November's 2018's Post-it note art from Instagram

Over on our Instagram page, we’re posting a weekly installation from Clare Johnson’s Post-it Note Project, a long running daily project. Here’s her wrap-up and statement from November's posts.

November's Theme: That November / Mixed Feelings

Thanksgiving and US elections stress me out. They are scary, and I don’t really want to talk about it. On the other hand, there’s my old love rainy weather. And sometimes a particular November turns out ok. These post-its are from a fateful November two years ago—yes, that November, one that very noticeably did not turn out ok. For me, that month started with a trip to the East Coast, staying with a college friend for a few days while we collaborated on what was both the most and least glamorous project ever. She and her partner provided an ACTUAL GUEST ROOM for me to stay in. The good fortune of having queer friends with guest rooms should never be underestimated, please remind me to delight in this memory more often ok? One wall was resplendent with old nautical prints; I don’t know why rooms on the other coast always feel darker to me than Seattle ones. In their bathroom, my musical-theater-loving friend had hung framed sheet music from eras past, including a 1910 song called “I’ve Got The Time, I’ve Got The Place—But It’s Hard To Find The Girl.” The bathroom is a great place to contemplate things, and I found myself contemplating the photo on the cover of that song. Crisply-pressed suit and tie; sweet smile; hat held politely in subtly gentle hand. Compelling in a way you’d only understand if you do. My friend explained the dapper young singer was professional male impersonator Hetty King, famed in English music halls of the early 1900s. Election day hit silently while I was on a train into New York, my ballot sent in long before the trip, bad news rolling through the city as the night went on, inescapable. (Inescapable, that is, unless you were the seemingly oblivious straight white couple on a first date next to me at that one empty-ish bar, forcing your loudly self-indulgent flirting down everyone’s throats, flaunting your privileged straight white happiness as the TV news anchors flailed and dread clamped down over my head and chest. You guys were awful.) When I got back to Seattle, there were so many people smiling at me. On the phone with another friend I shared my delighted confusion at these open, friendly looks around the neighborhood. Her theory was that I look gay—in the wake of the election, she posited, maybe these people were scrambling to reassure any visible minorities in their vicinity that they were sympathetic, safe, sorry even. There’s no way to know the answer. And then Thanksgiving—long days. Explaining anything feels wrong, because at the end of the day you don’t need to know my whole day, ever.

The Help Desk: Lord, give me the confidence of a lactating spider

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I work in a bookstore and I deal with self-published authors who come in to place their books on our shelves on consignment. Some of the authors are very polite and kind and understand that they're not my only client. But the pushiest authors I know, the ones who bug me incessantly and continually ask why I don't put their books on the counter at the front of the store, have the self-published books that don't even look like books — they're double-spaced, and the covers are garbage and they're printed on 8 1/2 by 11 paper. The back covers are riddled with errors, and the dialogue reads like it was written by an ESL class from Tokyo on its first day.

The most confident authors I've ever met are also the worst authors I've ever met. In your experience, is self-confidence a sign of bad writing?

Pat, Columbia City

Dear Pat,

Did you know that some spiders breastfeed their young? Imagine the body confidence it takes for a spider to look at a dairy cow, nature's milk-producing poster child, voluptuous udders refracted in each of its eight tiny eyes and think "Nice try but I can do better."

Spiders do not even have mammaries. What they lactate could better be described as protein venom, yet produce it they do. The reason? Confidence, willpower, and spite.

All artists are powered by a blend of confidence, willpower, and spite. It takes those three traits to take stock of the world – and the art already in it – and conclude an important point of view is missing: their own. This isn't a bad thing, but as you've discovered, when one trait outweighs the rest, the artist becomes insufferable.

Nature will take care of over-confident writers in time. Like over-confident spiders, their protein-to-venom ratio is screwy and they will find few volunteers willing to suckle at their teets, metaphorically speaking. This vicious cycle will continue until they are all venom, devoid of protein, and they find to their horror they have misspelled their own name on the cover of their own self-published book. On that day, they will quit art altogether and resume their career as a real estate agent/fly catcher while the watchers of the world, like you, quietly celebrate.



Portrait Gallery: Martha Brockenbrough

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a portrait of a new author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know

Friday, December 7: Unpresidented Reading
Join Seattle author Martha Brockenbrough this Friday when she debuts Unpresidented, a biography of Donald Trump written with the YA crowd in mind.
University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Kissing Books: Something out of the ordinary

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.

Holidays are points on the timeline where the ordinary world cracks open a little and something numinous filters through. In the Catholic calendar I was raised with the weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent, which (like Lent in the spring) is officially, theologically different from the long stretch of green-robed months labeled Ordinary Time. Holidays were by definition extraordinary times.

Some holidays we fixate on more than others, as a culture. Some of those timeline cracks we take a narrative crowbar to, prying the opening wide to get more of the magic out. Christmas, for example, is always being worked at, even in tales that never breathe the name Jesus. There’s a kind of secular magic that turns up, though centering it on a Christian holiday still puts a great deal of pressure on people of other faiths. I think it’s telling that we classify Christmas stories as general fiction, even though they often feature clearly speculative elements. Mortals encounter ghosts or angels or spirits; magical objects change the course of a character’s life; supernatural agents work secretly for the betterment of all. A Christmas Carol is a time-travel book and a ghost story, though people look at you funny if you recommend it as such.

This year, heading into the darkest months, it feels like we need that magic more than usual. We need the oil to last longer than it‘s supposed to; we need ghosts to take gloomy mercy on our errors; we need a kindly supernatural hand to guide us toward a better, happier future. Maybe it’s that vast yearning that cracks open the world in the first place — you can’t make changes without first desiring change. And stories are how we come to understand what we want to be different. So many of those magical stories always seem to come back to very real, very human goodness: generosity, kindness, charity, hope, and love. It has to be more than coincidence.

There’s a scene in A Christmas Carol that almost never makes it into the adaptations: Marley, after confronting Scrooge, directs him to look out the window, where the London streets are teeming with guilty ghosts burdened by chains of greed and selfishness. They wail and weep among the homeless and hungry, and Dickens makes it clear: “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.” The wish-fulfillment angle of this scene is not ghosts are real. It’s not even you can save yourself, chosen human. The wish-fulfillment is people can help one another in the real world.

Romance author Mary Buckell once said "if you’re writing literary fiction, you believe that people cannot change." Commercial fiction means you believe that people can change.” Half the time I believe this sentiment; half the time I want to challenge it to rapiers at dawn. But I do believe that a happy ending requires transformation. And transformations are hard. We humans are prone to entropy and sluggishness. We want to keep our compass steady, we want to stay where we’re comfortable, we want tomorrow to be predictable because then we know what to expect. We know, deep down, that to make a lasting change to habit or habitat requires more than the usual amount of motivation.

It requires, in fact, a little magic. Something out of the ordinary — an angel, a ghost, a magical Advent calendar in a TV movie. Something to help us do what we fear we’d never succeed at on our own. So we pick a date and pick up the crowbar — or a holiday story — and work to let a little more light shine through.

Recent Romances:

Thankful by Edie Bryant (contemporary f/bi f):

I must be honest: this book leaned a little too heavily on the misunderstandings for my taste. Don’t be an idiot! I was forced to yell silently, at more than one plot point. But allowances must be made for youth, and sometimes the perspective of thirty-seven years only weighs me down like the wettest of blankets. This book is the quintessential New Adult romance, which often feels as if the author and not only the characters are trying to find their voice. It is over-dramatic and prone to impulsive mistakes but also chock-full of what we Olds call potential — I have the oddest feeling that if I just leave this book alone to make its own choices it will grow up into something truly special.

It can’t. Because it’s a book, not a person. But I kind of wish it could.

Maybe it’s just the premise, which is so perfectly suited to my taste that it dwarfed every other objection. Heroine Danielle has had a strained relationship with her parents since leaving home (and coming out), so this year she decides to surprise them by showing up again on their doorstep in her hometown. Only they’ve moved. Out of state. Two years ago. Without telling her. And they wouldn’t have wanted her anyway, because their new condo is a bit too small for guests. It’s the absolute last straw in a long line of parental disinterest, and honestly when Danielle sat down to have a good cry on the porch it seemed like the most human thing she could have done.

But she isn’t crying long, because her former best friend Elise — who lives just across the street, with a houseful of happy extended family — finds her and demands she stay with them for the long holiday weekend. Danielle is nervous, because she always had a hopeless crush on her straight friend. Elise is nervous, because in the years since they drifted apart she’s come out as bisexual, but she’s never found anyone else who she loves as much as she loved Danielle. I’d have liked to have seen a few more scenes of our heroines interacting without the drama — the focused nature of novellas mean we’re in crisis mode most of the time, when I wanted to know how they would treat one another in, as it were, ordinary time. Holidays and family crises are states of heightened reality, which don’t always reflect someone’s daily state of being. But, on the whole, this sweet and earnest little f/f is doing okay, even if it hasn’t mastered adulting quite yet.

I’d met some great people with great qualities who, theoretically, I should have really been into. But I never was. There was never that chemistry that I desperately desired. I wanted to be with someone I loved. I wanted to be thrilled to wake up to someone in the morning and go to bed with them at night. I wanted happiness like I’d never felt it before.

A Wedding One Christmas by Therese Beharrie Carina Press: contemporary m/f):

This South African-set book is an absolute confection, but there’s a surprisingly rich and satisfying center beneath all the froth and frosting on top. Beharrie begins with a classic romance set-up: two strangers meet by chance at a wedding they have complicated feelings about. Angie is a romance writer still working through her grief about her father’s death years ago (just @ me next time, why don’t you) and Ezra is a newly heartbroken women’s studies professor (who never mansplains feminism to the heroine, thankfully) struggling to get perspective on the mistakes of relationships past. They are two people running headlong from their own pain and vulnerabilities, all of which get knotted up when they crash into one another. Like Christmas lights in a box in the garage. By the time they untangle all the separate strings, they’ve had time to start to heal and get their souls in order. And also experience the sheer, breathtaking horror conjured up by the phrase volunteer ad-libbed Nativity play.

Reader, it was appalling and hilarious and absolutely delicious.

Therese Beharrie’s buoyant voice moves like quicksilver, trading flirty banter for sharp, painful flashes of realization in an instant. It keeps the reader feeling comfortingly weightless even as she lands on truly profound questions: where is the line between independence and loneliness? Between wants and needs? How do you give yourself up to passion and generosity without sacrificing too much or leaving yourself hollow and empty? These are not problems quickly solved, as the book well knows. The story takes place in a single day but gives our hero and heroine plenty of scope for chemistry, for confrontation, and for communication. Like a stage play — or a ghostly holiday tale — where the emotional ground covered is far more extensive than the chronological space would appear to allow. Sure, it’s been one day in book time — but we’ve been there with these two for all of it. We know who they are by now, so it’s natural to believe they know each other well enough to fall a little bit in love. Sweet but not saccharine, heavy on the romance but super-light on the sex, this is one thoughtful holiday romance you won’t want to miss.

The real problem was that he wanted her. It was that plain, that simple. It had nothing to do with him going home. Or with what he’d face at home. It had everything to do with the falling. That after a day in her presence, he knew he was falling, and could only imagine what another day — a week, a month, a year — would do. He didn’t want to have to imagine. He wanted to live it. He didn’t want to say goodbye.

Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (self-published: contemporary m/f):

The power of the good girl/bad boy trope is this: the good girls are never as good as people think, and the bad boys are always secretly better than anyone gives them credit for. It’s about truth versus reputation; rumors, secrets, and hidden hopes all balled up together and heated up by conflict and chemistry.

That’s never been truer than in this sleek and perfect novella from Suleikha Snyder. Pinky Grover dropped out of grad school to help out when her mom got sick, and now slings plates in her family’s Indian restaurant, as though she never dreamed of traveling the world and studying unique cultures. Trucker Carlson was a fuck-up as a kid and now does worse as a member of the Eagles biker gang — a violent, gun-running, white supremacist outfit — but despite his poor taste in friends, Trucker can’t stay away from Mrs. Grover’s amazing samosas. Or from the daughter who serves them up. The two have no business hooking up, none at all. But months of silent eye-banging and one cheesy pickup line in a Walmart parking lot are all it takes to turn sparks into supernovas — and lord, did this book knock me down. Snyder has a way of taking two characters who are plenty interesting on their own, and making them sparkle even more brilliantly as a couple. Her sex scenes just feel like so much fun: banter and teasing and laughter, along with feelings and revelations and high-quality orgasms. It makes the breakneck pace of the romance completely plausible. “We can’t be in love this quickly,” the characters say, and the reader cries back that of course you can! Look at how good you are together!

It’s a roller coaster, with all the stomach drops and rushing adrenaline. We fall fast and hard and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

He wore his Eagles leathers — there was probably some kind of rule that he couldn’t take them off — but the faded T-shirt that hugged his chest sported Captain America’s shield. It seemed a little off-brand, given his choice of vocation and the company he kept.

Cinder Ella by S.T. Lynn (LoveLight Press: trans f/f):

Cinderella variants are my absolute catnip in romance — historical, fantasy, or contemporary, I like the classic shape as much as I like the twists, and I never seem to get tired of them no matter how many I read. The heart of the story is not about the prince, or not simply about the prince: it’s about a true and hopeful soul finding recognition of worth after having persevered through trials and suffering, and in spite of poverty and powerlessness. How could such a dream ever get old?

S.T. Lynn’s variant gives us a black trans heroine, making the question of recognition all the more vital. Ella has lost her mother and her father, and her social climbing stepmother insists on referring to her as Cole, her late father’s son, so Ella has to keep her true self carefully hidden unless she’s alone. Despite all the grief and heartache in her life, though, Ella is still a dreamer, still determined to find good where she can (the days she tends the gardens, pamphlets of designer dresses, her dog Lady). When she is invited to attend the ball and dance with the princess, it’s more than she ever dared hope for. This is a wide-open wish-fulfillment story, not subtle in the least and very YA-inflected, but Ella is so warmly charming that you stay with her even though you can see the strings moving, narratively speaking. The secondary characters are equally lovely, from the mischievous lady-in-waiting in love with the prince, to the small-town cheese maker and goatherd who helps Ella get back on her feet in the second act. It gave me serious nostalgia for all the semi-modern fairy-tale retellings I loved best growing up: Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess, the gorgeous film adaptation of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy as the lead. Sometimes you need to watch nice things happen to nice people, in spite of all the villains in the world.

Ella wasn’t sure if a woman could fall in love talking over dogs and gardening, two songs and a single kiss, but her heart was giving it a good try.

This Month’s Cult Classic

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant (self-published: historical m/f):

I love the Blackshear trilogy but until recently had let prequel novella A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong slip through the cracks. Turns out it’s my absolute favorite kind of Christmas story: a lonely, lovely misadventure with unexpected snow, stern souls learning to unbend, and finding warmth in places you least expect it. Eldest Blackshear sibling and general stick-in-the-mud Andrew has ventured out to the country to purchase a falcon for his soon-to-be-married sister. The falcons are trained by Baron Sharp and his daughter Lucy, who’s led a lonely if brilliantly educated life with her father for company — reading Hume, having philosophical debates, and training birds. Andrew puts the demands of family and duty above all else. Lucy yearns to know more of the world, but her father is set in his ways and doesn’t budge from his comfortable home. She has a chance to attend her first Christmas party in society, with people her own age and potential husbands — but to get there, she has to convince prim and prudish Andrew to throw propriety to the wind and drive her to her aunt’s house unchaperoned. It should be a short and simple trip, after which they will part as strangers forever.

Of course it all goes, as the title says, perfectly wrong.

There are more than a few romance authors whose status in the genre is partly due to sheer accumulation. Nora Roberts has written over two hundred titles and counting. The Romance Writers of America give their Centennial Award to members who’ve published one hundred books, and the list of names is both illustrious (shoutout to Brenda Jackson and Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick!) and surprisingly lengthy.

And then there’s Cecilia Grant.

There’s a much-mangled quote about the Velvet Underground: that they didn’t sell many records, but that every single person who bought one went out and started a band. Since her debut in 2012 Cecilia Grant has published three novels and a holiday novella — certainly not nothing, but quantifiably on the low end by romance’s ravenous standards. Yet those four stories inevitably crop up on best-of lists, in Twitter recommendation threads, and in conversations at conventions and Instagram feeds. People will occasionally ask each other if she’s still writing — because even nearly five years after her final novella appeared, they’re still hungry for more of her stories, more of her characters. She’s one of the rare authors who works both for longtime romance readers and for people brand new to the genre. If there is such a thing as a romance cult author, Cecilia Grant is it.

Trouble found him, in torrents that put the winter squall to shame.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Illegal, aliens

Grant Morrison is two issues into a run on Green Lantern, and it's a glorious mix of Silver Age DC Comics and Heavy Metal magazine. The book is aggressively weird — one Green Lantern is a virus, another is a big, muscular body with an exploding volcano for a head — but it is at its heart a police story. There's an interrogation scene and a deathbed confession and all the tropes you'd find in a Law & Order episode, only with magic rings and bird-people.

Artist Liam Sharp is doing the work of his life on this book: in the past, his art has seemed better-suited for horror, but the weird sci-fi of Green Lantern is something else again. There's enough detail on every page to take out a reader's eye, and very few artists in general seem as uniquely skilled as Sharp at getting Morrison's enormous concepts down smoothly on paper.

Still, I have to admit to some uneasiness with the book. Green Lantern here is presented as a bit of a prick. (He calls himself a "bastard" at one point.) And his respect for the rights of criminals is, shall we say, less than robust. Morrison is hardly a rabid conservative, so the weird authoritarianism in Green Lantern is likely to be a setup for some kind of a revelation later on. It's surely the most beautiful book that DC is publishing right now, and there are high-concept ideas on every single page of the book, but this isn't the time to elevate a hardline law and order agenda in a comic book.

This week also saw the first issue of a new comic series written by sci-fi writer Nnedi Okorafor. Like Green Lantern, Laguardia features bizarre aliens and high-concept sci-fi throughout. But unlike Green Lantern, Laguardia is interested in the personal struggle against law enforcement.

Beautifully illustrated by Tana Ford, Laguardia is the story of a very pregnant Nigerian woman named Future who flies in to the Laguardia International and Interplanetary Airport ("the only airport with interplanetary travel services in North America.") There's a complex and thoughtless customs process to navigate, and the airport is teeming with aliens making their way to and fro: small, green germlike creatures, a man with a carrot for a head. They're coming to America.

Laguardia is a futuristic story about one of the oldest human concepts: borders, and what they do to us. Future has a plan to upturn America's anti-alien culture (it involves an alien named Letme Live) and she's not afraid to break a few laws to do it. Between Future and the Green Lantern, I know where my loyalties lie.

Rebecca Solnit calls us by our true names, but sometimes we can't hear her

Rebecca Solnit's book of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, left me feeling depressed. It's not that Solnit is a depressing writer — in fact, the book ends on a series of hopeful grace notes. And it's not even that Solnit directs her considerable intelligence toward the very real problems of America in 2018 — the harassment and abuse of women, the president's aliterate war on rationality, the battle lines of power being drawn in our gentrifying cities.

No, for me the issue is that Solnit is such a brilliant writer, and that she writes with such surety, that as soon as I set Names aside and open my Twitter feed, the world feels murky and grey in comparison. Arguments are less sharp, reality seems confusing in its moral complications. It's like going from a high-definition television to a grainy black-and-white set with a clothes-hanger antenna.

We had plenty to discuss at last night's Reading Through It Book Club. Solnit seems to only write about the most pressing issues of our time, and the essays in Names are so immediate that the ink on the pages practically feels wet. She finds the connections between all the fault lines in our culture, finding the surprising links between #MeToo and Trump's election, gentrification and police shootings.

I mean, this is pretty convincing:

Trump is patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation.

"Patriarchy unbuttoned" is a pretty great turn of phrase for the current moment, with Kavanaugh bellowing and Lindsay Graham shrieking and basement warriors everywhere whining about men's rights. It's two words that distill everything, a pure display of Solnit's power.

Last night's book club ended with a discussion of Solnit's wrenching account of gentrification in San Francisco and how it relates to Seattle. The next few months will see candidates from across the political spectrum running for seven neighborhood seats on Seattle's City Council. Those campaigns are likely to incite a volatile conversation about what we want the city to be, and what our responsibility is to each other. I have a sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, Seattle will not live up to Solnit's exacting moral standards.

Big book distributor to be bought by slightly larger book distributor?

Holy shit: this, from Publishers Weekly, is terrible news:

The Ingram Content Group has made a tentative offer to buy the retail wholesaling operation of Baker & Taylor, and the Federal Trade Commission has launched what it is calling “very preliminary investigation” of the proposed deal, sources told PW. The Ingram bid was made about a month ago, sources said.

If you've never worked in a bookstore this might sound like inside baseball. But if you shop at independent bookstores, this is something that could very well affect you. If the largest book distributor in the country buys the second-largest book distributor in the country, bookstores will likely be facing a monopoly situation — one in which Ingram can set the terms however they like.

It's true that bookstores will still be able to order titles directly from the publisher, but distributors are an important part of the book business — they're more expensive to buy from than the publishers, but they're faster and more efficient. If there's less competition in the distribution field, however, the incentive to be fast and efficient goes away.

This might sound like scaremongering to you, but there's already a clear example of what happens to a business when there's only one distributor: comics shops around the country get their product from the only comics distributor in the business, Diamond. And I don't know if you've heard lately, but comics retail is...not doing great.

The American Booksellers Association should be using the entirety of its power to fight this potential deal. Ingram buying Baker & Taylor will not benefit independent booksellers in the least — in fact, it is guaranteed to harm them. Please contact the ABA and tell them to take up this charge. We can't trust the Trump Administration to do the right thing and block this monopoly in the making.

"I am offering you a 1,000,000% guarantee that what will transpire at the Neptune tonight will make you feel alive and free."

As Martin told you in this week's Whatcha Reading column, tonight is the launch party for the Shout Your Abortion anthology at the Neptune Theater (get your tickets here.) We talked with SYA founder Amelia Bonow about the creation of the anthology and why — even though it's cold and dark and generally Northwest wintry outside — tonight's event is worth your time and attention.

Why was it important for you to make a SYA book? Why not a podcast or a documentary for your first major media document?

This book is our first attempt at a creating a snapshot of the movement, and in some ways, that felt impossible. One of the main things that SYA wants to communicate is that there is no single abortion narrative. Making a book that communicates that is sort of a catch twenty-two because no matter what, you’re going to select and edit a finite number of stories and your curation will create an arc of some kind whether you want to or not.

However, after the 2016 election I felt really strongly that we needed a practical, tangible tool that could communicate what SYA is doing and why, and help people find their way into the movement. In some ways, books are more accessible than the vast majority of mediums. They are infinitely sharable, they are un-hackable, they are something which people can encounter by accident. On that point, another reason I wanted to make this book is that it’s intended to be a tool for abortion clinics. We got a grant from Abortion Conversation Projects and we will be sending this book to hundreds of clinics for their waiting and recovery rooms, so thousands of people will flip through this book before or after they have their abortions. I honestly believe that simply encountering some positive representation in that moment will allow many people to have a profoundly healthier abortion experience. It’s a really beautiful thing to think that this book could disrupt the expectation of silence and shame for someone before it has a chance to get totally ingrained.

While I know you and Emily Nokes have worked on zines together, I believe this is your first book project, correct. Can you talk about the process of making the book, and what you learned while putting it together?

It was really special to make this book with Emily, because she one of my best friends and she also happens to be one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. She also lives next door to me, which means we could literally air drop gigantic files back and forth without wearing pants.

Emily and I worked together in a way that was everything I love about women: it was a collaborative process with a lot of mutual trust and zero ego. It was very intuitive and symbiotic and wavy and we factored in one another’s menstrual cycles into our work plan and I am not joking. Why wouldn’t we? Also, making a book is wildly, unfathomably stressful, especially when you are making an abortion book that has upwards of 100 contributors. The fact that we were able to get through such a grueling process and feel totally supported and respected by each other is an affirmation of everything this book is about! Women are the only people who have ever held me down like that. I guess if anything, making this book confirmed my feeling that I really don’t want to work with cis men anymore.

It's a very interesting format — magazine-y in some places, a literary anthology in other places. Did you have any books that you looked to as inspiration for the anthology?

Emily and I both spent a lot of time thumbing through books and found inspiration here and there but I don’t think we really found anything like the book we wanted to make—I feel pretty confident saying that nothing like this has ever existed before.

Seattleites in December are prone to heading home in the pitch dark after work, putting on some comfy sweatpants, and crawling inside their couches for some hibernation. What's your pitch to someone who wants to fight that nesting urge and come out to the show tonight?

You can wear leggings to the Neptune! Wear your couch! Winter insularity is totally reasonable because it’s really hard to know if something is going to be worth it. Like, is this band going to be as good as my couch? In this particular case, I am offering you a 1,000,000% guarantee that what will transpire at the Neptune tonight will make you feel alive and free. And we all need to feel that way as much as we possibly can these days.

Book News Roundup: Sign up for Clarion West's summer workshop now!

“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”

Talk about the weather

Published December 04, 2018, at 11:49am

Paul Constant reviews Marian Blue's Interpretative Guide to Western-Northwest Weather Forecasts.

Weather in Seattle is almost always the same deal, day in day out. A new book proposes to teach you how to discern between our three hundred (or so) distinct varieties of rain.

Read this review now



tomorrow, I’ll be
farther than ever before from your hands & feet.
when I lay me down to sleep

I pray for us.

I made a fuss
over time & frivolity, really.

sometimes, I really,
really, really miss you.

there’s a tv show I’m into
& the main character is you, pretty much.
it’s amazing how little we touch
now compared to before when it was all the time.

I forgot to write you into the last line,
but I swear that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten anything.
there's an ampersand in everything
about you & me & you & me.

Don't miss our Monday read, from Adrianne Harun's "Catch, Release"

We're thrilled to welcome Adrianne Harun as sponsor this week. Essayist, author, and reviewer, Harun's essays and stories are widely anthologized and admired. Her new collection, Catch, Release, was praised by Tim O'Brien as "Brilliant. Masterly brilliant. Tour de force brilliant" and by Joyce Carol Oates as "Riveting. Vividly imagined, like fever dreams ..."

But don't take it from them! Take it from us: Harun's writing is mesmerizing. In the excerpt she shares this week, a plane carries a new arrival into London, an alien land he approaches with the refined dread of a nightmare-haunted childhood. Her sentences are direct, disarmingly so; she leads her readers into paragraphs where they wake, with some unease, to find they're no longer where they thought. Here's the opening to "A New Arrival":

Dawn breaks outside the oval windows and blinds them all. They are flying through the break of day, the actual point that separates the unstoppable day from cleaving night. Below them lies a heavy band of stratocumulus, like a line on a map separating one country from another. The country below us may be under siege, he thinks, but we will fly on unhindered. It has nothing to do with us.

Read more on our sponsor feature page, then buy the book at Elliot Bay or the independent bookstore of your choice.

Sponsors like Adrianne Harun make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you can sponsor us, too? We only have three slots left in the first quarter of the year (and we haven't even gone public yet!). Reserve your week of choice before it's too late: Just send us a note at

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from December 3rd - 9th

Monday, December 3: Bob Peterson Reading

The Seattle photographer is famous for iconic shots he took for Life, Sports Illustrated, and more. He'll be celebrating the launch of a new book collecting his photos, with the help of Seattle artist and sculptor Tony Angell.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, December 4: Three Debuts

Mohamed Asem is the author of Stranger in the Pen, which is the account of his detainment by British authorities. Ashley Toliver's Spectra is a poetry collection about corporeality. Lisa Wells ist he author of The Fix, which is a very sensual poetry collection. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, December 5: Shout Your Abortion Bash

This is a big party to celebrate the publication of the Shout Your Abortion anthology, which launched last month. This party features a band, a DJ, and readings from Lindy West, Angela Garbes, El Sanchez, and Alana Edmondson. Neptune Theater, 1303 NE 45th St, 8 pm, $12.

Thursday, December 6: Poetry for the Public

Kim Stafford, Oregon's State Poet Laureate, teams up with Washington State's Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna to talk about regional poetry, what it means to be a laureate, and the civic duties of artists. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, December 7: Unpresidented Reading

See our event of the week column for more details.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, December 8: Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women

This is the third installment of a surrealistic fiction showcase (inspired in part by the work of author Aimee Bender) hosted by local dynamo Kate Berwanger. Readers include Shelley Minden, Symone La Luz, G.G. Silverman, and Kait Heacock. Ghost Gallery, 1111 E Pike St, Suite B,, 7 pm, $7-13.

Sunday, December 9: Lantern Reading

Nancy Dickeman's new chapbook discusses the Hanford nuclear site. This afternoon, she's celebrating its publication with local writers including Chelsea Bolan, Kathleen Flenniken, and JM Miller.

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 3 pm, free.

Gramma Press is closing down

We received a press release this morning from Gramma Press publishers Colleen Louise Barry and Aidan Fitzgerald announcing the end of the Seattle poetry press on the last day of this year. Gramma was funded by a grant from the Bill and Ruth True Foundation, which is dissolving.

Less interesting than the details behind the press's dissolution are the details about its future:

It is our intention that our titles will continue living out there in the wide world beyond Gramma. To this end, we are currently working hard to find a home for our books and authors at a press here in the Pacific Northwest. We are poets and artists ourselves, and it is of the utmost importance to us that the work by our authors persists in book stores and galleries around the country.

Gramma's editors will continue to support the work being done by poets, writers, artists, publishers, and DIY space-holders in every way we can, both as individual participants in these important dialogues and in our roles as Directors of.

Honestly, Gramma seemed like a lot of work to me: it involved the editing and publication of high-quality volumes of poetry, a monthly dispatch, and a weekly newsletter. That's a hell of a lot to manage! I'm glad to hear that Barry and Fitzgerald are focusing on their own presses, and I hope the Gramma library finds a new home locally. If you're looking to start a poetry press, you could do worse than pick up the publication of these books — including Sarah Galvin's Ugly Time, which is my favorite of Galvin's books to date — to give your press some immediate legitimacy. (I reviewed other Gramma titles right here.)

In the meantime, be sure to give Cold Cube Press and Mount Analogue some love this holiday season. Their books make beautiful gifts, and they're not the kind of thing you can just airdrop off of Amazon, which gives them an air of uniqueness — like a handwritten letter.

Literary Event of the Week: Unpresidented reading at University Book Store

Though he seems like a being who lives entirely, eternally in the present, it's actually very important to understand Donald Trump's past — the crimes of his parents, the crimes of his early career, and the shameful way he's behaved personally. A man who'll lie to you two contradictory ways in one sentence doesn't have much faith in the importance of memory, but he's also likely to be a man who is consumed by his own past.

Seattle author Martha Brockenbrough's Unpresidented is a biography of Donald Trump. (She'll be debuting the book this Friday at University Book Store.) Brockenbrough has experience writing for younger audiences, and Unpresidented is a biography with the YA crowd in mind. That doesn't mean the book is dumbed-down; in fact, it means Brockenbrough has to use sharper, clearer language than your traditional both-sides journalism. In fact, the book somehow feels even more damning than most accounts of Trump's life that you've likely read on a news site.

Brockenbrough begins Unpresidented with a history of Donald Trump's tendency to lie about crowd size. She plainly lays out the facts of his life and the lies feel obscene when contradicted in such clear, straightforward English: " his ghostwritten book Trump: The Art of the Deal, Trump claims his ancestry is Swedish. This is not true."

I know it seems like a lot to ask someone to read more about Donald Trump in the year 2018, but this one is a very important book if you want to get into the head of the (tragically) most important human being in the world right now, and to comprehend just how often he spreads easily disproven lies, when simply telling the truth would be easier.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for December 2, 2018

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.

Every Woman Keeps a Flame Against the Wind

For Kristen Millares Young, the examination of anger is an art. Her essays are relentless teachers, building arguments through experience and image; consent to the first, and you’ve already, unwittingly, agreed to the last. Here she unpacks the commodity of womanhood: who defines it, who owns it, and what it means to be defiant.

What I value has long made me vulnerable, in ways I did not foresee. I spent much of my life accrediting my brain so that I would be allowed to rise from this body and be seen for my mind. And yet, as a writer, I’ve learned there is no greater wisdom than that of my womanhood. To think I almost turned my back on my own lived experience in favor of a third person I’ve never met, an omniscience I don’t believe in. Our brushes with annihilation are constant and varied and mostly unsung.
If Only We’d Fucking Listen to Helen DeWitt

Helen DeWitt is brilliant, and delightfully odd. And what’s especially delightful is that she’s so rationally odd that when you read her, you realize it’s the rest of us who are off-kilter. Unfortunately Helen DeWitt is also vastly underfunded to do the work she needs to. Here’s Kris Bartkus on the blinding originality of DeWitt’s work and the cost of not attending to it.

One can simply imagine a world such that when one of our best writers says she has projects that will change literature immured in her hard drive, we do better than plugging our ears, waiting until she’s dead, and giving our descendants the joy of opening her laptop and asking how we let this happen. If DeWitt wants to give our descendants a hint, she can set her login password to a line of Proust: “So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn with boredom when anyone speaks to him of a new ‘good book,’ because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read and knows already …”
How Should We Write in a Time of Unmitigated Disaster?

Ashleigh Synnott dissects the ethics of writing fiction about the devastation of other lives — how to tell stories that should be told, without appropriating or exploiting their violence. Perhaps, she suggests, the way out of the labyrinth is to find a common thread.

At this point, I came across the concept of precarity, a concept that seemed to offer a way not out of my ethical anxieties, but through them. By exploring how this term could be applied to questions of ethics and literature, I began to shift the lens through which I was viewing the problem, as opposed to trying to solve the problem itself. Perhaps, I wondered, the concept of precarity could hold within its scope the disparate ideas, concerns and interests with which I was thinking about. Rather than seeing my writing as being about an issue, such as asylum seekers or the experience of exile, I wondered if I could explore the imaginative and structural possibilities of writing about this increasingly shared condition.
My Four Months as a Prison Guard

One of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2018” is Shane Bauer’s exposé of the prison industry, American Prison, based on his experience as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana. The world he describes in this five-part Mother Jones series, where financial incentives underscore the power politics of incarceration, is relentlessly vicious and corrupt.

Bacle says he wishes an investigative reporter would come and look into this place. He complains about how, in other prisons, inmates get new charges for stabbing someone. Here, they are put in seg, but they rarely get shipped to another prison with tighter security. “CCA wants that fucking dollar!” Bacle says through clenched teeth. “That’s the reason why we play hell on getting a damn raise, because all they want is that dollar in their pocket.”

Whatcha Reading, Amelia Bonow?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Amelia Bonow is the co-founder of Shout Your Abortion. They just released their book, and they're having a book release party this Wednesday, December 5th, at the Neptune Theater. Join Amelia, Lindy West, Angela Garbes, El Sanchez, Alana Edmonson, DJs Stas & Moni, and the star-studded SYA house band for an amazing evening of "Reading, Shouting, and Performance," from a group of women who used the power of their true experiences to radically change the public conversation on abortion.

What are you reading now?

Heavy by Kiese Laymon. It’s a memoir about the author growing up in Mississippi, in the form of a letter to his mother, who was a brilliant black academic. His voice is singular and enormous; the title of the book feels like the only title it could have possibly had. It’s gorgeous and absolutely devastating in a way that feels acutely American.

What did you read last?

I read a book called Blacking Out: Remembering the things I drank to forgot by Sarah Hepola. It’s a memoir in which the author eventually gets sober. I really appreciated it because it wasn’t like “now I’m sober and everything is fine,” it was more like “now I’m sober and everything is weird in a different way that is probably slightly better”. It feels like everyone I know is currently trying to figure out how to manage their relationship to drugs and alcohol now that we are getting old and everything is hell.

What are you reading next?

I cannot wait to read Like a Mother by Angela Garbes and I’m not just saying that because she’s a contributor to Shout Your Abortion! Angela’s writing is breathtaking. I read a draft of the first chapter of Like a Mother about a year ago and am still thinking about it.

What book should people buy for a gift this holiday?

It is probably not a surprise that my Christmas wish has to do with everyone talking to their families about abortion, which is why I recommend Dr. Willie Parker’s Life’s Work: a Moral Argument for Choice. Dr. Parker is a black Christian abortion care provider who works in the deep south and he lays out his reasons for providing abortion in a clear, accessible, unimpeachable way. When SJW’s tell you to “go get your folks,” we are basically asking you to buy Dr. Parker’s book for members of your family who may have anti-choice leanings and then talk to them about how it made them feel.

The Help Desk: What's your sign? My sign says "stop reading horoscopes"

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

When you ignore all the day-to-day noise of politics, my Twitter feed was manageable until those writing astrology accounts started taking off. Now every writer I know is gabbing about how Mercury is in retrograde and how nobody understands Sagittariuses and they're all getting their charts done. It's bullshit. It's all bullshit.

But now this horoscope talk is becoming so widespread that I can't block everyone doing it. Some writers I really admire have started blabbing about the healing power of crystals, for fuck's sake! Is this just a passing fad, or am I going to have to move to the wilderness to get away from this insipid shit?

Leo, Capitol Hill

Dear Leo,

I feel your frustration but unpucker your buttocks for a minute and consider this: in times of fear and uncertainty, people often turn to religion and divine intervention – or for the nonreligious, stars and crystals – to inject a sense of structure and stability in their world. And as your Twitter newsfeed or the entire state of California or really anyone with a mouth will tell you, these are damn uncertain times.

Sure, astrology is annoying – or rather, people who proudly make important life decisions based on astrology are annoying. But I'd advise you to take a page out of Facebook star Sheryl Sandburg's playbook and instead of fighting the astrology/crystal fad, Lean In. Launch your own crystal-harnessing, planet-divining Twitter feed – only instead of talking about crystals, nature's kidney stones, sell actual kidney stones. In fact, you can Lean In even further and claim to harness the power of George Soros's kidney stones. Imagine how powerful and vindictive (and expensive) those are!

As for astrology, stars are only worthy of your passing contempt and most planets are unimpressive (what has Venus ever done for society?). The only planet worthy of attention is Mars. Named after the Roman god of war and agriculture, Mars is a severe and judgy planet, a planet whose approval starry-eyed crystal gazers will crave. And NASA's InSight Mission makes Mars' opinions especially topical right now. By harnessing the power of Soros' kidney stones and offering only Mars-based astrological readings, you will fill an important Twitter niche for the insecure and directionless. For example: "A coworker smells weakness on you. Your greatest professional fear will be realized in the coming weeks unless you take aggressive action. Mars advises you to buy two Soros kidney stones and practice sharpening everyday objects at work. Eat two servings of spinach daily for strength and vitality."