Book News Roundup: Celebrate Sherman Alexie, Get a New Job, and Change the Font on Your E-Reader

  • Congratulations to Sherman Alexie, who is this year's Pierce County Library system selection for Pierce County Reads. The library chose five of Alexie's books for everyone in Pierce County to read. They are: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Flight, and War Dances. I wholeheartedly agree; everyone in Washington state should read all of those books.

  • Seattle Arts and Lectures is hiring a Program Associate for its Writers in the Schools program. If you support writing education for kids, this might be the job for you.

  • The lineup for the third Rainier Valley Lit Crawl has been announced. This one happens on March 5th. Start getting excited. One of the readings will happen at the Peruvian chicken joint Big Chickie, which surely represents some kind of a first in Seattle literary history.

  • Nationally, the book Twittersphere is very excited that Lisa Lucas, the former publisher of Guernica, has just been named the third Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, which oversees the National Book Awards.

  • Selma director Ava DuVernay is being pursued to direct a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. I would watch the hell out of that.

  • In the face of a consumer revolt, Amazon has changed the weight of a Helvetica font on its Kindle e-readers. Readers weren't happy when Amazon swapped out the font for a lighter version.

Songs are not poems in fancy clothing

Published February 10, 2016, at 12:01pm

Mairead Case review Simon Joyner's Only Love Can Bring You Peace.

It's one thing to love Simon Joyner's music. Is it possible to love the lyrics, when they're stripped of the music and bound in a book?

Read this review now

Meet Brad Craft, University Book Store's used book buyer

Brad Craft, the used book buyer at University Book Store, says he “didn’t grow up in a bookish atmosphere” — he didn’t have access to a good library, and none of his teachers introduced him to the joys of literature. Where did he learn to love books? “Yard sales,” he says. He was especially drawn to a certain type of book: “I’ve read more gothic romance novels than most men my age,” Craft explains. He assumed the bodice-rippers that he bought from his neighbors were classics of literature. “They looked like classics to me,” he says. The women on the covers “were in historical costumes,” after all, just maybe with a little more cleavage than you’d find on the cover of your typical Bronte book. For a long time, Craft says, “I couldn’t tell you the difference between a novelization of Airport ’77 and a Jane Austen novel.”

But he did eventually move on from the smut to the real classics: “I didn’t read Austen until I was in my late thirties, and then she was a revelation.” Now he’s obsessed, calling himself “a big set person.” At his home, he has matching sets of works by Fielding, Kipling, a 24-volume Balzac collection and “four sets of Dickens, I’m afraid.” What’s his favorite Dickens? “David Copperfield is close to my heart. I’ve read that more than all the others, including The Pickwick Papers. And I’m a big fan of The Old Curiosity Shop. I don’t even like allegory, but I think it’s a really exquisitely achieved allegory.” Craft has heard the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde that a reader “would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of [Curiosity Shop’s] little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter,“ but he disagrees: “I actually think it’s beautifully done.”

Craft worked at the late, lamented Stacey’s Books in San Francisco for 12 years. He’s done time at other used bookstores, and he even worked a handful of months in a corporate bookstore — “I had no emotional attachment to the place, but it did give me insights into the sale of things that happened to be books.” He can’t recall exactly how long he’s been at University Book Store — 12 or 13 years, give or take — but he knows that he helped convince management to add used books to the bookstore’s stock about a decade ago. He’s been behind the counter ever since.

Craft has been drawing since even before he could read. “My mother tells me that I drew before I talked. If she wanted me to be quiet and content, she just put a drawing implement in my hand and put me in the corner and I kept myself busy.” He started out copying John R. Neill’s illustrations from the Oz books, and even today he posts his bookish illustrations on his blog, Usedbuyer 2.0. A collection of his illustrations is for sale at University Book Store, and he sells author caricature calendars every December.

With all the talk about classics and used books, some might be surprised to learn that Craft is an avid podcaster. He’s been recording his Breakfast at the Bookstore show with Nick DiMartino for over a year now. “I’m a relatively late adopter of technology,” he admits, “but then I can become very enthusiastic.” Craft got into literary podcasts as a fan, but then he discovered that most of them were “over-specialized,” focusing only on specific subgenres of mystery, say, or certain types of science fiction. Instead, he wanted to do something a little broader, talking about all kinds of book-related topics with all kinds of guests.

Craft also headlines events at University Book Store on a regular basis. He reads Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” every year at the holidays — this last year was his eighth performance — and he’s also celebrated the birthdays of Dickens and Thackeray with readings, as well as a celebration of the poems of William Cowper. (“That was a barn-burner, right there,” he laughs.) “It allows me to serve ham three or four times a year,” Craft says, and it provides a rare opportunity for adults to sit and be read to, which is a pleasure that too many people give up after childhood. “I just think literature is meant to be read aloud,” Craft says. “The greatest literature needs to be put into the air now and again.”

What does Craft love most about University Book Store? “Perhaps its age more than anything else,” he says. “There’s a tradition here of respect both for the customers and the employees. They really want their booksellers to have things like health insurance and a livable wage. The values clearly are from an earlier era in a lot of ways — in a lot of good ways.”

The rule of thumb about questions in headlines — that most headline questions can be answered, simply, "no" — has never been more true than in this blog post, which is headlined "Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It?"

I didn't know that paid book reviews existed, but now I'm horrified to learn that they do. Here's the thing: if you're paying for a review, the likely audience of that review is just going to be a bunch of authors who have also paid for reviews. Readers can instinctively detect insincerity in a review, and these kinds of mercenary reviews are very likely to be poorly written. A poorly written book review is about as useful to society as Ted Cruz's thoughts on feminism.

Now that I know there's a whole paid-book-reviewing industry, I just want to state for the record that the Seattle Review of Books has never and will never accept money in exchange for book reviews. That flies in the face of the very idea of book reviewing.

Don't pay for book reviews. Pay for advertising instead. It's more honest. (And if I may, allow me to make a humble suggestion about the kind of not-terrible internet advertising you could buy.)

Last week, Joni Balter was nice enough to ask Steve Scher and me to interview Seattle librarian-legend Nancy Pearl on her show Civic Cocktail. I asked her how she felt about recent anti-book library policies taking root in the Seattle Public Library and in libraries around the country. You can watch the show below:

Excerpt from "Lyrebird"

Eve of the new year. Bitter cold city. I sit by the café window, bring the soup bowl to my lips. Someone in the park across the street is swinging high on a swing-set in the dark.

At least one keyhole has been stuffed with tissue by a previous tenant. So there is no seeing through.

A very partial morning. The things I am trying constantly to re-make, alter, edit, adjust. Bring myself always back to the path, and the path is hard to find. I do not always want it.

The early morning young mothers’ parade. A child I cannot see, screaming, “I need it! Give me!” Complete anguish of wanting.

A soft rain is falling, so fine it looks like dust in the air all around us, and everyone holds their umbrellas like a gift.

The knives come back sharper than they had ever been—sharper than new. We arranged them in the kitchen like an arsenal. We were afraid to put them away.

“What is your favorite place?” I asked the tree.
The place where I am.

Book about chimpanzee deemed essential reading for Seattle

Remember the "If All Seattle Read the Same Book" program that Nancy Pearl started almost twenty years ago? Did you know it's still going on? It's true! Only a few years ago, Seattle Public Library changed the title of the program from Nancy Pearl's super-cool name to the much-less-compelling "Seattle Reads." It's still basically the same idea: SPL has a ton of copies of one book, and the author appears at library branches all around town to talk about the book. Why did they change the name to something passive and un-catchy? I dunno.

Anyway, SPL announced this year's Seattle Reads choice on Friday afternoon, when nobody was paying attention. Here it is:

“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is about a middle-class American family, ordinary in every way except one: Mother and Dad (psychologists), brother Lowell, sisters Fern and Rosemary. The narrator, 18-year-old Rose, begins her story in the middle for a reason: “I was raised with a chimpanzee," she explains. "I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister. As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.”

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel written by Karen Joy Fowler, who is an excellent novelist. Fowler will be in town from May 20th through the 22nd. You should read the book and attend an events. If it helps, pretend the program is still called "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." Because that really is a better name.

From Solitaire to Otherlife

We're thrilled to have Kelley Eskridge back as a sponsor this week. Her fantastic book Solitaire has been turned into a feature film, titled Otherlife. That means it's time to read the book before the film arrives into the world. Read the entire first chapter on ours sponsors page. Also, check out Kelley's writing about what it was like to write this film based on her book.

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.

Time out of joint

Published February 08, 2016, at 11:53am

Paul Constant review Heidi Julavits's The Folded Clock.

A very disjointed review of Heidi Julavits's beautifully disjointed memoir, "The Folded Clock: A Diary."

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from February 8th - 14th

MONDAY Kick your week off right, with the very first “Ask the Oracle” event at the Sorrento Hotel. This is a new fortune-telling themed reading series from the Hugo House, and it’s got a great gimmick: audience members anonymously ask questions about their futures. The authors find answers to those questions in their books. Hugo House supplied a sample Q&A in the promotional materials:

Question: Should I move to a new city soon?

Answer (found by opening Richard Hugo’s Triggering Town to a random page ): “The 1944 Italy I remembered brown and gray and lifeless. Every city, every small town reeked.”

The readers/fortune tellers at this one are novelist Rebecca Makkai, screenwriter and novelist Ramon Isao, and local treasure/short story author Stacey Levine. Levine practically does divination in her readings on a regular basis anyway, so she’s an especially good choice to kick off the new format.

TUESDAY Hugo House hosts an event titled “Passing the Laurel.” It’s a reading that passes the symbolic baton from former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen to current Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall, with former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken hosting. That’s a lot of damn laureates.

WEDNESDAY At The Book Larder in Fremont, Jesse and Kit Schumann of fancy Seattle bakery Sea Wolf Bakers teach how to make their rye bread, which is reportedly life-changingly good. According to the Larder, class size “is limited to 10 students and [the $65 entry fee] includes a light snack, bread samples, and bread and sourdough starter to take home.”

THURSDAY Tonight, author Yann Martel reads at the central branch of the Seattle Public Library downtown. I am not a fan of Martel’s Man Booker Prizewinning novel The Life of Pi; I think it’s a book that tries way too hard to prove its cleverness to its readers. But it is beloved by many people, and if you are one of those people, you should consider coming to this reading from The High Mountains of Portugal, which is a novel told in three novellas.

FRIDAY It’s time for the Hugo Literary Series at the Hugo House. As with all the Literary Series events this year, three authors and a musician write new work in response to a cliché. Tonight’s cliché is “What goes around comes around.” Your readers are poet D. A. Powell, excellent novelist/Believer magazine co-founder Heidi Julavits, and fantastic poet Sierra Nelson. Your musician tonight — and this is very exciting — is OCnotes. Here’s a video of Notes at work:

SATURDAY Here’s a neat-sounding event for women only: Read and Bleed at Twilight Gallery in West Seattle. It’s a period-themed reading event for women. The poster promises that this event is for ““Different vagendas, one cliterati.” In the organizers’ own words, here’s what’s going on:

Who: WOMEN ONLY (Women-Identified ok)

Breastfeeding moms are welcome too.

What: A Space Devoted To Self-Care (Read and be Read To)

When: The Day Before Valentine's

Where: Twilight Gallery in West Seattle

Bring your favorite book, pillow, and blankie

Dress-code: Super Casual, as in PJs, sweats, yoga pants, fuzzy socks ... the kind of attire you wear when bleeding.


SUNDAY Spend your Valentine’s Day with UW professor of wildlife science John Marzluff, who reads at the Everett Public Library. His book Suburdia is about why suburbia has become home to diverse animal species, and how humans are supposed to share space with wildlife in the years ahead.

The Sunday Post for February 6, 2016

How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement

Vinson Cunningham profiles Chris Jackson, editor to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jay-Z, and others, and looks into why it's important for black writers to have a black editor.

"The great tradition of black art, generally," he started again, "is the ability — unlike American art in general — to tell the truth. Because it was formed around the great American poison, the thing that poisoned American consciousness and behavior: racism. And black culture, such as it is, was formed around a necessary resistance to this fundamental lie. That’s the obligation. And this is the power that black art has."

This power — the power of the unvarnished truth — is what is at stake when we talk about the problem of exclusion in the world of books. What believable version of American reality can be the product of an industry that, according to a recent survey, counts black people as just 4 percent of its employees? We can admit that race is not our only national reality without denying that it clarifies the workings of — and relations among — the others. A kind of American Rosetta Stone.

This is the unique claim on the truth that black art can make: It draws its energy from its embrace of hybridity, from a rejection of the illusion of American purity. The joy of expression and the sorrow of experience, properly commingled, might result in something new — and true.

What It Means To Be a Science Fiction Writer in the Early 21st Century

Charlie Jane Anders, with an optimistic look that the greatest years of science fiction lay ahead of us.

I believe that science fiction’s best days are ahead of it, because I have read a lot of science fiction. And if this genre has taught me anything, it’s optimism about human ingenuity—along with a belief that the unexpected is just around the corner. I’m not alone: Many people seem to feel like science fiction is healthier than ever.

Which is funny, when you consider that science fiction died in 2003, or maybe 2004.

The Problem with Female Superheroes

Don't let the headline fool you, this is no brottack on women and minorities ruining the great white superhero. Instead, this piece looks at how, although it's great to see so many superheroines getting the spotlight lately, not all is perfect between the panels. What does social research show about the influence of superheroines on girls?

But new research by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri suggests that, at least for women, the influence of superheroes is not always positive. Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire. Exposure to this, they show, can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.

Invisible Universe - Kickstarter Fund Project #5

Every week, the Seattle Review of Books backs a Kickstarter, and writes up why we picked that particular project. Read more about the project here. Suggest a project by writing to kickstarter at this domain, or by using our contact form.

What's the project this week?

The Invisible Universe Foundation a history of blackness in speculative fiction. We've put in $20.

Who is the Creator?

M. Asli Dukan.

What do they have to say about the project?

The Invisible Universe Foundation is dedicated to researching and promoting the history of African Americans in speculative fiction (fantasy, horror and science fiction) literature, cinema and related multimedia through the activities of archiving and producing literary and media materials and presenting cultural events.

The first project is the Invisible Universe documentary which explores the relationship between the Black body and popular fantasy, horror and science fiction literature and film and the alternative perspectives produced by creators of color. This documentary features interviews with major writers, scholars, artists and filmmakers and explores comics, television, film and literature by deconstructing stereotyped images of Black people in the genres. The Invisible Universe documentary ultimately reveals how Black creators have been consciously creating their own universe.

What caught your eye?

Well, first we need to say that this is not a Kickstarter. This project was run as an IndieGoGo project that raised $6,616 (out of a $20,000 goal), and has now raised an additional $11,942 on the Fractured Atlas platform.

What caught our eye was the scope, ambition, and need of the project. While exploring how modern black writers like Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney (just to name two) deal with the (relatively) current world of black America through their fiction, Dukan also found the Black Utopianists writers of the 19th century who did a similar thing in their time. Check out this beautiful graphic that shows this timeline.

From the clip (below), and the website (be sure to check it out), you'll get a sense of the style of the work, and what she's going for. I so want to see this film. It looks marvelous.

Why should I back it?

Did you look at that graphic? Down at the bottom, with all the writers ghosted on the poster, there is Octavia Butler, and a few people to her right, Nisi Shawl. Seattle is well represented. Wouldn't it be amazing to send some support back?

How's the project doing?

If the original $20,000 for the IndieGoGo is a measure, there's still $1,500 or so to go. But, my god, making films is expensive and complicated. I'm sure this crew could use every bit we could send there way.

Do they have a video?

Kickstarter Fund Stats
  • Projects backed: 5
  • Funds pledged: $100
  • Funds collected: $40
  • Unsuccessful pledges: 0
  • Fund balance: $940

"Welcome to our bookstore. We sell books that cannot be printed."

The headline of this post is the motto of Editions at Play, a new digital bookstore teamup between London publisher Visual Editions and Google. According to Emiko Jozuka at Motherboard, the digital books are crosses between books, movies, and video games.

“We wanted to think about what we could do online that we couldn’t do in print. How could we make books that still feel bookish—so they are books that you would read— but that you could experience as well given they are visual,” Anna Gerber, the co-creative director for Editions at Play, told me over the phone.

Maybe this sounds strange for the co-founder of a book review site to say, but I'm excited to read some of these titles, especially Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen, the author of the wonderful (and, in its own way, multimedia) The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet. I've always been disappointed that e-books are just a replica of physical books; if you have the capacity to use multiple techniques to tell a story, why wouldn't you?

I certainly don't think Editions at Play will ever replace physical books, but they could become a medium of their own, like comics. To do that, they need a name of their own; Vladimir Verano at Third Place Books calls them "hydras."

A Hydra will engage the reader/viewer in a multi-sensory manner; as one reads, sound effects may well up, then, at a vital moment in the story it might shift into a video clip, which might be overlaid with music or, audio narration of the text. The trend of creating 'book trailers' hints at the Hydra's possibilities. But let's make one thing clear: the Hydra is NOT a book. At least it shouldn't be. If publishers attempt to simply create what would amount to a book with Ads and some noise, then everyone loses out on new ways to tell stories.

I don't know if that particular name will stick, but it's certainly a good step forward. We need to be more intentional with how we name new technologies; otherwise, we wind up with terrible, ugly monster words like "vape."

Cecilia Woloch, whose most recent poetry collection was from Washington publisher Two Sylvias Press, has a wonderful poem in the New York Times today. "Wild Common Prayer" is a poem with long, luxurious lines about an encounter with a familiar friend in uncertain territory. It's definitely worth a lunchtime investigation.

The Help Desk: The high cost of oonce oonce oonce oonce

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,

Help! My boyfriend and I are both serious readers. We spend most of our nights in working through our piles of books. We even got rid of our TV.

But we didn't get rid of our stereo, and he insists on having it on while he reads. He listens to the most awful club music, all "oonce oonce oonce oonce”. It drives me crazy. I literally cannot concentrate while all that racket is on. He says if it’s too quiet, something feels wrong to him, and he can’t focus. It's like he has a second person in his brain, who he needs to distract so that he can read.

We've been alternating nights, one with music, one without, but the person who can't read that night just ends up on the goddamnned computer, cranky because they’d rather be reading their book. What can we do to address this?

Mark, on Harvard

Dear Mark,

You know who else hates "oonce oonce oonce" music? Spiders. Nothing saps the serenity of a bookish night at home more than seeing hundreds of spiders skittering about, angrily drumming thousands of tiny legs on your walls as if to spell in morse code T-U-R-N-T-H-A-T-F-O-U-L-S-H-I-T-O-F-F.

Fortunately, Valentines Day is upon us. Call me old fashioned but I can't think of a more romantic gift to get your bf than a pregnant wolf spider. If you were not aware, wolf spiders are agile hunters (with positively buxom abdomens, if you're into that sort of thing) who dislike music of any sort – even Buena Vista Social Club, a universal spider favorite! – and are known to release venom when provoked.

Alternately, you could buy your bf a quality pair of headphones. Or buy yourself a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. What you cannot do is buy your spiders headphones. The technology simply is not there.



Liam O'Brien at Melville House looks at Texas booksellers who are trying to come to terms with the state's new open carry law. Many bookstores are banning guns:

I have always believed that bookstores are forums for all ideas, but I also understand that the free exchange of those ideas can be hindered (if not entirely obstructed) when one party in the conversation holds a deadly weapon.

And one enterprising bookseller is actively encouraging guns:

Brave New Books is offering a 10 percent discount to all customers open-carrying in their store.

I know where I'd rather shop.

Portrait Gallery: Ivar Haglund

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

Here's a painting of Seattle's own beloved son Ivar Haglund. Folk singer, restauranteur, accidental port commissioner, trouble-maker, inveterate punner (he's listed as the "flounder" of his seafood restaurant, Ivar's), and of mixed Scandehoovian lineage (his mother was Norwegian and his father was Swedish, nearly a Capulet/Montague situation). On Sunday, come to the West Seattle branch of the Seattle Public Library to hear historian Paul Dorpat discuss Haglund's life and legacy.

Unfortunately, McDonald's is distributing those books via Happy Meal.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Bernie Sanders, comic book hero

Last year, cartoonist Ted Rall visited Seattle with Snowden, a comic book biography of Edward Snowden. (I reviewed Snowden and interviewed Rall onstage at Town Hall.) Only a half-year later, Rall’s back, and reading at Town Hall tonight from his brand-new Bernie Sanders biography, Bernie.

Bernie and Snowden share many qualities. Rall makes them easy to read for comics newbies, pretty much drawing a single panel per page. They’re both openly advocating for their subjects — if you’re looking for objectivity, you shouldn’t be picking up a book by Rall in the first place — and they both provide plenty of context to establish the central figures within their time.

Bernie opens with a long, substantial explanation of how the Democratic party leaned to the right in response to George McGovern’s crushing defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon. Rall argues that the party has drifted steadily rightward ever since. (I would counter-argue that Barack Obama is a decidedly more liberal president than Bill Clinton, but I freely admit that this criticism might fall along partisan, rather than aesthetic, lines; in any event, Rall makes a convincing case and supports it with plenty of evidence.)

Ultimately, Bernie isn’t as good a book as Snowden was. It feels rushed, and the many pages depicting a cartoon Sanders speaking are less visually interesting than the explanatory illustrations of Snowden. Too much of the book is spent on a straight-up biography of Sanders, describing his first, failed marriage and his many runs for office. Perhaps it sounds odd to criticize a biography for being too focused on biographical details, but in a presidential year it seems as though it would be more useful to examine Sanders’s policies in more detail, to explain why they’re not too far removed from the global mainstream. Rall mentions many of the policies in passing — single-payer health care most particularly — but a thorough description of them would do wonders to normalize Sanders for a more skeptical audience.

Rall does try to provide a warts-and-all portrait of Sanders, mentioning his occasional support for NRA-approved pro-gun laws and his support for President Obama's drone assassination program. He also brings up, but doesn’t fully address, two very important criticisms of the Sanders campaign: the belief that Sanders couldn’t win the presidency and the corresponding belief that even if he were to become president, he would be unable to break Congressional gridlock to achieve his lofty goals.

But Bernie is worth your time and attention if you’re looking for an explanation of how a decent man decides to run for president. It documents a long, honorable life of civic service and the ideological battle that is right now at the heart of the Democratic Party. When sharing a bookshelf with Snowden, the two books make up a duology of honor and responsibility and citizenship. In a presidential election year, this might be exactly what the American people need to read.