Love Canal

In the end, our bones say a lot about who we were.

Ways of identifying sex lie in the shape of the pelvis, the jaw. If you place a thumb in the socket of a pelvic bone and it’s a tight fit, it belongs to the body of a male; female pelvic sockets are roomier. You can tell if someone was right-handed or left by the extra musculature attached to the dominant side. Lines along the femur record just how much of your life you spent running.

Your mouth and hands show how you spent your time. If you played a woodwind instrument, like the clarinet, the bones around the jaw show it. You can often tell a carpenter by the mouth, too — clipped front teeth from holding nails between clenched lips. Politically incorrect forensic archaeology textbooks claim that Caucasian nose holes are triangular, Negroid's square, and Mongoloid's diamond-shaped. I once ate a handful of psychedelic mushrooms with a boy I wanted to kiss and stared at my drowned body in a bathroom mirror. I was surprised to discover my nostrils were trapezoids with filaments of seaweed streaming from them.

Bones speak volumes about how you breathe. Your sternum is an archive of all you let go. Exhalation marks the body. Opera singers have extra muscular attachment to the ribcage, as do yogis. The residue of falsettos and fire breath. Shallow breathers have almost no perceptible traces of diaphragm or lung attachment at all. A lifetime of taking in the world but never forcing anything back out. If your baggage is what you hold in, just know there’s no use taking it with you.

In the end, no one can tell all that you carried.

Your mortal remains will stick around longer in Death Valley than Love Canal. The rate of decomposition depends on where you’re buried. In a posthumous land grab, if you want to max out your welcome on terra firma, secure a plot with Grade A alkaline soil. Think desert. Acidic soil accelerates decomposition, alkaline slows it.

In the 1950s the Hooker Chemical Company pumped the Love Canal section of Niagra Falls with 22,000 tons of dioxins from perfumes and shoe rubber. Thanks to physical abnormalities caused by poisoning, the graveyards in Love Canal are filled with twenty percent more appendages and teeth than the average burial site.

I immediately run and tell the most optimistic person I know. We have a lifelong bet going — one of those human nature deals where I’m the wet blanket.

“They poisoned thousands, turned them into mutants,” I say. “Can you believe there are people that terrible? Imagine I’ve grown up in Love Canal. Imagine I have eleven fingers and I’m about to die of some horrible cancer.”

She sucks the head off her beer and shrugs.

“When you’re gone,” she says, foam mustache lining her upper lip, “there will be more of you to miss.”

The Help Desk: Oh, the guilt!

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,

Sometimes when I buy books from used bookstores, I feel bad, especially if they're from small presses. Authors get royalties, however small, on each book sold new in bookstores. They get bupkis from used book sales. Maybe this doesn't matter so much for James Patterson, but when I buy a used copy of an indie title with a tiny print run, that sale could have gone a long way toward benefitting an author, or at least helping their self-esteem. Am I being too sensitive? Or should I only buy copies of bestsellers in used bookstores from now on?

Ingrid, Crown Hill

Dear Cienna,

I like readings. The one problem is I feel guilty if I go to a reading and don’t buy the book. What’s the etiquette here? Is there a rule of thumb? There are so many variations to this theme: sometimes you like the book and will considering buying it later; sometimes after a reading you decide you don’t like the book; sometimes you like the book but it’s too expensive.

I keep coming up with other examples from my life. Is it okay to tell an author you’ll get their book from the library? And what if the author at the reading is your friend?

My anxiety grows by the minute, Cienna. Only you can help me.

Effie, Mountlake

Dear Effie and Ingrid,

Guilt should be reserved for religion and select situations that deserve it, like telling a Girl Scout you have a tumor just so she will give you a free box of Thin Mints. To answer your questions:

  • Buying any and all books from used bookstores is fine. Authors also get nothing when you lend a book to a friend or check a book out from the library. Think of it this way: If those books weren't being recirculated, they'd be rotting in basements, used as coasters in bars or burned by people like me.

  • First and foremost, writers are thrilled to have butts in seats at readings. You are basically doing a very specific community service for one very grateful individual when you attend them. That said, you shouldn't ever feel obligated to buy a book. If your misplaced guilt overwhelms you, however, there is a compromise: When I attend readings and the book doesn't grab me but I really liked the author, I try to think of a senile aunt or friendly shut-in who might enjoy its content and buy it for them as a gift.

  • That said, yes, you are absolutely required to buy your friends' books if they are published authors. It is a $20 investment. If you are not willing to invest $20 in friendship, you do not deserve to have friends.

Finally, I would encourage you both to ruminate on the nature of guilt. I am concerned, based on the tenor of your questions, that neither of you has truly experienced this proverbial shit stain in the rich tapestry of human emotions. Guilt, when done right, should feel like running a coal mine marathon: You should be sweating more than normal and overwhelmed by a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness.

I recommend that you explore this feeling, either by looking someone in your life in the eye while you tell them that you love them and then taking it back 10 minutes later, or by actually running a coal mine marathon. Then you both will be better equipped to tackle slightly uncomfortable social situations, like how to conduct yourself at a book reading, in the future.

Kisses,

Cienna

Poetry Northwest announces new editors, a new publishing imprint

We just received some exciting news from Poetry Northwest, the longest-running poetry magazine in the Pacific Northwest. There are three huge announcements, so let's tease them out in order.

First of all, longtime Poetry Northwest editor Kevin Craft is stepping down. Craft has long been a faithful ambassador, cheerleader, and ringleader of the Northwest's poetry scene. You'll find him in the stands at major poetry events around Seattle all the time, catching up with local poets and making introductions. He's also guided Poetry Northwest through a couple tough recessions and an ever-more-unsupportive culture for the arts — no mean feat. But before we get too far down the road of eulogizing Craft, let's talk about his replacement.

Or rather, replacements. The new co-editors at Poetry Northwest are Seattle poets Aaron Barrell and Erin Malone. They'll be working with managing editor Rebecca Brinbury, who has been an advocate for Seattle's literary scene as the heart and soul of the city's bid for the UNESCO City of Literature program, as the administrator for the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, and as an employee at the Hugo House and a volunteer at the Bureau for Fearless Ideas. This editorial triad is intended to echo Poetry Northwest's defining three founders — Carolyn Kizer, Richard Hugo, and Nelson Bentley. (You can see the cover of the very first issue of Poetry Northwest from 1959 over to the left of this paragraph.) We'll talk with the three new guiding forces about their plans for the magazine in coming weeks.

But Craft's not leaving town. Hell, he's not leaving Poetry Northwest. In fact, he's becoming the executive editor of a brand-new publishing imprint called Poetry NW Editions. Next year, the line will launch with Seattle poet Sierra Nelson's second collection, The Lachrymose Report. Nelson is incredibly active in the Seattle reading scene, and she has been criminally underpublished. As one of the treasures of Seattle literature, she absolutely deserves to be the point person in a brand-new publishing line.

Finally, Craft's last issue as editor of Poetry Northwest is just about to hit the stands. Among other features, it includes a host of great poets — Laura Da', Richard Kenney, J. W. Marshall, Claudia Castro Luna — and cartoonist Kelly Froh illustrating poems by Rebecca Hoogs and Rich Smith. If you've never read Poetry Northwest, this is the issue to start. It's always exciting when a long-running institution like this comes under new leadership; that balance between honoring traditions and sweeping out the institutional cobwebs is a kind of editorial highwire act. This is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall announced that he's looking for new poems (PDF) from Washington poets for a book titled Washington 129. Unsurprisingly, he'll publish one poem from 129 different poets — that's one poet for each year of Washington's statehood. The gist of the announcement:

Washington 129 is accepting submissions until January 31, 2017. Previously published poems will not be considered. Please submit no more than three poems as a single Microsoft Word attachment or as the body of an email to submissions@humanities.org.

Winners include:

  • In poetry, Ross Gay, author of Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, wins.
  • The super-reflexive National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism goes to Maggie Nelson for The Argonauts, which Cate McGehee reviewed for us a couple months ago.
  • The autobiography award goes to Margo Jefferson for Negroland.
  • The winner for biography is Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley.
  • Sam Quiñones's Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic won for non-fiction.
  • And Paul Beatty's excellent novel The Sellout won the fiction award. I reviewed The Sellout last year for Seattlish. It was obviously one of the best books of the year, a satire about race so sharp that it might cut off your fingers if you pick it up wrong.

This is a fine list of great books — perfect for the moment when you're standing in the bookstore wondering what you should read next.

Portrait Gallery: Mal DeFleur

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

Mal DeFleur will be appearing tonight as part of APRIL Festival's annual event "A Poet, a Playwright, a Novelist and a Drag Queen". Miss DeFleur, the drag queen, will be appearing with EJ Koh, the poet, Sara Porkalob, the playwright, and Brian McGuigan, the novelist/memoirist. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets are still on sale, but this event does sell out, so act fast.

Book News Roundup: Bookslut publisher comes to town

We've already told you that Jessa Crispin is shutting down her book review and news site, Bookslut, after 14 years. This is very sad. The good news is that Crispin reads in Seattle tomorrow night from her new book, The Creative Tarot. She'll be reading at University Book Store at 7 pm, and it's free. And meanwhile, over at the Rumpus, you should read this interview with Crispin that, while recorded before the announcement of Bookslut's closure, certainly seems to offer some foreshadowing to the fact that Crispin is ready to move on:

Rumpus: Do you dislike American literature?

Crispin: Oh my god, so much, right now? Are you fucking kidding me? I haven’t read a novel that’s come out of America that I thought had any value whatsoever since Kathryn Davis’s Duplex, which was two years ago, and there had been a drought before that as well. I think American literature is in a tedious place, horrible place. I can’t even engage with it.

  • Seattle poetry statisticians the Vis-a-Vis Society have published some of their most recent work on their website. Recent projects include a race between ending phrases and a spaghetti western.

  • Zainab Akhtar, founder of the popular comics criticism blog Comics & Cola, announced that she's shutting down the blog because the culture has become too "toxic."

Everybody's straightening like it's a commercial

Published March 17, 2016, at 12:00pm

Dawn McCarra Bass review Marie Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying.

"Does this spark joy?" Marie Kondo implores us to ask of the things in our life. Dawn McCarra Bass stretches that idea to include some of the things that come to us through hardship and change.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: Love at first sight

Artyom Trakhanov, where have you been all my life? Trakhanov is the artist for a new miniseries from Boom! called Turncoat, and his art is unlike just about anyone working in the American comics business today. Trakhanov’s art is along the lines of European comics artists, (which makes sense, since he’s Russian) meaning it’s obsessively detailed, focused on different kinds of panel-to-panel transitions than American counterparts, and packed full of interesting, unique characters. It’s unbelievably pretty, yes, but it’s also dense and ornate, like a woodcut come to life.

One of the most appealing aspects of Trakhanov’s art is his tendency to highlight small details in circular panels. When the protagonist, Marta, notices a detail in a photograph handed to her by a client, that detail is inside a smaller circle. When she clicks a pen, or cracks her neck, or gets into a bar fight, Trakhanov highlights the action by circling it in a panel within a panel. Some artists can’t manage this kind of detail without distracting the reader, but on Trakhanov’s pages, the panels flow as easily as an animated film.

It’s not fair to the rest of Turncoat’s creative team that I can’t stop talking about Trakhanov’s art. It’s a sci-fi noir about a human woman who served on the police force for an invading alien force (called “the management”) before betraying her alien masters to a resistance force. The aliens, after 300 years of domination, are finally forced off the planet thanks to information supplied by Marta. This leaves her in a precarious position, as a friend tells her early in the book:

This won’t be clean, Marta. You know that, right? Lotta bad people lived too well under management to just hand over the keys to the world….Timing’s everything, pal. You gave us what we needed to hurt ‘em where it hurts, sure, but you did it just a touch too close to the end. Now both sides are gonna take you for a carpetbagger.

Five years later, Marta is a lonely woman, a private detective who gets assaulted randomly by both former pro-human resistance forces and alien sympathizers alike. She takes on a case that smells bad, and early clues indicate that it might lead to the management’s return. Alex Paknadel’s script is very strong — packed with information without feeling leaden — and it juggles genre tropes with a delicate touch. Paknadel could probably carry a lesser artist with his novelistic approach (there are more words per page than you’d find on five or six pages of your standard Marvel comic) but with an artist as naturally gifted as Trakhanov, it takes a couple readings before you realize how well-written the whole thing is.

Turncoat is walking down a dangerous path. It’s easy to imagine the many alien invasion/private detective clichés that the script could fall prey to in its remaining three issues. But as long as Trakhanov continues to draw the series, every issue will be, at the very least, worth the cover price just in terms of sheer stare-worthiness alone.

Tonight is the monthly meeting for SCBWI of Western Washington (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), and the topic is diversity. Anybody who follows the children's market knows that diversity is a huge issue right now. From Marley Dias to George Washinton's slaves, this is an important issue to explore in depth, especially from the point-of-view of creators. A great panel, including Philip Lee of Lee & Low Books, Kelly Jones, KCLS librarian Ann Crewdson, and Liz Wong, will be on hand to explore and offer suggestions.

Even better, librarians get in free tonight, so come one come all to Demaray Hall at SPU. Program starts at 7pm. And, I'll be there too, so come find me and say hello.

Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader reports that Barnes & Noble is dropping its Nook e-reading service in the United Kingdom. If you own a Nook e-reader, that could turn out to be a real problem. For one thing, you might not be able to access your books anymore. For another thing...

...if you should have to reset a Nook UK device in June, you won't be able to reauthorize it to the same account. And if someone gives you a Nook UK device in June or later, you won't be able to log in using your current credentials. And since B&N requires that a Nook device be authorized before you can use it, that is a problem.

Not to be a dick, but you literally never have to worry about this kind of thing with physical books.

The end of youth or the beginning of old age

Last night, dozens of people packed into the (drafty, noisy) side room at the Pine Box to celebrate the opening night of the APRIL Festival. They were rewarded with four readings about youth and old age, about coming-of-age celebrations and old traditions.

Portland novelist Sara Jaffe and APRIL writer-in-residence Jenny Zhang shared a youthful approach. Jaffe read a portion of her debut novel Dryland, about a 15-year-old girl in 1992. It opened with the protagonist conflating the Eric Clapton songs “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears in Heaven,” but most of the excerpt wasn’t interested in a nostalgia trip, or 90s-night jokes. Instead, the main character wonders over the sudden appearance of her best friend’s cleavage (“It was there. She had made it, somehow, be there.”) and tries to fit in at a house party. Jaffe’s surprising language kept things from getting too maudlin; at one point, a compliment landed “like a cold copper penny dropped in my mouth.”

Zhang read from Pity Our Errors Pity Our Sins, a chapbook created just for her appearance at APRIL. It’s about young women — “A quarter century and not a year more!” — trying to find their place in their world. One of them gets a job in a massage parlor. Another one overshares on Instagram. (“Don’t post your joy,” Zhang warned the audience, explaining that “studies have shown” that people who post enthusiastic notes to Facebook are always depressed or, worse, “psychotic.”)

Olympia poet and translator Alejandro de Acosta offered what he called “retranslations,” which were translated poems that he translated again. Like with a sentence spun through Google Translate a few too many times, the poems were airy and a little bit vague. But even in the airiest of the poems, de Acosta’s formalist approach was undeniably gorgeous. Some of the poems were modern reworkings of classical forms, bringing an air of tradition to a night that was otherwise obsessed with the modern.

The first reader of the evening, Seattle cartoonist Kelly Froh, was by far the best. Froh read and displayed a new autobiographical comic called “Senior Time,” about her decision to leave an office job to become a part-time senior care worker. Froh’s simple black-and-white figure drawings illuminated the text of her story without overwhelming it. “Senior Time” is almost assuredly Froh’s best-written story yet, a meditation on death and time and art and work that never quite goes in the direction you expect.

In one of the funniest moments of the night, Froh’s elderly charges proved that lamenting the loss of Seattle is not a new pastime: “I was at the Seattle World’s Fair,” one of them grumbled to Froh. “It wasn’t that great.” Another complained that Seattle died when people stopped referring to it as a “town” and started to call it a “city.”

“Senior Time” seemed like an appropriate kickoff for the APRIL Festival’s fifth anniversary. As the festival looks back on what it’s accomplished so far, many will try to draw comparisons to years past, or to get too heavy on the portentous predictions. As Froh, proved, the secret of getting older is simple: it happens to you whether you want it to or not. It’s happening to you right now. Why not stop worrying about it, and just see what happens, instead?

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from Wed March 16th - Tues March 22nd

Wednesday March 16: WordsWest: Claudia Castro Luna and Oscar de la Paz

Claudia Castro Luna told KUOW last year that her primary goal as Seattle’s very first Civic Poet was to create “a poetry grid,” a cultural map of Seattle. Tonight, her grid expands to West Seattle with the help of Oscar de la Paz, a powerful poet who writes about murder and love and heartbreak. C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Ave. SW, 933-3125, wordswestliterary.weebly.com. Free. 7 p.m.

Thursday March 17: A Poet, a Playwright, a Novelist and a Drag Queen

The crown jewel of the APRIL Festival is traditionally this storytelling competition, which pits different storytellers against each other in narrative mortal combat. Your competitors this year are poet EJ Koh, playwright Sara Porkalob, memoirist (not novelist) Brian McGuigan, and drag queen Mal DeFleur. It should be a very good time, despite the fact that I'll be your host for the evening. Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, hugohouse.org. $10-15. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Alternate Thursday March 17: Irish Wake for Lost Seattle Places

We have a rule here at the Seattle Review of Books that if we recommend an event we're involved in, we have to supply an alternate event for the same evening. As alternate events go, they don't get much better than this: Jaimee Garbacik envisioned Ghosts of Seattle Past as a multimedia experience—poetry and fiction and photos and comics—lamenting the Seattle that doesn’t exist anymore. Tonight, with the help of dozens of Ghosts contributors, Garbacik will launch the project into the world in a “relentless, 6-hour Irish wake.” LoveCityLove, 1406 E Pike St., seattleghosts.com. Free. All ages. 6 p.m.

Friday March 18: APRIL’s Fifth Anniversary Party

Keep an eye out for APRIL Festival’s literary events all week long; they’re all recommended. But tonight’s celebration combines past APRIL show-stoppers—Robert Lashley, Sarah Galvin—with a few new names like Anastacia Tolbert and Hannah Sanghee Park to pay tribute to this amazing weird adventure that APRIL has become. Fred Wildlife Refuge, 127 Boylston Ave E., aprilfestival.com. $5. 21 and over. 7:30 p.m.

Saturday March 19: Read & Bleed

This week, Seattle poet Natasha Marin is producing two literary events. One of them, the Margin Shift reading featuring Daemond Arrindell and Imani Sims, among others, at Common AREA Maintenance on Thursday, March 17th, is open to everyone. The other, Read & Bleed at Twilight Gallery in West Seattle on Saturday, March 19th, is, as the Facebook page says, for “WOMEN ONLY (Women-Identified ok).”

Read & Bleed is a reading series devoted to self-care. Over email, Marin explains that women are encouraged to come dressed for “freedom and comfort,” by which she means sweatpants, pajamas and the kind of clothes they wear at home when they’re on their periods. “We have to take care of ourselves,” she says. “It's vitally important. To society at large, our needs, our bodies, and our minds are an afterthought.” Wine and chocolate is provided, as are “a truly shocking amount of cushions and blankets.” Readers and listeners are urged to relax and enjoy themselves in a nonjudgmental environment that Marin likens to “a womb filled with unafraid voices.” So what happens at Read & Bleeds? “About 25 women read with mini-breaks every hour,” Marin explains. “Bleeder Readers, as we call ourselves, do not have to have a literary background. They don't even have to read their own work. Each is given 5 minutes to share.” The debut Read & Bleed featured “butch dykes to breastfeeding moms to former sex workers and everything in between.” She says the format creates “many moments of laughter, nest-like cuddling, and tears and sighs of sympathy. It's not like any other reading I've ever been to, and I'm extremely proud of that fact!” Marin chose the Twilight Gallery because she says owner Tracy Cilona “is the kind of woman who includes and refuses to exclude. She loves beauty and community and free women who grow their own pubic hair.” Because of that, Twilight is a safe space. She says “I go through my life as a woman of color being constantly told to ‘know my place’ because I have high expectations for myself and others, but at Twilight, my GPS isn't broken — I'm home and everyone else I bring with me is welcomed in like family.” Marin’s many events share a guiding philosophy of “diversity and the spirit of inclusion.” It’s about listening and asking people to share their perspectives and not falling prey to nepotism and laziness: “I am so fucking tired of people talking about how hard it is to find and create diverse (actually representative) audiences!” She says Read & Bleed is living proof of the importance of inclusion: “It doesn't matter if you think of yourself as ‘that kind of woman’ or not, Read & Bleed will welcome you with greasy or dry matted hair and will pass you a glass of wine and give you a hug.” Did Marin learn anything surprising at the first Read & Bleed? Yes: “Women can save the world one cathartic shared sigh at a time,” she says. “Oh, and we deserve all the good things.” No arguments here.

Twilight Gallery, 4306 SW Alaska St., 933-2444, twilightart.net. Free. 21 and over. 8 p.m.

Sunday March 20: APRIL Book Expo

Every March, the APRIL Festival culminates in an orgy of independent literature: small press publishers from around the country set up tables in the Hugo House and sell their newest, most exciting books as readings and lectures happen around the House. It’s the freewheelingest day in Seattle’s literary calendar year. Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 11 a.m.

Monday March 21: Janette Sadik-Khan and Mayor Ed Murray

For six incredible years, Janette Sadik-Khan worked as the transportation commissioner of New York City. Her tenure delivered bike lanes, pedestrian-only streets, and additional parks throughout the city. Tonight, she brings her book about that experience, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, to town, with special guest interviewer Mayor Ed Murray. Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $32. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday March 22: Erick Lyle

Seattle’s not the first city to wrestle with tech-fueled gentrification. San Francisco’s Streetopia art festival examined the way the city was changing and honored the populations that were being left behind. Erick Lyle’s new anthology Streetopia collects essays examining the lessons of the festival; Seattle can learn a lot from this book. (And if you'd like to learn more, I wrote a review of Streetopia earlier this month.) Left Bank Books, 92 Pike St., 622-0195, leftbankbooks.com. Free. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

In praise of mass market paperbacks

I can't stop thinking of the item from yesterday's Book News Roundup about Harper Lee's estate pulling the plug on the mass market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. Mass market paperbacks, of course, aren't nearly as profitable as hardcovers or trade paperbacks; that's why you don't see them so much anymore. If you can coax audiences into paying more than double for the same set of words, I guess the thinking goes, why wouldn't you?

But here's the thing: I prefer mass markets. Always have. I prefer the size — I like how they fit comfortably in the hand. (They can even fit into the back pocket of most pairs of men's jeans.) They're easy to hold, easy to read, and a whole shelf's worth of mass markets, all lined up and of uniform size, are a uniquely beautiful sight. I read all of Kurt Vonnegut's books in mass market. When I went on a Nabokov tear in my early 20s, I actively sought out all of his novels in mass market, because they made Nabokov somehow less intimidating and more approachable.

Rather than running away from them, the publishing industry really ought to be embracing mass market paperbacks right now. While it's true that e-book sales have declined in the last year, publishers would see even more consumer investment in print if they published and promoted cheap, durable paperbacks. Why buy the e-book, after all, if you can get an attractive print version for less?

This is something that genre publishers have known for a long time now — it's why when you think of mass market paperbacks, you likely think of romance novels, or mysteries, or sci-fi. Over the last two decades, publishers have stopped printing literary fiction in mass market format, and I suspect that by avoiding the sub-$10 paperback niche they're ultimately preventing these books from finding a wider audience.

Would books like Catch 22, Portnoy's Complaint, Fear of Flying, and To Kill a Mockingbird have achieved the kind of broad cultural fame that they did without the mass market format? It's entirely possible. But the fact is, publishing those books in mass market certainly didn't hurt their popularity. By scaling down literature, making it fit in the palm of a hand for less than the price of a cheeseburger and fries at a fast casual restaurant, you're certainly opening it up to a new set of potential buyers.

I'm all for books as beautiful objects — hand me a gorgeous McSweeney's hardcover and I'll coo and fondle the thing like anyone else. But I'm also for the utilitarian appeal of a mass market paperback. There's something enticing about the way that all mass markets are basically shaped the same; by standardizing the form of a book to a pragmatic one-size-fits-all receptacle into which the words are poured, you are putting more emphasis on the ideas in the book. And aren't the ideas the point of reading in the first place?

Forget March — APRIL starts tonight

Tonight is the first night of the APRIL Festival, the annual celebration of Authors, Publishers, and Readers of Independent Literature. Now through Sunday, APRIL will be putting on events around Capitol and First Hill. Most of those events are absolutely free. But I wanted to alert you to the two events that are ticketed: Thursday night's "A Poet, a Playwright, a Novelist and a Drag Queen" competitive storytelling event and Friday night's Five-Year Anniversary party.

I'm excited to host Thursday night's event; APRIL's storytelling competition is the only feature that has persisted through all five years of the festival's existence. If you haven't been, it's exactly what it sounds like: three writers and one drag queen tell stories, with the best story selected by a panel of judges. Almost every year, the drag queen wins. (Last year, the poet, Robert Lashley, should have won but did not win.) This year's contestants are Seattle poet EJ Koh, playwright Sara Porkalob, memoirist Brian McGuigan and drag queen Mal DeFleur. The theme for this year's competition is "high five." I can't wait to see how the competitors interpret that. You should buy tickets for this one in advance; these events have been known to sell out early.

And Friday night's fifth anniversary event brings five APRIL all-stars (Ed Skoog, Elissa Ball, Maged Zaher, Robert Lashley, and Sarah Galvin) together with five new-to-APRIL writers (Leena Joshi, Anastacia Tolbert, Hannah Sanghee Park, Bernard Grant, and Jessica Mooney) to read 500 words each. Tickets for this one are five dollars at the door, but if you want to buy $50 VIP tickets, that would help APRIL put on more events like this. I know it seems pricey, but as I said, APRIL doesn't charge admission for most of their events. If you're in a place to pay for VIP tickets, you'd be helping to subsidize all those other great free events that they put on.

And finally, be sure to save some money for Sunday's Book Expo, which will feature booths from all sorts of small publishers, magazines, and other organizations. This is a great, low-stress way for Seattle's literary community to come together and hang out. It's free to enter and you're not required to buy anything — just showing up would be more than enough support. (And The Seattle Review of Books will be hosting a table at this event; we hope you'll drop by and say hi.)

Hunger Rites

I need bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweet grain, salted grain, I want so much
To swallow you whole. I'm a damn sinner

Who can only be saved by your fingers.
Hurry, place the sacred bread on my tongue
And consecrate breakfast, lunch, and dinner —

Or maybe not. I wish I were slimmer
And more disciplined — a secular monk!
But I lust, lust and lust. I'm a sinner

Who seeds, threshes, harvests, feasts, and shivers.
Forgive me. Condemn me. I need flesh and blood
And bread at each breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I know I want too much. I know what hinders
And troubles you. But join me in this flood.
Look at me. I'm your beloved sinner.

Sit with me. Please. Let's talk. Please. Linger.
Let's touch and eat everything that we touch.
Let us stay through breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweetheart, it's your turn to be the sinner.

The Booker-winning author of novels including Hotel du Lac, Altered States, and The Rules of Engagement died at the age of 87. Brookner had the kind of career to which most novelists should aspire: long, productive, and meaningful. You could choose any one of her books at random and be assured that you're about to read a stylistically powerful, satisfying novel. That's the best kind of legacy.

Book News Roundup: What does Nancy Pearl's ice cream taste like?

  • Seattle ice creamery Full Tilt debuts a Nancy Pearl-themed ice cream on April 10th, reports Seattle Metropolitan. What does Nancy Pearl ice cream taste like? It's peanut butter with a fudge swirl.

  • Harper Lee's estate has reportedly killed the mass-market edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. This is going to make the book inaccessible for public schools around the country. What's this mean? Alex Shephard at the New Republic writes:

Why does this matter? Mass-market books are significantly cheaper than their trade paperback counterparts. Hachette’s mass-market paperback of TKAM retails for $8.99, while the trade paperbacks published by Hachette’s rival HarperCollins go for $14.99 and $16.99.
  • On Friday, On the Media ran an excellent podcast about the publishing industry, featuring interviews with experts about Amazon Books, e-book sales, and other topics. If you're looking for proof that the publishing industry's death has been greatly exaggerated, this podcast is a great place to start.

  • And while we're talking about podcasts, 99% Invisible's most recent episode explains the culture that has built up around Mein Kampf in post-war Germany. German libraries have a system for dealing with books about sensitive topics. They store the books in what's called a "Giftschrank."

The word, a combination of “poison” and “cabinet,” has a variety of meanings in different contexts. At its most literal, a Giftschrank is a space for storing controlled substances in places like pharmacies. Colloquially, it can refer to spaces reserved for all kinds of hidden and forbidden objects, ideas or stories.