Seattle Writing Prompts: Safeco Plaza

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When they first constructed this 50 story black obelisk in downtown Seattle, it was the tallest thing around. It dwarfed Smith Tower, and edged out the Space Needle by just enough that it was nicknamed "the box the Space Needle came in." Wikipedia will tell you that it was the first modern Class-A office building in Seattle, but that doesn't tell you how gorgeous this building is.

Once again, NBBJ comes to the front as the architect of choice for unique buildings. Its large two-story lobby (go in and look around sometime if you never have) surrounding austere white marble clad elevator banks give the inside an airy lightness that works nicely against the dark exterior. The escalators in the back of the building lead down to the lower lobby on 4th avenue, which is a nice mid-century modern spot to sit and eat on a rainy day. The front of the building is dominated by the glassine latticework of the Central Library.

There's a story about that library, possibly apocryphal. After the old building was demolished, Rem Koolhaus, recently commissioned, had come to Seattle to inspect the site, and glean inspiration for the new design. Standing on the mound, he looked down into the lobby of Safeco Plaza, and saw, through the windows, a painting by Sam Francis. It was a massive abstract whose canvas dominated the space, filling up the expanse of wall behind the guard stations. That painting inspired Koolhaus's exterior pattern of the library (which, incidentally, then inspired our logo).

The painting — and also the sculpture out front of the building on 5th Avenue by Henry Moore, titled "Vertabrae" — came from the collection of Seafirst Bank (née Seattle First National Bank), who were the original commissioners of the building we're talking about. Seafirst had an impressive art collection which was passed along to Bank of America when they bought the nearly insolvent Seafirst in 1983.

But Bank of America had no such regional affection for art. When they sold Safeco Plaza in 1986, they also sold the Henry Moore sculpture to Japanese investors. It caused such an outcry locally that Bank of America repurchased the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who maintain it to this day. But that didn't stop them, in 2010, from relocating the Sam Francis painting to their own art gallery in North Carolina. That austere marble is, perhaps, now a bit too austere, missing its centering artwork.

At the top of the building is a helipad (one of two atop commercial buildings downtown), which is rarely used thanks to rezoning, and then judicious public safety caution after the accident at KOMO in 2014 that killed two and injured one. I've seen a helicopter land there, from the observation deck of Columbia Center, but that doesn't seem to be a very common event anymore. Imagine the day where important bankers were whisked away to make important deals.

Aw hell, we don't have to imagine them. We're writers. Let's create them.

Today's prompts
  1. "The helicopter is approaching, Mr. Brown," said his secretary, Pam. He pulled on his overcoat, loathe to leave the grand view on a day like today, where the Olympic mountains looked close enough to lick, like a snow cone. He rode the elevator up, and then waited on the staircase under the hood for the chopper to land. Ducking against the wind, he ran to the door. He was in and his belt was on when he noticed the pilot was new. He secured his headset. "Where's Frank?" he asked. The pilot, lifting off, didn't look at him. "Now, now, Mr. Brown. Let's now worry about Frank. Frank will be just fine. Let's you and me worry about other things. For example, let's worry about you surviving the next two hours."

  2. It was the bum knee that got her. Couldn't climb worth a damn, and the whole city being hills meant she couldn't get around. No buses went from where she was to where she wanted to be. Couldn't afford a cab, even if she trusted them. Getting from Pioneer Square up to the library was tough. That mean, no books that week. Overdue fines. No checking her email. But then a buddy tipped her: starting on First, go into the Norton Building, and ride their escalator up. One block north to the Wells Fargo Tower, and you can ride those escalators up to third. Walk up to Safeco Plaza, and take those escalators up to Fourth and you'll be dropped off right across the street from the library. But then, entering Safeco Plaza on third, she heard a voice "Hey there mom, let me help you out," and a young man took her arm. She was already winded from the walking she already had to do, so she was slow on the uptake. But looking up, there he was. It couldn't be, but it was him alright. Her own Johnny. And he looked good as the day he died thirty years past.

  3. One little slip of paper. How much it weighed. It pulled at her, like a lead blanket around her shoulders, pulled at her and made her walk slow and heavy. The elevator on the way up to her lawyers office even creaked as she rose, high above the streets of Seattle. Then, later, after some small talk and pastries, and some ceremony of signing, she handed over the check and it was gone. The whole thing was done. Years of struggle, of uncertainty, of pain. The choice was made, the money was drawn, and now she was free. And she knew exactly what the first thing she was going to do was.

  4. On lucky days he rode the elevator with her. She was always holding a library book. Last week it was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. The week before it was Bad Feminst by Roxane Gay. It would suck, being bothered on the elevator, by a strange dude, so he didn't act on his intense desire to talk to her. Until she started reading kids books. First, The Westing Game, and The Phantom Tollbooth, which made him want to talk to her so bad, and then finally, he had a moment when he saw her holding Bridge to Teribithia. A moment where he got choked up and his eyes watered and he stifled a sob. "Are you okay?" she asked, the elevator stopping to let a man in a gray suit off. He nodded, then, when the doors closed, said "I named my cat Leslie when I was ten." — "Oh," said the woman, not unsympathetically. And the other part he could only say in a whisper. "It was horrible. She drowned."

  5. "That thing? It's huge." — "I know. It's like I told you." — "It's bigger than you said" — "Be that as it may, we still have to get it down" — "We can't crate it. Not that size. Won't even fit in the truck" — "We could take it off the frame, roll it up. Take the frame apart." — "That seems dangerous. Maybe they should have hired real painting people, you know? The kind that work in museums? Have white gloves?" — "Well, there you have it. You think that, and I think that, but apparently, they didn't think that, and them's the ones doing the hiring." — "What if we mess it up. They insure us?" — "Dunno. Can't say I have a bond on me, you?" — "Nope." — "Are we going to politely inform them that the job is above our capability?" — "I am planning to do no such thing." — "Nor I. So, maybe we start with getting it down. Then we can talk about how to remove it and then we can figure out how to transport it." — "Sounds like a plan. How much you think it weighs?" — "Dunno. How much can you press?" — "Never measured in paintings. I guess we'll find out."

The Help Desk: At the Little Free Library, freedom isn't free

Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna Madrid can help. Send your Help Desk Questions to

Dear Cienna,

I’m addicted to Little Free Libraries. Every time I pass one, I have to take a book. Sometimes I take three or four. Okay, sometimes I take them all.

I always mean to return the books, or to add something new. But I never seem to get around to it. I just hoard them. Am I a terrible person? Doesn’t circulation mean some people take out, other people put in? Or is that communism?

Please help. I can’t sleep and my neighbors are starting to catch on.

Mary, [Neighborhood withheld by request]

Dear Mary,

Much like my fondness for using stranger's business cards as toothpicks, yours is a peculiar but harmless addiction. Sure, you might be abusing the unwritten social agreement of Little Free Libraries (LFLs) but people break more serious social contracts all the time – for example, by tipping waiters with car wash coupons, or bringing flavored lube to their gyno exams, or paying women far less than their male colleagues, as if the human penis alone executes 17 percent of a person's daily tasks — as if it had that kind of stamina.

Personally, I think you're doing a public service by raiding LFLs – they're predominantly used as a precious way for people to dump their junk – but if you're feeling self conscious about it, you have a few options:

• Build a LFL in your front yard so that its contents are technically your property, and you're reminded to contribute a book every time you leave the house.

• If you can't stop hoarding books but you could see yourself contributing other stuff, try replacing books with themed items other LFL patrons might find useful. For instance, take a copy of Anna Sewell's classic Black Beauty and leave tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or replace a copy of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale with a pair of scissors and old shoelaces so that another patron may tie her own tubes. (These are optimistic examples – in all likelihood you'll be replacing stacks of 50 Shades of Grey with anus-relaxing poppers. Still, I consider that a LFL upgrade and your neighbors will, too.)



Book News Roundup: Cienna Madrid reads in Seattle next Tuesday!

  • If you're visiting our site on a Friday, chances are good that you're a huge Cienna Madrid fan. Of course you are, because Cienna Madrid is fan-FUCKING-tastic. And you should know that Cienna Madrid is making a rare public appearance in Seattle on Tuesday, September 26th. She's reading at Six Pack Series, in the 12th Avenue Arts building. This is a group reading, along the theme of "Doppelgangers, Avatars, and Code Names." The other readers are Eddie Dehais, Peter Donnelly, Kaitlin McCarthy, Jéhan Òsanyìn, and Amanda Rae. You should go and spend time with the best damn literary advice columnist in the whole world.

  • In a great piece, John Stang at Crosscut writes about the way the state legislature is fucking over Hugo House's move home:

Hugo House has raised about $4.8 million for construction, but it still needs slightly more than $1 million to start the work. That happens to be the amount the Legislature was supposed to appropriate before the state capital budget stalled... Consequently, a move-back date in early 2018 has been delayed indefinitely, and plans to expand classes and accommodate more students are in limbo as well.
  • We're big fans of Shout Your Abortion around here, and we love it when they publish stuff. (I reviewed their first zine last summer.) So we're thrilled that SYA founder Amelia Bonow used the second anniversary of her organization to announce that they're going to be publishing a book, which she described as "a big beautiful collection of the art, artifacts, and stories which have shaped this movement over the last two years, as well as brand new work commissioned especially for this project." If you have anything you'd like to say about abortion, submissions for the book open up on October 3rd. Details about the submission guidelines will be in Shout Your Abortion's newsletter. You say you don't subscribe to Shout Your Abortion's newsletter? You can fix that right on this here webpage.

  • Peter Kuper has always been a forward-thinking cartoonist, but this is a jaw-dropping discovery from Steve Lieber:

  • If you were anywhere near a bookstore or library in 2011, you probably know that the big literary sensation of that year was Chad Harbach's novel The Art of Fielding. Sylvia Killingsworth at The Awl wrote a post about a lawsuit circling around Fielding, and it's well worth your time.
If you remember the year 2011 when The Big Book of the Year was The Art of Fielding and you don’t want to die after reading that clause, take a moment to read over the allegations of one Charles Green against the one Chad Harbach in the matter of wrongfully appropriating elements of the former’s manuscript, Bucky’s 9th, and interpolating them into the latter’s long-languishing first novel (which then sold for $665,000 and debuted to All The Acclaim)
  • This is perfectly delightful!

Hey, KUOW: It's never okay to give a Nazi a platform

On Wednesday's edition of the daily news show The Record, KUOW reporter Bill Radke interviewed the man who was punched out for wearing a Nazi armband in downtown Seattle over the weekend. (For reasons that will hopefully be clear in a moment, I refuse to link to the interview. And for purposes of clarity, I am going to refer to the man who was interviewed as "the Nazi," not "the man wearing the Nazi armband." You cannot ironically dip your toe into Nazism. There are no half-Nazis in the world. If you wear a Nazi armband in a public place, you are a Nazi.)

This interview was an egregious mistake, on multiple levels. First of all, KUOW gave the Nazi a platform. This is not okay. Engaging in standard both-sides journalism with Nazis is exactly what they want. When you legitimize a Nazi with a platform, you are opening up the likelihood that the Nazi's ideology might infect others. Let's be very clear about what that ideology is: Nazis want to exterminate anyone who is not like them. By allowing this man to speak on their show, they were airing a threat of violence to Seattle's POC, LGBTQ, and Jewish communities.

Second of all, KUOW allowed the Nazi to remain anonymous. They let him hide his identity because he was worried he might suffer repercussions for his disgusting ideology. When you separate a Nazi from the consequences of his heinous worldview, you are empowering that Nazi, and emboldening him to make future actions.

Third of all, Radke debated the Nazi as though his worldview was a legitimate one. I'm sure he thought he was outsmarting the Nazi, and if you were to grade the conversation like it was a high school debate, Radke would certainly have been the "winner" of the debate. But that's not what Nazis want from a platform. What the Nazi wanted from KUOW, and what he received from them, was an opportunity to make himself sympathetic. He wasn't trying to humanize himself to the majority of KUOW's audience — he was speaking directly to the fringes of that audience. He was trying to normalize his ideology to the handful of people who might be receptive to it.

Let's be clear about this: last weekend, one man put a Nazi armband on and stood on a street corner in Seattle. Because KUOW allowed him to speak on their show, there could very likely be two men in Nazi armbands next time. Then four. Then eight. This is exactly how it starts.

Nazism is a virus made out of language. It infects angry and disaffected young men, and if it spreads too far it ends in violence and death and genocide. We know this because it happened. We can't allow ourselves to forget how easily it happened in Germany, and we cannot allow ourselves to believe that it could never happen here. It is happening here right now; it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that it spreads no further.

So what can you do?

  1. Do not under any circumstances give money to KUOW until they apologize for their actions and vow to never make this mistake again. I'm not saying this lightly; I have friends who work at KUOW and I have great respect for some of their reporters. But the only message that consistently gets through to people in charge at media organizations is money. By not giving money to KUOW, and by letting them know during their fall pledge drive that you will never support an organization that gives Nazis a platform and allows them to hide under the cloak of anonymity, you are sending a powerful statement.

  2. Don't listen to KUOW, don't give their website any clicks, and unsubscribe from all KUOW podcasts. After money, the thing that media management cares most about is traffic. This isn't too difficult for people in Seattle to do; this region is lucky enough to have another NPR station — one that doesn't amplify the messages of Nazis.

  3. Don't appear on KUOW as a guest. I'm proud to say that the Seattle Review of Books is read by many local authors and artists and journalists. I'm begging of you: if KUOW approaches you to guest on their shows, or if a local organization asks you to appear in an event that KUOW is sponsoring, say no. Explain why. Be polite but be firm. Media organizations like KUOW depend on a community of thoughtful people to provide their expertise. This community needs to let KUOW know that we will not support an organization that supports Nazis.

  4. Before you make that lofty argument about KUOW's right to free speech, ask yourself a few questions. If you're about to argue that KUOW should give everyone a platform, please — please! — stop and take a breath. Go look in a mirror. Ask yourself this: do I enjoy privilege in my life that might be obfuscating my opinion right now? If you're a white American and you're arguing on behalf of the Nazi, seriously ask yourself: if I were a person of color, would I still feel this way? If I were the child of a Holocaust survivor, would I be making this argument? It's easy to make academic highfaluting arguments when your safety and security isn't on the line. Stop and take a moment and ask yourself: what if I were one of the people these Nazis were targeting? How would I feel then?

Again, I want to reiterate: KUOW employs some good people. I'm not interested in harassing KUOW employees on Twitter, or tattooing guilt across anyone for the rest of their lives. Everybody makes mistakes, and a daily news organization has plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.

But these are not normal times. There's a white supremacist in the White House and he is emboldening a new generation of Nazis. We must make sure that our local news organizations understand exactly what's at stake here, and that the normal rules of journalism don't apply. This is not a matter of talking to both sides of a neighborhood zoning dispute. This is an existential crisis for America, and we are confronting pure evil. We cannot allow Nazis a platform to infect others with their anti-human ideology. It is up to all of us to stand up for what's right.

Portrait Gallery: Washington National Parks Fund

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

Friday September 22nd: Over the Top

This one is a little different: The Washington National Park’s Discovery Group hosts a booze dinner in which scientific experts discuss projects they’re running in Washington national parks. At the end of the night, one of the projects will be funded by pooling everyone’s admission fee in a kind of American Idol for science.

Georgetown Ballroom, 5623 Airport Way S., 762-4999. . $25. All ages. 5:30 p.m.

Criminal Fiction: killer podcasts

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

Photo credit: Paul Reich. L to R: Veste, Billingham, Dolan, Rankin, Neville, Cavanagh.

Kudos to Denise Mina for winning Bloody Scotland’s McIlvanney Prize for the best Scottish Crime book of the year. Her terrific The Long Drop is a beautifully-paced, novelistic slice of 1950s Glasgow, as well as an astute re-imagining of a real-life crime that riveted the city (and, to some extent, still does). Cheekier kudos are due to the Two Crime Writers and A Microphone podcasters Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste, and their festival live-event featuring a cast of crime-fiction gold: Ian Rankin, Eva Dolan, Mark Billingham, and Stuart Neville. Catch the hilarious, expletive-strewn outcome here, with episode 47.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Sophie Hannah excels at slightly paranoid, overly imaginative, furiously curious women who inevitably land themselves in piping-hot water, and, in Keep Her Safe (William Morrow), Cara Burrows is no exception. Off on a furtive, two-week jaunt to a flash Arizona resort, the British Burrows, jet-lagged and on-edge, checks in to her hotel, only to find the room she’s been given is already occupied. Within a matter of hours, Burrows has a bizarre — and top-notch — mystery on her hands: based on what she’s seen in that hotel room, is America’s most famous murder victim actually alive, well and vacationing in Arizona? Hannah’s fully fleshed-out characters and obvious relish for the outrageous tides and sweeps of contemporary media culture fuel this page-turner, while her joy of puzzles quietly contributes its soul.

The British Secret Service game is strong in John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (Viking). Bookending some of the action of 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as well as sharing critical characters with 1974’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Legacy is narrated by Peter Guillam, close colleague of George Smiley. It appears that some of the Circus’ long-ago spy shenanigans have caught up with them in the present day, and Guillam, summoned to the offices of MI6 from his cozy retirement homestead in Brittany, has some explaining to do. It’s a testament to the ugliness of the current political landscape – which le Carré has fearlessly and vocally addressed in recent novels — that re-visiting the old-school days of a Western intelligence agency provides pure, escapist fun, despite the amoral, duplicitous and exploitative machinations of the agents.

Already in semi-hot water as a witness in a grand-jury proceeding, Darren Mathews, black Texas Ranger, finds himself fully immersed when an FBI pal sends him to check out two homicides in the tiny town of Lark, East Texas. Attica Locke’s terrific Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland) simmers with racial tensions, shimmers with unforgiving heat, features a killer soundtrack playing in the background, and offers an early sentence that echoes perpetually throughout the book: “In the wake of Obama, America had told on itself.” But within Bluebird’s deeply atmospheric surround is a story driven by entirely human, individualistic elements — love, fear, entitlement, jealousy — a story told with Locke’s crystal-clear vision and pleasurably elemental prose.

The temptation to stray is, well, tempting in Andrea Camilleri’s A Nest of Vipers (trans. Stephen Sartarelli; Penguin), when Inspector Montalbano is faced with a proper femme fatale while investigating his latest case — the murder of the woman’s father, no less. No sooner has his long-suffering girlfriend, Livia, jetted back home to Genoa, when a dinner invitation-proposal throws him (only temporarily) for a loop. Both fascinated and repulsed by the murder victim who had no qualms about blackmailing and loan sharking an extensive community, Montalbano, true to form, mulls over clues, red herrings and eurekas alike while ingesting the best food Sicily has to offer. Deceptively bordering on cozy, Camilleri’s mysteries never shy away from concealing a dark-black element at their heart.

The Quintessential Interview: JA Jance

J.A. Jance’s Seattle PI J.P. Beaumont has been on the murder-solving scene since 1985’s Until Proven Guilty, Jance’s first detective novel. Since then, Jance has kept her scores of books band-box-fresh and her prose moving along at a peppy pace. In her latest, Proof of Life, the depth of Beaumont’s career provides rich fodder for the current mystery as now-retired Beaumont finds himself embroiled in the supposedly-accidental death of retired reporter and part-time nemesis Maxwell Cole.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I have no idea! Not only do I not have five — I don’t have one!

Top five places to write?

In my gazebo in the back yard. On the back porch overlooking the garden. In my chair in the family room. On my patio in Tucson. On a cruise ship.

Top five favorite authors?

Jussi Adler-Olsen. Ann B Ross. Lee Child. Daniel Silva. Jo Nesbø.

Top five tunes to write to?

“Crazy” by Patsy Cline. “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian. Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Anything by Anne Murray. Anything by Gentleman Jim Reeves.

Top five hometown spots?

Tea at the Georgian at the Fairmont Olympic. The 5th Avenue Theatre. TechCity Bowl. John Howie Steak. Bridle Trails Red Apple in Kirkland.

Thursday Comics Hangover: A Bonding experience

I try not to give Birth Movies Death any web traffic these days due to the noxious way the site's owner protected former BMD editor Devin Faraci in the wake of sexual assault accusations. But it's impossible for me to separate my viewing of Kingsman: The Golden Circle from a 2015 essay on the original Kingsman film by Film Crit Hulk.

I found the first Kingsman movie to be boorish and awkward in its handling of James Bond satire, though I did appreciate the way the film addressed the inherent classism of the Bond mythos. Hulk's essay didn't necessarily convince me to reappraise Kingsman as a brilliant work of art, but he did argue that the filmmaker, Matthew Vaughn, knew exactly what he was doing with the film: that Vaughn was producing, essentially, the world's only honest blockbuster movie — one that embraced the political discomfort of Bond movies.

Kingsman, of course, is adapted from a comic book series written by Mark Millar, an amoral dolt who has lowest-common-denominatored his way to great success. (I wrote about Millar in this space not so long ago.) Vaughn has taken the basics of Millar's premise — what if a poor kid became the next James Bond? — and made all the class issues entirely overt. Young Eggsy (a charismatic Taron Edgerton) is a chav who gets recruited by a Bond-like agent (Colin Firth, clearly having a lot of fun) to join a secret organization of spies who defend England from outsize global villains.

Despite a few missteps, (Samuel L. Jackson offers maybe his worst performance since Frank Miller's Spirit adaptation) even the most skeptical viewers had to admit that Kingsman was entertaining as hell, a skosh of R-rated blockbuster ultraviolence to while away time in the multiplex.

The Golden Circle will likely not invite a high level of investigation from writers like Film Crit Hulk. It is, to put it bluntly, a bad movie. It's boring and it's weighed down with exposition and the attempts at humor don't land successfully. If the first film was a sly investigation of class, the second film can't even convincingly sell itself as an investigation of how awful sequels usually are.

Of course, parts of The Golden Circle work really well: Vaughn's action sequences are buttery-smooth and boundlessly fun to watch. Julianne Moore, as the breathlessly chipper drug-dealing villain, is fantastic. Her character's plans to change the world are more interesting than your standard movie bad-guy dreck. Edgerton and Firth maintain their excellent rapport from the first film.

But most of The Golden Circle is self-serious and overblown. Channing Tatum shows up for about ten minutes of screentime, total. Some of the action sequences feel weirdly weightless. Other scenes fail to keep the plot moving forward. I have a hard time picturing any serious claim that The Golden Circle is another showcase of Vaughn's sly satirical skills. The class elements of the first film have basically disappeared, and the Bond nods feel less playful and more obligatory.

The Golden Circle is one of those rare sequels that actively diminishes the film that came before it. It's a film that's just as dumb as the comic that inspired it.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from September 20th - September 26th

Wednesday September 20th: Season of Sacrifice Reading

Seattle writer Bharti Kirchner has written a ton of great novels that you should check out. Tonight, though, she’s debuting something new: the first book in a mystery series starring a Seattle private investigator named Maya Mallick. In Season of Sacrifice, she investigates the self-immolation death of a prominent scientist.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday, September 21st: Grab Back Comics Reading

Grab Back Comics started as a website collecting comics stories about sexual assault and harassment. Now it’s been collected in a beautiful print anthology. Tonight, the anthology’s editor, Erma Blood, appears with local cartoonists Amy Camber, Gillian Rhodes, Robin Elan, Tatiana Gill, and Tess LeBlanc. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday September 22nd: Over the Top

This one is a little different: The Washington National Park’s Discovery Group hosts a booze dinner in which scientific experts discuss projects they’re running in Washington national parks. At the end of the night, one of the projects will be funded by pooling everyone’s admission fee in a kind of American Idol for science. Georgetown Ballroom, 5623 Airport Way S., 762-4999. $25. All ages. 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 23rd: A Lesser Love Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Sunday, September 24th: Poetry in Conversation: The Lice

Seattle poet Bill Carty presents a special book-club-type discussion about The Lice, a seminal 20th century American poetry collection by W.S. Merwin. (The book has been republished by Port Townsend publisher Copper Canyon Press this year.) Come and talk about poetry with a poet. If you disagree, feel free to argue. Poetry will survive the scrutiny. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St., 633-0811, Free. All ages. 4 p.m.

Monday September 25th: Dinner at the Center of the Earth Reading

You might remember Nathan Englander’s debut collection of short fiction, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, for its beautiful sweaty cover. His new novel looks at a controversial subject — the conflict between Palestine and Israel — through the experiences of a disparate group of people including a prisoner and a waitress. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday September 26th: Bad Kansas Reading

Author Becky Mandelbaum recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, but before she did that, she published her first collection of short fiction. That book won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, which is no fucking joke.Tonight, she’ll be interviewed by great American author Pam Houston. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Drawn from felt

Published September 20, 2017, at 11:00am

Kelly Froh reviews Brian Jay Jones's Jim Henson.

Comic artist Kelly Froh looks at her experience reading a biography of a wonderful human being.

Read this review now

Literary Event of the Week: A Lesser Love Launch Party

EJ Koh read her poem “South Korean Ferry Accident” to a room full of weary Bumbershoot attendees back in 2016. It’s a poem that begins with a bit of comedy: “Footage is released to the public: the captain/abandoning the ferry in his underwear.” Not only do we have an oafish captain forsaking the universal pledge to go down with the ship, but he’s jumping overboard in his underwear. It’s an image that brings pratfalls to mind, or a Benny Hill-style soundtrack.

But that image falls away to the real-life horror of one of the worst boating accidents in modern history. And Koh’s personal story becomes intertwined with the tragedy:

My parents are crying in the other room. “Why didn’t

the students jump into the water?

Americans would’ve jumped.”

It’s an immigrants’ dilemma: there’s something to be said for the traditions of one’s birth country, but when they become too constricting — when tradition overrules your chances of survival — it becomes necessary to flee to America. In America, traditions don’t kill you. If anything, too much freedom will kill you in America.

Last year, when Koh read the poem (“The footage is broadcast. The faces are blurred./The voices are changed. They are laughing”) the audience reacted almost as one. Eyes started watering. A few nasal snfffs tore through the audience, and then shoulders bobbed up and down. People were sobbing for these strangers that they’d never know who died in a ferry disaster, and who were being summoned by a Seattle poet for a Seattle audience at a quintessentially Seattle event. It was a tender moment, a special moment, the kind of event that everyone in attendance will likely always remember.

This is the genius of EJ Koh: her poetry combines tradition and freedom and history and hope and biography and tragedy in such a compelling way that audiences can’t help but be moved. Her voice is clear and warm; her eyes catch the little human moments that we often take for granted. Her poems are often slight — brief and simple — but they can clamber around your head like an elephant.

This Saturday, September 23rd, Koh will launch her debut collection, A Lesser Love, into the world at the Hugo House. She’ll read from the book, and then I’ll interview her onstage (I guess this is as good a place as any for a full disclosure: the Seattle Review of Books, has advocated early and often for Koh beginning on the day that we first published her jaw-droppingly good poem “Korean War” two years ago) and then she’ll take your questions.

In person, audiences are often surprised to see that Koh doesn’t seem as intense as her poems. She’s funny; she laughs a lot; she’s charming and humble. But the intensity is there, and it is real. With just a few words, carefully selected and arranged just so, she can bring a room full of humans to tears. She has that power

Matthew Gault at Motherboard writes:

Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has made good on his threat to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property."

The artist's lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right. They have served cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement. The message is to the alt-right is clear—stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences.

Of course, the alt-right is fighting back, citing free speech. Nazis love to use the free speech defense. We'll see how that works out for them. Hopefully, it will look something like this.

Heyyyyyyy! An actually useful piece of information has been added to Google searches: now when you look up books, Google will include links to ebook listings at local libraries. Just look all the way at the bottom of the card that comes up when you Google a book title and you'll find it there. I can't remember the last time Google made a change that actively improved my life with no serious setbacks, so this is a welcome development.

Driving Home From Mother's House

As I drive through the bower
of old oak trees
scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast
I am scared by the moon.
It is so low in the sky this night
I think it will smack me in the face.
I try to turn the wipers on,
but strands of hair white as paste
cover the window like thick rain.
A woman's mouth stretches open
in a silent scream. Bent fingers claw
until they reach my chest.
Some nights I lose my way home.

The line between "you" and "me"

Published September 19, 2017, at 12:39am

Paul Constant reviews Colleen Louise Barry, and Stephanie Passantino's Fumetti for the Mothership.

The latest book from Mount Analogue is a book, an art installation, and a friendship.

Read this review now

Modern life — guided by a set of tested principles

Sponsor Lori Tsugawa Whaley, a third-generation Japanese American, was raised in a primarily Caucasian community and felt disconnected from her Japanese heritage. While exploring this ancient culture, she discovered a source of truth — the code of ethics known as bushido. Bushido means “the way of the warrior”; it is the set of chivalrous principles that governed the behavior of the ancient Japanese warriors known as samurai.

In The Courage of a Samurai, Lori Tsugawa Whaley brings these concepts to everyday life, showing through examples the kind of ethical and moral choices you can make when guided by principles. As she says, "I believe you were born to live a life of courage, honor, and integrity." Read an excerpt on our sponsor's page.

Sponsors like Lori make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.

Explaining the inexplicable

Published September 18, 2017, at 11:57am

Paul Constant reviews Hillary Rodham Clinton's What Happened.

If Hillary Clinton's new book about the 2016 election makes you mad, then you are exactly the kind of person who should read Hillary Clinton's new book about the 2016 election.

Read this review now

In a long and thoughtful post, Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner JB Dickey explains why he's closing his bookstore at the end of this month. I'm sad the bookshop couldn't find a new owner, but I'm glad that Seattle had so many wonderful years with such a wonderful bookstore.

When this cartoonist broke his right arm, he taught himself how to draw with his left

From his Punch to Kill comics to his work organizing the dearly departed Intruder magazine, Marc Palm is one of the most active members of Seattle’s cartooning community. So when Palm announced on Facebook earlier this summer that he broke his right arm — his dominant arm, the arm that did all his drawing — the community responded with a visceral heartbreak: one of Seattle’s most prolific and enthusiastic cartoonists was going to be out of commission for the foreseeable future. But then Palm did something unexpected: he taught himself how to draw with his left hand. I talked to him in late August about his experiences.

Thank you for doing this. I’ve been following along on your journey on Facebook and I think it's really fascinating. Let me start with a couple of personal anecdotes. I want to get your impression of them.

First, I had a friend who was an artist in high school. His mother likes to tell the story that when he was a kid he used to walk around the house with his hands in oven mitts. He'd hold his hands in the oven mitts right up to his chest because he was so terrified that anything would happen to his hands.

Oh, wow.

He identified as an artist so much that it was like a fear for him. He felt like he’d have no identity without his art.

And then second, my grandmother was born a lefty. At her school they tied her left hand behind her back until she became right-handed, because they thought left-handedness was a weakness of character.

Is she alive?

She died, a long-time ago. But she had Alzheimer's, and she actually reverted to left-handedness toward the end there. I thought those two stories might give you an idea of what I was thinking about when I heard about your story.

Speaking of which, I want to shut up and hear your story. So to start at the beginning, you bought a skateboard, right?

Well, no. For the last couple of years I've been getting more and more interested in skateboarding. When I was 12, my parents got me a skateboard — a big clunker. Then they got me pads and helmet and all this other stuff to be safe. And I tooled around in my driveway, which was the smoothest surface I had. But even then, I didn't wear gloves. I didn't wear oven mitts walking around or whatever, but I was a very careful child.

I've been a very careful person my whole life, really. So when I was 12 I was like, ‘You know. I think I'm gonna hurt myself. I don't really want to do this.’ Skateboarding was just cool to watch. I was gonna be a fanboy of it.

But then in the last couple years I was just getting more and more into watching it, and admiring it and thinking, ‘Wow, this is cool. Maybe I should give this a shot.’ So, [Seattle cartoonist] Ben Horak said, ‘I got this board I picked up from somebody. I'm never gonna use it cause I'm too scared to hurt myself, if you want it.’

He hands me off this skateboard. And whoever had it before, they actually were a skater. The thing was pretty well ground up, and it worked well. I was kind of tooling around wherever I could.

A couple of other cartoonists and started skating. They were very encouraging like, ‘You're not gonna hurt yourself. Don't worry about it.’ So we'd go find flat surfaces — tennis courts or parking lots or whatever. We call it ‘skate dad parks.’

That's where, inevitably, it happened.

It was the big Gotham Asylum up on Beacon Hill — the hospital up there. We found this great parking lot. No one bothered us. So I was off on one side, and they were on the other, and I just made this turn and there were some rocks, and I just stopped the board. And then I just landed directly down on my wrist, and that's when I eventually broke a chunk off the ... I forget what that is. It's one of the long arm bones.

I had never broken a bone, and I tried my best to avoid it. Until picking up a skateboard.

It was the worst fear that I had. [When I started skating,] other people were like, ‘What if you break your drawing arm ?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know, but it'll be fine.’ Then the worst case scenario happened.

Just to get some background: you're a fairly prolific artist. It seems like you must draw every day, right?

Yeah, I try to. It's definitely in my blood. And I've been doing it for thirty-plus years — just constantly producing and trying to do my best. But I'm not gonna kill myself over a broken arm. I just started going down the process of seeing if I could draw with my left.

My mom has a similar story to your grandmother’s. She was a lefty. She went to Catholic school, and they bound her left arm and forced her to go right. She eventually, grew out of it and went back to being a left-hander.

But while raising me she forced everything into my right hand. She was hoping that I wouldn't be a left-hander because she thinks it’s a curse. The world is right-handed, and she didn't want me to deal with the same problems she had. It's possible that I could have been a left-hander, had it just come naturally.

After you fell when did your thoughts turn to the fact that this was going to really screw up your drawing? How soon was it before you realized?

It wasn't like a big revelation, but it was definitely like, ‘Ugh, fuck. I broke my wrist. I can't draw.’ It was immediate and I tried not to be too bummed out about it. I was more annoyed that now I'm gonna be completely inconvenienced — I only have one hand. I work at the Fantagraphics warehouse and my job is lifting up packages and packing things and now I'm kind of wrecked on that.

I just thought I was gonna have to take a break. Which stinks, because I have a book that I'm working on, and hoping to have done by Short Run. I immediately just realized I had to try to figure something out.

What did that process look like?

Oddly enough, months ago — maybe even a year ago — I was having a little paranoid fantasy, wondering what would happen if I couldn't use my right arm — if it got cut off or I broke it. I was just fascinated with the idea of what my left arm can do that my right can't.

So I tried buttering my bread with my left, and I realized that these two hands had no idea what to do when they're faced with something the other hand usually does. My right hand didn't know how to hold the bread properly, and my left hand didn't know the subtleties of spreading with a certain amount of pressure without stabbing through the bread.

I played around with that. I'd started to be more efficient. I’d remind myself, ‘why don't I just grab the door handle with my left hand because that's where it's at instead of reaching all the way over from my right?’ I was already trying things with my left.’ I hadn't really tried to draw or anything, but I farted around and, like, tried to write my name with my left. It never went well.

So then, a couple days [after I broke my arm] I grabbed a big fat pencil, and I thought ‘maybe I can come up with a cute style,’ because normally my stuff's grotesque. I thought maybe I could actually draw cute things with my left hand.

So I was drawing dinosaurs just to start out. They did look kind of childish, and it was hard to have the control that I wanted. But I saw that I could do something, so I just needed to focus a little harder.

So I changed tools. I went to the smallest micron pen I have. It's a .005. I started going really small and I found that when I was doing details with my left hand, I had a lot of control. But if I made big gestures, or made big strokes, it would get all wiggly and I didn't have the kind of control I wanted.

Wow, that is the exact opposite of what I would figure would happen.

I had a bunch of people encouraging me to try drawing with my left hand. At first, it kind of annoyed me. I was like, ‘You know, this is kind of a cute, fun thing to post online, but it kind of hurts.’

So after I did those dinosaur drawings I put one up right away. I was like, ‘All right, here you go. Everyone that says I should draw with my left, here's the drawings. Fifty bucks, let's go. If you want to support me, put your money where your mouth is.’


‘Or keep your cute little comments to yourself.’ All right, yeah, I could draw with my left hand. So then I just started working on it. As far as being an artist, you're basically dealing with like problem solving: ‘I've got a picture in my head. I need to get it on paper. How do I do that?’

And what was fascinating to me about doing this, was my way of working doesn't come from my right hand. It’s not the hand that does it — it's my brain. I can visualize where things have to go. I've studied enough brush strokes and different techniques. I just needed to be able to get my left hand become a good tool, to get those lines to flow the way I want to.

So yeah, I took my time and really had to be patient and focus on the circle, where before, my right hand had been doing it for thirty close years. I was struggling to draw these little things. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is what it's like for like a normal person who doesn't know how to draw. I could see why they give up. This is hard!’

I realized that this is an enormous amount of work.

It basically was just working through it — figuring out how delicate I have to be, how hard do I want to press on this, what kind of style do I want?

Now I see it as really cool and fun. I'm kind of addicted to it.

Do you draw every day now with your left hand?

Yeah. I go to a coffee shop and sit there for an hour before work and just draw. And that was a great exercise. Every day, I sit there and pump out a new drawing.

And all the drawings I would be posting would take me two days or two mornings — an hour or less apiece. I even picked up speed as far as the amount of time I was working on them. I could do it faster and faster, and get more precise. It's interesting how it's an exponential growth of ability.

I feel my brain swelling.

Yeah, you really got good. I was following your story on Facebook and it seems like all of a sudden, you put up that drawing of of Vampirella, and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ I don’t know how hard you are on your own work, but even you have to acknowledge that the difference is pretty impressive.

Oh no, that's the thing. It's weird because people come up and say, ‘Wow dude, you're drawing really well.’ And I share in their amazement: ‘Yeah, I know, right? These are really fucking good.’ And it's weird. I don't want to seem like I'm egotistical but I'm surprising the hell out of myself with this.

With that Vampirella one, I was sitting at home and just kind of sketching. I drew a different type of line. I had actually been trying to get to a point like that — I guess, like a looser style. It’s been hard to teach myself to get looser when I've been trying to get tighter and tighter for years. And so my left hand had that looseness that I was looking for.

It's just been really weird and awesome to see it happen. The big drawing that blew my mind that I was able to complete it and make it look as good as what I would do with my right hand was the one with two witches brewing up the bongwater soup.

I use a brush pen usually, but I pulled out a nib pen I hadn't used in years and it worked out great. It was like this cool new toy to play with and get different effects.

There's still a difference between your left-hand and right-hand style, though, right? You've gotten better, but you haven't gotten the same.

No, but I'm definitely getting closer, which I'm not sure like.

It's kind of fascinating — I talked to one of my other cartoonist buddies, Kalen Knowles. He said, ‘What if I told you I like these [left-handed drawings] a little bit more than your other stuff?’ And my girlfriend was getting close to saying that to me too.

It's weird to me because I've been working so hard to get a style that I can be comfortable with, and can produce well with my right hand, for so long. And now I'm coming up with this little bit more naïve, or raw, look with my left, and everybody's like, ‘Oh, I like that better.

It also looks more hand drawn. I guess that's what he was saying; it looks like it has a little bit more of a human hand to it.

And I think some people are drawn to that because it looks like something that they'd be able to do. I've had a couple of people say they like stuff that looks not too polished. If it's so polished and super hyper-realistic, they can't even understand it.

But if it looks like someone drew it, and there's mistakes and there's a wiggly line, then people get that. There must be something identifiable about it.

I've been trying to be cautious or kind of aware of how clean and how good my stuff looks, because I don't want it to look like it's made by a computer. I don't like a lot of digital art a lot of times. I see it as soulless. It's too clean, it's too nice.

So if [art drawn with my left hand is] a little rougher, or hand-drawn, or there's a mistake, that's cool. But I don't want my art to be full of mistakes. I look at a piece of my art and I see all my mistakes — I don't see how good it is. And I think that's the hardest thing for artists — liking your style, liking your little quirks, and all the strange things about it. Hopefully, your tastes match up with your audience.

So the cast is off, right?

Yeah, it came off yesterday. Thank God.

Have you been drawing a little bit? Have you had time to readjust to the right hand?

No, I’ve still got to go through some physical therapy. I have a new splint.

But I'm going to have to [get back into drawing with the right hand] because I've got to finish the vampire book I'm working on. I'm interested to see if my right hand has to learn to catch up now. Will I be able to jump back in? Or will my left hand now become the superior hand?

I'm looking forward to using the left hand to sketch out things, or do my rough pencils, because it has that looseness. And then I'll ink it with my right hand so that I can get a tighter look.

So you’re looking to use both hands in the future? Like, at the same time?

I'm not a gecko. I can't spread my eyes and look at two different drawings at the same time. Not yet. I may well try.

Maybe you just need a head injury.

Be kicked in the head by a mule.

Do you think you're going to finish the vampire book by the time Short Run happens on November 4th? Are people going to be able to see your latest stuff at your booth at Short Run?

Oh yeah, for sure. I have only a few pages left on the vampire book. It’s called The Fang and it's about a female vampire who has a job as an assassin of monsters.

I'm also thinking about coming up with a left-handed publication of some sort. Like the closest thing I'm ever going to do to an autobio comic, with photos, probably collages, and some sort of skate art. A photo of my skateboard, and x-rays from my hand, and then all my left-handed art. I think that's something I should definitely do.

I want to see if I can get, at the very least, a coffee shop to host a bunch of left-handed drawings.

Do you have a book out right now that you think is a perfect example of your right-handedness at its apex, before the accident? So that readers can do a before and after comparison?

Oh yeah. The Punch to Kills are the best I've done. And then, The Fang book is definitely the thing that I've been really excited about doing all this year. It definitely is looser than the Punch to Kills, I think, and a little bit more fun.

So, yeah, there should definitely be stuff for sale at Short Run, so you can look at what I did this way and that way. Choose your poison. Pick your hand.