The Sunday Post for August 19, 2018

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.

KEXP pays tribute to Aretha Franklin

There’s been plenty of great writing about Aretha Franklin published in the last few days, but my pick this week is John Richards and DJ Riz’s tribute to the Queen of Soul. When I turned on KEXP on Thursday morning, I knew immediately what the top headline was — and it felt right to hear it from them first. They created an essay from her songs, telling you what they thought and loved about her work, teaching you things you didn't know about her. You can stream it right here, if you aren't already (why aren't you?).

Fuck You, Death: Thoughts on Finishing My Friend's Last Book

This short piece by Anders Nilsen is punctuated by gorgeous illustrations — not by him, though; by his friend, the artist Geneviève Castrée. After Castrée‘s death, Nilsen took on the project of completing the book she’d been making while she was ill. Most of the work was small; a line here, a patch of color there. But Castrée had left one of the book’s most significant elements undone, and Nilsen had to negotiate a truce between their styles to finish it. His writing about the process is filled with humility, grief, and admiration.

I started working, intending to simply mimic her style as closely as I possibly could.

I couldn't. I tried painting them in gouache, I tried colored pencil, I tried drawing digitally in photoshop. It felt as though I was drifting further from the goal with every attempt. They at once failed to blend in with her own line and color, and also seemed to loom clumsily over it like a drunk uncle.

I draw things badly in my own comics all the time, and it feels extremely uncomfortable. Getting Geneviève's bubbles wrong in this particular book felt worse than criminal.

Fatal Naming Rituals

Poet Billy-Ray Bellcourt on how not to write about Indigenous writing, a tutorial on and a warning against description. The language of this is completely immersive, entangling, as aural as it is visual. Give it your time.

Say forgiveness. With a maw full of smoke, say the aftermath of history. Hold our books in your slippery hands with the ever-loudening fact of their eschewal of the violence of a reading practice that makes a feast out of "a choreography of mangled bodies." Mouth the word "enemy," but do not enunciate it, for it is not a subject position worth keeping in the world. Living as we do in the charred remnants of a time during which the voices of Indigenous peoples were siphoned out of the theatres of culture and into the wastelands of law and order, you, a white and settler you, are beholden to a project of lessening the trauma of description.
Hatebook

Facebook! So multitalented. While the massive social media company was quietly helping Donald Trump into power, they were also providing a platform for hate speech to incite violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. A new report by Reuters explores the mechanisms by which Facebook failed to uphold its own standards for allowable “content,” despite full awareness of the extent and impact of the problem. Here, “impact” is a stand-in for “genocide,” and “mechanisms” is a stand-in for “unwilling to invest despite having every ability to do so.”

Keep in mind, we’re not talking about Facebook as we know it in America. We’re talking about a Facebook that has a specific goal of bringing the Internet to developing countries, not as a social good, but because doing so offers them a unique kind of dominance. As the report says, in Myanmar, Facebook “is the Internet.”

I know the Internet is really outrage-y right now, and I’m not encouraging you to feel outrage over this. I am encouraging you to feel deep anger, to ask what might be unforgiveable, and then to keep making decisions about the platforms you use that reflect the world you want to live in.

Many of the millions of items flagged globally each week – including violent diatribes and lurid sexual imagery – are detected by automated systems, Facebook says. But a company official acknowledged to Reuters that its systems have difficulty interpreting Burmese script because of the way the fonts are often rendered on computer screens, making it difficult to identify racial slurs and other hate speech.

Facebook's troubles are evident in a new feature that allows users to translate Burmese content into English. Consider a post Reuters found from August of last year.

In Burmese, the post says: "Kill all the kalars that you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive."

Facebook's translation into English: "I shouldn't have a rainbow in Myanmar."

(By the way — while “honey badger” might seem like a great name for a secretive operation to mop up hate speech — referencing an animal that relentlessly hunts down out prey living invisibly underground — does anyone believe staff at Facebook didn’t think of the old meme and chuckle to themselves? They truly don’t give a shit.)

Whatcha Reading, Sharma Shields?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Sharma Shields is a Spokane-based novelist and short story writer. Her latest, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac won the 2016 Washington State Book Award in Fiction. Her short story collection Favorite Monster was published in 2012. And, soon to come: The Cassandra, a novel set in Hanford in the 1940s, coming in February of next year. It looks amazing — it would be a fantastic idea to pre-order your copy now!

What are you reading now?

Pachinko by Min Lin Jee, a toothsome, engrossing, moving addition to the family epic, a category of literature I adore that includes Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

What did you read last?

  1. Circe by Madeline Miller — such a Greek myth pleasure bomb. The scene where Circe first turns men into pigs is awesomely, satisfyingly rendered.
  2. So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, a kickass novel about the monster of multiple sclerosis; this was an intimate, difficult, and ultimately bracing read for me given my own struggles with MS. Also — damn! — Griffith writes the most gorgeous sentences. Excited to read Hild, too.
  3. The Bell by Iris Murdoch. Murdoch never hesitates to straight-up imperil her characters. I relate so much to their vulnerability.

What are you reading next?

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Florida by Lauren Groff. I've also placed on hold Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras and She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (both will be published this fall).

The Help Desk: Bad dog

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

My dog threw up on a first edition my girlfriend loaned me from her dead mother’s library. I of course told her right away and apologized. She accepted my apology, but I still feel awful. I’m not much of a reader so maybe you can help. Is there something sweet and literary I can do to make up for it?

Chris, Chicago

Dear Chris,

My father used to tell me "the world isn't full of problems, it's full of opportunities" and while I didn't often listen to him – he had a severe drinking opportunity until the day he died – in your case, his advice is applicable. Here is what he would've recommended you do:

Take out a few of your most treasured possessions – Yeezy sneaks, CPAP machine, whatever the kids are into these days – and line them up on your coffee table. Then invite your girlfriend over, cook her favorite meal, and lace it with ipecac. Seconds to minutes later when she begins to projectile vomit, point her at the lineup and let her go to town. Immediately afterward – this is important – kiss her firmly on the mouth without flinching and offer to split a handle of Tito's with her.

However, if you've never lightly poisoned a loved one before and don't think you have the stomach for it (HAHAHA), I suggest looking for an upcoming reading or literary event that she might enjoy and buying tickets to it.

Kisses,

Cienna

Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Never wanted muscles

Mail Call for August 16, 2018

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

Portrait Gallery: Julia Child

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

This week marked what would have been chef and author Julia Child's 106th birthday and the 14th anniversary of her death. 1912-2004.

Book News Roundup: Save the date for the Hugo House's big grand opening

  • The Hugo House has released information about its official grand re-opening. The party starts at 5 pm on Saturday, September 22nd. It will feature Maria Semple as host; performances from the Vis-à-Vis Society and the Bushwick Book Club; readings from Anastacia-Renee, Quenton Baker, Nicole Hardy, Kristen Millares Young and Amber Flame; and an after-hours dance party.

  • Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson has announced the publication date and subject of her second novel:

Ultimately, Graham said, Clarion West is a test of commitment. “I think that’s what we do best, is we help students get to that place where they are ready to launch a career, they are ready to make writing a huge part of their lives,” Graham said.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Pearl, with irritation

Brian Michael Bendis's creator-owned comics are often very strong, but they're also often plagued with extensive publication delays that leave audiences annoyed. (What's up, Scarlet? It's remarkable that a writer as prolific as Bendis — he often juggles four monthly titles, in addition to special projects and a teaching gig — falls down on the job as much as he does.

The shame of it is, these books are usually his best work. Scarlet, in particular, started out as a great Occupy-themed commentary on income inequality. Then it was delayed so long that it felt like a timely statement on police shootings. And who knows how many other hot-button issues it will glide by on its glacial pace to completion?

Honestly, I wish I didn't have to begin this column with a huge asterisk, but Bendis has failed so consistently to finish what he starts with his creator-owned property that buyers should beware.

So with all that in mind, I like the first issue of Bendis's new creator-owned book with Michael Gaydos, Pearl. It's the story of a gifted young tattoo artist who accidentally becomes the pawn in a seedy underworld power play. The book opens in a San Francisco food truck parking lot, when a young man notices the gorgeous spider tattoo on Pearl's wrist. Violence ensues soon after.

It's pretty obvious that the book is going to be an investigation of tattoo culture. And it's also obvious that the creators have done their research; the credits list Diego Martin as "tattoo designer." This seems like a natural match with comics, which is the only medium that can really engage in a conversation with tattoo artistry.

Gaydos's art is becoming more and more minimalist as the years continue. He's one of those cartoonists who can relay a complex emotion — say, arousal combined with wariness — in something like five lines. And in Pearl, he's playing with color in some very interesting ways. When the food truck is attacked by gun-wielding mobsters on motorcycles, the book's whole color palette shifts from a slick damp-city-at-night sheen to a day-glow mix of sickly greens and muddy reds, with bits of tattoo flash added in the margins for additional emotional intensity.

As perfectly as the coloring captures the emotional intensity of that sequence, I do wish that Gaydos had been a little more specific in his action sequences, though. In the end, I have no idea who got shot by whom, aside from the main characters. Did everyone else die? How many people were involved? It's very unclear.

For those of you who take a chance on Pearl, it's very likely that you'll enjoy what you read. Even if the plot doesn't advance very far by the end of the issue, Gaydos's artistry alone is very gawk-worthy. But will there be a Pearl issue # 2 on comic shop shelves before we all die in a Trump-inspired nuclear holocaust in the late summer of 2020? I can't confidently place a bet either way.

Erin Bartnett's account of the "Book Boyfriend Box" at Electric Literature is way more sordid than you're expecting. (Be warned: There is a NSFW photo at the link.)

Book News Roundup: Residencies and jobs and himpathy

  • Jack Straw Cultural Center is now accepting applications for its artist residency series. Curator Kathleen Flenniken will choose a group of local writers who are eager to learn how to present their work orally — as public speakers and as audio recording performers. If you've ever thought about improving your reading skills, you should apply to this program.

  • And for the first time in a while, Jack Straw is hosting two workshops to discuss the artist residency program and to help artists with their applications. The 2018 curator, Daemond Arrindell, will host a workshop on Sunday, September 16th at 11 am. And Flenniken will host a workshop on Saturday, October 6th at 2 pm. Visit Jack Straw's site for more details.

  • Hooray for great Seattle poet and Seattle Review of Books contributor EJ Koh!

Talking with literary dynamo Kate Berwanger about why "it takes a boss-ass hustling queen to make it happen"

Every once in a while a new figure bursts through the walls of Seattle literary scene like some kind of superhero. The most recent shaker-upper, Kate Berwanger, founded the Assembly Literary Open Mic, a twice-monthly cross-town reading event that happens on the first Wednesday of each month at Screwdriver Bar in Belltown, and the third Wednesday of each month at Corvus and Co. on Capitol Hill.

But two readings a month weren't enough for Berwanger. She then launched a twice-yearly DIY show called Spring for Zines! and Fall for Zines! And that's just the beginning: Berwanger also launched a Kickstarter to present an ambitious slate of readings across Seattle all year long. She's interested in hosting women-fronted events that feature DIY and emerging literary artists.

Berwanger took some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to talk about her love of events and what she's working on right now. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion. If you'd like to support Berwanger's work, her Kickstarter is running for three more days.

I know you have your story on your website, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your journey as a writer?

I've been writing for two decades — mostly short fiction. And I guess I don't really have a need to play the game. I'm not interested in seeking out a publisher, and being on the New York Times bestseller list and stuff like that. I self-publish my own fiction because I like keeping it DIY and grassroots. I would rather just have a dedicated handful of people that care about what I write, I suppose.

What is it about events that you like? Can you talk about the first event where you realized, 'I want to do this for the long haul?'

I think the first really big thing I did was a zine release party a year ago. I loved getting a group of people together who may not have gotten together on their own. And there are a lot of writers who aren't published who have a lot of really amazing things to say. Seattle has so much fucking talent, and I want to showcase that.

It sounds like for you, hosting events is a way to create community.

Yeah. Writing is solitary. But there's a lot of cross pollinating that happens when you have indie events, because you bring in different artists or readers who have a different following who may not have met each other otherwise. This is how we make friends and this is how we cultivate community — by building together on top of what already exists.

What do you think Seattle could do to improve that spirit of community?

It's not necessarily one cohesive community here. For writers, it's a disjointed Venn diagram where there's a bunch of — I don't want to call them cliques, but there's a lot of small communities and they all bunch together.

Founding Assembly has been a really incredible experience, because there are so many platforms that exist for performative work or spaces for people to share polished pieces. But Assembly is full of people who write, but don't necessarily identify as a writers. What's so special about it is it's an open and inviting space for people to share their work who want to get better. It gives people the opportunity to improve their craft and make new friends and cultivate community. It's like my baby — a really, really beautiful, open group of folks.

How do you see your events relating with, say, Short Run, which also has a pretty strong zine component?

I tabled at Short Run last year. It's very well known, and a huge event. I feel like Spring and Fall for Zines are kind of Short Run's distant cousins. Our last event, we had 30-some vendors. We have 40 this time. And there is some overlap — a lot of the people who table with us have been involved in Short Run, but there are also people who are maybe just getting into zines, too.

Can you think of any examples of the DIY scene in Seattle right now that are especially interesting or exciting? Any new artists who the readers of the Seattle Review of Books might not know about yet?

Are you familiar with Poseurs?

No.

Emily Denton started a pay-what-you-can yoga program. And she puts out a zine — I think monthly, now. My thing is if you want something to happen and it doesn't exist, you have to create it. It's not easy — it takes a boss-ass hustling queen to make it happen. I feel like Emily's done really well at that.

And then on August 26th, you're kicking off a new reading series titled Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women, and the readers include Meredith Clark, Vivian Hua, and Anastacia-Renee. Can you talk about the thinking behind the reading?

I'm really into surreal fiction. Are you familiar with Aimee Bender?

Oh God, I love her. She's a fantastic writer, one of the greats.

Yeah, she's a big reason why I'm doing this. I'm really into magical realism, specifically written by women. I want this to be an evening of weird, strange storytelling fronted by women. The first part of this series is going to be experimental — I don't even know what I'm doing. I'm just going with it, trying to learn from it. But that's okay. It's Seattle, right? Everyone's going to eat it up. It'll be amazing.

Over in the Comics Journal, Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds offers a nuanced discussion of Amazon from his perspective as a publisher, a Seattleite, and a human being in the world today. Reynolds acknowledges that Amazon does some good, but he also thinks that if we don't take them seriously, we could be setting ourselves up for disaster:

At this point they’re not going anywhere, and if we don’t stem this rising tide somehow, it’s not going to get any better. It’s like global warming. It’s like Amazon is the global warming of the American economy. We’re reaching the point where we might be able to minimize some of the damage one way or the other, but this is happening.

Please go read the whole interview.

The nothing in the white robe

Published August 14, 2018, at 11:55am

Paul Constant reviews Ron Stallworth's Black Klansman, and Vegas Tenold's Everything You Love Will Burn.

Spike Lee's film BlacKkKlansman arrived in theaters on the same weekend that a white nationalist rally gathered in Washington DC. How should we deal with American Nazis?

Read this review now

The Citizen

apologies to Wallace Stevens

one must have a mind of silly putty
acquiesce not
interrupt          combust at 35      one leaps
the other lies        deciding’s not for us
one must have a mind
of anecdote not data point        must
never mind the grope
one must have a mind of
antelope        one must have a mind
of wind        of pantyhose        one mustn’t
mind the mess or make a fuss
must mine the hive        believe the lies
one must have a mind      at least one
must

Mark your calendars for an inspired pairing!

Patrick deWitt has a startling talent for pushing the mainstream askew — for example, mixing a Godot-like sense of the absurd with beloved Western tropes. His newest, French Exit, similarly sends up the comedy of manners, transporting an Upper East Side widow, her son, and their possibly possessed cat to the City of Light. Hijinks, of the classically dark and shady deWitt sort, ensue.

All well and good. But we'll go you one better: deWitt is touring with the book, and his Seattle stop pairs him with Maria Semple. The two will share a stage at the Central Library on September 6 for a conversation about — well, we'll be happy to hear those two talk about almost anything. They're both fiercely funny, but like deWitt's novels, slightly askew.

Check out more information from this week's sponsor, The Seattle Public Library, on our sponsor’s page. Then put this event on your calendar — hard to believe it's free! You can buy a book while you're there to say thanks for a wonderful night.

Sponsors like The Seattle Public Library not only keep our readers in the know about upcoming events of interest — they support the great writing about books that you see here every day. Got an event, a book, or a residency you'd like to promote? Our 2018 sponsorships are almost sold out, but move fast, and you can reserve a slot before they’re gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from August 13th - August 19th

Monday, August 13: Thrilling Tales After Dark

The Seattle Public Library's story time event for grownups continues with a special reading of the short story "End of the Day," by Jane Speed. The quote supplied by the library from this story is as follows:
I swear, I’d lose my head if it wasn’t connected to my shoulders! Now where on earth did I put my husband?
Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, http://spl.org, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, August 14: DIY Resistance Reading

Portland author Anthony Alvarado's DIY Resistance: 36 Ways to Fight Back explains ways to defend values, protect communities, and find like-minded people in these Trumpy times. Alvarado is also the author of a book about creativity, so don't expect your standard litany of policy points, here. This should be a vibrant book and event. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, August 15: Welcome to the Writer’s Life Reading

If Welcome to the Writer's Life is as funny and disarming as author Paulette Perlach's website, you're in for a treat. Underneath a positively glowing "about the author" section on her site is a section explaining all the high-profile magazines that have rejected her writing over the years and the great sentences "She is a four-time submitter to the Jack Straw Fellowship. She thought the Pulitzer Prize was the Pullit Surprise until she was like 17. At age 28, she attended an 8-month writing residency in her mom’s downstairs bedroom." Tonight's book launch party features a "Bad Author's Photo Booth" with lots of pretentious props like berets and quills and such. Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, http://hotelsorrento.com, 6 pm, free, 21+.

Thursday, August 16: The Great Alone Reading

Incredibly popular author Kristin Hannah returns with a new novel about a former POW who moves his family to Alaska to get off the grid. Hannah will be joined in conversation with Washington author Megan Chance. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free; signing with purchase of book.

Friday, August 17: Rising Reading

Elizabeth Rush's new book is titled Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. It's about the coastline that will develop after global warming has its way with our polar ice caps. It's not cheery subject matter, but for God's sake we've got to get serious about this stuff, right? Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, August 18: Economic Utopias and Dystopias

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts, 115 Prefontaine Place S, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/economic-utopias-and-dystopias-tickets-48071143083, 1 pm, free.

Sunday, August 19: #Murdertrending and Pyromantic Reading

Gretchen McNeil is the author of comedic young adult novels including I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Her newest is a funny horror book titled #Murdertrending. Seattle writer Lish McBride has written a bunch of series for young readers. Pyromantic is the second in a new series that started with the book Firebug. University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/, 3 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Economic Utopias and Dystopias

Say what you will about our Trumpy times — and we started a book club just to talk about how terrible everything is — it is at least refreshing that people are discussing economic systems. I'm old enough to recall a time (four years ago) when discussing socialism would be enough to end a political career. Now, Democrats are openly calling themselves socialists.

Clearly, the current model of economics — call it neoliberalism, call it libertarian capitalism, call it whatever you'd like — isn't working. It's time to evaluate our economy, throw out what doesn't work, and start over. The best way to investigate our options, of course, is through fiction.

On Saturday the 18th, four local sci-fi writers (Beverly Aarons, Shweta Adhyam, Elizabeth Guizzetti, and Seattle Review of Books columnist Nisi Shawl) will discuss "economic systems in literature and how they relate to America’s current economic system." They will be moderated by a local real estate strategist as they discuss utopia and dystopia in sci-fi, and how those ideas can (and shouldn't) be applied to the real world.

That's the first half of the event. The second half is delightfully participatory, as attendees are invited to "work in groups to create their vision of an economic system they would want to leave to future generations." That's right — you get to start from nothing and figure out how you'd allocate resources in a perfect world.

This is one of the most exciting ideas for a literary event I've heard in months: a chance to learn from fiction and apply those beliefs toward the creation of something new. And even if none of the ideas created at this event lead to the foundation of a new economic model, the hosts are serving free drinks and snacks, so you'll be sure to get something out of the event.

Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts, 115 Prefontaine Place S, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/economic-utopias-and-dystopias-tickets-48071143083, 1 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for August 12, 2018

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for 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.

There’s a ceiling over Seattle again. Obviously the tragedy of wildfires is not this new haze of smoke that separates us from the sun — it’s, well, wildfires. And yet: This is the brief season in which the sky is supposed to soar over us, pleasingly blue and spacious, not a flat, impenetrable ash. Impenetrable is the word — on a typical rainy Seattle day, it’s still possible to imagine the arc of the stars. This haze feels like it goes all the way up.

It’s maybe a stretch to connect that feeling of being locked-in with the set of essays below. But somehow they fit. They’re all about the space around us — the space we move through and live in, space that feels like its ours but really isn’t. ... So maybe it's not such a stretch, for this city where construction is stealing the streets and the sky, and income inequity is measured in astronomical terms.

Who owns the space around us, or thinks they do? And is it too late to take it back?

It is too late, and then again it never is.

This is how we lost the sky

Kenneth Weisbrode and Heather H. Yeung on how we surrendered the sky to surveillance and military hardware. I don’t know exactly how these two writers, one a historian, one a poet, collaborated. But I love to imagine the back-and-forth, facts and imagination arguing with and yielding to each other, that created this conceptually lyrical piece

As human beings were able to look down upon the earth, rather than exclusively upward toward the sky, the relationship between the two became again less vertical, and more contrived. The sky filled with all those orbiting gadgets therefore has not only turned the earth upon its axis multiple times and surrounded it with multiple smaller spheres, but also broken it down into a familiar patchwork of seas, plains, ghettos, “street views” and possibilities of filtered vision that Google Earth presents us so readily with.

We have begun again to bring the sky closer to us; by populating, polluting and managing it increasingly with earthly objects, we are moving the open sky, the nongravitational nothing of space, or the space of the Gods, farther away. We have not only furthered a schizophrenic notion of sky but have also reinscribed a deeper sense of aimlessness.

Who owns the space under cities?

As Elon Musk digs in under Los Angeles, experimental geographer Bradley L. Garrett explores the handover of public space to private enterprise — cities literally selling the ground out from under their citizens’ feet. And it’s not just Elon Musk who’s digging in; turns out the underground is bustling. It makes sense to track what’s happening and to make what’s invisible known.

But who gets to use the map?

Underground has long been a space of public investment, communal infrastructure, exploration and, when required, secret assembly. In many ways subterranean environs have been more democratic than the surface of the Earth, as depicted in Gabriel Tarde’s 1896 utopian novel The Underground Man, in which in which people not only survive but thrive after a “fortunate disaster” forces human kind to burrow.

But as we rush to render our underground world in three dimensions, increasingly it appears we are backing — tacitly or otherwise — private ownership and comprehensive surveillance.

Flood Thy Neighbor

ProPublica investigates a flood in Missouri, and how the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to build a levee around a single community — more affluent, suburban — forcing waters fatally higher in rural areas nearby. Imagine watching floodwaters take your home and seeing not the implacability of the river, but the ruthlessness of an engineer's cost-benefit analysis.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Valley Park resident Ryan McDougell. “The engineers that came in here and put the levee in, they did a great job. It sucks for the folks down below, because, I mean, this is going to happen every year.”
Minecraft and Me

Finally, architect Will Wiles uses a child’s game to explore how we think about the landscapes around us, from sublimity to sustenance. This is a substantial piece, a tour through the art, literature, and intellectual history of public and private space, and it serves as a sort of refractive lens for the essays above.

And it returns to an idea sparked by that newly claustrophic Seattle sky: how our imagination connects us to the space around us, and how surrendering ownership of that space might mean surrendering something of ourselves, as well.

With Minecraft thus positioned as an improbable mirror, I came to realize I was not creating places that made me happy. Instead I was creating shadowy and forbidding places expressive of the depression that’s dogged me since adolescence. It was an alarming thought: that I was confronting a dark state of mind given architectural outlet. But this was not so simple; it was not just that dark thoughts, in times of creative blockage or emotional stress, had led to dark places. I was in fact pursuing the “delicate equipoise of conflicting emotions,” the ambivalence that Williams describes as characteristic of the sublime.

Whatcha Reading, Jessica Mooney?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jessica Mooney is a Seattle-based writer. Her criticism, essays, and short stories have appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Rumpus, Salon, City Arts Magazine, and of course here, where she reviewed, Kristen Radtke's Imagine Wanting Only This, and Leni Zumas' Red Clocks. Jessica's story "Love Canal" was one of the first pieces of fiction we published. That's not even talking about her non-literary career, in the field of global health for an international nonprofit; her scientific research has been published in Prevention Science and the Journal for Health Disparities Research and Practice. She's received grants from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and 4 Culture, and was a previous Made at Hugo House fellow.

What are you reading now?

I always have a few books going in rotation. Right now it's There There by Tommy Orange, who is not only an incredibly gifted writer, but a kind human being; Tonight I'm Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson; and I finally picked up Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I'm also reading the Human Bone Manual as research for a novel (great summertime creepy read!), and a few Oliver Sacks essays, which I've done every August the past fseveral years to commemorate his death — "My Periodic Table" just crushes me every time I read it.

What did you read last?

After hearing David Naimon interview Urusla K. Le Guin on on his (very excellent) podcast "Between the Covers", I picked up Conversations on Writing from Tin House Books. I also just finished reading Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, both of which I highly recommend for their brilliant off-kilter prose and straight-for-the-jugular humor.

What are you reading next?

Looking forward to Rachel Kushner's Mars Room, Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, and I just ordered Kristen Arnett's Felt in the Jaw, which I can't wait to read with a bottle of BOGO wine, purchased from 7-Eleven, of course, as the good author intended.

The Washington Center for the Book has announced 2018's nominees for the Washington State Book Awards. Go read the full list here, but some nominees that we've reviewed on this site include This Is How It Always Is, Killing Marias, and The Spider and the Fly. Congratulations to all the nominees. The winners will be celebrated on Saturday, October 13th at the downtown branch of the library.