If you, like tens of thousands of others, loved Elisa Chavez's poem "Revenge" when it appeared on the Seattle Review of Books in January, you should know that a broadside of the poem is now available on Etsy. It costs $35, and all proceeds benefit the International Rescue Committee. It looks absolutely gorgeous, too.

Grab Back Comics gives a voice to survivors of sexual assault

Grab Back Comics is a site that collects and publishes comics about sexual assault, harassment, advocacy, and consent education. It’s produced, edited, written, and curated by a Seattle cartoonist who uses the pseudonym “Erma Blood.” In person, Blood is thoughtful and eloquent. When the conversation turns to abuse stories, she’s always quick to turn the focus to survivors — what they need, what they feel, how to help. In less than an hour, the immense reserves of compassion and consideration she’s poured into the topic becomes apparent.

As the Trump-inspired name suggests, the idea for Grab Back Comics “came to me after the election,” Blood says. To celebrate her first wedding anniversary, “I went away on a trip with my wife and it was very sweet. But my experience of the coverage of sexual assaults and harassment during the election had really taken a toll.” She couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that a man who had openly bragged about his history as an abuser was about to become the most powerful human in the world. “It felt like it really shut me down. I just didn't feel like I was engaging in the way that I wanted to,” Blood says.

She knew from her own experiences that she wasn’t alone: “a lot of people are really suffering. And I wasn't sure what I could do, but I felt as though I needed to do something.” As corny as it sounds, the idea of Grab Back Comics came to her in a dream during that anniversary trip. Once she got back, she started work on building it in Wordpress. “It's pretty close to the way I imagined,” Blood says.

The first order of business was to seek out work that already existed. “I'm trained as a research scientist, and so this work of digging in and finding details and looking for more is familiar ground,” Blood explains. And once she started releasing Grab Back Comics into the world, “some comics friends of mine asked if they could contribute.” It’s been growing nonstop ever since.

Blood sees the site as a continuation of a Northwest tradition, born from “my own roots in riot grrrl and in punk rock and making independent fanzines when I was a teenager.” She learned as a young artist in the 1990s to “crystallize” her “anger and discomfort into something creative.” Her voice on the site is absolutely in that spirit of empathy and rage: — “very direct, very feminist, very no-nonsense, and at the same time, very supportive of people who are having a hard time, who are suffering from our current political climate.”

Just a handful of months in, the site is already a tremendous resource, collecting everything from Namibian comics that provide resources for survivors to “bro to bro” guides explaining consent to a 1984 Marvel Comic that discusses Spider-Man’s history as a survivor of sexual abuse. Blood also reviews books on the topic and interviews cartoonists. As you’d expect from someone who works in research, the site is fastidiously tagged so users can find first-person accounts, work relating specifically to date rape drugs or incest, and comics produced for public health campaigns.

The need for a site like Grab Back Comics is obvious. Just in terms of the amount of preexisting work it catalogues, it’s clear that artists have been working on this wavelength for decades. Why does Blood think that comics are such a useful medium for this kind of work? “With comics we can integrate more than one type of voice and perspective — a graphic voice, a written voice. We can integrate scenery and backgrounds and set moods that, I think, can be more richly rendered than in written narratives when they're done really well.”

Blood has been surprised by some of her findings. “I learned that there is a pretty impressive movement in India around sexual assault and child sexual abuse, particularly, by relatives,” she says. “Of all of the international comics I found, there seems to be a lot of energy in India around those topics. It's something that I'd like to learn more about.” She’s also happy to find that the work has become more inclusive: “conversations around all of these topics of consent and sexual assault and child abuse have expanded to include all genders” in the decades that they’ve been around, she says. When comics about assault first appeared, they tended to “focus very heavily on women, and particularly on middle-class white women, and that's really changed over time.”

Blood is looking for submissions to an upcoming print Grab Back Comics anthology. Between now and May 21st, cartoonists should submit their work relating to the whole array of experiences, from consent to abuse to recovery, to grab.back.comics[at]gmail.com. Blood will assemble those submissions into a minicomic which she’ll then distribute at the Comics and Medicine Conference, which is happening in Seattle this June, and at the Short Run Comix & Art Festival in November.

If you have a question about the anthology, you should get in touch with Blood. She’s also interested in connecting writers with artists, too. “Artists have told me they don't have a story to tell, and other people I know have told me they don't want to draw their own story. So I'm starting to try to link up artists with people who have stories,” she says.

For Blood, this journey has been inspiring. When I ask what themes she’s encountered in all the work she’s collected, she doesn’t hesitate. “I consistently am finding with all of these stories that there's so much bravery and honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable in order to create connection.” Grab Back Comics honors that spirit, and expands the connection to a whole new audience of readers.

The Sunday Post for April 9, 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.

When Pat Buchanan Tried to Make America Great Again

This piece by Sam Tanenhaus is a vivid history of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, with direct lines via Pat Buchanan to Donald Trump’s victory last year. Judging by this retelling, politics has become considerably less witty — though no less petty. Time for the Twitterverse to up its game.

For [Garry] Wills, "Nixon's main problem, I think, was his nose," Buchanan recalls. He's serious. Nixon's ski-jump nose, beloved by caricaturists, was a staple of the period's cornball humor. Even Nixon worked up good-sport one-liners. ("Bob Hope and I would make a great ad for Sun Valley.") Wills, crammed beside him in a DC-3, under the dim overhead spotlight, was transfixed—not by the nose's fabled length but by "its distressing width, accentuated by the depth of the ravine running down its center, and by its general fuzziness . . . the nose swings far out; then, underneath, it does not rejoin his face in a straight line, but curves far up again, leaving a large but partially screened space between nose and lip" ...
Where have all the hard men gone?

For non-fans, sports are a blur of frantic movement punctuated by long, dull waits and nerve-shattering cheers and boos from true believers. It’s not easy to sell us on the storyline, but Kevin Alexander manages it in this piece on “Hard Men” — the bruisers and bullies who’ve held folkloric status on English soccer teams for decades and are now fading into history.

You can get a sense of their skill sets by looking at the nicknames of the Hard Men of the ’60s and ’70s, such as Chelsea’s Ron “Chopper” Harris and Liverpool’s Tommy “the Anfield Iron” Smith. (“Tommy Smith wasn’t born,” Bill Shankly once said, “he was quarried.”) My personal favorite is Leeds United’s Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter. Another Leeds Hard Man, Joe Jordan, was nicknamed “Jaws” because he refused to wear dentures after losing four teeth to a kick in the mouth.
A Moral Tale: Vladimir Nabokov, bad Samaritan?

In a short piece packed with literary gossip and impeccable research, Levi Stahl puts a forgotten tale of Vladmir Nabokov, butterflies, and a dying prospector under the microscope.

After more than four hours of hiking, the two were descending a steep slope covered by ice-crusted snow when they lost their footing and began to slide toward the edge. Nabokov managed to snag a rock with his butterfly net, and Laughlin was able to grab Nabokov’s shoe while rushing past him. The net held, and the men survived.

That was not the only time death came near Nabokov that summer.

Buk

One strategy for interacting with beloved authors is to avoid eye contact at all costs and leave the room if possible. Jonathan Carroll favors a different approach.

Like so many people, I happened onto one of Bukowski’s collections of poetry in a university used book shop. I stood there a long time, drinking down his poems for the first time like they were cold Coca Cola on a hot day. I’d never read anything like them and it was a thrilling experience. In my 20 year old college boy “I want to be a writer too someday” voice I wrote all of that to him. A few weeks later I received an envelope from the Sunshine Inn Motel in San Pedro, California.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Terminal Sales Building

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.

The first thing you need to know about the Terminal Sales Building — besides its oddly specific and wonderful name — is that its address is 1923 1st Avenue, and guess what year it opened? That's right, 1923. Of all of the landmark buildings around Seattle, surely the Terminal Sales Building is the most numerologically aligned.

The gothic-revival building was designed by Henry Bittman, the famous Seattle engineer and architect. Many of his buildings still stand (his own home in Wallingford, built in 1916, sold in 2015 for $1.6m — although the last owner was apparently very reclusive, Bittman and his wife were not. An essay by Caterina Provost-Smith in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects notes, of Bittman and his wife: "The couple, who never had children, entertained here frequently and with flair. They crowned each year with an elaborate New Year's Eve party, where, at the stroke of midnight, a specially designed dining table would split open and a sculpture commemorating the year would arise and revolve.").

Terminal Sales was the long-time home to Peter Miller's design and architecture bookshop (now on 2nd Avenue), which catered to the many design and architectural firms that lease space in the building. The other notable retail tenant, Baby & Co., has been a long-time favorite for couture conscious Seattlites with actual good taste, and the money to realize it.

A second, smaller, older building, on 2nd Avenue, now bears the name Terminal Sales Building Annex, which is a poor name for a building that is only connected to its larger, younger sibling by a skybridge over an alley.

But the Terminal Sales Building, with its big steel-framed windows, and terra-cotta tiles, appears wide-eyed and open to the world. It's ready to greet you. It's asking you in, to its loft-style spaces to run your business, or interact with someone else's. Let's find some stories there, inside a single design office.

Today's prompts
  1. The receptionist was nice, giving sympathetic smiles, as the candidate sat and waited for the Creative Director. He was screaming so loud the office wall might have not even been there, dressing down some poor sap for running the wrong copy in an ad. When that puffy-eyed creature left his office and the receptionist showed candidate in (and got the hell out of there as quick as she could). The candidate, clutching her large black portfolio, only hoped was that he liked her work. But entering his office, she knew that things were not going to go the way she wanted. This man looked murderous.

  2. God, he really was crying. The copywriter marched right past their little birthday celebration, with the cupcakes out and candles burning and singing going on, tears in his eyes. He didn't even notice them. He didn't even say hello. He didn't even notice his name on the cards. Nobody said anything for a minute, then that funny designer said something that made everyone laugh.

  3. The Creative Director was not in a mood to look at some fucking book by some fucking kid and play nice and encourage them. He was in a mood to destroy. He was like Kali, and everybody who crossed his threshold today was gonna feel the heat that his client rained down on him in epic display. He would redistribute that rage in equal measure, for them to take through their days and press into other's hands. And then the baby designer was so fucking nervous and stuttery, he was just ready to show her what professional people have to deal with. See if she wants the job after that. See how tough she really was. But then, he opened her book. And fuck it all if he saw something he never expected to see in a new graduates' work.

  4. It had to be in person. The sales director from the magazine knew that anything less wouldn't play very well. He held the bottle of 20 year old scotch in his sweaty hand. He was going to march in, tell the firm director that the copy mistake was their fault, and offer to reach out to the client. He would talk about how important their business was to him. He would talk about how their upcoming media buys are so important, and he would explain exactly how he's changed policies to safeguard against this happening again. How he fired the layout man who made this mistake. If only the elevator would come. If only it would come, he would stop shaking and get on with this terrible business.

  5. The receptionist placed the call when nobody was around. This place was for the birds. Everybody was so uptight all the time. Her last job was so great. Why did she ever leave? She dreams about it now. The phone rang, and her old boss would pick up and be surprised to hear from her. But surely they could put the affair behind them? Surely what she was feeling for her old boss wasn't love, right? Surely, her old boss would never leave her husband, would never live openly, so what was the use of even trying here? Surely, she told herself, this phone call was about the job and nothing else. And then the phone picked up, and she heard that ever-so-distinct voice on the other end: "hello?"

A colorful chorus of voices

Published April 07, 2017, at 11:40am

Paul Constant reviews Various's Political Pamphlet Series.

In the final entry in our weeklong investigation of Mount Analogue's books, we investigate their line of political pamphlets. Somehow, the long-dead art of pamphleteering now feels more immediate and relevant than even magazines.

Read this review now

The Help Desk: For the millionth time, are TV shows the new novels?

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,

If one more douchey techbro tells me that TV shows are the new novels, I’m going to lose my mind. It’s become the stock response when I tell my coworkers that I enjoy reading. I liked Mad Men as much as the next person, but watching a TV show is just never going to be the same thing as reading a book. Can you give me a pithy comeback for the next time this happens?

Virginia, South Lake Union

Dear Virginia,

You say this: "Teevee shows ARE the new novels, in the same way that reality stars are the new Leaders of the Free World."

Personally, my favorite new show is Real Housemarms of Orphan Liver Donors, in which orphanage housemarms sell off tender young organs to the worldly battle-scarred businessmen who actually need them. I was really rooting for one of the marms to be chosen as our next Secretary of Education – they're all excellent at maximizing the potential of orphaned children's livers, just think of what they could do with the nation's young minds.

Kisses,

Cienna

Portrait Gallery: Kaitlyn Greenidge

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

Friday April 7th: Hugo Literary Series: Betrayal

The Hugo House brings three writers and a musician together to produce new work on a theme. The final event of the 2016-2017 season is “Betrayal.” Readers include poet Anis Mojgani, celebrated novliest Kaitlyn Greenidge, and poet Rick Barot, along with musician Maiah Manser.
Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030. http://www.hugohouse.org. $10-25. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

The Future Alternative Past: Writers gotta write, readers gotta read

Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. Read past columns here

Not what it used to be

The future science fiction depicts has never been the future. So-called Golden Age SFFH of the late 1930s to mid-1940s projected its times’ values and aesthetics onto imaginary eras flung far over the event horizon. Robert A. Heinlein’s literal space cadets, like his juvenile hero Matt Dodson, are all heterosexual men, though daringly cosmopolitan in their inclusion of differing nationalities — one of them even speaks French! Later, New Wave SFFH from the 1960s and 1970s espoused antiestablishment rebelliousness in the spirit of contemporary countercultural freakazoids like Abbie Hoffman and feminist SFFH authors including Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ pulled off populating the future widely with women-as-subjects rather than “love interests” or unattainable ideals thanks to the then-current examples of Gloria Steinem and Mary Ann Weathers. As the real-life present changesthe SFFH future does too. Because the present is what it’s based on.

Sometimes there are gaps in the projection. SFFH’s gatekeepers — publishers, editors, agents, producers, distributors, reviewers — may not feel the zeitgeist some authors are trying to represent. Or a few years pass in which features of the present that some authors want to riff off of can’t be plausibly placed in what’s called a “near-future scenario”: a setting mere decades off. You’d think doing that would be easier than making a case for far-future stuff, but no. An analogy: a character in Isaac Asimov’s story “The Ugly Little Boy” likens time travel to scratching your ear. It’s easier to do with your fingers than your elbow, though the latter’s anatomically closer. And it’s easier to posit certain changes as manifesting in a distant epoch than trying to plot out the path we’ll take between now and then.

Sometimes the continuous parade of global events or scientific discoveries renders a particular future dissonant with the resulting new present. These dissonances can accumulate: the absence of pocket calculators, cell phones, and GPS on the technological side; no trace of Brexit or Trump’s presidency on the political. Suddenly whole oeuvres, whole shelves, entire imprints lose their tenuous verisimilitude. The works of Heinlein and Asimov are obvious examples, but no writer is immune to this trap. For instance, my stories “Lazzrus” and “Sunshine of Your Love” — one published in November and the other yet to appear — mention a connection between cloning and obesity, but since I wrote about it that connection has been disproven. Stories such as mine can now only be appreciated as historical artifacts despite the dates they supposedly occur.

Social evolution also causes whole swathes of SFFH to date. Many SFFH classics impress newer readers as horribly offensive. Sexism and misogyny, racism, ableism, and other discriminatory mindsets pair frequently and unselfconsciously with more progressive and deliberately provocative attitudes; look at Bester’s The Stars My Destination and McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang.

What’s the solution? For us authors, the answer is to keep writing. Write some more. Write what works in the moment, and don’t worry that the moment ends, demolishing as it can your most recent futures.

Writers gotta write. Readers gotta read.

Keep reading. Keep writing. And SFFH’s futures will die only to be reborn.

Recent books recently read

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, New York 2140 (Orbit), is as large and complex as the city it’s named for. Ever optimistic, Robinson depicts a Manhattan that despite being half-drowned by melting polar ice caps rises Venice-like to meet the challenges of hurricanes and investment capital with its celebrated insouciance. The author has famously advocated for the shameless use of infodumps — those frequently lamented expository passages so often necessary to the construction of SFFH’s brave new worlds. Entire chapters of this book are nothing but. Readers who look down on infodumps can easily avoid them. Why would you want to, though? They’re relatively short and scattered through with treasures. And they blend so well with the rest of the book’s chapters, written from the viewpoints of a reality show star-cum-dirigible pilot, a pair of subversive finance software specialists, a big black cop more than a little reminiscent of the late Octavia E. Butler, and others. Viewpoint and non-viewpoint characters are fascinating, believable, and varied. Add Robinson’s vivid descriptions of natural and artificial beauty and his inventive neologisms — portmanteau words like delanyden and gehryglory — and the result is a portrait of a protean, mythical New York, a place deserving of our honor, our respect, our attention, and our lasting love.

Just as optimistically disruptive, Electronic Frontier Foundation advocate Cory Doctorow gives us Walkaway (Tor), a novel daringly bridging the gap between a highly likely near-future dystopia and a happy post-human millennium. The effortlessly involving plot follows the sexual and romantic entanglements, guerilla parties, philosophical arguments, torture, kidnapping, and escapes of a disaffected heiress with the nom de guerre Iceweasel; an outer-space-hungry cross-dresser named Kersplebedeb; Disjointed, an aging scientist working on a cure for death; and a dozen more revolutionaries. In this fictional world the word “walkaway” is both a verb and a noun. When you walkaway, you lay aside all conventional burdens and burdensome conventionality and head for a walkaway, which is an anarchic place like Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones, but more widespread, and supported by an impressive array of abundance tech. In contrast to what’s termed the “default,” no one works unless they want to, no one gets paid, no one starves, no one fights. How do we bring about the future we want? By living as if it’s already here, say Doctorow and those of his characters who walkaway.

Couple of upcoming cons

Sometimes cons resemble TAZs. At the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts last month, another attendee asked me which con was my favorite. Like at least half the people partaking in that convo I named WisCon. Certainly it’s the preeminent gathering of feminist SFFH fans in this hemisphere. Certainly it’s the most thoughtful congeries of Social Justice Warriors this side of the Inn Earnest Giraffe Emulation. And certainly I’ll be going again this year, along with my mother, who in the audience of her first James Tiptree, Jr. auction there laughed helplessly at the idea of trying to explain to her friends exactly what these whacky women were doing. (I think this was during the Titty-Shaking Duel.) You should probably go, too.

Then there’s the Nebula Conference, aka “the Nebs.” It’s a weekend of workshops, panels, and disco anthem performances, culminating in a nerve-wracking ceremonial banquet for those on the Nebula Award’s final ballot. Like me. I’ll be working a paying gig, though, so perhaps you should go in my place?

Trouble in paradise

Published April 06, 2017, at 11:30am

Paul Constant reviews Halie Theoharides's Final Rose.

For our Thursday comics column, we look at a book made up entirely of screenshots taken from episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Is it comics? Is it poetry? Is it art? Is it a desperate howl from the inside of the human heart? Yes, yes, yes, and absolutely.

Read this review now

What we did then

What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America was announced right after Election Day last year. It was published right before Inauguration Day this year. A two-month window is incredibly small for the wholesale creation of a book — particularly one like What We Do Now, which anthologizes recent writing by big-name authors like Dave Eggers, George Saunders, Gloria Steinem, Robert Reich, and Elizabeth Warren. Ordinarily a work like this would span at least a year from inception to publication date.

It's weird, then, that a book as immediate as What We Do Now already feels so dated. Most of the attendees of last night's Reading Through It Book Club at Third Place Books Seward Park agreed that the book already feels like a time capsule of sorts. It was born of a certain moment of panic — that frightening time between the surprise of Trump's election and the horror of the day that he actually took office. None of us knew what to expect, and the resulting queasy uncertainty inspired a grimness that was very particular to that moment in time.

This is not to say that the current situation is not grim. As book club attendees pointed out last night, Trump's policies are causing incredible damage to foreign relations, to the environment, to the very idea of truth. But perhaps the realization that Trump is an inept and hateful president is at least a little more comforting than the pre-inauguration fear that Trump was a brilliant and hateful president. He can still cause a lot of damage — he can still destroy the world, even – but he is not a planner, and he is not a rational thinker. An identifiable challenge is always preferable to an unknown challenge.

Still, this is no time for complacency. Any number of institutions are at risk, and many people stand to suffer from Trump's policies. Last night, we discussed the importance of keeping the truth in sight — of subscribing to a few news outlets and reading them cover-to-cover. The ongoing degredation of the truth is not just a conservative problem. We talked about the importance of communicating progressive ideas in a way that transcends politics, that speaks to the human in everyone.

And we redoubled our efforts to remember what that dawning moment of shock felt like when we realized that Trump had won the presidency. As we approach the end of Trump's first 100 days in office, it's important to recall how quickly everything can change, and how a seemingly concrete understanding of the universe can fall apart in a matter of seconds.

The next Reading Through It Book Club meets at Third Place Books Seward Park on Wednesday, May 3rd at 7 pm. We'll be discussing Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. The book is 20% off at Third Place between now and then. Please join us.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 5th - April 11th

Wednesday April 5th: Reading Through It: What We Do Now

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday April 6th: American Junkie Reading

Tom Hansen’s grunge-era Seattle memoir American Junkie is finally being reissued. It’s a story about drugs and punk rock and a city on the precipice of something bigger. To celebrate his book’s second chance on life, Hansen’s being joined by Seattle authors Sean Beaudoin and Joshua Mohr for a group reading and a moderated discussion. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347 thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m

Friday April 7th: Hugo Literary Series: Betrayal

The Hugo House brings three writers and a musician together to produce new work on a theme. The final event of the 2016-2017 season is “Betrayal.” Readers include poet Anis Mojgani, celebrated slam poet Kaitlyn Greenidge, and poet Rick Barot, along with musician Maiah Manser. Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., 322-7030. http://www.hugohouse.org. $10-25. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Saturday April 8th: The Songs of Trees Reading

So it turns out that trees are a lot weirder than we ever guessed. They communicate using bizarre fungus webs and they cultivate “bacterial communities” that serve all kinds of functions that we’re only just now learning about. In his newest book, David Haskell discusses the cutting edge of tree research, which should probably be known as “treesearch.” Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Sunday April 9th: Truth Be Bold Reading

Julene Tripp Weaver is a Seattle poet who worked in AIDS services for over two decades. Subtitled Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS, her latest collection continues the themes of her work. This afternoon, she debuts her book with nine local poets and AIDS educators in a reading hosted by local writer David Schmader. Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 4 p.m.

Monday April 10th: Ask the Oracle

Suzanne Morrison joins Seattle experimental writer Doug Nufer and prolific Seattle poet Megan Snyder-Camp as part of Hugo House’s divination-based reading series. Authors will answer audience questions using answers pulled from their texts. All three writers are great, but Nufer in particular could be a standout; he does lots of performance-based routines and should be especially devoted to the schtick. Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, http://hotelsorrento.com. Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m

Tuesday April 11th: Ghosts of Seattle Past Reading

The long-awaited atlas of lost Seattle places debuts with a reading featuring Hollis Wong-Wear, Sara Brickman, Chuck Wolfe, Anisa Jackson, and Davey Oil. After this reading/signing session, the whole party rolls downhill to Belltown for a big afterparty at the Rendezvous with more readings from Kibibi Monie, Elissa Washuta, Kathy Fennessy, and Kate Lebo. There'll also be a musical performance from Aaron Seme. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

The backwards map

Published April 05, 2017, at 11:01am

Paul Constant reviews Ted Powers's Manners.

Your eyes might resist the idea of reading Ted Powers's poems in the normal way. That's perfectly okay. These poems reveal themselves to you by turning inside out.

Read this review now

Literary Event of the Week: Reading Through It at Third Place Books Seward Park

Regular readers of this column know that on the first Wednesday of every month, the Seattle Review of Books and the Seattle Weekly host a book club called Reading Through It at Third Place Books Seward Park. The response has been incredibly strong — anywhere between 60 and 100 attendees every month — because books are the perfect response to the historical moment.

It just makes sense that in a time when too many voters are low-information or low-empathy, we should turn to books for help. Books are still the best way to impart large quantities of information, and they are better at inspiring empathy in humans than any other art form. Even when we let ourselves down, books are there for us. More than that, books will save us. They will inform and educate and inspire us, in ways that magazine articles or listicles or television shows simply cannot.

Our president does not read. He prefers his memos to be a single page, with lots of images and graphs. It is not clear if he’s actually read a book as an adult — including his own bestseller, which was famously written by a man who now hates him. He is the first modern American president who seems, at best, bored by the idea of books and, at worst, actively anti-book. There’s a kind of pleasurable symmetry in this thought of books coming to our rescue.

This Wednesday, April 5th, at 7 pm, I hope you’ll join us at Third Place Books Seward Park for the discussion of this month’s book, What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America. While most books take years from initial pitch to publication date, Now was published by indie New York press Melville House in a matter of weeks. Inspired by Trump’s election and published just in time for Trump’s inauguration, Now thrums with a vitality and an immediacy that most books lack.

Unlike most of the Reading Through It choices so far, Now is fairly unfocused. The book is divided up into thematic sections: Racial Justice, Immigration, Women’s Rights, Climate Change, etc. Many of the essays are repurposed from other publications and speeches, but placed together they gain a strength and renewed purpose.

Now collects various perspectives and experiences in between two covers. Some of my favorite essays are direct calls to action, like Brittany Packnett’s encomium “White People: What Is Your Plan for the Trump Presidency?” or Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur’s “How to Make Blue States Blue Again.” George Lakoff examines the way Trump communicates, and George Saunders provides a more impressionistic overview of the political situation.

The conversation at this month’s Reading Through It is sure to be varied and untethered from any single topic. That’s okay. (Those wanting to focus on a particular subject are invited to the May 3rd edition of the club, where we’ll be reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.) These are confusing times, and every day brings with it three or four issues that demand our attention and our action. We’ll get through it by communicating and listening and, yeah, by reading.

Comics in conversation

I've attended a lot of author events that have been billed as the author appearing "in conversation with" an interviewer. But those events are never actually conversations; they're just interviews. I've never actually attended an event that felt like a real conversation until last night, when Seattle author G. Willow Wilson shared the stage with Vancouver cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks at Elliott Bay Book Company. Hicks was in town to celebrate the debut of the second book in the Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (read my review of the two books here,) but she and Wilson didn't restrain their conversation to the newest book. Instead, they ranged to every topic within reach.

Things were most fun when the authors dug deep into the craft of comics. Wilson opened by asking if writing the "Empire Strikes Back" part of a trilogy was a chore, since the middle book by definition contains no authoritative beginning or end. Hicks replied that writing The Stone Heart was "actually more fun." She wrote the script for The Stone Heart in just eleven days, while the third book in the trilogy, by comparison, took two months to write.

From there, their focus wandered to all aspects of the comic industry. Wilson lamented the fact that artists on monthly books often "get injured." Modern comics require such a high level of craft from its artists — fine detail, compelling figure work, clever page design — that most artists fall prey to "carpal tunnel, back issues, and spinal injuries." Hicks agreed, saying that while she mostly draws book-length comics, the one time she worked on a monthly limited series, "it was only four months and I nearly died."

The two honestly and openly discussed multiculturalism in comics. Hicks pointed out that in The Stone Heart, she made every effort to draw a multicultural, diverse city, but she said that colorist Jordie Bellaire was an "unsung hero" in creating the texture of the city in the book. A good colorist can reveal the diversity of your cast, Hicks said, in a way that no artist can convey in black and white. Wilson talked about the challenges of resolving conflicts in Ms. Marvel: "because it has a Muslim protagonist, I didn't really want her hitting people too often," or else the character would become a representative of the racist western "violent Muslim" stereotype.

Hicks and Wilson asked each other questions on subjects ranging from what it's like to meet your cartooning idols to why Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is the perfect crush for a 13 year-old girl who's "terrified of men." They gushed over each others' work as fans and recommended comics for each other to read.

Hicks talked a little bit about an upcoming project: her very first prose young adult novel, which will be published in February of 2018. Ironically, her first non-comics work is still "all about comics," Hicks laughed. It's about the grandchildren of two sparring golden age comics creators. The teens fall in love, and their relationship exhumes several generations' worth of bitterness. Wilson asked Hicks for the title of the book. Hicks laughed.

"It's called Comics Will Break Your Heart," she said.

"Truer words have never been spoken," Wilson replied.

Finding his voice

Published April 04, 2017, at 12:30pm

Paul Constant reviews Robert Lashley's Up South.

Robert Lashley is an incredible performing poet — one of the finest in the region. His latest book identifies him as one of the best on the page, in addition to one of the best on the stage.

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One of a kind

Published April 04, 2017, at 11:23am

Paul Constant reviews Catherine Bresner's Everyday Eros, Andrew S. McAlpine's As a Man Thinketh, and Caroline Crew's Mar.

A new erasure series from Mount Analogue Press will be posted at Open Books for the month of April. They are unlike any other books in the world — literally.

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Listening to My Bones

When the doctor holds my upper arm in his two hands,
he bows his head and listens as if he were waiting to hear
the song of a rare endemic bird no one has seen for centuries.
I start to speak, but he shakes his head, does not loosen his grip
on my arm, turns his fingers around the curve
of my skin and listens again.
I am afraid to clear my throat. My toes stay still.
He must hear my heart where it beats
but he is listening to the sound of bones
the way NASA turns its telescopes far over our heads on Mauna Kea
and hears the universe move.

Rain falls so hard on the roof, I think it might break through.
Imagine all those luminous drops that had been the backbone
of a cloud shattered and lying above the orthopedic surgeon’s head and mine. Soon a puddle, then a trickle into the Wailuku River.
This will mend well, he says, shows me two x-rays.
In the waiting room is a large salt water tank. A zebra moray eel
folds in one corner its brown and white stripes.
I think how it must have no bones at all
or bones so light this eel can wind
around its heaven all night when everyone has left
and dream the dream of breaking into the world.

Every year, the Hugo Awards announcement arrives with some dumb intercenine politics. Every year a small number of alt-right self-publishers try to game the ballot. Every year, they lose the awards. Every year, people call for the Hugos to change the way nominees are chosen. Every year the Hugos don't really change a thing.

This year, there are fewer of the alt-right on the nominee slate, but they're still there. Let's not let those jackasses obscure the fact that some great books are on this list, including Charlie Jane Anders's terrific debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Especially noteworthy is the comics category, which features comics written by Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson, Ta-Nahisi Coates, Brian K Vaughan (who's competing against himself with the latest collections of Saga and Paper Girls,) and Marjorie Liu.

Still, the Hugo Awards have to fix themselves sometime. Maybe next year?

From mythology to the modern world

Sponsor Eric Andrews-Katz's newly released novel Tartarus is a great romp through time, mythology, epic battles, and gay romance. Two siblings, descendants of Olympus, are dragged into ancient battles they didn't know they were responsible for.

It's a bold, entertaining work with an engaging story that bridges the old and the very new. We've got a full chapter on our Sponsor's page for you to read, and find yourself gripped by this story.

Sponsors like Eric Andrews-Katz make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. We're booked until May, but have some dates through July open for you to pick the best time. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.

Dreaming beyond fiction and nonfiction

Published April 03, 2017, at 12:01pm

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore reviews Wendy C. Ortiz's Bruja.

This Wednesday, Wendy C. Ortiz debuts her latest book in Seattle. It's a memoir of dreams. But wait — aren't dreams fiction? Or is a dream memoir maybe the truest memoir of all?

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