Sponsor Third Place Books, up in Lake Forest Park, is hosting an exciting evening with author Laird Hunt, to talk about his latest novel The Evening Road. Hunt will be joined by Third Place Books managing partner Robert Sindelar. It happens next Tuesday, April 25th, starting at 7:00pm.
If you know Hunt, you certainly need to introduction to his work. He's the author of six novels and a collection of short works. He works across various literary genres, always working to reach new, exciting ground. No doubt this is going to be a fascinating conversation with a compelling writer. Find more information on our sponsor's page, and make sure to put the 25th on your calendar.
Sponsors like Third Place Books make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. We have two dates for March we'd love to sell, and they're currently discounted. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.
(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
Who’s your date today? Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank. (Frank will be reading at Town Hall tomorrow night.)
Where’d you go? The Tigerly Ox, a newish Vietnamese lunch counter on Madison.
What’d you eat? The Tigerly Ox's fancy version of a steak banh mi. ($8.20.)
How was the food? Great! You should be warned that the Tigerly Ox doesn't serve the so-simple-it's good version of the banh mi that you can pick up anywhere in the International District. This is on crusty, crunchy bread, it's made from fancier ingredients than your typical four-buck-banh-mi, and it's loaded with a nice fishy umami kick from the paté. It's a lot more filling than the typical banh mi, but you should be warned that it doesn't scratch the particular banh mi itch you get when you want a cheap sandwich on airy, cheap French bread.
What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:
... Drawing on years of research and first-hand reporting, Frank points out that the Democrats have done little to advance traditional liberal goals: expanding opportunity, fighting for social justice, and ensuring that workers get a fair deal. Indeed, they have scarcely dented the free-market consensus at all. This is not for lack of opportunity: Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and yet the decline of the middle class has only accelerated. Wall Street gets its bailouts, wages keep falling, and the free-trade deals keep coming.
Is there a representative quote? "Democrats have been wondering who they are and squabbling over what they believe for virtually my entire life. It has taken them years to get to wherever it is they are today; years filled with quarrels and vituperation and occasional bouts of manic self-love. It has required long periods of slow evolution, usually in the wrong direction; runs of rapid but lousy choices; epochs followed by a savage Thermidor in which hard-headed party toughguys promoted different fad ideas that turned out to be even worse."
Will you two end up in bed together? God, I have no idea how I didn't read this book when it was realeased in hardcover last year. Frank accurately identifies the problem with the Democratic party — elitism and a wrong-headed meritocracy — and his diagnosis is so eerily right-on that it seems like he has access to a time machine. This book explains why Hillary Clinton lost the election, and it was published a year before Hillary Clinton lost the election. It's fascinating stuff, though I hope Frank has some prescriptions for how to fix the problem, because while he's great at being right — seriously, this book is filled with rage and disgust and it's wildly entertaining — it would be even better if he turned out to be helpful, too.
When news broke last month that Joan Swift had died, the Seattle literary community erupted in outpourings of grief. A shared sensation spread quickly around Facebook that something momentous had passed with her. At 90 years old, Swift was well-loved by many generations of Seattle writers, and she provided a direct link to the history of Northwest literature. She was one of the last living writers to learn directly from Seattle poetry godfather Theodore Roethke, and she shepherded generations of writers out of anonymity and into maturity.
Tess Gallagher (on the left on the photo) met Swift (on the right) in 1963 when both had enrolled in what would be Roethke’s final spring poetry workshop. Roethke developed nicknames for several of his students, and “he called [Swift] ‘Mother’ since she had two children and was a bit older than others” in the class, Gallagher recalls.
Gallagher was 20 years old, and one of the two youngest students in the workshop. “Joan was extremely kind to me and took me under her wing,” Gallagher writes in an email. “We sat near each other in the class and it helped me greatly that she took an interest in my poems and clarified things that were asked of us by Roethke from time to time.” She doesn’t know what she would have done had Swift not “made me welcome in her quiet, bemused but affable way.” Swift and Gallagher have been friends ever since. “I considered her a close friend with whom one could share life details and gossip a bit with and just laugh with in a special way,” she writes.
The Puget Sound region is full of stories like that — tales of how Swift reached out to others, and how that first act of kindness blossomed into a lifelong friendship. Seattle poet Esther Altshul Helfgott first saw Swift read at the Frye around the year 2000, and they became fast friends. Helfgott started the It’s About Time open mic series at Ravenna's Eckstein Senior Center a quarter-century ago as a way for new writers to practice their craft on a public platform. She says “some poets and writers of Joan's caliber wouldn't give us a second look, but Joan read for” the series on multiple occasions; she especially appreciated that Swift “treated me like an equal. That doesn’t happen with well-known people in the literary community. She was just so warm and giving.”
Swift had been a high-profile poet in the Seattle area for so long that her monolithic presence could sometimes overshadow the very fine, delicate work in her poems. “Her use of language is so beautiful and lyrical, and the warmth of her personality is reflected in her language,” Helfgott says.
“She is so entirely present in her encounters within the poem that, reading her poems, you accompany her at a high intensity,” Gallagher says. “Her endings often sink the poem deep into your memory so the poem is carried and not released. She is so exact in her image and language that one immediately trusts her, follows her. Her voice has its truth seemingly embedded within it.”
The honesty of Swift’s voice opened doors for other poets. Shortly after news of Swift’s death broke, Sherman Alexie told me about the impact that her work had on him as a young poet. “Way back when, in college, or just after college, I read a Joan Swift poem about eagles having sex as they plummet toward the earth, how they sometimes forget to uncouple and crash to their deaths,” Alexie says. “And I remember thinking, ‘Wait, it's cool to write a poem about eagles fucking to death? Awesome!’ Joan introduced a new rule of poetry to me. Or broke the old rules. Or both.”
“She writes about difficult subjects that others might shy away from,” Gallagher says, citing the poem “Shin-Ichi’s Tricycle” from Swift’s forthcoming book from Cave Moon press as an example. “That ending makes us wear the death of the little boy in the bombing of Hiroshima and she convicts us of us death in such a deadly no-escape way in her ending. She’s a take-no-prisoners kind of writer.”
Swift wrote candidly about rape, Gallagher says, “long before other women would write about it.” Helfgott says that one of the last poems Swift ever completed, “Sometimes a Lake” is one of her most courageous. The poem addresses the suicide of Swift’s daughter, Laurie, and it “is so gorgeous. When she would talk on the phone about Laurie, there was nothing in her voice or her words speaking to me that were like that poem.” In the poem, Swift captures the moment when she goes through Laurie’s effects, looking for a greater meaning that isn’t there.
These boxes are almost empty—
just air and losses.
But here’s a photo album where you’re smiling
with friends, your borderline disorder group.
Everyone I talked to remarks that Swift was working right up until the end. At 90, by all accounts, she was still as sharp a writer and reader as she’d ever been. Cave Moon Press publisher Doug Johnson was working closely with Swift on a volume of poems titled The Body that Follows Us that will be published next month. On Tuesday, May 16th, Open Books in Wallingford will host a memorial service for Swift that will serve as a launch for the book.
Johnson says that Swift was thoroughly involved with the editing process. Unlike some of the books he’s published, Swift “handed me an extremely well-formatted book,” one that was clean and well-formatted and basically ready for publication immediately. But they passed the manuscript back and forth for months, editing it and talking about fonts and making sure everything was perfect.
“Joan very much wanted to get it extremely right,” Johnson says. “She wanted to carry it through to the best of her ability.”
Heidi MacDonald at the Beat says that Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts has won the Penn State University Libraries' 2017 Lynd Ward prize. MacDonald says the prize is given to "the best graphic novel, fiction or non-fiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident. It’s definitely one of the most prestigious awards for a graphic novel given out each year."
We've been talking about Sarah Glidden for a long time here on the Seattle Review of Books. You can find our author page for her here. I reviewed Rolling Blackouts on its release, and I interviewed Glidden about the book at the Rolling Blackouts Seattle launch party.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow 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.
I-walked–2,000-miles-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale is a genre full of clichés. Crushing physical discomfort? Check. Naïve decisions that lead to near-disaster? Check. Ultimate success and personal transformation? Check. Check check check.
Friend of SRoB Rahawa Haile’s story is different. Haile — black, Eritrean, queer — hiked the Appalachian Trail alone in 2016, covering thousands of miles of wilderness dotted with pro-Trump signs and Confederate flags. Those oases of “civilization” were more terrifying than rattlesnakes and switchbacks. So was her return to an urban world in which Donald Trump had been elected president.
Every day I eat the mountains, and the mountains, they eat me. “Less to carry,” I tell the others: this skin, America, the weight of that past self. My hiking partners are concerned and unconvinced. There is a weight to you still, they tell me. They are not wrong. My footing has been off for days. There were things I had braced for at the beginning of this journey that have finally started to undo me.
Also read: Haile’s incandescent short essay on carrying books by black authors and the weight of the present moment across all 2,000 miles.
Did you love S-Town? I did. Like Maaza Mengiste, I listened “with my own childhood experiences in mind” — a wealth of stories and memories from Jackson, Gulfport, Meridian, some beloved, some angry, some sad. That’s what S-Town is meant to do, Mengiste says: make us think about how we’re living, who we are.
What if who you are is a gaping absence in the story, though? What if who you are is black? Here’s what S-Town sounds like to that set of ears.
This podcast is supposed to be about all those things we do not know of a person, all those things that we cannot imagine that make up their totality. In producing this podcast, however, the creators made an assumption that rings false, that frankly, rings white: that it is possible to move through this land and simply tuck race into a corner until it's convenient.
Eula Biss lives in one of Chicago’s “most diverse neighborhoods,” which means she and her husband, both academics, are able to afford an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. They are the leading edge of gentrification, and they dread the cultural and social losses that come with it. This will feel familiar to many Seattleites …
“Gentrification” is a word that agitates my husband. It bothers him because he thinks that the people who tend to use the word negatively, white artists and academics, people like me, are exactly the people who benefit from the process of gentrification. “I think you should define the word ‘gentrification,’” my husband tells me now.
I ask him what he would say it means, and he pauses for a long moment. “It means that an area is generally improved,” he says finally, “but in such a way that everything worthwhile about it is destroyed.”
Yonatan Zunger has been reflecting on the definitions of “right” and “wrong” for several decades. He has some good, practical advice for determining which is which, or at least thinking more carefully about the question. And some very clear views on the real-world consequences of muddy ethical thinking.
I’ve been regularly surprised at the depth of people’s urge not to discuss things like institutional racism or sexism, or generational poverty, or how power imbalances in society mean that seemingly “identical” behaviors are in no way identical. But if you fail to understand this, then you will routinely engage in “identical” behaviors which are anything but — for example, expecting that someone move in with their family until they can get back on their feet, when not everyone has a family they can do that with. The harm you cause this way may be entirely surprising and unclear to you, because you never learned about the things which cause your actions to lead to it. But if you had the chance to learn it and didn’t, then the moral bill is on you.
Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.
Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.
It never should have been built. Think about Vancouver, who denied the highway madness of mid-century America. Think about the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, where a group of residents banded together to fight a highway bisecting their neighborhood. Then think about Seattle where, in a fit of veiled hatred towards beauty and all things natural (e.g. the large body of water at our feet), we built this 50 foot wall of concrete to block us from having to see it.
But, look, times were different then. My parents (with sisters and me in tow) moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham in 1982. When they bought their house up there, they found that houses on the side of the street without a view went for more money than ones with a view. Why? Nobody wanted to look at the working bay. It was industrial. It was polluted. Same in Seattle — so why not just build a modernist brutalist ribbon to partition the clean streets of downtown from the horrible ennui of a polluted, working Elliott Bay?
And times were different in that it was post war, and the most modern idea of great living was grouping all of these places people wanted to go into superbundles and people could drive to them, because everybody was buying cars like they were raffle tickets to Hamilton. Take your private world with you wherever you go! Cars were everywhere, and no "normal" family wanted to live in the city any more. It was the start of white flight, suburban dreams, and the inhuman drive towards putting culture out to pasture, for the possibility of a square of manicured grass with a habitat box plopped in the middle. Surrounded by pipe-smoking, lawn-mowing, casserole-baking, PTA-attending white people just like themselves.
This was a problem for cities: people who lived there, shopped there, ate there, worked there, and paid taxes there, were suddenly only working there, and they took their tax money with them to the burbs. So, let's build a highway to bring them all back, so that they can drive into town in comfort, and repatriate that money that had escaped. Except, of course, the highways went both ways, so people would just go home with whatever money they didn't spend on Frangos and fresh salmon.
There are people who love the Viaduct. Someone wanted to turn it into a park, like the Highline in New York, which is stupid because the Highline isn't in imminent risk of falling down when breathed on wrong. The Viaduct has been, in effect, condemned, for years, and is far beyond its functional life. And underneath, the dim, cluttered, depressing basement of downtown, is like a cyberpunk novel stripped of interesting technology. All sorts of things shrink there for lack of sunlight, from people just trying to get by, to people just trying to get one over.
But recently, an amazing thing happened: the most expensive, and largest bore, drilling machine in the world actually broke through the retaining wall of its exit pit, in a dust-throwing storm of earth crunching. Four billion (and counting) dollars later, we have an underground replacement for the aging stacked highway (which opened four years earlier than the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, that collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, killing forty-two people), and in a few years the dismantling of our stacked utopian fifties vision of he world will be stripped from our twenty-first century streets.
I say good riddance, and I just hope we get rid of it before another earthquake strikes here. Very few of the politicians who campaigned so hard for that project to happen are around to take the heat for its overruns, and the inevitable lawsuits that we, the taxpayers who voted against it, will be stuck dealing with.
But of the Viaduct there is one thing I will miss: it is the greatest egalitarian people-owned view in Seattle. If you have a car that moves, you can take it in. If you don't, hop on a bus that travels part of it. Because when it's gone, the ability to look out over Elliott Bay on a beautiful day — the Olympics appearing as close as Bainbridge, the sparkle on the water dancing, orca breaching alongside ferries, barges, cruise and container ships — that view will only be available to the highest bidder, and the bids are going up sharper than the profit line in a New Yorker boardroom cartoon.
All we'll be left with are stories.
It was the one road in Seattle you could open the throttle, if there was a cop ahead, you'd spot them. It was 3am. There were four cars, hopped up with engines growling. When the flag went down, they hit 99 just north of the Aurora bridge. First to make it to West Seattle was gonna win, and the Viaduct was where they really put the hammer down.
It was all fenced off, where they were building the old highway. He knew, in the morning, a big concrete pour was starting. He pulled, heaving the bulky form in the bag, and cut the fencing. All he had to do was dump this stiff down the hole, and tomorrow, it would be gone forever.
As meet-cutes go, this one was weird. They owned identical cars. Maybe that wouldn't be notable in Seattle if they were Subaru Outbacks but perfectly maintained 1960s Mercedes-Benz 230sl convertibles? An accident was blocking northbound, and the first time they pulled up next to each other, they caught eyes and laughed. The second time they yelled, back and forth, the white car driver initiating. The third time, the driver of the red car sent a paper airplane flying across, landing on the passenger seat of the white car. On it, a phone number.
All he wanted to do was walk it. From the on-ramp to the off-ramp. Just walk it like a person walks any road. The cops saw it different, thought he was a suicide. But come on, man. Would a suicidal person be wearing a yellow safety vest? All he wanted to do was walk and take in the view. And now, he was gonna have to make his way through a bunch of cops to do even that simple thing.
The shaking felt like a flat tire, at first. She had just entered the southbound lanes where they go under the north, but when she saw a telephone pole, next to the highway, swaying, she knew it was something more. She felt movement too strong, too intense. Too wrong. Traffic slowed around her and she laid on the horn. Move, you idiots, move! She looked in the rear view, at her son, sleeping in his car seat, oblivious. There was no way she was gonna let a damn highway win. She pressed the gas around, she had just enough room to get around that Tesla. She laid on the horn and went for it.
Alec Baldwin reads from his new memoir Nevertheless at the Paramount tonight. It's sold out.
If you're thinking about buying Baldwin's memoir, you should know that Baldwin is openly complaining about the job his editors did on the book. Danuta Kean at The Guardian notes:
The 59-year-old actor has attacked his publisher HarperCollins, accusing the editors of poor proofreading. In his first post on a Facebook page set up to promote his new autobiography, Nevertheless, he claimed the published edition “contains SEVERAL typos and errors which I was more than a little surprised to see”.
Editing is thankless work. Nobody ever comments on how few errors they find in a published book. They only complain when they do find errors. And that's basically an editor's lot in life: an editor's job is to fall on their sword when a book is released with an egregious error. Editors take the blame, absorb the insults, and then move on, knowing full well that they'll be responsible for any errors in the next project, too.
But let's be clear: a writer who publicly complains about his editors is a shit writer. I find it hard to believe that all those errors Baldwin complains about were introduced into the text during the editing process. If some of those typos and misstatements are his, then he is whining about someone not cleaning up the mess that he made. And that's never a good look.
Baldwin is a good actor. But I will never understand America's willingness to feign amnesia when it comes to Baldwin's character. This is a man who says horrible things to strangers. This is a man who says horrible things to his own daughter. This is a writer who pubicly derides his editors.
Why would I bother reading his memoirs — particularly memoirs that, by his own admission, are poorly written? — just because he does a so-so Trump impression every couple of weeks on Saturday Night Live? Sorry, no. Life's too short.
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 email@example.com.
Everyone calls comics “graphic novels,” but a lot of great comics, like Persepolis and Fun Home, are non-fiction. So “novel” isn’t right. But some comics aren’t funny at all, and so “comic” books doesn’t make sense, either.
A couple of bookstores in town call their comics sections “graphica,” which seems really pretentious. Is there a better name for these books? Am I worrying about nothing?
P.S. Sorry for the inanity of the question. I’m aware that the world is sitting on the precipice of Armageddon and a madman is in the White House, but I’d like to think we can walk and chew gum at the same time, metaphorically speaking.
Life is full of irritating incongruities like the one you describe – tinfoil is really aluminum, jellyfish are angrily neither, and pro-life politicians who would defund Planned Parenthood are really smarmy fuck-weasels who despise half their constituency.
Sometimes I wish I was poisonous, you know?
But personally, I like the word "graphica," which, as you point out, is more inclusive than "graphic novel" or "comic book." It reminds me of "novella," an approachable word that means, "I know you're a very busy person but I am a creature of few words and I would love to entertain you while you are taking a shit." Metaphorically speaking.
P.S. Have you read The Impostor's Daughter? I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend hissing as a form of communication and using Dentine Ice as a martini garnish.
Seattle-area newsletter The Evergrey is looking for your input on local small businesses to profile. We're not saying you should go and suggest your favorite small bookstore or anything, but...you should go and suggest your favorite small bookstore. Deadline is Monday April 17th, and the businesses will be profiled on May 1st.
Brangien Davis at Crosscut explains what happened when a title from Seattle publisher Wave Books won the Pulitzer Prize.
The arts levy, a proposed King County ballot issue which would have funded "arts and science programming targeted at poor people and seniors," didn't survive a committee hearing this week.
The TV Writers Guild might be going on strike soon. We stand with all unionized writers.
Whatever happened to Google Books?
Some men's rights dipshit reviewed Harry Potter and his review is virtually unreadable, unless you enjoy bird-brained sentences like this:
Harry Potter was perhaps the first major shitlib touchstone to vault willing cuckoldry into the wider culture as some kind of moral imperative; it was beta orbiter Snape, a man with the worst case of oneitis imaginable because he was in love with a dead woman who when alive wanted nothing to do with him, who vowed to look after Harry, (the child of his oneitis by another man Snape hated), out of a misplaced sense of loyalty and maybe hope for an afterlife consummation.
Like so many of the best books, I found it hidden behind a couple outdated computer programming manuals in a Goodwill. It’s a tall, slim hardcover book with a torn dustjacket. The cover is a soulful color sketch of a tiny figure standing on a roof staring out at a cloudy night sky. It says in big letters at the top, The Man, and below that, in smaller print, the author credit: Raymond Briggs.
You likely know Raymond Briggs for his wordless children’s book The Snowman, but Briggs has a long and colorful publishing history. He’s written and drawn dozens of books, and he’s been publishing from the 1960s to, most recently, 2015. Many of his books — including The Man — are out of print in the United States.
Because they deal almost exclusively in the interaction of words and pictures, most children’s literature is, in some form or another, comics. But Briggs’s work shares more of a common vocabulary with modern comics than most other authors for children. His books have multiple panels per page, and dialogue often depicted in word balloons, and the work features other comics traits that you don’t find in more “traditional” kid’s lit.
The Man, though, is a little bit of a departure for Briggs in format: the book features experimental layouts — often with one large illustration per page and dialogue typed out, in different fonts for each character, down the middle of the page. It’s less like a comic and more like a stage play. The book keeps its scope fairly intimate, too: it’s the story of a young boy who, one day, finds a bossy little naked man living in his room.
The man, who only answers to Man, demands that the boy fashion him some clothing out of an old sock and a rubber band, and then he proceeds to complain even more: “I wish you had real marmalade,” he whines when the boy smuggles some food up to him. When the boy wonders aloud if Man is a Borrower, he angrily spits, “Pah! Stories! I hate them.”
Man’s continual insistence quickly grates on the boy, and they begin to fight. “You exploit your smallness,” the boy yells at Man, “You know how to use it. You manipulate people by it. You manipulate me for your own selfish ends.” Man retorts, “You make out you are being kind, generous and caring when all you are doing is using my smallness for your own ENTERTAINMENT. You don’t care for me as a PERSON! To you, I’m just an entertaining NOVELTY!”
The Man’s tone is all over the place: it’s hilarious, and tense, and realistic, and more than a little upsetting. But it finally settles on a deep and melancholic sadness that speaks to the sacrifice we offer to others: even those we love most — those tiny people who show up naked and willful — can get on our very last nerves, and sometimes we lash out in uncomfortable ways. That’s a special kind of sorrow. The last page of The Man speaks to a sadness that I’ve never quite seen represented before in children’s fiction.
Briggs is no stranger to uncomfortable topics. Another of his out-of-print classics, When the Wind Blows, is, if anything, even more depressing than The Man. Wind is the story of an old British couple living in the countryside. They’re not especially deep or introspective people, but they’re law-abiding citizens who seem to enjoy each others’ company. One day, there’s an upsetting story in the news reports: nuclear war is breaking out.
A bomb drops not far from the couple, but far enough away that they’re not killed in the explosion. So they set about doing what any rule-following British citizens would do: they build a makeshift shelter in their home and they hunker down “for the 14 days of the National Emergency.”
Everything around them collapses — the radio stops working immediately and the nearby town’s supplies are wiped out soon after the first hit — but they continue living their lives: the wife wraps pillows in their shelter in plastic because “I don’t want finger marks getting all over them.”
Like The Man, Wind does not have a happy ending. Unlike The Man, Wind is well and truly apocalyptic. The couple start showing signs of radiation poisoning, but they still trust in the rules. “We’d better just lie here and wait for The Emergency Services to arrive,” the wife says. “Yes, they’ll take good care of us,” her husband replies as they huddle in potato sacks for warmth. “We won’t have to worry about a thing.” Those institutions will not save them. It’s dark. Really dark.
While not as bright as The Snowman, Briggs’s Fungus the Bogeyman is considerably lighter than either The Man or Wind. It’s the story of a bogeyman community that treasures the opposite of everything our society adores. Fungus’s wife wakes him at dusk on the first page of the book. “Time to get up, Fungus my dreary. It’s nearly dark.”
Fungus wakes up complaining: “OOOH! What a night that was! This bed has almost dried up!” His wife agrees, “I know, drear. It needs more slime.” Fungus walks over to a bin filled with cold water and pulls out his clothes for the day. A caption helpfully informs us, “Fungus inspects his trousers which have been marinading overnight." Fungus, his face inside a pair of pants, exclaims approvingly, “Mmmm! These really stink!”
Bogeyman follows Fungus through a typical day in his life. Throughout the book, captions explain Bogeyman culture, from the fact that they “cultivate boils on the back of the neck” to an account of the rotten grapefruit and “mouldy” cornflakes they eat for breakfast.
As an artist, Briggs is having a lot of fun here, experimenting with wild panel layouts and exaggerating the moribund dreariness of bogeydom culture. The expressionless dot eyes and upturned pig noses of his bogeymen give them a cartoonish appeal. It’s easy to imagine children falling into this book and being swept up in the many shades of sick-making green on every page, wondering at the intense oppositeness of Fungus’s world.
The best part of Bogeyman is how normal it all is. While Wind feels like a scathing refutation of humanity’s ability to remain docile in the face of global Armageddon, and while The Man revels in the way it upturns societal commitments, Bogeyman takes a sort of pleasure in the everyday rituals and cozy domesticity of its main characters. It’s unique in all of Briggs’s work in that it finds a sort of peace in its miserableness. It’s okay to be unhappy, Bogeyman says, as long as you’re okay with being unhappy — and don’t let anyone spread sunshine on your rained-out parade. It’s your party. You can cry if you want to.
See our Event of the Week column for more details.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
In July of 2015 on the website Very Smart Brothas, Damon Young wrote a blog post titled “Serena Williams Drinks, Bathes In, and Makes Lemonade with White Tears.” The next day, he published a post titled “White Tears, Explained, for White People Who Don’t Get It.” It seems that his original post about Serena Williams inspiring white tears had inspired some white tears of its own. Young quoted a white reader’s response to his article: “It’s disturbing how it seems many black people resent white people, when we all bleed the same color. How can we get to equality when there’s so many stirring the pot with hatred?”
Young patiently (and with more than a little bemusement) explained the idea of white tears to the aggrieved white people, that white tears are “what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person’s success at the expense of a White person.” So his original post highlighting white people complaining about racial unfairness was met with more white people complaining about racial unfairness. This cycle probably continues to this very day — imagine an infinity symbol made out of white tears, swallowing itself forever.
So it’s safe to assume that Hari Kunzru has already heard from upset white people about the title of his latest novel, White Tears. He’s probably already been accused of reverse-racism, or race-baiting, or whatever the catchphrase is among the special snowflakes who love to cry out about injustices committed against the ever-innocent white race. If you were planning on going to his Elliott Bay Book Company reading on Tuesday to alert him to his insensitivity toward Caucasians, you can just stay home and rest easy, knowing some other white dude has already gotten there before you. Stay in, draw a nice bubble bath, read some Jonathan Franzen, and rest easy, knowing that your people have already spoken out.
But everyone else should go to this reading.
Over the course of fifteen years, Kunzru has proven himself to be an agile and witty novelist. His 2002 debut, The Impressionist, was about a man at the sunset of British colonialism whose racial identity could freely swap back and forth between Indian and British. (Kunzru himself is British Indian.) Ever since, his books have spoken frankly and with good humor about race.
White Tears finds Kunzru taking on American racism with a bold frontal attack. It’s about two young New Yorkers who pass a contemporary recording off as a 1950s blues classic, thereby raising questions about cultural appropriation, authenticity, and authorship. The book travels through time and exhumes some dangerous ghosts as the recording seems to hit everyone it encounters in their most fleshy, delicate spots. The fact that a few angry white people probably couldn’t make it past the book’s title without writing a strongly worded Facebook post is part of the joke, and only proves Kunzru’s point.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
I hope you're keeping up on the Phinney Books Resist List, a regularly updated list of civically minded books for sale through their website and in their store. Twenty percent of all Resist List sales will benefit the ACLU. This is the sort of thing that independent bookstores are great at, and it's another way to stay involved in a time when every day brings with it a series of new political horrors.
If you're the kind of person who prefers to read series once they're through, you're in luck! Last week's series of pieces profiling new Seattle publisher Mount Analogue is over. You should read my interview with Mount Analogue publisher Colleen Louise Barry and my reviews of Mount Analogue's books: the erasure series now on display at Open Books, the terrific collection of poetry by Ted Powers, the amazing tone poem constructed solely from captioned screenshots of episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, and the pamphlet series that reimagines the idea of magazines using an ancient form of political communication.
Awful news: conservative writer J.D. Vance's very bad book Hillbilly Elegy, which has become popular as a kind of Rosetta Stone for Trump voters but which is really just agitprop for Vance's brand of conservatism, has been optioned for a movie. Ron Howard is slated to direct.
Over the weekend, it was discovered that an Indonesian comics artist named Ardian Syaf included some coded religious messages in the first issue of a new X-Men series. Abraham Riesman writes for Vulture about the reference to a Quran verse hidden on the shirt of X-Men character Colossus:
That verse is difficult to translate precisely into English, and there has been an array of attempts over the years, many of which you can read here. Generally, it says something along the lines of what the Hilali-Khan translation schema maps out as “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as awliya (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but awliya to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as awliya, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the zalimoon (polytheists, wrongdoers, unjust).” Whatever your interpretation, it’s not very nice to Jews and Christians.
This verse is subject to a truly fantastical amount of bullshittery in the modern era. And that bullshittery takes on a particular flavor depending on the agenda of whoever is translating the verse. Keep in mind that 75% of Muslims are non-native speakers of Arabic (I’m one of them), and of that 75%, most know a few phrases of Arabic at most; just enough to be able to perform the five daily prayers, plus some tangentially related religious terminology (I know a bit more). To put it more simply, the vast majority of Muslims around the world do not read the Quran in the original Arabic. They read an interpretation rendered into their local language. And this is where the bullshittery starts.
In the aftermath of all the upset comics fans calling for his blood and some unspecified disciplinary action from Marvel, Syaf published a post announcing, "My career is over now."
Joe and Jill Biden have signed a book deal. Hopefully Joe Biden's book will have a chapter on how to hotwire a Camaro.
Speaking of politicians we love, Wonkette's Doktor Zoom runs down the nerdy books that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (siiiiiiigggghhhhh) adores:
You’ve got your Stephen King of course, and your Neal Stephenson, the master of erudite cyberpunk who gave us Snow Crash (the main character is a guy named Hiro Protagonist), and your Tad Williams, who goes more toward the sword-n-sorcery stuff. The two novels Trudeau names are also science fictional — Ready Player One is a dystopian SF story about adventures in virtual reality, which is a far preferable place than the dying overheated Earth of 2044 that Donald Trump is helping to build right now. And La Part de l’autre is a 2001 alternate-history affair (never published in English as far as we can tell) about the life of a young man named Adolf H. who in 1908 gets accepted to the Vienna School of Fine Arts, becomes a painter, and never bothers with politics. But he does meet a nice doctor named Freud who helps him work through some issues.
I stepped down from the trolley that day in Hiroshima
and walked by the river where the children had floated in flames,
but I could not hear their cries of misu, misu. Lost.
I saw the rowboats tied to the shore waiting for the living,
and the Prefecture building as the autumn wind
blew through the skeletal dome and every leaf lay scattered.
I passed by heaps of flowers and burning candles
to the doors that let me in to where the lights were dim,
so many shadows, each display lit only by a row of flashlights.
Power outage, someone said and so I need not pay my yen
but paid another way past fingers dripping skin,
a lunch box full of barley ash, the twisted tricycle
Shin-Ichi’s mother dug from severed earth. She gave it
so the boy would live in memory:
sculptured handlebars and pedals burned to black
all buried by the father who found him lying dead.
I thought of myself at five,
pedaling my tricycle down the middle
of Wilsonia Road, the rainbow shine of oil,
the sun, my father’s call
as he came swooping down to pull me back,
shouting, Don’t ever do that again.
Although of course I would.
And of course we did.
I don't know about you, but I feel as though this year's list of Pulitzer Prize winners is a perfect representation of the year's work. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post did excellent work dogging Donald Trump all year long. Oakland's East Bay Times is a great paper that never gets recognized for its excellent work.
And the book choices are exactly as they should be. Colson Whitehead's brilliant novel The Underground Railroad absolutely deserved to win the prize. It's great to see Seattle poetry press Wave Books win for Tyehimba Jess's book Olio, and I've heard Matthew Desmond's book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City described as one of the most important books written about American cities in the last few years. I'm excited to read that one soon.
And it's fitting that Seattle Times book critic Mary Ann Gwinn — herself a Pulitzer winner — was on the committee to choose the fiction award this year:
Earlier this year, the Seattle Times chose to buy Gwinn out of her job as books editor as a cost-cutting measure. Her position on the Pulitzer committee is a perfectly timed show of respect from her fellow critics, and it makes the short-sightedness of the Times's choice even more apparent.
The Seattle Times did not win any Pulitzers this year.
Northwest writer Jeffrey Warren — a long time Seattle resident — set his latest book Justifiable Homicide largely in the city, amongst our high-tech firms. It covers investigative reporting, drug rings, computer wunderkinds, and most notably: encryption. A subject Warren knows well: he's an entrepreneur and engineer.
We've run the full first chapter from Justifiable Homicide on our Sponsor's page. If you like gripping thrillers, we think you'll like what you find there.
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