This "Introvert" Christmas ornament from Archie McPhee, featuring a bespectacled reader hiding behind a book, seems like the sort of thing that readers of this site might enjoy. (They're not a bookstore, but the Seattle Review of Books still loves the ever-loving hell out of Archie McPhee.)

Madeline DeFrees, 1919 - 2015

Very sad news: we've received word from her literary executor that Madeline DeFrees, a Seattle poet, passed away last night. She would have been 96 years old next week.

DeFrees was widely celebrated, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and two Washington State Book Awards. Her most recent collections were published with Copper Canyon Press. According to her website, DeFrees "spent 38 years as a nun with the Catholic Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. She entered the community after high school and later requested release because, in her words, 'religious life and poetry both demand an absolute commitment.'"

We hope to talk with some friends of DeFrees in the coming days. She had a remarkable talent; her poems were alive with a baroque imagery that most modern poets simply cannot touch. Consider "A Woman Possessed," with its ferocious bullfighting imagery, or her later poem "Still Life," which begins with these bracing lines: "After your letter arrived I left the oven on/all night and never once/put my head in it." (That whole poem is a breathtaking razor's edge of a thing, a highwire act in the middle of an earthquake.) "The Family Group" is a lamentation for a life unlived but also a clear-eyed survey of what might have been. The poet, at the zoo, sees "the child I/never had" and is overcome with a moment of longing: "I wanted to take his hand/hallucinate a husband." It's an uneasy poem, documenting an uneasy moment.

DeFrees's work demonstrates an unflinching honesty that could make many self-styled confesssional poets blush, but it never feels clumsy or leering or unwelcome. Her charge as a poet, it seems, was to capture the workings of her mind, with all its contradictions and inconsistencies, and relate it in beautiful, entrancing language. DeFrees was absolutely right; poetry demands "an absolute commitment," and she gave nothing less.

If you were watching NBC News last week you have may have noticed a segment about the Amazon bookstore opening in Seattle. In that clip, you may have seen our own Paul Constant giving his (our, really) opinion on the matter.

But we didn’t know until today (despite nice friends letting us know) that the video played on national NBC News, not just King5. Today we uncovered the video in question, and are offering it for you here, in the least timely way possible, so that you, like us, can cheer when you see our website appear on that master of all media, big television. Or hiss, if you're a hate reader (welcome to the site!).

Portrait Gallery: Salim Ali

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

Salim Ali was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist. His 1941 book The Book of Indian Birds went through at least fourteen editions. He won the second J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation prize, from the World Wildlife Fund in 1975. Ali died in 1987 at the age of 90. Today is his birthday.

Kara Brown's interview with Johari Osayi Idusuyi, the woman who read Citizen at a Trump rally and thereby became an instant celebrity, wins the internet today. Just perfect.

Living up to the best

Published November 12, 2015, at 12:29pm

Paul Constant review Jonathan Lethem's The Best American Comics 2015.

Jonathan Lethem's Best American Comics 2015 might not be the best comics anthology out there, but it is certainly the best comics anthology edited by Jonathan Lethem this year.

Read this review now

This morning, the APRIL Festival announced something fun: their first-ever writing contest! And the Seattle Review of Books is coming along for the ride:

The APRIL 2016 contest is simple: submit a written piece of any genre or form, 400–500 words in length, before the December 12 deadline. The APRIL team will select five finalists, with the winner to be selected by The Seattle Review of Books. The winning piece will be published on The Seattle Review of Books and performed during the APRIL 2016 festival and the winning author will be awarded a $100 honorarium. Please note that this contest is limited to those individuals who have NOT read at an APRIL event before.

There's no fee to enter, so send your best stuff along. We're very much looking forward to reading your work, and to publishing your work, and to attending your reading. Read all the details here.

World Fantasy Award organizers recently announced that they would stop giving out busts of infamous racist H.P. Lovecraft to winners. Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi is outraged, calling the decision “a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness.” Joshi has returned his World Fantasy Awards in protest, The Guardian reports.

It's important to draw a distinction between banning the works of Lovecraft — which nobody is demanding, for the record — and literally idolizing him with a statue. Much has been written about Lovecraft's racism in recent years, including the Lovecraft-inspired comics of Alan Moore. Here's an interesting essay about Moore's evolving attempts to address the racism in Lovecraft's work. We can't sweep that part of Lovecraft's character under the rug; we must acknowledge it, examine it, and learn what we can from it.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The preacher's curse

The nerd internet got very excited a few weeks ago when the first trailer for the Preacher TV series was posted to YouTube. The trailer, to me, looked like a lot of hand-waving with very little substance, but then I’ve got conflicted feelings about Preacher. When I was a teenager, it was my favorite comic, a huge epic story — let’s be honest, a superhero story — about good and evil and, most importantly, sacrilege.

I haven’t read Preacher in years, in part because I fear it has probably aged very badly. Even though it launched in the mid-90s, Preacher likely now reads like something from a long-ago era, since it's packed with gay panic jokes and sexism. Those were never the appeal for me; I was there for the fun of a comic which casts the Christian depiction of God as the villain. For a lifelong atheist, it was a real thrill. Maybe Preacher’s transgressive nature meant that it would never age well. It’s impossible, after all, to be permanently transgressive; if you seek to offend, shifting cultural norms mean that you will most likely not be able to offend the next generation — at least in the way you originally intended.

Preacher is on my mind not just because of the trailer but because the first issue of The Goddamned, the new series by writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guéra, was published yesterday. The Goddamned purports to tell Bible stories as you’ve never seen them before, which, so far as I can tell by the debut issue, means with a lot more cuss words and violence.

The book begins “1600 years after Eden,” with a nameless figure waking up after being brutally assaulted. He then wanders the desert, completely naked, in search of the people — or, in this case, the giants — who beat him up. Captions deliver his narration to us: “I have walked this pile of shit we call a world for 1600 years. I have cursed God every way he can be cursed, including to his face.”

We eventually do discover our protagonist’s name, and it reveals him as a famous Biblical figure. At the end of the book, we’re introduced to an antagonist who also is a Biblical figure. The pacing, with the villain identifying himself on the very last page, is very much of a superhero comic, but The Goddamned seems desperate to label itself for mature readers. It’s got bad language and nudity and violence and, I guess, “adult subject matter.”

The Goddamned didn’t work for me, in part because I felt as though its edgy Bible riff might age as poorly as Preacher has. How many different ways can comics writers ostentatiously raise their middle fingers to the heavens? The first issue of The Goddamned is all attitude and posing, with no real sign that there’s anything substantial happening in the background. Maybe future issues will pay out in surprising ways. That’s entirely possible; Aaron certainly has the capacity to tell a good story.

If there’s a reason to pick up The Goddamned, it’s Guéra’s art. This is the kind of hyperdetailed style that Americans used to describe, with a certain kind of longing, as “European.” A double-page spread of the marauding giant hordes is so full of debauchery and sin that it’s like a Where’s Waldo of monstrosity. During the eight-page, mostly silent fight scene in the middle of the book, (another reminder of superhero comics) Guéra ilustrates violent acts with economy and gravity; you can always tell what’s going on in every panel, and he doesn’t allow the action to overwhelm the page. He keeps the panel count high, rather than blowing the fight scene out into a too-extravagant series of splash pages. His art, it must be said, is almost too good for the comic in which it appears.

Yesterday, the APRIL Festival announced that Jenny Zhang will be the writer-in-residence of their next festival, which will take place the week of March 15—20, 2016. Zhang is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find. Unfamiliar with her work? Try this piece, which she published with Poetry magazine:

When someone dies, we go searching for poetry. When a new chapter of life starts or ends — graduations, weddings, inaugurations, funerals — we insist on poetry. The occasion for poetry is always a grand one, leaving us little people with our little lives bereft of elegies and love poems.

But I want elegies while I’m still alive, I want rhapsodies though I’ve never seen Mount Olympus. I want ballads, I want ugly, grating sounds, I want repetition, I want white space, I want juxtaposition and metaphor and meditation and ALL CAPS and erasure and blank verse and sonnets and even center-aligned italicized poems that rhyme, and most of all — feelings.

She has also written extensively for the wonderful Rookie magazine. You'll have plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with Zhang's work this spring; the writer-in-residence at APRIL participates in a number of readings and also writes about the festival as it happens. It's a great way to get a writer acquainted with Seattle, and vice versa.

Katherine Miller at BuzzFeed has compiled a fun, uh, gifsticle(!?) about the woman who very publicly read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a book which "investigates the ways in which racism pervades daily American social and cultural life, rendering certain of its citizens politically invisible," at a Donald Trump rally. The thing is, Miller's article didn't cover the best part: the angry white man who tried to get the woman to stop reading and pay attention to Donald Trump, who was, at that exact moment, talking about how much sleep he gets every night. You should watch that whole interaction play out here.

Part of the mission statement for the Seattle Review of Books is to keep the art of the book review alive for another generation. Too many review outlets subscribe to the notion that a book review is just a plot synopsis with a little bit of thumbs-up or thumbs-down commentary stapled onto the end. We think book reviews are unique pieces of art; they are criticism written in the form they're critiquing. This opens up all sorts of neat opportunities. We believe that the best days for book reviews are ahead of us.

And there's a place for you in that future. SRoB co-founder Martin McClellan and I are teaching a class on book reviewing at Hugo House in January, and we'd like you to attend. It's called "The You Review of Books," and here's a synopsis:

Do book reviews matter in the age of GoodReads and Amazon customer reviews? The Seattle Review of Books co-founders Paul Constant and Martin McClellan think so: they say book reviews should be beautiful pieces of writing in response to beautiful pieces of writing. They’ll explore what makes a great review by providing examples and plenty of exercises and advice for how to read, think about, and write compelling, engaging, and intelligent reviews. Their goal is nothing less than training future writers for their website and inspiring writing about books everywhere in the world.

Hugo House members can sign up for the class starting on December 1st. Non-members can sign up starting December 8th. We hope to make this an entertaining class about the theory and practice of book reviewing, which is to say we hope to help you become a better reader, a better writer, and a better critic. We also hope to recruit future SRoB reviewers out of the class. If you have any questions, please feel free to send us an email. We'll post a reminder here on the site as soon as the class opens to the public.

The bookshelves where science and humanities meet

John Paul DeGennaro started working at Ada’s Technical Books about a year and a half ago. He had just moved back to Seattle after graduating from the University of New Hampshire as an anthropology major. He says he’d never worked in a bookstore before, though he’d always wanted to, because it appealed to his interests in science and education.

Earlier this month, DeGennaro became Ada’s new events coordinator. So what does he think makes for a great event? “We like to put on events that are learning-based. We’ve done some literary events that are great, too, but we like people to leave feeling like they’ve gained an understanding of something new.”

And what are some upcoming events that he’s looking forward to? “Thursday we have an event on the impacts of climate change on marine systems with UW professor Curtis Deutsch” to talk about increasing oceanic acidification and rising sea temperatures. And on December 10th, Ada’s will host an event by Dr. Travis Rector, author of the book Coloring the Universe, about how NASA produces such gorgeous color photographs of nebulae half a galaxy away. How do they gather such an impressive slate of oceanographers and astronomers? DeGennaro says that until now, authors have reached out to the store looking to put on events, but he’d like to be a little more proactive and “scout out some people” to put a bigger slate of readings together, too.

DeGennaro also hosts Ada’s Human Experience Book Club, a monthly “survey of non-fiction books exploring what it is like to be human.” This month’s selection is Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz, which is about “why we think we’re right all the time even though we’re not, and why it’s important to make mistakes, and why mistakes help us both in life and as a species.” DeGennaro says he likes to use book clubs “as an introduction to a topic to then explore different ideas and hash them out in discussion context.” For instance, he says, “we read Spook by Mary Roach a couple months ago. We talked about the book, but then we used it as a way to talk about death in our culture. I like to use book clubs as an excuse to talk about broader topics.”

In the end, what drew DeGennaro to bookselling was the idea of understanding the world. He believes that “we have a problem right now in our culture where we try to separate things into as many small categories as possible,” and that we should “blend the humanities and arts and sciences back together, because they’re kind of separated right now.” This makes a place like Ada’s, where biographies and technical scientific texts and the work of Philip K. Dick share space a couple feet away from a bustling cafe, a perfect landing spot for him, a welcome intersection between science and art and the humanities.

From Jessica Roy at The Cut, a horrific lede:

A British man used social media to stalk a teen in Scotland, then traveled 500 miles to the grocery store where she worked and smashed her over the head with a wine bottle, all because she gave his self-published book a bad review.

Maybe it's time to briefly go over the rules of engagement for authors?

  1. Be gracious and brief when you receive praise on social media.
  2. Engage with your fans. Be nice and kind and good.
  3. Never respond to critics who write bad reviews; you're not going to convince a critic that they actually liked your book, and bystanders will think you're petty.
  4. Don't stalk your critics and hit them with wine bottles. In fact, don't hit them at all. Or stalk them. Don't stalk anybody. Don't hit anybody. Don't be a bad person. Be a good person.
  5. Rule 4 is the most important one.

Drink to forget, ink to remember

Published November 10, 2015, at 11:45am

Paul Constant review Tatiana Gill's Blackoutings, Omnibusted, Living in the Now, and Plus.

The important thing about Tatiana Gill's comics is that they're unfailingly honest, whether she's talking about drinking or sobriety or a bad Facebook habit. If you're sick of phony narratives imposed on top of memoirs, maybe Gill's comics are the cure you didn't know you needed.

Read this review now

All of Us, Whatever We Are

Remember the time you watched your uncle
prepare to enter the woods to hunt? The uncle
hunted with a bow and arrow, he greased
his boots for waterproofing, he wore
a brilliant poppy for a hat. You did not go
to see the breath billow from the mouth
of the uncle past the brush of the brown moustache,
or pause when he paused, knee raised, knuckles
loose, ears prickling. You stayed at home
and hoped for the deer and the uncle to miss
each other, to dance in different parts of the woods,
you didn't know how hunting worked. You imagined
saltlicks and deerblinds and crooks of trees
and cracks of branches. It was all out of books.
The books fell down around them, man and animal,
a flush of russet leaves, and landed without sound.
You went on turning pages, and they went on
stepping silently, and the arrow waited, eager
for the string to touch its lip, for the air to dare
to bite. In you and in the deer and in the uncle
the hot blood ran after its own scents, trailed
by its own pursuers, the hearts made their fists
and opened their mouths over and over.
In the uncle's hand, the arrow felt
indifference, as the knives and bullets
and needles and steering columns all feel
indifference. We are dry, now we are wet.
It is warm, but it will soon be cold, the body,
the blood, the idea of you hovering there
as the last of the life leaks away. Where
does the warmth go? We try to track it down,
to find it lurking in the dark trees, coax it
into sunpools, hope it stares at us
with enormous eyes. We want to touch
its little feet, to turn the soft tongue from side
to side. We move through snow and bear up
under wind. We blink the frost from the lashes,
we flex the thumb going numb in the chill. We want
the beating thing that lies beyond the reach
of our barbed touch. We want chance to spin
the dial, we want the arrow to thread
the gnarled trunks and hit the heat in the heart —

We run to it, bracken snapping, shouts
of wonder in the ringing air. We hold the heat
a moment, its muzzle wet, and then we feel it
moving off, a shuffling shadow with no edges
cast by a cloud that is not there. And you look up
and the uncle looks up too and the deer
with its amber iris stares along with you
and everyone sees sky and endless space
and the unstoppable cold comes dropping.

The Triangle Factory Fire of 1911, documented in verse

Our sponsor this week, Donald Kentop, became fascinated with the Triangle Factory Fire, after learning that the building where the tragedy happened still stands as the Asch Building. It's part of New York University, and Kentop had classes in the building when he was a student.

He has woven a deep history of the fire, told in verse, through the stories of survivors, victims, and the unfolding of the event itself, in his book Frozen by Fire. The book, full of images and portraits, is a rich portrait of a tragedy the shaped American life.

Kentop will be appearing Sunday, November 15th to read from the work, at the Seattle Public Library's Ballard Branch.

Like Kentop, you can join with us to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. We're breaking the mold and trying to create something new that benefits both us, and you, the reader. Reach our readers with your work, and together let's make advertising something we look forward to.

The algorithm method has come a long way. They’ve been in business for two decades now, moving billions of dollars of merchandise around the world, harvesting untold amounts of information from their customer transactions and searches, collecting tens of billions of pages worth of customer reviews on products, and investing tens of millions of employee work-hours into tightening the gap between customer desire and customer satisfaction. In many ways, the culmination of what Amazon sought to do with all that data is now made physical, in the form of a brick-and-mortar store, Amazon Books, in a University Village storefront formerly occupied by a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant.

Amazon Books is presumably intended as a showroom for, a physical manifestation of everything Amazon’s founders believe, and a destination for Amazon’s most enthusiastic fans. If corporations can feel pride — and why not? they’re people, after all — Amazon Books thrums with a glowing sense of corporate self-regard. This is a brand that is singing a song of itself.

Every inch of Amazon Books is a promotion for, a meatspace billboard for a virtual experience. The speakers play inoffensive jazz that signs helpfully inform you can be found on Amazon Prime Music. Books are priced, other signs crow, the same as they are on The center row of the store is handed over to Amazon’s physical products — the cylindrical, always-listening Echo; the colorful Fire tablets for children; the generic Bluetooth speakers; the television streaming boxes. But aside from a tablet here or there, the rest of the store is devoted to books. The vast majority of the books are faced-out on shelves, with a few endcap displays and a couple front table of new releases.

Spend five minutes in Amazon Books and you will likely describe it as a fairly typical corporate bookstore experience, a cleaner and more enthusiastic Barnes & Noble. But spend a little more time in Amazon Books — an hour say, on a Saturday morning — and you’ll realize the true achievement of what Amazon has done. All that data, all those national GDPs worth of products shipped, all of that has built to this moment, this destination, this apex. What Amazon has built in Amazon Books is nothing less than the world’s greatest airport bookstore.

Let’s talk about what bookstores do. Before I became a book reviewer, I spent more than a decade working in bookstores: at Elliott Bay Book Company, and at Borders, and briefly at the Brattle Bookshop in Boston. And part of the reason why the transition from bookseller to book reviewer was so easy for me is that they are, at root, the same job.

A bookseller’s job, and a book critic’s job, is to introduce books to the universe, to start the conversation between book and reader. If you think of a book as a concentrated chunk of thought and empathy and human experience, it’s in bookstores and in book reviews when they start to effervesce, and fizz, and the ideas start to spread into the atmosphere, where we breathe them in. It’s a bookseller’s job to make sure that the right book gets to the right person at the right time.

Sometimes, a bookseller will slyly sneak a subversive young adult novel into the hands of a teenager right in front of their parents — the kind of book that will alter the course of a life, handed off in a seemingly banal retail transaction. I don’t need to tell you the power of books; they can rewire brains, drop whole memories and emotions into our life story that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, and they can, more than any other medium, get us inside the heads of other human beings. They make us less solitary creatures. Every bookstore, then, has tens of thousands of conversations inside of it, waiting to be unleashed into the world.

Those conversations are on the shelves at Amazon Books, too. You can find titles by Ben Marcus and Gwendolyn Brooks and David Foster Wallace and Marilynne Robinson there. Part of the reason Jeff Bezos decided to use books to launch his online retailer was the fact that books are remarkably sturdy units. Every copy of The Scarlet Letter in a single print run is exactly like every other copy. You don’t have to worry about different sizes that have to be returned and re-shipped after a customer tries them on. You don’t have to worry about a book going bad after it passes its expiration date. So a David Foster Wallace book you buy at Amazon Books is the exact same book you’d buy at University Book Store. These books have the same power as any other books in any other bookstore in all the world. The problem is the way Amazon Books directs the conversation around those books.

Everybody knows by now that ads and retail sites online are directed toward individuals. Your Amazon buyer history means that you have a different Amazon homepage than me, and your Facebook ads promote different products than mine. The great failing of Amazon Books is that it can’t reconfigure itself for every customer who walks through the door. You’re not welcomed with a different set of front tables than I am; it’s the same selection, with Scott Pilgrim and the new Donald Trump book, for everyone.

So since the current demands of time and space demand that Amazon can’t suit their bookstore to match the need of each individual customer, they had to compromise. Instead, they decided to please everyone. The way Amazon did this was through a method that an Amazon spokesperson infamously described as “data with heart.”

So what does “data with heart” mean, exactly? It means you get a bunch of awkward signs on endcaps promoting books with signs like this: “Highly Rated Business Books 4.7 Stars & Above.” Okay. That sure is specific. But what does that mean? How many people rated Paul Downs’s Boss Life 4.7 stars or above? Why did they rate it 4.7 stars or above? What would it mean if Boss Life was rated 4 stars? And how do books on that display compare to the books on the next display over, which a sign informs us is made up of “Business Top Sellers,” which are rated “4.5 Stars & Above?” Does that .2 star matter? Why or why not? What are you trying to tell us, besides the fact that these books are popular, and that people who rated them rated them highly? How does a 5-star rating for Getting to Yes relate to a 5-star rating for the Bible? You might give Purity 5 stars, and I might give The Complete Poems of Denise Levertov 5 stars. Maybe I’d give Purity 2 stars and you’d give Levertov 2 stars. Why, really, should anyone care? It's what you do with the book, what you learn from the book, and what you share from the book with the world that truly matters.

Supposedly, the aggregate is how Amazon defines the quality of a book. Many of us have gotten into fights on Facebook about a movie — Jurassic World, say. We know how those fights go. We’ve argued that the movie was dumb and bad but the other person replied, “well, it’s rated 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so I guess someone must agree with me." As though an aggregate of critic scores is as immutable as, say, the speed of light, or freezing temperature, or the melting point of steel.

It’s just not that simple. If 500 people rate a book 5 stars and I read the book and hate it, that doesn’t make my opinion any less meaningful than theirs. It means I entered into a conversation with the art and I had a different conversation than those people. It doesn’t allow for the individual human experience, because it’s too busy condensing hundreds or thousands or dozens or however many experiences into five narrow lanes.

Imagine a restaurant that included Yelp reviews of specific dishes on its menu and you get an idea of Amazon Books. One recommendation card by an Amazon user named “scot16897” — there’s no sign whether Mr. 16897 consented to have his review printed, but that’s probably part of the boilerplate user agreement when you sign up for Amazon — praises a book by saying “Not only is the story good, but there are so many small jokes and references, I found myself literally stifling laughs while reading in public.” So, Mr. 16897, what makes a story “good?” Why is a story bad? What makes you laugh? Why should I suddenly care what an anonymous person on the internet has to say, just because his comment is printed on a card and slapped on a bookshelf?

Most aisles of Amazon Books feature Kindles loaded with samples of the books on the shelves of that particular aisle. It’s a weird choice. Why would you push a bunch of buttons on a Kindle to summon up a sample of a book that already exists on a shelf right in front of you? Why wouldn’t you just pick up the book and start reading it?

The experience only served to remind me that e-readers now feel hopelessly outdated. I hadn’t held an e-reader in a long time, but the slow flashing of e-ink as I swirled through a menu felt like an old-timey experience. Even though the recommend card for the Kindle, written by one “TM massage,” assured me that they have “learned to love” the Kindle “even more” than “the feel of a book,” I felt like I was poking around on a manual typewriter. I say this as someone who bought an e-reader—a Sony Reader — years ago, when e-books seemed to be an inevitability. At the time, I thought reading on the device was fine, perfectly acceptable.

Now, even though the Kindle Paperwhite is supposedly Amazon’s top-of-the-line e-reader, it felt silly and awkward, a rickety reminder of a moment in 2007 when a man, high on internet hubris, actually believed he could render the book obsolete. I looked up from the soggy grey text of the Kindle, and blinked, and looked around at the bookstore, at all the kids poking at the tablets mounted in the childrens’ section, and thought to myself that everything eventually looks old and stupid and slow. Except books.

The final problem with Amazon Books is a curious one. made its name, in part, by having the biggest selection of books in the world. Their physical bookstore boasts a wide array of bestsellers, recent award-winners, and a few representative examples of classics. In comparison with the online retailer, Amazon Books is home to a remarkably shallow assortment. It’s like looking out at a lake that stretches almost to the horizon, stepping inside, and discovering that it’s a crystalline puddle, no more than a quarter-inch at its deepest part.

The poetry section of Amazon Books takes up a single bookcase. It has 26 titles in it, all faced out in even little stacks on four shelves. I left Amazon Books and walked a few miles to Third Place Books Ravenna, headed to the back of the store, and faced their poetry section, which took up two bookcases—15 shelves total. Every single one of those shelves had more titles on it than the entirety of Amazon Books’s poetry section.

I started counting. Third Place Books Ravenna had 758 poetry titles in its poetry section, the size of almost 30 Amazon Books poetry sections. Shelf tags in the section handwritten by store employees, people I could find and talk to in the store, directed me toward specific titles. A pair of display shelves faced out certain books that the employees liked. Nowhere did I see any statistics, or arbitrary 5-star ratings. It was a wall full of conversations, ready to launch out into the world. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 9th - 15th

MONDAY Garth Risk Hallberg reads from his enormous, buzzy debut novel City on Fire at Elliott Bay Book Company. I haven’t read this one yet — every season seemingly brings with it a Big Ambitious Novel By a Young White Guy, and it’s very hard to tell which of them really matter. (The last one of these big novels, Joshua Cohen’s The Book of Numbers, was widely celebrated as a success on its release this spring, but most people I know who’ve read it call it a bust.) Everybody’s talking about Fire for its depiction of New York City in the 1970s, which is at least promising; if a writer can successfully write about a city, they’re probably worth your time.

TUESDAY University Book Store hosts an event sponsored by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Authors Jason Hough, Stina Leicht, and Adam Rakunas will read and talk about writing science fiction. Hough is the author of the The Dire Earth Cycle of books, Leicht's “flintlock fantasy” is titled Cold Iron, and Rakunas is the recently transplanted-to-Seattle author of the novel Windswept, which I reviewed in September. It’s always fun to see sci-fi authors get together and talk shop; they’re usually a little more open than their literary fiction cousins when it comes to the art and business of writing.

WEDNESDAY It’s Veterans Day, and so the Red Badge Project presents a reading of new work by women veterans at Hugo House. Seattle authors Suzanne Morrison and Sonya Lea present new work by women who have served in the military, many of whom have experienced trauma. The Facebook invitation for this event calls this “an opportunity for the public to hear the experiences of women veterans, and in so doing, become a part of a community ceremony to witness who they were, and who they are becoming.” Sounds like a fitting way to spend your Veterans Day.

THURSDAY At Town Hall Seattle, it’s a live edition of Ampersand magazine, with special guests including KEXP DJ John (of “…in the Morning” renown) Richards, artist and childrens’ book author Nikki McClure, poet Janie Miller, and many others. The organization that puts this event on, Forterra, “works to conserve the environment and build communities throughout the Northwest.”

FRIDAY Okay, so the event everyone is going to be talking about is Jesse Eisenberg and Sherman Alexie at Broadway Performance Hall. Obviously, this will be a good time. Alexie is a brilliant reader and a very good interrogator. Eisenberg is a marvelous actor. But this event is also going to be packed — it’s a free event and so it’s first-come, first-serve — and it will likely be as “sold out” as a free event can get. We try not to promote sold-out events in this column. So we’d like to suggest you head to the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle for a reading from wonderful poet and novelist Karen Finneyfrock and poet Roberto Ascalon. Finneyfrock will read from her still-in-progress book The Year We Ruined the House. Ascalon will read some of his incredible poetry.

SATURDAY Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery hosts Seattle cartoonist Tatiana Gill, who is celebrating the release of three new books: Omnibusted, Plus, and Living in the Now. Omnibusted collects her recent work, Plus is a collection of sketches celebrating women of all sizes, and Now collects 500 days’ worth of journal comics. Taken together, it’s a truly impressive body of work, and this should be a night to remember.

SUNDAY You might as well camp out in the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery all weekend long, because today, Jonathan Lethem presents the Best American Comics 2015, which he edited. Lethem, obviously, is one of the finest novelists alive, and he’s also a wonderful fan. He’s written adoring, brilliant pieces about comics that he loves, authors he adores, and music that he can’t live without. He also wrote an excellent book about the movie They Live. Lethem is likely to be a huge geek this afternoon; this is a good thing, because nobody geeks out better.