The Sunday Post for September 25, 2016

What We're Saying When We Talk About Hillary Clinton's "Likability"

Sady Doyle unpacks the gendered responses to the first woman to be a major party candidate.

No, Hillary Clinton is not a flawless person — or politician. You can complain about her secrecy, her hawkishness, or her husband all for good reason. But Clinton is, according to available biographical evidence, normal. Ordinary, even. She’s like countless women of her generation: Caught between the second wave of feminism and the marital norms of a pre-feminist age, driven to prove herself but cautious about seeming “pushy” or radical, aspiring to lead the nation into the 21st century yet baffled by her own fax machine. Her soul contains little poetry, and less mystery. Her flaws exist on an identifiably human scale.
Despite Legacy Of Racism, Black Women Rock On

Latonya Pennington, in The Establishment, on black women playing rock music, and being recognized for it.

Why are the contributions of black musicians like these so rarely acknowledged? In part, it has to do with monolithic stereotyping of black musicians and black music listeners—the association of current black musicians and black music fans in the United States with only hip-hop, R&B, and pop. In her book What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, music journalist Laina Dawes states that the monolith stereotype is the result of the whitewashing of rock music, as well as the black community’s need to preserve cultural bonds and appear respectable.
I Used to Be a Human Being

Andrew Sullivan talking to how a steady stream of instant media nearly ruined his health.

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”
Can the South Make Room for Reconstruction?

Bill Rauch looks into resistance from certain corners in the South in telling the true story of the Reconstruction, after the Civil War.

The National Park Service has also commissioned a study to explore creating official commemorative sites—and two places that are likely high on the list are Beaufort, South Carolina, and Natchez, Mississippi. That study is currently in its “final review” phase within the agency and is expected to come out in the next few months, probably right after the November elections. Reflecting the most recent historiographical thinking on Reconstruction, the long-awaited study will no doubt also emphasize the controversial era’s role as the essential precursor of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.

The Responsible Communication Style Guide - Kickstarter Fund Project #36

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?

The Responsible Communication Style Guide. We've put $20 in as a non-reward backer

Who is the Creator?

Audrey Eschright.

What do they have to say about the project?

The Responsible Communication Style Guide is a stylebook for writers and other media creators

What caught your eye?

Recompiler Mag is a feminist hacker magazine, and like many publications, they run into a myriad of style issues. Specifically, they are concerned with proper inclusive language, and the cases where language may exclude or diminish.

So why not write their own style guide? They're focusing on five areas: race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being. Each aspect of open communication, and how to present topics in ways that don't exclude people, are considered.

Why should I back it?

Style guides are suggestions (unless you're a language absolutist), and reading suggestions about ways you can be more aware in your writing and tone, especially if you're going for a neutral voice, is never a bad thing. Knowing what language may offend or alienate people you've never thought about can make your work reach a larger audience. And, with the exception of certain politicians, writers, and narrow-minded charlatans, limiting your audience is generally a bad idea.

How's the project doing?

Ouch! Only 45% there and five days to go. They need help. If you get behind this project, help spread the word!

Do they have a video?

Kickstarter Fund Stats
  • Projects backed: 36
  • Funds pledged: $720
  • Funds collected: $640
  • Unsuccessful pledges: 2
  • Fund balance: $300

The Help Desk: Am I stealing from the library?

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,

I recently moved from Seattle to a small town in the Midwest, giving up the Seattle Public Library’s massive collection for something much more modest. Now, our library system here is pretty good! I have no real complaints. But every so often, there’s a book I want to read that they don’t have but, lo and behold, SPL has the ebook version. Since I still have a working library card, I can check out ebooks from the SPL with no problem. I’m not paying Seattle taxes anymore, but I can’t seem to resist, well, taking advantage of Seattle taxpayers. How big of a sin am I committing? Should I just rip up my old library card?

Amanda, Midwest

Dear Amanda,

Congratulations. By relocating from Seattle to a small town in the Midwest, you have become a “woman of the world.” There are many perks accompanying your new status: you are likely better at identifying mountains than your Midwestern peers and can more closely relate to the kidnapped survivors of Boko Haram than your Seattle peers, if not spiritually then at least geographically. Savor this feeling.

As for your sin of committing library fraud, to use the analogy of sports I don’t follow, I consider this sin to be golf-ball sized – it would probably choke a baby but a belligerent adult could swallow it just fine with a chaser of Bud Light Lime.

Here’s the good news: The Seattle Public Library does issue library cards to non-Seattle, Washington state residents for a price ($85).

If your moral compass so guides you – did I mention women of the world are also fitted with strong moral compasses? – start making an $85 annual donation to the Seattle Public Library and continue using your fraudulent library card guilt-free. But if you accidentally left your moral compass in a corn field somewhere in Ohio, it’s not the end of the world. Simply befriend a librarian in your new hometown and confess your sin to her or him over happy hour drinks (that you will pay for). Absolution is a tradition in the Catholic church, which is a sport I follow only slightly more than golf because of the drinking involved.

In the meantime, avoid befriending babies and no one gets hurt.

Kisses,

Cienna

As Jennifer Schuessler reported in the New York Times, the MacArthur Foundation announced their annual "Genius" grant winners yesterday. I'm very excited to see that the new list of "Geniuses" includes authors we've written about here at the Seattle Review of Books over the past year.

Congratulations to all the "Geniuses," (Those quotation marks are accurate, according to the MacArthur style guide, but they always feel so sarcastic whenever I write about the MacArthur grants that I always consider leaving them out.) I look forward to publishing many more pieces about their works here on the Seattle Review of Books in years to come.

Portrait Gallery: Clark Humphrey

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

Seattle's perennial ambassador to the micro-cultures of the Pacific Northwest, Clark Humphrey is appearing Sunday at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar to celebrate the new edition of his encyclopedic work on Seattle's music scene, LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story.

Criminal Fiction: our inaugural mystery, suspense and thriller column

New column! Every month, Daneet Steffens is going to uncover the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. Welcome Daneet!

I’m delighted to be kicking off this column for the Seattle Review of Books during a month full of crime-fiction action. Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, toasted its fourth year, crowning Christopher Brookmyre with the top McIlvanney Prize, and featuring the traditional England crime writers vs. Scottish crime writers football match (England won, 7-1). Stateside, Bouchercon took over New Orleans, a city made for murder mysteries, police procedurals, and vampiric thrillers: Seattle native Glen Erik Hamilton picked up the Best First Novel, and Mark Billingham, Doug Johnstone, Stuart Neville, and Bill Loehfelm rocked out at the New Orleans House of Blues. And, back in the UK, the third Noirwich weekend in Norwich welcomed a rich range of crime writers including Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Eva Dolan, Sarah Hilary, Peter James and Dreda Say Mitchell.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Allusions to Batman abound when sports agent Myron Bolitar and his longtime partner-in-solving-crimes Win – that’s Windsor Horne Lockwood III to you – return in Home by Harlan Coben (Dutton). Last seen in 2011’s Live Wire, a fictional year has passed since that book’s events, and Bolitar is happily engaged to be married. Win, on the other hand, is engaged in tracking down two teenage boys who disappeared as six-year-olds a decade ago. When one of the teens is found, and Win calls on Myron’s assistance, the friends pursue an emotionally-charged mystery, tangling with a Bond-level villain, as well as with two sets of still-grieving parents.

In So Say the Fallen (Soho Crime), Stuart Neville’s persistent policewoman, Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan, already has plenty domestic tensions to deal with when she’s called to investigate the apparent suicide of a wealthy car dealer. The case appears straightforward, but Flanagan has a nose for the extraordinary, especially when it comes to criminal minds. While executing a taut, heart-stopping police procedural, Neville is equally skilled at imbuing the darkest corners of our minds with a bleak beauty of their own, uncovering humanity in the most inhumane of baddies.

With her Simon Waterhouse-Charlie Zailer series of mysteries, Sophie Hannah has proved herself as fiendishly astute as Agatha Christie when it comes to the innermost (read: darkest) workings of human psychology. She also shares with Christie a dry, wry comedic touch that rises to the surface when least expected. Closed Casket (William Morrow), Hannah’s second sophisticated take on Christie’s Hercule Poirot, is both entertaining and clever, pitting the Belgian detective against a houseful of suspects – including an Enid Blyton-like writer. A canny ode to the great Christie, and a formidable showcasing of Hannah’s own crime-writing skills.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart was one of the most enjoyable literary surprises of 2015, and the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), pursues its clever premise. Based on the real-life Kopp sisters of Bergen County, New Jersey – and the career of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs, in particular – this adventure finds Constance’s deputy sheriff status at stake when she tricked by a nefarious con man. The multiple crimes that Stewart weaves into her tale are one thing, but equally compelling are the lovingly rendered characters, including a shining cameo by William Carlos Williams.

Finally, set in segregated Atlanta in 1948, the year the city hired its first black policemen, Darktown by Thomas Mullen (37 Ink), tackles legal, systemic racism at its most horrific, alongside the new beat cops’ job of upholding the law when it comes to murder, moonshine and mayhem. Two of the black policemen, Boggs and Smith, tangle in particular with Dunlow, a nasty, corrupt cop, whose young partner, Rakes, is too new and tentative to do anything but observe Dunlow’s violence. Tenebrous and super-cinematic – film/television rights are already with Sony – and in no small sense reminiscent of 1997’s L.A. Confidential.
The Quintessential Interview: Chris Holm
In 2015, Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind — which just won the Anthony Award for Best Novel at Bouchercon — introduced Michael Hendricks, a hit man who targets other hit men. Its follow-up, Red Right Hand, finds Hendricks on a bit of a revenge trip when FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson taps him for assistance: a viral video of a terrorist attack in San Francisco reveals that an FBI witness whom everyone thought was dead is, in fact, very much alive. Red Right Hand is perfectly paced page-turner: Holm elegantly juggles multiple characters, perspectives and locations, without a single misstep.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I have a deep and abiding love of classic pulp. I’m fascinated by what drives good people to do bad things. By how bad one can be without becoming irredeemable. By the slipperiness of identity and what we consider to be our essential selves. And I should give a nod to my adopted hometown of Portland, Maine, since I never seriously considered pursuing a writing career until I moved here—and I worry the words will dry up if I ever leave.

Top five places to write?

The left side of my couch. The University of New England’s Westbrook College Campus library. Coffee By Design on Diamond Street. The right side of my couch. On the backs of receipts at stop lights in my car.

Top five favorite writers?

I’m only allowed five?! I just broke out in a cold sweat. Today, let’s say Megan Abbott, Raymond Chandler, Tim Powers, Donna Tartt, and Donald Westlake. Tomorrow, I might cough up a whole new list.

Top five tunes to write to?

My favorites include Benny Goodman Orchestra’s “Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing),” Budos Band’s “The Sticks,” DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor,” Mono’s “Ashes in the Snow,” and Rodrigo y Gabriela’s “Diablo Rojo.” I have a tough time writing to anything that features words, so all my picks are instrumental. I use them sparingly, whenever I feel as if my writing needs a boost.

Top five hometown spots?

The secret garden behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house on Congress Street. The tasting room at Allagash. The gloomy labyrinth that is Portland Architectural Salvage. Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. And Halcyon Tattoo in Windham.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Doom, again

Sometimes you just fall in love with an artist’s work at first sight. That was what it was like for me reading the first issue of DC’s new Doom Patrol, which was published last week. I don’t know where Nick Derington comes from, but that two-page spread he drew that opens the issue, with a long, narrow panel of protagonist Casey Brinke driving an ambulance, is this kind of a moment for me. Derington has everything I love in an artist: simple lines, fine details, expressive facial expressions. This is the same kind of feeling that hit me when I first saw Marcos Martin’s art, for instance: pure love.

Derington’s art is beautifully complimented by Tamra Bonvillain’s coloring, which straddles the line between digital realism and gaudy comic book fluorescence. Together, you get the sense they could illustrate anything. And so they do: alien worlds, the back rooms where ambulance drivers wait for the next distress call, cramped apartments, heavenly throne rooms, and sterile hotel conference rooms. This is a comic book that charms you with the turn of every page.

I wish I could say the same for Gerard Way’s script. Way, the rock and roll singer who wowed comics fans with his weird superhero series Umbrella Academy, is launching a new weird adult imprint for DC Comics called Young Animal, of which Doom Patrol is the flagship title. And several of the new characters that Way introduces in the book — Casey Brinke, a singing telegram girl from beyond the stars — are absolutely fascinating. But only part of this book is treading new ground.

In a text piece at the end of the issue, Way talks about his love for Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol comic from the 1990s. While that Doom Patrol run was absolutely incredible — I recently re-read it and was happy to find that much of it holds up — some of the elements in this new Doom Patrol feel a bit too eager to retrace those steps. The beauty of Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol was that he took an old, unsettling superhero comic and transformed it into something new and unsettling. It was of its time, and it happily discarded elements of the past to build its own identity. If Way is unable to make something new here, his Doom Patrol could wind up being nothing more than a nostalgia act.

Comics is not hurting for nostalgia; in fact, nostalgia is what is holding comics back. And those terrific books that ran during the heyday of Vertigo Comics — Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Sandman — deserve more than nostalgia. The best homage Way could pay to Morrison’s run would be to ignore it, and to head in a different direction entirely.

Feminism a la carte

Published September 21, 2016, at 12:00pm

Amy R Peloff reviews Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution, and Andi Zeisler's We Were Feminists Once.

Two indie feminists come at commerce, advertising, and how to best love media from different angles.

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from September 21st - September 27th

Wednesday September 21st: A Gentleman in Moscow Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Folio: The Seattle Athenaem, 324 Marion St., 402-4612, http://folioseattle.org. $5. 7 p.m.

Thursday September 22nd: A Kingdom of Their Own Reading

Joshua Partlow is a Seattle native who reports on international affairs for the Washington Post. Though he’s currently based out of Mexico City, Partlow did a stint in Afghanistan that culminated in his new book, about how America’s interference in the country is now coming back to haunt us. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday September 23rd: The Constitution Today Reading

Yale professor Akhil Reed Amar is one of our leading Constitutional scholars—he even advised writers on The West Wing on Constitutional law. His new book discusses some of the most compelling political arguments of our time—from guns to gay marriage—and explains why the Constitution has so successfully grown and changed with this country. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Saturday September 24th: Vow of Celibacy Reading

Standup comedian Erin Judge’s new coming-of-age novel is about a bisexual aspiring fashion designer with body image issues who takes a vow of celibacy in hopes of figuring out out why her life is such a mess. Judge will be joined by some other comedians, making this less of a reading and more of a mini-standup comedy festival. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Sunday September 25th: LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story Reading

Once upon a time, young people were flocking to Seattle to take part in its music scene. Now that young people are flocking to Seattle to take part in its online retailing scene, it’s time for Seattle media veteran Clark Humphrey to reissue his two-decade old encyclopedic guide to the movers and shakers of grunge-era Seattle. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Monday September 26th: Here I Am Reading

A decade ago, Jonathan Safran Foer came to Seattle for a triumphant reading to celebrate his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Tonight he returns with his third novel, and reviews have been…less than kind. (There’s a scene where a husband makes his wife orgasm by staring at her vagina.) It’s time for some good old-fashioned literary rubbernecking. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org. $34.89. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday September 27th: A Voice Without the Words to Speak

This roundtable discussion about the loss of language is an inclusive, participatory discussion. Various experts—children of immigrants whose parents demanded that they speak only English, a Yakima language preservationist, and more—will discuss the importance of keeping language alive for a new generation, and what happens when a language dies.Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Literary Event of the Week: Amor Towles at FOLIO

Amor Towles’s second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, centers around Count Alexander Rostov, a wealthy member of the aristocracy who, in the early 1920s, finds himself on the wrong side of the Russian Revolution. For the crime of his wealth and upper-class roots, the Count is sentenced to live under house arrest in a cramped room tucked into the top of a grand Moscow hotel called the Metropol. And there he stays, for three decades.

The Count is a wondrous literary creation. He’s dignified and intelligent, but also weirdly displaced and kind of petulant. As a reader, you don’t know whether you should respond with disgust at the fact that he’s so unprepared for the roughness of the real world or with appreciation at the fact that his coping mechanism—pretending that the Revolution merely left him temporarily indisposed—is so marvelously effective. This is a character who is at once plain-faced and complex, the kind of rare protagonist who’ll live in your head for years.

Comparisons between novels and films are often misleading and unfair to both ends of the simile, but I can’t be the only reader for whom the opening pages of Moscow bring Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel to mind. Like the film, the book is densely populated with a broad and mildly cartoonish cast of characters, it’s set in a beautiful and sprawling hotel, and it’s enlivened with a broad and gracious variety of wit.

But that comparison between Moscow and Budapest is perhaps a feint masking an even more apt relationship: Anderson himself was very open about his film’s relationship to the works of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist from the early half of the 20th century who went largely unappreciated while he was alive. And in fact Towles’s book is even more worthy of the claim to Zweig’s legacy than Budapest was: both Towles and Zweig write deceptively light prose that enchants a reader, and both writers use their chipper cleverness to disguise a considerable darkness underneath.

Whereas Zweig’s fiction always recoiled from the Nazi occupation that forced him to flee his home in the late 1930s, Moscow follows 30 years of Russian history from the Revolution to the dawning of the Cold War, all from within the walls of the Metropol. Some of the most brutal moments of the 20th century unfurl before the eyes of an inscrutable protagonist who tends toward heroic displays of understatement: “Let us concede that the early thirties in Russia were unkind.” That’s certainly one way to refer to famine, riots, brutality, and the rise of Stalin.

There will undoubtedly be some readers who chafe at the idea of an entire book that witnesses nearly a third of a century’s worth of a nation suffering from a sheltered aristocrat’s perspective. They are perhaps missing the point: in the Count, Towles has created a marvelous stand-in for the resilient human spirit: even in rags and imprisonment, he bears himself with dignity. Even if just in his own mind, he is a Count.

(Amor Towles reads at FOLIO: The Seattle Athenaeum tonight at 7 pm. The reading is $5.)

Book News Roundup: The publishing industry is changing too slowly

  • Flavorwire reports on a Publishers Weekly report on the publishing industry. The bottom line: "Publishing Makes 'Little Progress' in Diversity, Remains Extremely White." This is not good enough.

  • And there's more bad news in the PW report, including the fact that women in publishing are still paid less than men. Boo.

  • This came in too late for me to add to the readings calendar this week, but you should be advised that the Words West reading series will take place tomorrow night at C&P Coffee Company in West Seattle. The very special guests at this reading will be Tod Marshall, Washington State's Poet Laureate, and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who will share her favorite poem.This reading will also debut "a new library featuring a book by every author who has read at WordsWest." This is a super-cool idea.

  • Do you know any teenagers who love making comics? You should direct them to the All City Comics Club, which is hosted by local comics superstar David Lasky and which takes place at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Here, have a flier:

Art & Life

Art saves nothing
and this is not art
just words running
in lines, hoping to reach
redemption. Meanwhile
time is running                out

for bat and bee,
hippo and elephant.
Coral reefs are dying. Salmon,
once wild, breed in tubs.
Don't put your hope in poems

that plot the putrid doings
of bankers, that bank
on Franz Marc's red horses
gamboling and grazing,
as if we'd never learned
to fabricate glue from hooves.

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie, who was nominated for his children's book Thunder Boy Jr. in the Young Readers' Literature category. We loved the book (as did our resident six-year-old).

And now seems like a good time to announce: join us, Sherman Alexie, Robert Lashley, and EJ Koh at the Elliott Bay Book Company on November 11th for a poetry reading. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize this as our Bumbershoot lineup. We felt the night was so magical, we wanted to recreate it outside of the ticketed bounds of the Bumbershoot arena. Mark the date — we look forward to seeing you there.

Books! Books and rare books! And more!

This week's sponsor The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is back, for their twenty-ninth annual show at Seattle Center, happening October 8th-9th. The fair is an amazing event, a place to see rare books, ephemera, maps, and collectibles.

Find out more, and see a great video about the fair, on our sponsor's page.

It's thanks to sponsors like The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, 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.

Why does Carl Phillips need the Washington State Book Award?

The truth is, he doesn’t. In fact, Carl Phillips is confused about the controversy his nomination is causing among Washington state poets. When I spoke with Phillips this morning he mentioned his total surprise and delight when informed by his publisher that his book Renaissance was nominated for this year’s Washington State Book Award. He went on to say that the book was submitted by his publisher, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. “It wouldn’t have occurred to me,” to send the book, he said, and followed up with how honored he felt. And why would Carl Phillips believe he was eligible? Phillips left the state a little less than a year after his birth and has returned exactly twice – once for the recent AWP in Seattle and once to board a cruise ship. He doesn’t think he will be able to attend the October 8th award ceremonies.

The real problem is not his nomination — Phillips is a lovely man and an extraordinarily gifted lyric poet, he deserves many awards. But for this year’s Washington State Book Award in Poetry, three out of the five finalists do not live in Washington State. They are residents of Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah.

Seattle Library’s website states a poetry book is eligible if the author:

was born in Washington state or is a current resident and has maintained residence here for at least three years.

So let’s unpack this. A poet could be born outside of Tacoma, leave before attending nursery school over 50 years ago, and become the winner of the Washington State Poetry Award. Perhaps she (or he) has never returned to Washington except for an AWP Conference. Another poet could have moved here in 2014, worked hard in the literary community, published a fabulous book, but she would not be eligible for this year’s award because she hasn’t lived in state for three years. How can we change these antiquated rules?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Washington State Book Awards. Each year a select group of booksellers, librarians, and writers come together to decide on approximately five finalists in eight categories including Fiction, Poetry, Biography/Memoir, History/General Non-Fiction and four Children’s Books/YA categories. You can check their names on the Seattle Library website (scroll down to the very end). My point is not to vilify any hard working judge or any talented poet.

But is there any reason why a Washington state birth certificate trumps 30 months of actually living in this state? I’m genuinely confused. Perhaps the judges don’t think Washington State has enough skilled poets publishing books within our state lines? This is definitely not the case. Rick Barot’s, Chord, is the best book of poetry I have read in many years – it’s won several important national awards, but has not even been nominated for an award here where he has lived for more than a decade. Katharine Whitcomb’s, A Daughter’s Almanac, is a gorgeously experimental and important book, Whitcomb is a former Stegner Fellow and the co-editor of A Sense of Place: The Washington State Geospatial Poetry Anthology. Other poets with strong books that were passed over this year include Jenifer Lawrence, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Martha Silano, Michael Schmeltzer and Maya Zeller.

Poets in this town don’t like to cause a fuss. No one wants to seem unkind, or impolite. So when the list of finalists was announced last week, there were only a few quiet conversations with friends about why the Seattle Public Library Washington State Book Awards would decide to go outside the state for 3/5ths of the poetry finalists.

So after a lovely Washington road trip with another poet friend, I decided to broach the subject of this year’s award choices on social media. Here’s what I wrote on FB on Sunday:

Is anyone else concerned that WA State Book Awards in Poetry this year have more than half the nominations going to poets who do not live here and have not lived here in ages? I've no skin in the game (this year) other than this seems plain wrong. I was born and bred in Massachusetts. Until I was 38, the Boston area was home. But that doesn't make me eligible to send my poetry books to their prizes. And I agree that since I'm not living there — not for 18 years now — it would be odd to submit books written elsewhere.

Within a few hours over 45 people had responded — each of them agreeing that the rules of who is eligible for the Washington State Book Awards need to be changed. Kelli Agodon responded with this comment:

My concern is that the majority of the poets selected won't be at the award ceremony since they live out of state, while so many Washington poets who live in the state were neglected. I was shocked by the number of non-Washington poets & writers who were on this year's list. As a poet and cofounder of Two Sylvias Press, an independent Washington State book publisher, this troubles me. It is the "Washington State Book Award," and for me, this means that you live in the state currently.

So the problem isn’t with the three nonresidents or even with this year’s judges (only one of whom is a poet). The problem is with the rules. How can we get them changed?

For the last ten years or so, the library’s beloved Chris Higashi has organized the logistics of the judging. However, she has just stepped down and it is not clear yet who will take over her position. In the meantime, Carl Phillips is scheduled to read for Seattle Arts and Lectures this coming May. I hope to give him a tour of the area; it’s changed quite a bit since he left in 1960.

Counterfactual, counterhistory, counter memory

Published September 19, 2016, at 12:00pm

Ivan Schneider reviews Simone Zelitch's Judenstaat.

We love to build alternative Jewish homelands in literature. Ivan Schneider looks at the latest.

Read this review now

At Lion Heart Books, the shelves tell the story

Lion Heart Book Store houses an eclectic collection of volumes, keeping the shelves as interesting as their owner and visitors. The turnover is fast, too — titles come and go as everyone who visits finds something that intrigues them. The most popular books come from the fiction section, but people ask for a great variety of titles, editions, and genres. The mystery section is always well-stocked, with paperbacks stuffed into narrow shelves with no wiggle room. On the opposite wall of the store, by the entryway, is a scarce-but-growing children’s section. David is making the effort to start a Spanish section among the kids’ books, which further highlights his passion for people, for diversity and culture, and for being a part of something bigger.

Inside the shop there is almost certainly something for everyone. And if you don’t know what you want, talk to David for a few seconds and he’ll lead you to a book. There are racks of pocket poetry, assorted cards and artsy postcards, and trendy picks like adult coloring books. Bestsellers and classics stand on a small central table — copies of The Boys in the Boat, Pride and Prejudice, and Cannery Row. Vonnegut, clearly a favorite, lines the counter and displays, making the space even more lively with the vibrant and colorful book covers. Two tall glass cases stand at the end of the bookshelves, which are slim in size but not in pickings. These cases, containing fragile old books and small figurines, are a nod to David’s previous books and antiques store in Lake City.

While some of the books come from customers, David orders most of them, always careful to curate the selection to please visitors. I once visited as he was unpacking new arrivals, sorting through stacks of boxes in the small space behind the counter. With his amazing energy he unpacks, recommends, and entertains as he moves around his store. What results from his consideration is a perfectly varied selection that caters to every need. There are John Green novels, books about Seattle and Pike Place Market for souvenirs, quick reads for a plane ride, and obscure unheard-of titles. If you’re searching for the next item on your to-read list or don’t know what to gift someone, a visit to Lion Heart Book Store will not disappoint.

Sunday Post for September 18, 2016

Edward Albee, Playwright of a Desperate Generation, Dies at 88

One of the great tragedies of a good obituary is that someone needs to die in order for it to be read. I've seen a number of Albee plays, but knew very little about the man himself.

Sent to an adoption nursery in Manhattan before he was three weeks old, baby Edward was placed with Reed Albee, an heir to the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville theaters, and his wife, Frances, who lived in Larchmont, N.Y. The couple had no children and formally adopted Edward 10 months later, naming him Edward Franklin Albee III after two of his adoptive father’s ancestors.

Patrician and distant, the Albees were unsuited to dealing with a child of artistic temperament, and in later years Mr. Albee would often recall an un-nourishing childhood in which he felt like an interloper in their home. In a 2011 interview at the Arena Stage in Washington with the director Molly Smith, he said that his mother had thrown out his first play — he described it as “a three-act sex farce” — which he wrote at age 14.

Pity the Substitute Teacher

Nicolson Baker has written a book about education, after going undercover and working in a school district as a substitute teacher. This is the part of the book review site where we link to another book review.

At 700-plus pages, Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids is a surprisingly hefty contribution to the life-of-a-teacher genre, especially given that Baker clocked only 28 days in the classroom—a place he’d love to liberate kids from. (He enjoyed a 1970s school-without-walls progressive education himself. ) Scattered across three months and six schools, grades K–12, each of those days is chronicled with the moment-by-moment vividness that Baker has made one of his trademarks. In his novel The Mezzanine, for example, he plumbs an office worker’s thoughts during an escalator ride; fireplace rituals receive punctilious attention in A Box of Matches. Well before his teaching stint has ended, Baker the substitute has shifted into saboteur mode—the reporter as mischief-maker.
My father was an abusive sociopath, and i was the only one he had left

A hard personal story about obligation and family.

The last time I saw my father alive I was 22 years old and working at the Metropolitan Opera. I wasn't making much money but that is a relative statement, given that I had an apartment in Manhattan instead of a double-wide in mid-Michigan, like most of my childhood friends. It was the first time I truly believed I was not just getting out but staying out of the poverty that haunted our family tree.

The phone call came on a Tuesday while I was at work. This was long before I learned not to answer calls from numbers I didn't recognize. It was a hospital. My father had fallen and broken his back, and since he lived alone, no one had found him for 24 hours. He was still alive, somehow, when a cleaning lady discovered him at the bottom of the stairs and called 911. The hospital social worker found my phone number in his wallet. It was the only number of any kind that he had on him.

The Myth of the “Race Card”

Talking about race in America means talking about race in America:

Two essential quotes come up often among the black women in my professional cohort. The first is one that we attribute to Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” The other is from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals: “Your silence will not protect you.” We trade these quotes to nudge one another toward self-advocacy in situations when speaking up for ourselves might be difficult—such as in work or social settings where we are in a minority as women of color and our experiences of sexism or racism may be minimized or disbelieved, if we are vocal about them.