The Help Desk: How should a pacifist book-lover protest Amazon's bookstore?

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,

I can't remember if my anger and frustration with Amazon began when I heard about the "gazelle" project, or when I heard about their total lack of philanthropic investment in our city, or what, but by the time the Hachette e-book price wars started up, my rage had reached a boiling point, and with the opening of their stupid bookstore, I am just seething. I hate what they've done to books and book publishing and everything I hold dear as a writer, editor, and reader. So my question is: how best to channel my rage? I already stopped shopping there, and I think my friends and family are honestly pretty sick of my virtual and in-person ranting on the subject. I need some new ideas for creative or constructive outlets for my Amazon hatred. Help!

Marybeth, Ravenna

P.S. I am a pacifist so violent direct action is not an option.

Dear Marybeth,

I understand your feelings of impotence and frustration. It would be melodramatic to say that Amazon ruined the publishing industry, the book selling industry, or Seattle. However, it's fair to say that Amazon waited until publishers, booksellers, and the city of Seattle as a whole was sleeping, took a big smelly dump on their chests and said, "you look like shit but that's not my problem."

A better advice columnist might tell you to take the high road and ignore their crappy business dealings but I'm afraid of heights so the high road is never an option for me. So what do you do? I suggest working to change the only item on your above list that you have a kitten's chance in hell of influencing: Amazon's philanthropic giving, which is laughable. It amazes me that with 24,000 employees in Washington state alone, and many of them Seattleites, those employees aren't demanding better from their employer. Instead of instigating poster wars that attempt to shame Amazon tech bros for moving to Seattle and "ruining" neighborhoods, why aren't Seattleites banding together to demand Amazon be a better philanthropic presence in the city that has contributed greatly to its success?

There are enough readers, writers, booksellers, sympathetic Amazon employees, and liberals in Seattle to put pressure on that company to change its corporate structure in one small way. How to accomplish that exactly, I can't say. Someone who's well versed in organizing, rather than telling alcoholic librarians what to do every Friday, should come up with a plan. (The only protest I can claim participation in took place last Christmas when, after a bathtub's worth of hot buttered rums and gin! Gin! Gin! my liver went on strike.)

Affecting change in that way, I believe, would make a satisfying difference.

(If it doesn't, you could always try taking a dump in front of their store. That also makes a satisfying difference.)

Kisses,

Cienna

The Associated Press says:

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile's government is acknowledging that Nobel-prize winning poet Pablo Neruda might have been killed after the 1973 coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.

The Interior Ministry released a statement Thursday amid press reports that Neruda might not have died of cancer.

The statement, in fact, says it's "clearly possible and highly probable" that the poet was murdered. Hopefully, at least, morbid curiosity will drive new fans to Neruda's work. He's certainly been in the news a lot recently; Washington's own Copper Canyon Press revealed in July that they're publishing a new volume of "rediscovered" Neruda poems early next year. All this attention might mean Neruda will top the bestseller list again. Dictators of the world will never learn that you can't kill a poet's work — by killing the person, you only give their words more power.

If you're upset about Tuesday's election results leaning very conservative across the country, you really ought to go to Town Hall tonight. Ari Berman, who was kind enough to do an Election Day interview with us, will read from Give Us the Ballot, his compelling history of the struggle for voting rights in America. Berman will also be in conversation with Washington state Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez about local results and what we can do to increase voter turnout here. This is a huge issue, and it's not going to go away by itself. Berman's meticiulous research provides him with a unique perspective on how we can solve America's growing democracy problem.

Portrait Gallery: Gloria Steinem

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

The one-and-only Ms. Steinem appears Sunday at Benaroya Hall, in conversation with Cheryl Strayed, sponsored by Hedgebrook. This is going to be a very interesting night.

It's almost time for holiday shopping. But before we get down to the arduousness of — ugh — buying books for other people, you should visit Third Place Books and Third Place Books Ravenna this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, all used books in both locations are 40 percent off. It's one of my favorite book sales of the year, and a great chance to get some selfish book-buying done before it's time to start thinking of other people again.

Stop me if you've heard this one

Has anyone yet written a how-to-write book for how-to-write books? If it hasn’t happened yet, we’re probably closing in on that moment in literary history. Lots of people — myself included —enjoy being hypnotized by the soothing rhythm and encouraging cadence of how-to-write guides. After a certain point, all the tips and tricks and affirming quotations blend together into a whirl of positivity, but a good writing guide stands out: Stephen King’s On Writing is one, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. But there are so many terrible writing guides by writers with unrecognizable names; at some point, someone is going to compose a guide to writing writing guides, and that book will probably sell surprisingly well.

I bring this up because last night’s Word Works lecture by Benjamin Percy at Hugo House had all the familiar cooing cadence of how-to-write books, but Percy did not manage to deliver one original thought in his entire 45-minute talk. All he offered were writing-guide clichés, polished and lined up for presentation. Perhaps a good writing guide for writing guides would have warned him away from the perils of using stale language to discuss the writer’s craft.

Ostensibly on the topic of “blending genre,” Percy's talk instead focused on the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction, mostly by relying on tired examples of both. To hear Percy tell it, literary fiction involves tea and staring out windows, and genre involves high-octane, propulsive writing. Though he invoked any number of great and nuanced writers in his talk — Aimee Bender, Karen Russell, George Saunders — Percy continually relied on broad generalizations to discuss the point of literary fiction and genre fiction, and the differences between them. Generalizations can be useful tools when you're making an argument, but Percy zoomed so far out from the point that it was impossible to argue with him. When he categorized all the books in bookstores as books that "suck" and books that "don't suck," it became clear that this was not going to be a nuanced discussion.

So what makes great genre writing? Percy began by talking about his childhood experiences with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie and the Stephen King novel The Dark Tower. He was disappointed by the movie, but became obsessed with the book. Why is that? The movie, he concluded, had no heart. The book, though, had heart. Bad genre fiction ignores characterization, he said, and bad literary fiction ignores plot. Fantastic elements in fiction should be stones that are tossed into a pond, and the effects of those fantastic elements are the ripples. There’s nothing new or particularly insightful in these observations, and this is about as deep as the talk went.

Some other writing-guide clichés that Percy pulled out: “we need the everyday to balance out the astonishing,” good writing “makes the extraordinary ordinary,” and he referred to good characters taking over a story despite a writers’ best intentions. You might argue that the clichés in Percy’s speech were acceptable because he was telling truths about writing. Okay. Lots of writers speak in awed tones about those moments in which characters seemingly came to life and took over a narrative, and plenty of sci-fi writers talk about the importance of inserting reality into a fantastical story. Lots of writing instructors refer to actions in stories as stones tossed in ponds.

But one of a writer’s most sacred duties is vigilance against cliché. Clichés demonstrate laziness, and if you encounter clusters of them in a piece of writing, you should begin to doubt the quality of thought that went into the piece. When a writer discussing the craft of writing relies on cliché to make his argument, his audience should treat everything he advises with great suspicion. Despite the content of his speech, Percy came across as an earnest, likable person. But the gruel he doled out from behind the podium last night would best serve as a guide for how not to talk about writing.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The weird dawn light of Paper Girls

We're in a golden age of Brian K. Vaughan comics. I can't shut up about how good Saga is; he recently wrapped up The Private Eye, a beautiful sci-fi comic with Marcos Martin; his Canadian future war comic We Stand On Guard keeps getting better; and his newest series, the retro sci-fi adventure comic Paper Girls, is probably his best non-Saga comics work yet. Co-created with artist Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls tells the story of a group of newspaper delivery girls in 1988. One day, they encounter some monsters. The audience is introduced to an object that suggests time travel might be involved. The second issue, released yesterday, adds to the mystery by tossing in some more monsters and a very confused adult.

Paper Girls is reminiscent of the J.J. Abrams movie Super 8 in that it's a genre story that's soaked in nostalgia for 1980s childhoods. But while Super 8 collapsed under its own weird self-regard — did the world really need a Spielberg homage produced by Stephen Spielberg? — Paper Girls hums along by keeping the postmodern winks to a minimum. Sure, the characters argue about pop culture; when one character calls Peggy Sue Got Married a sci-fi movie, another delivery girl can't resist a little fannish pedantry: "That's actually more of a fantasy time travel story," she says. But this meta-commentary feels appropriate for the story and not at all forced.

Fresh off a career-making turn on Wonder Woman, Chiang proves to be exceptionally suited for a comic like Paper Girls. The girls are realistic teenagers (hooray for a complete lack of creepy objectification!) and the monsters are happily comic-booky. Chiang's genius, though, is that these disparate elements somehow obviously exist in the same universe; they each have equal weight. From the mundanity of an abandoned Big Wheel on a street corner to the bizarre vision of a werewolf in a Guns N Roses t-shirt stagering around, Chiang keeps everything tight and consistent.

Paper Girls also stands as a representative example of what good coloring can do for a comic. Matt Wilson uses an 80s-appropriate neon palette for the covers and special effects, but most of the book takes place at an eerie moment of dawn — or is it dusk? — when the sky is a washed-out rainbow of deep purples and royal pinks. Anyone who has ever run a paper route remembers the eerieness of waking up at pre-dawn when the whole world is asleep; Wilson captures the glow of that moment on paper and makes it real.

It's unclear at this point exactly where Paper Girls is going, though it's obvious that Vaughan has a plan in mind. It could become a full-on creature feature, or it might be a twisty time-travel story, or it might be a tribute to the friendship between girls. Knowing Vaughan, it'll likely be some combination of all three. Whatever happens, I'm entirely onboard; Paper Girls has rocketed to the top of my list of must-read books.

Burglars stole nearly a thousand dollars from the delightful Couth Buzzard Books on Greenwood Ave over the weekend, reports Phinneywood.com. That's a lot of money, especially for a store that's still a month away from the holiday rush. On the Couth Buzzard Facebook page, owner Theo Dzielak writes:

Some of you have asked how you can help. Well, come on by and say hello, grab a great drink, some food and check out our great selection of new and used books.

That's wonderful advice. Maybe plan a little trip to the Couth Buzzard this weekend? If you buy one or two books, that would go a long way toward recouping their losses.

The internet can't stop talking about Amazon Books

Yesterday saw an avalanche of think-pieces and first-person accounts of the launch day for Amazon Books, the online retailer's first physical bookstore in University Village. The most notorious of these hot takes was Megan Garber's piece for the Atlantic, titled "Did Amazon Just Replace the Public Library?" I honestly can't tell if Garber's piece is supposed to be a joke or a troll or not. It certainly reads like it's trying to be funny.

Garber begins by extolling the beauty of Apple Stores, saying they "celebrate both introspection and communion. They are meant to humble and inspire." She also seems to think that bookstores are a nostalgia act: "There’s a lot of wood. There are a lot of shelves. There are a lot of books! The dream of the ’90s is alive in Seattle, apparently."

Seriously: is there any way to interpret the comparison of Amazon Books to "a Barnes & Noble of yore" as a serious statement? Or Garber's assertion that "Amazon has always been, implicitly, about community?" (Amazon is all about buying books without the intrusion of community. Specifically, you go to Amazon if you want to buy something without human interaction. Posting a one-star review of Hamlet is not a substitute for person-to-person communication.) And the neck-snappingly pretentious paragraph that concludes Garber's piece reads like satire:

...Amazon Books could become something else in the process, emulating institutions that have been their own kinds of cathedrals: libraries. Which have traditionally been just what Amazon is aiming to create: spaces that are premised on books, but realized by community. The books here may be bought rather than borrowed, certainly, but in terms of the space created, the goal is the same. Amazon Books is a store doing the work of a cultural institution. It’s about commerce, yes, but it’s also about collectivity. It is, in form if not in name, a library.

Uh, no. It is, in form and name, a bookstore. Libraries are places where you can borrow books, but those books belong to a larger community. Bookstores are where you go to buy books. Perhaps the problem is that Garber seems to believe bookstores don't exist anymore, even though Seattle booksellers are right now more profitable than they've been in a generation.

The best thing I can say about Garber's piece is that it spawned a wonderful little Twitter rant by APRIL Festival co-founder Willie Fitzgerald about the APRIL origin story, which involves the sadly defunct Capitol Hill bookstore Pilot Books. Click through and read the whole story:

Meanwhile, the reviews are coming in for Amazon Books, and they're generally confused. For Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech reports that the bookstore is a shallow dive into a poorly stocked collection that might just be "an ideal shopping experience for some clueless book shoppers."

Seattle Review of Books contributor Judy Oldfield sent along her experiences at Amazon Books in an email. She kindly agreed to let us excerpt her account here.

I looked for books by Naomi Jackson, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Mona Eltahawy. I looked for these because they are all by women of color and all writers who read at Elliott Bay [Book Company] this year. I know that our local indie stores sell them, because I bought all of them from either EB or University Book Store. Amazon didn't have any of them...The local authors table included Where'd You Go Bernadette, and The Art of Racing in the Rain as well as books about Boeing and Pete Carroll. But I didn't find anything by Matt Ruff or Nisi Shawl (there or anywhere else in the store). Seems like to be celebrated as a local author, you must either have a restaurant, write about something/someone famous, or have a bestselling book.

Oldfield also pointed out a glaring problem with Amazon Books carrying such a limited inventory: their comics selection is weirdly spotty. They carry many copies of a single graphic novel, but they don't carry all the books in a series. For example, "they have about a dozen or more [copies] of Fables vol 1. For Ms. Marvel, it's volume 3. For Saga, they had both volumes 1 and 5, but they weren't next to each other. For Sex Criminals, only volume 2."

I can tell you that the second volume of Sex Criminals isn't going to make much sense without reading volume one first. But what happens if you ask for the first volume of Sex Criminals at Amazon Books? Reportedly, the booksellers helpfully suggest you order it on Amazon.com. So the bookstore exists to promote the website by driving people to the website to make up for the bookstore's shortcomings? What a weird, recursive experience.

Ada's Technical Books is our November Bookstore of the Month

Danielle and David Hulton didn’t know anything about running a bookstore when they founded Ada’s Technical Books five years ago. That’s probably for the best — the bookselling industry has been dying for at least four decades, according to the bookselling industry. Experienced booksellers tend to get so mired in gloom and doom that they’d likely never get around to opening a new bookstore. Sometimes it takes a novice to get it right.

Ada’s Technical Books started as a small science-minded bookstore (“for the cravings of the technical mind,” says the website) in an unexceptional space at the north end of Broadway. In 2013, the Hultons moved the store into a house on 15th Ave E, adding a cafe, a reading room, and expanding the stock significantly, including a larger science fiction section and more scientific paraphernalia like little robot-building kits and an array of puzzles. (Longtime Seattle book-lovers recognize Ada’s space as the old home to used bookseller Horizon Books.) This is the kind of bold move that you wouldn’t expect a bookstore to make in the 21st century, but it’s certainly paid off for Ada’s. And they’re still expanding the idea of what a bookstore can do; last year, the store opened up a coworking space in the attic providing work stations and a pair of meeting rooms for people in need of a professional work environment.

Ada’s succeeds because it’s a thoughtful enterprise. So much detail has gone into making the store a welcoming experience, on every level. The cafe serves excellent food made from scratch, not just a bunch of previously frozen baked goods from the back of a Sysco truck. The staff’s expertise shows in the books they carry: Ada’s doesn’t have every book on geography, computer science, or astronomy, but they do carry the best books on those topics. The store is home to an array of book clubs hosted by passionate booksellers, as well as a monthly puzzle night and a proudly geeky event series. They host an annual Buckminster Fuller party, and a bimonthly science discussion club.

It’s a little tricky to describe Ada’s to the uninitiated: the words “technical book store” sound a little intimidating. Tell someone that Ada’s primarily carries science books, and odds are good you’ll watch that person’s eyes glaze over. But what becomes readily apparent when you walk in the door at Ada’s is that there is something there for everyone. The childrens’ books and science fiction sections have grown in the years since the store moved to 15th, to better suit the neighborhood. If you spend five minutes browsing the stacks you’ll find something — a biography, a how-to manual, a study of brain chemistry— that grabs your interest and refuses to let go. Ada’s happily provides proof that we can find universality in specificity.

Short Run: I second that

Published November 03, 2015, at 2:00pm

Martin McClellan review Laura Knetzger's Bug Boys, Mita Mahato's Sea, Nightmare, Aaron Bagley's Greetings from Cat City b/w the Gluten Free Hobo, Cat City, Jessixa Bagley's I [heart] Twin Peaks, Andrea Geyer's Revolt, They Say, and Elissa Washuta's My Body Is a Book of Rules.

We already covered the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival once, but it was so much fun we had to do it again.

Read this review now

Voting is power: A conversation with Ari Berman about the struggle for voting rights in America

The Nation contributing writer Ari Berman’s excellent new book Give Us the Ballot tracks the history of voting rights in America from the 1950s to today. No less a civil rights giant than Congressman John Lewis calls Berman’s history a “must-read” that “should become a primer for every American” on the topic of voting equality. (Lewis, of course, figures heavily into Ballot’s narrative.) This Friday, Berman appears in conversation with Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez at Town Hall to talk about the state of voting rights nationally and in Washington State.

Berman freely admits he’s not an expert in Washington state voting law, but his research into the history of voting in America provides him with a unique perspective into what works and what doesn’t work. Washington’s vote-by-mail system was pitched as a way to increase voter turnout, but we’re still looking at some remarkably bad voting attendance here. As of yesterday, just 15.2 percent of King County voters had turned in their ballots, and turnout might stall at an astonishingly bad 40 percent when all the ballots are in. Is there any way to improve those numbers?

“I think turnout is always low for municipal elections, and I’m not sure that’s the best barometer” for a healthy democracy, he explains over the phone. Colorado’s vote-by-mail system is more successful, he says, because it provides many locations around the state where voters can drop off ballots, as opposed to Washington’s limited ballot drop locations. But he promotes one particular type of voting reform more than any other: “States that have same-day voter registration tend to have higher voter turnout. I think that, more than any other single reform, same-day registration has boosted voter turnout in a lot of places.” (Automatic voter registration has been discussed in Washington, but it doesn't appear to be moving forward.)

One of the main talking points that politicians use to discriminate against minorities at the polls is the idea of voter fraud. “I think that there’s a right-wing echo chamber that has sustained the voter fraud myth for a long time,” Berman says. That consistent push to promote fraud completely ignores the idea of “how rare it is,” he explains — “particularly voter impersonation,” which is the most-discussed type of fraud, but which is in reality “exceedingly rare.” How rare? “There have been a billion votes cast since 2001” Berman says, but only 31 cases of voter fraud.

We’ve seen very little positive movement on voting rights on a national level, but several states are experimenting with laws of their own. Local organizations are promoting the Washington Voting Rights Act, which is modeled on a successful California voter protection law. But that’s not enough. “The state’s voting rights acts are interesting constructs, but they’re no replacement for federal protection,” Berman warns. He understands the reason why they’re necessary—on a federal level, ”you not only have a hostile Congress but you have a hostile Supreme Court,” which requires states to take on the role of “laboratories of innovation.”

Ask Berman if he has any advice for people who haven’t yet voted today, and his answer will likely surprise you. Local elections, he says, matter a lot — local positions are how we get into government in the first place, and a voter rights act in Yakima might lead to the election of the city's first Latino candidate to the City Council today. But Berman says “I don’t want to rag on people who don’t vote in municipal elections because we have a lot of elections in this country—probably way too many.” Berman says the onslaught of mailers and phone calls and television ads never stops because we have elections every year. He believes that “at the very least every two years should be enough.”

Though he can certainly understand voter fatigue, Berman is a big believer in the importance of voting. When confronted by people who believe that their votes don’t matter, Berman replies, “if their vote didn’t change anything, then why try to restrict voting rights? Clearly, that’s a sign that voting does matter—that people have tried to restrict it throughout history.” Further, “if you don’t vote, it’s not like you’ve gained power. You have less power, you’ve ceded your power to someone else, and they’re going to have more power than you after that.” On a day when every single city council position in Seattle is being decided, the balance of power rests with the people. How you vote — or even if you vote — will determine where that power goes.

why a Cuban living in the NW isn’t going to write about rain or salmon

right off — there’s already enough rain
I’m not inviting it into my poetry

salmon—this fish whose body
torques up ladders —
has enough problems

if you’re Cuban
and wind up in the Pacific Northwest —
the ecstasy of your dreams is pocketed until August —
the only month of certain heat

you troll the Asian produce stands
for malanga, scotch bonnet peppers,
and the elusive green plantain

you wait months for the only Desi Arnaz CD in the Seattle Public Library’s holdings —
even though there aren’t any other holds

Looks like Amazon gave the Seattle Times the exclusive. Jay Greene reports:

At 9:30 Tuesday morning, the online retail giant will open will open [sic] its first-ever brick-and-mortar retail store in its 20-year life in University Village.

The store, called Amazon Books, looks a lot like bookstores that populate malls across the country. Its wood shelves are stocked with 5,000 to 6,000 titles, best-sellers as well as Amazon.com customer favorites.

We will of course go and investigate Amazon Books and report back soon. But in terms of quick takes: that's not a lot of titles for a bookstore to carry. Elliott Bay Book Company, for example, has 150,000 titles.

In this morning's post, I said there were way too many great events going on this week. I stand by that statement. Somehow, it escaped my attention that Seattle Arts and Lectures is hosting a Local Voices reading tomorrow night at Hugo House. No offense to Marion Nestle, who will undoubtedly put on a great reading at Town Hall tomorrow night and who is very knowledgeable about the scourge that is Big Soda, but the Local Voices reading should obviously have been the event of the night. I mean, look at this lineup:

Margot Case, Vicky Edmonds, Katy Ellis, Karen Finneyfrock, Kathleen Flenniken, Matt Gano, Rachel Kessler, Corinne Manning, Michael Overa and Ann Teplick.

So look. If you're not into poetry or fiction, you should attend the Nestle reading. You'll have a great time! But if you care about Seattle literature, obviously go to the Hugo House tomorrow night. I apologize for any confusion this oversight may have caused.

Twelve Saints is poetry and art in collaboration

Our thanks to this week's sponsor Entre Ríos Books. Their first release Twelve Saints is a beautifully done collaboration between poet Knox Gardner and artist Nia Michaels.

On our sponsor page, we're featuring the "Saint Catherine of Alexandria" with her matching image. It's a real treat, and we think you're going to love it.

They're throwing a book release party this Thursday — look at the sponsor page for more information.

Entre Ríos Books is part of the solution — they're partnering with us to make internet advertising 100% less terrible. You could get your work in front of our readers, too. We'd love to have you.

Short Run for the long haul

Published November 02, 2015, at 11:56am

Paul Constant review Mita Mahato's Hitched, Margaret Ashford-Trotter's Hey Frankenstein, Sarah Mirk's Dana Scully Is Always Right, Mita Mahato's Sea, David Lasky's The Ultimate Horatio Alger Novel, Ideas for Short Comics, Henry Chamberlain's George's Run, Peter and Maria Hoey's Coin-Op #5, Robyn Jordan's Louder, and Abigail Rae Young, Jennie Yim, and Emily Alden Foster's The Important Business Ladies' Guide to Important Business for Ladies.

The Short Run Comix and Arts Festival seems to get bigger every year. Has it kept its independent edge? What were some of the standout books? Paul Constant runs down some of his festival highlights.

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from November 2nd - 8th

MONDAY Elliott Bay Book Company kicks off our week in readings with Calf, Andrea Kleine’s debut novel. Here’s an introductory note you’ll find before the first page of Calf:

If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will. Kleine will be appearing with delightful Seattle author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, who will read new work.

TUESDAY Marion Nestle, who is a nutrition expert, reads at Town Hall from her book Soda Politics. It’s about how the soda industry has willfully caused “increased rates of obesity, risk for Type 2 Diabetes, [and] poor dental health” in people all over the world. She also prescribes some solutions and highlights some anti-soda campaigns that have worked around the world.

WEDNESDAY Okay, it’s time for a programming note: this week is incredibly loaded down with great-looking events. I could highlight three or four events for every night this week — for instance, Sloane Crosley is reading at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight. But tonight at the Seattle Public Library, Orhan Pamuk will be reading from his newest book, A Strangeness in My Mind. Crosley is one of the funniest writers at work today, but Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so he obviously comes out on top.

THURSDAY At Hugo House it’s time for the last Cheap Wine and Poetry of the year. Your readers tonight are Poetry Northwest’s Kevin Craft, memoirist Nicole Hardy, self-professed “creative heartist” Nikkita Oliver, and the indomitable Ed Skoog. Wine, as always, is $1 a glass.

FRIDAY Remember what I said about every night of the week being overstuffed with events? The Carrie Brownstein and Maria Semple reading at The Neptune is very likely to have sold out by now, so let’s direct our attention to a smaller, very worthy event: at Left Bank Books, Vancouver poets Kevin Spenst and Jeff Steudel will read from their latest books. Spenst’s debut collection is riddled with pop culture and the landscape of Vancouver. It’s titled Jabbering with Bing Bong. Steudel’s Foreign Park is about the history and ecology of the Fraser River. It’s not every night you get to attend a reading at Left Bank Books; go celebrate one of Seattle's best bookstores.

SATURDAY Town Hall Scholar in residence Brangien Davis, who was until recently the arts and culture editor of Seattle magazine, will give a tour of Town Hall’s hidden gem, “an Austin Universal Air Chest, a 2023-pipe organ that was installed in 1923.” The organ hasn’t worked in a long time, but Davis will investigate the way it’s blended into the building, and she’ll talk about what it might take to bring the organ back to life.

SUNDAY At Benaroya Hall tonight, Gloria Steinem will present her new memoir, My Life on the Road. She will be interviewed by Cheryl Strayed, and Seattle singer/songwriter Hollis Wong-Wear will perform new music. This is obviously going to be a very special evening.

The Sunday Post for November 1, 2015

Amazon reviews hijacked by causes, conspiracies, rage

Amazon's reviews have long been an outlet for mocking humor, which the company has long tolerated. They're mostly harmless, and get people in the door and engaging on the platform. But Jay Greene at the Seattle Times looks at the darker of review activism.

Increasingly, though, people are launching coordinated campaigns to push political and social agendas through negative reviews often only tangentially related to the product for sale. They are able to do so because Amazon welcomes reviews regardless of whether the writer has actually purchased the product.
A Penny for Your Books

Some retailers have always worked on razor-thin margins, but it's amazing to look inside the world of discount online booksellsers -- like Auburn's own Thirft Books.

Despite the naysaying about the death of publishing, the industry’s most vital numbers — sales and revenue — aren’t actually all that gloomy. In 2014, publishers sold just over 2.7 billion books domestically, for a total net revenue of just under $28 billion, a larger profit than in the preceding two years, according to the Association of American Publishers. There were just over 300,000 new titles (including re-releases) published in the United States in 2013. The book industry may not be as strong as it once was, but it’s still enormous, and generates a considerable amount of surplus product each year.
Iris Murdoch, The Virtuoso Of Virtue

For as long as I'm penning the Sunday Post, Murdoch will be a commmon theme. There's a lot of interest in her works right now, as her letters are being collected and released. Here, Standpoint founding editor Daniel Johnson offers some remberences.

By the time I made her acquaintance in the 1980s, Iris had been a public figure for a generation. Her only rival as a philosopher-novelist had been Sartre, whom she had introduced to the Anglo-Saxon world. Having outlived and in many ways outshone him, she was a star of the first magnitude in the intellectual constellation of post-war Europe. Though she belonged to a brilliant generation of female philosophers — her “dearest girl” Philippa (“Pip”) Foot, her “friend-foe” Elizabeth Anscombe, and her friends Mary Midgley and Mary Warnock — all of whom made major contributions to academic and public life, Iris was the only philosopher of either sex among her contemporaries to become a truly national figure. She deserved her renown; her posthumous reputation as a writer and thinker has survived the scrutiny of biographers and critics. She never wrote an autobiography, but her letters reveal her introspective side, as she looks back over la vie antérieure and forward to new fields — and men — to conquer.
Rediscovering Angela Carter's poetry: Images that stick and splinter in the mind

Rosemary Hill looks at a newly released volume of Angela Carter's poetry.

“Unicorn”, like The Bloody Chamber, draws out what a post-Freudian age sees beneath the surface – the phallic unicorn’s horn, the virgin in the garden – draws it out, blows it up into imagery as lurid as a flashing neon sign outside a sex shop and then drops it bathetically flat at the end. This woodland’s “innocent and fragile leaves” conceal the strip-club agents who are using an unappealing virgin, “raw and huge … the only virgin to be had” to lure the unicorn. As Carter once said of Walter de la Mare, a writer she, surprisingly perhaps, much admired, these are images that stick like a splinter in the mind.

One day left to read some amazing, moving work

Our thanks to this week's sponsor Esther Altshul Helfgott. If you haven't had the chance to look through the excerpt from her book Dear Alzheimer's, you should do so now — it will only be up through tomorrow.

Helgott's journal of poetry and prose turned poignant when her husband Abe started feeling the effects of Alzheimer's. Her light touch, observational manner, and careful writing make this a moving journey. One full of life and discovery, despite the seriousness of the topic. I think you'll be glad you took the time to read the excerpt we posted this week.

We do things a bit differently around here. We have one sponsor a week, and they offer some of their work for you to read. You could do the same thing with your work, if you wanted. Find out more here. It's all part of our attempt to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible.