The Help Desk: So you're a man's man who loves romance novels

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,

In the military I was taught to keep it high and tight—that's my hair, of course, but also a good attitude towards life. Efficient, controlled, prepared, and to the point. But, it turns out, I have a certain softness for rich Victorian fiction that curls in on itself and never leaves any aside unsaid. Middlemarch has stolen my heart. Jane Austen makes me giggle. Cienna, I'm a man's man. I should be reading spy novels and hard stuff. What is it about those books? What the hell is wrong with me?

Burt in Burien

Dear Burt,

No one is asking you to make your own beef jerky out of old cow parts, ejaculate on a pile of fawning virgins, or any other questionable chores ascribed to the elusive “man’s man.” There’s no conflict with loving military precision and efficiency, and enjoying romance novels. In fact, the two are very complementary.

A good romance novel allows you to suspend logic and control for a few hours and be swept up in an emotional story that manages to be dramatic through its inevitable happy ending. We all want happy endings; that’s the allure of the genre. And massage.

In fact, last month, after a particularly bad date that took place at a supermarket cheese counter – where I ingested an hour’s worth of free cubes while chanting, “My God, Cienna, which vindictive crone did you offend to deserve this romantic hellscape?” – I curled up with a Tillamook baby loaf and a feminist romance novel and read until I believed in the concept of romance again (the lurid sex scenes that somehow never include the word “penis” helped).

There is nothing wrong with you. I suspect your military buddies could say that you have shitty taste in books but it would be a pity to deny them that – one of life’s sweetest pleasures is judging other people’s reading lists. Plus, it’s not like you’re carrying around a signed copy of Left Behind.

I suggest you join a book club filled with people (most likely women) who will be thrilled to discuss Victorian bodice rippers with you and very impressed by how poetically you can describe a penis and breasts without ever using the word “penis” and “breasts.” Or, if you’re not quite ready to be out-and-proud about your taste in books, at least consider these feminist historical romance writers: Courtney Milan, Cecelia Grant and Sarah MacLean. I bet you’ll enjoy them.

KISSES,

Cienna

Portrait Gallery: Kate Beaton

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

Kate Beaton's new collection Step Aside, Pops is available now, and absolutely delightful.

After noting the news yesterday that e-book sales have dipped ten percent in the first five months of this year, I stumbled across this post on Good E-Reader, which indicates that e-books might be doing even worse than the numbers are letting on:

At Book Expo America last April, [e-book retailer] Kobo dived deep into global reading behavior and analyzed the data. They found that 60% of e-books that are purchased from their complete line of apps, e-readers, tablets and via the web are never opened. Interestingly, the more expensive the book was, the more likely the reader would at least start it.

Another tech firm found that "40 to 45% of e-books never get opened." Those numbers can't be sustainable; is there any other mass-market product (besides maybe condoms) where around half of all purchased items are never used?

Opening the Folio

Last night, in a stately room beneath the downtown YMCA, David Brewster welcomed a few dozen people to Folio, the Seattle Athenaeum. Brewster has done a lot of introducing in his life as a Seattleite — he’s the founder of the Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com, and Town Hall Seattle. But you could argue that he’s never tried anything as ambitious as Folio before.

Brewster offered a brief overview of the athenaeum concept: originated by Benjamin Franklin as a way to help alleviate the high cost of books, athenaeums were private libraries dedicated to the prospect of “mutual improvement” — places where people could come together to read, write, and discuss literature. There are 19 athenaeums in the United States; when Folio opens in January of next year, it will be the 20th, but only the third on the west coast.

Folio is starting to come together quite nicely. The architecture of the downtown Y building is gorgeous, with high ceilings and intricate woodwork. As of right now, the space is made up of a few large rooms — they’re intended to be work and reading spaces, with varying degrees of quietude from “coworking” to “silence” — and a whole lot of books arranged in very little order on some IKEA shelves spread around the building. Brewster explained that the books will be organized into sections as in a bookstore, and they will be available for withdrawal from the library for paying members.

Folio will also be home to “author programs, civic programs, and music programs,” including events put on by a number of partners. Brewster gestured over to a large study and said that perhaps on Monday mornings a Proust discussion group will gather there, while on Thursday nights people might come together to read the works of Balzac. Folio has signed a 13-year lease for the space, and at this time next year it will expand into a similar set of rooms in the basement below the current space.

Brewster introduced Lisa Sanders, who had been hired just 36 hours before as Folio's first librarian. Sanders briefly sketched her life as a librarian, from the one-room library she patronized as a child in Maine to her work as a research librarian at the Gates Foundation. Sanders described her time in libraries largely through various infestations she has had to deal with — bats, squirrels, silverfish — and said that her primary love as a librarian is creating something new and of lasting value. Her excitement was palpable.

Guest speaker Knute Berger offered some historical perspective on libraries in Seattle. Seattle had its first library, Berger explained, before it had a working plumbed bath tub. He gave a brief overview of some of the first books ever introduced to the Seattle Public Library’s collections, including three books by Harriet Beecher Stowe that were not Uncle Tom’s Cabin and three books by J.G. Holland, a once-popular author who is now virtually forgotten.

It’s always exciting when a project is on the cusp of becoming something real — especially a project like Folio, which Brewster said has been in the works for about two years. It’s hard to look at the space and not picture someone curled up with a hardcover in the leather chair over by the window overlooking Marion Street, or a group of people sitting around a table discussing Sherman Alexie’s latest poetry collection, or someone closing herself in one of the private offices off to the side of the working stations and setting to work on her own novel.

But plenty of questions hang over the athenaeum. Will Seattleites really pay $120 a year (less for students and young people) for a library when one of the world’s most beautiful libraries is just up the street offering free membership to everyone? The crowd last night was almost 100 percent white; does Folio have any sort of a plan for diversifying its membership? In a city teeming with great literary events every night of the week, is there room for one more venue offering readings and book clubs?

Considering Brewster’s track record and the talent he’s accumulated to join the campaign for Folio, it seems as though he has a pretty good shot at succeeding. (Members of the campaign include Town Hall’s Stesha Brandon, Phinney Books’s Tom Nissley, Steve Scher, Garth Stein, and Mark Wessel.) Based on the audience last night, people seem eager to help in any way they can, donating rugs and furniture and time for the cause.

At the end of the night, Brewster indicated that Folio’s most pressing need, at the moment, was for donations of books. He promised the crowd that if they donate to the athenaeum, “we can take good care of your books, and we can put them in the hands of good people.” As a mission statement, that’s pretty compelling stuff.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Nameless finally gets off to a strong start

Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s comic Nameless is on its fifth issue this week, but it wasn’t until this issue that the premise of the series really hit home for me: it’s Armageddon, only the asteroid is haunted. That’s about as high concept as you can get, and if Morrison is nothing else, he’s fundamentally skilled at high concept.

It’s a pity that Nameless didn’t start off very well. The story opened in media res, with a nameless dabbler in the supernatural — well, to be specific, his name is Nameless — being recruited to fend off the asteroid Xibalba. The quick start perhaps wouldn’t have been as big of a problem if Morrison weren’t in his hyper-frustrating opaque mode, refusing to offer much by way of explanation for anything on the page. (Everyone knows too much exposition is a bad thing, especially in comics, but sometimes Morrison’s scripts practically throb for more explanation.)

But over the next four issues, as Morrison’s intent became more and more clear, Nameless became more and more interesting. The threat evolved into something imposing, the blending of astronauts and mysticism was explored in a little more depth, and the reader was granted enough understanding to care why everyone was doing what they were doing. This is a monthly comic that will improve drastically when it is all bound between two covers in trade paperback form.

One aspect of Nameless that is beyond complaint is Chris Burnham’s art. Burnham is one of those hyper-detailed cartoonists like Geoff Darrow or Frank Quitely, the sort of artist who can draw a complex facial expression in just a few feathery lines but then spends seemingly weeks fastidiously rendering every single water spot on the chrome of the kitchen sink in the background of the panel. That blend of cartoonishness and realism works especially well for a horror series; the familiarity of a simplistic cartoon face lulls the reader into complacency, even as a monstrous betentacled demon blossoms open behind the face, with every single vein in the creature’s eye fastidiously rendered. On a visceral level, this screams something-is-wrong into the reader’s face. It’s intrinsically unsettling.

Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring, too, is exceptional. He aspires to realism in some of the scenes — a few pages in issue 5, when a group of people wander into a spooky mansion, are glowing with gentle candlelight and the warmth of burnished wood — but then a few pages later he unleashes a full-page gaudy psychedelic tableau on the reader, an explosion of turquoise and lavender and vivid, toxic red.

Nameless issue 5 is where the whole series comes together. It tells more of Nameless’s story, explaining why he was in such dire straits at the start of issue number 1. On reading this issue, with its gore and melodrama and Lovecraftian pastiche, I was left wondering why Morrison didn’t start the series off here. With a concept like this, Morrison could’ve afforded to take his time and develop the threat a little more cautiously, starting as a “normal” paranormal comic and then building to the mystic astronaut angle. Perhaps when the miniseries is done and we can see the full canvas of Morrison’s story, this decision will make sense, but for now it reeks of a squandered opportunity.

Last week, I gave a talk at Ignite Seattle about the state of Seattle's literary scene, Amazon, and the future of literature. Here it is:

The submissions form for the next Ignite Seattle is now open; you can submit at any point between now and January 8th. I would recommend it. I'm not going to lie: the Ignite format, with its ever-advancing slideshow and its no-notes rule, is very intimidating. Public speaking doesn't freak me out, but the Ignite was downright scary. But the staff is super-friendly and supportive, and they supply all kinds of useful personalized advice and coaching for speakers. Honestly, they could charge for the quality of teaching they provide. If you ever wanted to communicate a message to a room full of 900 attentive folks, this is your best opportunity. Go apply now.

It matters that Kickstarter has reformed as a public benefit corporation

It’s obvious to anybody who has worked with Kickstarter: they really do walk the walk. To their core, they believe in the ethos of creation, and that their platform is a good way to empower creative people to fund their projects. Or, as the case often is, to test their idea in a very functional way and see if it has any legs.

But if you think of Kickstarter as a place where people make ridiculous coolers, tech gadgets, or million-selling games, you probably missed this part of their mission. Or, perhaps, that part of the mission seems like marketing fluff overlaid on an aggressively capitalist idea. Their announcement Sunday that they are reforming as a public benefit corporation underlines their ethos in a strong way.

That means, instead of going public and cashing out, Kickstarter is staying privately held. Being a public benefit corporation doesn’t change the ability to go private, but they are committing themselves to reporting and corporate responsibility in somewhat difficult and stringent ways. For example, they will report every year on their environmental and social performance, instead of every two, as is expected for a benefit corp. They also donate 5%, after taxes, to arts and equality causes, and have agreed to forgo loopholes or other means to circumvent taxes.

Why does this matter for publishing? At the XOXO festival last week, C. Spike Trotman talked about starting a comics publishing house when no distributor would touch her work. Using Kickstarter, she was able to find a following of dedicated fans and buyers that lead to her building Iron Circus Comics. Kickstarter allows creators, authors, and publishers to go direct to the consumers, circumventing any traditional gatekeepers.

It’s this independent ethos that lead me to run my own Kickstarter to publish my first novel instead of going through traditional channels. It allowed the scale of publishing to be smaller, where I could make a book run of 500 copies or so instead of thousands, and at the very least, break even doing it. Even after paying artists and editors for their help.

I asked Maris Kreizman, publishing outreach for Kickstarter (herself a creator! The amazing Slaughterhouse 90210 is hers, soon to be a book from Macmillian) if she had a comment on the change, and how it would affect indie creators:

“It’s more important than ever to create new opportunities for lesser-heard voices in publishing. Reincorporating as a Benefit Corporation renews our longstanding commitment to arts and culture, and part of that includes an explicit commitment to support creators from all walks of life and to signal boost marginalized voices.”

Exactly. Go Kickstarter. Let’s see more corporations putting their money where their mouths are.

Alexandra Alter at the New York Times reports that e-book sales have slipped for the first time in recent memory.

Now, there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

In addition, we've got more indepedent bookstores in America than we did in 2010: "The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago." In other words, e-books are here to stay, but so are print books. This is good news for everybody: we want more readers in the world, not less. And we want to get those books in front of readers in every way possible — in e-book format, in print, in audio. Books aren't going anywhere.

The staff of Seattle Mystery Bookshop recommends mysteries for people who think they hate mysteries

As I’ve gotten to know the staff of our September Bookstore of the Month a little better, I realized that Seattle Mystery Bookshop’s greatest strength is in its recommendations. The staff is impossibly well-versed in the genre. So I thought I’d ask them for some recommendations for our readers, particularly those of you out there who would never normally consider giving a mystery a try. Thanks so much to Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner JB Dickey and his staff (Fran, Adele, and Amber) for agreeing to do this. If any of these titles interests you, please stop by Seattle Mystery Bookshop to check them out, and tell them the Seattle Review of Books sent you. If you’re not in Seattle, feel free to order directly from their website; all the books are linked for your convenience.

In your opinion, what's the best single mystery for someone who thinks they hate mysteries?

JB: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye – as much a novel about friendship as a mystery, and there are set-pieces of Chandler’s literature that are not to be missed.

Fran: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a building thunderstorm, it’s brilliant. And it doesn’t read like a mystery, but there’s a mystery at the heart of it.

Amber: There are so many! For those with an urban fantasy bent, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a great place to start. The story centers on a woman who has her personality/memories stolen; she needs to find out who did this to her as well as who is a traitor to the crown. This book has a strong heroine who never falls into the trap of relying on a romantic relationship to save the day! If you are looking for a classic I would highly suggest Endless Night by Agatha Christie. It moves along really well, is one of the author’s favorites, and is an absolute classic! Not quite as well-known as And Then There Were None, Murder Of Roger Ackroyd or Murder On The Orient Express – it’s a good one to start with because you run into less spoilers in pop culture as to whodunit!

What the best mystery series for someone who think they hates mystery series?

JB: Craig Johnson’s Longmire series – literate, funny, moving books about the people and landscape with echoes of everything American. Easy to read them and love them and to not think of them as "mysteries." You have to read them in order because there are hints of things to come and references to past books in each.

Fran: Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield series is great. Jane is a Seneca woman who helps people with legitimate reasons to disappear. Her rules are stringent and she will die before revealing her secrets. I was initially skeptical about a man writing from a woman’s perspective, but I have to say that Mr. Perry has created a truly unique, intriguing and captivating series. Start with Vanishing Act. But too, I have to agree with JB about the Longmire series!

Adele: Louise Penny’s Gamache series. At the start of the series, Gamache is Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec who is always investigating happenings in Three Pines, a lovely village in southern Quebec where we all want to live despite the fact that people are always dying there. Louise has developed characters that you care about and cannot wait until the next book to see what happens. The series didn’t really catch me until the second book but they must be read in order (the first may not be skipped) due to the development of the main characters. When I first came to work at the bookshop, I ended up reading a lot of authors so that I could answer the question of “now that I am caught up with the Louise Penny series, what am I going to read until the next book?” Still Life is the first in the series. And let me echo JB and Fran about Craig Johnson!

Amber :This one is tricky…most of the reluctant readers I run into are kids. So the series I always suggest to them are for middle graders and up – Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, which features Jennifer Strange, the acting manager for Kazaam (an employment agency for wizards) who finds herself embroiled in a plot to kill the last dragon in England. This whole series has a great sense of humor and never takes itself too seriously — there are a bunch of single kids’ titles which are great, but Jasper Fforde’s series is one of my all time favorites!

What’s the best mystery you've read lately?

JB: Don Winslow’s The Cartel, A David Lean saga of the horrific drug war along the US/Mexican border – timely and timeless lyrically told.

Fran: I just finished the science-fiction thriller Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein. Holy cow! Solid science (which could be overwhelming or boring but isn’t,) people to care about, clever humor, and non-stop action. Quite possibly the best of 2015, in my opinion.

Adele: Paul Cleave’s Trust No One. A mystery writer is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and his career is ending. His twelve books contain stories of brutal murders committed by very awful men. As his mental balance breaks down, he starts confessing to horrible crimes. Did he commit them or has his writing world collapsed into his reality? I have never wanted to skip to the end of a book so badly. I didn’t and held out to the shocking end. This and The Cartel are the two of the best but JB got to the Winslow first!

Amber: Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot. Set in modern London, it is about Constable Peter Grant who discovers a witness to a brutal murder. The only thing is this witness is a ghost and when he lets this slip to Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, his entire career takes a left-hand turn. Each book has its own crime, plus an overarching storyline which builds in tension with each book. It is one of the few police procedurals based on magic, which I find absolutely fantastic.

Mail call for September 22, 2015

This wasn’t a part of the SRoB haul, but we did take delivery of 550 books from the printers this weekend. For those of you who don’t work in publishing, here’s what 550 books packed on a pallet look like:

Oyster, which trumpeted itself as "the Netflix of books" when it launched a couple of years ago, is closing down. (They were never able to resolve that most basic of questions: isn't the "Netflix of Books" a library?) But most of the Oyster team seems to be moving to Google Play's Books division.

Does this mean Google is about to launch an all-you-can-read e-book subscription service? Who cares? Probably. We'll find out eventually.

The real question for Google Play Books is this: why do you think it's okay to ban content for "images of nudity with no educational or artistic value?" And some follow-up questions: Who decides what is of artistic or educational value? Do you believe that bookselling is a public good, or is it merely a commercial venture? Because the world doesn't need a Netflix for books, but it does need booksellers who allow their customers to choose what they want to read. In an online marketplace of infinite size, there is no reason why Google should be cutting out books with adult themes.

Wow! Anyone who follows Between the World and Me author Ta-Nehisi Coates knows that he's an ardent comics fan, but I certainly didn't see this coming. The New York Times says:

...it seems only natural that Marvel has asked Mr. Coates to take on a new Black Panther series set to begin next spring. Writing for that comics publisher is a childhood dream that, despite the seeming incongruity, came about thanks to his day job. “The Atlantic is a pretty diverse place in terms of interest, but there are no comics nerds,” besides himself, Mr. Coates said in an interview. His passions intersected in May, during the magazine’s New York Ideas seminar, he interviewed Sana Amanat, a Marvel editor, about diversity and inclusion in comic books. Ms. Amanat led the creation of the new Ms. Marvel, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City, based on some of her own childhood experiences. “It was a fruitful discussion,” he recalled.

Black Panther will be illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. And of course there will be a movie of the character released in 2018, so it's quite possible Coates's story might wind up being adapted to film. I can't wait for this comic to start.

‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance’

I can’t recommend writing
letters to gods olden or
now—they’re all traitors
at some point, serfdom
                              *sending

us their garbled txts via rep,    via courtier  copywriter
                                                          via *courier
experiments in
                 I didn’t mean
                 to say

architect  sophistry  supercomputer  skyrocket
          *autocorrect
          *autotext

in sufficiency
          *authority,                               in obstructions.
                                                             *instructions.
                                                             *obstructions?

Lab coats spook me with their pen-headed hedges,
their blanknesses.

We are held together by a line
of discs. Filled like a donut,
doctor said. Id est,
sacs of sweet & jam
waiting to burst.

ㅎㅎㅎ

I dislike being seen through.

Time calls Place, who pretends not to be there,
doesn’t pick up, dials Time
back  & leaves a joke message about being
trapped in elevators, batteries
dying—     static  something      static
& every other
                        what?      I can’t here.
You.
I’ve left
                                           some billets-doux wrapped in paper.
            One like a rope
            from the animal’s throat.
                                          One like a fist
                                          from its heart.

The old butchers insist on truths, lest there be mis sed conceptions:

     “Throat”     “Heart”

Both fare but old-fashioned.
Frequently, they come “connected”—
the “heart” in the “throat,”    the “fist” “wrapped” with “rope.”
The “heart” favored, so
more dear,
more        courtly
                  ghostly
                  *costly.

Like sweet little breads, our delicacies, too,
gradually disappear after turned out to grass. So let us

                  nod to one another
                  like “friends.”

(When lonely, I fill up
with souvenirs, trombones.
My fist can hold 10,000 balloons.)

It seems there is no rest.

I download & hide
                  in a “cloud.”

I split the giant.

What does a lamp do in the dark?
Because the black bulb does not look right to live in.

No, Narcissus!
Rise. In place of remembrance,
be “productive.” Divide. Fill, fill—
fill the contract.

Stuff the emperors with donkeys.
Slap little penguins in     the katy
                                               the great the neat the near the best
                                               the nasty the jay
                                               the * * * * *

Punch in. Log in. Do not forget to save,
post. Transfer. Other things

remain classified, too powerful to look in the face.


Emotion. Spring. Daffodils. Stillness. Dust.

Make plans to visit the Seattle Antiquarian Bookfair, October 10th & 11th

You may have noticed a new style of sponsorship on the site today: event sponsorship. Our inaugural partner for this is the Seattle Antiquarian Bookfair, an annual rare books and ephemera festival now in its twenty-eighth year. Read more about the fair, and mark it in your calendars: October 10th & 11th — and thanks to them for sponsoring the site.

We’ve been asked a few times — how are the sponsorships going? We think they’re going great. We originally released a block of inventory through January at a discounted rate of $100 a week. Of that, we’ve only got 8 weeks left. If you’re thinking about sponsoring, now would be the time to reserve your week.

With all the hullaballoo over online advertising lately, we’re proud to offer a product that is relevant, real, and we think, good content. We’re proud of our partners so far, and hope you’ve been enjoying them. Remember to take a look each week. It’s part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100% less terrible.

Juvenile, detention

Published September 21, 2015, at 12:45pm

Paul Constant review Colleen Frakes's Prison Island.

Local cartoonist Colleen Frakes grew up on a prison island in Washington state. Her comic book memoir proves that this situation was even weirder, and even more normal, than you might suspect.

Read this review now

Help Seattle Public Library remember that books and librarians are what matter most

Over the last two days, we’ve seen a lot of outrage on local social media over the Seattle Public Library’s rebranding. You can see what SPL is considering through their survey, where they’re “seeking public comment on a proposed new name and logo design.” The name change would be to “Seattle Public Libraries,” and the logo design would involve either a few patterns that are apparently loosely based on the windows of the downtown branch of the Library or a series of connected dots.

Some are upset that the Seattle Public Library is considering their brand at all, or that they’re spending a third of a million dollars on the rebranding program. Frankly, it would be hypocritical of me to agree with those people about the folly of branding, since the Seattle Review of Books co-founder Martin McClellan and I put a lot of thought and consideration into the appearance of the site on which I’m publishing these words. However noxious and/or smarmy the surrounding marketing language may be, branding is an essential part of an organization.

And the argument that the Seattle Public Library should spend the rebranding money on materials instead is a specious one, too. Nobody would think twice if a private business with a $65 million annual budget spent a third of a million dollars on a branding campaign. Brands are how the public relates to organizations, and vice versa. The Seattle Public Library interacts with people through their brand, they advocate for themselves through their brand, and they raise awareness of their services through their brand. I understand that it’s unpleasant to think of a civic treasure like the library as a business that has to continually promote awareness of their products and services, but this is important stuff.

With all that said, people absolutely are correct to be upset about this rebranding campaign; they’re just focusing their energies on the wrong part of the argument.

The sad truth is, library executive boards around the country for the last decade have formulated a new strategy for survival in the 21st century, and that strategy is to move away from books and librarians and toward broader community activities. Years ago, I spoke with a number of SPL librarians who were upset that leadership had devalued their expertise in favor of more unskilled library volunteers. The feeling among librarians at SPL has been that too much money and too many resources have gone to executives and administration at the library while librarians have been ignored. Librarians, too, have advocated against policy changes that they argue ignore poor library patrons in favor of more affluent groups.

The stories I linked to in the above paragraph are all years old, but this quote from new SPL city librarian Marcellus Turner in the Seattle PI indicates that the cultural shift away from books and librarians still continues today:

The Seattle Public Library is about books, but we are so much more… [a]n updated look and name will better reflect what our library system is today -- active community hubs where residents learn, grow and gather throughout their lives.

This is echoed by SPL’s proposed new brand statement from the user survey. According to the site, the “brand statement is one of the guiding principles of the organization,” and here it is:

The Library provides access to knowledge, experiences and learning for all. We preserve and create opportunities for the people of Seattle who make it such a dynamic and desirable place to live. When we’re empowered as individuals, we become STRONGER TOGETHER.

Leaving aside the highly unnecessary use of all-caps at the end, this is an incredibly generic statement and, most importantly, it doesn’t mention books or librarians. It’s symbolic of the larger cultural shift happening at SPL.

Look, I’m absolutely in favor of SPL’s many community programs, and I understand that libraries should not be just repositories for books. SPL provides tax and employment assistance, learning and outreach programs for kids, internet access for poor and homeless Seattleites, and any number of community service programs. These are wonderful, worthy programs.

But would it kill SPL leadership to publicly promote their amazing librarians as a resource every now and again? The conventional wisdom among library executives these days might be that Google has devalued librarians, but that conventional wisdom is wrong. Librarians are resources for research, they’re providers of social services, they’re community organizers, they’re translators, they’re child-care workers. A trained and educated librarian is maybe the friendliest, most cost-effective interface that the city government has with its citizens. And this library can’t even mention them in their brand statement? Here’s a message for SPL: Librarians are your brand. They’re the reason that people think warmly of SPL, not your logo or the typeface on your website. Without your librarians, SPL, you would be nothing.

So as you fill out SPL’s branding survey, I’d like to remind you that this is maybe the most direct way that you as a citizen can access the attention of SPL leadership. And what you do with this attention is important. Simply lodging a complaint about the cost or banality of a rebranding program is a missed opportunity; I’d encourage you to take the opportunity to remind SPL exactly what their brand is. Maybe suggest a new branding statement that promotes librarians and books as an integral part of the library experience, something like:

The Library provides access to knowledge, experiences, and learning for all. Our librarians preserve and create opportunities for the people of Seattle; our books and other materials inspire Seattleites to make this city such a dynamic and desirable place to live. When we’re empowered as individuals, we become a stronger community.

I want Seattle Public Library’s rebranding to succeed; I want the library to advocate for itself as simply and strongly as possible. But a library whose leadership doesn’t publicly acknowledge their greatest resources — their books and librarians — is a library that doesn’t appreciate its own brand in the first place.

It’s obvious to anyone who looks at this survey that SPL is an organization that is suffering a crisis of character. Help remind them that their organizational soul comes down to two simple words: books and people. A library without librarians and books is a community center. We have lots of community centers in Seattle, and we could always use more. But without libraries staffed with skilled librarians and stocked with books this city would wither and die.

Your Week in Readings: The Best Literary Events from September 21 - 27

MONDAY Your week begins at University Book Store, where Fran Wilde reads from her new fantasy novel Updraft. It’s set in a world “built in towers of living bone” and stars a main character who has the “ability to control the invisible predators that roam the skies with her voice.” That sounds entirely bonkers, and is therefore worthy of our respect.

TUESDAY Elliott Bay Book Company brings Joy Williams to town for what they acknowledge is a “rare” visit. Williams is largely regarded as a master of American fiction, and her name is often dropped in the same sentence as writers like Flannery O’Connor. If you like short stories, I’d recommend her collection Honored Guest. She debuts a new story collection, The Visiting Privilege, here tonight.

WEDNESDAY The reading series Lit Fix pops up in Belltown tonight with a great lineup: Kevin Maloney, Jeanine Walker, and short-story author (and Instant Future publisher) Matthew Simmons, as well as musician Steven Curtis. But tonight’s Lit Fix is also a big deal because it’s the last local public appearance of local writer Kelly Davio before she moves to London. Davio gave a great interview to the Seattle Review of Books about why she’s leaving town and what she’ll most miss about Seattle a week or so ago. Here’s your chance to go show your support for her.

THURSDAY You’ll want to visit Hugo House for the latest installment of Cheap Beer & Prose, where the beer is cheap ($1 per can of PBR) and the readers are guaranteed to be good. Tonight’s readers include Jean Burnet, Kevin Emerson, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, and Jay McAleer.

FRIDAY Philip Howard, a professor at the University of Washington reads at Town Hall from his book Pax Technica, which reimagines the internet as something simultaneously open and secure, neither of which is strictly true today.

SATURDAY Head to Neighbours Nighclub for Banned! Books in Drag, in which David Schmader hosts a bunch of drag queens who will “give performances inspired by their favorite works of literature” to raise awareness for banned literature. This is the only literary event this week where you’ll find performer names like Sparkle Leigh, Isabella St. Extynn St. James, LaSaveona Hunt, Atasha Manila, Aleksa Manila, Charlie Menace, DonaTella Howe, Sylvia O'Stayformore and Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.

SUNDAY Hugo House hosts a passel of poets in a baseball-themed World Series of Poetry. Two teams composed from the poets Ed Skoog, Kary Wayson, Oliver de la Paz, Arlene Kim, Dean Rader, and Sarah Galvin will “take turns batting at topics pitched to them by the audience.” Sounds like a lot of fun! This event is hosted by John Roderick, a musician who tried to be a politician a few months ago. He's a good host of literary events.

Looking for some Sunday inspiration? Maria Dahvana Headley, author most recently of Magnolia, wrote a seventeen tweet mini-essay on women’s agency in the arts. It’s personal, professional, gives good advice, and is about something near-and-dear to our hearts: writers being self-aware and claiming the time and space they need to create the best works they can.

The whole thread is worth your time, but here are a few highlights that caught my eye:

The Sunday Post for September 20, 2015

I created a fake business and bought it an amazing online reputation

Kashmir Hill’s fascinating look at the business of sock-puppeting business reputation. She starts a fake Karaoke truck, and manages to establish online credibility without too much effort.

Mark my words: reputation online is the battleground of the future. Trust is the key component.

For $5, I could get 200 Facebook fans, or 6,000 Twitter followers, or I could get @SMExpertsBiz to tweet about the truck to the account’s 26,000 Twitter fans. A Lincoln could get me a Facebook review, a Google review, an Amazon review, or, less easily, a Yelp review.
Nom de Vie: Literary social media in the age of Ferrante

The delightful Alexander Chee looks at Ferrante’s deal with her publishers, and what it means for the modern author, exposed and available at all times through social media.

The postcards I once made for my first novel back in 2001 have been joined by blogging and social media—which have a much bigger footprint online than a postcard or in some cases an ad—and come with a relatively low financial cost, if you already have a laptop or a smartphone. Thus the seemingly essential role social media and the Internet play in the marketing of books now. Most of us who write and publish fiction in 2015 are participants in a process that extends from before publication to well after, and includes creating a kind of electronic diorama of our writing process and lives, extending across several platforms, all of it available at a glance to any interested consumer. Your feed as native advertising, an open answer to the questions so often asked at readings: “How much of this is autobiographical?” or “What is your process?” or “Where do you write?”
How many books should you write in a year

As John Scalzi points out, it may matter how you define what a book is:

Also, you know. What a “novel” or “book” is, is a very fungible thing. The term “novel” encompasses a book like The Goldfinch, which is almost 300,000 words, and Redshirts, which was 55,000 words, not counting the codas. The more-or-less official lower length of a novel is 40,000 words; at the other extreme, Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem, slated for publication next year, is a million words long. I don’t recommend trying to write four Jerusalems in a year. But on the other hand, four 40,000 word stories? That’s entirely doable for a very large number of writers.
Today in 1968: Margaret Atwood schools her interviewer on the meaning of "poetry”

It’s absolutely delightful to hear a young Margaret Atwood here, and never mind the idiotic terms with which the writer cast the interview. She’s nuanced and brilliant, and responding to stupid questions that intend to be heady, but instead are broad. Interviewers! Ask very specific questions and you will get good answers. “What is poetry”, on the other hand, is a horrible question. It’s insulting. You don’t ask accountants “What is accounting”. It’s a question designed only to make you look deep, and trust me, people are tuning in for her, not you. That Atwood offers such an interesting, engaged answer is testament to the fact that her genius started very young.

The tetchy writer who posted this wants to cast her as an barely understandable McLuhan figure. Ignore the write-up and skip right to the audio. Her own words from her mouth are more than enough.