The Sunday Post for November 29, 2015

The Most Misread Poem in America

David Orr, in an excerpt from his book The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, on Robert Frost's best known poem.

Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
This Is How You Become an Editor

Mensah Demary on the kind of work writers do, so that they can do the sort of work that writers do.

I was gifted, or cursed, with a brain somewhat wired for business. My father knew as much about me; when, in 2007, I said to him, “Maybe I should finish undergrad, then get an MFA,” he retorted, “You should probably get an MBA instead.” I took this advice as an insult, or a devaluing of my creative desires, but I couldn’t ignore it. I was raised by this man, directed through life as child with the goal of growing into a self-sustaining adult.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for November 28, 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

The Help Desk: Should my boyfriend and I merge our bookshelves?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Well, except for this Friday because it's Thanksgiving weekend and Cienna's probably drunk somewhere. We didn't want to leave you hanging, dear reader, so we thought we'd republish the very first Help Desk column from way back in July, in case you didn't read it. Next week, Help Desk will return. Do you have questions for Cienna? Send them to

Dear Cienna,

My boyfriend and I are moving in together next week. I'm very excited about this, and I'm confident it's the right move. But we just had our first fight over a moving issue, and it's something I feel very strongly about: he wants to merge our book collections together. I want to keep our shelves separate. It's not that I fear intimacy; I'm 95 percent sure we're going to get married one day, and I'm very happy with him. But I'm not sure I ever want our books to mingle. Is a lifetime of bookshelf non-monogamy too much to demand?

Judy from Ballard

Dear Judy,

I have never lived with a man — not because I refuse to blend my bookshelf, for far more broken reasons — so feel free to take my advice with the same side-eyed respect you’d give a porn star in sweatpants. As I see it, how you arrange your book collection is a sacred thing. For instance, my books are arranged on three shelves: The top is all-time favorites no one is allowed to touch; the second is books I have never read, arranged in the order I aspire to read them; the third is books I have stolen from other people, mostly for petty reasons.

If a MAN came into my space, swinging his DICK around and inserting copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People and Atlas Shrugged and Hemp: A History all willy nilly — trigger warning — my shelves and I would feel a little violated.

Explain this to your boyfriend. If he still does not understand the importance of separate bookshelves, I suggest you get a cat. Name it Cienna. Then, whenever you and your boyfriend have a domestic dispute, wait until he sleeps. Take one of his books off the shelf. Piss on it. Blame it on Cienna. This will provide you with a physical way to vent your spleen after a fight (full disclosure: I don’t know physics) while slowly weeding your bookshelf of his books.

You’re welcome,


NaNoWriMo Week 5: Stories and bridges

You're at the point in your book where you're talking to yourself, aren't you? You're probably feeling a bit manic about the whole thing. It's an itch that runs away laughing every time you try to scratch it. You probably haven't bathed for the past 10,000 words. It's so close, that line. If you're on track, according to our recommendations, you should have about 45,900 words down right now. You are almost done.

Even at this late date, you may be wondering how the hell your book is going to tie up. Maybe you have an idea of what the end is, and maybe you even have it written out in outline and you know — beyond a shadow of a doubt — exactly what's going to happen when you get a little closer. But it's probably not quite working out the way you thought it would.

My experience was that as I wrote, the book kept changing under me. The more it changed, the further away I got from that ideal ending, which I had envisioned so clearly before I started writing. The more the work changed, however, the less that ending seemed either inevitable or appropriate. I became frustrated and started planning ways to make it all fit together.

Doesn't it seem simple? I want my characters to start here, and end there. It's like building a bridge, where one team starts on one end of the span, and the other starts opposite. They meet in the middle perfectly, the construction mapping perfectly to the engineers plans.

But building a bridge is not the creative part of the construction process. If bridges were books, the building part would be printing and distribution. Before the construction and blueprints and engineering was the design phase, and that is what writing a book is like.

Ask any experienced designer, and they will tell you that design emerges from constraint. You cannot create something without having limitations. Some of those limitations are the format itself — bridges have physics, novels have language — but many are imposed by the designer, either before their work begins, or in reaction to issues raised by the work.

Constraint is not backwards looking. You cannot plan the end of the bridge and then work from that to where you start. You must set up the constraints, because it's the constraints that will tell you the shape of what you are building: form follows function.

This means, in your novel, as you create the world and make choices of what to show your readers at what point, you will run into things that change the way you see the work.

You have been involved in a life-long study, and you may not have even know it. You have been studying the form of story since the day you were born. Stories are everywhere in our culture. Some sociologists claim that stories are fundamental to our species' success, because stories impart information down generations, warning of which plants to eat and which to use for medicine, and which to avoid altogether.

Your brain knows when a story isn't working — it tells you so when you're reading a story that doesn't hold together. You may not be a critic, but you do have a nose for things that are off the mark based on your many years of tutelage under the world's cultures, all of whom use stories. It is literally your birthright, the evolutionary advantage your clever ancestors used to succeed where their less-apt siblings failed.

So if you are an outliner, and you feel your story going off the rails you have so carefully laid, it can be really frustrating. You know the story isn't working, but yet, you have this plan! It was going to be so great! That clever ending is absolutely the right thing!

This is you coming up against both bridge building and your knowledge of story. Your story self knows that as you've made subtle shifts to the characters and situations as you were writing, and those small changes accumulated into whole new directions. Your bridge-building self knows that you either need to reverse those small changes to get back on track, or you will have to change the ending of the story.

So here we have a common problem of endings, then, and there are problems with either solution. First, going back and changing everything to align it is ludicrous. That will take too much work, and even if you decided to undertake it, this is not the job of a first draft, it is the job of a later draft (sneak peak: we'll be looking at what do do with your finished manuscript next week, and how to keep working on it). But second, going forward may mean abandoning everything you had hoped to achieve when you first envisioned this work.

Here's why I advise that you need to trust yourself. Trust your story-knowing self, and trust your bridge building self. Just for now, put your ending aside, and look at what you've actually written. What kind of ending seems inevitable, now, based on the work on the page? If it's different than the outline, so be it. There is always the next draft if it doesn't work.

No great art works without risk. Here, perhaps, is an opportunity for you to stretch, and to do so, you are going to have to trust yourself. Let your story be your guide, long after you've set the constraints and measured the gap. Throw away that outline, or that idea of what you wanted before you set word to page, and just put your nose down and work on finishing the actual book you have been working on so hard this month.

Friday Comics Hangover: The Dark Knight, reheated

By far, the most-hyped comics release of the week is DK III: The Master Race, the third volume in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series. Ostensibly co-written by Brian Azzarello, the actual authorship of DK III is in question — Frank Miller has basically admitted that he’s not been involved in the writing of the series. Whoever actually wrote the story, Miller certainly didn’t draw the book; the art is by Andy Kubert, with inking by Dark Knight veteran Klaus Janson. So we have a sequel to a much-maligned sequel to one of the all-time classic Batman stories, written-but-probably not-at-all-written by the original writer and drawn by a different artist. How is it?

Well, it feels like fan fiction. But it doesn’t even feel like Dark Knight fan fiction; it feels like DK II fan fiction. For those of you who have better things to do, the sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, DK II, is pretty roundly regarded as a failure. Marred by atrocious computer coloring and written in a completely different tone than the original Dark Knight series, DK II was a more cartoonish take on the future of the DC Comics canon, including a Batman who was actually — gasp! — having fun. Some contrarians still defend DK II for being a cheeky dissection of the idea of superhero comics. I can understand that defense, but I disagree: the problem with DK II was that it was bad comics. Miller’s satire, never very subtle, took on the form and grace of a cement block. The jokes felt private and insular, the worldview felt increasingly mean-spirited as the book went on, and the entertainment value was erratic. (At times, the book did express a sort of madcap thrill; I might be remembering this wrong, but I’m pretty sure Miller processed 9/11, which happened between issues two and three of the series, in the comics as a giant cartoon frog demolishing a city.)

So in DK III, we have a writer trying on the affect of Miller’s DKR-era writing style and an artist trying on the affect of Miller’s art. Neither is really successful. Azzarello tries to mimic Miller’s style of mocking the media, but really he’s just using the stand-ins for Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart as exposition delivery systems. The book’s plot is delivered in a straight-faced manner, and a last-page twist is so obvious in execution that it ought to be accompanied with a sad trombone sound effect. Perhaps Azzarello is building to something momentous — he’s done good stuff in the past — but right now it feels like too-serious superhero comics at a too-high price point. ($5.99? Come on!)

I’ve never been a fan of Andy Kubert’s artwork. He’s a second-generation comics artist (his father is the legendary Joe Kubert), and his illustration style has the soulless ache of someone who never bothered to learn how to draw anything other than comics. His composition is boring, his figures are thick, and the Milleresque tiny panels on every page only serve to make his art look even sillier by comparison. He has never drawn an interesting page in his life; they’re all awkward grimaces and poses, with not one bit of a recognizable reality on the page.

The only fun part of the first issue of DK III is the enclosed mini-comic starring The Atom, illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson. It’s tipped into a cardboard leaflet in the center of the book, and it begins with The Atom fighting a dinosaur and reflecting on his divorce, and how aging has mellowed him as a man. This is the kind of fun, weird stuff that people who praise DK II are looking for in their books, and the format feels novel and interesting. Unfortunately, the comic stops short when a plot thread from the main book intrudes on the story, making it a glorified post-credits scene in a Marvel movie: something entertaining, followed by a teaser that pushes the story forward into the next installment. Who cares?

A few years ago, DC Comics tried to mine the Alan Moore/David Gibbons comic Watchmen in a series of prequels. Before Watchmen was presented as a prestige project, and it included a number of big-name comics creators including Azzarello and Kubert. The comics were, for the most part, technically excellent. But they simply didn’t matter. The books were released and collected and rereleased in book form, and nobody gave a shit and they were immediately forgotten. Unless something transformative happens in the next few issues, DK III will suffer the same fate.

Gratitude, stripped bare by her bachelors

It is as if we're in competition to find the starkest horror. This world offers so many comers to the table, each one bloodier, more callous, more inhumane, more despicable than the rest. Some are small insults that strike us in a particular way. Some are grand vistas of despair that we cannot comprehend en masse, and are represented for us by a single photograph, say of a suffering child, as we read the news.

We want to feel it all. To process the world's pain, and know. Like the oculist witness on Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even observing the humiliation of the bride at her wedding, we are the ones who see the world, and hold its measure. But as the sad animals that we are, we have the capacity for so little before we break. Some few have made it their life's work to help others; most of us follow the method recommended by flight attendants: we put our oxygen mask on first before we turn to our neighbor.

But selfish or generous, our daily rhythms are ticked like rulers with the routine of our days, the cycle of the seasons, the turning of the earth. When my father was sick and dying, he was rather taken with the idea of "thin places", where the membrane that separates this world and the next is stretched. It can be a secular metaphor as well as a religious one, and I prefer to think of it referencing a time instead of geography, such as cathedrals, or Stonehenge, or other sacred locations.

A thin place is a time where our fabric stretches and we see its weave. Where the ticks on our ruler marking seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, stretch and warp the very perception of time itself. Sherman Alexie has said he wrote hundreds of poems after the death of his mother. It's as if he stepped off of the crust that supports life onto fabric suspended over a fissure, and felt it give with each step. Those poems are him calling back to us, on the shore, to describe what he feels. Having done that walk before, I can testify it's fraught, and also affirming. You fall, and sometime expect that you too will be lost to the depths, but that material is stronger than you can imagine. You land face down, seeing the epoch below. Discard the cliched advice you've heard in the action movies: you must look down. If you close your eyes and try to will yourself back to steady ground, you risk the footing of your entire life turning soft.

Births, deaths, weddings, and other passages of life change us like this. Nights with superb friends — where understanding dawns amidst the pleasures — are like this. That first night with a person after you've fallen in love is like this. A particularly mind-blowing meal can do this. And holidays, where we set aside the world to mark a shared experience, can be like this, if we let them.

My grandfather was a glass salesman. One of his clients was Pepsi-Cola, in Southern California, which was owned by the Alessio family. For vacation, every year, my mother, her two sisters, and her parents would drive to Ensenada, Mexico, to spend a few weeks vacation.

On the way they would stop by the Alessio house in San Diego for dinner, and every year the matriarch of the family, Gemma, and my grandfather would enact the play they had improvised together. Gemma would say: "I'm going to make you something very special for your visit."

"No, Gemma," he'd say. "We want your spaghetti."

"No, I won't make something so plain for company! I will make a roast."

"Gemma, please," my grandfather would say. "Please, for the love of all that's good, make us your spaghetti."

My grandfather, who was the cook in the family, once asked Gemma to write down the recipe, and she did. But you might as well have asked Elizabeth Bishop to write down a poem so that you can write one just as good. Nobody cooked like Gemma, and Gemma did not use recipes. It never tasted the same at home. I've made that spaghetti sauce. It's simple and nice. But nobody would ever request it from me. It wouldn't evoke that starry-eyed look my mother gets when she describes its scent in entering the Alessio house.

This was the ritual of my mother's family. When my mother talks about her family and gathering, she sometimes talks about Christmas dinner, or maybe Thanksgiving. But more often than not she talks about those Ensenada trips and their stop in San Diego. The ritual of it was unique to her family, it was an experience they owned.

I was in San Francisco with a band. We went to record some songs at a friend's house. In the Haight, there are four Victorians that are designed as the four seasons, built in a neat little row. Our host owned Winter, and had built a recording studio in the 1st floor flat. I asked him what he did to be able to buy such an iconic house, and he said "I'm a designer."

"What do you design?"

"I've designed lots of things. I've designed chairs. But mostly I design molecules."

We were there for the fall in San Francisco, and when we weren't recording we wandered around the sunny city, spending time in Golden Gate Park. Because it was over Thanksgiving, our host arranged for us to crash a friend's gathering.

We took the bus, carrying a few offerings and dishes in shopping bags. It was one of those old San Francisco homes that may have been built as apartments, or once was a strange, plain, huge family home. We had to go down the side, and up some stairs, and in through the kitchen. We arrived at 7pm or so.

There, a turkey was on. Arguments were underway about the internal temperature, and how long it takes to reach it. We drank wine and cocktails, the living room completely unlit save for the central overhead light in the kitchen. The oven and counters were crowded with dishes covered in foil, in a random assortment of dishes.

Dinner was served, after many drinks, some time after 10pm. There was no family here, other than the family we chose. I was with the band, and the San Francisco people were — like many people in San Francisco — freaks of a certain sort who ran away screaming from their traditional upbringings.

And yet, here we were, all gathered, sharing a meal. It was wholly unremarkable, the food. I remember missing a bigger spread with experienced cooks. The company, too, although pleasant, was not my company. I was not among the people I felt warmest and safest.

Yet this night I remember more clearly than many other Thanksgiving meals. I think that has to do with the choice — nobody was there because they had to be. Nobody was pushed up against a familial cultural clash that made them uncomfortable. Nobody there was traditional in any sense of the word. We came together to eat the bird and partake of the two relevant themes of Thanksgiving: communion, and gratitude.

As usual, when talking about food, M.F.K. Fisher said it best:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.

But, perhaps, in forward-looking critique of unprepared cooks and guests dining too late at night, she also said:

First we eat, then we do everything else.

Like all holidays with any tradition, Thanksgiving is problematic. Foremost because it's a stark reminder of genocide, subjugation, and then cartoony celebration of that subjugation under the guise of communion. The narrative of the holiday is wrong, and offensively so.

Less bad, but still bad, the imagery is cheesy and cliched. The tall black hats with gold buckles, the feather headdresses, the cartoon turkeys winking at the viewer, all in flat browns, reds, and oranges. It's a holiday that operates at a Kindergarten level of sophistication.

If you're more worldly than that, perhaps you picture a table set by Normal Rockwell, with Ma serving and Pa carving, and Grandma and Grandpa smiling on the messy, but authentic, grandkids. You are in the 1950s, and the men and boys spent the morning raking leaves and tossing a ball around, while Grandpa rocked on the porch and smoked that fragrant tobacco — the women, of course, cooked.

Or maybe you picture that other great American house where a television the size of a wall emits football and commercials non-stop, turkey dinners are served on tv trays, and the women are fishing out their sleep masks so they can get a few hours in before hitting the Black Friday lines at 3am.

This is not mockery. These are the set pieces of Thanksgiving in our country. If they resemble yours, and you love them, I wish you all the best.

But I don't recognize myself in those traditions. Still, I make this bold claim: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As an agnostic (which is the modern non-asshole version of an atheist), I like Thanksgiving because it's secular. And I like the reminder once a year to pay attention, and be grateful for the things that you have.

A friend on Twitter argued that we shouldn't need one day a year to appear grateful, and while I agree with her, I think holidays like this are not for us who are old enough and experienced enough with life to know how to be grateful more often. The older I get, the more my personal attitude aligns with "there but for the grace of God go I." Except without the God part.

The ritual is still worthwhile because, as humans, we need those reminders to pay attention to the ticks on the rulers of life. We need to teach these slower, longer cycles of life to those that haven't learned it yet.

Gathering at the table with people you choose to have around you, and hopefully love, and sharing a special meal? That's hitting a perfect three on the Fisher checklist.

Perhaps we need a new Thanksgiving iconography. Something modern and clean. It should be just as secular as before, just as focused on caring and gratitude. I'm certainly not the first to call for such a thing, and my call will not be instructive or give methods. My call will simply be an evocation of sorts.

Let us use this one day to set aside the troubles a world away that we cannot control, and mark what we have, and show appreciation. That helps us decide when we can assist that neighbor with their oxygen mask. That helps us decide what resources we have to marshal for the greater good.

We do not have to forget that there are those in need. We are not reveling in our privilege or lording it over those without — we are simply marking the ticks on the ruler of our days, and noting that we are passing them as we go forward. One holiday day cannot halt time, but like a train moving through a station without slowing, it can certainly point out that we're on a track and we are moving. It is human nature to forget that.

Maybe you'll find yourself around your own table, or another. Maybe it's a tray in front of the TV, or a dark room in a San Francisco house, or a walnut burl table with antique lace runners, or even your own room, alone with a book. Maybe where you are the air will shift a bit, and you'll come up to see the movement around you. You'll step off the crust onto the fabric and feel it stretch. Maybe this holiday will give you a moment to see from another perspective. Maybe that perspective will bring you something you need.

Here are some online book sales you can feel good about

Yesterday, I told you about some local independent bookstores that you should visit on Small Business Saturday. But that doesn't mean you can't buy books online, too! Below are three big sales from independent publishers just in time for Thanksgiving-weekend consumer madness. Buying directly from these publishers will help pay for more great new books in the coming year.

If you're looking for some recommendations, you can't go wrong with Hip Hop Family Tree for the music-lover in your life, the Complete Peanuts for virtually anyone, or this gorgeous edition of The Eternaut for the comics fan on your list from Fantagraphics. Drawn & Quarterly publishes beautiful reprints of the Moomin series for all ages, Blankets by Craig Thompson for that special someone, and the hilarious Lisa Hanwalt's My Dirty Dumb Eyes for fans of the Hanawalt-designed show Bojack Horseman. If you're looking for gifts from Melville House, you should consider the Neversink Library for the literary purist, the Art of the Novella series for people who want to read more quality fiction in the coming year, and Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin for just about anyone who loves a great novel.

Kristen Steenbeeke reports that Hugo House's crowd-sourced poetry experiment has come to a close for the year. Last week, Hugo House set up a stand with a typewriter at the University District Farmer's Market and encouraged passers-by to contribute to a group poem. The poets were only allowed to write one line, and they were only allowed to read the line that came before their line.

Is the end result great poetry? Well, no. But it is fascinating stuff. I especially like how the poem shifts moods wildly from one poet to the next: the nonsensically giddy "Happy day party time new baby" gives way to "the fog rolls in," and then "the gray hearkens her mind" is followed by "happy thoughts shine through." This is a group of anonymous Seattleites, telling each other to cheer up through the fall gloom. The poem's multitudinous attentions eventually wander to pumpkins and octopuses and apricot danishes. As a narrative, it says nothing much at all. But as a collective gauge of the mood of a large crowd of Seattleites in the middle of a chilly November, I'd say it's surprisingly accurate.

Three holidays in, Ada's Technical Books is growing up

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are traditionally when booksellers look back at the year that was and prepare for the busiest few weeks of the year. Danielle Hulton, the co-founder and manager of our November bookstore of the month, Ada’s Technical Books, is in that process right now, and she feels pretty good about where her store is.

“This will be our third holiday” in the store’s new location on 15th Ave, she says, and “the excitement that we felt from customers and from the neighborhood two years ago seems to have stayed.” She says the store has developed a steady flow of regulars, both on the cafe and the bookstore side, and daily patterns have been established. Hulton has transitioned from managing a five-person shop to a store with 20 employees. “I feel like I’m starting to get my legs under me“ so far as management goes, she says. It’s been a year since Ada’s started up The Office, a co-working space in the attic, and Hulton says “the monthly spaces are always completely full, which is wonderful. The daily spaces are picking up steam, and the conference rooms, people are really excited about. Those seem to be rented more than the daily spaces.” It’s starting to feel like a real office up there, Hulton says: “It’s nice for me because my desk is up there and I have a nice group of coworkers that don’t even work at Ada’s.” The next step in Ada’s gradual expansion is to open up an event space, tentatively called The Lab, on the property. Hulton is taking her time to get it right, “fleshing out exactly what it will be.”

As she prepares for the holiday onslaught, what are the books that Hulton looks forward to reading? “I’m really excited about Margaret Atwood’s new novel that she just published, The Heart Goes Last.” And then she sounds a little reticent: “this isn’t even nerdy — it’s an embarrassing obsession. I’m obsessed with the Lunar Chronicles, a YA fantasy series. The final one, Winter, was released last week.” Hulton loves the excitement of retail Christmas. She likes that it highlights the bookstore side of Ada’s, which is “what I’m passionate about.” She enjoys the moments when the store is full of “more people coming in, more people excited to be there, more people seeing what we’re about.” She hopes first-time visitors to the store will understand that it was founded with an idea of providing “accessibility to everybody,” a chance to "be nerdy or geeky about the things that they’re interested in.” She hopes people won’t be turned off by the “Technical” in the store name. “We’re not a general bookstore,” she says, “but we are a store for the general public.”

* Ada's Technical Books is our November bookstore of the month

* The bookshelves where science and the humanities meet

* An interview with Steve Winter

Mail call for November 24, 2015

Mail Call, catch-up edition!

A love letter to Eve Babitz

Published November 24, 2015, at 12:00pm

Martin McClellan review Eve Babitz's Eve's Hollywood.

Everybody who writes about Eve Babitz wants to either be inside her bubble of cool, or pop it. Martin just wants to show some love and appreciation for an under-appreciated writer.

Read this review now

Don't forget to celebrate Small Business Saturday

I mentioned this in Your Week in Readings, but I thought it could use a little elaborating here: the Saturday after Thanksgiving is Small Business Saturday, when consumers are reminded to turn their backs on malls and chain stores and online retailers and visit the stores that help make their communities vibrant, interesting places to live.

Even better, local independent bookstores are celebrating Indies First, a program (invented by Sherman Alexie) in which authors work as booksellers at their favorite bookstores for a day. In short, you can go support small business, get a book signed, and get a personalized recommendation from your favorite Seattle authors. Here's a list of all the Indies First participants that I've found (in alphabetical order) and a list of the authors appearing at the stores. Click the links for schedules and more details.

  1. The Book Larder presents cookbook authors Jeanne Sauvage, Renee Erickson, Susan Volland, Shauna James Ahern, and Erica Strauss.
  2. Elliott Bay Book Company hosts Sherman Alexie, Peter Mountford, Nicole Hardy, and Sonya Lea.
  3. Fantagraphics Books in Georgetown is hosting comics memoirist Colleen Frakes.
  4. Open Books is hosting Emily Kendal Frey, John Burgess, Alejandro de Acosta, Sarah Mangold, and Susan Rich.
  5. Queen Anne Book Company presents Sanae Ishida, world-famous showroomer Allison Stieger, Sarah Adler, Lala Rukh, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Toni Yuly, Sherman Alexie, Erin Malone, Jessixa Bagley, Kevin O'Brien, and Matthew Buscemi.
  6. Seattle Mystery Bookshop hosts Urban Waite, Neil Low, Ingrid Thoft, and Candace Robb.
  7. University Book Store hosts Greg Bear, Terry Brooks, Rosamund Hodge, Isaac Marion, Stephanie Oakes, Chelsea Pitcher, Julia Quinn, Adam Rakunas, Dana Simpson, and Conrad Wesselhoeft.

Go give your local booksellers some love. And give the people you love books for the holidays. Books are obviously the best gift.


A bee flew about the living room, then another, and more. They began to lodge in the African masks that hung on the walls. They clung to my lip. My house is infested, I thought, and opened the door to the outside. Bees covered the door’s lower half. I fled through it in fear, and in hope of finding help. In the living room, my father moved about with the bees, untroubled, unwilling to leave.

The entire literary internet is currently exploding — in a good way, in a great way — over "On Pandering," an essay by Claire Vaye Watkins at Tin House. She tells a story about a male author behaving badly, she talks about the institutional gender bias of the publishing industry, she tears some preconceptions down to the studs and examines what's left. It's angry, funny, shocking, intelligent and, in the end, hopeful. You really have to read it.


Seats on 42nd Street subway Shuttle cars are wrapped with symbols from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, intended to carry commuters into the alternate history of the Amazon TV series, The Man in the High Castle, in which the Axis Powers were victorious.

“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” said straphanger Ann Toback. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.”

In an America where Donald Trump leads the Republican presidential contest by running on a platform of bigotry, fear, and xenophobia, this particular image hits a little bit too close to home.

Shelf Awareness reports that Bellingham's grand old bookshop, Village Books, has opened a new, 3,000-square-foot location in Lynden, a town just north of Bellingham. Between this and the new branch of Third Place Books in Seward Park that's opening in early 2016, it's time for the media to put away the tired "bookstores are dying" narrative for something newer, fresher, and more optimistic.

The inventor, viewed in stereo

Published November 23, 2015, at 12:00pm

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper review Gretchen Jane Gruber 's View Master.

William Gruber invented the View-Master, which let millions of children see 3D stereo images. His daughter wrote a biography, but didn't flinch from the truth of the man, and why he was under investigation by the FBI.

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Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 23 - 29

MONDAY Elliott Bay Book Company kicks off your week in readings with an event that might improve your Thanksgiving dinner: Sommelier Madeline Puckette reads from her book Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine tonight. If you ask nicely, she will probably tell you what wine goes best with turkey and stuffing.

TUESDAY At Town Hall Seattle, neuroscientist David Eagleman, who you most likely know from his PBS series about the brain, will be reading and discussing his new book The Brain: The Story of You, which aspires to “explore why we think and feel the way we do, and how the brain shapes nearly every aspect of who we are and what we perceive as reality.”

WEDNESDAY No readings happening tonight, but Ravenna Third Place Books is hosting a book club discussing the great John Scalzi’s sci-fi novel Old Man’s War. It’s about a widower in his 70s who joins a space army.

THURSDAY It’s Thanksgiving day. We suggest you stay home and read in the morning. Pick a good short book — Jim Dodge’s Fup, say, or We Should All Be Feminists — and sit down and read it in its entirety, from front to back. It’ll give you something to talk about over dinner, and it will calm and center your mind. If you can’t take a holiday to do something special for yourself, what’s the point of holidays? And what could be more special than carving out the time to read a whole book in one sitting?

FRIDAY Just as there are no readings on Thanksgiving day, there are no readings on Black Friday, either. If you’re not out supporting your local independent bookstore, you should know that the Central Library is hosting fall crafts for kids from 1 to 5 pm today. That sounds like a nice way to dodge all the holiday shopping craziness.

SATURDAY The book event of the week is happening at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown, where cartoonist Colleen Frakes signs her comic book memoir Prison Island, which I reviewed when it was released back in September. It’s about growing up on McNeil Island, a prison island in Washington state.

(Saturday, I must mention, is also Small Business Saturday, which is the day when you’re supposed to leave the mall behind and visit your local inependent shops. University Book Store is hosting events all day, including three readings and two panels — one on YA and one on sci-fi. Most other bookstores in your area are having events, too. Go give them your support. This city would be a terrible place without independently owned businesses.)

SUNDAY It’s time for “Bow Wows and Books” at the Greenlake branch of the Library. Here’s the description: “Practice reading with a new friend who is warm, friendly and a perfect listener! Certified therapy dogs and their handlers join young readers to read one-on-one in a relaxing and nonjudgmental environment.” This simply could not be any more adorable.

The Sunday Post for November 22, 2015

SELFIE: The revolutionary potential of your own face, in seven chapters

I've seen many defenses of the selfie, but never such an indepth exploration of what it means, and why it is important. Rachel Syme covers it all, in seven parts.

Shot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself. Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account. Maybe she tilts her head one way and then another, smiling and smirking, pushing her hair around, defiantly staring into the lens, then coyly looking away. She takes one shot, then five, then 25. She flips through these images, appraising them, an editrix putting together the September issue of her face; she weighs each against the others, plays around with filters and lighting, and makes a final choice. She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.

Shot Two: Zoom in on a group of people watching this woman, one table over. They are snickering, rolling their eyes, whispering among themselves. Maybe they are older than she is, making jokes about Narcissus and the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe they are all men, deeply affronted by a woman looking at herself with longing, a woman who is both the see-er and the seen, the courier of her own message. Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat. Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive. They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.

Space Oddity

Bee Lavender, on returning home to Seattle to visit her Aunt Mary.

Mary’s son Charlie was born later that year and I held him within hours of his arrival home from the hospital. I remember the shabby apartment they lived in, and the VW van my new uncle drove, and the fact that he was a gentle and sweet man. I also remember the fights between him and my aunt, which looked like any schoolyard scuffle, and that they carried their drugs around in the diaper bag. I was sad to lose that uncle when the marriage broke up; he was the nicest one I’d ever had.