My Own Hikmet Poem

— it’s 1962 March 28th

it’s 2017 September 19th.
I’m sitting at the window on the 3rd floor of fog.
Day is rising.
I never knew I liked
morning lifting like a conductor’s baton.

I didn’t know I loved my body.
Can someone who hates their body love it.
I’ve always schemed against my body.
It’s just like all my other lovers.

I’ve loved long roads all my life — the flat
macadam itself listening under the mist of lamps, no traffic at the
hour. I know that road is both obscured and obvious.
I know its lights aren’t enough to see —

I love to close my eyes and look at your eyes
and see if your eyes are still closed.

The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is just days away

The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is back as our sponsor for one last week. This weekend, October 14th and 15th, they'll fill Seattle Center's Exhibition Hall from wall to wall with books, maps, and prints — almost a hundred vendors from the United States, Canada, England, and Spain.

This is the kind of event to plan a weekend around. Start Saturday off with coffee and pastries (you'll need sustenance) and spend the morning and afternoon exploring the Fair's endlessly surprising stock of rarities. Come back on Sunday — one ticket gets you in on both days — to dive deeper with your favorite exhibitors. It's a once-a-year opportunity, different every year, and well worth the time.

Sponsors like the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair make the Seattle Review of Books possible. We're booked solid through the end of January (thank you, everyone!), but if you have a book, event, or project you'd like to get in front of our readers, reach out and let us know. We'd be happy to reserve a spot for you before the next block of dates goes public.

Tickets are available now for Armistead Maupin and David Sedaris

I'm taking part in a couple of upcoming readings at Benaroya Hall that you might want to consider attending.

Next Monday, I'm appearing in conversation with beloved novelist Armistead Maupin. He'll be in Seattle to debut his brand-new memoir, Logical Family, which charts Maupin's path from a young conservative kid growing up in the South to a beloved newspaper columnist and gay rights activist to the novelist who created the astonishing Tales of the City series. Maupin's career path is a wild one, and he's telling his own story for the very first time. Tickets for that reading are available here.

And then on Sunday, November 19th, I'll be introducing David Sedaris as he makes his annual swing through town. You probably don't need me to tell you that Sedaris is one of the very finest readers in the world. I've attended his Seattle readings for almost twenty years now — from back when he used to fill up the downstairs reading room at Elliott Bay Book Company's Pioneer Square location — and I've never seen him give a bad show. He's always funny and smart and very, very entertaining. Tickets for that are available now. You won't regret attending this reading.

New Hire: Talking with DW about moving to Seattle, publishing his sketchbooks, and finding cartoonists from every continent on Earth

On Saturday, October 14th at 6 pm, the Fantagraphics Bookstore in Georgetown presents new work from three great young cartoonists. Denver’s Noah Van Sciver and Los Angeles cartoonist Joseph Remnant share the stage with a new-to-Seattle cartoonist who goes by the initials DW. Fantagraphics is releasing DW's very first book, a reproduction of a graph-paper sketchbook titled Mountebank.

DW is a serious and thoughtful young cartoonist who, in his spare time, co-founded and co-edits a comics anthology called Irene. He was kind enough to take a break from a visit to the east coast to talk to me on the phone about why he picked Seattle as a home, how he came to publish with Fantagraphics, and the responsibilities of being an editor of comics. This interview has been lightly edited.

When did you move to Seattle?

On July 7th. My friends, who drove me up, we left San Francisco on July 4th and we got to Seattle on July 7th.

How long were you in San Francisco before that?

Five years. I graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2012 and spent the rest of the summer in Vermont after that. On September 5th 2012 I flew out to the Bay Area and spent about eight months living in Oakland, and then moved over to San Francisco. So all told, it came out to almost exactly five years in the bay area.

Can I ask why you moved to Seattle?

I found San Francisco to be a very lonely place. It was a big problem for me there — connecting with people and feeling like I was part of a community, either on a personal level or as an artist trying to be amongst other cartoonists. I had given it my best shot for five years.

So it was partly running away from stuff there and just wanting to move onto something different, which I had been thinking about doing for quite a while at that point. But it was also about running towards something, because [Fantagraphics and I] had been working on [Mountebank]. That was about to come out about the time I made the decision to move to Seattle.

I already had several good friends who were cartoonists in Seattle and are part of a really rich, vibrant community. I checked with them to find out — I was like, ‘Is it still kicking? Is the cartoonist community still alive and well in Seattle?’ And they said, ‘Yes, it absolutely is. Better than ever. You should come for a visit it and see if you feel at home here.’

So I visited and then made the decision pretty much right then and there that I was going to give it a shot.

So Seattle does not have a reputation for being a warm and welcoming city to new visitors. I assume you probably heard to death about the Seattle freeze.

I think it should be called the San Francisco freeze.

I have heard about it, and I have not found it to be a part of my real-life experience in any way. I have found moving to Seattle to be an exciting, lovely, stimulating, warm experience. I feel really connected to the people. For the first time in a long time, I feel part of an artistic community, part of a healthy social world.

So I haven't had any problems with the Seattle freeze. I know it's legendary. You know I think as an East coast person, born and bred, I'm never going to feel completely at home on the west coast, which is part of the reason why I like living on the west coast. But I instantly felt connected to something in Seattle that I never felt in the Bay Area. It doesn't feel like work every day to feel connected to people, both on an artistic level and on a basic human social level. I've loved it so far.

Are there any cartoonists in the community who you want to especially highlight? Any cartoonists who were especially instrumental in your move?

Either before I moved here or who I’ve encountered since moving here or both?

Either.

Before, the two who were both my closest Seattle friends and are also two of the best cartoonists I know, are Ben Horak and James Stanton. Their work has been printed in the anthology that I edit. They’re both buddies of mine, and even if I wasn't close friends with them I would completely have nothing but good things to say about their cartoon abilities.

[Max] Clotfelter and [Tom] Van Deusen and Marie Hausauer — I didn’t know any of them personally... Oh, and Handa. Do you know Handa?

I don’t think so.

She's amazing. I was big fans of all their work before I moved here and now I'm becoming friends with all of them. I've had a chance to start to get to know all of them, and they're all really good people.

Probably my favorite Seattle cartoonist right now is Seattle Walk Report. Do you know her work on Instagram?

No! Seattle Walk Report? That sounds awesome!

Yeah, everybody should follow her.

Oh, and I forgot to say Marc Palm. Marc was the guy who helped me find a place to live, which was really important because I've become friends with all my roommates now. Marc, besides being a good cartoonist and a good guy, is such a pillar of the community.

As you well know, because you've been through all this with him, what he's accomplished recently with the left-handed drawing thing is something that is, to me, a major accomplishment for an artist. It's really inspiring the way he deals with adversity and adapts to his situation and turns it into something new. That ability to do that and make lemonade out of lemons is what I aspire to as an artist and a person. So Marc is a very important guy, both before I moved here and still to this day, as a friend and colleague.

So you went to the Center for Cartoon Studies, which basically means you are hardcore. That is not something you bumble into because you think you're going to maybe try this cartooning thing. You go there if you want to be a cartoonist for the rest of your life.

It's true. Yeah, it's like if you want to get your time's worth and money's worth out of it you have to be prepared to go hardcore with it — whatever that means for you as an individual. I think it would be pretty pointless to spend the money and the two years if you're not at least going to try to do it every day for the rest of your life, whether you have any intention of anybody seeing that work or not. So that's what I tried to do.

Have you always been a cartoonist, then?

On and off. I did it a lot when I was a kid. I've never stopped reading comics, my whole life. Especially newspaper comics. I've been really steeped in newspaper comics, from the time I could read. I was born in ‘83, and Calvin and Hobbes ran from ‘85 to ’95, so I was right in my formative years in that point where Watterson was also publishing a new Calvin and Hobbes in the newspaper every day. I would read the Philadelphia Inquirer comics page every day and always save Calvin and Hobbes for the last thing I read right before I left to go to school.

And I read super hero comics, graphic novels, and pretty much everything else. I read Maus when I was about 10. I was making a lot of comics and writing a lot of bad stories, and doodling all the time when I should have been focusing on schoolwork.

Then I drifted away from it. I never stopped, but [comics] got relegated to something I would do during class when I should have been paying attention to my teachers, or that I would toss off as a joke for friends. The main portion of my artistic energy went to other things like playing music, or making videos with friends. Things that entailed a more, by definition, social aspect because I think that's what I needed at the time.

When I was in my early 20's and I was working a nine-to-five job after graduating from college I found my way back to really making drawing an essential part of my life and started taking it seriously again. It was a few years after that I decided to go to grad school at CCS.

So how did you get involved with Fantagraphics?

Two years ago, I was coming up to Seattle to meet my mom because she was going to be there on business — this was when I was still living in San Francisco. It seemed like a natural thing to do to take time off of work and hang out in Seattle for a little while.

I figured since I was going to be in Seattle anyway I would see if I could pull some strings and try to get my foot in the door to just meet the people at Fantagraphics. I was really looking at it as a networking opportunity to try to get on their radar: let them know who I was, see if they had any constructive feedback about my work, put my work in front of their eyes.

And it turned out that they were interested in working on something together, so then we started to discuss what form would that take. I had some pretty strong feelings about that. They pushed back when appropriate, but they were very easy to work with and very supportive of my ideas for how this project should take shape.

What were some of your strong feelings?

[Mountebank] is a facsimile reproduction of an actual sketchbook that I maintained for about two years. Because of the way that I conceived of and structured the work in that book, which was extremely organized and regimented and followed a strict set of rules, I felt that the work had to be presented altogether in sequential order, in the original order that it appears in the actual sketchbook, and that the concepts of the presentation should be a facsimile — as close as possible to the feeling that you're holding the actual book in your hands. A few people have commented to me, and I don't think that they're wrong, that [sketchbook reproduction is] a bit of a played-out concept at this point. Maybe the market got a little saturated with that kind of presentation, but I just felt like that was the only way to do this.

Working in a sketchbook has a very particular meaning for me. It's my preferred method of working and it helps guide my work in the direction that want it to go. I think that presenting this particular body of work — both because the pages do have a relationship to one another and because of the way they look on the original sketchbook pages — I think it's important that you appreciate that this is all coming out of a sketchbook.

It's kind of like finding that place where this work represents an overlap between comics and the physical feeling of the intimacy of leafing through someone's sketchbook, or seeing something that they're giving you permission to see that they've been carrying around in their bag with them for two years and scribbling in during their lunch breaks.

Yeah, I think there's an interesting relationship between cartoonists and their sketchbooks and their broader body of work. Nobody can really deny that Robert Crumb’s sketchbooks, which Fantagraphics has reproduced, have become a central part of his work.

Right. I've heard through the grapevine that Crumb himself was really skeptical about that concept. He thought it was kind of a dumb idea. I don't know if I have that exactly right, but he wasn't really into that idea. And people love those, right? [His sketchbooks have] become a central aspect of his entire body of work now.

Yeah, and there are other cartoonists, like Seth for instance — I prefer his sketchbook stuff lately to the stuff that he’s more intensely rendered.

I can see that. I don't know if you'd agree with this, but I think with that with him, his most recent comics have gotten so designerly. Which, obviously, he's one of the most talented designers alive. But they're so designerly and so polished that you end up kind of responding to that more than the emotional content, or the narrative content. Whereas with the sketchbooks there's like these flashes of really powerful emotion or something that cut through a little more sharply.

I'm trying to create a space where the work in the sketchbooks is the finished work, or there is no finished work.

Yeah, and there's a lack of self-seriousness in his sketchbooks that I like in contrast with his other work. But somebody like Chris Ware, who is really into design — I like his sketchbooks, but they are not as significant as Crumb's or Seth's.

You know what? I totally agree with that formulation. I think you're right about that. Ware, I do like the finished work better.

It's very interesting that sketchbook art is becoming part of a cartoonist’s career and body of work.

I think you're right. And so with me, to jump ahead a little bit, I'm trying to create a space where the work in the sketchbooks is the finished work, or there is no finished work. Choosing to work in the sketchbook doesn't mean that this is supposed to be private, or unpolished —although it probably does allow me to get away with a lot of mistakes that I wouldn’t be happy with if I was doing it in a different context.

I think you’re the first cartoonist Fantagraphics has published who they've made the sketchbook before the “real” book.

You might be right about that. If that's the case, that was them being really amazing, thoughtful, cooperative, collaborators.

Is the book that I am holding in my hand, literally right now — is this basically the object that you brought in to Fantagraphics when you visited two years ago?

Yeah. I brought in about three or four sketchbooks to show them, including the one that you're holding right now. That was the one that I always had my eye on. Even at that point, I thought ‘I want this book to be presented by somebody, hopefully Fantagraphics, as a complete work.’

From the movement that I conceived the structure for that book, and designed the system that would guide the content and flow of the book, I had always envisioned that particular sketchbook as being a unified work that would hang together as one object.

So to answer your question more fully, if I were to hand you the original sketchbook, which I'd be happy to do sometime if we ever were to meet, and you were to place it alongside your copy and flip to the same page it would be virtually indistinguishable except by touch.

I can't triangulate your work by just having this one point to work with. Do you develop individual ideas in individual sketchbooks? Does your style differ depending on where you sketch?

I sort of change the channel depending on what sketchbook I'm in. There are different sketchbooks that serve different purposes, and represent different meanings or contexts for me. I always maintain at least one sketchbook where I do stuff I probably wouldn't necessarily ever print, or maybe even wouldn’t show to somebody — real raw. Just letting my ID roam around the page and morad around and see what it can catch. Then with Mountebank, which was the name of the sketchbook — you know, you have to name your sketchbooks — Mountebank was conceived as the opposite of that.

Even though it was in a sketchbook, I wanted it to be a unified body of work where you do go on this journey as you flip from one page to the next, and before I ever made a single mark on the first page, I conceived of the system that would guide the rules and the content and the structure of what criteria have to be met on every page, and the order in which the pages go. I drew up a whole matrix to tell me when I got to each page, which criteria and rules had to be honored on that page.

Then, I would have to respond to those rules I had set for myself in the context of where I was at that point in the book and create that page accordingly so I would have room to improvise and play around. Going straight to ink, as I do, but would also have to be mindful of those rules and build everything I was doing around those rules so that each individual page would stand on its own compositionally, but would fit into the larger structure of the piece by obeying the rules of the matrix.

It's a really impressive book. I intend to come back to and reinvestigate it. But it seems like there are a lot of layers going on here.

Yeah, and I hope that not knowing what they all are and not understanding all of the criteria would be part of the act of enjoying the work. I don't want you to have to know all that stuff in order to understand the book.

Yeah, but it does seem like there is a definite form of logic.

There's one in my head. I know exactly, in my head, how it works. But to me, all of that logic, and the system, is a jumping off point for how to get started making the work, and how to direct my energy within the process of making the work. But in my opinion, it’s absolutely not essential, or probably even interesting, to someone who just wants to flip to a page and enjoy looking at the pretty pictures. You know?

Towards the middle of the book I you embark on what feels like a real investigation into the idea of what a panel is and what a panel can do.

Totally! The panel thing is huge. That was a big thing for me. You put that really beautifully, too.

You could view the entire page as a single panel or you have the lines in there that can be seen as sort of breaking it up.

Right, and sometimes the panel borders are respected as blocking off each panel as the discrete area, and sometimes they're not. So sometimes the breaking up of things into panels could, at the same time, make you want to look at each panel and "read" each panel in sequence. And then at the same time it might make you want to step back and look at the larger composition, because certain aspects of the composition respect those panels and those panel borders, and then other aspects freely traverse [the panel borders] with no respect for them. So that hopefully the entire page would hang together as an entire composition while also being readable, as it were.

And then also I think you could also view each individual square on the graph paper as its own panel.

I think in some cases I got away from that as I went on. I think towards the end of the book it got sort of zoomed out a little, which you could also say that about the book itself. So I guess you could look at it in these units of individual squares, individual panels, individual pages — and at every one of those levels I'm always also thinking about the level above. So as I moved towards the culmination of the project and was trying to get to the page count that I wanted for the final submission, I think I was getting a little broader in scope and starting to think more like a designer and less like a cartoonist.

We literally had artists from every continent in the world, including Antarctica, in one comic anthology.

You are an editor of an anthology titled Irene, and I wanted to ask you about that. I've only interviewed a few people about editing comics. Generally they are very sort of blasé about editing in a way that literary editors are not. Like [Fantagraphics publisher] Gary Groth, for instance. He told me once that he did very little editing once the pages came in to him, because there's not much an editor can do with a drawn comics page, as opposed to working with text. I just want to ask you what it's like working on your book as an editor, and what kind of an editor you're like. I think that's a couple questions at once, sorry.

I can certainly answer the first part easily. In terms of working as an editor, I'm working alongside two of my closest friends in the whole world, and two of my favorite artists, Andy Warner and Dakota McFadzean. We are together editing and publishing this book that we co-founded, the three of us.

We're also designing the physical look of the book: we're doing the cover, the end pages, and the table of contents for every issue. We are talking to one another during the initial gearing-up phase for any given issue — who do we want to invite for this issue? We're all bringing different sensibilities to that, because we're three very different cartoonists in terms of styles, contexts, and communities that we work in. We're really close and we all respect and feed off of one another's work and respective aesthetics. But we're also all three of us connected to wildly different areas of cartooning as a medium.

So we're all feeding into this common stream, and then we're sifting through it: who do we want to invite, what overall aesthetic do we want to cultivate for a given issue, do we want more of one kind of artist over another?

Issue six, the most recent issue of Irene, we literally had artists from every continent in the world, including Antarctica, in one comic anthology. Which, we can't prove it, but we're pretty sure that's the first time that anybody's ever accomplished that with a comics anthology. We don't think anybody else has gone through the trouble to find cartoonists from Antarctica before.

So, there's that process of starting to put the issue together and conceiving of what it might be like. Then when the work starts to roll in, that's the most fun part. Because to echo Gary's comment on that — especially since we're asking people to be in this book and we're telling them up front that they have free reign once they've agreed to do it, to do whatever they see fit — we don't think we're in a position to push back and make changes or edits at that point. When they hand in the finished work we take what they've given us.

Along the way we have often had contributors who have asked us for editorial feedback while they're working on the project, and we love engaging with that and trying to be helpful with that where we can. But once the finished work has come in and we have all the work that we need to put an issue together the most fun part is the three of us getting together and debating the structure and sequence of the book. Like, ‘I really feel strongly that this particular story should be the opener because it will start off on a really strong note and it will set this or that tone for the book.’ Then choosing the last story is really fun. Every single issue we have one artist do all of the interstitials so that as you finish one story and begin the next there's a little breather page. We like to have one person do all of those interstitial breather pages for the whole issue. So that becomes this whole aesthetic consideration.

Yeah, and we're putting it together in this sequence that feels right for us and then the three of us are doing this sort of design and presentation for what the cover and end pages, and table of contents are going to look like and how they're going to create a functional house for all of those lovely comics.

The Sunday Post for October 8, 2017

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.

“Like Sonny Liston”: An Appreciation of Tom Petty

The best thing about this piece by the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood is not his apt and lyrical assessment of Tom Petty’s achievements as a musician, or the wry anecdotes (Petty and the Replacements trading barbs on stage, Hood napping through a one-time chance to meet his hero). It’s how he articulates the different kinds of grief he felt last Monday: the devastating grief we all shared over the grotesque fucked-up-ed-ness of the shooting in Las Vegas — and our government’s continuing permission of such events — and the lesser but still painful loss of a much-loved musician. Many encomiums to Petty have ignored Las Vegas entirely, as if nothing else happened that day.

Thanks for not doing that, Patterson. Play on.

My pain and anger at all of this are so out of control and unfathomable that I don’t even know how to begin to process them. I don’t know how to address it. I sure as hell ain’t going downtown to raise a glass about it. I’m hoping that in time, maybe someone will wake the hell up before it’s too late (if it’s not already) and bring about some kind of real change in our bloodthirsty gun culture. I hope it happens before a massacre occurs in front of me or to one of my loved ones. When members of our government say that they are praying for the victims, I say, Save your prayers for yourself and the hell that I’m certain awaits you. Thoughts such as this are not constructive or helpful, but it’s all I have right now.

And Tom Petty has passed away. I can’t really fathom living in a world without him, but I know for a fact that I’ll never really have to. He lived a full life, not long enough, but fuller than most ever dream. He was loved by millions and left us a legacy of music that will live on for decades, perhaps centuries. He touched our lives and made each day, even the darkest ones, a little brighter and better.

To that, I can raise a glass and toast.

An Epitaph for Newsvine

Newsvine, the Seattle-based news site that helped pioneer citizen journalism as a credible alternative to professional reporting (the latter should probably have quotes, air or literal, at this point), closed its doors on October 2. The decade-plus in which Newsvine operated saw seismic changes for the industry, mostly driven by the vast shift in media consumption via social media. Co-founder Mike Davidson’s brief comment on the site’s origins and evolution during this time is both interesting and insightful.

When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!

If you're looking for more on the media, and you've somehow avoided an outraged adrenaline spike this Sunday morning, try this: Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein on how Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos made it okay to be a Nazi.

Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks

All of Eaters’ essays on the decline of the great American chain restaurant are excellent; the series is a delight to explore. But it’s Helen Rosner’s piece on the Olive Garden that won the Internet’s heart this week.

At first I thought that was just the web’s ongoing fascination with the OG. As an Applebee’s girl from childhood, I find this inexplicable (contrariwise, Chip Zdarsky’s gentle, loving mockery of his local Applebee’s has long been my favorite bit of restaurant irony).

But man, now I get it. Rosner’s essay is so good. It’s got art, metaphysics, memoir. It’s funny, contemplative, and knowledgeable. And it holds the menu hack to unlock a magical plate of toasted ravioli.

In the infinity of Olive Garden meals that make up my life, one stands out from the great glutinous mass of memory. It took place outside of Madison, Wisconsin, off a commercial strip that I vaguely remember abutting a retaining pond that was home to an extremely aggressive paddling of ducks. At this meal, two great things happened.

The first is that my boyfriend introduced me to toasted ravioli. This was — and remains — the single greatest thing Olive Garden has ever sold. “Toasted” is a euphemism for fried: The breadcrumb-coated squares of pasta are simultaneously crispy and chewy, filled with a savory meat paste that’s not dissimilar to the inside of a mild Jamaican beef patty. You dip them in warm marinara sauce, which comes in a ramekin on the side.

My boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks after we shared that meal, and when I next entered one of the many doors of the infinite and singular Olive Garden, I wanted the toasted ravioli appetizer, but I couldn’t find it on the menu. The toasted ravioli turned out to be a parable: I scanned the name of every dish on the menu, hoping the next and the next and the next would turn out to be the one I was looking for, and came up with nothing. Here’s the secret: They were right at the beginning all along. Tell your server you want to Create A Sampler Italiano, the very first thing listed on the menu, which involves selecting two or three items from a set of options, toasted ravioli among them, listed in the description in quotidian roman type. Then make every single choice the toasted ravioli.

The Touch of Madness

Nev Jones, a brilliant young philosophy student, noticed one day that a nearby stone wall was both solid and infinitely porous — so much space between its molecules that you could almost blow it away with a puff of breath. It sounds like typical college-kid pretension, but for Jones, it was the first note in a symphony of mental disorder. Writer David Dobbs paired up with Jones (now a successful psychologist) to document America’s self-defeating, isolating response to madness and how it leads us right to the outcomes we’re most afraid of.

Monday, April 21st, 2008, was a particularly fine spring morning in Chicago, with a warming sun and magnolia blossoms scenting the air. The kind of day that, after a tough winter, can seem a miracle, lifting one's spirits and hopes. Jones, ready to start the week's classes and only a few weeks away from summer, was enjoying the walk to campus when she noticed she had a voicemail from Dr. Holland.

Holland seldom had reason to call. Jones became anxious as soon as she saw the message. She would later see the call, and the news it relayed, as the moment in which she went from clinging to a safe place within a small subculture to being flung away from it. The effect would prove catastrophic and lasting.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Amazon's massive balls

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.

You have to admit that Amazon has balls. Big ones. Three, for some reason (probably so that nobody will say that they look like balls). They're right there, on the cusp of South Lake Union, right around the corner from one of the few remaining strip clubs left in the city. Sitting at the base of two unique and iconic tall towers, very well-designed by NBBJ.

It's one thing to have balls, it's another to really use them well. We talk about Amazon a lot on these pages. We reported on the first ever reverse-showrooming, after Amazon famously instructed their users to go to bookstores to find the book they want, and then buy it on Amazon. Ironically, then, Amazon worked on restricting internet access in stores.

Of course, Amazon is a large company and not everything they do is evil. Some of it is chaotic-neutral. The company, at heart, is really one simple thing: an efficiency engine. How can I remove friction in getting X to consumers? That's everything to Amazon. That's why you can order batteries on Amazon Fresh, or Amazon Now, or Amazon Prime Same-Day Delivery. They're all competing fiefdoms in the libertarian death-race of efficiency.

Is efficiency bad? Of course not. Some great things have come from it, and there are markets that probably deserve to be toppled, because they're built on platforms that are, at essence, capitalist con-jobs. I'm thrilled that the internet mattress companies like Casper and Leesa have taken on the ridiculous shell-game of classic mattress showrooming. There is no reason car manufactures, like Tesla, shouldn't be able to sell direct to the customer. In a capitalist society, competition is good. So, no, I don't think Amazon is evil. I think, in a large sense, Amazon is indifferent, and through indifference shows aspects of evil. Sometimes, Amazon is actually evil, but a company so large cannot be a single thing. It is a thriving eco-system, and in that eco-system lay many spectrum of value. I'm not even addressing huge swaths of their business that are worth mentioning, like Kindle publishing and what that has meant to independent authors, and what it has meant to traditional publishing.

Not that Amazon's critics are the most thorough. Talk to a typical lefty old-school Seattleite, and in the same breath they will complain about Amazon employees (rich tech workers moving to the city and driving up prices), and shed a tear for Amazon employees (non-unionized factory workers). I have a lot of friends who work at Amazon. I, myself, interviewed there (they passed on me, but would I have accepted an offer if proffered? That question is my personal-ethics version of the trolley problem, where one switch kills personal beliefs and the other kills debt).

So my feelings about the company are complex. I like the infrastructure they are bringing to the city. I like the varied marketplace of goods. I love Amazon studios, and Transparent, and other shows they're totally nailing. I don't like the whiff of caveat emptor that works its way in from the edges when they're asleep at the wheel, but I know that they believe in delivering value and goods to their customers, so things like that will correct when noticed. What I don't like the most about Amazon is how they're not a great neighbor.

For example, a company their size should be paying much higher taxes and returning wealth to the city in ways besides nice architecture. We should have a Bezos hall, or Bezos park, or Bezos library. Maybe someday we will, but until Amazon's rapacious growth suffers a hiccup and there is some kind of re-org that imparts a whiff of humility, it will be all octopus eating, and polishing the glass in your massive balls, that are private nature preserves for the private members of club Amazon, right in the middle of our city.

I guess they do remind us of who has the biggest ones in Seattle. Right now, like it or not, the answer is clear.

Today's prompts
  1. First, they had to block all underground access. There was no way of controlling the spheres once they couldn't narrow paths in. Next, they made the only entrance a gauntlet. Acetylene torches hooked up to servos could spark a rain of fire. Booby trapped land minds under certain floor tiles would halt careless progress. Inside, they had supplies for at least a year. They could make it, so long as no one infected made it past their defenses.

  2. "He proposed!?" — "Yup. Down on one knee. Had a drone flying right outside capturing the whole thing. I was crying so hard. It was so beautiful." — "And you don't feel weird that, you know, he did it at work?" — "Well, no. I mean, we both love the natural environment so much." — "The spheres are natural?" — "There is a lot of nature inside of them. Anyway, we met at work. We spend most of our days at work. We love our jobs, so why not propose at work?" — "And the drone was outside the spheres looking in?" — "Yeah. We petitioned security to get it back, so hopefully we'll have the footage, soon."

  3. I am the exterminator. I get called in on the specialty jobs. This one was a doozy. Employees dropping food, and the food calls the rats and smaller birds, and the small birds call the crows. Suddenly, you have an aquarium full of pests. My job is to take care of them all. I fight the problem. It was what I didn't expect to find that shocked me. I didn't expect to find a dead body under the dry leaves in the middle sphere. This is a murder mystery, and now I'm out to find the truth.

  4. All he wanted to do was stand on top of the spheres. He tried during the night, but the first time one of his suction cups didn't hold, and he had to replace it. The second try met with guards, who watched the spheres closer than he imagined. The third try, he got about half way up before he looked down, and then froze. What the hell was he doing? What would this prove? Why would he even risk himself in this idiotic stunt? It was as if a veil dropped, and he saw himself for the first time in a truly objective way. And what he saw was horrifying. Part of what he saw was that, he now realized, he was terrified of heights.

  5. I am Rubi. I am Ficus rubiginosa. My home is the spheres, and I oversee all that happens within. Under my leaves the plans of humans are made. Fortunes are won and lost. Above me, a canopy of glass, and then the world. Above me, clouds. Around me, people, moving in a blur. A city changing. A pace too quick for me a tree to recognize. I think in seasons, and you think in minutes. One day, the glass around me will melt, and I'll break free, grow to the size of a skyscraper. I will be Seattle's Yggdrasil, and all shall worship at my trunk. Let me tell the story of how this all came to be...

The Help Desk: My book club is going soft!

Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna Madrid can help. Send your Help Desk Questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

I’ve been a part of a book club for five years. It’s a good group of people—all friends—and we started the group so we could keep reading the kind of challenging literary fiction we used to read in college as English majors. We’ve all been very happy with our selections.

Until recently.

Lately, I noticed that the group has been gravitating to more fluffy selections. The kind of stereotypical women-having-epiphanies kind of stuff that Oprah used to pick for her book club. At our last meeting, I asked if we were going to get back to the more complex books we used to read, and I kind of got shut down. I’m clearly the only one who feels this way.

I don’t know what’s going on here, exactly. Maybe they’re too upset by President T*p to be serious? Maybe they’re gravitating away from edgy material as they get older? Anyway, I want to quit, but I don’t want to be primadonnaish about it, or indicate that I don’t value their friendship at all. Do you have advice on how to approach this?**

Skyler, Seward Park

Dear Skyler,

Book clubs are social clubs. I empathize with not enjoying every book chosen for book club – I haunt several book clubs and am unapologetic about quitting books that don't appeal to me. Like most people, I attend them because occasionally, mama likes to shake off her spiders, put on pants that button and listen to other women discuss their blood-sucking dependents in a wine-infused setting. Plus, understanding how different readers approach and interpret a story, even a fluffy one, illuminates the text and your fellow human being.

I get the sense that the books you read in your club are based on consensus. Where I you and wanted to continue enjoying the company of my friends, I'd ask my book club to begin letting a new person choose the book each meeting. That way, everyone's tastes are represented (it doesn't hurt to grapple with less "complex" books from time to time).

But it seems that you want out, so breaking up with your book club is simple. You say, "Hey gang, my doctor recently told me that I'm allergic to fluffy, women-having-epiphanies, Oprah-book-club style books. Apparently, exposure to these kinds of books is aggravating my immune system's snob response – you may not have noticed because I've done a really great job at hiding it thus far. But now I'm on a strict diet of complex literature, which means I'm going to have to take a break from book club and your valued human company until you grow better taste in books."

Or just tell them work is busy and you have to take a break.

Kisses,

Cienna

Book News Roundup: Great opportunities for writers old(er) and young

  • Tomorrow is Literary Career Day at the Seattle Public Library downtown. It's described as "a free event providing young people ages 16-24 with direct access to industry professionals through networking, experiential learning, engaging conversations, and performances." If you know any aspiring authors, tell them to register today.

  • If you're a woman over the age of 50 and you write poetry, you should be applying for Two Sylvias Press's Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize, which "is open to women over 50 years of age (established or emerging poets) and includes a $1000 prize, publication by Two Sylvias Press, 20 copies of the winning book, and a vintage, art nouveau pendant." You have until November 30th to apply, but never wait until the last minute.

  • Here are the submission guidelines for you to be a part of the Shout Your Abortion anthology. Get your written and illustrated submissions in before November 15th!

Submissions in which writers address their own abortion experiences will be most highly prioritized, but any work related to the theme of abortion will be considered. Submissions can be published anonymously, though writers chosen for the book will be required to sign a release form. Most selections will be between 500-1700 words, but other lengths will be considered. We are seeking as broad a representation of racial, age, gender, and geographical diversity as possible. Stories not selected for the book will also be considered for publishing on SYA’s website.
  • The University of Aberdeen has put a beautiful reproduction of a very old manuscript called The Aberdeen Bestiary online for anyone to view for free. It opens with the creation of the heavens and the earth, so it's, you know, pretty epic.

  • Cartoonist Tom Gauld's vision of an e-bookmark is depressingly true to life.

  • Weird, isn't it, that the publisher chose a photo of Sylvia Plath in a swimsuit for the cover of her collected letters? Nichole LeFebvre writes for Literary Hub:

I do think calling “male gaze” on the cover of Letters implies a certain level of pity: poor Sylvia, even in death, being paraded around for men. Yet we should not overlook the hyper-aware carnality of her work, her insistent control. Even in a poem like “Lady Lazarus”—in which Plath calls death “the big striptease” and brags about the “very large charge” for a glimpse at her scars—the tone is chirpy and flirtatious, with those trademark round vowels and confident, declarative lines. It’s this allure—delicious poison—that makes her poetry so powerful, so lasting. She is in control. She flirts you close enough to burn you.
  • Here's some more commentary on the cover:
  • This is the best protest chant ever:

Does Blade Runner 2049 honor the themes of Philip K. Dick?

I won't spoil any of Blade Runner 2049 for you. Just trust me when I say you should go see it as quickly as possible, on as large a screen as possible. (I recommend going to Cinerama, obviously.) The performances are roundly incredible, but Roger Deakins's cinematography runs away with the show. Deakins, whose photography made the generic Spielbergian thriller plot of Minority Report into a cultural touchstone, is doing the best work of his career with 2049.

I'm glad to report, also, that this isn't some dumbed-down franchise-builder of a sequel. It's very much in the tone of the original film, in design and sound and pacing. If you were worried about the possibility that 2049 would amount to a Fast and the Furious movie set in the Blade Runner world, you should rest assured that it's a close relative to the original. It is a noir film and a sci-fi film, and a film for adults.

But is 2049 in the spirit of Philip K. Dick? The first film, of course, was based on the Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and it hewed very close to Dick's central themes of technological alienation and the blurred lines of identity and personhood in modern civlization.

The truth is, I'm not sure if 2049 is a truly Dickian movie. The film does address some of the first film's themes of what makes a human, but it doesn't seem interested in those questions in the same way that Dick was. Instead, it moves on to other themes and topics. It has its own questions to consider.

But would it even be worthwhile or relevant for 2049 to address the questions raised in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Perhaps now that we all carry thrumming electronic rectangles that contain all of our interests, hopes, and fears, we've moved as a society past Philip K. Dick's concerns of what it means to be a person in an accelerated technological era.

"Who am I?" seems like a question our artists left behind in the hairy, self-investigatory late 1970s and early 1980s. Now, our art seems to be more interested in questions of purpose and intent, and 2049 definitely does some interesting work in those spaces. It's a movie that people will be pulling apart for months and years to come, and I hope that there will soon be a raucous and inclusive public conversation about where the film stands in the pantheon of Dick's fictional worlds.

Portrait Gallery: Caitlin Doughty

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, October 6: From Here to Eternity Reading

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician whose new book, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, “travels the world [from Bolivia to Japan to Indonesia] to discover how other cultures care for their dead.” Tonight, she’s joined by Seattle poet Sonya Vatomsky in an onstage conversation. She goes to Bolivia to see cigarette-smoking, wish-granting human skulls; to Japan to watch relatives of the deceased use chopsticks to pluck their loved ones’ bones from cremation ashes; to Indonesia to watch a man dress his grandfather’s mummified body.

The Summit, 420 E. Pike St., 322-7411, http://townhallseattle.org. $5. 21+. 7 p.m.

Kissing Books: She works hard for it, honey

New Column! 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?

There is a type of romance that revels in workless wealth and luxury (see: most dukes and so many category romances set in the Greek islands). There’s another kind that makes the performance of labor central to the plot and the romantic arc. And in this second type, obviously, romance heroes and heroines never have incidental jobs.

Part of this is just fiction’s general conceit. Everything in a novel means something, or else you’d leave it out. And a romance might not always show that high-powered CEO setting the agenda for the board meeting, or give you pages of the governess heroine planning Young Lady Plot Moppet’s curriculum. But even the most sketched-in career is going to have narrative heft, because in a work-based romance novel what someone does tells you who they are. Labor is character, and character is destiny.

That super-rich CEO is going to have some of those sharp edges ground down. The governess heroine is absolutely going to repair some deep-seated rift in her employer’s household – solving the mystery of his first wife’s disappearance, or bridging an emotional gulf between a parent and a child. Cupcake bakers, Navy SEALS, lawyers, journalists, librarians, police and fire services, professional athletes, tattoo artists, publicists, and astronauts: these jobs have cultural and therefore narrative capital. Speculative subgenres are not exempt either with their space pirates, monster hunters, witches, and psychics.

The fantasy in these romances is not just a fulfilling sexual relationship. The fantasy is that the work you do matters, and will have a meaningful positive impact on the world. Your dreams of success are not trivial. They are not selfish. It might take sacrifice, but you’re hard-working and determined. You’ll eventually come up with the great marketing idea that will turn your failing seaside hotel into the latest trendy vacation spot, while the cutthroat but distractingly hot real estate developer will stop trying to pressure you to sell and will instead turn his energy to rehabilitating the town’s waterfront boardwalk, creating jobs for all those nosy local folks who gossiped about the two of you every time you had a big public spat outside the ice cream shop. You weren’t thinking about saving the world, or leading the revolution. For most of the book, you might have been barely scraping by. But by the end, you will be invaluable to your corner of society. You will be loved, yes, but also you will be known. Your efforts and talents will be recognized. You will mean something.

Recent Romances:

Royally Yours by Everly James (self-published: f/f contemporary)

Cute lesbian princess romance where they meet in an urban farming co-op. Which may not be quite what it appears (where is all that tuition money going?). It’s one of those books that throws a bit of everything into the mix – melodrama, mystery, misunderstandings – so it’s lucky that the prose is as airy and delicate as candyfloss. Princess Melody of Madrana is trying to escape the rigid rules of her tyrannical royal mother. Farm-raised Ellie loves art, gardening, and growing things but loves New York City more than the small upstate town she grew up in. Hints of real trouble cut the sweetness somewhat, and the author has a gift for cozy descriptions that make you wish all these places and people were real so you could go visit. The plot is a bit of a meander, but otherwise this is an fun, fluffy confection to keep handy for getting through flu season and stressful family dinners.

Melody pasted on a smile. She had an idea brewing that made her fingers tingle. It had fallen so neatly into her head that it was like a book toppling from the highest shelf. But she couldn’t let on that she had a plan.

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles (self-published: m/m historical fantasy)

If you’re a fan of historical fantasy, I can tell you this story’s tone is the exact midpoint between Jonathan Strange and Sorcerer to the Crown. If you aren’t a fan of historical fantasy, this is a marvelous place to start. Ex-WWI soldier and archaeologist Saul Lazenby is disgraced in the eyes of his government and disowned by his family. The only person who’ll hire him is a crackpot amateur occultist with a head full of magical nonsense, who drags him around London looking for odd legends and implausible incidents. At least it’s a living – until actual magical things start happening, and actual magician Randolph Glyde starts turning up in all the wrong places, looking cynical and sinful. Randolph is from a long line of English magicians, guardians of the old ways and servants of the country – not the government, but the land itself, which grants Green Men like Randolph significant powers and arcane responsibilities. One of which is to keep bumbling neophytes like Saul from meddling in magics they do not understand. Naturally he has to take an interest in the man. Surely it’s nothing to do with Saul’s haunted eyes or perfect top lip. Watching two guarded men trade arch Lost Generation banter while edging closer and closer to romance is deeply satisfying; the book’s wry, anguished, darkly witty prose will make it perfect for the coming rains of autumn.

“If only more of his work involved sinewy, sunburned, sensitive men, rather than people who lacked the common decency to die properly.”

Acting on Impulse by Mia Sosa (HarperCollins: contemporary m/f)

This romance turns on the thematic tension between acting-meaning-performance and acting-meaning-doing. Carter Stone is sick of being typecast as the forgettable lead in television romcoms; he wants a serious part, one that will earn him respect and A-list status. Tori Alvarez is a physical trainer who hopes to start her own studio with a workout program accessible to bodies of all shapes, abilities, and income levels. She’s also reeling from a very public breakup with a very ambitious jerk, who played up their relationship in the media but constantly nitpicked her in private. Whipping rising star Carter into shape for a meaty role in a high-profile film would be great for business, but she doesn’t want her personal life anywhere near the limelight. Both are guarded in distinctly different ways: Tori is prickly and suspicious, while Carter uses affable charm as a defensive mechanism to keep people distracted from his real vulnerabilities. The book is an emotional roller coaster – tender wounds are poked at, families cause drama, careers take hits and recover – but the thing about roller coasters is the good ones have to have a lot of carefully laid out, sturdy structure underneath. What I’m trying to say is that the book feels both effortless and intricate, in the way of truly great genre offerings (Die Hard, Jurassic Park, Clueless) and I have very giddy expectations for the next in the series.

I make my living convincing audiences that love at first sight exists. Turns out I’m a shitty actor because there’s not much pretending involved. It happens. Because I’m pretty sure I’m experiencing it right now.

Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper (Sourcebooks: historical fantasy m/f).

Isabel Cooper’s romances have a Lovecraftian edge – most notably her glorious debut No Proper Lady, a time-traveling tentacle-monster miracle best described as “Terminator 2 meets My Fair Lady.” Even without the tentacles, there’s always the sense that something sinister is muttering about blood in the shadows. This new book kicks off a medieval prequel series to Cooper’s Victorian-set Highland Dragon shifter books, which now that I write it out sounds like the most Peak Romance thing you can make without having to send a check to Colin Firth. The year is 1304 and our Scottish dragons are fighting hard in a doomed rebellion to cast off their recent conquest by the English king. By the time Jewish alchemist heroine Sophia is explaining to semi-immortal dragon shifter hero Cathal why the deer he just killed is not kosher, I was in love. This is a tender, slow-burn romance in a dark and eldritch world – more Gothic than grimdark, thankfully. The magic is delightfully medieval: herblore, sympathetic influences, planetary alignments, dream worlds. The plot is a trifle too straightforward but the richness of the atmosphere and the gentle power of the romance more than makes up for it. Bonus points for a big, burly, warrior hero who is also kind, careful of his strength, unsure of his leadership skills, and unshakeable in his belief in the heroine’s intellect.

“You swim in time,” she said with no bitterness and only a trace of envy. “We…we ration it and if we don’t count each drop, that’s only because we can’t.”

This month’s Heroine Who Is Definitely Going To Break That Vow Of Chastity

The Husband Test by Betina Krahn

Medieval-set romance novels can flirt more directly with fairy tales than most other subgenres. Betina Krahn’s lively and charming story about know-it-all novice nun Eloise and a blustery earl named Peril certainly has a lot of Grimm-approved elements: a curse that needs breaking, a realm in decline, a witch in the woods, an evil villain, plenty of daring rescues. But one moment in particular illustrates the way romance can subvert these much-repeated tropes even as it feeds on them. Eloise is an unruly, hands-on novice whose constant attempts to “improve” the convent have the abbess at her wits’ end. To get a little peace of mind, she contrives to send Eloise as a “husband judge” to the Earl of Whitmore, whose estate is in rough shape and in need of a “bride of virtue” to break a spurned woman’s curse. Eloise will judge the earl’s fitness as a marital prospect, and the abbess will then send him a bride from one of the high-born maidens the convent educates and protects. Eloise and Peril take an instant dislike to one another – but gradually, as they work to improve the estate and the lives of its tenants, they come to recognize the other’s value. Eloise sends a letter approving the earl’s character, and the abbess sends back a small wooden box with the message: “The earl’s bride is here.” Eloise opens it to find a mirror within – meaning, of course, that she is to marry the earl. It’s a classic riddle-solution, and any fairy tale version of this story would have ended right here.

In The Husband Test, this moment comes precisely at the halfway mark. Instead of being relieved and delighted – Eloise and Peril have already made out a couple times, and they’re clearly irresistibly into one another – our heroine is horrified. She’s spent her whole life among the nuns, expected to take her final vows at the end of this mission, and now they’re telling her she’s unfit. That they don’t want her. She is being cast out by the only family she’s ever known, and it is shattering. We know she’ll come to love her husband, and we know she’ll overcome the curse and end up beloved and blissful in her new role as lady of the manor. But that’s half a book away: right now we must witness Eloise mourn for the dream she’s cherished for a lifetime. Nisi Shawl in a recent column said that stories find their driving tension in “the gap between ‘What is’ and ‘What must be’” – and The Husband Test certainly thrives in that space.

Upcoming conventions and conferences

Emerald City Writers’ Conference: October 12–14: I have a deep, abiding affection for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference: it was my first conference as a baby romance writer, and I’ve served on the committee a few times in past years. The conference is organized by the Greater Seattle chapter of the Romance Writers of America and while the workshops have a strong romance bent, the craft and techniques being taught are by no means limited to romance writers. I’m particularly excited about this year’s list of research-track workshops (“Poisoning – Accidentally or On Purpose”) but I know I’ll end up somewhere unexpected and useful. This con has a national reputation for being friendly, welcoming, and valuable for writers at all levels; it is geared toward professional writers but opens free to the public at 6 p.m. on Saturday night for the Passport to Romance Reader Appreciation Event (spoiler: I’m one of the authors attending!), which is essentially a cocktail party for readers and authors alike. And we romance folks love a good cocktail party.

Further out on the calendar:

The good old days aren't what they used to be

Published October 05, 2017, at 11:01am

Paul Constant reviews Noam Chomsky's Requiem for the American Dream.

Noam Chomsky is known for his long career as a thoughtful academic who builds complex and well-reasoned critiques of American institutions. Why the hell is his most recent book so lazy and shoddy and bad?

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: A dark Knight

I was 13 when I first read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and in retrospect I realize that it fucked me up for years. I wasn't mentally prepared to handle Miller's deeply conservative dystopian Batman comic, and so for a long time afterward I confused violence and nihilism for "serious art."

So many years later, Returns reads like a clunky piece of satire by a man who was teetering on the uncomfortable razor's edge between artistic curiosity and self-loathing regressivism. But the one thing it has going for it is its obvious merit as a work of art: when he wanted to, Miller could really put together a brilliant sequence panels. (Although I'd argue that the first Sin City collection, and not Returns, is his true masterpiece.)

Miller has now gone back to the Dark Knight well twice, with diminishing returns each time. The latest volume, Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race, is out in a collected edition now, and I can't really think of a single redeeming value for this book. Supposedly co-written by Miller and Brian Azzarello, and drawn mostly by Andy Kubert, I'm almost unwilling to attribute Master Race to Miller at all — Miller himself says he had little to do with the actual inspiration for the thing — but his contributions to back-up stories in the volume seem to indicate that he at least had some say as an artist.

The most generous interpretation of Master Race is that Miller is trying to revive the fun high-concept sci-fi of the comics he read as a youth. The book, which depicts a war between older versions of Batman and Superman and an army of pissed-off Kryptonians, features DC mainstays like The Flash, Aquaman, and the Atom.

But the lack of technical proficiency defuses the reader's enjoyment on every page. This book is lazy and uninspired, like Dark Knight Returns fan-fiction written by someone who thought the only problem with Returns is that it didn't co-star the whole Justice League. Way too much of the book consists of sloppily rendered figures standing in front of empty backgrounds, which are then filled in with muddy reds and browns by colorist Brad Anderson.

Even worse are the backup stories, many of which are drawn by Miller himself. These stories are entirely non-essential, usualy explaining what some minor character from the main story is doing when he or she is off-panel. And don't get me started on the art. I think this is supposed to be the Eiffel Tower:

Sure, Returns was a story about a deeply fascistic rich man having a midlife crisis, but it was at least a well-rendered story about a deeply fascistic rich man having a midlife crisis. And Miller's overt acceptance of the underlying fascist tendencies in superhero comics was at least novel at the time.

Master Race doesn't even have the werewithal to take a stand on fascism. There's nothing pleasurable about this book. It's like a boy who melts his action figures with a purloined cigarette lighter and then bashes the disfigured toys all together until he randomly determines a "winner." The thing is a mess from the bottom up.

Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

The British novelist is obviously a terrific choice for the Nobel Prize. People who like to read into the behind-the-scenes politics of prizes will likely be speculating that Ishiguro is a safe and uncontroversial choice after last year's polarizing selection of Bob Dylan.

But no matter what the reasoning behind the award, Ishiguro is a deserving winner. I know a lot of booksellers and librarians who consider him to be their favorite novelist. The Remains of the Day remains his greatest achievement, but his dystopian Never Let Me Go is perhaps his most haunting book — an elegy for the self, a story about identity and love and morality in an age where the technological hum in the background has slowly increased to deafening proportions.

Among the ruins

Published October 04, 2017, at 12:00pm

Jessica Mooney reviews Kristen Radtke's Imagine Wanting Only This.

Jessica Mooney confronts what it is about disaster tourism that both compels and repels, as she reads Kristen Radtke's Imagine Wanting Only This.

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from October 4th - October 10th

Wednesday, October 4: Lit Crawl Kick-Off Party

It’s almost time for Lit Crawl, Seattle’s wildest cross-city literary party. Tonight, the hosts present an unveiling ceremony where they’ll reveal this year’s lineup of readers and venues to an early-bird crowd, along with readings from local writers and an auction to raise money for the event. \ Capitol Cider, 818 E. Pike St., 397-3564, http://litcrawl.org/seattle. $10. 21+. 6 p.m.

Thursday, October 5: WA 129 Reading

Washington State’s outgoing poet laureate, Todd Marshall, collected as many Washington poets as humanly possible in an anthology titled WA 129. Tonight, Marshall will be joined by 15 local poets, who will each briefly read. Expect to see Elizabeth Austen, Claudia Castro Luna, Sierra Nelson, Susan Rich, and Martha Silano, among others. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St., 633-0811, http://openpoetrybooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday, October 6: From Here to Eternity Reading

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician whose new book, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, “travels the world [from Bolivia to Japan to Indonesia] to discover how other cultures care for their dead.” Tonight, she’s joined by Seattle poet Sonya Vatomsky in an onstage conversation. She goes to Bolivia to see cigarette-smoking, wish-granting human skulls; to Japan to watch relatives of the deceased use chopsticks to pluck their loved ones’ bones from cremation ashes; to Indonesia to watch a man dress his grandfather’s mummified body.

The Summit, 420 E. Pike St., 322-7411, http://townhallseattle.org. $5. 21+. 7 p.m.

Saturday, October 7: “Write-In”

This confluence of the literary and the political (“politeracal?”) is a combination of readings by local writers, writing prompts, and joint writing exercise. These events are intended to celebrate the importance of free speech in these Trump-y times. This event is put on by Write Our Democracy, which used to be known by the much better name Writers Resist. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 10 a.m.

Sunday, October 8: The Future Is History Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Monday, October 9: Skyfarer Reading

The best sci-fi bookstore in town brings a Tacoma author named Joseph Brassey to town with his brand-new space fantasy about knights in space and a magical gem. No less a talent than Neal Stephenson says Skyfarer is “One of those remarkable books that consists entirely of ‘the good parts.’” University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday, October 10: Nasty Women Reading

This anthology from Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding is about “Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America,” and it was inspired by the Women’s march. The editors are joined by local superstar Ijeoma Oluo, who has a much-anticipated book coming out next year. Hopefully there will be several good Janet Jackson jokes to accompany all the good, thoughtful conversation. Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave, 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Literary Event of the Week: Masha Gessen at Piggott Auditorium

Permit me a moment to entertain my own craven self-interest: Reading Through It, the book club co-sponsored by the Seattle Weekly and the Seattle Review of Books, is happening tonight at Third Place Books Seward Park. We meet at 7 pm, you can bring booze to the book club, and no purchase is necessary. We’ll be discussing Noam Chomsky’s book Requiem for the American Dream. Our Trump-era book club is still going strong, with dozens of folks coming out for last month’s event, but there’s always room for you.

Not every book we’ve featured at Reading Through It has been great — looking at you, Hillbilly Elegy — but one of the most successful discussions we’ve had was for New Yorker author Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Gessen is an exemplary journalist who knows when to sit back and let the facts speak for themselves. When writing about the rise of Putin, she knows that no amount of fancy adjectives can outstrip the horrors committed by the man, so she simply reports in clear language and allows readers to color in the details of the ghastly assassinations and brutal intimidation tactics on their own.

Now, Gessen is returning to Seattle at a special Sunday event, at 6 pm at Piggott Auditorium on Seattle University campus. She’s reading from her brand-new book The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. This book just might be the culmination of Gessen’s life’s work: a comprehensive and dense piece of reportage that details how the world’s other superpower collapsed after communism and then found a weird afterlife as a nasty mobster of a nation.

While it’s unlikely that Gessen included much — if anything — in the new book about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, it’s very likely that American readers will be able to make some inferences from History. In our book club, Man Without a Face heavily informed both our understanding of Donald Trump and our comprehension of how and why Russia might have gotten involved with our electoral process.

If you’ve been confused by all the talk about the so-called “Russia stuff” — the conversation about how Russia might have helped elect Donald Trump — this might be the most important book you’ll read all year.

Gessen is the best kind of non-fiction writer: she teaches her audience to be smarter. She doesn’t just jump to conclusions: she provides the evidence to her readers and allows them to make connections. And with this magnum opus of a book about the fall and rise of the world’s most misunderstood antagonist, it’s very likely that American audiences will soon learn more about Russia than they ever thought possible.

Seattle publisher Sasquatch Books has been bought by Penguin Random House

This morning, Seattle publisher Sasquatch Books announced that they've been acquired by New York publisher Penguin Random House for "an undisclosed sum." Sasquatch and Penguin Random House are not strangers to each other; the larger publisher has served as a distributor for Sasquatch since 2012, shipping the smaller publisher's titles to bookstores and marketing their upcoming books to retail buyers.

Sasquatch is not moving to New York; the press will maintain their offices and staff on 3rd Avenue downtown, and they will continue to publish titles — cookbooks, guidebooks, children's books, and so on — with a Northwest perspective.

“We are going to be the same Sasquatch Books as always, publishing great talent from the Pacific Northwest," Sasquatch publisher Gary Luke wrote me in an email yesterday. "We are still an independent publishing company with our own editorial, design, production, and marketing. It’s important to point out that Sasquatch will not become an imprint of Penguin Random House."

"So, to readers of the Seattle Review of Books, I say: Got a book idea? We’d like to hear about it,” Luke concludes. (Sasquatch's submission guidelines are posted on their About page.)

As for the immediate future, Sasquatch is publishing a full complement of local-interest books and/or books by local authors this fall. A pair of highlights: Pie & Whiskey is an anthology collecting readings from a popular literary series, edited by Spokane authors Kate Lebo and Sam Ligon. And David M. Buerge's Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name is described as "the first thorough historical account of Chief Seattle and his times." You'll be reading more about both those books right here in the weeks to come.

Born Again

Published October 03, 2017, at 12:19pm

Paul Constant reviews EJ Koh's A Lesser Love.

EJ Koh’s stellar debut collection starts in heaven, goes to war, and then finds love.

Read this review now