I try to provide alternate options in the readings calendar when there's a reading that features a conflict of interest. But this Wednesday, even my alternative to the conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. But I promise you that one of these two events will almost certainly be your favorite event of the week.
Let's talk about the first conflict of interest: Angela Garbes, who was my coworker at the Elliott Bay Book Company many years ago and was my coworker at The Stranger not so many years ago, launches her new book in a reading at the Summit. Garbes is reading from her book Like a Mother, which is about "A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy." The book has received a ton of positive pre-publication attention, including a very fancy visit to Fresh Air, so you'll probably want to go to this.
And in case it wasn't conflict-of-interest-y enough for you, Garbes is joined in conversation onstage by her old friend (and also my old coworker) Lindy West. Expect a very smart conversation about why some of the most obvious facts about pregnancy and motherhood have been ignored by medical professionals since, basically, forever.
But then across town, there's an event that's even more conflict-of-interest-y than the Like a Mother event. How can that be? Well, I'm part of it.
To celebrate the release of its third print edition, Northwest literary magazine Moss is hosting a big party. It takes place in Columbia City at Type Set, the writer-centric coworking space. Food and drink are included in the entry price (which is, uh, free) and you'll hear a ton of new work from Northwest authors.
Richard Chiem, Kristen Milares Young, and Tara Roberts will read fiction and/or prose, and then Jasleena Grewal, Troy Osaki, and Rich Smith will read poetry. I'll be interviewing the poets onstage, in part to help celebrate Moss's foray into the world of poetry, which kicks off with this collected volume. (The magazine originally only featured fiction and non-fiction; they only started running poetry last year.)
Look, I can't tell you what to do on Wednesday night. They both look like great readings. But you probably already know what you want to do — and you should definitely listen to your inner voice. Sometimes the best conflict of interest is the one that's been inside you all along.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Paul Dean on moving across borders, power’s bureacratic sword and shield (remember Papers, Please?), and the diminished dream of freedom in countries built on that ideal. This is a different kind of immigration story, about the authoritarianism trying to hide behind a smokescreen of fear-mongering headlines. Quiet-voiced, gently meandering, will have you by the throat if you follow it through.
Opening the gates is brave. If you open the gates, people come in, and many of those people are different. That’s a scary concept. They might do and want and need different things. If you close the gates, shore them up, raise the drawbridge and fill the moat with hydrochloric acid, you’re much, much safer.
Everything inside is wholesome and good.
Christie Watson on a nurse’s experience of the operating room — not a tell-all, but a meditation on compassion, the connection between body and spirit, and how humans on both sides of the knife manage the terror and pressure of courting death to save a life.
I have looked after such patients, who are told post-operatively that things were a little unstable in theater, but the surgeon managed to stabilize them. The language of nursing is sometimes difficult. A heart cell beats in a Petri dish. A single cell. And another person’s heart cell in a Petri dish beats in a different time. Yet if the two touch, they beat in unison. A doctor can explain this with science. But a nurse knows that the language of science is not enough. The nurse in theater translates “your husband / wife / child died three times in there, but today was a good day and, with a large amount of electricity and some chest compressions that probably broke a few ribs, we managed to get them back” into something that we can hear. A strange sort of poetry.
Helen Rosner writes about Anthony Bourdain with respect and affection and regret. She celebrates Bourdain not just for his accomplishments, but for his resilience, humility, and willingness to evolve while holding a staredown with the greedy public eye.
Bourdain effectively created the “bad-boy chef” persona, but over time he began to see its ill effects on the restaurant industry. With “Medium Raw,” his 2010 follow-up to “Kitchen Confidential,” he tried to retell his story from a place of greater wisdom: the drugs, the sex, the cocky asshole posturing — they were not a blueprint but a cautionary tale. Ever resistant to take on the label of chef, he published a book of home recipes, in 2016, inspired by the cooking he did for his daughter. Despite its chaotic cover illustration, by Ralph Steadman — and its prurient title, “Appetites” — the book, which was co-written with his longtime collaborator, the writer Laurie Woolever, is a tender memoir of fatherhood, an ode to food as a vehicle for care.
See also PNW writer Tabitha Blankenbiller’s essay on Kate Spade in Salon — you may never carry one of Spade’s iconic handbags, or want to, but this will help you understand why they matter so much those who do.
This is delightfully MacGyver-y: a scientist at Harvard University has hacked together a series of processes used by paper mills to pull excess carbon dioxide from the air and turn it back into previously-known-as fossil fuels. One of my favorite things about this piece is the deadpan quotes from other scientists saying it could work, which seem to be the academic equivalent of throwing your hat in the air with joy.
Speaking from Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, Keith said he was “pretty optimistic” about climate change. “The reason is that the market for these low-carbon fuels is much, much better than they were a few years ago. At the same time, low-carbon power — electricity generated by solar and wind — has just gotten much cheaper.”
Outside experts said they were encouraged by Keith and his colleagues’ approach, but cautioned that it would take time to examine every cost estimate and engineering advance in the paper. The consensus response was something like: Hmm! I hope this works!
Seb Emina on the pleasures of listening to late-night radio any time of day. Somewhere in the world, it’s always midnight — late-night callers, late-night music, a world full of late-night dreams.
Without exception, these late-night conversations meander off into meditations on how things are not how they used to be. This is a function of two truths, namely that (1) in the middle of the night, the caller gets to speak indefinitely because who knows when the next caller will show up, and (2) once midnight has passed, almost anyone who speaks off the top of their head for more than three minutes, on any subject, will stray into nostalgic reverie. In Westchester, New York, for example, a man has called SportsRadio 1230AM at three in the morning to express sadness about the decline of fistfights in stock-car racing.
Jessixa Bagley is an award-winning, Seattle based illustrator and children's book author. Her books include Boats for Papa, Before I Leave, Laundry Day, and most recently, Vincent Comes Home, which was a collaboration with her husband, Aaron (whose work you may recognize).
What are you reading now?
I am currently reading a book I feel simultaneously everybody is reading and also not enough people are reading, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. It’s about having effective conversations about race. This book really says it all. I don’t use Twitter much, but as I’m reading this book, I feel like I should be live tweeting every line I read. If you are a person of color, I guarantee you’ve have more awkward conversations about race than you care to recall. And if you are a person of "non-color," then I guarantee you have questions or thoughts about race you just aren’t sure how to express or maybe you need some help in the most appropriate way to express them. And yes, as Ijeoma states very upfront in the beginning that if you are white, parts of this book will probably make you feel uncomfortable. We'll I’ve been personally uncomfortable with regards to my race my whole life, including situations with family and close friends, so I think feeling uncomfortable while reading a book is nothing by comparison. I think this book is just what we need right now. If we don't start talking productively and respectfully about race we won't ever really get anywhere. And our kids won't get anywhere. We need to get better at these conversations so eventually they can stop happening all together and we can just talk about Netflix guilt-free.
What did you read last?
I just recently finished reading, Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement. I ADORED this book. It was like taking a time machine (probably a Delorean) back to the New York City art scene in the early 80's. The book is about about the famous graffiti artist/expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and his relationship with his "girlfriend" Suzanne Mallouk. The book is from Suzanne's perspective and written by a mutual friend. It painted such a vivid picture of the experience of what it was like to know Basquiat and understand the ideas and process for paintings. While reading, you really feel like you are there seeing the intense electricity (and sometimes bizarreness) of the highs and the lows of their love and lifestyle. Stylistically, it is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across. Each chapter reads like a gorgeous poem (also in length) and ends with detailed background information about what was happening at that point in their relationship explained by Suzanne. The best part is that throughout the book they'll talk about some incident that happened (like the time Suzanne attacked Madonna in a club in a jealous rage) and Basquiat painted a painting about the incident. On my own I would look up the paintings as a read so I could get a richer understanding of Basquiat's work. This book invites you into the most elite, intimate, cool kids party ever. You feel like you know Jean and Suzanne after reading. It's real and beautiful and ultimately very sad. Even if you don't know much about Basquait or his artwork, I think anyone who appreciates exquisite writing and art at all would love this book.
What are you reading next?
I make the "mistake" of enjoying re-reading books. I can't help it. I know my book reading time is limited, but I really like it. I'm part of the re-run generation. Every book makes you feel different things and some books I want to experience the feelings of all over again. So my next read is a re-read of This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. I have to be honest, I don't remember much about this graphic novel. (Parent brain tends to erase 90% of the details in my memories lately.) But I remember LOVING this book. The art, the adolescent coming of age story, the teen feels... I remember it's very beautiful and really captures the awkwardness of being an almost-teen and how you fit (or don't fit) in the world. I think it will be a perfect transitional book into summer and probably leave me feeling very insecure, melancholy, and heartbroken.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cienna Madrid is off today; the following is a reprinted Help Desk column from 2015.
There's this guy who rides the elevator with me at work pretty often. He always has a big, complex book in his hands — Bolaño, or DFW, or Knausgaard. He's pretty good looking, but I've held off smiling at him because I'm worried his choice of books means he's going to be pretty intellectually limited. Is there a safe way to test him in public before asking him out on a date?
Pat in the Columbia Tower
Here’s what I suggest: Start carrying around a copy of your favorite book in your bag. The next time you’re stuck in an elevator with this handsome stranger, break the ice by saying something like, “I notice you read a lot of very serious books written by unsmiling men, so I thought you might enjoy this change of pace. It’s my favorite.” The beauty is, it doesn’t really matter what your book is – it could be something truly great, like Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, it could be last week’s TV Guide, or it could something he might actually enjoy, like the latest bullshit pumped out by Jonathan Franzen (if you go the TV Guide route, it helps to tape an unused condom to the inside cover). The point is, you’re being both flattering and assertive. If he’s smart and interested, he’ll read your book or at least continue the conversation. If he’s an intellectually stunted dummy, say “fuck it” and ask to see his abs. They can’t be any less interesting to talk to (and if by some miracle they are, you can always start taking the stairs).
Saturday, June 9: All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party Panel Discussion
To celebrate the half-centennial of Seattle’s Black Panther Party, the Frye is hosting a “panel discussion examining the local impact of the aesthetic legacies of the Black Panther Party with artist, activist, and cultural policy expert Royal Alley-Barnes and King County Councilman Larry Gosset.” These Black Panther Party Events have been a lot of fun, and it’s truly moving to watch as people who were involved with the Party back at the beginning reunite after many decades apart. Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave, 622-9250, http://www.fryemuseum.org/, 2 pm, free.
Every month, Olivia Waite pulls back the covers, revealing the very best in new, and classic, romance. We're extending a hand to you. Won't you take it? And if you're still not sated, there's always the archives.
It is embarrassingly easy to not realize you’re bisexual until age thirty-five.
You start by growing nervous as a tween because you haven’t had a crush on anyone, and all or most of your friends have. In my middle school Having A Crush was an accepted route to Being Interesting And Grown-Up, at least for the length of a slumber party, so it was stressful to be the only one not gushing over Tiger Beat heartthrobs with bowlcuts and multiple layers of shirt. Was there something wrong with me? Was I one of those lesbians people were just beginning to talk about where kids like me could hear? (This was a few years before Ellen.) How did I know who I was until I knew who I loved? When I finally did develop feelings for a boy — hyperbolic, helpless, dreamy feelings that were plenty easy to identify — I stamped the label straight on myself with some relief and considered the matter closed.
For twenty years. While I dated men and fell in love with men and married a man. That’s what you do when you’re a straight woman, right? Our wedding was on Pride Weekend, in the heart of Seattle’s queerest neighborhood, with six bridesmaids in different dresses wearing literally all the colors of the rainbow. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed at how heavy-handed that foreshadowing turned out to be.
The insistence on being born this way or I always knew that inflects a lot of gay rights discourse has not been entirely helpful when it comes to the erasure of bisexuality. The questions whispered by that small voice in the back of my head could be so easily ignored. Sure, I tried to be an ally, and voted accordingly on every anti-discrimination and civil rights issue I could. Sure, I was occasionally poleaxed by how beautiful women could be. Sure, I’d occasionally think about kissing one — but that was just because our culture uses images of women when it wants to communicate about sex, right? So you learn to think of women as sexy because it’s a constant, neverending message, yeah? It’s not like it means anything. And I definitely liked men — some of them quite a lot! — so clearly I was really and truly straight. Or maybe I was doing it for the attention: secretly, silently swooning over the occasional woman without doing anything or telling anyone…for the attention. Sure, that makes sense.
And then, at age thirty-three, I decided it was time to diversify my reading and picked up my first f/f romance. Cathy Pegau’s Rulebreaker is a sci-fi heist story with a bisexual con artist heroine named Liv, who knows better than to fall in love with her mark, but does it anyway. I’m not at all surprised I loved it: it’s just my kind of catnip.
What did surprise me: it felt like coming home. Liv knows she’s bi but has never dated a woman, and her uncertainty about this new side of herself felt like a mirror I was looking into. The book is unusual in that it puts both m/f and f/f sex on the page — something a vocal subset of readers of queer romance object to, but which was helpful for me because it showed that Liv didn’t have to disavow her attraction to men to explore her attraction to women. It wasn’t that her history with men had been false, and this new side was The One Real Truth; it was about finding an additional piece of the puzzle. Gaining something, not losing something.
I’m not here to say that reading f/f romance made me queer — but it sure didn’t hurt.
I read every one I could find for the next three months. Sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary — good ones, really good ones, and ones that were only so-so. I started asking myself some rather pointed questions about tamped-down moments and experiences in my past. And then a couple years later Mr. Waite and I were watching Brooklyn 99 with gorgeous badass detective Rosa Diaz and the scales tipped. I recall being in the kitchen getting popcorn when Mr. Waite called out, “Hey Olivia, Rosa’s wearing a shoulder harness in this one.”
“Oh my gosh, really?” I sprinted in, trailing popcorn, the mini-dachshund bounding after to devour the fallen. And then I stopped, and turned to Mr. Waite with a furrowed brow. “These aren’t really platonic feelings to be having, are they?”
“No,” he said, laughing sweetly. “They’re not.”
Since then Stephanie Beatriz, the actress who plays Rosa Diaz, came out as bisexual. Then Rosa was revealed as bi in a milestone episode and got a girlfriend. This still feels eerie and magical, like when someone offers you a gift you may have wished for but never told anyone about. Several authors whose work I’d long loved came out as queer, as trans, as asexual. A lot of lighter TV shows practically exploded with bisexual characters. I learned I wasn’t the only one who took three or more decades to parse things out. It’s a dazzling feeling, after having been keeping a secret for so long, even from yourself, to be suddenly surrounded by mirrors.
It’s not all glitter and sparkles, of course — mirrors can have sharp edges, and spotlights aren’t always safe. We know who’s in the White House. I came out officially the day after the election because I wanted people to know where I stood, and with whom. It was an impulsive decision, but it was the right one, even though I’m still very much in processing mode. I may be for thirty more years, who knows? Every time I talk about it — even in passing, or in low-key pieces like this one — it feels like sliding one foot oh so carefully out past the edge of the cliff.
It may make me a bit breathless, but it’s a hell of a view.
Fore Play by Julie Cannon (Bold Strokes Books: contemporary f/f):
Romance author Gerri Russell once stated: “If your hero’s a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.” (Any author with an arsonist heroine should pitch me immediately.) And it’s certainly one way to build a romance: one character’s wealthy and the other’s broke, one character’s grumpy and cynical and the other’s a sunny beacon of pure golden optimism. But simple difference is not the same thing as a meaningful contrast: there needs to be some connective material in the middle, or else it’s just a mismatch. You might as well try to drink whiskey from a pint glass (not recommended).
This book tried to do something really interesting: treat an ex-con heroine’s experience seriously without softening the facts of it even a little bit. Peyton’s part of this book is a gritty, blue-collar tale about people who’ve been hard done by and who have to make imperfect choices to protect the ones they care about. This could have made for a really unique, brave romance. She killed a man who needed killing, served hard time, and now works as a golf pro/caddy/beverage server at the club her brother runs. Unfortunately, she’s paired with a heroine who seems to have been pulled from another book entirely — Leigh is a female CEO right out of the escapist, glamorous realm of Harlequin Presents. She drives an imported car, wears designer clothing, and does adrenaline-fueled sports on the weekend (motorcross) to work off the stress of the corporate world. Leigh is determined to become a better golfer to impress her wealthy colleagues and boss. Peyton is DIY-installing secret video cameras in her apartment to film the abusive midnight visits of her parole officer, who likes to trash her apartment and cop a predatory feel.
These two have absolutely nothing in common except that they really want to fuck each other. And they don’t even do that until nearly seventy percent of the way through the book! And then it’s just sex — no bonding, no sharing, no establishing of any kind of partnership outside nudity and bedsheets. It feels like the author is trying to corral them into a relationship, and the characters are digging in their heels. The only reason I finished the book was to see how long our heroines could hold out against authorial pressure. Some romance novels, like some relationships, are just not meant to be.
Leigh’s heart was pounding, and surely Peyton could feel it. Peyton stiffened, then relaxed against her, then quickly stepped away.
The Princess Deception by Nell Stark (Bold Strokes Books: contemporary f/f):
Nell Stark’s Princess Affair series of lesbian royalty romances is pure luxury escapist pleasure reading, straight up, no chaser. This latest volume is a contemporary retelling of Twelfth Night that involves a World Cup bid, a pro soccer player-turned-journalist, and a Belgian princess impersonating her twin brother while he recovers from an overdose. It’s as high-concept as it comes, but grounded in some beautifully potent feelings. Duke’s loss of her professional soccer career due to an injury is still raw and poignant, and it puts her in the right place to appreciate Viola’s grief and anger about her brother’s newly revealed addiction. This is the kind of connective tissue that was missing from Fore Play — the sense of a shared struggle, or at least shared understanding of parallel struggles. Both heroines are reeling, in that dizzy headspace where bad ideas seem like great ideas. Impersonating your twin brother is the only way to win the World Cup bid! Flirting with that princess you’ve discovered in disguise is a great way to boost your journalism career! Things go predictably to hell in all the best ways and it’s great, smart, angsty fun for the reader. Themes of exposure, revelation, coming out, and disguise intertwine to keep things feeling complex without overwhelming. The slender mystery subplot and beautifully rendered, rare locations (Amsterdam! Prague!) are the frosting on the cupcake. A+ travel reading to lose yourself in on a long flight or a lazy beach.
”Some memories have a shelf life,” she finally said. “An expiration date, beyond which they aren’t useful.”
After the Wedding by Courtney Milan (self-published: historical m/f):
Speaking of cross-class romance and characters in disguise … Courtney Milan’s latest Worth Saga book is a glorious, achy, writhe-on-the-couch-making-wordless-squeaks-of-mingled-agony-and-delight heartbreaker of a romance between an earl’s daughter-turned-serving maid and a half-black porcelainware designer whose uncle is a politically ambitious bishop. We start on page one with a shotgun wedding and things get increasingly fraught from there — it has all the intrigue you miss from the old crazysauce days of greats like Bertrice Small and Laura Kinsale, plus a pragmatic view toward queer lives in the 19th century (Camilla is bisexual, and one particularly memorable secondary character is delightfully frank about her lesbianism). The series’ first book Once Upon a Marquess had a heroine with an atrocious temper, and this one has Camilla, the loneliest, thirstiest, most love-starved heroine since possibly Jane Eyre herownself. But where Jane is cautious and stoic and principled, Camilla is flirtatious, impulsive, and embarrassingly hopeful in spite of everything the world has done to break her down. I loved her, and the on-page chemistry between her and Adrian — who is too open, too giving, and too painfully willing to offer kindness even to those who hurt him — is a deep well of conflict as well as comfort.
One early moment from our hero and heroine’s first meeting shows how complex romance can really be for longtime readers: “Funny, how much more striking that contrast of crisp linen was with his brown skin than it would have been on a white man. He made everybody else seem utterly pallid by comparison.” One of the most well-worn tropes in romance is describing the two skin tones of hero and heroine when they’re in bed together: gold against pearl, or olive against porcelain. I must have read some variation on this no fewer than five hundred times. The hero in these scenes is almost always white — it’s not about him actually being a character of color, but of him being temporarily racialized for a cheap erotic charge based on his difference from the heroine. Milan’s phrasing here preserves the charge — the appealing aesthetic shock of deep brown skin against bright white linen — but her phrasing connects the hero and heroine rather than differentiating them. “He made everybody else seem utterly pallid” shows that already Camilla is drawn to Adrian not because he is different from her, but because he is different from the duller, pettier, crueler people she’s known in her difficult life. It’s unobtrusive to new romance readers, but a gem for longtime genre lovers. As with the first book, this one ends with a bit of a twist to set up the next in the series — I can’t wait to see where we’re going.
What luck, that they had married at gunpoint, she had perhaps hoped he would say. God, it sounded stupid even admitting it in her head.
Riding the Track by Kara Ripley (NineStar Press: contemporary f/f):
I loved this book — until I loathed this book.
There are a few things you don’t do in romance. You do not kill the dog. You do not have one character cheat on the other (whether polyamory or scene play counts as cheating is a constant debate topic). And you do not, you absolutely do not have the story end with the characters not together. Whether they’re just trying it out (Happy For Now) or in it to win it (Happily Ever After), you have to end the book with your h/h (or h/h/h+, for you ménage readers) as a joined unit.
This book puts on riding boots and stomps that rule into the muck. I have rarely been so angry and disappointed to hit the end of a story. I read it three times to make sure, but it’s crystal clear: our narrator-heroine goes back to the States, and the hot Australian lesbian cowgirl stays in the Outback.
It didn’t have to be like this.
Reader, I did my due diligence: this is a book I found in the Romance category on NetGalley, from a familiar romance publisher. It has a clinch cover, for the love of Garwood. The writing is superb: snarky, informal, self-deprecating, and keenly observed. Took the author less than two pages to win me over completely. Even learning that the book was a short novella rather than a full-length novel didn’t bother me. Life moves pretty fast; novellas are a great way to get in a full story without a lot of time investment. No length complaints here, if the story feels fleshed-out.
This one did. Until the very last page. Our heroines — cynical heartbroken American Clara, and earnest Australian cowgirl Evie — are finally hooking up, after three days of riding and flirting along the Oodnadatta Track. The descriptions of the landscape, the sharp banter, our narrator’s internal self-scolding, the mischievous heifer she names Little Mo-Mo…it was all so good. I had a set of blissful notes all typed up ready for review. All I was waiting for was the hint of hope for the future, that little chime to let me know I could let go of all the tension I’d accumulated as a reader. The book wound me up, and wound me up, and wound me up — and then it split the heroines up because the vacation was over.
The most unsatisfying part of reading ebooks is not the fact that they don’t smell like paper and ink: it’s the fact that you can’t hurl them across the room when they’ve betrayed you.
This book is a bait-and-switch, plain and simple. The reason I’m putting this book in this column, even though it is clearly not a romance by the only definition that matters, is because I don’t want anyone else to get burned the way I have been.
Tell your friends. Spread the word. Save them from betrayal.
The land kept going, a great sleeping serpent of ochre rock, sand, and dust.
Better off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Bold Strokes Bookes: paranormal f/f):
Before there was Dracula, there was Carmilla, a lesbian vampire serial. Later lesbian vampires became a whole Thing in horror cinema and pulp fiction, where the sinful, evil temptations of queer sex and female power mingled to terrify and titillate audiences assumed to be universally straight and male. Weatherspoon’s Vampire Sorority Sisters series (does what it says on the tin!) is definitely having fun with this tradition: the vampire heroine is named Camila, there’s a lot of juicy group sex just for the lush, smutty fun of it, and the plot touches on themes of power, control, violence, and living a life in the shadows. But this series is definitely pitched at queer women, by a queer woman, and it shows; the conflict comes from strong personal relationships rather than predatory hunter-and-hunted patterns, consent is actively debated, and the third book in the series recently won the Lambda for LGBTQ Erotica. It’s more Gothic than gory, and if you’re looking for something that puts a modern twist on that classic governess-in-peril mood, this is a great place to start.
Were amazingly good looks reason enough to trust your blood lusting captor?
Supergirl is a great character at her base, but she's been through so many permutations that it's hard for new fans to figure out where to begin with her. In the 1990s, she was a shape-changing interdimensional life form who had an affair with Lex Luthor. In the early 2000s, she was a sexualized fanboy's wet dream. In the 1980s, she was a perky aerobics instructor type who sacrificed herself to save the universe.
You can find a few stories from every period of Supergirl's long career that might appeal to wider audiences, but what about her origin? What about Supergirl is unique? What book explains her place in the universe without using her relationship to Superman as the primary measurement?
That's where Supergirl: Being Super, a new paperback collection written by Mark Tamaki and illustrated by Joëlle Jones, comes in. Being Super is an origin comic that reimagines Supergirl's story in the framework of a contemporary young adult novel, complete with pimples, high school friendships, and a confident main character who struggles to find her place in the world.
Jones is one of the most gifted superhero artists at work today. Her Supergirl is dynamic and distinctive, a tall and occasionally gawky young woman who carries all her worries and her joys plainly on her face. She looks and carries herself like a high school student, unlike most of the recent incarnations of the character.
Tamaki fills in details to Supergirl's origin that other writers never bothered to consider. Her adopted father is gruff and more than a little controlling, but sweet deep down, like a cross between Ron Swanson and Pa Kent. Her friends are the kinds of good people that a superhero would want in her life: thoughtful and kind and inspirational. Poignant moments, like a kid sister reading a goodbye letter during a high school student's funeral, are moving without being maudlin. It's a fully-developed world, and the plot examines Supergirl as a decent character without making her unbelievable. (This is the best way to handle Super character, as I've written.)
That said, Being Super does fall into a few of the traps that have befallen Superman comics over the last few years. There's way too much time spent on Kryptonian culture and history, for one thing. Nobody cares about Krypton; Krypton is useful only as the reason for Superman and Supergirl's powers, and the less you dwell on it the better. And the plot is stretched a little too thin in the first two thirds of the book and jumbled up a little too thick in the last third.
But this is the best origin that Supergirl has ever gotten, and I hope Tamaki and Jones get to revisit this world sometime soon. Readers deserve a solid run on the character to consider as canon, and Being Super makes for a great start.
At the beginning of last night's edition of the Reading Through It Book Club, I was pretty high on Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The way that Dunbar-Ortiz framed America's love affair with guns as an extension of the nation's history of colonialism and racism made a lot of sense to me.
The reason we had so many guns at the moment of America's birth, she argued, was because white men wanted to keep Native Americans and slaves in line, and to murder them when they stepped out of line. Dunbar-Ortiz parses this reality of American history from the rugged individualistic American legend that has grown up and been fostered around gun culture in the centuries since the Constitution was written.
Others in the book club were not as high on the book as I was. One member said Loaded had too many typos and unsubstantiated claims to take seriously. Another refuted a few of the book's historical facts, and argued that a few historical interpretations — particularly behind the motivation of the Virginia Tech shooting — were borderline irresponsible. Many others landed somewhere in the middle. "I didn't not like it," someone said.
But even those who disagreed with Dunbar-Ortiz's methodology agreed with many of her conclusions. Gun culture in the US simply is different than everywhere else, and it's really remarkable how many of the institutions we simply assumed always existed are fairly new inventions. (The concept of a police force, for instance, is much newer than most people think.)
So with that common ground found, how do you dismantle a culture that is hard-wired into America's original sins? Despite Dunbar-Ortiz's worthy efforts to get to the bottom of the word "militia," you can't get anywhere by nitpicking the Second Amendment in hope of finding some wisdom in the words of the Founding Fathers. Nobody will ever win a fight by getting to the true meaning of the Bill of Rights.
Instead, it's better to find common ground, and to rework your messaging until it appeals to a majority of people. Stop referring to "gun control," for instance, and start talking about "gun safety" or "gun responsibility" or "ending gun violence." Talk about the public health costs that guns exact on America, the way that we now talk about the health risk of cigarettes, or the risks of impaired driving. Make the conversation about sensibility and security, rather than morality and shame.
It feels hopeless every time some white man with an abusive past and a history of racist behavior picks up a weapon of war and exacts his will on the world. But if you look around, you'll see that progress is being made. This fall, people who live in Washington state will be able to vote for Initiative 1639, which creates safer schools and communities. (If you're looking for something to do in the battle against gun violence, please consider donating money or, more importantly, your time to passing this important initiative.) We're having different conversations now than we were ten years ago. Things are getting better.
The trick is always refining the conversation, being more accurate with your words, and being clear about what you want and what you see in the world around you. Even book club members who were skeptical about Loaded admit that they might have liked the book better if it were labeled "A Polemical History." The work that words do is invisible most of the time, but this is the work that defines our world, and everything in it.
The next Reading Through It Book Club meets at Third Place Books Seward Park at 7 pm on Thursday, July 5th. We'll be discussing David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.
This week, the Seattle International Film Festival is showing two poetry-centric films that you should know about. And if you buy in advance online using the code POETRY18, you'll get three dollars off your ticket! Here's more about the movies:
Wild Nights With Emily
Actors Amy Seimetz and Kevin Seal scheduled to attend
Wild Nights — Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be / Our luxury!
If you read this poem by Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) according to the conventional view of her—celibate, prim, reclusive—rather than as an overt expression of physical passion drawn from first-hand experience, you'll change your mind after seeing Madeleine Olnek's puckish yet poignant biopic, which convincingly posits Dickinson's sister-in-law Susan (Susan Ziegler) as waaay more than a friend and muse.
Thursday, June 7 · 7:00pm · Egyptian
Saturday, June 9 · 4:00pm· Egyptian
My Name is Myeisha
Actor Rhaechyl Walker scheduled to attend
Based on the internationally renowned play "Dreamscape" by Rickerby Hinds—itself a fictionalized retelling of the police shooting of Tyisha Miller—My Name is Myeisha uses hip-hop, spoken word poetry, and dance to dig into the life of a single African-American teenager "born and raised in the IE;" as the medical examiner beatboxes his way through describing each of the 12 bullets that entered her body, Myeisha launches into soliloquies about black hair culture, her high school sports career, and when she lost her virginity.
Friday, June 8 · 9:30pm · SIFF Cinema Uptown
Saturday, June 9 · 1:45pm · Pacific Place
Molly Shannon is one of the greatest comedic actors of our time, and casting her as Emily Dickinson is absolute genius. And here's a short promo film for My Name is Myeisha that screened at Sundance:
It's been kind of a rotten season for blockbusters, so treat yourself to an actually good movie this weekend!
Seattle-area lit mag Word Lit Zine editor-in-chief Jekeva Phillips had this to say about her relationship with Junot Diaz, who has been accused of sexual assault: "As fans we fall in love with the work—a book, tv show, character, an album— and because we feel so close to that work we transfer those feelings to its creator. When that creator fucks up, he/she takes away that joy for the fans."
Yesterday, the Boston Review, which employs Diaz as a fiction editor, decided to stand by their man:
We support the New Yorker staff union. If you agree, and if you subscribe to the New Yorker, you should definitely send a little card or email to let the magazine know about your support of the union. Magazines simply can't afford to take their subscribers' wishes lightly these days.
Amazon-owned Comixology, which was previously a storefront for e-comics, recently announced they were going to publish their own original comics, thereby competing with traditional comics companies. The Beat looks into what this means for the comics industry.. And Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds published a Twitter thread this week talking about his concerns.
If I had any advice for comics shops and comics publishers, it'd be this: don't ever trust Amazon. Don't let your guard down for a second. They will get as close to you as possible and they will stab you right in between the ribs. Expect them to try to fuck you over in brilliant and inventive ways. That's literally their business model. If you believe I'm being hyperbolic, I urge you to look at their entire history to date.
That said, the Amazon-produced 11-episode adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad is going to be entirely directed by Moonlight's Barry Jenkins and it's probably going to be amazing.
Congratulations to the winners of this year's Lambda Literary Awards, including Roxane Gay and Emil Ferris!
This hedge fund is trying to break into literature by "tak[ing] what we know about hedge fund management and apply[ing] it to literature and the creation of a new generation of best-selling novelists." Gross!
Cat Rambo is a mainstay of Seattle science fiction scene: she attends readings, she supports the community through teaching, and she represents the city as an acclaimed novelist and short story author.
Last week, Rambo announced a new project through Kickstarter: If This Goes On, an anthology that examines what might happen a generation or so into the future if the current political climate continues as it has been. Most everyone reading this has read a headline about the Trump administration over the last year and a half and wondered to themselves, “are we going to be okay?” If This Goes On attempts to answer that question.
Rambo has collected stories from 30 new and established sci-fi authors, including Seattle author (and Seattle Review of Books contributor) Nisi Shawl. Backers will help fund the publication of the book, and they will receive copies before If This Goes On is available in stores. At the time of this writing, the Kickstarter is more than halfway to its goal; if you’d like to contribute and get an e-book, paperback, or special hardback edition of the book, you can just click these words. Rambo emailed with me late last week about the project, the pains and pleasures of editing, and all the other projects she’s currently working on.
How did this project come together? Was it your idea, or were you brought on later?
This project was the result of talking with publisher Colin Coyle of Parvus Press, who I had met through mutual volunteer work with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in the weeks after the 2016 elections. We both felt that what we saw happening in America — the normalizing of hatred, the jettisoning of truth, and the corruption of so many basic values — was something that writers had to address. That in an era where questions of responsibility, humanity, and basic ethics are being raised on a daily - sometimes it seems like hourly - basis, we agreed that writers had to speak out, using the genre most adapted to predicting the future, speculative fiction.
We did a mix of half solicited stories and half open call, because it’s important to me that projects like this be open to newer writers. As a result we got some dynamite pieces from both established writers and some names that I think will be coming up over and over again in years to come. Some of the futures explored in the book are purely metaphorical, while others seem entirely too possible. I was pleased with the range of stories turned in, and the fact that there were so many hopeful ones.
These are some very impressive authors — as an editor, is it more difficult to edit people you admire? And every editor/writer relationship is different—it seems like it would be incredibly difficult to edit 30 different contributors, because you’d have to learn 30 different ways to edit a text. Would you say that’s true, or am I just a bad editor?
Yes! One does not want to offend -- or worse yet, misunderstand -- the writing of someone whose work you love. But to me the job of an editor is to make the story more so, to figure out how, in the words of the immortal Spinal Tap, one turns the good parts up to 11 while smoothing any roughnesses. I’ve just finished up those edits, and it’s impressed me again with what a solid book this is.
Is there anything you’d say to someone who loves these authors and wants to support the book but is feeling incredibly burnt out about current events?
Well, for one, I’m right there with everyone else in feeling a little burned out by the onslaught. But, as I said, there’s some messages of hope there, expressions of the innate goodness many of us (myself included) believe human beings are capable of. Moreover, the book has a sense of community, of knowing others are there with you in going ‘woah, wait a minute, things have gone beyond the pale.’
And if you don’t want to read it, buy it as a gift for a friend! The Kickstarter’s got some nifty levels to it if you want to show solidarity with the project.
For me as a reader, it was hard, even impossible, to read fiction the year after Trump became president. Some of it had to do, I think, that I was dealing with novels that were written before the supposedly unthinkable happened, so they felt weirdly out-of-date, even if they were brand new. As a writer, did you have to rethink the way you approached fiction?
I think I had a few months where I could not write near future SF at all. On a purely practical level, some sections of the possible future got closed off, and events skewed so wackily that I, along with other people, kept waking up with the sense we’d wandered into a badly written TV show that was refusing to end. I worked on my fantasy novel, Hearts of Tabat, the one that just came out, in part because it’s an attempt to talk about how oppression works.
Teaching, strangely enough, was also comforting because it reinforced and built my awareness of some of the fierce young activists getting stirred up by events.
You’re typically what I’d describe as a prolific author, but this year seems especially big for you—you only just had a launch party for the second book in your Tabat Quartet. Are you working harder than ever, or have publication dates just aligned like some remarkable multi-planet eclipse? Do you have any more publications on the horizon?
I think that’s partially a result of the way publishing works and the fact that I’m a hybrid author doing both traditional and indie publishing. Hearts of Tabat is out through Wordfire Press, run by Kevin J. Anderson (who actually edited the book) while I’ve got a nonfiction book about writing, Moving From Idea to Draft, that just came out this week, and am re-issuing two collections this year. Right now I’m working on Exiles of Tabat, the third fantasy novel, with my target of a first draft by summer’s end in sight and a release date of next May, barring disaster and/or the release of a videogame with as much allure as Skyrim held for me.
At the same time - yeah, I’m reasonably prolific, striving a la Stephen King for 2,000 words a day, mainly because I’m pragmatic and know that if I’m not writing, stuff’s not getting published. I’m lucky enough not to have a day job but the boss I’ve ended up working for is tougher than any other employer I’ve ever had. Still, I’m blessed in that I can take on some projects like this one, which is very much a work of passion and love.
While you were grillin' burritos or sockin' the beach or whatever the hell it is people do over Memorial Day weekend, the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival was busy making some big announcements about this year's festival, which happens on November 3rd this year at Seattle Center.
First! They dropped this year's poster, which was drawn by Anna Haifisch. It's a beauty:
Second! They announced some very special guests who'll be attending this year's festival. Haifisch is obviously attending, along with Rina Ayuyang, Mimi Pond, Olivier Schrauwen, Whit Taylor, Carol Tyler, and November Garcia.
I don't have much personal experience with most of these authors, but Pond's semiautobiographical account of waitressing, The Customer Is Always Wrong, is one of the best comics I've ever read about the experience of working. Garcia is the 2018 Short Run Dash Grant recipient. (The Dash Grant is a great scholarship program that funds the publication of a comic and sponsors an emerging artist at the festival.)
And lastly, if you want to have a table at this year's Short Run, they are now accepting applications for exhibitors. The deadline is July 31st but for God's sake don't wait until the last minute or you'll psych yourself out, okay? Apply now.
UPDATE: And Short Run just today debuted a nifty, slick video explaining the festival to a whole new audience:
Our new video! https://t.co/gz6Y06xN3g— Short Run (@shortrunseattle) June 5, 2018
Translated from the Chinese by Eleanor Goodman
Recently I’ve fallen in love with instant coffee
dissolving you like dissolving my heart
leaving dark stains
on the walls, clothing, drawers
perhaps the caffeine has expired
not even love poetry can keep things fresh
I fell in love with coffee because of Detective Galileo
my heart leaps and hands tremble
but that has nothing to do with love’s homicide case
(who murdered the innocent?)
and your whereabouts offline
once in a while on the web I’ll discover
someone else with your name
but the internet is vast scattered and uneven
my last note before I die will be like a dismembered corpse
bobbing up and down
it’s better to go offline and climb a long flight of stairs
from the first half of your life to the second
At last I’m on the open patio with the cat watching the sky
the early morning sunlight is wet from last night’s rain
the birdsong is hoarse from the city’s pollution
the cat’s tail is quite short it’s longer than my affection
I let go swiftly and off slips
cat fur and nothingness
I bow to my own shadow and smile
I lift my head to look for a bit of clear sky
but all I see is a dizzying blue curtain
like the flickering of a computer screen
then a ferocious barking drifts up from a lower floor
the sharp yapping sinks its teeth into my senses
a wolf heart like iron
I chase the black cat cursing
my stomach churns
I decide to have another cup of coffee
dissolving you like dissolving my heart
Who hasn't dreamed of setting out to sea? The romance, the danger, the open waves? Our sponsor this week is Wendy Hinman, who dreamed about it, then did it. Hinman spent seven years on the Pacific Ocean, sharing a tiny sailboat with her husband, Garth. And Garth was the perfect companion: more than two decades earlier, he and his sister and parents survived shipwreck (and each other) to circumnavigate the globe. Hinman's award-winning books, Tightwads on the Loose and Sea Trials, document both adventures with honesty, humor, and spirit.
Both books are a blast to read, and this week you can hear Hinman tell those stories in person. She's at Third Place Books in Seward Park on June 7, and at King's Books in Tacoma on June 9. By all accounts, she's a fabulous storyteller. Don't miss the chance to hear her. Before you go, check out the sample (and more information about Hinman's books) on our sponsor page.
Sponsors like Wendy Hinman bring great events and new releases to your attention and make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? If you have a book, event, or opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, find out more, or check available dates and reserve a spot.
Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811, http://openpoetrybooks.com, 7 pm, free.
Although he first made his name as one of Seattle’s two best-known Jeopardy! champions, Ken Jennings has built an interesting post-game-show career. He’s parlayed a record as the winningest Jeopardy! contestant into literary celebrity.
In addition to a line of trivia books for kids, Jennings is the author of a funny memoir about his time as a Jeopardy! champ, Brainiac. Jennings’s charming Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks proved that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder — that there is, in fact, life after Trebek.
It’s hard to talk about Jennings in a literary context without mentioning that he is very, very good at Twitter. Jennings is, in fact, a hilarious writer who perfected the idea of a zinger that could comfortably fit inside a 140- (and then 280-) character limit. You can’t help but picture him in another life writing zingers for the nightly monologue of someone like Johnny Carson.
With his newest book, Jennings is combining his literary career with his Twitter skills. Subtitled How Comedy Took Over Our Culture, Planet Funny is a history of comedy — going all the way back to Sumeria — and a reckoning for a time in which every asshole with a Twitter handle thinks they’re the host of their own goddamned Daily Show.
Jennings has been talking about the book that would become Planet Funny for years now — it’s been so long since I first heard about it at a party that I thought maybe he’d given up on the thing — but the delay came for the best reason imaginable: he’s been deep in research. Planet Funny is a deeply considered study of where comedy began, and where it’s going.
Tonight, Jennings celebrates Planet Funny’s release with a reading before a hometown crowd at Elliott Bay Book Company. These are the kind of parties that make literary life in Seattle so much fun. Go be a part of it.