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

The Help Desk: Taking a stand on Stephen King

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,

Can you just tell me, once and for all, if Stephen King is a good writer or not?

Dan, Belltown

Dear Dan,

My grandmother, a lovely woman named Roberta, used to ask me a question very similar to the one you pose. “Judy,” she’d say, because she loved to call both me and my mother, Evil Katy, by another woman’s name, “Judy, is that the phone?”

Roberta would ask this question at the doctor’s office, when a dog barked, during a moment of silence at a dear friend’s funeral — there was no inopportune time, in her opinion, to ask if there was a phone ringing somewhere.

Usually I could not hear a phone ringing but despite the silence I would often answer “Yes!” because I’m generally a positive person who prefers to speak in declarative affirmations (“The moon absolutely looks like a smug lesbian tonight,” or “Yes! I have forgotten your name again”).

On those occasions, Roberta heaved her 83-year-old frame out of her brocade recliner, pendulous breasts swinging like the excited wag of a dog’s tail as she shuffled into the kitchen to fondle the phone.

“God bless it, Judy, that wasn’t the phone,” she'd then shout because she was deaf, not stupid. Nevertheless, she would return with a treat for me, like a string cheese or warm soda, because I was her favorite living granddaughter (sorry Good Katy, RIP Suzanne).

To answer your question: Stephen King is a good writer about as often as the phone is ringing.

Hearts and butterflies,

Cienna

This is certainly a headline that exists in the world:

Jonathan Franzen wanted to adopt an Iraqi orphan to better understand the young

Franzen says his editor talked him out of this plan. This is the best case for editors that I have ever read in my entire life.

Local writer Anca Szilagyi just published a list of resources for people who need affordable housing options in Seattle. Szilagyi says she thinks about affordable housing, in part, "because I’m a writer with writer and artist friends." This is an issue we've talked about before in the first installment of our Exit Interview series, and we'll be addressing it more in the future.

If you're an artist of any sort living in Seattle right now — or a bookseller, or a non-profit employee, or, really, anyone involved in the arts at all — rent is very likely at the top of your mind all the time. You don't have to suffer through this alone. Talk to your friends. Look up the resources available to you. Let's keep this conversation going.

Rafi Schwartz at GOOD writes:

This summer, the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca unveiled a new initiative designed to both promote literacy, and encourage residents to take advantage of municipal public transportation: From June 4-7, anyone reading on the city’s busses, trams or trolley, was be allowed to ride, entirely free of charge.

What a great idea! I'd love to see Seattle Public Library and King County Metro team up for something like this. The only downside to walking to work is that I miss the huge swaths of reading time that public transit offered me. I'd read an extra book or two a week, back in the days when I rode the bus to work.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Strong women everywhere

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.

(Before we get started with the column this week, I just heard about this neat thing and I want to share it with you: The Ladies Comic Book Club, which is a comics book club for women, will be having their third meeting at Phoenix Comics tonight. They’ll be discussing the first two paperbacks of the rock-and-roll-and-magic series The Wicked and the Divine. If you’re a woman and you read comics, you should maybe join this Facebook group, because it’s a super-cool idea and I’m glad someone is doing it. Anyway. On with the show.)

This was a really wonderful week for new comics. Yesterday, I picked up second issues of the incredibly good anthology comic Island, the new Archie series from Fiona Staples and Mark Waid, and Ales Kot and Matt Taylor’s Wolf, as well as a new issue of Stray Bullets and the halfway point of the 12-issue limited series Giant Days, a vastly under-appreciated comic about young women in college.

When Giant Days comes out in a trade paperback collecting the series, I want you to promise me you’ll check it out. No comic book I’ve read this year — not even Lumberjanes, which I’ve enjoyed a great deal — has been so packed full of vibrant characterization. The friendships in this book feel real and complicated and fun. I’ve read a lot of autobiographical comics, but Giant Days in some ways feels just as honest as the best of them.

But I also finally got my hands on a copy of Bloody Pussy, a locally produced self-described “feminist rag,” and even on this standout of a week, it’s a standout. We’ll hopefully be running an in-depth review soon, but briefly: Pussy is a free one-shot tabloid newspaper packed with 12 single-page comics about women’s sexuality and bodily fluids and other topics that are usually labeled too unpleasant for polite conversation.

This is not a paper that wants to win you over; it wants to talk frankly about placentas and assholes and eye-gouging and Don Draper and other important things. It feels like the kind of spontaneous in-your-face creative endeavor that you imagine used to appear on the streets of Seattle all the time back in the Riot Grrrl days. Unless you’re an easily offended doofus, you should go track down a copy of Bloody Pussy immediately. This is the kind of brash artistic statement that will take on the stuff of legend in Northwest cartooning.

Mail call for August 19, 2015

How about a little sunset with your books tonight? That second book is hard to see — it's Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams. Looks pretty interesting!

SRoB has already declared what we believe to be the best-looking literary events of the week, but there are a couple of music-themed literary fundraisers coming up that we want you to know about.

Tomorrow night, the good folks behind Lit Crawl are throwing a 90's-themed dance party at Fred Wildlife Refuge, as a way to raise money for the (entirely free) Crawl. It's $5 at the door. As the invitation puts it:

sweet 90s nostalgia + raffle + silent auction + dance off + good feelings + anticipation for the big event on October 22

On Friday, local author-band The Rejections and Trailing Spouses will be playing a show in Elliott Bay Book Company's reading room as a fundraiser for the very worthy Camp Ten Trees. This event, too, is $5, which includes entry and food and drink.

Even we must acknowledge that life is not best enjoyed through readings alone. Go and get your dance on, and support two worthy causes while you do it.