This note was just posted on Roosevelt bar/coffee shop Café Racer's Facebook page:
It is with great sadness that I have to say this...
Café Racer is closing.
The last night will be this Wednesday.
Lord knows the café has had it's ups and downs but it has been 14 years of art and music and community. No one can take that away from us.
But I just can no longer support it. It is still for sale, and I've had some offers, who wanted to carry on what the café is, but for one reason or another, they have falling through. Contact me if you are interested because the last thing I want is for the café to go away.
I'm sorry. This is the last thing that I wanted to happen.
Presumably the "Kurt" in question is Racer owner Kurt Geissel. Geissel announced his intentions to sell Racer back in the spring of this year.
Café Racer has long been a home base for Seattle's cartooning community, perhaps most notably as the home for the Dune Night comics/zine-drawing jam session. It has also been home to readings, writing workshops, and countless folks working on their novels. The city is losing a literary hub this Wednesday.
Make sure to save Saturday night, October 21, for the launch party for Mary’s Dust, a much-anticipated book by Seattle poet Melinda Mueller. Hosted by sponsor Entre Ríos Books, the event includes a reading by Mueller (and she’s a great reader, crisp, clear, and compelling) and live music by cellist Lori Goldston. You’ll also get a first peek at a new short film, in which local lights Laura Da', Christine Deavel, and Kathleen Flenniken join Mueller for a “making of.”
Mueller is a scientist, as well as a poet, and she brings the scientist’s gimlet eye to every line, digging into history for her subjects and transforming what she finds. Mary’s Dust re-tells the stories of 32 historical Marys — writers, actresses, physicists; risk-takers and rule-breakers. Entre Ríos has shared one of those Marys with our readers this week. Take a look at our sponsor page for an excerpt from the book, a sample of Mueller reading, and an early look at the new film.
Sponsors like Entre Ríos Books make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reach out and let us know. We’d be happy to reserve a spot for you, even before our next block of dates goes public.
This Thursday night is Lit Crawl, a bacchanalia of literary events spread over four courses across Capitol Hill, First Hill, and downtown. You can find the full schedule here, but we wanted to provide a few possible itineraries for people who have a hard time making up their minds. Come back tomorrow for the next itnerary.
Phase 1: Our first itinerary starts with a choice: are you a dystopian fiction nut, or do you like your sci-fi to be a broader deal? If you like dystopia, head to the Sorrento Hotel for an evening of postapocalyptic stories with readers Aple Plotnick Jannotta, Lynn Adams, and Johanna Stoberock. Prefer a wider scope on your speculative fiction? Saint John's bar is hosting Cat Rambo, Camille Griep, and Caren Gussoff Sumption.
Phase 2: Head to Zoë Events on Union for Meredith Clark, Katie Ellison, Leslie Frank, and Molly Thornton for a brisk 45-minute exploration of what genre can do. The copy for the event promises an evening that "traverses across memoir, essay, and less definable forms to create cross-genre and hybrid nonfiction."
Phase 3: It's October, so it's time for horror. Ramon Isao, J. Lincoln Fenn, and Evan J. Peterson haunt the house that is Ada's Technical Books with a reading of scary fiction.
Phase 4: Your evening of readings ends at Hugo House with a mystery-themed event from Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (who publish pseudonymously as "Renee Patrick") reading from their novels of Hollywood, fashion, and murder starring iconic costume designer Edith Head.
Last week, Seattle cartoonist DW recommended a cartoonist who posts on Instagram under the pseudonym Seattle Walk Report. I’d never heard of her before, but when I looked her up I could easily understand why she was a favorite.
Seattle Walk Report’s cartoons track various data points from her walks through Seattle. She might count all the pumpkins she sees, or make a running tally of newspaper boxes, or notice that every single paneled parapet on the Montlake Bridge had its own spider web inside, or write little love notes to dogs she meets while walking around town. “I’ve been seeing a steady increase in sidewalk nachos,” she writes in one installment, “BUT WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?”
Seattle Walk Report responded quickly to a direct message, and she seemed happy to talk on the phone. The anonymity of her pseudonym isn’t iron clad: She identifies herself as in her late 20s and kindly offers her first name when I comment on how awkward it is to call another person “Seattle Walk Report.” But for reasons she explains in the interview, she finds the anonymity to be freeing.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
How did you get started? Did the walking come first and then the cartooning? Or did they happen at the same time?
Well, they're both intertwined. Like many walks, I think, it’s a long story, so I might ramble a little bit here.
I was born and raised in Seattle, and I've never lived anywhere else — even for a second. I don't know how to drive, and I've never learned. So I've always relied on walking, or buses, or the kindness of others to get around. The walking component was not something I found much joy in until very recently; it was just a means to an end for much of my life.
But something happened earlier this year, and the pure joy of long, winding, destinationless walks really hit me. It was kind of like —, you know in cartoons, when somebody gets hit by a piano, and they wake up and there's birds over their head and their teeth are piano keys? It was kind of like that. I woke up one morning, and it just felt like something was different. And I would wake up on a day off, and I would leave with no destination. And sometimes nine, ten hours later, I would come back, and that was just how I spent my day. It didn't even feel like a conscious decision. It was just my mind and my body telling me to get out there.
I thought I knew Seattle really well, having never lived anywhere else, but I can honestly say that before I started to take the time to slow down and take these walks, I really don't feel like I knew the half of it. Or the quarter of it. I still don't know that I do. Seattle's really started to unfold in a way that I hadn't seen before. Or maybe I hadn't taken the time to see it before — I'm not really sure.
Anyway, I've always been a person who draws, and when I was little my mom would say that I was born with a pencil in my hand; and I believed her literally until I was an embarrassing 10 or 11 years old. I thought, ‘wow, that's a really cute coincidence', and, ‘ouch, that must have hurt.’
I just crossed my legs.
But anything I've ever done artistically has really just been pretty much for myself — just art for art's sake. In high school, I would spend weeks or months working on some little, tiny minicomic just for myself. I'd complete it, and I'd smile, and I'd put it on my shelf, and I'd move on to the next thing. It was always for me and never really for anyone else.
I always imagined that I would die and the guy with the push broom who comes to clear out people's apartments who have died would find this shelf full of comics and books and all this crazy stuff that I had made that I had never shared with anybody. I imagined him with his push broom being like, ‘Whoa, this is some weird stuff.’
In addition to drawing, I've always really loved mundane data. Like the library has a subscription to a database called Statistica. It has a really great search functionality, so sometimes I'd just sit there and type in ‘Funions,’ and I'll see the average American household ate two or less bags of Funions in 2011. I just loved that kind of thing.
So walking really made me reconnect with Seattle, and reconnecting with Seattle made me walk. It was this really satisfying loop, and that was my first revelation. Then my second revelation came when I realized I could combine this love of walking with drawing and with data collection.
I thought it would be another one of those projects that I'd be happy to keep to myself, like some sort of journal or something. Because after a while the walks kind of all start to blur together. So I thought this would just be a fun way for me to remember these walks, and where I went, or what I saw on them, or how many crosswalks I crossed, or that kind of thing.
I decided one day to go out and just record what I see. I didn't have some deep goal in mind with it. And when I got home, I turned it into a drawing, and I wrote "Seattle Walk Report" at the top without thinking about it.
I closed my notebook that I had drawn it in, and I just felt this overwhelming sort of — it felt like there was something there that needed to be said about Seattle that wasn't being said. And for the first time with anything I've ever done, I really felt like this drawing needed to be somewhere for somebody else to connect with and see.
So I downloaded Instagram for the first time in my life, and I registered Seattle Walk Report. I posted it, not thinking anyone would ever see it or ever care, but wanting to know that it was there for people to see and care about if they felt like it.
It just went from there. The feedback loop grew stronger in terms of me walking to draw and drawing to walk in Seattle. It all just kind of wove together into this perfect little thing.
I didn't tell anyone I was going to do it. I didn't come up with a cute name first, and then try to figure it out. I just did it, and I didn't have a fully formed idea of what I was doing. I still don't. It's evolved so much. It was just born out of walking, and raised by walking, and will probably die by walking. Anyway, that's the long, winding story of it all.
That's fantastic. What do you think, specifically, about the evolution when you look back on the last four months, five months? How long has it been?
I think July 1st was when I started it. When I first started out, I felt this desire to use the knowledge that I have of Seattle's neighborhoods to impose my own ideas about what might unfold during that walk, instead of just letting the city be whatever it is that day. I would actively seek out certain things at the detriment of actually seeing what was there.
In one of my earliest ones, I knew I was going to be walking around in South Lake Union so I was like, ‘okay, I'll probably see closed sidewalks, and I'll probably see Starbucks cups on the ground, and I'll probably see some baby ducks.’ And so I went out to tally those things, since it seemed like I would probably find them there, and that's fine. But it was almost like I was writing a narrative and pigeon-holing the walk, or the place, before even setting out on it.
Once I let go of that sort of narrative, and just started to walk with no preconceived notions of what I would see, I think things just really started to pop off. Right around the time that I let go of that, people started commenting, ‘This one was really good.’ Or, like, ‘this has really gotten a lot better.’ Then I did start to put more effort into it, because before I would just do it over 15 minutes on my lunch break.
I actually just found out about you last week, because a cartoonist named DW who moved to Seattle just a few months ago recommended you as one of his favorite cartoonists.
That's so nice.
I've been doing long walks for a few years now, and I've written a little about it, and every once in a while I'll tweet while I'm out on a walk or something. And people have told me, "You should write a book about this." And I love walking, but the point of walking is to be sort of monotonous, right? It's literally one step in front of the other. But the way you handle it, I think, is really interesting.
It really speaks to me about the quotidian nature of walking, and just what it's like to go out on a walk and to observe at a very natural, very slow pace. Have your cartoons always been sort of like data collection or did you just start doing that with the walking?
There's always been kind of an element of that. I’ve always been interested in taking things that people think they know and adding some sort of new layer to it. I've found through this that there are other people out there doing this exact same thing in a different way, moreso than I realized.
Like the number of messages I've gotten from people who are like, ‘oh, my gosh, I thought I was the only person who always remembered my favorite dog I saw on a walk.’ Just that there are other people out there quietly doing this exact same thing in their heads. And that's pretty cool — to find that kind of quiet community out there, and kind of bring people together. I was not expecting the response to be what it was. I really thought I'd be playing to an audience of myself, just in as more public way than I normally do.
And so to have people resonate, to have it resonate with people, and have people message me and say, ‘you're my hero’ and ‘this has changed how I see Seattle’ — it just blows my mind a little bit.
So you have over 700 followers on Instagram. How did those numbers grow? It's been a relatively short time. Did you get everybody all at once or have there been little plateaus, or what?
It's been super, super steady from the beginning. Every day a couple more people. I haven't had one day where I wake up and see that I’ve gotten 100 people — nothing like that. I think people find it just by stumbling on it, or people hear about it from somebody else. It's been kind of a word of mouth thing.
There are people who know me really well who don't know that I'm doing this. There are people who I work with who follow me, and they don't know that I am this person I don't see myself as part of the Seattle comics community, because I've never met anybody in it or gone to any of the things that you're supposed to go to if you're part of that. But I have followed certain Seattle cartoonists that I stumble across [on Instagram], and then they'll follow me back and that kind of thing. So it's just been a steady sort of growth.
So, say you inspire somebody to walk, which I imagine has probably happened. Is there any walk that you would recommend as a particularly surprising one for people want to get a feel for Seattle as a walking city?
This might be a little bit long for the new walker, but I'd say give it a shot and see what happens: I really like the South Lake Union walk. I like walking around South Lake Union — starting near MOHAI and going the entire way around — because you get to see such a variety of things. It's a relatively flat walk. There's Gas Works along the way. There's Fremont. You get to go over bridges. You get to go under bridges. It's relatively quiet. There's nice views. Especially if somebody is new to the city in general, I really recommend that walk just to get a feel for the sort of sights there are to see around.
Discovery Park — for some reason, growing up I didn't spend a lot of time there, and so I've discovered it for the first time. I'd recommend either just walking to Discovery Park from wherever you are, or taking the bus there — driving there, whatever — and giving that a shot. Because that's another place that has a lot of variety, and beautiful views.
I'd also say to walk down Airport Way and see what happens. If you like interesting trash, and sights, you can achieve a good sort of rhythmic zen state on Airport Way.
There's also buses everywhere so you can take back if you get tired.
Yeah. And definitely on the South Lake Union walk, there's multiple points where you can just bail on it.
And there are public bathrooms at MOHAI, and again at Gas Works Park. Because bathrooms are a real concern on these long walks.
PCC in Fremont has bathrooms that they don't care if you use all day every day.
I'm sure they'll be pleased about you telling people that. But it's important! There aren't a lot of open restrooms. In October through April a lot of the public park bathrooms just close down. Because you obviously don't need to go to the bathroom from October to April.
Weirdly, even though you’re anonymous, I think that you're a really good ambassador for walking in the city. Even though you don’t use your name, the work feels really personal.
I think when I first really grasped on to what it was that I was doing, I realized that being mostly anonymous enhances my ability to be an invisible observer, and just to report out. I think that really strengthens the work.
If you were a walker, too, it's probably likely that we've stood at the same crosswalk or walked by each other. I think that's kind of like a cool, human thing. And I like being able to be amongst people at any time and have them not know who I am, or what I'm doing, even if they are one of the 720 people who know my work.
So I don't mind sharing certain things about myself or my comics, and people can certainly figure out a lot about me and what I care about through my comics. To know Seattle Walk Report is to know me pretty darn well. I don't know if readers would have a greater appreciation or understanding of Seattle Walk Report, if they knew my face, or my job, or my favorite Beatle, or whatever. I don't know. We'll see.
There is certainly anonymity to walking. Every once in a while I will see older versions of me out on the Interurban Trail and we’ll nod to each other, but generally, I don't recognize anyone. When I started doing this, I thought I was very much alone. I thought I was the only human being who has walked from Westwood Village in West Seattle to Shoreline, from city limits to city limits across the city diagonally, in a single day. But now I'm starting to realize that there is this culture out there. And hearing you talk about it certainly has helped solidify that there is a walking culture here. But it's a culture of people who like to be alone.
One of the first things people will say when I talk about my walks is, ‘oh, we should go walking together sometime.’ And it always makes me uncomfortable to respond ambivalently, but part of the reason I do these walks is to be alone. Has that happened to you too?
So many people have messaged me on Instagram saying, ‘we should go on a walk sometime.’ And I'm like, you have no idea how — first of all — how horrendous that would be for you.
If you want the worst time of your life, go on a walk with me. I'll just pop in my headphones, and get out my notebook, and ignore you for six hours. And you'll be exhausted, or you will have left hours ago, and I'm still walking, and I didn't even know you were gone.
I really appreciate people reaching out to me, but I do think it is such a solitary venture. Maybe sometime I can go on a walk with somebody where they go on a walk, and I go on a walk, and we're not together; and we just report back on what we saw, and that can be spending time together. That would be perfect situation for me.
Do you enjoy nature walks, too? I know you mentioned Discovery Park, but that's walkable from the city. Have you ever been the sort of person who's into hiking?
Not really. I'm definitely more of a city walker. I definitely appreciate the contrast, but I think I really like to fill out the map in my mind. I really like to think ‘there's no way I could get from Woodinville to the U District,’ and then go do it.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
How to excerpt Rebecca Solnit’s supremely satisfying and hilarious (sort of, ha ha that’s funny) tirade about the mountainous blamefulness of women? In short, Harvey Weinstein is our fault, Velcro is our fault, frowning, the Black Death, Donald Trump, also not being Matt Damon. Donald Trump, Donald Trump? Born, after all, to a woman. The fault is ours.
I always suspected it was so.
It is Anita Hill’s fault that Clarence Thomas is a creep, and it’s also her fault that he’s on the Supreme Court, and it’s her fault she didn’t speak up about his sexual harassment, and also her fault that she did speak up about it, ruffling important waters when men were trying to fly-fish them, as women do when men try. To fly-fish that is, and the trout that are not biting are the fault of the woman who did not smile at you on the bus this morning, though it is a gospel truth that lady strangers owe you smiles. If we study up, it may be possible to figure out which parts of everything are Anita Hill’s fault. Mary Todd Lincoln: perhaps her faults linger on, and it would be fun to blame her for something, and why did Michelle Obama choose to exercise her right to bare arms? Perhaps that makes her responsible for some mass shootings, which tend to be carried out by men, but not their fault. Someone made them do it, and every time a man does something awful we can all pause for a moment of respectful silence while we figure out who to blame.
Additional reading: Laurie Penny on consent and rape and technicalities and anger.
One thing quickly becomes clear if you write a weekly list of links (or just read Twitter): the Internet is a regurgitation machine, spitting out the same stories from a thousand mouths, and again, and again. At this volume, the news is little more than an impression, quick takes turned gospel.
Who better than BuzzFeed News to explain (in simple graphics under a clickbait headline) exactly how the rinse-and-repeat online content cycle makes fake news real? Zahra Hirji and Lam Thuy Vo tracked the social progress of a misleading article about climate change across almost a million interactions. Every share and spinoff increased its truthiness, though not, unfortunately, its truth.
The story centered on a two-year-old Science study showing that the rise in global temperatures had not recently stalled, as previous data had suggested. The Science paper had repeatedly been attacked by climate skeptics, including House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.). After the Mail on Sunday’s piece, Smith demanded, for at least the sixth time, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration turn over its correspondence about the Science data.
Now, some seven months later, the Mail on Sunday has begrudgingly admitted its story was wrong. But will this update change anyone’s minds?
Additional (necessary) reading: Alexis C. Madrigal’s good, solid reporting on Facebook’s role in putting Donald Trump in power, which, as both a compelling read and a thorough historical analysis, shortcuts several spins in the regurgitation cycle for this particular topic.
Caitlin Flanagan investigates Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza’s death, which came after 12 hours of struggle while his frat brothers sat by — more worried about their liability than his life. Mesmerizing article on a culture dominated by power and privilege, and deeply committed to maintaining both.
All of these dynamics came into play the night Tim Piazza was fatally injured. The chapter president, Brendan Young, was — get this — majoring in risk management. He fully understood that officers of the fraternity face greater liability than do regular members. He became the president in November 2016, and shortly before rush began, in January 2017, he texted Daniel Casey, the pledge master: “I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester then both of us are fucked.” He wasn’t suggesting they scrap hazing; he was reminding his subordinate that they had better not get caught doing it. (Young’s lawyer declined to comment.)
This week in personal essays: Jordan Fuller remembers Portland’s Murder by the Book, a mystery bookstore managed by her mother, and walks us through the dark streets of her childhood reading.
My television and film diet was closely monitored but I had no restrictions on what I could read as a child. I fell under the spell of Jack the Ripper, drawing macabre maps of 1888 Whitechapel with the names and relevant details of his victims. Did I make the connection then that the Ripper was stealing the women’s uteruses? Did I know then that they were prostitutes or what that meant? I must have, because I was a child who did not like the feeling of not knowing — words, concepts, reasons — so I must have scanned the dictionary and found what I was looking for. I don’t remember having that conversation with my mother, though I doubt she would have shied away from it.
Christopher Goffard’s Dirty John podcast makes it in on a technicality; it can be read, as well as heard, on the Los Angeles Times website. Debra Newell met the man of her dreams online and was soon trapped in a nightmare of manipulation, deception, and self-deception. The six-part story maps how “Dirty John” seduced Newell, wedged himself between her and her children, and then — well, it’s a familiar tale but will be impossible to put down, for those who love true crime or are fascinated by the darkness and brightness of the human heart.
By the second or third date, he was telling her he loved her, that he wanted to marry her. She didn’t mind his idiosyncrasies, like his habit of wearing his faded blue medical scrubs everywhere, even to a formal-dress cancer benefit she invited him to. Some people snickered, but she thought, “Busy doctor.”
“So you are the real thing,” she texted him after one date.
“Best thing that will ever happen to you,” he replied.
The Washington State Book Awards ceremony was held tonight in the central library downtown. Here's a list of the winners:
Fiction: Daredevils by Shawn Vestal, of Spokane
Poetry: My, My, My, My, My by Tara Hardy, of Seattle
Biography/Memoir: An Earlier Life by Brenda Miller, of Bellingham
History/General Nonfiction: Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson, of Seattle
Picture Book: Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie, of Seattle, and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Books for Young Readers (ages 6 to 8): Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton of Tacoma
Books for Middle Readers (ages 9 to 12): Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart, of Cashmere
Books for Young Adults (ages 13 to 18): Useless Bay by M.J. Beaufrand, of Seattle
Congratulations to all the winners. You make Washington proud.
Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.
Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.
Maybe you were part of #WomenBoycottTwitter on Friday. We were. Or maybe you were frustrated, like Ava DuVeray, that it was only when a white woman was banned that people started speaking up, when women of color have been reporting this behavior for years.
Which sums the problem up nicely: Twitter doesn't listen. Or, they listen and don't care. Or, they care and are somehow so bound to — Metrics? Engagement? Shareholders? Satan? — something, that they cannot fix this problem. So it sure feels like Twitter isn't listening, and the only way to make them listen is stop using their service.
Or, to put a fine point on it, stop giving them the content, for free, that they then sell advertising against. On Twitter, as the saying goes, you are the product. It was an okay trade-off when you were meeting interesting people and making friends, but, that wasn't everybody's experience. Ariel Waldman wrote about Twitter being unwilling to uphold their TOS in 2008, just a year-and-a-half after the service's launch. Six years before Gamergate became, as many have pointed out, a trial balloon for the kind of networked harassment that lead to the organized silencing of women and liberals under the Trump campaign.
And lest you think these things are not connected, the man who, kind of openly, but still allegedly harassed the amazing Kathy Sierra off the internet in 2007 has come out fully as a white supremacist. Previously, he claimed it was all about the lulz. It probably is, to him, as is his belief that anybody without his skin is substandard.
So I'm dedicating today's prompts to some what-ifs. A peek into another dimension of what could have been. Maybe it's just progressive dreaming, but since we're apparently on the alternate timeline where pretty much everything is going wrong, progressive dreaming seems to be all we have left.
The first response was so rude she couldn't believe it was real. Who could have that big of a problem with her tweet about a comic book? By the time the fiftieth response showed up, she shut down Twitter and went to bed. In the morning, fearing to look, she saw her response timeline was clean, and there was a DM for her from support. "Looks like some jerk sent a bot army your way. We've banned them and cleaned up their mess. So sorry to disrupt your right to express yourself on our platform. We think your actual voice is so much more valuable than trolls."
The cop, broom mustache, wide-set brow, asked her "and where did this threat come from?" — "He posted it on Twitter" — "And you are sure it's your ex?" — "Pretty sure, yeah." — "And this was on...how did you say it? Twitter?" — "Yes." — "What's that?" — "It's a website for publishing thoughts." — "Okay. I don't know much about the internet, but obviously, all of these accounts have real people behind them, and we take any threats very seriously. I'll work with our technology team to request IP addresses and personal information on your harasser so that we can verify it is your ex and build up a case against him before he escalates into violence against your person."
She tweeted "love Twitter! Got this mail today." Attached was a picture of the email. "We noticed that you're friends with a lot of people who have suffered harassment on our platform. We've taken the liberty of hiding your tweets from some people who react too strongly to content, we hope that helps you feel safe and able to express yourself on our platform without fear of harassment."
That bitch. He was gonna teach her a lesson. He went to 4chan and posted a picture of her, and her address. "Help me dox this piece of trash," he wrote. "I dunno," came a quick reply. "The last guy who did this got arrested by the FBI, even though he was going through TOR. I guess these services really take harassment seriously and shut it down before it could grow into anything major."
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 email@example.com.
My neighborhood bookstore plays too much classic rock. I find it physically impossible to browse the stacks when Neil Young is playing on the speakers overhead. I had to run out of the building the last time “Southern Man” came on. What can I do to staunch the endless flow of Credence Clearwater Revival while also not being branded a problem customer?
Whitney, [Neighborhood Withheld by Request]
A quick biology lesson: booksellers, like aspen trees and all women, share a single root system through which they plot and gossip. Booksellers prefer classic rock because studies show it helps their roots grow and unlike tongues, roots have no sense of taste.
There is nothing you can do to change your local bookstore's playlist without weakening or offending your local copse of booksellers – and we all agree this should be avoided at all costs, given their already fragile state on this planet. Fortunately, you have at your fingertips a stopgap solution for book browsing: earbuds, which you can insert shallowly into the ear canal to mute the sounds of classic rock with music of your own choosing or other pleasing sounds. Personally, I like to shop to a looped recording of spiders purring.
This morning, Gardiner Harris and Steven Erlanger reported for the New York Times:
The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of America distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”
The decision to leave Unesco is not really a surprise. President Trump has declared war on art, and and he's announced his ambivalence about the rest of the world. It stands to reason that his cultural illiteracy and his hateful isolationism would manifest in an exit from Unesco.
There's a local angle to this story: Seattle has for years aspired to join Unesco's Creative Cities Network as a City of Literature along cities like Reykjavík, Dublin, Baghdad, and Barcelona. Our bids have been unsuccessful up until now, though we have a whole organization — Seattle City of Literature — dedicated to managing our bid and to keep international cultural exchanges flowing. We talked with Seattle City of Literature head Stesha Brandon about the organization's role a couple years ago. Obviously, this announcement means that we can't join the Creative Cities network and our bid is stalled until sanity prevails again in Washington DC.
Today, Brandon and the board at Seattle City of Literature released this statement:
On Oct. 12, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from UNESCO. Seattle City of Literature extends its unwavering support for a global organization that brings people around the world together for love of culture and the arts. We remain committed to the ideals of free expression and peace between nations, today more than ever. We will continue the important work of making our city a haven for the literary arts, for local and international writers and audiences alike.
If you'd like to show your support for Seattle City of Literature, they're producing a Hugo House event at next week's Lit Crawl. Seattle author Willie Fitzgerald will be appearing in conversation with New Zealand author Nic Low, who is visiting for two weeks in a cultural exchange program. I bet someone from the organization will be there to talk about what's next for our city's literary scene on the international stage.
Now more than ever, Seattle City of Literature is a necessary advocate for our city. We need them to connect us to the world — to broadcast our achievements as a city, and to keep us plugged in to the international cultural conversation. Now that Trump's government has abdicated its leadership role, it's up to cities like Seattle, and to organizations like Seattle City of Literature, to keep us intertwined with the world of art and literature.
Seattle young adult writer Martha Brockenbrough teaches a free class that will help writers refine the vital first 500 words of their books by minding six important points. It might sound gimmicky, but this is important stuff; the first 500 words are what will get you noticed by agents, editors, and browsers.
Seattle Public Library, Broadview Branch, 12755 Greenwood Ave. N.. 684-7519, http://spl.org. Free. All ages. 2 p.m.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.
I’ve just returned from NINC — that’s Novelists, Inc. — a professional conference attended mainly by writers of romance and mysteries. Among the many differences between this crowd and my usual cohort was an absence of what is often referred to as "the fannish physique." In other, blunter words, obesity. At this event, weighing 280 pounds and straining the capacity of my O cups, I was a definite outlier.
Which goaded me into speculating about how the literary dimensions of SFFH reflects its physical oomph. The answer: That’s changing. For the better.
My first encounter with sfnal fatphobia came when I read Dune as a child: Baron Harkonnen, the book’s bad guy, is mountainously fat. Stereotypes of the obese depict us at one of two temperamental extremes: unrelentingly jolly or unrelievedly evil. Harkonnen’s the latter, but at the precocious age of thirteen what really struck me was how badass his anti-grav wheelchair must be in action. I wasn’t even a little "chunky" at that point, but wow was I jealous of him zooming around and zipping up over people's heads and popping in and out of palatial spaceships. Only later did I realize my hatred for him was actually supposed to be blended with disgust and pity. Not envy.
Pity is evoked much more successfully in James Tiptree Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” which I previously discussed back in January. Perhaps because the author’s also going for empathy? Or perhaps because the heroine’s obesity is caused by a malfunctioning pituitary gland and thus in no possible way her fault.
Yet, with a wealth of futuristic medical technology at their disposal, why should anyone be overweight? The protagonist of Tanith Lee’s novel The Silver Metal Lover is tricked into fatness by her insecure mother, but loses her excess flesh with the support of an adoring robot. It’s all done with chemicals.
Horror novel Thinner’s body consciousness is of course horrific. Published as by Richard Bachman right before Stephen King admitted that this was a pseudonym of his, it’s deeply problematic in its depiction of curse-wielding so-called "gypsies." They cause the book's obese lawyer to shed pounds speedily, involuntarily, bringing him to death’s threshold.
The comic Bitch Planet’s Penny Rolle is probably the best example of fat-positivity in recent SFFH. It’s an ironic feminist take on exploitive "women behind bars" stories; the "Bitch Planet" of the series' title is the nickname of a dystopian dumping ground for "noncompliant" women. Rolle’s body is by definition noncompliant because it defies standard beauty standards. Which suits her, and me, just fine.
In another instance of a nicely-adjusted attitude toward body image, the narrator of "Venus Rising" by Carol Emshwiller (collected in Report to the Men’s Club speaks of young women maturing in terms of them “coming into” their fat.
In my own SFFH I do my best to represent non-stereotypical obese characters. The narrator of "Maggies," published in Sheree Renée Thomas’s second Dark Matter anthology, crushes out on a genetically engineered underwater terraformer whose extra-thick layer of fat insulates her from an alien planet’s cold seas. In "Otherwise," published in the YA anthology Brave New Love, 220-pound lesbian teenager Lo knows she’s lovable and loved. As are we all.
Though Chessiecon resembles traditional SFFH conventions, it has only existed three years. It’s put on by the Thanksgiving Science Fiction Society as a sort of living memorial to a deceased local fan hight Jaelle of Armida. TSFS’s primary goal is promoting women writers; eleven of their twelve Guests of Honor have been women, so they’re backing that idea up with action. Chessiecon’s Turkey Award is given in recognition of awesomely bad writing á la Bulwer-Lytton; the implied irreverence colors the rest of the con’s programming as well.
This November’s World Fantasy Convention emerges from a pair of controversies: one focused on its HP Lovecraft-shaped World Fantasy award busts, the other on racist panel proposals of the past. Also it has survived the death of its founder, David Hartwell. Smaller than the similarly named Worldcon with which it’s sometimes confused, World Fantasy’s attendance tops out around 1000 smart, funny, incredibly interesting people — but there’s still time to sign up to be one.
An Excess Male (Harper Collins) is Taiwanese-born author Maggie Shen King’s debut novel. Expanding an idea originally published as a short story in Asimov’s SF Magazine, King fast forwards us to the lopsided genderscape of a future China shaped by the government’s infamous “one-child” policy. Her clearsighted, even-toned writing acquaints us pleasurably with plausible, engagingly flawed characters: Wei-guo, a 40+ bachelor finally in possession of the dowry necessary to purchase the position of third husband in an established marriage; that marriage’s wife, May-ling, hopelessly infatuated with her gay first husband Hann; Hann himself, balancing love for his child with desire for members of his discreetly naughty badminton team; and Hann’s brother and May-ling’s second husband Xiong-xin, whose autism is even more illicit than Hann’s homosexuality. Fearlessly piercing stereotypes in her assessment of what truly makes a family, King also seems to hew effortlessly close to cultural values, making the stresses and rhythms of her characters’ interactions feel authentically unfamiliar to this US-raised reader.
Not so with Elizabeth Bear’s latest novel in her entrancing Eternal Sky series, The Stone in the Skull (Tor). Though set in Asianesque fantasy lands, plot arc and scene beat and sentence all connect easily with a Westerner’s literary expectations. Those aren’t necessarily dependent on having read the three earlier Eternal Sky books, either. I found very little overlap between the old series and the one this new book begins in terms of characters: a slave-poetess here, an immortal automaton there, an aging veiled assassin everywhere. And the Lotus Kingdoms whereThe Stone in the Skull’s dynastic disputes occur lies at the edge of the previous trilogy’s map. There’s a secret message sent to one ruler, a disaster engulfing another…but summarizing its action conveys very little of this book’s undeniable attraction. That attraction is much plainer in Bear’s starkly vivid descriptions; her spare yet luscious language; and the stubbornly endearing people inhabiting her enthralling imaginary world.
A veteran SF author who’s also an engineer working in U.S. intelligence, Philip K. Dick Award-winner David Walton draws on his dayjob expertise in The Genius Plague (Pyr). Fungal sentience originating in the Amazon threatens the integrity of the intelligence community by influencing its members’ thoughts and desires. It cures the Alzheimer’s afflicting the protagonist’s father and rouses support for ecologically sound candidates and practices. But it’s also behind some rather nasty massacres and assassinations. Codebreaking and computer servers stand between the National Security Agency and this sporulating mind’s crop dusters and smoothie stands. It’s unclear by the novel’s end if humanity’s defenses will prevail. Or even whether they should. Perhaps we’ll know that after reading a sequel or two.
Before Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman landed on the bestseller lists, Wonder Woman's origins were a deep nerd trivia cut. But now, pretty much everyone knows Wonder Woman was created by a disgraced professor named William Moulton Marston who was part of a triad relationship, and that with his wife he invented the lie detector. Now that it's common knowledge, the character's unique backstory has become a part of Wonder Woman's appeal.
And tonight, just a few months after the very first Wonder Woman movie released in theaters became a global smash hit, a smaller and more intimate Wonder Woman film is being released in theaters around the country. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biopic about the man who created the character, and the two women who made his success possible. Best of all, the biopic is written and directed by a woman named Angela Robinson; not even five years ago, it's easy to imagine this story being mangled into a mess of male gaze and bad sexual politics by a well-intentioned but tone-deaf male director.
Because it basically amounts to a relationship drama, Women is a film that succeeds or fails based on its cast. On that front, it's a tremendous success. Luke Evans plays Marston as an ambitious and goofy man, a born lecturer who's convinced of his own greatness but puts that ego in service of the peace-loving matriarchy he believes is inevitable. He's just damaged enough to reveal his haunted past, but he's chipper enough that you can't feel sorry for him.
As Elizabeth Marston, Rebecca Hall is Evans's grounded better half. She's competent where he's lazy. She's pragmatic where he's dreamy. Hall doesn't just play Marston as a killjoy, or the nagging wife. She's got goals of her own, and she's madly in love with her husband. And both Marstons fall deeply in love with Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote,) a comely and kind-hearted student who builds the perfect understanding between their two outsized personalities.
Together, the three actors forge a finely balanced triangle of seduction, aggravation, and finally genuine appreciation. The scenes where they create ground rules for their relationship are among the most interesting in the film. Heathcote and Hall both create characters that, when combined, form what Evans's Marston calls "the perfect woman," which he later translates into his idealized comic book hero.
Women does suffer from the inevitable biopic flaws: the soundtrack is noodly and generic. Biopic cliches run through the film: as soon as a character coughs once, for instance, you know you're going to witness their long and painful decline from a horrible disease. And the structure of the film is awkward, with plenty of fits and starts. The three don't become romantically entangled until the middle of the movie, and Wonder Woman doesn't show up until very late in the film. A framing device depicting the religious crusade to ban Wonder Woman comics is striking — a neighborhood comic-book-burning scene will churn your stomach — but ultimately goes nowhere.
In the end, if you're a Wonder Woman fan, you'll probably enjoy Women a great deal. Robinson's script indicates her clear love of the material, and her direction proves that she cares deeply about bringing the complex relationship behind the character to her movie. But if the character doesn't do anything for you, you'll likely lose interest in Women around the time that Marston first decides to write the comic. That's your loss. This is not the best comic book movie you'll see all year, but it's definitely the one with the most compelling relationship storyline.
In the 1990s, a ton of male cartoonists made their careers by writing stories about schlubby men with huge egos. These self-important losers — from Buddy Bradley to Adrian Tomine's protagonists to Ivan Brunetti's self-portrayal — were important at the time: they poked necessary holes in the idea that the only stories worth telling were stories about straight white men of a certain age.
Cartoonist Noah Van Sciver's newest book, Fante Bukowski Two, seems to desperately want to be from the 1990s. It's designed to look like the Black Sparrow edition of Charles Bukowski's Factotum, and it has a completely realistic facsimile of a Borders price sticker on the back cover.
And the content of the book, too, feels ripped from the 1990s. It's a book about a bearded loser who believes himself to be the next Outlaw American Novelist, but who is in fact a talentless hack. Bukowski drinks too much, he lives on donations from his too-tolerant parents, he refuses to get a job. In this book, he lives in a flophouse and makes tons of zines and fails to sell copies all around town.
But the question that Van Sciver fails to answer is: who is this book for? Do we really need another book that skewers bloviating mediocre literary white men? Bukowski feels from the start like the alternative comics from the 1990s, and it never really stops wallowing in nostalgia for that era.
To be fair, Van Sciver is a talented cartoonist, and he has a great sense of comic timing. Parts of Fante Bukowski 2 are very funny. But I expect more than “funny” from a Fantagraphics title — the Seattle publisher has such a stellar publication history that I expect some sort of a point from all their books. Unfortunately, Bukowski feels like an exquisitely crafted fan fiction tribute to Fantagraphics titles from a bygone era.
And this question might seem petty, but it’s actually quite important: Do people like the person this book is supposedly satirizing even exist anymore? Do Bukowski acolytes still talk about the authentic human experience and produce zines to distribute at open mic nights? To me, this feels like a time-capsule, a skewering that arrives twenty years too late.
This is not to say that Van Sciver shouldn’t satirize white men, or that white men aren’t a relevant target anymore; quite the contrary. We live in a time in which mobs of bored white dudes are starting riots because their preferred flavor of corn syrup isn’t available at their local McDonald’s. If the self-entitled jackass star of Bukowski were alive today, his obsessions and behavior would likely be very different. With its obsessive backwards stare, Bukowski feels stale and hopelessly retro.
Publishers are, understandably, hitting the heavy nonfiction titles pretty hard right now. But maybe you should take a breath and read a fun mystery series for a while? Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series focuses on a woman who becomes deputy sheriff in the year 1916, and she focuses on women-centric crimes. So even while you enjoy a novel, you’ll still have strong feminist women to admire. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347 http://thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
This Halloween edition of the ongoing mystery series features local writers including Waverly Fitzgerald, Alice Boatright, Tracy Weber, and, making her debut as a mystery novelist, longtime Seattle writer Bharti Kirschner. Get a fancy drink, take in the fancy surroundings, and let host Will "the Thrill" Viharo guide you through the evening of scary mystery. Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, http://hotelsorrento.com. Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m.
See our Event of the Week column for more details.
Seattle young adult writer Martha Brockenbrough teaches a free class that will help writers refine the vital first 500 words of their books by minding six important points. It might sound gimmicky, but this is important stuff; the first 500 words are what will get you noticed by agents, editors, and browsers. Seattle Public Library, Broadview Branch, 12755 Greenwood Ave. N.. 684-7519, http://spl.org. Free. All ages. 2 p.m.
From his beloved newspaper column to his even-more beloved series of Tales of the City novels, Armistead Maupin has enjoyed a remarkable writing career: though he began his career as one of the first openly gay mainstream writers in America, he’s now happily married to a man he claimed to meet on Daddyhunt.com. That’s a lot of history for one life. Tonight, Maupin will appear in conversation with some dickhead named Paul Constant. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., http://seattlesymphony.org. $39-75. All ages. 7:30 p.m.
BAHFest “is a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theory,” in which speakers present bad and wrong science to scientifically trained judges. Before the intentionally bad science begins, BAHFest founder Zach Weinersmith will read his new book, Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.
Temple De Hirsch Sinai 1441 16th Ave., https://bahfest.com/. $1-$30. All ages. 5 p.m.
The idea of Cascadia has occasionally been held aloft by people who represent questionable causes. White supremacists love the idea of a free Caucasian Cascadia, for instance, and there are a couple of loudmouth anarchists in the Seattle area who love to bore folks at parties with their improbable vision of a utopian lawless barter economy.
But cast your eyes away from the fringes and you’ll find something impressively durable in the concept of Cascadia. Seattle obviously has more in common culturally, environmentally, and politically with Vancouver, British Columbia than it does with, say, Salt Lake City. The idea of a bioregion that transcends government boundaries is one deserving of examination — particularly now, when huge Trumpy swaths of the rest of our country are unrecognizable to us.
This is why the Cascadia Poetry Festival is more important now than it ever has been. Running from Thursday, October 12th to Sunday the 15th in Tacoma, the festival, which is now in its fifth year, hosts what may be its highest-profile slate of authors yet. Nationally recognized poets Patricia Smith and CAConrad both headline events and host workshops for aspiring poets.
The festival looks back to the history of Cascadia with a “Tribute to Grunge” reading featuring poets like David Fewster who have lived in the area since the Singles era and a panel discussion on the life and legacy of criminally underrated Cascadian poet and novelist Richard Brautigan. (You might argue that Raymond Carver or Tom Robbins have done more to shape the region’s literature than Brautigan, but I’ll respectfully riposte your claims with dozens of poems by contemporary local writers ranging from Sarah Galvin to Sherman Alexie that feel like distant literary cousins of Brautigan’s.)
But the Cascadian Poetry Festival doesn’t exist just so it can stare backward. Most of the festival’s programming is forward-facing. Washington state Poet Laureate Tod Marshall, for instance, hosts a workshop to “explore some of the ways that poets have used a sense of ‘place’ to propel their poetics,” and then extrapolate those observations into the concept of “what a Cascadian Poetic might mean for each of our practices.”
Perhaps most importantly, on Saturday afternoon the festival will host a small press fair featuring a cornucopia of local poetry presses including Wave Books, Ravenna Press, entre ríos books, and Floating Bridge Press, along with literary magazines including PageBoy and Poetry NW. This is an opportunity for the poetry-minded to network and discuss what it means to be from and of a place.
Because this is much is true: we won’t be able to figure out what it means to be from Cascadia until poets put a name to what Cascadia is. Without poets to lead the way and define our ambitions, Cascadia is nothing but a plot of land.
Over the weekend, Marvel Comics announced a partnership with arms manufacturer Northrup Grumman. The plan was to produce a comic book aimed at kids that promoted STEM education, but the fans, thankfully, weren't having it. Here's something delightful from a Guardian story by Joanna Walters about the blowback:
Tom Catt, a Brooklyn drag queen who declined to give his real name, was attending dressed as Cat Woman and with his friend Tony Ray, who was kitted out as the Voltron comic character Princess Allura. Tom Catt said Marvel was guilty of “the militarization of our comics” and said the company had “failed the fan test”.
That paragraph alone renews my faith in fandom for another twenty years.
Marvel later announced that the deal had been canceled, though their statement was certainly lackluster, citing a failure to properly capture "the spirit" of the "activation," which was "meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way."
Seattle's own G. Willow Wilson, who has been writing Ms. Marvel for the publisher for over four years now, blogged about the decision in a post titled "Yeah, No":
I would have left. I’m not naive; I know all collaborations involve compromise, ideological or otherwise. But everybody has their own red lines, and bespoke recruitment paraphernalia for combat drone manufacturers–under the fantastically cynical guise of encouraging kids to get into STEM careers–is my red line and then some.
Wilson also wrote beautifully about the crossroads of commerce and art a couple years ago, when it was discovered that Marvel Comics CEO Ike Perlmutter donated a million dollars to the Trump campaign. By taking these very public stands against corporate malfeasance, Wilson is proving to be the conscience of a company that is supposedly interested in telling stories about the pursuit of justice against all odds.
Seattle Media news, part one: Capitol Hill Seattle blog, which went on a hiatus last year, is now up and running again, with a staff and everything! (Joining CHS founder Justin Carder are photographer Alex Garland and great Seattle reporter Kelsey Hamlin.) CHS is looking for 2000 subscribers to put a few dollars a month into their Patreon account to pay for the work they do.
Seattle Media news, part two: Ana Sofia Knauf, formerly neighborhood reporter at The Stranger, is now at Seattle-area newsletter The Evergrey.
The full lineup of this year's Short Run Comix & Arts Festival has been released. Aside from the always-amazing convention floor show, highlights include panels featuring cartoonist Julia Wertz, Bitch Planet author Kelly Sue DeConnick, and a conversation between Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing is Monsters) and Leela Corman (We All Wish For Deadly Force), moderated by me. The big show happens on Saturday, November 4th in Seattle Center.
Bad news: if you're a freelancer who was recently approached by an editor at The Atlantic, the odds are good that you're the victim of a scam:
Across the last few months, individuals posing as our editors and senior leaders have sent fraudulent job offers to unwitting freelancers or jobseekers looking to work with The Atlantic. The impostors have created numerous misleading email accounts, including gmail addresses in the names of editors, gmail addresses that include the Atlantic’s name (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org), and addresses employing fake domains (e.g., @atlanticmediagroup.net). The aim of the scam is to obtain personal information such as social security numbers, addresses, and bank account information from the intended victims.