A chance to see Annie Proulx live

The UW Libraries' "Literary Voices" celebration is a great event on May 3rd — a dinner where every table is filled with local authors, and the amazing Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News, Barkskins, and the short story "Brokeback Mountain", will be delivering the keynote.

Best of all, it's a fundraiser, so your money goes directly into paying for student employee scholarships. As any library nerd knows, UW's library system is vast, comprehensive, and unparalleled. Tickets are easy to get, both for individual tickets, and for buying a table to invite all your friends to come support the amazing work done in this vital cultural and educational institutions. Find out more, and see a list of the amazing authors you can dine with, on our sponsor's page.

Sponsors like UW Libraries make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. We have two dates for March we'd love to sell, and they're currently discounted. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.

With a single step

Published March 13, 2017, at 12:01pm

Paul Constant reviews Neal Stephenson's Seveneves (Audio), and Seveneves.

On the pleasures of walking marathon distances, listening to audio books, and exploring Neal Stephenson's novel about a space catastrophe.

Read this review now

Talking with Stephanie Han about Hong Kong, bars, and writing from inside the Asian diaspora

I first met Stephanie Han in Los Angeles in 1998 when we were chosen as fellows in a new literary mentorship program, PEN’s Emerging Voices. Looking back, we were both arrogant in the way of young untested writers, but at least Stephanie could back up her attitude. She was well-read and discerning about literature. During one workshop, she explained the Shakespearean allusions in the manuscript up for review; allusions that everyone else had missed.

We kept in touch when the program ended. During these years we learned the long game of a writer’s life. We trudged through periods of literary success and rejection while balancing responsibilities like caring for elder parents, working uninteresting jobs, having partners and raising kids. Stephanie lived abroad and in several U.S. cities during this time, and her first published story collection, Swimming in Hong Kong, examines the struggles of characters who are expatriates and immigrants. According to Han, the difference between the two categories hinges on one’s identity and national definitions. “The US doesn’t have expatriates in our social understanding of culture--we have immigrants,” she says. “You are expected to come here and assimilate and not hold your other national or cultural identity, but rather, add to the American identity.”

After finishing her collection, I found myself thinking more critically about identity, dislocation and movement. More specifically, her stories prompted me to consider the particular ways that Asian women are both visible and invisible.

These stories take place in Hong Kong and in cities across the U.S. Where did you grow up?

I am a 4th generation Korean American. Asia has been a part of my life geographically and personally, it is where my family is from. I know parts of it quite well, and as an adult, lived in both Korea and Hong Kong. Asia gave me a sense of belonging and purpose that I could not find in many places in the United States. But I was not raised in Asia.

I’m a product of the United States, and very specifically, claim a cultural heritage rooted in the Asian colonial settlers of Hawaii. The way that I think, what I believe, my perspective (in probably both positive and negative ways) is rooted in American culture, particularly through the lens of Hawaii, given my family’s history here.

But I was born in St. Louis Missouri. We moved every year until I was eight, at which point we moved from the Presidio base in San Francisco to a place on the outskirts of Iowa City. You know, the only Asian story. Apparently when I first went back to Hawaii as a three-year-old I started screaming and pointing at people and telling my mom “Look at all the Orientals!” I was excited. Kids notice difference. I used to ask my mom, where do I say I am from? And she would tell me to name the places I lived and people could choose one. And I’d tell my mom, I didn’t have any friends. And she would say, read a book. If you read books, you’ll always have friends. Writers are rather asocial beasts who have fits of being social. I would have fantasies when I was younger about fitting in, and at times, I did more than others, but in order to write, you do need to occupy a position as an outsider. That’s normal for any artist or thinker. When you’re younger, it can be hard. I kept journals.

My family moved down to Memphis, and I’ve also lived in Massachusetts, New York, Arizona, and California—the latter is where I really found myself as a writer. Hawaii was always where we returned to, back and forth for various family events and holidays. These days I feel like it took me a lifetime to get back home to Hawaii. Except for the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen or lived in nearly every major region in the United States. I lived in Korea as a child on the US military base, and later as an expatriate, and in Hong Kong for quite a few years.

Movement and displacement define me, and while it used to be a source of anxiety or discomfort, I realize now that this is what I am familiar with and I’m finally comfortable with this position of being a permanent geographic outsider, home everywhere and nowhere.

What’s been your path as a writer?

I was one of those decent writers as a kid, but my confidence got a little knocked out of me when I went to boarding school. There were students who were way ahead of me in terms of analytical thinking and writing skills. As a teacher I know that the adolescent brain is peculiar and develops at a different pace dependent on the individual. At the time, I didn’t know it. I felt intimidated. I thought I was fairly good at English, but I wasn’t any sort of English class star. But my academic performance never killed my desire to read and write.

I also had parents who could afford a variety of bourgeois creative activity and instruction. I took music lessons, studied all manner of things, and in high school took tons of art classes with results being very mediocre at best. Still, I loved all kinds of art. I was tested and told I had perfect pitch, but I hated to practice music—I had studied piano, cello, guitar and violin. In fact, the only thing that I was free to do on my own, without any expectation of practicing and performing was to read. I could read as much as I want, whatever I wanted, and I didn’t have any recitals or expectations surrounding it. In other words, exposure to all sorts of arts helped me, but left to my own devices all I wanted to do was read and write, so in the end, that is probably why I became what I did.

After high school, I went to Barnard College/Columbia University for a few years, moved to Los Angeles trying to pursue screenwriting, and ended up finishing my degree at UC Santa Barbara, right after I got a grant to write my poetry chapbook. I then headed to Korea for a year before returning to California. That’s when we met at the PEN fellowship, this was the best due to its diversity and the fact that it drew in all kinds of people and writers. My partner and I went to San Francisco State for our Masters. I married someone who was a longtime UK expatriate and this determined a lot of my geographic journey as he was based in Asia. I did VONA with Junot Diaz who encouraged me to get the MFA, but I delayed a year, joining Stephen in Hong Kong. After a few years in Arizona, it was back to LA, and then after our child was born, we went back to HK.

I was thinking of quitting writing. I was really discouraged; hundreds of rejections do that. But I began to teach again, and students have a way of inspiring you. And I realized it wasn’t something I just could quit as it was tied to who I was and how I navigated and how I expressed myself. It defines my relationship to the world. There are a lot of different reasons for rejection, but partially it was that writers write of the present, but this is often a future that the vast majority of people cannot see or understand. This happens even if writers are writing of the past. The reason is how a writer sees, the lens through which they examine a subject or person or emotion, if slightly unfamiliar, is often easily rejected.

I’m not saying all published work is derivative, but there is a bit of a time element, and it’s easier if there is a set precedent. The story Swimming in Hong Kong, I couldn’t get published for the life of me. Asian Americans rejected it and quite rightfully, it wouldn’t have been published at an African American journal given my background. The end result was that everyone rejected it. It’s a story about an old Chinese man and a highly educated professional African American (specifically Jamaican American) woman’s friendship set in Hong Kong, features no sex, and was written by a Korean American. You can imagine how editors looked at this. What? It was finally published in a Hong Kong literary anthology a decade after it was written. In that locale people could understand it. But in the US, most could not imagine this type of scenario. Globalization has shifted how we see things, as has the Internet, so my stories are now of the present, despite most of them being written well over a decade ago.

In HK I got an offer to do the PhD, a full ride. This kind of opportunity would have never happened to me in the US, so I encourage people to look overseas when thinking of where they might head as writers. Being mobile gave me opportunities. I became the first student there, and they hired one professor and I was paid to read and write—not a lot, but something. This period of life helped to consolidate and theorize my ideas about writing and literature. I’m very grateful for this experience.

I don’t believe degrees are necessary to become a writer, but it was my path. Showing up to write, going into that hole by yourself can be a hard thing to do. Why am I writing this at 3AM? Does anyone really care? Believe me, if I could think of something else to do, I probably would have done it by now. I sometimes fantasize about finding some other sort of métier or passion, but I keep circling back to writing, so there you have it.

In several stories, bars serve as settings that are masculine and hostile. There’s that great scene in “Nantucket Laundry, 1985” where Lydia, who’s Asian American, is insulted by white male patrons and the bar bouncer, a black man, defends her. What’s striking is the way you subtly dramatize the racial and gender dynamics of that alcohol-fueled moment. The bouncer is a big man who “lumber[s] over” to the harassers, but he talks to them almost deferentially “in quiet syllables.” Can you talk more about bars as a fictional setting?

Wow. That is funny. I never thought about how many stories are placed in bars! Hmmm. Clearly bars have had more of a presence in my writing life than I thought! With Bill, the bar bouncer in Nantucket Laundry, I was trying to convey more of a physical presence than any sense of deference, but obviously Bill is aware of his surroundings in the all-white bar, and in my mind he was darker skinned, and bald, which would also play into perception of his physicality. Some men who are of large physical stature have rather low or soft voices—they don’t have to say much because of their size. Conversely when people are rather short, they can often be loud, something I tried to convey with Lydia’s confrontation when she swears at the men. Bars have a lot of potential for drama due to alcohol. There are more layers of obfuscation and people can hide behind alcohol, or are more emboldened to behave in ways that they would not in their regular lives.

I also would say that drinking culture and bars, particularly overseas or in places where people do not have to drive can really set the stage for some bizarre encounters. I think that in the US, outside of a very few urban areas, you are mostly driving from place to place, and while that doesn’t necessarily stop consumption of alcohol, it serves to stop a certain level of consumption. (I’m talking about outside of university campuses, mind you.) “Invisible” and “Hong Kong Rebound” are set in HK—which has a formidable nightlife and drinking culture. Also in some rather reticent or reserved kinds of cultures, bars are where people do loosen up. Americans idealize the extrovert, and many strive to be this type of personality. But it’s not the case with all people and cultures, and so bars offer an opportunity for alcohol inspired encounters that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes boring, but mostly just not the same as those without alcohol.

I sound like I’m advocating for bars or alcohol or something, but really, it’s just an observation. As for them being a masculine terrain, I think that this is often true. There are some, but a woman running a bar would create a very different environment.

The shortest stories in the collection, the short-shorts, are poetic. I’m thinking of what you’re able to coax from the scene in “Hong Kong Rebound” where a bar waitress tapes black paper over the windows. Can you talk about the connection between poetry and prose for you? Which genre do you prefer?

I turn to poetry when I have no words. This sounds strange, but it is what I go to in order to exercise a different part of my brain. It becomes a release. I’m drawn to narrative—it informs all of my work, poetry and prose, but I turn to poetry when I’m trying to sort through feelings. Prose is what I write when I want to solve, think about, or wrestle with a problem—it’s a bit further on down the line than poetry for me, at least. I feel a particular narrative in a more obvious way, and so this propels a prose piece. I read more prose than poetry. Poetry doesn’t require narrative, but most of the poetry I prefer has some sort of arc, a narrative feel, if only an emotional loyalty to story. I think poetry does also inform my prose, but this is when I get down to the sentence level. So I like both and use both. I think it’s good to move between different genres as one can inform the other.

Tell me about the earlier drafts of “The Ki Difference.” Was it always driven by dialog? What made you go in that direction?

I enjoy writing dialog. It’s fun. I started out years ago trying to write screenplays and I studied acting, so I enjoy dialog. Because of the character Dan and the idea of Los Angeles/Hollywood, dialog worked on a few different levels. I was thinking about the characters and their history and naturally the form of dialog followed this, as if this idea of the qualities of a particular type of genre, the screenplay, followed the characters and yielded this dialog heavy story. It’s interesting how form can be determined by characters.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Help! This is a terrible question for me, as I read inconsistently and this list changes. I’ll pull out a book in the library and turn around to tie my shoe and then see another one and pull that one out. I should be more methodical about my reading, but am not terribly organized in this way. Anyway, I like Timothy Mo, a Chinese British writer. He is not read much in the US, but he should be. I’ll tell you what I am reading now: Finished up the Amitav Ghosh Ibis trilogy Flood of Fire, an amazing feat of historical research and plotting, Peter Wohlleben The Hidden Life of Trees, Winning Arguments by Stanley Fish, and Poetry magazine…There’s Jannette Winterson and Anis Shivani sitting there on my desk. Haven’t cracked the books open, but intend to. I’m reading about natural world stuff for my next project. I just picked up How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley. I had a terrible science background, so this is not easy reading for me, but for my next thing I want to think about myth, environmental crisis, and place.

Have you read the short story, “The Point,” by Charles D’Ambrosio? I’d like to teach your story, “Nantucket Laundry, 1985” and “The Point” together. I’m intrigued by how suicide hovers above the main narrative in both. Also, both stories are set in coastal towns and deal, in different ways, with the burdens of whiteness and WASP culture.

Oh no! I haven’t, but will!

Your characters express that they feel invisible in a variety of social contexts. Lydia feels invisible in overwhelmingly white Nantucket and an unnamed Korean American protagonist feels invisible sitting among Chinese inside a Hong Kong bar. Another character, Hana, says of the U.S., “I’ll always be a stranger here.” How do you view the loneliness that so many of these characters feel? Is it all attributable to race or is some of it an existential angst particular to our times?

I think loneliness or existential angst have to do with the nature of current global and domestic society due to modern life. Asian Americans are always perceived as outsiders to the American narrative. This is down to immigration history, language, and the disparate narratives of Asian Americans. In order for a group to coalesce within the US, there is a larger narrative that all acknowledge on some rock bottom level. With Native Americans there is the issue of land, of course, and genocide; with African Americans, the legacy of slavery; Latinos/as, Spanish language, and often Christian faith. Asian Americans have no singular binding narrative, religion, political belief or immigration history. We become Asian American here, meaning, we reach out across the tribal lines here in the US in a way that would have been impossible in Asia due to war and colonialism (ie Japan/Korea). There is a deep level of mistrust that comes from the US involvement in Asia in terms of war: WWII, Korea, Japan, the Mideast--the US spent a great part of the 20th century, and 21st century so far, battling in these areas of the world against and with people of Asian origin, and often with debatable outcomes.

I also think that some of this is down to Americans and how the Dream furthers both the idea of the individual and isolation. The American Dream is both wonderful and rather intense in how it stresses individual agency, personal will and ideology. This will to dream, to reinvention, to be whatever or whoever the person wants to be, this is really powerful. The flip side to this is that to cling to an individual dream can be terribly lonely. Everyone needs a sense of belonging. But belonging in the US is fraught with difficulties because how we belong varies so dramatically, how we construct ourselves becomes so personalized and determinedly unique, and the US presents the possibility of remaking the terms of the contract of belonging to such an extent that it can often paralyze people. We’re supposed to go out there on our own, be, and dream and fling ourselves forward to self-actualize in a way that yields material gain to prove our success. It can be a hard thing to do.

I’m not advocating conformity or being less adventurous or cautious in life, I’m just saying that doing your own thing, so to speak, can also be a lonely and hard journey. Not everyone feels brave all the time. It’s often nice if we have someone else, or a group, we can be lonely with together, we need a friend to be brave with, if that makes any sense. At the very least, it is comforting to read about people who feel the same way—deeply concerned, worried, distressed, or at odds with the demands of modern life.

You teach Asian diasporic literature. Have you thought about how your own writing fits within this literature?

Technically speaking, I’m a member of the Asian diasporic literature category (as would all Asian writers be who write in English), but I ultimately claim an American identity and consider myself to be an American writer. My work is rooted in a very American idea of narration/authorship and has an American sensibility and outlook—down to the fact that some of the stories are set in HK, yet I am not Chinese, but a 4th generation Korean American. I see that I was attempting to reckon with a perspective here as one who was inside and outside of the broad American narrative. Asian diasporic literature is another way of rearranging and re-categorizing literature. If you do this, you re-center the narrative of how a group writes and it becomes interesting to reconsider. But this is literary theory categorization is more of interest to those who are critics, as opposed to the writers themselves. I suppose as a trained writer or reader, this is of interest to me, too.

The category of Asian diasporic literature in English is a way of mitigating the hegemony of literature in English or American literature and moving the origins to Asia. The US is a new but powerful country and to center myself as part of the Asian diaspora then, gives more power or credence to Asia as my influence, as important to who and what I am.

But I am not concerned anymore about being perceived as American or Asian in writing and so leave this aspect of my own writing to others. I don’t have serious allegiance to any particular Asian national project, while I respect and see the merits and problems of all in various ways. I have no Asian language competency that matches my level of English, and don’t feel caught between the worlds, so to speak of Asia and the US. I embrace a pan-Asian American identity, one without the baggage that comes from ancestral animosities in Asia, but a shared sense of community based on our struggles in the United States, our negotiation with all kinds of people and cultures, and yes, our community’s negotiation with our historic and personal ties to Asia. The conflict of this situation is often more clearly marked in the writing and perspectives of 1st and 2nd generation Americans. It comes up in my writing too, but not always.

If someone wants to claim me as Korean, great! I claim both sides of my parents as Korean, 100%! I’m Korean! Yes, I am part of the Asian diasporic literature group and the American literature group. Probably due to being an expatriate for so long, I’m not as hung up one way or another. My mom vows in every situation that she’s an American. She’s still in that mid-20th century mindset of the promise of statehood for Hawaii. Now that’s under fire. But anyway, if I’m in a country and the person cannot understand my immigration history I’ll say I’m Korean to get to my destination. But not my mom. She’d never say it. I can go with whatever works. I consider my identity quite flexible. Such stuff is all down to personal experience, I meandered here…but I think these are the joys and complication of diaspora and diasporic literature.

The Sunday Post for March 12, 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.

My Life as a Hemophobe

Isabella Rotman’s short comic about what it’s like to faint at the sight of blood is a stellar mix of styles — existential, autobiographical, and educational all at once.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke, whose personal take on a similar phobia is equally worth reading.

A Eureka Moment for Two Times Reporters: North Korea’s Missile Launches Were Failing Too Often

The New York Times’ “Insider” series is shamelessly geeky about how reporting happens. Here’s the behind-the-scenes on David Sanger and William Broad’s investigation of how the US is using electronc tools to sabotage North Korea’s missile program. A flash of insight based on two journalists’ unique expertise, hours in the stacks and stacks of drafts, and the thorniest possible negotiation.

Then came the sensitive part of these investigations: telling the government what we had, trying to get official comment (there has been none) and assessing whether any of our revelations could affect continuing operations. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, we traveled out to the director of national intelligence’s offices: a huge complex in an unmarked office park a few miles beyond the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Fairfax County, Va.
Inside Oliver Sacks’s Creative Process

Another inside peek, this one into the colorful and sprawling sketchbooks where Oliver Sacks recorded, created, and refined. Maria Popova won privileged access to Sacks’s papers, not yet available in a public archive, and highlights a selection that’s delightful both for its variety and for its reflection of the constant, frenetic effort required to track Sacks’s agile and demanding mind.

Using whatever paper and writing instrument he had on hand, Dr. Sacks jotted down ideas as they occurred to him — unedited, un-self-censored flights of fancy, captured before they flew away and later domesticated into the thoughtful, exquisitely structured, immensely insightful formal writings for which he is so beloved.
Going underground: inside the world of the mole-catchers

To kill or not to kill — and how much to care along the way? The question is driving dissent through what you’d think (if you thought of it at all) would be the most quiet of professions: traditional mole-catching.

For a mole-catcher to be successful today, he or she must engage the client with the most romantic notions of his profession. This, at least, is the theory of Duncan Emmett, a mole-catcher in his 60s who has the long beard of a wizard. “If you take that magic away, if you take that showmanship away, then all you are left with is the killing,” Emmett told me at a dimly lit pub near his home in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. “Because you have to kill the mole, haven’t you? That isn’t an easy thing for a lot of people to bear.”
The revolutionary message of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Donald Trump is definitely a Big Bad. So where’s our Buffy?

It’s probably no coincidence that most of the super-villains that succeed the Master don’t look like super-villains at all. After all, fangs and demony-red eyes aren’t nearly as terrifying as the qualities that define the Big Bads, who embody the ugliest of human traits—cruelty, obsession with loyalty, vengefulness, blazing conviction in their own superiority, an out-of-control temper. They want to remake reality to suit these whims.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Mercer Arena

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.

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I drove past the Mercer Arena yesterday, and those machine pickers had already started to tear it down. Soon, in its place, will be an extension of the Seattle Opera, room for more of their civic outreach, design and staging studios, and more offices.

The arena started life as the Civic Ice Arena in 1928, a large rink for public skating and fun. The exterior was changed dramatically in the early 60s to fit the vibe of the World's Fair, and during the fair it saw some famous faces: Ella Fitzgerald sang there, as did Nat King Cole, and the Count Basie Orchestra, just to skim the cream from the top of the list.

It was a popular mid-sized music venue. Nirvana played their last US show there. Led Zeppelin played there twice, as did Bruce Springsteen, Jane's Addiction, the Melvins, the Cure, Ozzy, Sonic Youth, Everclear, and yes, even Britney Spears. But maybe, if performances can resonate through time and you can close your eyes and feel their ripples, the one we still feel most today is when Elvis came to the world's fair and played the Mercer Arena.

But still, the venue was best known for sports. The Seattle Totems, a local hockey team, played from the late 50s to the mid 70s. The Seattle Reign started their...well, reign, in the venue, as did the short-lived Seattle Smashers (Vollyball) and Seadogs (soccer).

Personally speaking, this is one venue I'm not going to feel nostalgia for. I know I've been to shows there, but for the life of me I can't remember what they were. It is, in my mind, as it has been by the city for years: condemned. Sometimes you hear of a plan for a place, and you mourn the changes that will take something vibrant and leave something sterile. This is not one of those times.

But still, let us take a moment to tip our hat to the building that has sat empty since 2003, but which once held so many individual memories and experiences. Thanks for your service, Mercer Arena. See you in the building afterlife.

Today's prompts
  1. 1927 — They were clearing the ground before they brought the steam shovels in to do the real digging of the foundation for the new ice arena. Reggie was the first to find a bone, but no way it was human, right? But then one of the other fellows found a skull, and another right next to it. No way they were gonna build this new arena on top of an old cemetery, not with the curses that would follow them all. But then that foreman Jack came in, and that dog just spit on the ground and said "Get the truck. I want this land cleared by sundown or I'm docking your pay."

  2. 1961 — Her first architectural review. There were competing plans for the new facade of the Arena, to get it ready for the world's fair. She was presenting after the favored firm, Kirk, Wallace, McKinley & Associates, and rumors were they already had it clinched. But their vision was so pedestrian. She was going to show something novel and new, yes, but also something that would change the way people think about this building. They were showing a new skin, but she was showing a revolution. If, that is, she didn't vomit in front of the committee from nerves.

  3. 1968 — It was like she had a spotlight on her. You couldn't take your eyes away. Joanie Weston, the Blond Bomber, right here, skating derby in Seattle. She was fast, wicked, and driven. Nobody could beat her. And you, all of six years old, skinny legs and chubby face, wearing that hideous dress with the bow your Mom made you wear that you hated, sitting next to your hollering jerk brother, and there she was owning the arena with her brilliance. It was then you knew what you were destined for, and it wasn't playing with dolls. And more than that, you knew just what you had to to become a roller derby star, just like Joanie.

  4. 1997 — Rock show next door to Opera Night. Just a normal evening at the Seattle Center. But when the doors opened at the same time for both venues, tuxes and gowns found themselves mixed into crowds of flannel and ripped stockings and torn baby doll dresses. It was one dude from each, drunk from contraband flasks they squirreled into their retrospective shows because they were mad they got dragged out on game night. They came face-to-face right outside the Mercer Arena, and after shouldering each other because neither wanted to make way, they turned to face each other, and the shouting and fighting began.

  5. 2016 — It was just a dare: break into the old Arena and last the night, win $50 from all of their friends. Dead simple. It wasn't like a haunted house or anything. Some big, old, dumb building like this can't be scary, right? Plus, in the backpack, there was a huge maglite, snacks, and they had the big down puffy coat on, gloves, and even some rope for some reason. They were ready, until, that is, they entered the main hall and heard a child's laughter from somewhere up in the rafters.

Well, this is pretty cool:

...Vancouver-based studio Bit Byterz have chosen to pay elaborate tribute to Murakami by recreating his uncanny world with an adventure game called Memoranda... While not a direct adaptation of any one work of Murakami’s in particular, its locations, its characters, and above all its atmosphere come drawn from the same — to use a highly appropriate metaphor — well.

Emily Temple at Lithub interviewed Margaret Atwood, in part, about what it feels like to write a dystopia and then see that dystopia unfold in real life.

Roosevelt Way Half Price Books to close on April 6th

Yesterday, a Redditor by the user name of FatuousJeffrey posted that the Half Price Books in the University District on Roosevelt Way was scheduled to close in April of this year. FatuousJeffrey attributed this news to “a clerk I talked to last night.” That Half Price Books has been operating for at least a quarter-century, and it was a rare familiar presence through all the development the Roosevelt neighborhood has seen in recent years.

I reached out to Half Price Books for comment and got an email back from Emily Bruce, the Public Relations Manager at HPB, this morning. She confirms, “Yes, Half Price Books will close its University District location on Sunday, April 9.” Bruce continues:

Our development team has been actively searching for a new location in the area, but has been unable to find one that fits our new store criteria, so we decided to close the store in conjunction with the end of our lease. We are always looking for new locations and we hope to find one in the University District or the surrounding area in the near future.

Bruce’s comment about a potential new location mirrors a statement issued by HPB regional manager Anne Von Feldt back in February of 2013 when she confirmed that the Capitol Hill HPB was closing: “ We are also looking at possible new Half Price Books sites in the Puget Sound area and hope to announce a new store in the coming months,” Von Feldt told me. No Seattle HPB stores have opened in the time since.

According to Bruce, none of the chain’s other locations in the region (Bellevue, Everett, Lynnwood, Redmond, Tacoma, and Tukwila, along with the outlet store in Olympia) are scheduled to close.

The Help Desk is closed today

Cienna Madrid is out sick today. Instead, we offer nearly two years of (still perfectly sound) literary-themed advice from our archives for your perusal.

Please send your health tips, chicken soup recipes, and questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Portrait Gallery: Melissa Febos

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

Tuesday March 14th: Ask the Oracle

The Hugo House’s ongoing divination/reading series, in which authors find answers to audience questions in randomly selected passages from their books, features memoirists Melissa Febos and Elissa Washuta and poet Quenton Baker. Washuta recently announced that she’s leaving Seattle this summer for a teaching position in Ohio, so go bask in her presence while you can.
Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, hotelsorrento.com. Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m.

Book News Roundup: UW Press is hiring, Wide World Books & Maps considers its future

The company is considering a few options, including reopening in another location or focusing solely on its Web business. Also under consideration are the possibilities of adding a coffee shop or wine/beer bar, or services like travel consulting "if we can find a different location that is already set up for these types of activities.... A partnership to share space with an existing café or coffee shop would also be of interest to us."
  • If you're looking for work in the publishing field, you should note that UW Press is now looking to fill two positions:
The UW Press has an outstanding opportunity for a Senior Acquisitions Editor to acquire and transmit 20-25 high-quality trade manuscripts annually for publication for regional and national audiences. Areas for acquisitions will complement the press's existing editorial program in regional and U.S. history and culture, Asian and Asian American studies, environmental history, women's, gender, and sexuality studies, visual culture, and Native and Indigenous studies, with the opportunity to build distinguished lists in other areas.
The University of Washington Press has an outstanding temporary opportunity for a MELLON DIVERSITY FELLOW.... Through this temporary, full-time entry-level position, the Mellon diversity fellow will be immersed in the acquisitions department of a leading scholarly press, working closely with senior acquisitions editors, authors, and projects through the entire acquisitions process. In this experience, the fellow's main role will be to coordinate and support the work of evaluating, developing, and acquiring book-length manuscripts for publication by UW Press.
  • Here's video of Emma Watson leaving feminist books at the Gertrude Stein statue in New York City to celebrate International Women's Day:
  • Ron Charles at the Washington Post notes that you can now buy 1984 at Costco. It takes a President Trump to get Orwell onto the shelves of America's best big-box bulk retailer.

Thursday Comics Hangover: My favorite thing is My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

You've likely read something in the last month about Emil Ferris's stellar graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, which was just published by Fantagraphics Books. NPR's John Powers explains the story of how Ferris came to create the book:

She was a 40-year-old single mom who supported herself doing illustrations when she was bitten by a mosquito, she contracted West Nile virus, became paralyzed from the waist down, and lost the use of her drawing hand. Fighting chronic pain, she taught herself to draw again, then reinvented herself as a graphic novelist, spending six long years creating what's clearly an emotional autobiography.

It's a remarkable story, and Monsters is a remarkable debut. It tells the story of Karen Reyes, a monster-obsessed young woman in 1960s Chicago who investigates the murder of her upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor named Anka. Karen imagines herself as a monster — a human eternally transitioning to a werewolf.

It will take you a while to get into the plot, though, because the art is unbelievably, distractingly good. Ferris is a world-class illustrator. Using what appears to be colored pencils on lined three-ring binder paper, Ferris replicates classic works of art and dreams up pulpy sci-fi/fantasy/horror magazine covers and renders startling portraits of characters. Those portraits are the most astounding part of the book. There is life behind these faces. These eyes are more than ink on paper: they're judging you, imploring you, seeing you.

You've never seen comics like this. The art of Monsters relies on a blend of comics techniques: some pages use the traditional panels-and-word-balloons of American comics, but many of the layouts blend words and pictures in new ways — dreamy montages with narration spooling out in margins, blocks of brief essays interpolated in full-page illustrations, double-page spreads of fever-dream faces appearing in the wood paneling of an ugly apartment.

Monsters feels to me like a once-in-a-generation debut — a vision so clear and original that it will change the course of cartooning. Ferris's book lands with the force of a Chris Ware or a Robert Crumb. Newcomers to comics will be consciously and unconsciously emulating her style and storytelling techniques for decades to come.

Amazon's tenth bookstore will open in the Bellevue Square mall later this year, reports Jillian Stampher for GeekWire.

I've returned to the first Amazon Books in University Village several times, and I remain unimpressed.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from March 8 - March 14

Wednesday March 8th: Native Seattle Reading

Coll Thrush, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has two new books out. The first, Indigenous London, looks pretty neat. But we’re most interested in the new edition of Native Seattle, his history of Seattle’s native peoples. Today, Crosscut’s Knute Berger will interview Thrush about both books. Folio: The Seattle Athenaem, 324 Marion St., 402-4612, http://folioseattle.org. $10. 7 p.m.

Thursday March 9th: Tough Girl Reading

When she was 14 years old, Portland athlete Carolyn Wood won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Her new memoir Tough Girl tells that story, but it also delves into her experiences growing up as a lesbian in the unforgiving public eye. This is a personal account of a remarkable life. University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday March 10th: Vagrants & Accidentals Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St., 633-0811, http://openpoetrybooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Saturday March 11th: The Immortal Irishman Reading

Tim Egan is one of our greatest literary exports. Hundreds of thousands read him in the New York Times every week, and his books are celebrated around the world. Today, he reads from his two most recent books about remarkable historical figures, The Immortal Irishman and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. Upper Level Center House, Seattle Center, 634-3400, http://www2.bookstore.washington.edu/. All ages. 3 p.m.

Sunday March 12th: Short Stories Live: McSweeney’s

Short Stories Live presents celebrated short stories read live by talented local performers. Today, the series plucks its three stories from postmodern literary journal McSweeney’s. Seattle actors will read McSweeney’s pieces by Spokane author Jess Walter, the world-famous Zadie Smith, and up-and-comer Nyuol Lueth Tong. Expect a lot of comedy and some dazzling sentences. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 2 p.m.

Monday March 13th: The Way of the Writer Reading

Retired UW professor Charles Johnson reads from his latest book, The Way of the Writer, which absorbs writing lessons Johnson learned from his more than five-decade-long career in literature and synthesizes them into easy-to-understand essays for aspiring writers of all ages. Part memoir, part how-to, and part spiritual guide, this book took Johnson a lifetime to write. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200, http://thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday March 14th: Ask the Oracle

The Hugo House’s ongoing divination/reading series, in which authors find answers to audience questions in randomly selected passages from their books, features memoirists Melissa Febos and Elissa Washuta and poet Quenton Baker. Washuta recently announced that she’s leaving Seattle this summer for a teaching position in Ohio, so go bask in her presence while you can. Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, hotelsorrento.com. Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m.

Literary Event of the Week: Kevin Craft at Open Books

Kevin Craft is one of the hardest-working people in Seattle literature. As a teacher, he works on literary programs at Everett Community College and University of Washington. As an editor, he ran Poetry Northwest magazine for seven years and has compiled five anthologies. As a publisher he just built a new press, Poetry Northwest Editions, that will launch with a new collection from Sierra Nelson this year. And as a writer, he’s..well, he’s published and performed a lot of poems in a lot of places, but he actually only produced one collection to his name, and that was published over a decade ago. Craft has been so tirelessly promoting the works of others for so long that his own work has received short shrift.

Until now. The University of Washington Press’s Pacific Northwest Poetry Series has shepherded a gorgeous new collection of Craft’s poetry into being. It’s titled Vagrants & Accidentals, and it feels like a book that’s been bottled up for a decade, just waiting to be introduced to an unsuspecting world.

The poetry in Vagrants is eager and obsessed with big ideas like evolution and the act of becoming. “Old Paradox” reminds the reader to “Consider that it’s difficult/if not impossible to discover the exact/moment a tadpole becomes a frog.” Life is change. If you’re not metamorphosing, you’re probably dead.

“The Descent” is its own sort of creation myth, a blend of equal parts Bible and Darwin:

There was daylight before we grew eyes.

There were grasses therefore we grew lungs.

There were speeches therefore we grew an earful.

There were speeches we grew wary of.

That first stanza is an evolutionary take on “let there be light,” one which suggests we sprang from the void to observe and partake in the world because there was a world just waiting to be observed. The second stanza gets into the idea of writing and reading — the concept that listening developed as a response to talking, and not the other way around. And then after the creation of the word came the fear of the word, the understanding that words have power and that this power can be used for good and for evil.

And that’s where the poet comes in.

The relationship between the poet and the world may not be a chicken-and-egg situation — we know the world was here before the first poet — but Craft argues that without the eyes to see and the lips to speak and the fingers to write, the world may as well not have existed at all. On that same wavelength, a Seattle without Craft’s poetry in it would be a forgettable dot on a map. He breathes life into our world, as an editor and publisher and, most definitely, as a poet.

The stars my destination

Published March 07, 2017, at 12:38pm

Paul Constant reviews Kevin Emerson's Last Day on Mars.

Young adult author Kevin Emerson's latest book is a sci-fi spectacle about a young man trying to save his family from an exploding sun. It's just might point to a happy new Northwest trend in science fiction.

Read this review now

Book News Roundup: A local debut, the secret behind Douglass Truth Library's name, and much more

It has been life-affirming to see so many writers bless us with some of their first professionally published pieces — women writers of color, trans writers, queer writers, disabled writers — talking about some of the most important issues of the day with actual lived experience. I have loved knowing that every piece is edited with integrity, and that every writer is paid for their labor. To be a member of the founding team of a rare platform that is fair and equitable and treats all writers with respect has given my work more purpose and satisfaction than I could have ever imagined.
  • Seattle writer Anca Szilagyi announced yesterday that her debut novel, Dirty, will be published by Lanternfish Press "in late 2017 or early 2018." She describes the book as "a magical realist work about a teenage runaway whose father is disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War."

  • Tomorrow, to celebrate International Women's Day, Tor.com will publish new flash fiction by a host of great sci-fi authors — including Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Nisi Shawl, Carrie Vaughn, and many more — on the theme "Nevertheless, She Persisted."

  • Jillian Kay Melchior at Heatstreet writes: "To draw attention to female authors, a Cleveland bookstore celebrated Women’s History Month by turning every male-written book in the fiction room backward on its shelf." Go look at the picture of what the bookstore looked like, now imagine what your shelves would look like if you did the same. Better yet, actually try it on your own bookshelves. It only took Loganberry Books 2 hours to do this with their 10,000 titles.

  • Headline of the day: "The New Yorker’s new bot will tweet 92 years worth of poetry at you."

  • Print magazine sales declined 12.4 percent last year. It's not as steep a drop as the year before, but it's still bad news for print media.

  • Always warms our hearts to see book reviewers start out young:

Father/less

My father was de-boned as a child.
The trick was to use a sharp knife,
steady hands and always begin at the neck.
With luck, my grandparents
were able to remove his spine intact.

But all-muscle can’t hold love upright.
You see strength needs something
to settle itself around. Boneless men
can only stay where they are bent to.
My father was made to cut

his own beatings off a tree,
like pentimenti I sometimes see through
his scars, a perfect whole. But you can’t
dream the broken out of a person
no matter how hard you try.

Katie Anastas at Crosscut writes about the Youth Speaks open mic night at Beacon Hill's excellent Station cafe: "Every first Sunday of the month, a small café in Beacon Hill opens its doors after hours to a group of teenage spoken word poets ready to tackle social justice issues..."

Go read the whole story and listen to audio samples of readers.

From Russia to Fantagraphics, with love

Thanks to our Puppet-in-Chief, everyone's talking about Russia these days. But how much do you actually know about Russia? How much of what you know is just left over from the old Cold War frame of thinking?

This coming Saturday at 6 pm, Fantagraphics Books, University of Washington, and Short Run are bringing Russian cartoonist/journalist Victoria Lomasko to the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown. Lomasko will be presenting from and signing her new book of journalism, Other Russias.

Sophie Pinkham profiled Lomasko in a recent issue of the New Yorker:

Lomasko, who grew up in Serpukhov, a town in the Moscow region, has spent nearly a decade documenting the lives of ordinary people in provincial Russian cities, remote villages, and urban underbellies, the kinds of people who rarely make it into the press or the corridors of power, and who have little hope that life will get better. In her book, which is out this month from n+1 Books, we meet children so culturally and geographically isolated that they don’t even know that Moscow is a city, Kazakh migrant workers enslaved by a sadistic Moscow supermarket owner, and sex workers operating out of offices and vans in order to feed their husbands and children.

And last week, Lomasko appeared on The Takeaway in a primer episode about Russia.

This is a case of just the right writer showing up in Seattle at just the right time. Lomasko understands the situation in Russia better than any American pundit every could. Go soak up her knowledge, pick up her book, and find out what the hell's going on. The event is free, and it's part of Georgetown's monthly Art Attack artwalk, so there's plenty to do in that neck of the woods.