Heading east for the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Boston? Are you interested in the future of books and reading? Check out the CODEX hackathon over at the MIT Media Lab January 8-10.

The concept of a hackathon may seem daunting if you're not a developer or designer, but really, don't be intimidated. Typically, small groups of people are put together to work a problem, or respond to a conceptual prompt. As they say on the site, "Programmers, designers, writers, librians, publishers, readers. All are welcome." If you have the interest, and ideas of what people are doing right and wrong, you will fit right in. Here's some writing on what the previous CODEX in San Franscisco was like.

There's so much work yet to do on what books will evolve into. The best way to make your voice heard is work with people applying themselves to the problem at hand. This is a great opportunity to get involved.

Cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, who is best known for the excellent memoir American Born Chinese, has been named the first Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. He'll be great at this gig, and it's wonderful that the LoC is promoting literature to young people.

Time to go back to Mineral School

We're so excited about our first sponsor of 2016. Mineral School is an overnight artist's residency situated in an old elementary school in Mineral, Washington. It's in the foothills of Mount Rainier, an idyllic and perfect setting for an artist focusing on getting some work done. If two weeks dedicated to your writing in an amazing setting with delicious food provided seems like a dream to you, then you should get your application in as soon as you can. Find out how on our sponsors page.

Plus, we have poems from two Mineral School alumns on the sponsors page to inspire you, and a link for you to submit your application (psst! The poems are good enough that you may want to read them even if you aren't going to apply).

Our thanks to Mineral School. It's sponsors like them that keep original content on our site day after day. They've joined in our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible, and we're so grateful that they did.

How Nick Licata won Seattle politics

Published January 04, 2016, at 11:45am

Paul Constant review Nick Licata's Becoming a Citizen Activist.

After four terms as the most influential lefty in Seattle politics, Nick Licata retires from the city council today. Tomorrow he's publishing a guidebook for citizen activists. Can the book live up to the career of its author?

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from January 4 - 10th

MONDAY Elliott Bay Book Company kicks off your new year of readings with Siamak Vossoughi, a short story author who is originally from Iran but who now lives in Seattle. His first collection of stories is titled Better Than War, and it’s a winner of the Flannery O’Connor Prize.

TUESDAY Science fiction author Dave Bara celebrates the debut of the second book in his space opera series The Lightship Chronicles at University Book Store. In it, the crew of a spaceship must investigate a mysterious space station.

WEDNESDAY Town Hall presents its first night of programming in the new year. Jamie Merisotis is president/CEO of the Lumina Foundation, and he’s interested in talking about America’s talent gap. America Needs Talent is a book about how “educated, talented, and innovative individuals are needed in the United States.”

THURSDAY Elliott Bay Book Company co-presents a reading with novelist Ru Freeman and local authors Tess Gallagher, Peter Mountford, and Alice Rothchild. They’re all contributors to an anthology titled Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine. It features 65 pieces of journalism, essays, poetry, and fiction about the Palestinian experience.

FRIDAY It’s back to Elliott Bay Book Company with you for a reading from a Montana-based writer named Ben Nickol, who is the author of a short story collection titled Where the Wind Can Find It. These are stories mostly about people who live near wildernesses.

SATURDAY Our last visit to Elliott Bay Book Company this week is a celebration of the life of Seattle poet Madeline DeFrees. DeFrees, who passed away in November, was one of the very best poets our region had to offer. Local writers including Kathleen Flenniken will be presenting her work and celebrating her life. This is not to be missed.

SUNDAY University Book Store closes out your week with a memoir by Katherine A. Hitchcock. Hitchcock was one of the very few women in Silicon Valley in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, which means she helped computers transform from gigantic monsters to tiny little handheld time-sucking devices. Her memoir is titled Atypical Girl Geek.

The Sunday Post for January 3, 2016

The A.I. Anxiety

Impressive in both presentation, and reporting, this Washington Post piece about the future of AI, and the people who worry over it, is endlessly fascinating.

But the discussion reflects a broader truth: We live in an age in which machine intelligence has become a part of daily life. Computers fly planes and soon will drive cars. Computer algorithms anticipate our needs and decide which advertisements to show us. Machines create news stories without human intervention. Machines can recognize your face in a crowd.

New technologies — including genetic engineering and nanotechnology — are cascading upon one another and converging. We don’t know how this will play out. But some of the most serious thinkers on Earth worry about potential hazards — and wonder whether we remain fully in control of our inventions.

The Ghosts of Christmas: Was Scrooge the First Psychotherapy Patient?

Okay, I know, we're into the new year and any tree left standing is one we should sneer at, but I loved this one last thought about A Christmas Carol — Elif Batuman looked at the psychology of Scrooge, and found something familiar.

That night, I decided to read the full text. Thanks to my robust personal experience with depression of both the normal and the holiday variety, I immediately recognized Scrooge’s condition, in a way that I had been unable to as a child. (Dickens himself was depressive, and probably bipolar.) I realized that I had misremembered Scrooge as gleeful in his miserliness, a human version of Scrooge McDuck, whose exuberance is eternally preserved in the cultural imagination by the image of the “money dive.” In fact, Scrooge takes no joy in anything. His London is a dystopian hellscape riddled by sickness, injustice, cold, and want. Money is the only protection—frail and inadequate—against these horrors, and Scrooge’s only thought is to work as hard as he can, every day, to store up as much money as possible.

When Fascism Was American

Joe Allen recalls our American tradition of fascism, looking at Father Charles Coughlin, and his taking on of the airwaves.

Coughlin began broadcasting from his Michigan church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower,” in 1926, when radio represented a novel, thrilling experience for millions of people. With his rich baritone voice, and slight Irish brogue which he employed for great theatrical effect, Coughlin was made for the new medium.

The Radical History of 1960s Adult Coloring Books

Everybody you know got them for the holidays, but when they first appeared in the 60s, they were quite a bit more subversive.

The first adult coloring book, published in late 1961, mocked the conformism that dominated the post-war corporate workplace. Created by three admen in Chicago, the Executive Coloring Book show pictures of a businessman going through each stage in his day, as though teaching a child what daddy does at work. But the captions, which give instructions on how to color the image, are uniformly desolate. “This is my suit. Color it gray or I will lose my job,” reads a caption next to a picture of a man getting dressed for work. Another page shows men in bowler hats boarding their commuter train. “This is my train,” it reads. “It takes me to my office every day. You meet lots of interesting people on the train. Color them all gray.” The rare appearance of a non-gray color is even more disturbing: “This is my pill. It is round. It is pink. It makes me not care.”

Supernatural thrillers from an experienced author

One more day to read an excerpt from Anne Kelleher's exciting the Jesus Gene on our sponsors page. Anne is the author of more than a dozen books, with a career bridging from major publishing houses and agents, to making new ground in self-publishing.

Sponsors like Anne are what keep us running with the original content you see every day. We're so grateful she joined with us again to sponsor the site. Thanks to her for being part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for January 2, 2016

Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. She's archiving the entire project on Storify. This is the last wrap-up, since the project is now over. We'd like to offer Rahawa a hearty congratulations on a big project nicely executed. We'll miss seeing the stories every day, but still have many to comb through, and even some to read again.

New Years Day

Published January 01, 2016, at 10:02am

Paul Constant review Noy Holland's Bird.

The first day of the year is a weird holiday — part future, part past. Noy Holland's new novel Bird demonstrates the problem with giving the past too much power.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: The hilarity of failure

Seattle cartoonist Tom Van Deusen’s newest book, EAT EAT EAT, is the latest entry in a long comics tradition: a humorous book about a feckless loser who doesn’t possess the self-awareness to realize that he is a feckless loser. It’s a somewhat proud (if self-loathing) lineage, stretching to Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti from R. Crumb and Dan Clowes and on and on and on.

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EAT EAT EAT is the story of a feckless loser named Tom Van Deusen (the indicia informs us that the book “is a work of pure fiction. Any assertions otherwise are an insult to God and His reality, so how dare you.”) He sits in his apartment, eating whole frozen pizzas and growing fat. He goes on a date with a woman he tracked down on Facebook, and he’s so impossibly self-centered that things turn out badly.

Van Deusen’s portrayal of Van Deusen is entirely at the level of caricature; the cartoon Van Deusen can’t walk past a street food vendor without buying something, even after his date affirms that she’s a vegetarian and she has no interest in eating bad food handed to her by a stranger on a street corner. Then, after the date implodes — the word “m’lady” is involved — Van Deusen tries to join a gym. Things only get worse, and more absurd, from there.

Your taste for this brand of comedy will vary, of course. As someone who read a lot of alternative comics in the 90s, I appreciate what Van Deusen is going for, but I have seen this particular scenario play out in dozens of comics; at this point, the overly pretentious hate-able loser routine feels almost like a nostalgia act. Van Deusen pulls it off really well — he’s undeniably a funny, talented cartoonist — and he invents some new angles on the routine, as when the cartoon Van Deusen “maintain[s] his Facebook angles” on his date, which means he tries to keep his face in the same tortured position as the flattering photo on his Facebook profile as he and his date walk around. It’s an additional, modern humiliation to heap onto the time-honored tradition.

The strips collected in EAT EAT EAT were originally published between 2011 and 2015, and it’s astonishing to watch Van Deusen’s illustration develop and grow over the span of those four years. His early style had a rough charm to it — it was too feathery for my liking — but his later work is developing a nice cartoonish roundness that plays off the prickliness of the writing in a particularly pleasing way. By the end of EAT EAT EAT, the cartoon Van Deusen is just as delusional as ever, but the cartooning Van Deusen leaves the book well-equipped for whatever his next comics challenge may be. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.

Another day, another blockbuster

Published December 30, 2015, at 10:02am

Paul Constant review Connie Willis's Remake.

Twenty years ago, Connie Willis wrote a science fiction novel about the future of Hollywood. How did her predictions turn out?

Read this review now

A quick reminder: you can still sign up for the 6-week book reviewing class that Martin McClellan and I are teaching at Hugo House. We intend to discuss the purpose of book reviews, what it takes to make a book review into something more than just a GoodReads blurb or a boring plot synopsis, and the many different forms a book review can take. We're also going to get into some very important ideas: why responding to art is necessary, how to become a better reader, and why books are so important. We're very excited about this class, and we hope to see you there.

Galleycat says:

Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic manifesto Mein Kampf has been banned from Germany for 70 years, but will return to German bookstores next month.

So many factors are at play here — atrocity, history, copyright, the free exchange of ideas — that really all we can do is wait and watch what happens. Will German bookstores carry Mein Kampf? Will people buy it? What happens when the most hateful, reviled, and influential book in the history of a nation becomes readily available again? We'll find out in 2016.

Going Back to the Convent

This time it is no dream. After twenty-three years away
I wake in a Spokane convent in my Black Watch
plaid pajamas — daybreak, the last
day of September 1996. I used to spring from bed
at the bell's first clang. Now there's
something wrong with the bedsprings
I cannot fix.

                                Shyly, light enters, spills over
the floor of the room. Holy or not, I
feel more at home than in thirty-eight
years I lived here. Then let me admit the light,
endorse the mirror over my private
sink. Time to reopen the old account
stored in the memory bank.

                                                                What was I running from
or into? The uneasy light of the senior
prom? Mother's dream of a child bride, supported by
pennies from heaven? Or was it the writing
life laid as a sacrifice to a jealous god
on the tomb of the woman
I'd hoped to become?

                                                      Whatever it was, it will soon
be over. I write this now to reclaim it.

It's all in the bloodline

We're so pleased to announce Anne Kelleher as this week's sponsor. She's the author of over a dozen books, and her career has bridged major publishing houses and agents, to forging new ground in self-publishing.

Her latest The Jesus Gene is a thriller that wonders what would happen if a modern-day person really did carry the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Read the prologue on our sponsors page.

Sponsors like Anne are what keep us running with the original content you see every day. We're so grateful she joined with us again to sponsor the site. Thanks to her for being part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible.

Over at The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, Michael S. Rosenwald has written a story titled "In the age of Amazon, used bookstores are making an unlikely comeback." It's about how, anecdotally, used bookstores have been doing better after years of decline. Rosenwald also profies some new bookstores that are getting into used books. You should read the whole thing. (Related: Man, I sure do miss the days when Elliott Bay Book Company carried used books.)

The Ballad of Richard Milhous Nixon

Published December 28, 2015, at 9:54am

Paul Constant review Austin Grossman's Crooked.

A new novel imagines Richard Nixon as a combatant in an ages-old supernatural cold war. Has remix culture gone too far?

Read this review now

The Sunday Post for December 27, 2015

The Darkness Before the Right

Park MacDougald in a long piece examining a particualrly American conservatism that's he's coined, neoreactionism:

As the twenty-first century gets darker, politics are likely to follow suit, and for all its apparent weirdness, neoreaction may be an early warning system for what a future anti-democratic right looks like. So what is neoreaction, then, exactly? For all the talk of neo-feudalism and geeks for monarchy, it’s less a single ideology than a loose constellation of far-right thought, clustered around three pillars: religious traditionalism, white nationalism, and techno-commercialism (the names are self-explanatory). This means heavy spoonfuls of “race realism,” misogyny, and nostalgia for past hierarchies, leavened with transhumanism and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Unsurprisingly, they don’t always get along; if you want to preserve white racial purity, futurists trying to biohack us into a separate species are not your long-term allies. Still, similarities abound. All neoreactionaries reject “progressivism,” by which they mean democracy, egalitarianism, and a belief in more or less linear historical progress—and even the non-white-supremacists tend towards a hereditarian determinism that bleeds easily into outright racism.
I'm having a friendship affair

A Kim Brooks piece where the sub-head says it all: "A look at the intensely obsessive, deeply meaningful, occasionally undermining, marriage-threatening, slightly pathological platonic intimacy that can happen between women."

I’ve done it all my life. Call it oversharing. Call it lack of boundaries. Call it projection or a profound impatience for the normal social mores that make deep-friendship formation so excruciatingly arduous. It doesn’t matter what you call it; the trait remains — the tendency to find one person in a group, one person at work, at a party, on a trip, at a wedding, or anywhere at all. I find one person, and that is my person. We are on the same wavelength, I decide, and then I give up giving a shit about everyone else.
Our Star Wars Holiday Special

There is no escape. You are involved in the cultural conversation of the moment, and it's about a space opera. Here's Aaron Bady on the franchise:

For starters, it’s hard to think of a movie franchise that so revels in its own tautological premises. After all, what is “the force” except a means of embedding narrative convenience directly into the story itself? The force of heroic protagonism is strong with this one, declares Obi-Wan; may the camera be with you. Because if the camera is with you, you can defy odds, physics, and logic, in an even more blatant way than on-screen heroes usually can. But the force is not interested in people that we haven’t seen in close-up; if you don’t have a John Williams-composed theme to mark the fact that you matter, you can and will live or die unnoticed. The “force” is just the diagetic trace of an extradiegetic will, an expression of the screenwriter’s desire as it gets projected onto the blank screen of the audience’s appetite. The force is strong with Luke because he is a stand-in for Lucas’s own wish-fulfilments, and so, the universe obeys his commands. It’s not subtle, and like Luke for Lucas or Darth Vader for Dark Father, it’s not clever. But it is compelling.
Some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey

If you're looking for something more specific and less about the culture of the thing, screenwriter Todd Alcott, who does detailed breakdowns of movies on his blog, looks at the characters of the new Star Wars movie, starting with Rey (but check his blog for his take on the other characters too).

The Force Awakens presents us with two major protagonists, an antagonist and an anti-hero. Although it re-states numerous plot points from A New Hope, it always takes care to present them in different contexts. The point of the recycling is not to remind us of a movie we like, but to reveal how everything changes no matter how much everything stays the same.

One day left to read some work from local poet Priscilla Long

Our thanks to Priscilla Long for her sponsorship this week. We have three poems from her new book Crossing Over, and we suggest you go take a look. Spend New Years with some poetry.

Sponsors like Priscilla are what keep us publishing original content each day. She's part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. Join her by reading her work.