My picks for Seattle Arts and Lectures' 2016-17 season

Last night, Seattle Arts and Lectures unveiled some of the authors they’re bringing to town for their 2016-17 season. You can see the full announced slate on SAL’s site and buy tickets for most of the authors right now. It’s a big, splashy, ambitious list; all the authors are worth your consideration, but I’d like to highlight a few personal favorites that you might consider checking out when they come to town.

SAL’s Poetry Series is staying at the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall next year, which is an intimate venue that sells out pretty easily. The poet I’m most excited about in next year’s series is the legendary Alice Notley. At a SAL event a couple years ago, Dorothea Lasky read a short untitled Notley poem that I loved so much I printed it out and tacked it right in front of my writing desk, where my eyes always land when I pause in the middle of writing. It’s the kind of poem that burns itself into your memory with its rawness. You can listen to Notley read that poem right here; it will only take fifteen seconds of your life.

Another poet in the Poetry Series who I adore is Ross Gay, who writes haunting, sometimes heartbreaking poems. I especially love this passage from “For Some Slight I Can’t Quite Recall,” a reminiscence from Gay’s early teens:

I leaned the boy’s head

full force into the rattly pane of glass

on the school bus and did so with the eagle of justice

screaming in my ear as he always does

for the irate and stupid

Meanwhile, SAL’s Literary Series is making a huge, possibly risky move: it’s heading back to Benaroya Hall. Not too many years ago, SAL had to move the Literary Series from Benaroya to the much-smaller Town Hall because the organization was suffering from sinking audience attendance and a lack of creative leadership. Now that Town Hall is closing for renovations, and now that SAL is enjoying a creative renaissance—their curatorial artistry is better than its ever been, and the organization has been resuscitated from top to bottom, thanks in large part to Executive Director Ruth Dickey and Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs—they’re taking a shot at the big tent again.

Two of the Literary Series authors are guaranteed blockbusters: journalist and historian Timothy Egan is one of Seattle’s very best writers, and he actually doesn’t make that many appearances in town, so this event is surely special enough to pack the hall. And Ann Patchett is so roundly beloved — she demonstrates that rare blend of critical success and instant-bestseller status — that the only question is how many times the sold-out crowd will offer her a standing ovation.

But I want to call your attention to two smaller names on the Literary Series marquee. Ben Fountain has only written one novel, but it is an absolute doozy of a book. Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk knocked me off my feet when I reviewed it a few years ago. It’s one of those novels that leaves you reeling with the way its portrait of contemporary America changes the world around you. (It’s also being adapted into a film by Ang Lee, which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you feel about adaptations.)

And British novelist Helen Oyeyemi is a literary voice on the rise. Her novel Boy, Snow, Bird blew me away with its reappraisal of the wicked stepmother trope, and she’s earning the kind of glowing critical praise for her books that indicates she’s got a long career ahead of her. If I had to choose one SAL reader out of this season as the kind of event you’ll be reminiscing over for years to come, it would be hers.

The Help Desk: Are we pro or con when it comes to sexy librarian porn?

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

Dear Cienna,

Do you have any opinions on sexy-librarian porn? I'm kind of flattered by the trope, but I also wonder if maybe it doesn't raise expectations to an uncomfortable level with my prospective girlfriends.

Annie, Admiral

Dear Annie,

I'm glad you asked! I have stronger opinions on porn than all the right hands in Gary Herbert's public health department combined. Generally, I'm pretty positive about the sexy librarian trope, and here's why: People who objectify librarians find their brains as sexy as (if not more so than) their physical appearance. Librarians are intellectuals. Gatekeepers of knowledge. Curators of imagination. Smart people pant over stuff like that. They swoon. And isn't that a refreshing change in porn?

Of course, if prospective girlfriends are making you uncomfortable with their objectification – if they demand you collect late fees while wearing a ball gag or read them Goodnight Moon while sitting on their face (and you're not into it), I suppose that's problematic. Maybe you should remind them that you're not just a sexy brain stuffed inside a sexy body with the entirety of modern thought harnessed at your fingertips, you're a real person with nonbookish interests who sometimes wants to sit in sweatpants, eat Muddy Buddies and watch Real Housewives punch each other in the Fake Tit.



Book News Roundup: Welcome to Seattle, Simon Hanselmann!

Her poetry shifts the focus back on Darfur. What sets Mahmoud apart, according to Renee, is a “global lens. Slam can be very U.S.-centric.” Mahmoud tries to start conversations. Some of her talking points are anecdotal — she has returned to Sudan a number of times, the longest visit for six months — and some of her stories have been drawn from refugee family members. Still other insights stem from her academic work: She’s double majoring in anthropology and molecular biology and is currently studying the trauma experienced by Darfuri refugee women in the diaspora. Her hope is to combine raising awareness through performance with a concrete plan to rebuild infrastructure in Darfur.

Portrait Gallery: Nancy Rawles

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

Nancy Rawles is appearing Sunday at the Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library to run a writing workshop on how to write dialog. Don't miss it!

Open faced

Published April 21, 2016, at 11:43am

Paul Constant reviews Ruth Ozeki's The Face, Chris Abani's The Face, and Tash Aw's The Face.

The Face is a new series of books in which authors write about their own faces. Does that premise make you feel a little uncomfortable? Good; that's the point.

Read this review now

Prince has died. Long live Prince.

I wanted to be a musician so bad. We'd gather at my friend Randy's house, all of us fifteen or so. We'd order pizza in, and we'd watch Purple Rain on VHS. Maybe a dozen times, we played it. We talked about our band and how cool it was going to be. We talked about Prince, and how great a guitar player and musician he was. He made us feel superhuman.

We have a policy here, on the Seattle Review of Books, when big news breaks. We review our posts for the day. Should we halt them, out of respect? Are any of them inappropriate for the tone of the day?

But on the day that Prince dies, what is appropriate? There are no maps for this. Like Bowie, gender was Prince's playground. But although Bowie's death was a surprise to us, it was not to him, he played us off. Prince feels wrong. We've been robbed. He was robbed. Maybe some sites will try to find a literary angle to cover here. Maybe they'll point to his greatest biography or something. But sometimes, all you have to do is acknowledge.

Watching Purple Rain was transformative. It taught me about making things, because Prince made things. Prince made music. He made movies. He was a gearhead, and a music nerd. He was a scientist and a musical prodigy. He made people dance, and fall in love. He expressed the truest human emotions in the most poignant ways. He was — not by blood or fiat but by earning every bit of it — true American royalty. He never stopped. He never gave up. He always was creating. He worked, and worked, and worked.

Thank you for everything, Prince. Anil Dash should have the last word here (and it's worth clicking through to read his whole thread of thoughts on Prince's death):

Thursday Comics Hangover: Mini comics, big love

It was kind of a boring new comics Wednesday from the mainstream publishers, so I decided to dive into the minicomics section of Phoenix Comics & Games to see what local cartoonists are working on. Or, in one case, what local cartoonists were working on; I had never seen the 2014 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fanzine Notorious R.B.G. before, so it was new to me. (It also predated the 2015 Christmas bestseller Notorious R.B.G. by a year.)

The zine from poet Amber Nelson, cartoonist Colleen Frakes (author of Prison Island) and cartoonist Neil Brideau, which is “Dedicated to Ruth Bader Ginsburg with apologies to Beyonce,” is a collection of song lyrics rewritten from Ginsburg’s perspective. (“My mother told me two things;/to be a lady and to be independent.”) As a tribute to Ginsburg, and to the other women on the Supreme Court, it’s a delight, and at two bucks, it’s a steal. My favorite bit is the two-page comic-strip cover of “Flawless” that caps the book. (“Woke up like this/Flawless/Supreme Court steps/Flawless…”)

Joseph Laney’s Iron City Shorts is a $4 minicomic collecting two short stories set in and around the fictional Iron City. The setting is a kind of retro-sci-fi groove, with giant robots and goggles and dirigibles. The first story, “The Big Knockover,” feels a bit slight, but the second story, “Escape the Past,” more than makes up for the first in terms of storytelling strength. “Escape” begins with a prison break (from, as a caption helpfully informs us, “Gargantua Island Prison: one of City Harbor’s most notorious landmarks”) and continues with a twisty tale of revenge that incorporates several moral shades of gray. Laney’s sense of design is excellent. He packs a lot onto every page, and his chunky cartooning style — which kind of reminds me of a sci-fi Dean Haspiel — serves the subject matter very well. He’s obviously put a lot of thought into Iron City as a setting and a theme, and hopefully this sampler will function as a springboard for more adventures soon.

Finally, Eli Tripoli’s Me and the Muad’dib is a demented mashup that somehow makes perfect sense: it’s a Chick tract-style evangelical pamphlet extoling the mythology of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. While Tripoli’s art is primitive, the glorified stick figures ably serve the narrative — a pair of supporters of Paul Atreides try to convince a skeptic to believe in the Emperor of Dune. The language is spot on for a Chick tract parody: “Paul Atreides isn’t a giant fish, he’s the Kwisatz Haderach! He’s a person like you or me. And he was born here on Calderan, just like us!” As a celebration of Herbert’s super-weird mythology, it’s glorious — a respectful work of fandom that’s clearly born from a deep and abiding love. Come to think of it, that describes all three of these books.

Who would have thought? More people use public libraries when public libraries get more revenue. Maybe Seattle Public Library leadership should focus more on investment in the collection and less on pursuing an "anti-book" agenda?

We told you about this a couple weeks ago, and thankfully sanity has prevailed:

The Tennessee House of Representatives failed Wednesday to override Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill to make the Bible the official state book.

Haslam, a Republican, vetoed the Bible bill last week, saying he felt the bill “trivializes the Bible.”

Emerald City Comicon 2016 was a hit with fans and professionals, but...

Last week, I asked people to share their experience with this year's Emerald City Comicon. Over the last few days, I've heard from local cartoonists, from comics professionals, and from people who attended the show as fans. From those conversations, a pattern has emerged.

People are, so far as I can tell, pretty happy with Emerald City Comicon, especially as compared with other large comic book conventions. In fact, the more conventions that someone attends every year, the more likely they are to appreciate ECCC. Professionals say that even though it's clearly grown over the last few years, ECCC still has the feel of a small-town show that's not as overrun by Hollywood glitz and promotional glamor. A few fans complained about ECCC being overcrowded, but they mostly mirrored the professionals: compared to virtually any other big city's comic book convention, ECCC, they said, is a total delight.

The local cartoonists and vendors, though, said the show suffered from some behind-the-scenes organizational distress. People who have dealt with ECCC for multiple years say that the ECCC administration was generally non-communicative, which is a big change from conventions past. They didn't receive check-ins from show representatives until very late in the convention process, if at all, and they did not feel as though their complaints were addressed with the same care and consideration as past years. If a convention's true customers are the vendors, many of the vendors we talked with felt as though ECCC's customer service slipped from the exceptional level of care and consideration that they enjoyed in years past to something a little more aloof and disconnected this year.

Still, most of the vendors who complained to us had their most profitable ECCC yet, which suggests that perhaps the administration was just overwhelmed by their own show's success. Nobody seemed bitter about their convention experience; they just seemed slightly disappointed and wary about whether this experience would indicate a slip in quality in conventions yet to come.

On the whole, it seems that ReedPop's first full year in charge of ECCC landed in the solid B-to-B-minus range from vendors and in the A range from fans and professionals. Not a bad report card at all — though there's some room for improvement in the area of vendor relations for 2017.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 20th-26th

Wednesday April 20: David Schmader

It’s true that I worked with David Schmader for years at The Stranger, and it’s true that I’m proud to call him my friend. But there is a part of my brain — the part that tingles when it comes across a sufficiently beautiful sentence — that is still in awe of his writing ability. If you haven’t read his now-defunct Last Days column or seen his live Showgirls performance, you might think it’s hyperbole when I say that Schmader is the single funniest man I’ve ever met. But it’s true. And he’s not just funny because he blurts out observations that will strip the paint off walls with their truth—though he does that, too.

Schmader is funny because he’s a great writer who knows how to coax the maximum effect out of a sentence. Consider this line from his final Last Days column: “How many stories of babies being microwaved can readers withstand before being driven to sterilize themselves and throw away their microwaves?” Now bask in the fact that 99.7 percent of all professional writers would have stopped that sentence immediately after “sterilize themselves,” without thinking to add the gorgeous excess of throwing away the microwave at the end? It’s the perfect pratfall on which to finish a sentence that begins with a truly horrific image. Jokes like this don’t just happen automatically; they’re work, and Schmader is a master crafter of those microwave-tossing moments.

Happily, we now have an entire book of Schmader’s to keep in our homes. Weed: The User’s Guide is an encyclopedia of marijuana history, use, and culture for those questions you’re afraid to ask at your friendly neighborhood pot shop. (Is dabbing the same as hot knives? And, uh, while we’re at it, what the hell is hot knives?) Schmader says he intended to make the book a classy, useful everyday guide — more like one of those fancy leatherbound guides to scotch than the pun-festooned High Times-style romps you’ll find in the alternative culture section of your local bookstore. He succeeded. The book is hilarious and entertaining and thoroughly Schmader-y.

You now have multiple opportunities to see Schmader read from Weed: The User’s Guide onstage. On 4/20, he’s collaborating with the film collage geniuses at Collide-O-Scope to present some of the trippiest moments in movie history at the Egyptian Theater with special guests and gift giveaways. On Friday the 22nd, he’ll be presenting a big launch party for his book at Town Hall Seattle with guests including Dan Savage, KEXP DJ Riz, cartoonist Ellen Forney, poet Sarah Galvin, and former Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, with music from special guest Spekulation. And then on May 1st at Hugo House, Schmader’s presenting a a night of autobiographical readings to an audience that he hopes will show up (responsibly) high. That’s an impressive and diverse slate of public events taking place in a compact amount of time. Obviously, you should go to all three.

The Egyptian, 805 E Pine St,, 324-9996, $4.20. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday April 21: Elaine Harger

This reading from Which Side Are You On?: Seven Social Responsibility Debates in American Librarianship, 1990-2015 gives an insiders' view into how the American Library Association Council "tackles issues ranging from racism to government surveillance and climate change." University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday April 22: Couth Buzzard Fundraiser

Books and coffee are still for sale at Couth Buzzard Books, but as you can see in the picture to the left, the big gas explosion in Greenwood last month knocked their front windows out. Tonight, they’re throwing a Beat-themed fundraising reading party to pay for damages with Seattle writers and musicians including David Fewster, Barbara Dunn, Larry Crist, and Madeline Berman. Couth Buzzard Books, 8310 Greenwood Ave N., Donation. All ages. 7:30 p.m.
Saturday April 23: Simon Hanselmann

Tasmanian-born Seattle cartoonist Simon Hanselmann’s new book, Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam and Other Stories, is a comic about a witch and her cat who travel to Amsterdam to forget about their terrible lives. Originally published in Vice, these gorgeous-yet-repulsive comics are an absolute delight. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, Free. All ages. 6 p.m.

Sunday April 24: When Someone Speaks

The Seattle Public Library has been killing it lately with an array of free writing classes at their neighborhood branches. The latest is a workshop on how to write dialogue, hosted by Seattle novelist Nancy Rawles. Whether you’re working on fiction, screenplays, or poems, Rawles can help you tighten that shit up. Seattle Public Library, Columbia Branch, 4721 Rainier Ave S., 386-1908, Free. All ages. 3 p.m.

Monday April 25: Chris Hedges

Progressive journalist Hedges comes to Seattle often, and every time he brings with him a brand-new project. His latest, Wages of Rebellion, is a collection of columns offering “an overview of historical revolts and revolutions,” in an attempt to examine what, exactly, it would take for a rebellion to break out in America. Campion Ballroom at Seattle University, 914 E Jefferson Street, 634-3400, $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday April 26: An Evening with Hawthorne Books

Hawthorne Books is one of Portland’s great literary treasures—a publisher of beautiful books of quality literature. Today, they’re presenting two of their best authors (Sallie Tisdale and Seattle’s own Megan Kruse) at a reading/conversation. Maybe someone in the audience could convince the Hawthorne crew to move to Seattle? That’d be sweet. Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

A sprouting Cascadian canon

Published April 19, 2016, at 1:17pm

Paul Constant reviews Connor Guy, and Alex Davis-Lawrence's Moss Volume One.

What does Northwest literature mean? Can it be defined in relation to what it is not? Or is there a common theme in literature from this corner of the world?

Read this review now

Poking at death with a long stick

Published April 19, 2016, at 12:00pm

Bonnie J Rough reviews Abigail Thomas's What Comes Next and How to Like It.

Abigail Thomas does brave work looking at the things nobody wants to look at. But why should the living want to read writing about death and loss?

Read this review now

Seattle shows up for the 2016 Eisner Award nominations

The 2016 Eisner Award nominations have been announced — the Eisners are basically the Oscars of comic books — and Seattle is well-represented this year. Fantagraphics Books is the most-nominated company of the year, with a whopping 17 nods. (One of Fantagraphics' most-nominated titles is The Eternaut, which I reviewed here at the Seattle Review of Books back in December.)

Other Seattle-area nominees include The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman, who was nominated for his strip "It's Going to Be Okay," and G. Willow Wilson, who was nominated for Best Writer for her work on Ms. Marvel. Other Eisner nominees that have been reviewed by the staff of Seattle Review of Books includes:

Congratulations to all the nominees, and here's to Seattle making a strong showing as the great comics town we all know it to be. It's great to hear, too, that this is a record-breaking year for women at the Eisners.

The Quick

Taking my knife to the sharpener

I had to ask my brother

how do I take a knife

to the sharpener

one chance not to ruin

the flesh of this tuna I wanted

to separate the head

and dissolve the eye into

powder on my tongue I said

something about a fire worried

about dying in a fire in this club

with these people she said

“Where I come from that isn’t funny”

meaning Rhode Island

but we were in a rented house

on the Oregon Coast

my teeth coated in the dark

with anti-fungal ointment

the label warned CALL


did I was redirected

to the nearest call center

the operator asked

where I was in Maine

outside the Pacific recycled

its emergency she said

“Be calm, hon, you’re not

even the first one today

if you die today

it won’t be from this”

was her promise

breaking over a marsh

where cranes showed off

standing on one leg to touch

their toes or talons or whatever

a man walked by reeking

of gasoline and as he passed

the gasoline stayed

a woman stepped backwards

from her porch seeking

a stable place to lean the ladder

she climbed swinging

one leg over the gutter

to disappear

think of it this way:

throughout history the horse

has been an emblem of speed

even on occasion an emblem

of flight and to travel

with any quickness at all

meant trust in an animal

velocity which always arrives

with its cousin

a vision of sudden death

though when it comes to that

all anyone will talk about is the bees.

Hugo House has published a (PDF) Frequently Asked Questions sheet explaining what their last month of operations in the Capitol Hill building will be like. There will be a large party on May 7th in which people will be invited to write on the walls of the House, and there will be a Literary Series event on the 20th — the theme is "The Writing on the Wall," cleverly enough — that is slated to be the final event. If you'd like to learn about what the Hugo House will look like on First Hill, please check out the FAQ. They're doing a good job of being very transparent about this.

The perfect mind-meld

Imagine your mind connected with others in such an intimate, seamless way that you became one person with many bodies. This is the basis of sponsor Steve Toutonghi's exciting new Science Fiction thriller Join. We've got the first chapter on our sponsor's page, and there's no way we're gonna stop reading there — and we bet you'll be just like us.

Steve is throwing a launch party this Thursday, April 21st at the Queen Anne Book Company. Come by for a reading, conversation, and snacks. Hope to see you there!

If you're a small publisher, writer, poet, or foundation that is looking to back our work, and advertise your own in an inexpensive and expressive way, take a look at our open dates. We'd love to talk to you about opportunities to sponsor us. It's our way of making internet advertising something to look forward to.

2016 Pulitzer Prizes announced

The 2016 Pulitzer Prizes are being announced right now. Kathryn Schulz won in the Feature Writing category for her harrowing piece on earthquakes in the Northwest.

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the fiction prize for his novel The Sympathizer.

Joby Warrick won for his non-fiction book Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.

And Peter Balakian won for his poetry collection Ozone Journal.

Of course, there are many other winners (Lin-Manuel Miranda won in drama for Hamilton, obviously) and you can find them all on the Pulitzer website.