Over on Medium, Mike Meginnis explains the problem with Narrative Magazine, beginning with their exorbitant $23 submission fee, continuing with the astonishing amount that their founders are paid, and culminating with a how-to-write book Narrative is selling on their site that will apparently cost $225. (That's not a typo.) Please go read the whole thing.

The sky is falling

Published December 18, 2015, at 11:45am

Paul Constant review Héctor Germán Oesterheld, and Francisco Solano Lopez's The Eternaut.

In the late 1950s, two men from Argentina published a comic about a horrific alien invasion that quickly became embraced as a classic in Latin American science fiction. It's finally just been published in English for the very first time. Lucky you.

Read this review now

The Help Desk: Sentimental, old, and smelly

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,

My granddad died in the spring. He left me all of his books. The gesture meant a lot to me. He used to read to me when I was a baby, and I remember spending hours in his study when I was a kid, flipping through his books. So now they're my books. But there's a problem: they stink. My granddad was a heavy smoker and I'm not. His books reek of cigarette smoke. I've looked around online and the solutions for this are complicated and seem like they might not work. Am I a terrible person if I give these books away? Will anyone even take them? They really, really smell bad.

Jim, Renton

Dear Jim,

I empathize. When my grandmother, Berta, died on Christmas Eve a few years ago, my mother inherited the chair she died in and I inherited her death suit: a fuzzy blue robe and dog-hair enhanced red slippers. Everything smelled like ham and stale Easter candy. So loud was the candy-ham stench that cats and men in camouflage named Rufus started showing up asking vague questions, or mewing, with shifty eyes. I took up not bathing just to mask the odor.

Have you considered not bathing? It frees up a lot of time for reading!

Most babies have shit taste in books, so I hesitate to guess what your collection could entail. Still, I suggest going through and choosing one or two that have sentimental value. Carefully pack those books in a drawer with aromatic soaps (or a candy-ham combo), which will help the smoke smell dissipate after a time. Then, organize a party (New Year’s is a fine excuse) and sacrifice the rest of your grandfather’s collection to a roaring bonfire. I know book burnings are still gauche everywhere except church parking lots and the odd Trump rally, but still: donate books in such terrible shape and they’ll end up in the dump anyway. You might as well celebrate in style with friends, family, and a smokestack worthy of your grandfather’s memory.

Kisses,

Cienna

Portrait Gallery: Sarah Galvin

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

Sarah Galvin is appearing Sunday at Hugo House. Yesterday, we published a review by Paul Constant about her new book.

Shelf Awareness, which broke the news about Amazon Books, continues to raise questions about the brick-and-mortar outpost of Amazon.com:

Is Amazon Books getting its stock from Amazon.com, which gets extra terms unavailable to most bricks-and-mortar retailers? Are books being bought non-returnable by Amazon.com but being returned by Amazon Books to Amazon.com? How, if at all, is a distinction made between the two businesses--and how will that be handled at meetings in which the bookstore buyers participate?

This is an important distinction to make: publishers sell books to physical retailers under very different terms — discounts, returnability, etc. — than they do with online booksellers. Publishers would likely be very upset if they learned that Amazon Books is selling books that were sold to Amazon.com.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Norovirus vs. Mark Millar

Last week, I contracted norovirus. It was terrible, and I’m not going to tell you any more about it except to say that I wound up in bed for 36 hours, feeling awful. I couldn’t watch movies. I couldn’t read poetry or prose. All I could stand to read, all I could focus my attention on for more than a minute at a time, was comic books. This has pretty much always been true for me; whenever I come down with an illness bad enough to send me to bed, I wind up reading comics. I always have a little stash of unread comics lying around for that moment when I get sick and need to get out of my head.

I had bought a used collected edition of Mark Millar’s and Sean Murphy’s comic Chrononauts at University Book Store and added it to my sick stash about a month before the norovirus kicked in. I’m a fan of Murphy’s art — the man can draw anything, from a futuristic pirate civilization in The Wake to religious parody in Punk Rock Jesus — but my feelings for Mark Millar are decidedly more complex. In fact, I think I hate him.

The sad truth about Mark Millar is that almost all of his comics could be pitched as “What if __ were irresponsible?” His comic Kick-Ass is about what would happen if superheroes were a bunch of irresponsible pricks. Civil War and Old Man Logan are about what would happen if every character in the Marvel universe started to act like an asshole. The Ultimates is about the Avengers being egomaniacal monsters. Jupiter’s Circle is about the Superman family of characters acting like the Kardashians. And on and on and on. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with this, in theory: virtually any premise could make a good comic, if handled correctly. But Millar’s characters are all the exact same asshole, the kind of insufferable douche who gets drunk at a party and immediately starts bragging about how awesome his life is. If Millar’s parodying something, that parody gets lost in all the obnoxious braggadocio.

And I’m sorry to report that Chrononauts is the most Mark Millar-iest comic in the history of the world. The main characters are two assholes — one is a brunette and one is a blond, and that’s about all the character development we get — who travel through time irresponsibly. The brunette, early on in the book, expresses regret about a relationship with a woman that he screwed up. (Just before he jumps in time, he calls his ex and asks her, “How could you leave me for that sleazy lawyer?” She replies, “He made time for me, Corbin.” If you can read that line in the first chapter of a book about time travelers and not see exactly how this book is going to end, you might be Mark Millar’s ideal reader.) The blond guy talks about “banging every co-ed from here to Timbuktu” and makes finger guns. They call each other “dude” and fist-bump a lot.

Here is the plot: the time travelers decide to rule the world. “Back home I’ve got nothing, dude” the inventor of the world’s first time-travel device tells his friend. “Here, I’m a king,” he says, and he gestures around his kingdom: there’s a large print of a woman wearing a bikini on the wall, and a few sports cars, and a pool table, and some samurai swords. It’s a 15-year-old boy’s idea of what ruling the world would be like.

Again, maybe this is supposed to be satire. Maybe Millar intends Bill and Ted Meet Tucker Max to be commentary on the empty-headedness of modern men. But satire comes from a moral place, and there’s no real moral judgment at play here. In fact, this book seems to step back on every page and shake the reader by her shoulder and say, “isn’t this totally awesome?” It’s all a set-up for a cross-time chase sequence that lasts several issues and is impeccably illustrated by Murphy. But there are no stakes, no lessons, and no real surprises. It’s just exactly the kind of dick-swinging jackassery that a teenage boy would write, only drawn and packaged professionally.

Every time I read something written by Mark Millar, I feel unclean afterwards. He’s made his fortune by writing directly toward the ugly id of a very particular brand of comics fan, the self-entitled nerd-bros who dominated the industry for decades before women and minorities finally made their voice heard. Millar’s leering adolescent power fantasies feel like the deathbed rattle of an industry that refused change for as long as it possibly could.

Lying there in my sick bed, I couldn’t get Chrononauts out of my head. Those two terrible men who do whatever they want and avoid all repercussions took up residence there in bed with me, fist-pounding and trying to out-brag each other about how cool they are. Chrononauts left me feeling even sicker than I felt before I picked it up. It left me with the realization that even norovirus is preferable to Mark Millar.

What the heart wants

Published December 16, 2015, at 12:01pm

Paul Constant review Sarah Galvin's The Best Party of Our Lives.

If you’re a human being with a working heart, you will cry when you read Sarah Galvin's The Best Party of Our Lives.

Read this review now

Holiday gift book recommendation #3: Chasing Secrets

Secret Garden Books owner Christy McDanold has a lot of favorite books going at any one time. When I asked her to name one choice for a holiday recommendation, she seems proud to have narrowed it down to just two.

Her first choice is Maps, an “artful, rich atlas of the world” hand-drawn by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska, a Polish couple who are best-known for their popular typefaces. McDanold can’t stop gushing over Maps, calling the book “clever and creative,” and a gorgeous gift idea for “anyone who loves maps.” As she flips through, McDanold calls Maps “just plain beautiful,” stopping on the page for Croatia and admiring the illustrations of all the qualities that make Croatia unique: folk costumes, animals, foods, the flag. The book, she says, gives readers “a sense of the culture and the country.” There are similar portraits of other countries, including Tanzania and Namibia and “a fair amount of Europe,” though McDanold notes that the book doesn’t include every country in the world, calling it “an auxiliary reference” that kids and adults will spend hours poring over, admiring the sheer artfulness of it.

The other book that McDanold has been excited about most recently is Chasing Secrets: A Deadly Surprise in the City of Lies, by Gennifer Choldenko, an author who won a Newbery Award a few years ago for her novel Al Capone Does My Shirts. Set in San Francisco in the Gilded Age, Chasing Secrets tells the story of what happened when an outbreak of the plague, possibly introduced to the city by travelers from Hawaii, caused panic in the city. “The civic approach,” McDanold says, “was to wall off Chinatown. In Hawaii, the civic leaders actually burned down Chinatown” in response to the outbreak. (This was just before the discovery of germs, when nobody could conceive of microscopic life causing illness.)

The main character of Chasing Secrets is Lizzy, a girl of twelve or thirteen who “lives with her widowed father, a doctor and a very caring, compassionate fellow who does the best he can without scientific knowledge.” Lizzy finds out about the proposed quarantine of Chinatown, and she becomes worried about what this means for the son of the family’s cook, an immigrant from China with a son Lizzy’s age.

McDanold says Chasing Secrets is appropriate for anyone aged ten and up. It raises questions about “what grownups are hiding from kids and how inequitable the world is for people who are different” from the status quo. Choldenko is a gifted researcher, and the book is packed with detail, both in the narrative and in an informative author’s note at the end, that provides context and information to modern readers. As a historical novel, she says, it’s “top-notch.” “I really liked this book,” she enthuses, calling it “a pretty good echo of our time,” focused as it is on the qualities of “real leadership when it comes to people who are different.” Maybe someone should send Donald Trump a copy.

We've done our best to avoid Star Wars mania here on the Seattle Review of Books, but even we can't ignore this J.G. Ballard review of the original movie from 1977. He calls the film "totally unoriginal, feebly plotted, instantly forgettable, and an acoustic nightmare." At least one of those descriptions has been proven wrong by the march of time. But the rest of Ballard's argument, that science fiction is a serious literary trend and that Star Wars is not a fair representation of good science fiction, is an interesting one. Even if you don't agree with his thesis, you'll want to read this piece. Is Ballard fake-geek-girling Star Wars? Is he right? The happy answer is he's right, and he's wrong, and you're right, and you're wrong. It's possible for a universe to contain as many different opinions as there are people who have opinions. Sometimes it's interesting to read a contrarian take just to gather a new opinion about a time-honored piece of art.

(Via Aaron Stewart-Ahn on Twitter.)

It's time to stop giving cash awards to David Shields

  1. Congratulations to Seattle poet Storme Webber for winning a Frye Art Museum | Artist Trust Consortium 2015 James W. Ray Award. That $15,000 prize will undoubtedly go toward the creation of some exciting new writing that Webber will share in one of her many readings around town. That’s exactly what an award like this is for; it provides income to pillars of the community who work in fields (like, say, poetry) that don’t pay very well.

  2. It should be noted that I was a nominator for this year’s James W. Ray Award. Absolutely none of the people I nominated won. (Though I think Storme Webber is a great choice!) No hard feelings there; that's the way this nomination game works.

  3. UW professor David Shields was the big winner of the James W. Ray Award this year. He won $50,000, which the awards press release indicates is “intended to free artists to advance their creative work.”

  4. I’d just like to take this opportunity to send a plea to Artist Trust and the Frye Art Museum and anyone who may be reading this who is in an organization that offers awards to writers: Stop giving David Shields money. Please.

  5. Look: David Shields is doing just fine. In one of his most recent books, I Think You Are Totally Wrong: A Quarrel — the man publishes so many books it’s hard to tell exactly where Wrong falls chronologically on the Shields spectrum of published work — he brags about making $200,000 a year as the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the UW, and through his other royalties and speaking engagements.

  6. How much freer does David Shields need to be? $50,000 could entirely fund a pair of young, poor writers for a year. It could have meant an entire year of focus for a Seattle-area writer, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quit a terrible job and make a living as a writer, as a member of the literary community. What’s David Shields going to use it on? More David Shields bullshit, probably.

  7. Do I believe that money should be the only criteria for giving a writer work? Absolutely not. And this is not just a matter of money. It's also about bandwidth. If a writer puts out five books in the span of a year and a half, as Shields has just done, they probably do not need an award specifically to “free” them and “advance their creative work.” David Shields’s creative work is “advanced” enough already. He is plenty “free.” He has all the resources of the UW at his disposal. He’s got famous friends. He was in the zeitgeist with both the terrible J.D. Salinger biography that he cowrote and the awful J.D. Salinger biography that featured him as a talking head. (Shields seemed to think the fact that Salinger had one testicle was the key to understanding Salinger’s work. His writing on the subject was exactly as stupid as it sounds.) He was in a documentary made by James fucking Franco about Wrong. He is the exact opposite of a struggling artist. Should we penalize him for his success? Absolutely not. But we should not worry about "freeing" him, either, or "advancing" his work. He's doing just fine, thanks.

  8. Maybe you like David Shields. This is fine. I, personally, have not loved one of his books since Black Planet. I think most of his work is prone to pretentious twaddle and weak academic attempts at bomb-throwing. You may like it, and that’s okay. But I hope you can agree with me that David Shields, with his two documentaries and five books produced in the last couple years, takes up enough space already. He does not need to hoover up any more of the tragically limited resources available to writers in this town. You can like his work, you can advocate for his work, you can encourage his work.

  9. But for Christ’s sake, stop funding him. Give the money to someone who actually needs it. Please. I could recommend a couple dozen Seattle writers off the top of my head who would make better use of the money. Give me 24 hours and I believe I could come up with — and I am not exaggerating, here — over 100 more deserving writers. In this time when arts nonprofits are suffering, let's at the bare minimum all agree to save the freedom and advancement for those who really need it.

Grandmother Grant

Not the rejected lies of the New York Foundling
home, not the adoptive widow of two names,
one of devious spelling,
not the dog tag pinned to the plaid dress
for the train ride to Missouri, but the surname
work like a shoulder brand
on the skin of the natural mother,
Grandmother Grant.

When I went in my black robes through the hot
streets of the city, a young nun
pale as the star I followed
led to the desk of a three-faced guardian. One
face called me Sister to my face. One was
motherly, "Oh my dear, I can't risk the wrong
information." One, older than the order, nervous,
bit the sentence off
on a fragment of Irish history.

I couldn't get past the gate. I recognized
the road I was on
led to heaven or hell. Either was barred,
date too early for the name,
a Closed File. I should tell my mother to come.
Back home in Oregon, sixty-nine, wanting to know,
not wanting to know, she waited.
I crossed the continent angry, three thousand
miles of featureless plain.

Mother, now that you're gone, I'm the same,
swaddled no more in the habit.
Whatever it is that drives us — bad blood,
the face in the unlighted window,
I'm bound to get it straight. If he knocked her down
in the stinking hold of a ship and raped her,
if she followed him out of the church
into the oldest garden under moonstone limbs
of the sycamore, it's too late
to cover her tracks.

                                              Whoever she was, whatever ties,
here is my claim. I need to come into my own.

The Seattle Public Library is launching a flash fiction contest on the first day of 2016 "in honor of science fiction writer and Seattle resident Octavia Butler." The contest is named "Door to a Pink Universe," it's for fiction "between 500 and 750 words" in length, and the story "must be a work of science fiction set in any one of The Seattle Public Library locations, evocative of the social, racial and historical themes found in Octavia Butler's fiction." You have between January 1st and February 29th to enter. Start thinking about your entry now.

It's a musician's life

Eugene M. Babb spent a life in gigs, and then wrote about it. His book Grit and Roses, published by Third Place Press (yes! Third Place books has a press! They print books on their Espresso Book Machine, Ginger), covers his thirty years of life as a working musician.

We have two expcerpts from this short, sharply told book on our sponsors page. How wonderful to have a local author, published by a local press, as a sponsor this week. We loved the work, and thin, you will too.

And thanks to Babb and Third Place Press, we're able to bring you the content we do every day. Sponsors like them help us in our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. All we ask is that you take a read.

Recommended books for the young reader in your life

Book shopping for teenagers can be daunting, but they make excellent gifts and provide plenty of opportunities to introduce young adults to new authors to love. Here are some recommendations of books both new and old for the 13-and-up crowd that are worth adding to your shopping list.

Daniel José Older’s fierce and fantastic heroine Sierra — Buffy has nothing on this young woman — takes on family history and the forces of darkness in the heritage-embracing Shadowshaper, while Robyn Loxley finds herself forced to take on the power-mad governor of Nott City after her family is attacked and she must run for her life in Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon. (Robin Hood as a twelve-year-old girl — why did it take so long for this book to be written?)

Sarah Prineas takes everything you think you knew about Cinderella and tosses it to the wayside in the brave and brutal Ash and Bramble (don’t let that pretty cover fool you), and Laura Ruby seems to be writing a traditional tale of a lost girl and the boy who loves her in Bone Gap until all the truths of the cornfield and the girl who keeps bees and the boy who is actually trying to save his brother’s love are revealed. These two are are as original as it gets, some real modern myth-making in action.

Changeling folklore gets a new spin in Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge and Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. Hardinge gives readers a protagonist who is the ultimate outsider as she fights to find out who she is in a WWI-era England that hides a dark secret world while Headley’s protagonist is a thoroughly modern girl who appears to be living in a John Green-style sad story until she finds out she is not who she thinks she is either and another secret world is revealed. Both titles are full of surprises and some powerful moments about what the word ‘family’ can mean.

In the past couple of years, mermaid folklore was upended by Bennett Madison’s tale of longing and abandonment in September Girls and the selkie myth was taken on by Margo Lanagan in The Brides of Rolllrock Island (both now out in paperback), both of which were welcomed by readers interested in challenging long held myths. Those same readers will want to take on Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp, which considers what happens when society loses its history and a ghost and powerful doomed girl —more shades of Buffy — must take the journey of a lifetime to set things right, and Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes , which seems to be about the aftermath of a brief and bloody war in a place reminiscent of Civil War-era America but really is about all the ways in which lies casually become the truth on the field of battle and then permeate society afterward. Bobet gives readers some steampunk in this book, as well as sisters who can’t say the right thing, a clash between religion and science, and a joyful hat tip to Ada Lovelace. You think you know what is happening in all of these titles, but trust me, all bets are off until the final pages are turned.

Several popular series saw new entries this year and all of them offer the kind of consuming combinations of action, deeply descriptive worldbuilding and artful characterization that will leave readers begging for more. Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams is the second in The Diviners series about the dangers to be found in a 1920s New York City gripped by supernatural forces (flappers + haunted houses = splendid!); William Ritter’s Beastly Bones follows last year’s Sherlock Holmesian adventure, Jackaby, with some paleontological mysteries; The Hollow Boy is the third book in the Lockwood series of paranormal ghost investigators in a vaguely Victorian alternate world (this one includes a terrifically haunted department store); and Library of Souls is the third book in the Miss Peregrine series by Ransom Riggs, which weaves actual eerie postcards into a dramatic storyline of good versus evil involving a band of teen misfits somewhat reminiscent of the younger X-Men (if something like commanding bees can be a superpower). All readers of these series must start with the first books and if you gift any of them be prepared to lose sight of the reader for hours.

Fans of more realistic fiction will find a lot of love for girl detective/high school student Lois Lane in Gwenda Bond’s Fallout (with a sequel due next year), the witty Scooby Gang crime busters in Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist (sequel due in January), and the mystery-solving of friends Milo and Meddy in Kate Milford’s Greenglass House (which skews to the younger end of the teen spectrum). For more mystery ideas, the Soho Press Teen imprint is worth a look.

You can not ignore the delightfully determined Willowdean, a Dolly Parton-loving daughter of a former beauty queen who decides to strike a blow against society’s idealized versions of beauty by taking a big risk in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Rainbow Rowell’s fans (who are legion) will be thrilled to know that 2013’s Fangirl sparked the recent release of Carry On which is fan fiction come to life. (That sounds more complicated then it is; just know that if they loved the earlier book, they need its companion.)

Nova Ren Suma continues to beguile with fury and sadness found in the startling pages of The Walls Around Us and Adam Silvera dangles the offer of changing everything about yourself in More Happy Than Not (this one grips your heart so very hard).

Whew!

For nonfiction lovers, the stellar Scientists in the Field series had three new releases in 2015: The Call of the Osprey, The Octopus Scientists, and Inside Biosphere 2. With their outstanding color photographs and welcoming design, this is a series with broad appeal and readers will easily find a subject (from frogs to beetles to volcanos), to immerse themselves in. Pacific Northwest residents should especially take note of The Next Wave and Tracking Trash, both of which have regional angles. (See the full title list here)

There are also several historical titles that shined brightly this year, including Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s in-depth sympathetic look at the “deadliest cook in America” in Terrible Typhoid Mary; Phillip Hoose’s uncovering of a forgotten WWII episode, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler and Steve Sheinkin’s latest: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. (All of Sheinkin’s earlier works, on subjects ranging from Benedict Arnold to the Port of Chicago tragedy and the Manhattan Project are well worth seeking out also.)

And anyone, teenage or adult, interested in understanding Russia better must read M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead, a truly staggering work of historical research. It is also a significant appreciation of the power of music to sustain people through the most harrowing of times. Anderson has done some amazing history — and writing—with this book.

Finally, for the gift that gives all year long, Lizzie Skurnick Books offers a subscription service for its reissues of classics with copyright dates from the 1930s—1980s. Timeless titles from Sydney Taylor, Louise Fitzhugh, Lois Duncan, Norma Klein and many more fill the backlist, all of which can also be bought separately.

The bad news is that the film adaptation of local author Jonathan Evison's spectacular novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving has been changed. It's now The Fundamentals of Caring, a title that sacrifices specificity at the altar of sentiment.

But! Here's the good news: it stars Paul Rudd, so I will still be there for this movie whenever it opens locally. And here's the even-better news: it was announced last week that The Fundamentals of Caring will be the Closing Film at this coming year's Sundance film festival, a position of pride that indicates confidence in the quality of the film. Might we get to see it at next year's SIFF? Here's hoping.

Your Week in Readings: The Best Literary Events from December 14th - 20th

MONDAY Your week begins with a splash: author and artist Molly Crabapple reads at Elliott Bay Book Company. Crabapple’s Drawing Blood is a memoir about art, journalism, and upheaval. It’s an absolutely gorgeous (and, by all accounts, beautifully written) book.

TUESDAY Hugo House hosts the Copper Canyon Press holiday party. A bunch of Copper Canon poets including Dean Young and Deborah Landau will read new work, and Copper Canyon staffers will introduce you to poets and books that could change your life. (This is the publisher that Sherman Alexie once called the best poetry press in America, after all.) They’ll offer great gift suggestions, too!

WEDNESDAY The best-looking literary event of the night is at the South Park Neighborhood Center, where Seattle Public Library staffers will lead a book club discussion of the excellent comic book memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney, who is a Seattle-area treasure.

THURSDAY University Book Store presents a Theo Chocolate and Coffee Tasting. There’ll be chocolate from Theo and coffee from Stumptown, along with signed copies of the Theo Chocolate cookbook. University Book Store does offer gift-wrapping, so this is a pretty easy way to score a good Christmas present and sneak some chocolate for yourself along the way.

FRIDAY At the Jack Straw Cultural Center Jack Straw musicians Sharon Nyree Williams and Stephen Cohen will present new work. (Williams is also a storyteller and poet.) They’ll be joined by Anna Balint, who will present writers from the Recovery Café Safe Place Writing Circle. Balint is recording writers from the Recovery Café in a series of podcasts.

SATURDAY It’s back to University Book Store for a special story time for kids, featuring treats, activities, and a visit from Santa Claus. (We have it on good authority that Mr. Claus will also pose for free photos with the kids, too.)

SUNDAY We’re about to enter the two most reading-free weeks of the year, but this is a great way to close out 2015: Seattle poet Sarah Galvin presents a debut party for her new book The Best Party of Our Lives at Hugo House. This is a heartwarming collection of true stories about gay weddings. Galvin will be joined by couples from the book, and she’ll be interviewed onstage by Official Awesome Person David Schmader. This one is not to be missed.

The Sunday Post for December 13, 2015

Janet Wolfe, Gothamite on a First-Name Basis With Her Era, Dies at 101

This is the finest obituary I have ever read. Janet Wolfe was quite obviously a brilliant force of nature. But more than this, Margalit Fox practically re-animates her with luxuriant and vivid prose. What a joy to read. And you have my respect, Ms. Fox, since you can talk a copy-desk editor into letting you launch your piece with this graf:

So. About Janet.
The Washington Post Style Guide Now Accepts Singular ‘They’

Especially in light of modern gender awareness, those opposing the singular they seem antiquated. Why, even the Washington Post has switched over.

In everyday speech, singular they, the use of they/them to refer to one person, feels completely natural. But in more formal contexts, and in writing, that usage has long been frowned upon. And not just frowned upon, but banned as ungrammatical. However, it is not ungrammatical in the same way as “I didn’t knowed that” or “what are you cook for dinner tonight?” Those sentences don’t sound natural in any context.

Proponents of singular they have long argued that the prohibition makes no sense. Not only is it natural, it has been used in English for centuries. It’s in the King James Bible. Authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Austen, Thackeray, and Shaw used it. Before the production of school textbooks for grammar in the 19th century, no one complained about it or even noticed it. Avoiding it is awkward or necessitates sexist language.

Poker, Wikipedia, and the Singular They

Speaking of the singular they, Andy Baio went looking for information on poker champion Annie Duke, and found a Wikipedia page on Texas Hold 'Em rife with gendered language.

Because it was Wikipedia, I felt like I could do something about it. So I spent some time making the biggest edit I've ever made on Wikipedia: changing every male pronoun to gender-neutral language, sometimes rephrasing as "the player," but often using the singular they. I tried to be careful about readability, making sure to only use it in cases where it couldn't be confused with a plural group.
Hacking the City

When Marcus Westbury moved back to Newcastle, Australia to open a bar, he was amazed that none of the downtown properties that were sitting vacant would rent to him. Instead, he came up with an ingenious plan that renovated the area.

He began contacting landlords and leasing agents, expecting to be overwhelmed with offers, but no one returned his calls. Some buildings had been purchased on the cheap by speculators, who expected to cash in when government redevelopment funds finally arrived and who were happy to leave them vacant while they waited. Others were owned by family trusts that couldn’t agree on anything except doing nothing. More than one landlord demanded rents the market couldn’t possibly bear. Westbury learned that lowering the asking price often meant writing down the value of the building, which risked triggering foreclosure. Landlords were incentivized to stand pat, while downtown fell into ruin. “No one was even trying,” Westbury said.

Read a chapter from Gregg Olsen through tomorrow

We have a chapter from Now That She's Gone, by sponsor Gregg Olsen, for one more day. Be sure to take a look — you might just get hooked.

That's why instead of blurbs and jacket copy alone, we offer you a full chapter to read from our sponsors. Just like in a bookstore when you pick up an unknown writer and take a look to see if you like them. We think this is a great way to get exposed to a huge variety of writing, and we're so pleased that Gregg Olsen joined us this week to show you. Take a look, and see if you're not curious about what's gonna happen in chapter 2.

In fact, it's with sponsors like him that we're working our darndest to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. Thanks to Gregg, we're able to bring you all of the content you read here every week. Help us thank him by giving that chapter a chance.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for December 12, 2015

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.

Rahawa also wrote this week in the Millions about her year in reading.