Fun, food, and fear: Farley Mowat and the lessons of Never Cry Wolf

Published August 27, 2015, at 12:01pm

Benjamin Corey review Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf.

In the 1940s, a young man named Farley Mowat traveled to northern Canada to study wolf attacks. What he discovered would inspire a classic story about the animals, fear, and expectations.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: Let’s sell some action figures!

Every comics fan knows Wednesday is new comics day, the glorious time of the week when brand-new comics arrive at shops around the country. Thursday Comics Hangover is a weekly column reviewing some of the new books that I pick up at Phoenix Comics and Games, my friendly neighborhood comic book store.

For many years, the publishers of superhero comics tried to convince their readers that it was the characters that mattered most, not the creative teams behind the characters. But that’s obviously not true; the writing and the art is what makes a real impact. This is why G. Willow Wilson’s Hugo-winning series Ms. Marvel, for example, has become a runaway bestseller for Marvel Comics — shape-changing characters and teenaged superheroes are plentiful in comics, but Kamala Khan is as unique and as iconic as Peter Parker. Without Wilson’s voice, the book would have already come and gone, yet another doomed attempt at brand maintenance, another new superhero tossed onto the pile of misfit intellectual properties.

But despite a handful of strong writing voices — Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, Nick Spencer’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Ant-Man, Cameron Stewart’s Batgirl, Ryan North’s Squirrel Girl — it’s a bad time for mainstream superhero comics. The major publishers have fallen back on what I’ve always thought of as the business of action figure manufacturing: the stories invariably get the heroes into as many new costumes as possible so they can sell the action figures to fans six months later. It all reeks of bad fan-fiction.

Consider Spider-Verse, a crossover that pitted hundreds of Spider-Men from parallel dimensions against some cross-dimensional force that wanted to kill every Spider-Man in the quantum universe. It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most ardent Spider-Man fans picking up this story, mired as it is in decades of noodling continuity; the Wikipedia page for Spider-Verse is as impenetrable as some tax codes. (I don’t mean here to pick on Spider-Man author Dan Slott, as his Silver Surfer comic with Mike Allred has been one of the most refreshing surprises of the last year, especially the recent issue that was formatted like a neverending Möbius strip that required the reader to turn the comic upside down and right-side up in a figure eight to follow the story.) And as much as I’ve enjoyed the world-building of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars — it’s as close to a Game of Thrones that a superhero comic will ever achieve — even the most recent issue, #5, is starting to strain against the premise. How many multiple versions of heroes can we read about before they lose everything that made them special to begin with?

Something about superhero comics, if you let them run on long enough, eventually turns the story inward, and the struggle always becomes about the hero versus herself. Think of the Superman comics of the 1960s and 70s, in which Superman rarely battled an external threat. Usually, he’d struggle with some facet of his own personality — the imperfect duplicate Bizarro, a chunk of Red Kryptonite that would turn Superman evil, a Kryptonian who lacks Superman’s morals and so tries to take over the world — or deal with some sort of trickery from supporting cast members like Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen. Eventually, the books took on a weird psychoanalytic air as Superman would divide himself into two and try to solve all the world’s problems, say, or spend entire issues exploring alternate timelines in which Krypton never exploded or in which he married Lois Lane.

As much as I enjoy those Superman comics — along with some old Peanuts collections, these comics are how I learned to read, and I’ve always been fascinated by their jovial weirdness — they almost killed the medium. Around the time that Superman was reaching his most introverted, comics went from a mass medium to a pastime for hobbyists. (Don’t believe me? Check the sales figures yourself; Superman comics went from selling 810,000 copies a month in 1960 to 285,634 copies monthly in 1974.) These impenetrable superhero comics are really just about continuity; they’re stories about the stories that have come before, with so many winks and nods and outright curtsies to the reader that they stop being about anything but the comics themselves. I’d call it postmodernism if it demonstrated an ounce of self-awareness.

Recently, comics gossip site Bleeding Cool announced that DC Comics, coming off its own highly unpopular self-reflexive comics event, has told its editors to turn away from the “quirky, experimental, off the wall and less continuity-laden comic books” they had recently begun to encourage, instead telling them to fall back on the status quo. “Comic book audiences are a lot more conservative than some people give them credit for,” Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool concludes.

That may be so.

But people who don’t ordinarily read comics aren’t conservative at all, and they’re the ones who can expand the audience for superhero comics beyond the same dwindling crowd of 40-something men who have always read them. The non-superhero-buying-comics crowd are the people who turned Ms. Marvel into a surprise blockbuster, arguably the first superhero character to break into the mainstream consciousness since Wolverine and/or The Punisher debuted, back in 1974. To draw that kind of an audience, you need to put aside the intellectual property management and focus on the singular voice of a creator who knows what she wants to say, and believes in her own ability to say it. Superhero comics creators shouldn’t be in the business of trying to give comics fans what they want; they should be trying to convince everyone else to care about superhero comics.

Porchlit is a nifty ongoing site-specific project happening in the International District — specifically, the porch of a house at 500 12th Avenue S. "We upload recordings of literature - poetry, prose, monologue and so on - spoken every day on a porch for an entire year," project founders Yonnas Getahun, Campbell Thibo, and Omar Willey write on the About page. Here's amazing artist Seb Barnett reading a very appopriate poem by Jeremy Gaulke:

We'll have more to say about Porchlit soon, but for right now go check out the site and prepare yourself for September, which is Seattle Authors & Writers Month, a celebration of local writing on maybe the unlikeliest local venue of the all.

The education of Mercer Street Books

Our bookstore of the month for August is Mercer Street Books. You may have read Paul's first three pieces on the store, from the previous Wednesdays of this month. He mentioned that owner Debbie Sarrow kindly agreed to be the mail-drop for SRoB, and to the cynical mind that might explain why we picked Mercer Street Books as our first pick: a little quid pro quo, right?

What it doesn't say, though, is why we asked Debbie if she'd agree to help us in the first place. We asked her because whenever Paul and I talked about Mercer Street Books, and Debbie, it was an unbridled gush-fest.

Mercer Street Books is my neighborhood store, right down the street from where I live. I've been on Lower Queen Anne (or Uptown, depending on your micro-local political beliefs) long enough that I remember when the Chase bank across the street was Tower Books, and where Debbie's store is now, was Titlewave. I liked Titlewave, I used to attend reading there on occasion. I liked Twice Sold Tales, although cats in bookstores are bad news, in my opinion (litterboxes, allergies, claws), and their selection was never top notch. I liked those stores, but I absolutely love Mercer Street Books.

That love was a slow process. The first time I came in six years ago, right after Debbie took over, it was with medium expectations, and gratitude that the space stayed a bookstore. It was cleaner than Twice Sold Tales, and I was happy to find the selection was better. Better, meaning: deeper, wider, more discriminatory. There was less cruft, and more gems, all at fair prices.

I brought her some books to sell. Good stuff, to see how well she paid, and found that Debbie was selective about what she'd buy. Those books she said yes to, she paid well for. That means more discerning sellers find her, and bring her good things, which means her shelves have good turn of quality, compelling works. More buyers come in and take away those good books, and there's the money for the next batch. It's a virtuous cycle.

After getting to know her, Debbie would email me about books she just got in that she thought I'd be interested in. She knew I loved obscure typography books, NYRB reprints of children's classics, certain cookbooks, and occasionally the odd-ball wildcard guess. I didn't buy everything she set aside, but I'd say I did buy about 80% of them. I like to imagine the card catalog in her mind, with each customer and the things they love.

If you aren't local and call her to see if she has a certain title in and she sells it to you, she cares about how well it is packaged. The presentation of her store, even when coming to you in the mail, is important to her.

My son has grown up going to Mercer Street Books. He just turned five, and we have a little routine. He goes to the children's section, sits next to the shelves, and picks out any book he would like to thumb through. He makes a little pile, and when I'm done looking around or chatting with Debbie or Red or Aaron, or done looking around at the latest arrivals, we put them back where they belong, and usually bring one to the front to take home. To him, Mercer Street Books has been around forever. These are the people in his neighborhood. Even when we're not stopping in, when the weather is nice and the front windows are open, he'll yell in a hello to Debbie or Red as we pass by. "Let's go to see Debbie" is a favorite tactic of mine, to motivate him, used like I also use going to get ice cream, or a trip to the park.

There are so many metrics to measure how wonderful a store is: how organized it is; how clean; how it smells; how often new works come in; how attentive the staff is while still giving you the time to browse and spend time in your head; how good the recommendations are. On all the scores, Mercer Street Books is aces. They stand out, and it is a rare store I'd give such high marks to across the boards.

So, why did we pick this store to be our first, when there is an embarrassment of riches in Seattle, with regards to bookstores? We did it because the store really is as great as we say it is. But, there's only one way to prove us right. Go visit. Tell them that the Seattle Review of Books has been waxing their car to an impossible gloss, and you want to make sure they're really all that. Go in cynical and disbelieving, even. Wear a scowl. I'd lay odds you come out impressed (likely with something new to read when you get home).

If it's true, as Susan Sontag says, that "A good book is an education of the heart," then Debbie Sarrow is a fine cardiologist.

Watch this space next week for September's bookstore of the month.

Last March, I ran a successful Kickstarter to print my first novel, California Four O'Clock. Kickstarter asked me if I'd take part in their series "Creator Hangouts", so today at 10 a.m. PST, I'll be doing just that.

Tune in at Google+ to take part. I'll be taking questions on the Kickstarter, The Seattle Review of Books, and anything else people want to discuss. Come and join!

New Hire: Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson is new to town

For as long as Seattle has been a city, people have come to town and people have left town. Earlier this month, the Seattle Review of Books introduced a feature called Exit Interview, in which we talk with an author who recently left town about their Seattle experience. The natural pair to that feature is New Hire, an interview with an author who’s just arrived here. (If you have any suggestions for a subject of an upcoming Exit Interview or a New Hire, please drop us a line.) Our first New Hire is Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson, a writer of (among other things) literary criticism and assorted non-fiction who came to town and immediately became involved with Lit Crawl Seattle and the Hugo House.

What brings you to Seattle?

Two things, really, but they're connected. About five years ago, my best friend Alan moved out here. During my visits to see him, I noticed in Seattle some echoes of my years in Stockholm, Sweden, one of the happiest times of my life — the proximity to the water, the fact that both places are essentially cities of islands, the thriving arts and music scenes, all the people hanging out in parks on long summer days, the pines lining the highway, the attitudes and openness of the people I met (still have never experienced the "Seattle freeze"), even the entwined overpasses you see as you drive up the 5 from SeaTac into the city. I was visiting Seattle two or three times a year and couldn't quite shake my growing affection for the city. Alan sensed this and pushed pretty hard for me to move west.

It got to a point where I was running out of excuses why I was staying in the D.C. area. After eight years, I was feeling stagnant and suffocated in Northern Virginia, and D.C. was rapidly changing in ways that didn't appeal—parts of town that many folks were worried about walking in at night just a few years ago were suddenly becoming rows of luxury condos and upscale restaurants. I was starting to feel like Grover from Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, realizing that one thing had ended and not sure what to do next—and worse, I was 30, not in my early 20s, as Baumbach's characters were. I almost moved to New York City, but that fell apart, and I realized I was done with the east coast, for a while at least. I was born in New Jersey, spent time all along the eastern seaboard growing up, and had returned to the Mid-Atlantic after six years at boarding school in England and four in Sweden. After struggling to find a way to move back to Scandinavia, I eventually decided to move west — that all-too-American movement, desire. San Francisco had been the spot I thought I'd end up, as my father grew up there, but Seattle stole my heart.

What were you doing before you moved here?

After I finished my master's degree in English Literature at George Mason University, I went to work for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, first as the Registration Manager, and ending my two year tenure with them as their Events Manager. It seemed all too fitting that the first conference I worked was the Seattle one. That trip didn't hurt Seattle's chances of becoming my new home, especially after meeting so many incredible writers and artists. I was thrilled when a coast-to-coast ice storm grounded planes for two days after the conference, affording my then-girlfriend and I some more time here. Interestingly, though, it was actually the Minneapolis conference that opened up a lot of doors for me here in Seattle. By chance, Kristen Millares Young came to the help desk needing assistance with the book fair stage her event was going to be on, and after I got that all sorted out she gave me her card. She ended up introducing me to Brian McGuigan who invited me to join the planning committee for Lit Crawl Seattle. I also bumped into people from Hugo House, a few for the second time, and started volunteering there soon after the conference.

Do you have any hopes for your Seattle experience? (What do you think Seattle could do for you? What do you think you can do for Seattle?)

A lot of my early hopes have already come true. Really, I moved here to become a part of a creative scene again, to try to expand the cracks in the dam that's been holding back all these ideas and projects in my head for years, and now I'm finally writing instead of constantly outlining, working on music again, and am surrounded by some of the most talented people I've ever met. And as excited as I am to be part of this community, I'm more excited to help support it. I'm thrilled with the work we're doing at Lit Crawl Seattle, and am currently looking for a position with an organization that engages the community through the arts. After years of working on a massive, roving literary conference, I'm really looking forward to being an active part of a local scene, especially one that has treated me kindly ever since I moved here. Really hoping to soon be in a position to start giving back more than I can right now.

Has anyone offered you any advice about Seattle?

I've been told never to wear any of my 49ers jerseys or shirts anywhere near SoDo during game days. (Maybe this has stopped being the case ever since the 49ers completely fell apart in the offseason and will be lucky to finish third in the NFC West.)

But more seriously, I've been told to be patient with my professional aspirations, as Seattle is a city where "what you know" is important, but not as important as "who you know." And that's fine by me. I'm willing to put my time in. At the moment, I'm working any jobs that come up—dishwashing and food prep at some bars in Ballard, temp work some weeks, babysitting, anything that keeps the rent paid and the student loans people off my back. Feeling a bit like a less miserable, less alcoholic Factotum-era Henry Chinaski. Things eventually worked out for him, right? Right?

If you could define an ideal literary community, what would it be like?

I've answered this question many ways in the past, depending on the situation—at three in the morning after an MFA party when exhaustion and drink makes you feel philosophical, during the long haul and overstimulation that is the AWP conference, when discussing the differences between, say, a thriving music scene and a burgeoning literary one. I feel like the best answer I can give will be incomplete, one that I'll probably wish I could rework in the coming weeks. An entire text could be written about what goes into an ideal literary community, and a successful one would be written by someone far more intelligent than me.

At this moment, I feel like an ideal literary community is one that's all around you — not just as an idea, or convergence or ideas, or a group of individuals, but physically, too, as it is here in Seattle: the gorgeous library downtown, Hugo House and Artist Trust on the Hill, the wonderfully large number of arts organizations at work in the city, all the local and second-hand bookstores surviving in the shadow of Amazon, the numerous readings and classes and events going on all the time.

When it's all around you, there's a sense that it isn't going anywhere, that it won't disappear, and that you can make a contribution, you can add your verse. There's something anchoring about all of these halls of letters, of music, of art. As I'm sure many former grad students experienced, as I did, after graduation, your close-knit community suddenly becomes a diaspora-of-sorts. The center doesn't hold — people move home, get jobs in other cities, continue their studies at a PhD program in another state; your friends meet wonderful partners, get married (or form another lasting bond), think about starting families, have kids, etc. And that's wonderful, and there's a beauty in the ephemerality of those years where you were young, hungry, part of something special. But once it's gone, there's that distance, the difference between a friend critiquing your work in the booth of a dive bar and doing so over email — the realization that what once was no longer is. It makes me happy to walk to my current temp job downtown and pass the library on 4th and Madison, to walk home through Cal Anderson and remember there's a reading at Hugo House or Elliott Bay Book Company soon, or a cassette tape DJ night at Vermillion, that we have a Lit Crawl meeting coming up, that there's all of this creative energy, not just in the air, but manifested, being given homes, even if only for one night.

As important as I feel these anchoring forces are, I think literary communities fail if they aren't open and curious, and I'm thankful for the openness I've experienced in Seattle, for the curiosity this city has inspired in me. I'm looking forward to hopefully being part of an organization inspiring further curiousness, further discussions, and welcoming more people into this community, as I was welcomed in.

Lunch Date: Szechuan sandwiches and joining the community

(Once in a while, Paul takes a new book to lunch and gives it a half an hour or so to grab his attention. Lunch Date is his judgment on that speed-dating experience, but today, Martin decided it was time to jump in.)

Who's your date today? The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life by Lori A. May.

Where’d you go? Country Dough, in the Pike Place Market.

What’d you eat? No. 1: Szechuan Flatbread with pork ($5.00) and a flavored tea: Green tea base with honey flavoring ($3.95).

How was the food? So good. This was my third time at Country Dough, and it won't be my last. The sandwich is served on a grilled flatbread that is somewhere between a cracker and a pita. It's split open and filled with a melange of meat (or tofu) and vegetables. The sandwich is spicy, but not too hot, sweet and sour and absolutely delicious. The kind of savory lingering seasoning you crave more of. The crack of the bread, and the feel as your teeth sink in, shows how much attention they pay to getting the experience just right every time. The tea is also nice. It's iced, cold and refreshing, with a nice honey musk, but not overly sweet.

What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:

Writing may be a solitary profession, but it is also one that relies on a strong sense of community. The Write Crowd offers practical tips and examples of how writers of all genres and experience levels contribute to the sustainability of the literary community, the success of others, and to their own well-rounded writing life. Through interviews and examples of established writers and community members, readers are encouraged to immerse themselves fully in the literary world and the community-at-large by engaging with literary journals, reading series and public workshops, advocacy and education programs, and more.

In contemporary publishing, the writer is expected to contribute outside of her own writing projects. Editors and publishers hope to see their writers active in the community, and the public benefits from a more personal interaction with authors. Yet the writer must balance time and resources between deadlines, day jobs, and other commitments. The Write Crowd demonstrates how writers may engage with peers and readers, and have a positive effect on the greater community, without sacrificing writing time.

Is there a representative quote? From the chapter The Writer and the Writing Life: "Being an active member of the community offers rewards big and small. Most common ins the feeling of camaraderie and the sense that we are learning more about the fields of writing and publishing. We learn from example. We learn from others. And, sometimes in witnessing another's writing life, we are better able to determine what we ourselves want to accomplish with our craft as we more clearly understand the opportunities available to us."

Will you two end up in bed together? Probably not, but not because I didn't like the book. In fact, I love writing advice books. I have a sizable collection of them. Some have offered great guidance to me, and some are downright hilarious and wrong-headed. Most are serviceable, but completely dependent on the writer in a similar fashion the therapist is to the lightbulb in this joke:

Q: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Only one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.

When reading the first few chapters of The Write Crowd, I found myself nodding along, and more than just agreeing with May, recalling back to some of the conversations Paul and I had when we were deciding to start this site.

We both believe literary community is important, and that writers and readers (who are more often than not writers themselves) coming together to create and engage with writing is important.

But May is writing more to young writers who may not realize the importance of community. This is a book obviously geared towards the college writing course market. It's not, like Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or (my personal fave) Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel, a book where inspiration is the goal. It's a practical guide, with asides and points from writers, and a methodical argument built over chapters. Methodical and practical are good words for it.

It's arguing for membership in a club I'm already a dues paying member of. To you, who may not be, I say: give it a try. Or, even better, make an effort to go to at least one reading a month for the next year, and talk to the folks you see at each stop. You'll build a community just like May is advocating. Then, gift the book to your reclusive nephew who read too much Bukowski and is sure the world will recognize his genius so long as he stays holed up in his room torturing himself.

Rattail

the baby rats decide they don’t want to be rats don’t want their tails to slap another in a place of gutter & scurry home. The rats have decided they will not eat their way to comfort or take a red eye on a jet plane. The baby rats have seen their parents do this & they don’t want to be caught in the maze of disappointment & therapy three times a week. Their mother has told them not to be part of the rat race, not to rat anyone out & not to give a rats ass about anyone who does not show proper love because no one wants to be a back alley bitch no one wants to end the night with pink eyes & trial medication.

Robert James Russell's Mesilla

This week's sponsor is Robert James Russell, and we're featuring a full chapter from his upcoming western, Mesilla, a release from Seattle's own Dock Street Press. Our thanks to him for the support.

Our favorite quote about this book is from Peter Geye: "If Albert Camus had written westerns, they might have sounded something like Robert James Russell's Mesilla." - Peter Geye"

But, we think the prose says it best:

He unwound a piece of stained red cloth from around the upper part of his left thigh and he dropped the saturated tourniquet into a soaked pile beside him. He took two fingers and tore open his trousers and beneath the breach lay a bullet wound that fizzled deep, the skin encircling the wound lipped out as if it had been disturbed by some plated tremor deep below. He thumbed at it curiously as if he had familiarities with human anatomy then recoiled from the shocks of pain that shot back. He coughed and cleared his throat and squinted his eyes at the hole, imagining he could see the top of the stunted round glistening, and he wished he had dug the thing out in San Agustin when he’d had the chance.

Read the whole chapter, and help us in our fight to make internet advertising something worth looking forward to.

A cruel mistress

Published August 24, 2015, at 12:01pm

Jennifer R. Bernstein review Jill Alexander Essbaum's Hausfrau, and Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty.

Hausfrau may look like a girly novel of female complaint, but really it's a story that defies categorization. At its heart, it's part of a difficult tradition of art about cruelty.

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from the week of August 24 - August 30

MONDAY Elliott Bay Book Company and the Hedgebrook writing colony join forces to bring novelist Parnaz Foroutan to Seattle to read from her novel The Girl from the Garden, an Iranian family drama. Gloria Steinem gives this one a rousing blurb: “A powerful and moving novel about the devastating choices women face when their worth is tied to their wombs but not themselves. Parnaz Foroutan takes the timeless themes of love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal, and makes them new.”

TUESDAY There are a few poetry readings happening that are worth your time tonight, but this one simply couldn’t be ignored: Adam Johnson reads at the downtown library. Johnson, who won the Pulitzer with his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, will be reading from his new collection of short stories, Fortune Smiles. This book has received stellar reviews and if short stories are what you like, it should probably be your next jam.

WEDNESDAY Hugo House hosts a release party for a book titled Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology. Local writers who are in the book (a list including Amy Schrader, Evan J. Peterson and Sierra Nelson) will read their tarot-themed poetry. Nelson, especially, is a favorite of mine, and she thrives when she’s writing poetry on a theme. (She wrote an excellent book of choose-your-own-adventure poetry.) There will also be a tarot reader at this one, if you’re into that kind of thing.

THURSDAY Dock Street Press publisher Dane Bahr has been hosting monthly literary salons up at Phinney Books for a while now, and the latest one features Anca Szilagyi and Angela Fountas. Fountas has a new book coming out from Dock Street soon. It’s titled The Good Girl, and it’s a collection of short stories. These events are generally low-key affairs, with plenty of time to talk before and after the reading (and usually some booze kicking around, too).

FRIDAY We don’t usually feature the same writer twice in one week, but these two events are so different that we had to include them. University Book Store hosts a reading from the Jack Straw Writers Program, which teaches writers how to present their work aloud, both in recordings and in live readings. Three writers from Jack Straw’s most recent crop of authors will read tonight: Spartan co-founder Ross McMeekin, Matthew Schnirman, and — her again? — Anca Szilagyi. Go find out what they learned.

SATURDAY The August doldrums return; there doesn’t seem to be a single book-related event happening today. Maybe you should go check out the scene at Pax. At the very least, you can use all the cosplayers as a writing prompt.

SUNDAY Up at Lake Forest Park, Third Place Books presents a signing from Sue Grafton. Grafton has been writing the Kinsey Milhone mysteries — the ones with the alphabet titles — for decades now. How long has it been? Well, they started out as a contemporary series set in 1982. Now they’re a period piece still taking place in the 1980s, due to the internal chronology of the narrative moving much slower than the real world. The final book in the series, which is scheduled to be released in 2019, will be set in 1990. What started as a mystery series has become a weird time-warp; this is an impressive literary feat. The newest book is titled X. If you want to get your book signed, you have to buy a ticket from Third Place by the 25th, so get on it.

In my capacity as Seattle correspondent for Literary Hub, I wrote about Seattle poet Shin Yu Pai's new project: she's publishing words on the skin of apples in Carkeek Park. I hope you'll go take a look.

The Sunday Post for August 23, 2015

Dictionary Stories

A neat project from Jez Burrows, one of the few designers at Facebook who actually work with analog materials, and the publisher and designer of a fantastic short story collection. He's writing short stories "composed entirely of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary."

Hunter

He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery, a study of a man devoured by awareness of his own mediocrity. The place was dreadfully untidy. Tattered notebooks filled with illegible hieroglyphics, the evolution of animal life, the mysteries of analytical psychology, victorian architecture… The street lamps shed a faint light into the room. It was beginning to rain.
Ruth listened to the rhythm of his breathing. She sat very still, her eyes closed. She heard the click of the door. He was thrown backward by the force of the explosion.
Her hunting days were done.

“Don't mention the war." - Some Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft and Race

A piece from David Nickle, published last year, that explores his trouble in getting people to talk about Lovecraft's race problems.

I'd make the case that Lovecraft's fiction—and Lovecraftian horror—depends on the xenophobia that was endemic to Lovecraft's work to the point that without it, many of his stories lose their unique and uniquely profound effect. "The Horror in Red Hook" is a direct channelling of Lovecraft's loathing of newcomers to New York City; the real horror of "The Call of Cthulhu" is not the octopus-headed demigod that emerges out of his underwater city to kill all the people, but the people themselves—all either eugenically unfit denizens of the bayou or "primitive" island cultures whose religious practises amount to a kind of proactive nihilism. The manifestation of Nyarlathotep in the eponymous story is that of a black man bearing trinkets, who seduces the good white folk of America into authoring their own demise.
Orwell's review of Mein Kampf

Did you know Orwell wrote a review of Mein Kampf in 1940?

Suppose that Hitler's programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of "living room" (i.e., stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? it is easy to say at once stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhemling when one hears his speeches…. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. Once feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett's edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that this is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can't win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon such themes.

Resources: digital First Folios

Scholar and historian Sarah Werner posted a list all the digitized Shakespeare First Folios available online.

I’ve written about digitizing Shakespeare’s First Folio before, looking at the interfaces of the many different copies out there. But I’m turning my attention to this again for my contribution on the subject for the in-progress Cambridge Companion to the First Folio, edited by Emma Smith. In my article, I’ll be thinking about why there are so many libraries digitizing this same book over and over again and what these many projects can teach us about what we look for from the First Folio and from digital tools.

This year, there was a lot of angst over the Hugo Awards, the science fiction awards given out as part of the Worldcon sci-fi convention. In brief: a bunch of asshole white dudes who think women and minorities are scary and gross tried to take over the awards because they believe everything, including sci-fi, was better in the 1950s. (You can read a longer explanation at Slate).

So after much hand-wringing and a whole lot of jackasses complaining about "Social Justice Warriors" online (an aside: if you're railing against people who fight for social justice, maybe you're on the wrong team?) the awards finally happened tonight. In short, it's a bad night for asshole white dudes; the regressive slate went down in flames. Here's a list of winners as recorded in this megathread on Reddit:

  • John W. Campbell Award: Wesley Chu
  • Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett
  • Best Fan Writer: Laura J. Mixon
  • Best Fancast: Galactic Suburbia Podcast
  • Best Fanzine: Journey Planet
  • Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine
  • Best Related Work: no award
  • Best Graphic Story: Ms Marvel
  • Best Editor, Long Form: no award
  • Best Editor, Short Form: no award
  • Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Orphan Black
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Best Short Story: no award
  • Best Novelette: The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
  • Best Novella: no award
  • Best Novel: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

When you see "no award," that's because the asshole white dudes hijacked the entirety of the category, and voters decided to not choose any of them. This is a wholesale rejection of those jackasses. How bad a rejection is it? The asshole white dudes are now trying to claim that they never wanted to win and that they won the argument by proving that the Hugos are just a popularity contest. (So you tried to rig a nomination process for an awards show because you didn't want to win? Uh, okay.)

Looking at the slate of winners, SRoB is especially happy to see Ms. Marvel, which is written and co-created by local author G. Willow Wilson, taking home the comics award. Also of note: The Three Body Problem is reportedly the first translated work to win the Hugo for Best Novel.

Now that the drama has passed and the angry little boys are licking their wounds and vowing to redouble their efforts to prove that girls have cooties, let's hope the Hugos do something to change the voting system for upcoming awards ceremonies. It's a little weird that the self-described "most prestigious" awards in science fiction are entirely decided by anyone who wants to pay Worldcon $40 bucks. The fans should absolutely have their say, but maybe a rotating jury of professionals could take part in the process, too?

Seattle author Kelley Eskridge is our sponsor this week

We're featuring a full chapter from Kelley Eskridge's novel Solitaire this week. You have thorugh tomorrow to read the whole first chapter.

Solitaire is a New York Times Notable Book, a Borders Original Voices selection, and a Nebula, Endeavour, and Spectrum Award finalist. Also, very exciting: a feature based on Solitaire production later this month in Australia.

Our sponsorships are not like you see on other websites. We're fighting back against horrible internet advertising by offering you something new to read, full chapters, without any weirdness, tracking across websites, or deliberate confusion. It's our way of fighting horrible internet advertising. You can help us by visiting our Sponsors page and reading the chapter. See if it's to your liking, and if so, think about buying the book.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for August 21, 2015

Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week.

Tomorrow, the Vera Project hosts the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair from 10 am to 5 pm. You'll find over 30 tables of publishers, bookstores, magazines, and more, featuring novels and zines and cookbooks and probably board games, too. (Right? Everyone has board games nowadays.) Here's the schedule of events, some of which might surprise those of you who have a stereotypical "anarchist" image in your head:

DOWNSTAIRS ROOM

  • 10:15am - 11:30am > Report from Russia
  • 11:45am - 1:15pm > Hip Hop & Autonomy Discussion Panel
  • 2:00pm - 3:30pm > On Being A Seattleite
  • 3:45pm - 5:00pm > Queer Time Travel, by editors of Baedan

UPSTAIRS ROOM

  • 10:15am - 11:30am > Abolition of the Human?
  • 11:45am - 1:15pm > Horror as Subversion by Paul Simons
  • 2:00pm - 3:30pm > In Defense of Cruelty
  • 3:45pm - 5:00pm > Abolishing Education

If you're anywhere near Seattle Center, you should go check it out.

Bureaucracy now

Published August 21, 2015, at 11:57am

Sharma Shields review Helen Phillips's The Beautiful Bureaucrat.

An absurdist novel about a frustrating data-entry job and a bureaucrat named Trishiffany will remind you that the important thing about life is that it ends. You'll be happy for the reminder.

Read this review now