Book News Roundup: Wrath can be fun!

  • Town Hall Seattle is looking for artists and scholars in residence. But because Town Hall (the building) is being renovated this year and Town Hall (the organization) is branching out into other neighborhoods, they're doing something a little different. Each of the four neighborhoods that Town Hall is using as home bases during their Inside/Out Program — Phinney/Greenwood; University District/Ravenna; Capitol Hill/Central District; Columbia City/Hillman City — will have its own artist in residence. Those residents will then program Town Hall events within their communities, in exchange for a $5000 stipdend. This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Submit to Town Hall by December 10th, okay?

  • Penguin childrens' book designer Giusseppe Castellano left the publisher under a cloud after being accused of harassing comedian Charlene Yi, who was pitching projects to the publisher. Castellano then released a statement claiming that Yi's complaints were "false." But Yi brought receipts:

  • Related: if you have experienced harassment in childrens' book publishing, here's a survey that's intended to help "get a handle on the scope of the problem."

  • Don't fuck with Joan Didion, because she will murder you with two words.

  • And Eileen Myles is taking none of your bullshit, either:

Words written in anger, words written in ink

Published December 06, 2017, at 12:00pm

Robert Lashley reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power.

The hot takes said Ta-Nehisi Coates's reporting on the Obama presidency aids and abets white supremacy. Robert Lashley found something different in the words written on the page.

Read this review now

Looking for a holiday gift book? Richard Chiem recommends The Passion According to G.H.

Every Wednesday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we're asking some of our favorite Seattle authors to recommend the books they're most excited to give as gifts this holiday. Our second author is short story writer and novelist Richard Chiem.

I recommend The Passion According to G.H., by Clarice Lispector, for that weird strange someone in your life. It's about a maid who accidentally kills a cockroach, and then goes through a stunning and hellish existential dreamscape. Almost every sentence is some kind of dagger, and she reminds me of Kafka but deadlier. Not for all readers, but I dare you watch this interview with her and not pick up all her books right away:

A fairy tale of New York

Published December 05, 2017, at 12:30pm

Paul Constant reviews Anca L. Szilágyi's Daughters of the Air.

Seattle author Anca Szilágyi launches her debut novel at the Sorrento tonight. It's a gritty, realistic fantasy, a fairy tale set in a gutter, and the main character will take up residence in your head.

Read this review now

Natalie Diaz, John Freeman, and a pair of events for you to consider

Yesterday, I told you that Arizona poet Natalie Diaz is in town for a fantastic new series of events celebrating indigenous women writers called Poetry Across the Nations.

What I failed to tell you was that Diaz's first Seattle event this week is tonight at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. She'll be appearing in conversation with great literary editor John Freeman in a discussion about inequality and invisibilty in modern America. I interviewed Freeman a couple years ago, and I can tell you that he gives brilliant, thoughtful answers. I bet he and Diaz will have one hell of a fascinating conversation.

And while we're talking about Freeman, I hope you'll join me tomorrow night at 7 pm at Third Place Books Seward Park for the final Reading Through It book club of 2017. We'll be discussing Freeman's anthology Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation. It's a book that covers a lot of ground, from poverty to immigration to racism to homelessness. Basically, it's an opportunity to discuss any problem in America today, through the eyes of some of the sharpest writers of our time. Even if you haven't read the whole book, I hope you'll come out and join the book club tomorrow night. It's absolutely free, and the conversation will be hot and heavy.

Relish

It’s summer in Sanger, California,
and there’s a volcano
between my mother’s lips
as she stuffs me
into tiny shoes and a cotton dress.
Ashes powder my pointy bits —
nose, elbows, training bra.

Instead of running in grapevines,
I sit in mahogany pews
at a Methodist church and stare
at the heavily blushed face
of my grandmother —
her gray head juts
out her coffin
like a matchstick from a box.

She used to force relish
into tuna — I said
I didn’t like it, she said
I didn’t know
how to brush my hair
and even if I did
it wouldn’t brush right.

I want to strike her face
against flint
and ash her body into a jar —
cover the condolences of strangers
with I never liked Nona
and she never liked me.

A year of great books, delivered to you

Phinney Books is one of Seattle's favorite bookstores. It's smartly and creatively curated, it's a delight to be in, and it's an active reading and gathering space — their door is always open to Seattle's literary community. They're sponsoring the site this week to let you know about a program that brings the spirit of the shop right to your doorstep: Phinney by Post, a monthly (or every-other-month) subscription service.

I don't know about you, but we get pretty excited at the prospect of having Phinney Books' expert staff hand-choose a year of reading for us. Take a look at the selections for the last couple of years and you'll see what we mean. Sign up for any version of the Phinney by Post subscription program — there are plans for every budget and taste, including an option for children’s picture books — and they'll make your snail mail special again.

Sponsors like Phinney Books make the Seattle Review of Books possible. It's how we pay our writers and promote great programs like Phinney by Post, and it's part of our commitment to make internet advertising 100% less terrible. We'd love to feature your book, event, or opportunity on the site. Reserve a date now.

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

Monday, December 4: Easy Speak Rainier Beach

Easy Speak is a series of citywide open mic nights with featured readings. Tonight, they debut the newest chapter of the ever-growing Easy Speak empire on the south side of town — Easy Speak Rainier Beach! The first reader is Seattle Civic Poet Anastacia-Renee, who’ll read for about twenty minutes. This open mic comes with music from the Jim O'Halloran Trio and “whatever noise you can fit into five minutes.” Jude's Old Town, 9252 57th Ave S, http://easyspeakseattle.com/, 7:30 pm, free.

Tuesday, December 5: Daughters of the Air Reading

Anca Szilágyi’s debut novel is finally here! Szilágyi has been reading and contributing pieces to the Seattle literary scene for years now, and we’ve got great expectations for her first novel. (How is it? We’ll be running a review soon but — in short — it’s very good!) Tonight, join Szilágyi as she launches her book into the world from the swanky Fireside Room of the Sorrento with the help of her frequent literary partner in crime, Corinne Manning. Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., http://hotelsorrento.com, 7 pm, free, 21+.

Wednesday, December 6: Reading Through It

Every month, the Seattle Review of Books and the Seattle Weekly gets together to host a current-events book club at Third Place Books in Seward Park. December’s selection, A Tale of Two Americas, is a strange duck: it’s an anthology of essays, fiction, and poetry edited by literary tastemaker John Freeman. The book covers just about every kind of topic imaginable in post-Trump America, so tonight’s conversation will likely be a catch-as-catch-can potluck of civic nightmares, spotted with occasional moments of hope. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, December 7: Poetry Across the Nations: An Indigenous Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030. http://www.hugohouse.org, 7:30 pm, free.

Friday, December 8: Khizr Khan

In an election cycle fraught with shameful behavior, Khizr Khan stood out as a dignified figure — a man who understood the difference between right and wrong and wasn’t afraid to announce what side he was on. Khan’s new book, An American Family, details the many sacrifices his family has made for the sake of America. He’ll appear in conversation tonight with Crosscut’s Managing Editor, Florangela Davila. And just in case you needed a reminder that the world is a political dumpster fire, the listing for this reading warns, “For your safety and the safety of others, all guests attending this event are subject to a courteous screening and bag check before entry into the event.” Boo for all the assholes who threaten brave people with violence. Seattle University School of Law, 901 12th Ave, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, December 9: Fantagraphics Bookstore Turns 11!

Georgetown’s own mecca of comic-book greatness is officially a tween today! To celebrate the first year of the second decade of the Fantagraphics Bookstore dynasty, Fantagraphics has pulled in some fine speakers: Dame Darcy will play music and read from upcoming work. Charles Forsman will preview some of the Netflix series he’s got coming out. And Frank Young will introduce his new book about famous American cartoonist Art Young. Plus: art, refreshments, and more cartoonists than you can shake a stick at, if you’re in the habit of shaking sticks at cartoonists, you big weirdo. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110, http://fantagraphics.com/flog/bookstore, 6 pm, free.

Sunday, December 10: Till Chapbook Release and Holiday Party

Mount Analogue hosts the debut of this year’s edition of Smoke Farm residency’s chapbook, Till, with readings from contributors including Jennifer Brennock, Letitia Cane, Drew Dillhunt, Katie Ellison, Breona Gutschmidt, Nicole Hardina, Mark Lammers, Molly Thornton, and John Whittier Treat. The Seattle literary community doesn’t have an office Christmas party, but if it did, it would look a lot like this. X Y Z Gallery, 300 S Washington St, http://www.mount-analogue.com/ , 6 pm, free..

Meet E. Lily Yu, this year's winner of the Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award

This morning, Artist Trust announced that Seattle writer E. Lily Yu is the recipient of this year's Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award. This is a fairly new award in Washington State's arts scene, but it's a mighty one — it pays $10,000 to its winner, with no strings attached. In 2015, Anca L.Szilágyi was the first Gar LaSalle recipient, and that prize money seems to have paid off; her debut novel, Daughters of the Air, is launching tomorrow night at the Hotel Sorrento. Last year's winner was the novelist Peter Mountford, whose The Dismal Science is a sophomore novel that is so good it will make you renounce the very idea of a sophomore slump.

Both Szilágyi and Mountford are writers of literary fiction, but Yu has a different pedigree: while she's published in literary outlets like McSweeney's and Hazlitt, she's also appeared in science fiction and fantasy publications like Tor.com and Fantasy and Science Fiction. A Clarion West graduate, Yu has appeared in multiple annual best-of sci-fi anthologies. You can read some of her short work by following these links on her website.

If you're the last human being on earth who is still snooty about sci-fi, Yu might be the author to turn you around. Her prose is weird and beautiful and striking. She's a unique voice, she has published some beautiful fiction in the past, and she will undoubtedly produce great works in the years to come. You'll want to be a fan of her now so you can say you knew her before it was cool to be a fan of E. Lily Yu. Yu was kind enough to talk with me over email about winning the Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award; hopefully she'll do a longer interview with the Seattle Review of Books in the future.

Congratulations! What was your response when you were told you'd won this award?

Joy. Astonishment. Amusement and embarrassment over my lack of faith; the phone call was a bit of a divine I-told-you-so. Then a sudden and overwhelming sense of peace. I'd felt anxious the day before, and that all went away as if it had never existed. It'll come back, of course, all the colors and tones of the human experience do, but for right now there's just peace.

May I ask what you're planning to do with the prize money? Is it going toward living expenses, or is it devoted to a special project?

Buying time. I'm buying two months and ten days with it. And I'm spending that time right now.

Do you think of yourself as a Northwestern writer? Does your regional identity figure into your work on a thematic level?

This is home. It was not always home, it might not always be home—that's in God's hands—but right now it is home in the deepest way. Like blood. Like bone. It has and it is and it will appear in my work.

That said, I am many regions. Most of us are. One crosses whole countries between Fulton Street and Harlem, but who would call themselves a Bed-Stuy writer?

The previous two recipients of this award have been literary writers. Do you think it's significant that this time it's going to a writer whose work can be classified as genre fiction?

Not particularly, but I am not best placed to know. I came to Seattle years after it made a name for itself as a hub for both literary and speculative fiction, so the intermingling of the two communities seems to me to be the most natural thing in the world.

Does that distinction—the literary and the genre—mean anything to you?

As much as fences mean to flowers.

Literary Event of the Week: Poetry Across the Nations: An Indigenous Reading

“The lives of Native women are not valued greatly in the Americas,” Arizona poet Natalie Diaz explains. This is not just a matter of feeling underappreciated; literal lives are at stake. “The rates of Native femicide in North and South America are astronomical, and also invisible in regard to mainstream media discussion.”

Part of the reason these lives are being snuffed out, Diaz says, is because Native women feel isolated and removed from the culture. “It is not often that we see positive and powerful representations and reflections of what is beautiful and strong and innovative about indigenous people, and especially indigenous women,” she writes in an email. With the help of the Hugo House and the Poetry Foundation, Diaz is working to celebrate Native women in the literary arts.

“I have been thinking a lot about the strong community of indigenous women artists and writers whose mentorship and friendship I have benefitted from greatly,” Diaz says. “I wanted to create a space where indigenous women's voices were regarded and value — to pay it forward in a way to some of the Elders whose work and friendships have made my own work possible.”

Now Diaz is ready to share that celebration with the world. It’s an ongoing program called Poetry Across the Nations, and it launches right here in Seattle in a multi-day celebration from December 6th to 8th. On Wednesday and Friday, Diaz will be hosting workshops for Native writers — find details at the Hugo House’s website — and on Thursday, December 7th, she’ll MC a reading of Native women poets at Fred Wildlife Refuge.

All are welcome at the Thursday night reading, which is free and will feature both Seattle readers and poets from across the country. The lineup is impressive: Celeste Adame, Laura Da’, Jennifer Foerster, Casandra Lopez, Sara Ortiz, and Cedar Sigo. Da’, Sigo, and Lopez have all been kicking ass at Seattle readings for quite some time; the three of them on a bill together should be practically lethal.

In the spring, Diaz will take Poetry Across the Nation on the road, with stops in South Dakota and Arizona already planned. But Seattle gets it first. If you’ve been outraged at the way Native voices have been silenced, ignored, and ridiculed by the Trump administration, here’s an opportunity for you to elevate and celebrate those voices. It’s up to all of us to witness Native women, to let them know that they’re seen, and welcomed, and appreciated.

Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030. http://www.hugohouse.org, 7:30 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for December 3, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Trapped: The Grenfell Tower Story

Tom Lamont’s account of the Grenfell Tower fire is riveting and wrenching. It’s not a political examination, but a human one, a set of interlocking stories by residents and firefighters who lived through the night. A piece like this always risks catering to looky-loos. But I think it’s worthwhile, for obvious reasons right now, to invest our attention in the implications of political decisions (regulatory, economic, and otherwise) — implications from which the politicians calling the shots are mostly exempt.

Fire from the fourth floor had reached an outside wall of the tower and then caught — unthinkably — the sheer sides of the exterior. Fat amber flames licked up Grenfell's northeastern elevation so quickly, so determinedly, that for a time firefighters stationed indoors and outdoors would have been responding to wildly different degrees of crisis. What would have seemed inside to be a manageable appliance fire was catastrophizing, outside, into the gravest threat to residential Londoners in 75 years: since the city's bombing at war. One of the first police officers to arrive at the scene would later say that "the building was melting." At least 320 people were inside. Most, like Oluwaseun Talabi, were asleep.
Ana Mardoll on Prairie Fires

With many apologies to those for whom Little House on the Prairie is a beloved childhood touchpoint, here’s Ana Mardoll’s brilliant, hilarious live-read of Prairie Fires, the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, take them off now so you don’t get shards in your eyes — this woman has evidence-based smacktalk down to an art.

To no surprise whatsoever, Almanzo is now breaking homesteading rules and scamming the government. Again, I don't disapprove exactly, but I remind you this is supposed to be people who succeeded through honest hard labor.

Almanzo is being a dick to Eliza Jane but I am 100% on her side, fight me. She's going to claim her own homestead at 29 because fuck marriage and men, and that's frankly way more sympathetic than Manzo and Royal. I mean, they're all trash fires stealing land from indigenous people, but at least she hates men and I respect that.

Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem

The only thing better than Cormac McCarthy offering up an apostrophe-less analysis of one of the knottiest problems in linguistics is McCarthy responding to readers’ comments and questions on the selfsame piece.

I havent read the William Burroughs book that several people mentioned in which apparently language is compared to a virus. The only Burroughs book I’ve read is Naked Lunch. One reader seemed to know that that is just what I would say. Bloody McCarthy lies about everything. Naked Lunch was supposedly so named by Jack Kerouac. When Burroughs wanted to know what it meant, Kerouac said that it was that frozen moment when everybody sees what’s on the end of the fork. Or so the story.
Mea Culpa. Kinda Sorta.

Remember how your mom taught you to apologize — straight up “I’m sorry,” not “I’m sorry you felt bad,” not “I’m sorry and here’s why it’s your fault”? Apparently not everyone got that memo from mom, even with professional PR agencies to help them. Jessica Bennett, Claire Cain Miller, Amanda Taub, and Choire Sicha of the New York Times analyze shitty responses from shitty men, media and otherwise, to accusations of harassment and assault.

These sound like the ramblings of your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Baths

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.

There's a tweet going around that a bunch of my friends have been responding to. Don't worry, it's fun, for once.

I kept trying to come up with a good answer to this, but it wasn't until I sat down to write this piece that I thought of one: when I was in school, we watched slides that had a tone telling you when to advance, and the sound came from a turntable or cassette player.

I think of that now, because one of the filmstrips we watched was a cartoon telling of "The Legend of Sleepy Hallow." I've always been a fan of the story, for it's subtle airs and clear authorial point of view. It's a story that works best if you don't expect it, but like reading Frankenstein (where the monster is not green and does not have bolts), later tellings of the story have cast it in a certain light, with certain trappings that have stolen it's original verve and intention.

This filmstrip, no doubt, was one such telling, although in my memory, it's awfully consistent with the real text. In it, Ichabod Crane is taking a bath to get ready to attend the social where he will be challenged and bested by his rival. The drawing of Crane had him in a galvanized wash bucket, his lanky legs sticking out over the side, basically only his hips and buttocks in the thing.

So, this meandering start is leading to a really simple reveal: I'm a tall guy, and that's how I feel when I take a bath. Rare is the tub that I can submerge in. I'm normally all akimbo, and in a chill enough room, that which sticks out goes all goose-pimply while the rest of me is warm and snug in the steaming water.

Generally, to be fair, I prefer showers. But a bath is an amazing thing. Reading in the bath? Best place. Watching a show on your iPad in the bath? Heaven. But it's a rare indulgence for me, due to the lanky me and tiny tub phenomenon.

But every now and again, you encounter a tub that amazes you. There's a house on Capitol Hill, a mansion, that I visited a few times because it was the conference home for my father's church, when he was both alive and a working minister. We'd sometimes stay there, when visiting Seattle from Bellingham, and in one of the bathrooms was a nine foot tub. I could lay down in that thing, and have a clear foot-and-a-half above my head and another under my soles. It was incredible — except, for one tragic flaw: water didn't run to it anymore. And given the houses use as primarily an office, it wasn't required.

That tub has been in my imagination ever since and, in fact, made an appearance in the first Christmas Ghost Story I wrote for the site.

Out in the weather, tonight, on my way home, a deeper chill than previously felt seeping in, I started thinking about being warm to the bones in only the way that a bath can provide. Certainly, all around Seattle, hundreds of people are taking a private soak, alone (most of them), and although I'm not going to Icahabod Crane myself into a thimble, I sure can imagine how good it would feel. Today, friends, is about the bathers.

Today's prompts
  1. The bath was the best place to get stoned. She pulled up some Sigur Ros on the phone, lit a couple candles and locked the door. Thirty minutes later, after topping off a few times with hot water, the music coming to a certain crescendo, she thought she heard the door to the apartment open, that familiar hinge-creaking sound. But couldn't it have been the music, maybe? "Hello?" she cried out. That wasn't right, only one person could possibly come in, and he lived two states away and was busy this weekend. She heard he door shut, and then, both candles snuffed out leaving her in complete darkness.

  2. "I don't care" — "But Mom...." — "I don't care." — "I wasn't the only one!" — "Sharpie. Why did you have to use a goddamned Sharpie?" — "Mom, you just said a bad...." — "this shit never comes off, you know that? You know how hard I'm going to have to scrub?" — "Owww! That hurts!" — "Well, suits you right for drawing that crap all over yourself." — He bunched up his face, and exploded into a howl she had never heard before "It is not crap! It is my tattoos and they are precious to me!"

  3. It was that one mole on his leg. It was in the most awkward spot, right on the back of his calf where he couldn't see the fucking thing, and this was not the first time he had cut it, but it was the worst yet. The blood dripped off of his leg into the water, spreading as it hit. Of course, tonight, when he was MCing the drag show, of course tonight, and he had his dress and hose all picked out and a bloody leg would ruin the whole fucking effect, you know. He cursed out loud, as loud as he could, then grabbed the washcloth and pressed it down hard. It slowly turned red, absorbing that slow steady, annoying, and only barely painful leak. Nothing to do now but wait and watch the bath color, expecting to see little Jaws start to circle. And that's when Kitty came in and saw him and shrieked herself. "No! You've got so much to live for!"

  4. There was only one thing to do, and it was going to suck for everybody. He opened the faucet all the way, and then ran to the kitchen, sliding on a Lego spaceship that splintered under his feet and sent him into the wall. He grabbed the whole tray of ice in the freezer and ran back to the filling tub, seeing he forgot to plug the drain and it was all slipping away. He did that, dumped the ice in, watching the water rise. "Okay!" he cried "Okay!", and she came in holding the kid, listless against her, and so, so hot. She gave him a look. "I can't", she said. "I can't either!" He said. "But we have to." She nodded, then knelt, kissed the boy's forehead, and lowered him into the icy water.

  5. Nothing was as good as a hot bath. She went under the water, and came up, hair back out of her face for the first time today. She squeegeed it with her hands, and lay back against the sloping wall of the tub. Settled, she flipped the excess water from her hands, and wiped them on the towel she laid out on the edge, then picked up her book, ready to while away an hour or so without a care in the world. She was already so relaxed. She read a chapter, put down her book and picked up her ice cold water for a sip. And then she picked up her motherfucking goddamned phone and looked at Twitter.

The Help Desk: I did not sign up for a spoiler-free book club

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

Dear Cienna,

My friends and I started a book club and we gave everyone a month to read our first pick. It was a short science fiction book, so this seemed like ample time. When we met, only two of us had read the whole book. Everyone else came because we had good snacks, and I guess they wanted to hang out or something. This led to a lot of shushing and talking around any topic that might spoil the ending.

I'm not a teacher. How do you get people to show up having done their homework?

Lily, Fairbanks, AK

Dear Lily,

It's unrealistic to expect everyone to read each book – I drop books that don't grip me because I believe that reading is a pleasure not a chore. I think more people would be readers if they didn't feel an educational obligation drilled in from youth to finish every book and be ready to take a quiz on it.

However, someone must set the tone for the book club and seeing as you have strong feelings about it, that someone should be you. if you want this to be a book-geared book club and not another social gathering, you need to make it clear that everyone is encouraged to participate but that conversation will be about the book of the month – endings and important plot points will be discussed in detail.

Have you ever met a brown recluse? They are the Cadillac of spiders: quiet, impeccable manners, and a low tolerance for bullshit punctuated by a venomous bite (which is oddly erotic when placed on the lips). I encourage you to lead your book club like a brown recluse – be polite but take no bullshit. If someone asks you to not spoil the ending, invite them to leave the room. And if someone shushes you, bite them on the lips until you taste blood.

Kisses,

Cienna

Portrait Gallery: Nisi Shawl

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

Saturday, December 2nd: Healing Histories

Everfair novelist, much-anthologized short story author, and Seattle Review of Books columnist Nisi Shawl teaches a free writing class in the Green Lake branch of the Seattle Public Library. What the hell could you possibly have to lose? For the low, low price of free, Shawl will almost certainly leave you a better author than you were when you walked into the room.
Seattle Public Library, Green Lake Branch, 7364 East Green Lake Dr N, http://spl.org, 2 pm, free.

The mourning pause

Published November 30, 2017, at 12:00pm

Sophia Shalmiyev reviews Eileen Myles's Afterglow.

Eileen Myles named Afterglow a "dog memoir"; if you're surprised that it's more rich and dark and complicated than that, you haven't read Eileen Myles.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: Now, for something completely different

The first issue of Now, a quarterly comics anthology from Fantagraphics, begins with a text page that falls just shy of manifesto territory. It's by Now editor Eric Reynolds, and it argues that "The anthology format can be an inherent force for good."

Reynolds makes a compelling argument. Anthologies are a great way for young cartoonists to get exposure and to experiment with styles without committing to a longform project. But nobody's really doing anthologies anymore. It's been years since Fantagraphics last dipped into the format with their gorgeous Mome series of bookshelf-ready paperbacks.

While still very substantial, Now seems more magazine-y than Mome, and that's a good thing: comics anthologies like this should feel of-the-moment and maybe not so permanent. And a good anthology needs a real reason to exist — a point to make, an argument to bear out, a fight to win.

So does Now live up to its name? Is it of the zeitgeist, or is it more of a nostalgia trip for a time when the comics industry was choking on anthologies?

The best comics in Now look like nothing else on the stands. The first page in the book, a strip called "Constitutional" by Sara Corbett, is absolutely gorgeous, a cross between a mannered kid's book from the 1950s and a deck of art deco playing cards. Nothing much happens in the six panels — an old woman and her cat go walking in a city park — but you can't stop staring at it, trying to figure out how a human hand could make something so eerily perfect.

Tobias Schalken's "21 Positions" feels like a magazine illustration from another time. It's just 21 borderless panels of a man and a woman dancing — or are they fighting, or are they fucking, or all three at once? — but as a comic it's something stripped down and raw and totemic. It's hard to pull your eyes from it.

A few comics veterans contribute pieces to Now. In "Scorpio," Dash Shaw tells a story of a couple whose baby arrives on election night, 2016. Gabrielle Bell's "Dear Naked Guy In the Apartment Across from Mine Spread-Eagled & Absent-mindedly Flicking his Penis While Watching TV" is pretty much what it says in the title. (It begins, "I know that you know that I know that you see me seeing you seeing me back.") Neither of these strips feel especially groundbreaking in relation to their respective artists' careers, but they're both haunting little vignettes.

There are 17 different pieces in Now, and they're thematically all over the place. Sammy Harkam's "I, Marlon" imagines the plight of mid-career Marlon Brando as he luxuriates on his private island. "Widening Horizon," by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean, portrays a parallel history of space travel in a strip that might not be out of place in an especially adventurous issue of Popular Mechanics. Antoine Cossé's "Statue" is science fiction told in loopy, minimalist sketches. You never know what's going to come with the turn of a page, and every reader will find that some pieces of Now work better for them than others. (That's the whole point of an anthology.)

The most successful strips feel like they come from a slightly different universe, one where the lush aesthetics of magazine illustration fused together with comics. Given that magazines are nearly dead now — the Kochs will likely deliver the death blow to the long-suffering medium — it's heartening to see the mannered and deeply designed illustrations from magazine culture's heyday take refuge in the (relative) safe harbor of comics, where cartooning has held sway for over a century.

It's been years since I've seen someone in the comics world draw a line in the sand like this. Even Fantagraphics, which was practically a manifesto-producing factory back in the 1990s, hasn't made a declaration like Now in a while. Hopefully Reynolds will continue to explore this aesthetic in future issues of Now. This first issue proves he has the ambition, but it remains to be seen if the can turn that potential into a movement.

Book News Roundup: Head to Redmond for an animated poem this weekend

  • This Saturday, December 2nd, Redmond Poet Laureate Shin Yu Pai will be presenting new work at the Redmond Lights holiday festival. Pai has written a special poem for the occasion recounting Redmond's logging history and celebrating the city's attempts to regrow its gorgeous tree canopy. Additionally, Seattle designer Michael Barakat has animated the poem, and it will be projected on the side of City Hall as part of the festivities. Pai is an estimable talent who always gives her all to every project, and this looks to be a capstone on her incredibly fruitful tenure as Poet Laureate of Redmond. (And if you're into holiday festivities, the full itinerary of Redmond Lights looks like a lot of winter-themed fun, with popcorn and facepainting and a city walk and a tree lighting and ice carving.)

  • You should read David Lasky's first blog post about the Georgetown Steam Plant comic that he and Mairead Case have been commissioned by the city to create. The post really highlights how wonderful it is to live in a city that takes art seriously, and I also learned something cool about finches while reading it so, you know, it's a win-win.

  • You probably saw that our idiot president was a big racist in front of some heroic Native American veterans of World War II earlier this week. If you'd like to honor those veterans by learning more about their heroism and sacrifice, you should consider purchasing this comic book history of the Code Talkers. If I told you Donald Trump didn't want you to read this comic book, would you be more likely to buy it?

  • Today in "But You Knew I Was a Snake When You Picked Me Up" news: GoodReads, the bookish social network purchased by Amazon a while back, is now charging authors for the right to run book giveaways on their own pages. The "standard" giveaway price is $119, and the "premium" price is $599. If you took the news that Amazon bought GoodReads in stride, this is your wakeup call: Time to find another way to talk about books online! This is just the first step toward a new pay-to-play GoodReads model; Amazon is going to choke authors and publishers for every cent they can, starting right now.

  • Yesterday, Bleeding Cool broke the news that incoming Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski once freelanced for the company under the name Akira Yoshida. This is problematic on several levels. First of all, Cebulski, who is white, portrayed himself as a Japanese comics writer, even giving an interview in character to a comics news outlet and generating interest in his work based on the supposed cultural identity of "Yoshida." (He created Japanese-inflected comics for Marvel under the pseudonym.) Second of all, Cebulski was employed on the editorial staff of Marvel at the time and was not supposed to work as a freelancer. Many Marvel staffers claim to not have known about the Yoshida ruse, but that does raise some interesting questions: I've done a lot of freelance work in my day, and I always have to supply some proof of identity. How did Cebulski convince Marvel of "Yoshida's" authenticity? Seems like this story has some more layers to it that will be unpeeled in coming days.

  • Just so you don't think that things are only terrible in America: 10 libraries in the UK will be permanently closed down by December 20th due to a serious budget crunch.

The cliff, the deer, and the choices you make

Over Thanksgiving break, I did something unusual: I played a video game. It only took about an hour and a half to play from start to finish, and (happily) it required absolutely zero hand-eye coordination. The game is called Far from Noise, and it's available pretty much everywhere you play games: on Steam, on the PS4, or — and this is how I played it — on Apple devices.

The premise of Far from Noise is simple. You "play" as a woman sitting behind the wheel of a car. The car is balanced precariously on the edge of a steep cliff by the ocean. It seems as though the slightest movement — a squirrel perched the wrong way on the car, even — might tip you over to your death. Then a deer walks up to the car and speaks to you. You engage in a conversation with the deer that could last all night.

The only real gameplay in Far From Noise is an occasional click. The game will offer you two different choices of dialogue, and you choose the phrase you want to say by tapping it. Your choices subtly affect the gameplay, and every choice takes you down a different conversational branch.

So why am I writing about this on a book website? Well, because Far from Noise is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure story for adults, with some beautiful, lightly animated graphics laid on top. It's as much literature as comics are, and fans of introspective fiction will find a lot to enjoy.

Sure, it sometimes gets a little pretentious. And occasionally the slow pace of the game gets on my nerves. But for the most part, Far from Noise scratches the same itch that a good, funny, high-concept literary story does. It's a video game with literary roots, and there are far worse ways to spend a dark wintry afternoon.