being recognized as a legitimate art form and so cartoonists should get in there with their best work and compete for the same opportunities as the painters and novelists and dancers and theatre artists of the world are afforded.

What comics have you been enjoying lately?

Oooo. How many can I cite? First, Jaime Hernandez and Alison Bechdel are my two biggest influences. Who I’ve been enjoying these days, however, are mostly fellow new Pacific Northwest cartoonists. I love Annie Murphy’s “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” series, which weaves personal trials and tribulations with the history of the Pacific Northwest’s dead outsider celebrities like Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix. Hazel Reed Newlevant’s comic biographies on lesbian figures in entertainment history are fantastic. Seth Goodkind’s comics journalism in Seattle Weekly are some of the best illustration out there. Myra Lara is brand new to comics, but she’s a fellow creator of color who approaches comics through her lens as an architect. As far as nationally established cartoonists, what’s currently on my coffee table is a copy of Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, which is graphic memoir that details the loss of a loved one. It is a heartbreaking read, but I’m scanning it for clues on how I might tackle my own story of losing someone important to me.

Letters to the Editor: More on the Washington State Book Awards

Editor's note: Poet Linda Andrews, author of Escape of the Bird Women, winner of the Washington State Book Award, and judge for 2014-2016, sent this letter to the editor in response to Susan Rich's article "Why does Carl Phillips need the Washington State Book Award?"

So, the 2015 Washington State Book Awards were granted and celebrated on October 8, though I fear some will be no happier with the winners than they were with the list of finalists. The author, Susan Rich, has a right to wonder about the process of choosing the award winners, so I’d like to respond to her concerns.

Indeed, Carl Phillips, a non-resident, did win in the poetry category, and Carl’s publisher submitted the book according to the guidelines which state that the author either be born in the state or have maintained three years continuous residence. We judges are sent the books that have been vetted according to those guidelines. We judge what we get. Susan mentioned Rick Barot’s fine book, Chord, and its national awards. But unfortunately it was not submitted for a Washington State Book Award. The article also mentioned collections by Michael Schmeltzer and Maya Zeller, whose books weren’t submitted, either. Books can be submitted by publisher or author, so here’s the good news: According to Guiding Policy #10, “a title that was inadvertently not considered one year is eligible for consideration the following year.” The next deadline is April 1, 2017. All books published in 2016 and any overlooked books from 2015 are eligible for submission. I hope that Barot and any others who qualify will take advantage of that policy.

But here’s a bigger issue: How can a poet’s work not be influenced by, be born of, that person’s history? Read Christina Stoddard’s fine book, Hive. The content of that book is firmly rooted in her Mormon upbringing in Tacoma and the trauma of living her young life in the shadow of the Green River killings. A finalist for this year’s poetry book award, Christina is a resident of Tennessee and she attended the ceremony last Saturday. Her work is stunning, home grown, and absolutely deserving of our recognition. Because authors move from the state for the chance to study or teach or to meet the demands of family, should their books be disqualified? Should David Wagoner refuse the honors bestowed on him by the University of Illinois? Would Michigan not claim Theodore Roethke as its own, even though he lived several years and then died in Washington State? Willa Cather wrote her Nebraska books while homesick in New York. The poetic/literary imagination is not confined by geography. We take our histories with us wherever we go and those histories feed our work.

We judges are a group of five and, as Susan noted, only one is a poet. That’s me. The article’s implication is that the others might not be able to adequately judge poetry. Poetry is not just for poets. All of us on the committee love the word and we discuss the work submitted to us with respect, evidence, appreciation, and deep belief in the beauty of a good book. We are entrusted with judging four categories. I personally have never written a novel, a book of non-fiction, or a memoir. But am I qualified to read and judge? Yes. The other judges are librarians and book sellers and worthy evaluators of good writing.

Concerning the article’s title, “Why Does Carl Phillips Need the Washington State Book Award?” I agree that he doesn’t “need” another award. But need is not one of the criteria. We, the judges, receive about 200 books to judge in the four categories assigned to us. Last year, more than 40 of those books were poetry. How can the judges assess the need of each author? What level of fame or financial security would disqualify someone? Should posthumous publications (one of which was a finalist for a 2014 book award) be disqualified because need no longer exists? The selection criteria since the inception of the awards are: literary merit, lasting importance, and overall quality of the publication. Those are the criteria we follow, and follow seriously, through all the months of reading and through our deliberations and decisions. The judging criteria have been in place for 50 years. They have honored many authors who have Washington in their hearts and in their writing. Home stays in the memory powerfully, no matter where the writer wanders.

The Seattle Review of Books responds:

All of the reading, deliberation, and conversation that goes into choosing an award recipient is never an easy task, so we want to open by thanking Linda Andrews for her time, attention, and her work towards the betterment of Washington's literary community. We appreciate her letter, and taking time to engage on this important issue.

We agree, too, that more local presses needed to submit works to this prize. We suspect many of those presses are now paying closer attention, and our hope is that next year's selections make judging even more difficult than it must have been this year, by dint of the quantity and quality of submissions. May next year bring 60 manuscripts; may the one after bring 80.

Where we differ is in counting influence. It is possible that Carl Phillips — a preternaturally talented poet, and one worthy of accolades — carries such strong influence from his familial connection to Washington State that his single year of residency imbued his life and work with evergreen ghosts. And while it is true neither Phillips, nor his publisher, broke any rule, either literal or ethical, in his submission, his win did hit a soft spot for many in our state, especially in Seattle.

We have long been a community whose art scene was localized and isolated. You see this in the literary scene, the music scene, the graphic and performing arts — Seattle always felt a little unsure of its own place in the world. And while the work produced here was on par with any international comparison (as evidenced by its worldwide consumption when we found our way onto the various maps), we have historically felt colloquial, ignored, and belittled. In fact, many artists, shunned while they were here, had to leave for Los Angeles or New York to receive the recognition they deserved for their work. Their leaving diminished us, and those who stayed and fought to gain ground for a Washington State artistic homeland deserve praise and acknowledgment.

We live now in a time of great renaissance of Washington letters and arts. Our literary scene, in particular, is exploding in Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham, Tacoma. High caliber work is being published daily by daring presses and journals, and writers with international standing come out of Washington State to make our reputation second to none on the world stage.

So while Phillips' work may have overwhelmed the judging criteria you list — literary merit, lasting importance, and overall quality — it certainly neglected one criteria that is not currently part of the judges' mandate: regional importance.

A work bearing the honor of Washington State Book Award should reflect the state which granted it such privilege. Why else would we bestow our attention to it? What are we saying by our assignment?

So while we, once again, thank Linda Andrews, and want to be clear that we do not feel she, or any of the judges, were negligent in their duties to the rules as they sit, we believe that the rules themselves needed be changed in two specific ways:

  1. That a residency requirement be implemented. The form, or strictness, of this can be debated, but it should be put in place to ensure Washington State artists are receiving this award.
  2. That the judging criteria consider regional importance, in addition to the other three criteria.

We want nothing less than the Washington State Book Awards to celebrate Washington writers, and we think this request is both reasonable, obvious, and what most laypeople would assume the award is for to begin with.

The author of the phenomenal short story collection The Pugilist at Rest died last week. He was 71 years old.


Polygon tufts
kitely incurved
hood the fir cones from
rainfall. They respond
by closing tight
like the armadillo married the ent
and gave birth to
convex reflections of skylight
bursting chrome.
No slither for the deluge
the fir cones may now ripen
a living piece of architecture.
And when the branches shed,
the needles burn in captivity,
in ceremony,
to bless and protect

Walking and writing about the land

The University of Washington Press is our sponsor this week, and they're here to show Kathleen Alcalá's new book the Deepest Roots. Our sponsor's page has more details, and the most beautiful book trailer we've ever seen.

Alcalá's exploration of food, land, and family, focusing on her home on Bainbridge Island, is an exploration of the things it takes to create a home and sustain it over generations.

It's thanks to sponsors like the University of Washington Press, and readers like you, that we're able to keep the pixels lit up here at the Seattle Review of Books. We've just released our next block of sponsorship opportunities. Check them out on the sponsorship page, and grab your date before they're gone.

Theft and art and chandeliers at Hugo House's Literary Series

On Friday night at Fred Wildlife Refuge, Hugo House events coordinator Peter Mountford thanked a big crowd of people for joining the House in what he called Hugotory — the purgatory period between Hugo House’s demolition and reconstruction, when the nonprofit writing center is hosting events in many different venues around town. Fred Wildlife is a terrific venue for the House’s Literary Series: the room feels at once large and intimate, and there’s something about a chandelier to make a reading feel extra-classy.

The last few Literary Series I’ve attended have been slightly unbalanced, in that the headline reader — the big-name writer, usually shipped in from another part of the country — has been less interesting than the local writers at the front of the show. That lack of evenness hasn’t been a deal-breaker; at every Hugo Literary Series event, at least two of the readers are guaranteed to give the kind of performance you’ll remember for a long time.

Friday had three memorable performances. Local singer ings performed soft-spoken, songs that kept with the evening’s theme of “theft” —one song’s lyrics was made up of book titles, another’s chord progression was lifted from a Fleet Foxes song. It would have been easy for ings to just perform a few covers and call it a thematic success, but she built new works from other ideas. As Mountford announced at the beginning of the night, all writers steal — the difference between plagiarism and art is that the writer does something new with it.

Poet Quenton Baker, fresh off his $15,000 award from Artist Trust, performed a suite of poems from his still-in-progress second book of poems, about the largest successful slave uprising in the United States. Before each poem, Baker named the poet he “jacked” a line or two from. The poems were about the violence committed to black bodies, and the theft on which this country was built, and Baker’s past as a rapper — which he admitted to, very bashfully, from the stage — showed through in his performance, which was relaxed and confident. His first collection will be published in the middle of next month, and it will likely establish him as a staple of the Seattle literary scene.

Headliner Téa Obreht’s short story was concerned primarily with the theft of language. Obreht said that as a Serbian refugee, she found it was fairly easy to adopt an American accent, which made her experience completely different than other refugees. Her story was about an academic encountering a young street hustler, and though nine times out of ten I’d advise writers to avoid dialogue-heavy pieces when reading, the way Obreht delivered the lines — accented, translated, always trying to find common ground and continually failing — was masterful. It’s a story that wouldn’t work as well in print, at least not without serious reworking.

The next Hugo House Literary Series event happens just before the election, on Friday, November 4th, with authors Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Kirstin Valdez Quade, musical group The Royal Oui, and Alexander Chee. It’s worth the visit to Hugotory.

How Louis Collins made the leap from physical bookselling to digital

In the nearly five decades that Louis Collins has been selling books, he’s seen the book business completely transform itself. “I started off cataloguing books, sending out-of-print and hard-to-find books, mostly to institutions” out of his office in San Francisco he tells me. “In those days before the internet there was a magazine called the AB Bookman’s Weekly,” which served as a marketplace of rare and out-of-print books and a central meeting-place for the used bookselling community. Like many other booksellers, at the time, Collins listed all his books in catalogs, which libraries would then order from him.

“The reason I got into the book business was I have a memory,” Collins says. “Somebody would ask me ‘do you have such and such book’ and I’d either know I had it there or I’d say, ‘I saw that over in Berkeley or Oakland yesterday and I can get it for you.'” He served as a network for books, a kind of human Google with a good knowledge of books that were available around the country. People used him as a resource to track down books they’d spent their lives looking for.

Even today, “I have a really physical photographic sense of the books,” Collins says. When an order comes in on his site for a specific title, “I know exactly what it looks like and I go to the shelves and pick it up.” The books in his shop — our October Bookstore of the Month – are arranged by subject, but “not necessarily in alphabetic order.” Collins has adjusted well to the turnover to the internet — which he says hit a tipping point in the year 2000.

Bookselling has changed a lot over the last sixteen years. Some online retailers drive the cost of common used books down through automatic pricing until they’re at rock bottom — it’s not uncommon to see used booksellers drive prices down “from 59 dollars to like a penny,” in a week. How do they make money on books for a penny? “They just do volume and they get a break on the shipping because they send so much out that they get a discount from the post office,” Collins says. “I might have to pay 3 dollars for a book, and they probably pay 90 cents. Then they sell that book for a penny, charge $3.99 shipping and make $2” on the transaction. To cut costs even further, a lot of these booksellers get their stock from those book donation bins you’ll find in grocery store parking lots.

But the shift to computers was a transition he was not unprepared for — Collins believes he was the first bookseller in Seattle to have a website. “I liked the idea of computers,” Colins tells me. “In ‘93 or ‘94, I actually got a computer for the first time” to keep track of stock. As a result, Louis Collins Books is a profitable business, one which he’s training a young bookseller named Bill to take over when Collins decides he’s done with the business. But that moment doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. “I’m still excited to go out and make contacts and buy new collections,” Collins says.

The Sunday Post for October 16, 2016

America’s Therapists Are Worried About Trump’s Effect On Your Mental Health

The rhetoric of hate and divisiveness lead to hate and divisiveness. Trump is nothing less than the dismantling of American sanity.

Over the summer, some 3,000 therapists signed a self-described manifesto declaring Trump’s proclivity for scapegoating, intolerance and blatant sexism a “threat to the well-being of the people we care for” and urging others in the profession to speak out against him. Written and circulated online by University of Minnesota psychologist William J. Doherty, the manifesto enumerated a variety of effects therapists report seeing in their patients: that Trump’s combative and chaotic campaign has stoked feelings of anxiety, fear, shame and helplessness, especially in women, gay people, minority groups and nonwhite immigrants, who feel not just alienated but personally targeted by the candidate’s message.

The manifesto also made a subtler point: that all the attention heaped on Trump is actually making it harder for therapists to do their jobs. Trump’s campaign is legitimizing, even celebrating, a set of personal behaviors that psychotherapists work to reverse every day in their offices: “The tendency to blame ‘others’ in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities, and then battle these ‘others,’ instead of taking the healthier, more difficult path, of self-awareness and self-responsibility,” as Doherty wrote. Trump also “normalizes a kind of hyper-masculinity that is antithetical to the healthy relationships that psychotherapy helps people achieve.” Not to mention that his comments in the 2005 tape, Doherty says, are consistent with the behavior of a “sexual predator.”

The Virus With Spider DNA

A fascinating bit of biology, and how the natural world works on building blocks that influence and spread like blue dye in an ocean of water.

If you pick a random species of insect and look inside its cells, there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll find bacteria called Wolbachia. And if you look at Wolbachia carefully, you’ll almost certainly find a virus called WO, lying in wait within its DNA. And if you look at WO carefully, as Seth and Sarah Bordenstein, from Vanderbilt University, have done, you’ll find parts of genes that look like they come from animals—including a toxin gene that makes the bite of the black widow spider so deadly.

How on earth did this nested set-up evolve? How did a spider gene end up in a virus that lives inside bacteria that live inside the cells of insects?

Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it's more likely than not

Lots of discussion about this lately, from all sides — liberals complaining that the Silicon Valley billionaires are playing with the fabric of our reality. But, I see this more akin to a tradition of philosophical inquiry: let's look at what is possible, and this new theory holds their attention not because it's true, per se, but because it fits. We only know what we know until we don't know it. Observing the world, and our place in it, is part of the great human tradition.

When Elon Musk isn’t outlining plans to use his massive rocket to leave a decaying Planet Earth and colonize Mars, he sometimes talks about his belief that Earth isn’t even real and we probably live in a computer simulation.

“There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality,” he said at a conference in June.

The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin

There is no world, as far as I'm concerned, in which all the love given to Ursula K Le Guin, as of late, is misplaced.

The history of America is one of conflicting fantasies: clashes over what stories are told and who gets to tell them. If the Bundy brothers were in love with one side of the American dream—stories of wars fought and won, land taken and tamed—Le Guin has spent a career exploring another, distinctly less triumphalist side. She sees herself as a Western writer, though her work has had a wide range of settings, from the Oregon coast to an anarchist utopia and a California that exists in the future but resembles the past. Keeping an ambivalent distance from the centers of literary power, she makes room in her work for other voices. She has always defended the fantastic, by which she means not formulaic fantasy or “McMagic” but the imagination as a subversive force. “Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption,” she has written, “and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”

Dangerous Women: Tales of Queer Villainy! - Kickstarter Fund Project #37

Every week, the Seattle Review of Books backs a Kickstarter, and writes up why we picked that particular project. Read more about the project here. Suggest a project by writing to kickstarter at this domain, or by using our contact form.

What's the project this week?

Dangerous Women: Tales of Queer Villainy! We've put $20 in as a non-reward backer

Who is the Creator?

Zan Christensen.

What do they have to say about the project?

Northwest Press is bringing you an awesome collection of 13 tales of queer female super-villainy from a roster of visionary writers.

What caught your eye?

The innocuously named Northwest Press has been cranking out LGBT focused comic books since 2010, under the inclusive banner "Comics are for everyone". If you can imagine a genre of comic, you will find it in their catalog, written with queer characters: from smutty erotica, to kids comics dealing with how to cope with bullying.

And now they're putting out their first prose collection together, and it looks great: thirteen short stories about queer villainy, written by women. Sounds great!

Why should I back it?

Northwest Press knows what they're doing — they've been around for six years, and have many books in print, and the books they print are of great quality. Kickstarter is a perfect medium for presses this size: it gives them capital to produce the books to a known audience, and gives them a chance to prove their ideas in the marketplace before major outlays for production.

So, great concept, great execution, and a Seattle press to boot. Sounds like a sure thing to me.

How's the project doing?

63% there and 23 days to go. I'm sure they'll make it, so grab your copy while you can!

Do they have a video?

Kickstarter Fund Stats
  • Projects backed: 37
  • Funds pledged: $740
  • Funds collected: $680
  • Unsuccessful pledges: 2
  • Fund balance: $280

Everybody in Seattle is freaking out about the promised weekend wind storm that has whipped Cliff Mass into one of his rare meteorological lathers. Seattle Review of Books readers should know that two scheduled readings with local authors this weekend have been postponed due to weather:

  • Priscilla Long’s scheduled Elliott Bay Book Company event celebrating the launch of her two new books, Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? and Minding the Muse: a Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers and Other Creators, has been moved to Thursday, November 10th at 7 pm.

  • Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Open Books signing for her new poetry collection Field Guide to the End of the Worldread my review here — is now scheduled for Sunday October 29th from 4 to 6 pm.

Tomorrow’s storm looks like it’s going to be a big one, folks. Stay inside, stay warm, stay safe, buy some candles and junk food, and settle in under a comforter with a big stack of books, okay? We’re giving you permission.

The Help Desk: Steampunked

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 advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

Can you explain steampunk to me? I have no idea what the hell is going on there.

Danielle, Capitol Hill

Dear Danielle,

Admittedly, I've never read a steampunk book. I do know the genre incorporates the more playful totems of the 19-century industrial revolution, such as goggles and gears and steam-powered gadgets, while ignoring the less romantic aspects of the era, like child slavery and cholera outbreaks.

I like speculative fiction – American Gods is fantastic and Neuromancer is an all-time favorite – but I have a hard time getting enthused about books that play off nostalgia for bygone eras, and here's why: the 19th century sucked for most people – especially immigrants, women and children. Did you know, Danielle, that U.S. women weren't legally allowed to have bank accounts or take out lines of credit on their own, without a male co-signer, until the 1960s? Did you know that it was "recommended" that children work no more than 12 hours a day during the Industrial Revolution? Those are the kinds of enraging facts I think about when somebody mentions how cool Victorian bustles and top hats and pocket watches are. (This is also why I'm terrible at chit chat and a turd to bring to parties.)

But, again, I've never read steampunk because of my own personal bitchy biases. Like you, I don't get the appeal. But I'm willing to learn. Steampunk lovers, please send me recommendations for your favorite books. I promise to read them and report back.