The Internet Review of 2016 - Kickstarter Fund Project #45

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 Internet Review of 2016. We've put $20 in as a non-reward backer

Who is the Creator?

Margarita Noriega.

What do they have to say about the project?

A collaborative book of short essays and cartoons about this year.

What caught your eye?

Just a great collection of writers and artists, from Newsweek Executive Editor Margarita Noriega. The contributers are really fantastic, with names you'll know, and names you've yet to discover. Like, art from Stephen Maurice Graham, Adam Koford, and writing by Sasha Frere-Jones, Anil Dash, Maris Kreizman, @darth, and so many more (full contributor and topic list is here).

It just looks like a smart, fun way to look back and capture the horror of this past year. Aside: look, I'm one of those types who, as great celebrities kept dying and things kept getting all screwy, was saying that "a year is just a year." But, even though I've taken a while to come around, let me tell you, 2016 is just as bad as everybody kept saying. No two ways about it.

Why should I back it?

Process your own feelings about 2016 with some great writing. Step offline for a bit, and hold a piece in your hands, maybe sitting on a cold bench in a wind-swept park, where the remains of hope used to frolic. Bring a hot drink, read, and look off into the sunset as if a camera had you perfectly framed, and the flickering shutter can't quite see if that pregnant tear about to roll from your eye is because of giving in to the overwhelming truth of a garbage fire, or just that the wicked cold making your eyes glisten.

How's the project doing?

Totally solid. They're sold, and more. You just want to get in so you can have your own copy.

Do they have a video?

Kickstarter Fund Stats
  • Projects backed: 45
  • Funds pledged: $900
  • Funds collected: $800
  • Unsuccessful pledges: 2
  • Fund balance: $100

The Help Desk: Follow your heart, drench your liver

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

Dear Cienna,

After a long string of rejections, I’m happy to report that a short story of mine has finally been accepted. Unfortunately, it was actually accepted at two literary magazines, neither of which allow for simultaneous submissions. I was having such shitty luck that I decided to ignore the rules and cast a wide net, and my decision came back and bit me immediately.

One of the publications is more prestigious than the other, but I’m more likely to build a relationship and be published again at the less-prestigious publication. I’m pretty much burning a bridge no matter what I do, here. Which publication should I turn down?

Jackie, Tulalip

Dear Jackie,

Congratulations, that is great news! Not to shit on your great news with some of my own, but an investigative piece I wrote about the physical effects of teetotaling called "Sleepy Liver Disease: America's Silent Scourge" was recently accepted for publication as well. I was inspired to write it after noticing sober people forgo fishbowl sangria – a basement specialty of mine – at parties. Not only is it unhealthy to keep your liver out of work for too long, studies show that sobriety can make nearby livers feel sleepy, too. And you know what they say: sleepy livers lead to uppity spleens and rational thought.

Here is how you solve your quandary: Head to PetCo, buy a lap-sized aquarium, and fill it with four boxes of red wine, a bottle of cointreau, and one daintily sliced apple. Insert a mouth straw into the mixture and drink as you ponder: is it more important for you to have bragging rights about being published in a prestigious journal or to build a relationship with a smaller journal who might nurture your talents, offer feedback on your work and publish you again in the future?

A fully employed liver is the moral compass of the heart. An aquarium or two from now, it will know what to do.


PS. If your liver fails you, my liver says to go with the smaller one.

Book News Roundup: Four books you should really look into

  • The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless of Ideas has published the newest edition of their annual anthology, What to Read in the Rain. This year's book has a terrific cover illustrated by David Lasky, and it contains pieces by Northwest writers including Tom Robbins, Peter Mountford, Megan Kelso, and David Schmader. It's $15, it supports the BFI, and you can buy it in person at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company or online.

  • The unedited version of Lesley Hazleton's TED Talk about the importance of soul is now available on YouTube. If you haven't yet read Hazleton's recent book, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, this video might convince you to finally pick it up.

  • The Seattle Globalist's Mayumi Tsutakawa wrote an excellent profile of Seattle writer Donna Miscolta. And you should read it. And then you should read Miscolta's new book, Hola and Goodbye.

  • Today, independent New York publisher Melville House announced the upcoming publication of a book titled What We Do Now: Standing Up For Your Values In Trump’s America. It features contributions from a terrific list of contributors including Gloria Steinem, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Dave Eggers, and Paul Krugman. The book will be published on January 17th of next year, which is a tremendously fast turnaround for the publishing industry. You can pre-order it from your local independent bookseller today.

Portrait Gallery: Rabih Alameddine

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

Thursday December 8th EVENT CANCELLED DUE to WEATHER

The Angel of History Reading
Rabih Alameddine is one of the preeminent Arab-American voices in fiction today. His newest novel is about a gay Yemeni-Lebanese expatriate living in America during the AIDS epidemic and the post-9/11 security state. It’s a heartbreaking story of memory, identity, history, and culture, which makes it about as American as it gets.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

The Future Alternative Past: Besties

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.

This time of year, everybody does it. I’ll be doing it soon myself: Making up lists. Second-guessing my picks. Justifying them. Libraries, book stores, bloggers, radio shows — pretty much anyone with an ax to grind and a public platform to grind it on will be sharing lists of the best books published in 2016. Or read in 2016. Or reviewed in 2016. Bests of one sort or another. Because there’s this urge to sum up any positive gains we’ve made by living through another year.

I contribute to annual “Best of” lists for Locus magazine and The Seattle Times. For the Times I pick one book — there can be only one — out of all those I’ve reviewed, and say in a single sentence what it’s about and why it’s the best. For Locus’s “Recommended Reading” I and several others spend weeks voting on a curated list of story titles. As I write this there are over 300 entries on the list. We hope to finish with around 120.

Aqueduct Press’s blog Ambling Along the Aqueduct hosts a series of posts covering the best books the publisher’s authors have read and/or the best music we’ve listened to and/or the best shows and films we’ve watched in a given year. After constructing and contributing to more restricted catalogs of bests, it’s peculiarly freeing to be able to write about not just the latest but the reconsidered greatest. In a past post to the series I geeked out on rereading the Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey mysteries of Dorothy Sayers. Not only is Sayers no longer writing these, she’s dead. So is Octavia E. Butler, yet Kiini Ibura Salaam praised Toshi Reagon’s musical production of Butler’s Parable of the Sower in her “Best of 2015” round-up for Aqueduct. Because she could.

Similar in function to these lists are the numerous flourishing SFFH Year’s Best anthologies. Editor Gardner Dozois claims that if you don’t want to read his series’ most recent volume (he’s been compiling them since 1984) “you can squash a bug with it.” It’s true that these are pretty thick tomes. They include insightful analyses of the field and page after page of Honorable Mentions. Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, and the deceased David Hartwell have put out rival anthos, and for twenty years Ellen Datlow co-edited a companion Best of series for horror and fantasy. And there are others. SFFH is rich in short stories, especially with all the online magazines and crowdfunded collections available. These multiple “Best ofs” barely dent the surface of the genre’s tar pit, which is filled with inky gold.

Refining further on the concept of bests we come to awards. In SFFH there are many, and many are the ways their winners get chosen. Some selections are juried, like the Philip K. Dick Award for original US SFFH in paperback. Others are decided by polls, like the coveted Nebula Awards. But polls of whom? You have to be a member of SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America) to nominate or vote for Nebula candidates, and becoming a SFWA member takes more than money. Becoming a member of WorldCon, however, is a strictly financial matter, and WorldCon members select recipients of the equally prestigious Hugo Awards. As variously moody and/or diseased voting blocs have shown, you need not even attend. Slates for both the Rabid Puppies and the Sad Puppies have made their marks on the Hugo Awards for a couple of years running. Though their clearest mark so far has been a sweep of most Hugo categories by an author named “No Award,” that could change. I’ll let you know come next September.

Here come some cons

Meanwhile, there are other conventions to attend to. Maybe even to attend?

Arisia happens January 13 - 16, 2017, at the Westin Boston Waterfront. That’s in BOSTON! In JANUARY! Ride the “T” (like Seattle’s light rail, but older and better) from Logan airport to the hotel and then refuse to leave the Westin’s beautiful, wide-windowed lobby filled with Weeping Angels and anime characters for the rest of the cold, snowy weekend. Arisia is a good regional con, drawing on the Eastern Seaboard’s large and diverse fandoms to present panels featuring the likes of Smith College’s self-proclaimed Drama Queen Andrea Hairston, along with the usual weapons demos, masquerades, and so on. Such a good time to be had! I’ve gone to many an Arisia — handed out awards there, actually. I hope to go back some day.

However, next year I’ll be skipping Arisia in favor of the Black Comix Arts Festival taking place the same weekend in San Francisco. BCAF is part of that city’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. 2016’s festivities were graced by Nigerian-American SFFH author Nnedi Okorafor, and 2017’s guests will include authors Tananarive Due and Ayize Jama-Everett, artist John Jennings, and, well, me. Join us!

Recent books recently read

When the World Wounds (Third Man Books) is Kiini Ibura Salaam’s second short fiction collection. Her first,Ancient, Ancient, won the 2012 Tiptree Award with its fantastical and exuberantly sensual depictions of nonstandard gender roles. In language as richly raunchy as ever, she writes here of sentient wolves on the prowl, swamp witches caught up into the sky by extremely local storm fronts, and a ghost using the detritus of a tragic flood to make magic masks. Want to read fiction that’s original and strange? Here you go.

In Last Year (Tor) by Robert Charles Wilson, time’s colonizers face the same dilemmas as those confronting European imperialists. Following the logic of the many-worlds interpretation of time travel, 21st-century intrusions into mid-Victorian Era US history create new universes, where new events transpire. A modern entrepreneur opens a resort in 1876 Illinois and sells his contemporaries luxury tour packages. But how can he bear to make money off voyeurs watching horrible things happen to real people — the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the genocide practiced against Indians? And what of the new atrocities their presence may trigger? Through the unassuming viewpoint of reformed drifter Jesse Cullum, Wilson shows the complex power differentials operating between staff, 19th-century natives, 21st-century tourists, and renegades intent on averting coming cataclysms. Add racial and sexual politics and you’ve got a book that’s both fun and challenging.

Alison Littlewood’s depiction of Victorian times in The Hidden People (Jo Fletcher Books) is a bit different: It takes place in a past divided from our present by more than years. The author’s fascination with “fairy burnings,” in particular the 1895 death of Irishwoman Bridget Cleary, led to this meticulously imagined novel of a bourgeois London gentleman investigating a northern cousin’s immolation under similar circumstances. In Yorkshire, Albert Mirrals gradually finds that the rational explanations he once entertained for what he believes was his cousin’s murder — domestic violence, jealousies — become entwined with the lyrical madness of possession. Quotations from Yeats and other poets magnify the effects of Littlewood’s carefully period prose.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The dead mammal

I can't stand raccoons. With their tiny little hands and the way they clamber, brazen and unafraid, into human spaces, they unsettle me in a way that no insect or snake ever could. There is just enough human in raccoons to be recognizeable, but just enough snout and fang and fur to make them alien. A live raccoon sighting will always raise my hackles, and raccoon corpses by the side of the road have never invoked my sympathy.

Seattle cartoonist Marie Hausauer's new book Raccoon centers around a dead raccoon in the middle of the woods. For the first few pages, the "camera" slowly pulls back from the racoon corpse. It's lying on its side, almost human in repose, its legs crossed demurely, one front paw extended out further than the other, as though reaching for something. Its eyes are closed, hidden behind the creepy black band of fur that masks the eyes like a cartoon burglar. It's impossible for anyone — even a lifelong raccoon hater like myself — to not feel sad for the critter.

Eventually, it rots. Its ribcage juts out of a gaping hole in its chest. The uglier the raccoon corpse gets, the more vivid its surroundings become. All around it, ferns and trees and grass grows in a circle, creating a kind of spotlight with the raccoon in the center.

And then come the people. Three sets of humans encounter the corpse, dealing with it in different ways. The first party is a group of adults who are complaining about kitchen remodel projects. "Looks like he died snarlin'," the guy in the hiking boots and the ugly floppy outdoorsman hat says as he crouches by the body. They complain a lot about the smell. Next, a group of teenage boys walk through, and then a moody young woman.

This is a book about death, and grieving, and morbid curiosity. No person who encounters the raccoon responds in exactly the same way as any other person. The reader observes them all, as though we're lurking back in the shady woods, hanging back and passively taking note of their reactions.

Raccoon demonstrates a terrific balance between words and images: the book is respectfully silent in its beginning and closing (death is traditionally a very quiet thing), and the human dialogue fades in and out, like happening upon snippets of conversation in the woods as people walk past you on the trail. The banality of hearing people complaining about their kitchen remodels in the midst of nature's baroque grandeur makes everything seem a little less important.

With Raccoon, Hausauer continues to rapidly grow and deepen as an artist. This is a confident literary work — it's easy to imagine a Carveresque story about these teenage boys, for instance — from a writer who's finding her voice. Raccoon's realism falls comfortably within the continuum of Northwest fiction. It feels like a story that could only spring from our part of the world, with its lush green backdrops and its brazenly invasive wildlife. You've seen the title character of this story rooting around in your trash. You've maybe even wished death upon it. This, Hausauer says, is what happens next.

(Raccoon is available for sale now at Fantagraphics Bookstore, Arcane Comics, Push/Pull, and Left Bank Books.)

Seattle alternative comics publisher Fantagraphics Books, which has always been vehemently anti-superhero, is going to publish a superhero comic from classic mainstream comics creators and contemporary alternative cartoonists called All-Time Comics. Two thoughts:

  1. This looks like a lot of fun. And:
  2. Now that Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth is in the superhero business, hell has definitely frozen over.

Thank you for coming to the first Reading Through It book club

Nearly a hundred people came out to Third Place Books Seward Park to discuss J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy for the first Reading Through It book club last night, and most everyone who spoke seemed to agree that the book was not, strictly speaking, good. Most of us found Vance to be an aggressively un-introspective narrator, and many of the speakers expressed frustration at the way he glossed over what seemed to be the book’s major points.

That’s okay; not every book needs to be good. But I firmly believe that every book — no matter how flawed — does contain some sort of value. And in fact, sometimes our job as readers is to find the value of a book even when the author makes that value difficult to find. That’s where book clubs are especially helpful.

The idea for Reading Through It came wholly from Seattle Weekly’s editor-in-chief Mark Baumgarten, and he joined me onstage with Seattle Review of Books cofounder Martin McClellan to help moderate the discussion. I agree almost completely with McClellan’s review of Hillbilly Elegy; I found it to be an arrogant book, and I thought Vance’s conservatism caused several serious contradictions in the narrative’s internal logic. Vance seems to believe in the concept of systemic poverty, unless it interferes with his own bootstraps self-mythologizing. He divides poor people into “good” and “bad” categories, and he doesn’t make a compelling case for that black-and-white separation. Baumgarten also had issues with the book, but he took a slightly different approach than our straightforward critical appraisal, aiming to discover the objective truth hidden behind Vance’s narrative.

But the people onstage weren’t the important part. In an hour and fifteen minutes, the audience comments covered a lot of ground. Some took issue with Vance’s politics. Others brought their own experiences with impoverished communities — in America and around the world — to the book, and compared what they found. Some made the distinction that white people are not from one homogenous background — that the long history of intergenerational trauma behind Vance’s Scots-Irish heritage contributed to his family’s poverty just as much as their geographic location.

Many of the speakers called for us to keep multiple perspectives in mind at once. It’s possible, for instance, to simultaneously experience white privilege and to experience tremendous obstacles due to class distinctions. Issues of class and race and geographic disparities aren’t an either-or proposition; they tend to overlap and undermine and interact with each other in strange ways.

People tried to offer solutions for the poverty they read about in Hillbilly Elegy. One reader suggested the need for programs to bring urban citizens to rural communities. Several people discussed the importance of education, and particularly the importance of empathy in education. The unfortunate fact of entire populations relying on one economic engine for its survival — a factory, say, which could close or move or automate — came up again and again.

And a few people delivered cogent critiques of the narrative. One person read a passage in which Vance, as a Marine in Iraq, encountered a child living in unspeakable poverty. He was frustrated by Vance’s inability to recognize his own experience in that child; instead, Vance used the moment to celebrate the fact that he grew up in “the greatest country in the history of the world.” Others pointed out Vance’s eagerness to create distinctions — between proud poor people and what he considered to be shameful poor people, between white poverty and poverty experience by other races.

But other people dissented from the room’s distaste for Vance’s story. One speaker saw a sarcasm, a sense of humor, that she felt everyone else was missing. Another speaker thought Vance was an eloquent observer of human behavior who reflected her own lived experience. The way they read the book, and brought their unique readings of the text to the rest of the book club, added value to the book that many of us in the room had never before observed. In other words, they opened our mind to another perspective, which is exactly the point of getting together in a book club.

The next Reading Through It takes place at Third Place Books Seward Park on Wednesday, January 4th at 7 pm. We’ll be discussing Claudia Rankine’s amazing poetry collection about race and racism and American conflict, Citizen: An American Lyric. Rankine’s poetry opens up so many topics for discussion that are relevant to the era of President Trump: the marginalization of people of color, the imbalance of policing power, aggressions on a micro and macro scale. The book is now available for 20% off at Third Place.

The room voted to make Rebecca Solnit’s meditation on the value of hope in dark times, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, our February discussion topic.

Folks hung around to talk about Hillbilly Elegy in small groups. Some of them headed downstairs to the bar to drink and get into it with friends. Others picked up Citizen and a few other books on the way out. “At times like this, reading feels like the most important thing you can do,” someone told me by the registers. I completely agreed.

If you'd like to continue the discussion about the book or make a point that you didn't get to share last night, feel free to join us in the Facebook thread for this post. And please join us on January 5th for more meaningful conversation with a room full of smart people who care.

The Seattle Poetics LAB notes that the new plaque honoring poet Denise Levertov, which Martin told you about a couple months ago, has been installed at 5535 Seward Park Ave S. Learn more about Levertov here, and visit the plaque next time you're in south Seattle.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 7 - December 13

Wednesday December 7th: Reading Through It: A Post-Election Book Club

Join the Seattle Weekly and the Seattle Review of Books as we try to make sense of Donald Trump’s America in a new monthly book club. Tonight, we’ll discuss J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy. We’ll also be choosing the book for our February club based on your recommendations. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday December 8th: The Angel of History Reading

Rabih Alameddine is one of the preeminent Arab-American voices in fiction today. His newest novel is about a gay Yemeni-Lebanese expatriate living in America during the AIDS epidemic and the post-9/11 security state. It’s a heartbreaking story of memory, identity, history, and culture, which makes it about as American as it gets. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday December 9th: We Told You So: Comics as Art Panel

To celebrate the release of a giant new book chronicling their first 40 years in the publishing business, Fantagraphics Books kicks off a weekend full of events by convening a star-studded panel of cartoonists (Los Bros Hernandez! Jim Woodring! Ellen Forney! Carol Tyler!) to discuss the high and low points of the greatest comics publisher in the United States. Folio: The Seattle Athenaem, 324 Marion St., 402-4612, Free.

Saturday December 10th: Opting Out Early Release Party

See our Literary Event of the Week column for more details. Arundel Books, 209 Occidental Avenue S., 624.4442, Free. All ages. 5 p.m.

Sunday December 11th: The Journey of Our Names

Seattle poet Aaron Counts teaches a free writing class on the importance of names, from family names to nicknames to adopted names. Every name is a story, and Counts will teach you how to plumb the meaning behind your name for a whole new level of understanding. Beacon Hill Public Library, 2821 Beacon Ave S. 684-4711. 2 p.m.

Monday December 12th: Countdown to Pearl Harbor Reading

This month marks 75 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. If your only understanding of Pearl Harbor begins and ends with that awful Ben Affleck movie, you owe it to yourself to attend this reading from Steve Twomey’s new book, which charts the path to America’s involvement in World War II. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday December 13th: Seattle Fiction Federation #8

The eighth edition of this reading series, in which the audience selects one open mic reader to headline the next outing, features Seattle writers Steve Sibra, Anca L. Szilágyi, and Donna Miscolta reading alongside SFF#7 winner Lucy Hitz. If you perform at the post-reading open mic, you might headline the 9th SFF. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Zanadu Comics, the 41-year-old comics shop on 3rd Avenue downtown, has launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise $80,000 to keep the lights on and the doors open. The shop cites "increased rent costs, and unfortunate city developments which includes a forced relocation due to building renovation late next year" as the reason for the campaign. It's especially heartwarming to see that Pike Place Market comics shop Golden Age Collectables, has donated $500 to the campaign, leaving a comment that "We're all in this together!"

In the last two decades, Zanadu has greatly expanded their independent and local comics selection, transforming from a pretty good spot to fill your weekly comics fix to a phenomenally well-stocked comics bookstore that I'd recommend to anyone. If you're allergic to crowdfunding campaigns, I'd urge you to drop by Zanadu for a visit, see what they've been up to lately, and show your support the old-fashioned way: by buying books off the shelves.

Event of the Week: Opting Out Early Release Party

For over a decade now, Maged Zaher’s poems have bounced between Cairo and Seattle. Somehow, he’s bridged the revolutionary Arab Spring-era Middle East and the banal tech-centric cityscape of Seattle, finding the uneasy common ground between revolutionaries and middle managers. His poems are about the world, but they’re also very specifically rooted in space; Zaher has written some of the most Seattle-y poems you’ll ever read—about our notoriously difficult dating scene, about our tech-bro culture, about corporate blandness encroaching into the arts.

Zaher recently announced on Facebook that he’s about to make a big change: he’s moving to Atlanta for personal reasons. Wherever he finds himself, Zaher has agitated for a better world. In Seattle, he has called out the homogeneity of our overly conservative, lily-white poetry scene, and he’s paid the price for his truth-telling without complaint. Zaher understands that everything is political, and that apathy is less than worthless, so he takes his stands and throws his rhetorical bombs even if they cost him a little bit of local popularity every time. One of the greatest compliments I can give him is that some of Seattle’s worst people will breathe a sigh of relief when they learn he’s leaving town.

Early next year, Seattle publisher Chatwin Books is publishing a big new satisfying collection of Zaher’s work, titled Opting Out: Early, New, and Collected Poems (2000–2015). But to mark Zaher’s exodus, Chatwin is rush-printing a few copies of Opting Out to sell at a party in the poet’s honor this Saturday night. It will be your only chance to get your hands on a copy of the collection until February.

The free pre-release party, happening at Pioneer Square antiquarian bookshop Arundel Books at 7 pm, could very well be Zaher’s last public appearance before he heads east. Wine and champagne will be provided, and Zaher will read some of his poems. Maybe he’ll read some of the Egyptian poets he translated for the remarkable anthology he edited for Alice Blue Books, The Tahrir of Poems. Maybe he’ll throw a couple more barbs at deserving targets on his way out the door, by way of a candid speech or two.

The terrific thing about Zaher is that you never know exactly what’s going to happen until it’s already happened. As a poet, as a political animal, you can’t predict what he’ll do next — you can only respond to him. I don’t want to make him out to be too much of a renegade: much of the time, Zaher is perfectly polite and generous and kind, promoting the work of a poet he loves or telling a joke about life as an information architect that leaves the South Lake Union workers in the audience darkly chuckling along with him. Those performances are just as political, just as passionate, as the rare public appearances where he burns bridges. All art — all emotion — is political, and Zaher is one of our finest revolutionaries. This city will be smaller and less interesting without him.

Arundel Books, 209 Occidental Avenue S., 624.4442, Free. All ages. 5 p.m.

How do you know what to censor?

Abrams published a satire title for adults called Bad Little Children's Book, under the pseudonym Arthur C Gackley. It's a stupid work of faux covers that trade on 50s and 60s era children's book painting styles, mixed with inappropriate messages. You've seen this kind of humor before — it supposedly pokes holes in societal norms, and, according to the marketing department, is "edgy, politically incorrect parodies that speak to the bad little kid in all of us". Needless to say, the social depths of the humor are akin to drawing a dildo in one of the Family Circus kid's hands.

But one fake cover, titled Happy Burkaday, Timmy! by "Ben Laden" shows Dick and Jane style characters walking towards each other, but Jane, whose face is obscured by a niqab, is carrying a wrapped ticking present.

Kelly Jensen, at Bookriot, wrote a piece shaming Abrams for Islamaphobia. Abrams responded with a "we can publish anything we want, you can't censor us" statement, that included a press release from the National Coalition Against Censorship. "Humor that employs satire and parody is often the subject of criticism and controversy," it says, before noting Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor as "significant comedians" of the "recent past". Well, significant yes, but recent past? Bruce died 50 years ago.

Anyway, after doubling down, Abrams ceased publishing the book on the request of the author while still standing firm on their ground: "At Abrams, our books and our publishing house have never nor will ever stand for bigotry or hatred. Those misrepresentations, aspersions, and claims surrounding the book, and the attempts to promulgate them, fly in the face of the values that our company and our employees hold dear."

Is this censorship? What is the issue at stake here?

Did you know that the word censorship was originally a noun? It was a position, like a judgeship, in the Roman days. The Roman censor was responsible for the census, and also for the keeping of the public morals (or regimen morum). In this duty, the Roman censors would censure people for actions outside of the norm of proper Roman behavior.

Censorship, as a problem to be addressed, is especially pernicious in state-down situation, where a government decides a certain work of art should be banned because it breaks whatever moral code the government promulgates. But, of course there is no objective government; there are people in positions of power who make decisions. If the person in power isn't offended, they likely won't find the piece in question worth censoring. Conveniently, many of the banned books also argue against the government in power.

In the states, our constitution limits the governments ability to interfere with free speech, except in some rare arenas, and there are many cases that have tested the First Amendment. The First Amendment is pretty good at winning those cases.

But that doesn't mean that coalitions, or organizations — specifically, religious organizations — won't try to get things banned when they feel something goes against their worldview. It happens every year, with some parent or another raising a stink over a book their kid has been assigned. These appeals, to ban a book from a school or to pressure the publisher to change, are almost always under the banner of refusing the dominant culture — e.g., Christians offended over the reading of a book that talks about a transgender child.

So is that what's happening here? Is this another case of thin-skinned people (you know, those "special snowflakes" conservatives are always crowing about) who can't take a joke?

Well, you can answer that question for yourself. Here are four questions I ask myself when I read about a group trying to ban a book.

  1. Is it a government or official agency instituting or requesting the ban?
  2. Does the work in question punch up against a dominant culture? (As opposed to punching down into a minority culture.)
  3. Does the work in question trade on deep truths? (As opposed to hackneyed stereotypes that show the author didn't understand the culture being critiqued.)
  4. Does the work in question malign an already sidelined group, that the current president-elect has talked about banning and whose supporters have evoked Japanese Interment in relation to, and who have been subject to unprecedented levels of harassment, hate, and attacks?

If you answer "yes" to any of those questions, the idea of "censorship" may not apply. Your mileage may vary.

You are God’s crash test dummy

Published December 06, 2016, at 12:32pm

Paul Constant reviews Matthew Simmons's The In-Betweens.

While reading a short story collection about being utterly destroyed by forces beyond your control, Paul Constant realizes that Donald Trump has forever changed the way he reads.

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Seattle, at the old World's Fair

He stands by the helm, his face full of blue
from the buildings at twilight, his hand
knuckled around a metal pole that keeps him
from falling, as he flies past the vaults
of startled mannequins, the red ohs of their lips.
Christmas lights are also falling
through the windshield, onto his chest:
right side green, left side red —
dark then back again.

Wait…my father is not moving yet:
no one has claimed the worn leather throne.
But his thoughts are moving, wondering
whether movement is the same as growing old
in the province of space, not time. Inside his shoes,
his toes are as blue as the city streets,
and the drum in his chest, his red-lit chest,
is growing dim. He knows the train he's about to ride
has one rail: no steering, no turns.
And the only skill is in the brake.

The brake. His lips roll over the words:
the dead man's brake. And a small boy
— come to ride up front — hears him,
tugs my father's coat and asks:
Hey mister, are you the driver of this train?

Celebrating Lucia Perillo

Lucia Perillo died on October 16 of this year. A MacArthur Genius who was shortlisted for the Pulitzer, Perillo was a poet of crafted precision, observation, and wit. John W Marshall, previous owner of Open Books, eulogized her for us, in this review.

As you probably know, we run an original poem from a local poet each Tuesday. Each poet recommends the next, in a chain that takes us places a call for submission never would: we travel on the tastes and friendships of poets.

Last December, after the death of Madeline DeFrees, we ran five of her poems. We never planned on this being macabre tradition, but it seemed fitting to us to honor Perillo in the same way. We are very lucky that this was made possible Copper Canyon Press, home to both DeFress and Perillo.

So, once again, our grateful thanks to Joseph Bednarik, co-publisher of Copper Canyon Press, for this gracious permission. Last year, Paul Constant wrote something about Copper Canyon that goes just as well here today for Perillo as it does for DeFrees:

Copper Canyon is that rarest of publishers: they understand the sacredness of their charge, the fact that they are not the owners of the words they publish so much as their temporary stewards. Quite simply, DeFrees could not have chosen better guardians for her legacy; Copper Canyon will keep her poems alive for generations to come.

The first of our picks goes up today around 10am, and another three will follow on the subsequent Tuesdays. If you like what you see, we heartily recommend Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones, released by Copper Canyon last February. It's a powerful work, a beautifully designed and printed book. In fact, picking up two copies from a local bookstore — one for a holiday gift for a friend, and one for yourself, of course — would be highly recommended.

Our normal poetry cycle will resume in January after this month-long focus on the work of a poet we are so sorry to have lost.

Artist Trust just spread the word today:

Artist Trust is excited to announce that writer Peter Mountford is receiving the 2016 Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award. The Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award is an unrestricted award of $10,000 given to a Washington State fiction writer whose work demonstrates excellence in storytelling. This is the second year the award has been given. Last year’s recipient was Anca Szilágyi.

A name known all around Seattle's writing community, Peter Mountford is the author of the novels A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, which won the 2012 Washington State Book Award for fiction, and The Dismal Science, which in 2014 was a New York Times Editor's Choice. He's been published widely, from the Atlantic, to New York Times Magazine, to the Sun. Plus, if you've seen a heroically amazing writer talk at Hugo House in the last few years, odds are that they appeared because Mountford asked them, in his capacity as events curator.

But of course, this recognition comes because of his phenomenal writing, which was the word Paul Constant used to sum up The Dismal Science. Mountford is a fine writer, and there is no doubt he'll put the time that money will buy him to very good use. Congratulations to him; he now joins the fine company of Anca Szilágyi as the two recipients of this still-new, exciting prize.

The long memory of the Civil War

Our sponsor this week is Nick K Adams, and his book My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters From a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer is a remarkable document. Adams has transcribed his great-grandfather's letters about going to war, and offered context and editorial notes to help explain his experience.

The letters span a number of years, from their author, David Brainard Griffin, signing up, through battles and the pain of missing a family when away at war. It's a moving, startling document, remembering just what soldiers have gone through, just as long as we've had wars. You can read excerpts from two letters on our sponsor's page. This book would be a great holiday gift for that person on your holiday list who loves history, and for whom the Civil War might hold some contemporary parallels.

Sponsors like Nick K Adams make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. We only have two dates left in our current block. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.

A journey into the head of a stalker

Published December 05, 2016, at 11:46am

Alex Gallo-Brown reviews James Lasdun's The Fall Guy, and Give Me Everything You Have.

What happens when an author who has written a book about being stalked then goes on to write a thriller about a stalker?

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