In my capacity as Seattle correspondent for Literary Hub, I wrote about Seattle poet Shin Yu Pai's new project: she's publishing words on the skin of apples in Carkeek Park. I hope you'll go take a look.
A neat project from Jez Burrows, one of the few designers at Facebook who actually work with analog materials, and the publisher and designer of a fantastic short story collection. He's writing short stories "composed entirely of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary."
He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery, a study of a man devoured by awareness of his own mediocrity. The place was dreadfully untidy. Tattered notebooks filled with illegible hieroglyphics, the evolution of animal life, the mysteries of analytical psychology, victorian architecture… The street lamps shed a faint light into the room. It was beginning to rain.
Ruth listened to the rhythm of his breathing. She sat very still, her eyes closed. She heard the click of the door. He was thrown backward by the force of the explosion.
Her hunting days were done.
A piece from David Nickle, published last year, that explores his trouble in getting people to talk about Lovecraft's race problems.
I'd make the case that Lovecraft's fiction—and Lovecraftian horror—depends on the xenophobia that was endemic to Lovecraft's work to the point that without it, many of his stories lose their unique and uniquely profound effect. "The Horror in Red Hook" is a direct channelling of Lovecraft's loathing of newcomers to New York City; the real horror of "The Call of Cthulhu" is not the octopus-headed demigod that emerges out of his underwater city to kill all the people, but the people themselves—all either eugenically unfit denizens of the bayou or "primitive" island cultures whose religious practises amount to a kind of proactive nihilism. The manifestation of Nyarlathotep in the eponymous story is that of a black man bearing trinkets, who seduces the good white folk of America into authoring their own demise.
Did you know Orwell wrote a review of Mein Kampf in 1940?
Suppose that Hitler's programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of "living room" (i.e., stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? it is easy to say at once stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhemling when one hears his speeches…. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. Once feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett's edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that this is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can't win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon such themes.
Scholar and historian Sarah Werner posted a list all the digitized Shakespeare First Folios available online.
I’ve written about digitizing Shakespeare’s First Folio before, looking at the interfaces of the many different copies out there. But I’m turning my attention to this again for my contribution on the subject for the in-progress Cambridge Companion to the First Folio, edited by Emma Smith. In my article, I’ll be thinking about why there are so many libraries digitizing this same book over and over again and what these many projects can teach us about what we look for from the First Folio and from digital tools.
This year, there was a lot of angst over the Hugo Awards, the science fiction awards given out as part of the Worldcon sci-fi convention. In brief: a bunch of asshole white dudes who think women and minorities are scary and gross tried to take over the awards because they believe everything, including sci-fi, was better in the 1950s. (You can read a longer explanation at Slate).
So after much hand-wringing and a whole lot of jackasses complaining about "Social Justice Warriors" online (an aside: if you're railing against people who fight for social justice, maybe you're on the wrong team?) the awards finally happened tonight. In short, it's a bad night for asshole white dudes; the regressive slate went down in flames. Here's a list of winners as recorded in this megathread on Reddit:
When you see "no award," that's because the asshole white dudes hijacked the entirety of the category, and voters decided to not choose any of them. This is a wholesale rejection of those jackasses. How bad a rejection is it? The asshole white dudes are now trying to claim that they never wanted to win and that they won the argument by proving that the Hugos are just a popularity contest. (So you tried to rig a nomination process for an awards show because you didn't want to win? Uh, okay.)
Looking at the slate of winners, SRoB is especially happy to see Ms. Marvel, which is written and co-created by local author G. Willow Wilson, taking home the comics award. Also of note: The Three Body Problem is reportedly the first translated work to win the Hugo for Best Novel.
Now that the drama has passed and the angry little boys are licking their wounds and vowing to redouble their efforts to prove that girls have cooties, let's hope the Hugos do something to change the voting system for upcoming awards ceremonies. It's a little weird that the self-described "most prestigious" awards in science fiction are entirely decided by anyone who wants to pay Worldcon $40 bucks. The fans should absolutely have their say, but maybe a rotating jury of professionals could take part in the process, too?
We're featuring a full chapter from Kelley Eskridge's novel Solitaire this week. You have thorugh tomorrow to read the whole first chapter.
Solitaire is a New York Times Notable Book, a Borders Original Voices selection, and a Nebula, Endeavour, and Spectrum Award finalist. Also, very exciting: a feature based on Solitaire production later this month in Australia.
Our sponsorships are not like you see on other websites. We're fighting back against horrible internet advertising by offering you something new to read, full chapters, without any weirdness, tracking across websites, or deliberate confusion. It's our way of fighting horrible internet advertising. You can help us by visiting our Sponsors page and reading the chapter. See if it's to your liking, and if so, think about buying the book.
Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week.
Short Story of the Day #232 Clouds so close you ask when they were last tested. pic.twitter.com/fZrwXxTw8S— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) August 21, 2015
Tomorrow, the Vera Project hosts the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair from 10 am to 5 pm. You'll find over 30 tables of publishers, bookstores, magazines, and more, featuring novels and zines and cookbooks and probably board games, too. (Right? Everyone has board games nowadays.) Here's the schedule of events, some of which might surprise those of you who have a stereotypical "anarchist" image in your head:
If you're anywhere near Seattle Center, you should go check it out.
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 email@example.com.
Can you just tell me, once and for all, if Stephen King is a good writer or not?
My grandmother, a lovely woman named Roberta, used to ask me a question very similar to the one you pose. “Judy,” she’d say, because she loved to call both me and my mother, Evil Katy, by another woman’s name, “Judy, is that the phone?”
Roberta would ask this question at the doctor’s office, when a dog barked, during a moment of silence at a dear friend’s funeral — there was no inopportune time, in her opinion, to ask if there was a phone ringing somewhere.
Usually I could not hear a phone ringing but despite the silence I would often answer “Yes!” because I’m generally a positive person who prefers to speak in declarative affirmations (“The moon absolutely looks like a smug lesbian tonight,” or “Yes! I have forgotten your name again”).
On those occasions, Roberta heaved her 83-year-old frame out of her brocade recliner, pendulous breasts swinging like the excited wag of a dog’s tail as she shuffled into the kitchen to fondle the phone.
“God bless it, Judy, that wasn’t the phone,” she'd then shout because she was deaf, not stupid. Nevertheless, she would return with a treat for me, like a string cheese or warm soda, because I was her favorite living granddaughter (sorry Good Katy, RIP Suzanne).
To answer your question: Stephen King is a good writer about as often as the phone is ringing.
Hearts and butterflies,
This is certainly a headline that exists in the world:
Franzen says his editor talked him out of this plan. This is the best case for editors that I have ever read in my entire life.
Local writer Anca Szilagyi just published a list of resources for people who need affordable housing options in Seattle. Szilagyi says she thinks about affordable housing, in part, "because I’m a writer with writer and artist friends." This is an issue we've talked about before in the first installment of our Exit Interview series, and we'll be addressing it more in the future.
If you're an artist of any sort living in Seattle right now — or a bookseller, or a non-profit employee, or, really, anyone involved in the arts at all — rent is very likely at the top of your mind all the time. You don't have to suffer through this alone. Talk to your friends. Look up the resources available to you. Let's keep this conversation going.
Rafi Schwartz at GOOD writes:
This summer, the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca unveiled a new initiative designed to both promote literacy, and encourage residents to take advantage of municipal public transportation: From June 4-7, anyone reading on the city’s busses, trams or trolley, was be allowed to ride, entirely free of charge.
What a great idea! I'd love to see Seattle Public Library and King County Metro team up for something like this. The only downside to walking to work is that I miss the huge swaths of reading time that public transit offered me. I'd read an extra book or two a week, back in the days when I rode the bus to work.
Every comics fan knows Wednesday is new comics day, the glorious time of the week when brand-new comics arrive at shops around the country. Thursday Comics Hangover is a weekly column reviewing some of the new books that I pick up at Phoenix Comics and Games, my friendly neighborhood comic book store.
(Before we get started with the column this week, I just heard about this neat thing and I want to share it with you: The Ladies Comic Book Club, which is a comics book club for women, will be having their third meeting at Phoenix Comics tonight. They’ll be discussing the first two paperbacks of the rock-and-roll-and-magic series The Wicked and the Divine. If you’re a woman and you read comics, you should maybe join this Facebook group, because it’s a super-cool idea and I’m glad someone is doing it. Anyway. On with the show.)
This was a really wonderful week for new comics. Yesterday, I picked up second issues of the incredibly good anthology comic Island, the new Archie series from Fiona Staples and Mark Waid, and Ales Kot and Matt Taylor’s Wolf, as well as a new issue of Stray Bullets and the halfway point of the 12-issue limited series Giant Days, a vastly under-appreciated comic about young women in college.
When Giant Days comes out in a trade paperback collecting the series, I want you to promise me you’ll check it out. No comic book I’ve read this year — not even Lumberjanes, which I’ve enjoyed a great deal — has been so packed full of vibrant characterization. The friendships in this book feel real and complicated and fun. I’ve read a lot of autobiographical comics, but Giant Days in some ways feels just as honest as the best of them.
But I also finally got my hands on a copy of Bloody Pussy, a locally produced self-described “feminist rag,” and even on this standout of a week, it’s a standout. We’ll hopefully be running an in-depth review soon, but briefly: Pussy is a free one-shot tabloid newspaper packed with 12 single-page comics about women’s sexuality and bodily fluids and other topics that are usually labeled too unpleasant for polite conversation.
This is not a paper that wants to win you over; it wants to talk frankly about placentas and assholes and eye-gouging and Don Draper and other important things. It feels like the kind of spontaneous in-your-face creative endeavor that you imagine used to appear on the streets of Seattle all the time back in the Riot Grrrl days. Unless you’re an easily offended doofus, you should go track down a copy of Bloody Pussy immediately. This is the kind of brash artistic statement that will take on the stuff of legend in Northwest cartooning.
How about a little sunset with your books tonight? That second book is hard to see — it's Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams. Looks pretty interesting!
SRoB has already declared what we believe to be the best-looking literary events of the week, but there are a couple of music-themed literary fundraisers coming up that we want you to know about.
Tomorrow night, the good folks behind Lit Crawl are throwing a 90's-themed dance party at Fred Wildlife Refuge, as a way to raise money for the (entirely free) Crawl. It's $5 at the door. As the invitation puts it:
sweet 90s nostalgia + raffle + silent auction + dance off + good feelings + anticipation for the big event on October 22
On Friday, local author-band The Rejections and Trailing Spouses will be playing a show in Elliott Bay Book Company's reading room as a fundraiser for the very worthy Camp Ten Trees. This event, too, is $5, which includes entry and food and drink.
Even we must acknowledge that life is not best enjoyed through readings alone. Go and get your dance on, and support two worthy causes while you do it.
Doug Nufer is freed by constraints. Nearly everything written by Seattle’s most valiant bearer of the Oulipian torch is born of one constraint or another; one narrative is told through the stultifying language of corporate biography, another is an homage to old Ace Doubles genre storytelling, a third is a story told only in negatives. His newest novel, Lifeline Rule is a conovowel text, which is a form in which every consonant alternates with a vowel. You read that right; the whole book is a string of alternating consonants and vowels, with no consonants touching and no vowels touching. Some passages of Lifeline Rule require you to read them two or three times in order to squeeze meaning from them, but other passages are clear as a bell, albeit a bell ringing with a weird deep vibration that initiates a tickling feeling in your genitals:
Were we not alive? To cogitate was a basis of a live human, or an ability to live by. But as I more cogitated on usages, ability, humanity, marine life, pirates, et. al., I become more remote, removed in a recovery to be beside my body. Beside my body, my cogitated ego sum arose to make me decide we were yet alive. To so decide was one more level a live human operates on, in an average life.
You have never read cogito ergo sum in language quite like that. This Sunday, Nufer presents Lifeline Rule at Gallery 1412 with a very special guest: Italian Oulipian Paolo Pergola. (Though in Italy they call Oulipo “OpLePo”.) If you’ve never read any Oulipian works, you’re missing out on a splendid tradition. I’d recommend starting with Raymond Queneau’s book-length storytelling experiment Exercises in Style and attending this reading, which will bring European and American constraints-based writing together for a single evening.
You’ve always been a great lover of literary constraints. What interests you about the conovowel form, specifically?
My favorite constraints are elegant and difficult, easy to see but hard to do. Conovowel has a huge lexicon and provides the use of most prepositions and to-be forms, so it's possible to write many sentences that sound normal, but it's very difficult to go on without getting into strange territory. Conovowel is flexible enough so I can apply it to other constraints, and sometimes these digressions into song lyrics, punchlines, and renderings of cartoons, monster movies, scenes from great books, and so on, seem to me to be as important to the book as the story.
Which comes first to you—the constraint or the story?
With Lifeline Rule, the constraint came first, and that's probably how it has been with most of my books. I saw a line in a newspaper where vowels and consonants alternated, and immediately I saw the potential of this constraint. Before I got into it, I checked with friends in OULIPO and others to see if anyone had done it, and it was William Gillespie who coined the term conovowel and used it to write a poem in his collection Table of Forms, published under the name Dominique Fitzpatrick O'Dinn (Spineless Books). So the constraint had a certain provenance but it offered a challenge to do more.
Although constraints are often defined as “arbitrary," even by those who do this kind of writing, I think the content must spring from and express the form. One of the first steps I took was to go through a regular dictionary and make a list of all conovowel words except for arcane scientific terminology (though I did add a science section later), and the idea of having a protagonist who specializes in "codes" and who serves in the "military" as a "marine" seemed not only appealing but also mandatory.
After fiddling with making up sentences and vignettes, I got the feel for the limits I was up against while I wondered how to exploit this constraint to make it tell the story it was meant to tell. In the case of conovowel, what I'm dealing with is an extreme commitment to alternation. Things are always changing. The protagonist goes through obsessively perverse metamorphoses. Even something as basic as sexual orientation gets twisted as he (or he/she) changes into different organic entities. He even turns into non-organic entities. This extreme bent towards alternation applies to the nature of the book, too. How "real" is it? Is it the novel he writes to get his degree or the afterlife musings of someone who was cryogenically frozen and never woke up?
Along with this extreme alternation, I get into these situations of extreme ambivalence about topics I wouldn't ordinarily address, such as the nature of religion. Not just, is it good to have a god? Is it good to be a god?
Could you talk about how this visit from Pergola came to happen? I don't imagine we get very many international Oulipians visiting Seattle that often.
Paolo wrote to me after he heard about my novel Never Again, where no word appears more than once. He had been working on that constraint in Italian for OPLEPO, and someone there knew about me and that book. He's also a marine biologist who comes through Seattle, where his wife is from, en route to teach a class in Friday Harbor. My book party happened to present an occasion where he could show what he does.
Are any of Pergola’s writings available for our readers?
Almost all of what he writes is in Italian, and my wine shop/ tourist Italian isn't good enough to make recommendations of his work. Most of it is unavailable here. I might begin by looking up the Wikipedia entry on OPLEPO.
Pergola has also translated Popeye comics into Italian. If you had to write comics about a cartoon character, which one would you write and why?
Years ago when I was writing Negativeland, I read all of the Superman Bizarro comics I could find. I wanted to study how they constitute a scheme of opposition that negates what we expect on Earth. That gave me an appreciation for how difficult it is to come up with a coherent system of opposition because there is often no single opposite to any particular thing or idea.
Super heroes may lend themselves particularly well to constraint writing, and I can imagine how it would be a great project to go through such comics and devise a particular constraint to deal with each hero. I might start with the Flash just so I could call it Flash Fiction.
When you ask Debbie Sarow if there are any rules that Mercer Street Books customers should keep in mind when bringing their books in to sell to the store, she bristles. She has a few basic rules for books she’ll never buy — computer books, hardback books without dust jackets — but Sarow doesn’t like to discourage customers from bringing any sorts of books in, because “it’s the one book that they think is garbage that turns out to be the prize. That’s part of the fun.”
Sarow loves looking through other people’s books. Most book collections betray a few narrow areas of interest — like palmistry, say. But sometimes she’ll find a reader with truly catholic tastes, from comics to cookbooks to poetry to film, and then she considers the books a puzzle to solve. She likes to arrive at the point where she can find connections between the disparate subjects. A book collection is its own form of biography, and Sarow's 15 years in the used book business has transformed her into a very astute reader of those stories.
Even more meaningful? The items that people leave inside their books. Sarow downplays the items she finds at first: “It’s not like Found magazine,” with outrageous flourishes of personality tucked behind every page. Mostly, she says, it’s “letters and grocery lists,” and “not as much money as you’d think.” When flipping through a used book, she’ll occasionally find a piece of foreign currency used as a bookmark, but if there’s a little old lady out there stashing her fortune away in her library, Sarow has yet to encounter her.
And while Mercer Street Books employees still find photos tucked into books, those are dwindling with the advent of digital photography. But there are occasional startling glimpses into other lives.
Mercer Street employee Aaron Bagley talks about his favorite find: a single piece of paper with handwriting on either side. “On one side, a guy had written out all the reasons why he had to leave this woman,” Bagley said. He was “coaching himself” into breaking up with her. But on the other side of the paper, “she had found the list and responded to everything he wrote,” in highly critical terms. On one side, he wrote that she didn’t like his friends; she replied on the other side that his friends were losers. Bagley recalls one specific thing the man wrote to himself on the list: “take the bike. It’s the only thing you can call yours.”
Other items, though much less dramatic, contribute to the emotional value of the book. In a copy of the French Laundry Cookbook, Sarow found a receipt from the restaurant for a dinner totaling over 1300 dollars. The receipt, handwritten and elegant, is more than a bookmark, it’s a memory that, combined with the book, tells a new story. Sarow can’t bring herself to separate the receipt from the book. “They belong together,” she says, and they’ll be sold as a pair.
Today's the day! Hugo House's fall registration period is open to the general public. Some courses to look out for: Sarah Galvin's class in drafting and editing poems; a yearlong prose manuscript class with Peter Mountford; a yearlong young adult class with Karen Finneyfrock; a one-day class from Maged Zaher titled "How Not to be Yourself: Techniques of Othering;" a class by Jonathan Lethem; and a class in novel-writing by Megan Kruse, whose debut novel knocked our socks off last month. Plus a ton of others. You'll also find some perennial Hugo House favorites including Greg Stump and David Lasky on comics, David Schmader's legendary brainstorming course, and Charles Mudede's class on writing about Seattle.
Phew! That's a lot of links.
Our sponsor this week is a real treat. Not only is Kelley Eskridge's Solitaire A New York Times Notable Book, a Borders Original Voices selection, and a Nebula, Endeavour, and Spectrum Award finalist, but shooting on a feature based on Solitaire begins later this month in Australia.
(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
Who’s your date today? Boots Riley: Tell Homeland Security — We Are the Bomb, a collection of lyrics and interviews from the Coup frontman. (Riley will be at University Book Store in conversation with Jesse Hagopian on Thursday of this week.)
Where’d you go? Cafe Turko in Fremont.
What’d you eat? The beet hummus ($6) and the village salad with chicken ($10).
How was the food? I’m a big fan of Cafe Turko. It’s always way too busy, and the staff is always way too overworked, but it's a great place to get stuffed on healthy food. The beet hummus, especially, is something that I have to order every time. It’s bright like Play-Doh but it’s absolutely delicious. The salad, too, was lovely, with crisp greens and spiced grilled chicken, doused in a baslamic dressing.
What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:
Provocative and prolific, Boots Riley has written lyrics as the frontman of underground favorites The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, as well as solo artist, for more than two decades. An activist, educator, and emcee, Riley's singular lyrical stylings combine hip-hop poetics, radical politics, and wry humor with Bay Area swag. Boots Riley: Collected Lyrics and Writings brings together his songs, commentary, and backstories with compelling photos and documents.
Is there a representative quote? On the song “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” Riley says: “It’s funny because — many times by my detractors — I get called a little too heavy, or my work gets called dogmatic. But actually, most of my lyrics are pretty tongue in cheek. I would probably not make a song about literally killing a CEO. Not because I don’t have a problem with it per se, but because that wouldn’t be a fun song. The things that I think motivate people into action are not doom and gloom, and not anger and rage, the things that I think actually motivate people into action are optimism and hope.”
Will you two end up in bed together? Yes, but this book annoys the hell out of me and I want to talk about that for a second. Boots Riley is one of those multi-media collections of lyrics and artist interviews — kinda like Jay-Z’s Decoded, only in softcover — that overdoes the graphic design. This book is seriously overproduced. Rather than publishing the lyrics like poetry, the book’s designers often lay the lyrics out diagonally across the stage, superimposed over what is supposed to look like a piece of notebook paper. I guess this is to demonstrate passion, or to highlight that the lyrics are a piece of writing?
But you know what highlights the writing in the lyrics more than cheesy graphic design tricks? The lyrics themselves. Riley’s politics might offend some readers — oh my God, a political rapper! — but nobody can deny the artfulness of his lyrics. Rather than splashing the pages with a bunch of color and photographs and giant pull quotes, Riley’s words would be better served if presented as poetry.
The thing is, i can’t even tell who all this graphic design is supposed to benefit. Is the book’s ADHD layout intended to draw in music fans? But Riley’s fans are already pretty literate — Slavoj Žižek blurbs this book, along with Dave Eggers — and they don’t likely need to be drawn in by pretty pictures. It’s a case of too much design interfering with the message of the lyrics, which are often about finding meaning in a superficial world. I’m reading this book in spite of the design, not because of it.