Book News Roundup: A celebration of Arabic poetry, a chance to get your chapbook published, and more

  • Two Sylvias Press's annual chapbook contest is now open for submissions. The reading fee is $15, but the payoff is pretty great: the winner gets $400 and 20 copies of their finished chapbook. A poem by the winner of 2014's chapbook contest, Cecilia Woloch, was recently featured in the New York Times Magazine.

  • We've already suggested two great events for tonight, but we just learned about this event happening in the Husky Union Building on the UW campus tonight, and we wanted you to know about it: an evening of Arabic Poetry and Music, featuring poetry read in English and in Arabic by students. Some Seattle-area publications want you to think that Seattle isn't an international city of literature; that's just not true. This reading is just one great example of how Seattle's literary scene represents the whole world on a regular basis.

  • At the Comics Reporter, Dan Clowes has written a remembrance of Alvin Buenaventura, a prominent comics editor and publisher who passed away last week. Clowes writes, "he was inexplicable, the most singular human being I've ever met. There's nobody else in the world even remotely like him."

  • Over at The Intercept, Masha Gessen has written about the sad state of self-censorship in the Russian publishing industry.

  • If you're an artist in need some inspiration, here's Seattle cartoonist/Short Run co-founder Kelly Froh's wonderful appearance on the Seattle Channel show Art Zone with Nancy Guppy.

Panic Blossom

[to be read very quickly, as if almost out of breath]

Panic blossom speaks passwords into the edge of the voice at the edge of the speech that listens.

The password for membrane is not squirrels. It is also not squirrels of intestinal magic. It is not

squirrels that ride the antlers of your skin.

Every sink will be shallow and the deer with eight legs will run faster but on a treadmill of paper.

There is a password for the membrane. To get out is different from to get in.

The password is glass
The password is glass in a volcano
The password is clear glass
The glass is cloth
The glass is a cloth of waterfalls
The waterfalls are not the password
The password is not glass

Squirrels are not the password but they carry the keys. They carry the keys that wilt in the locks. They are leaf keys and they are not passwords.

A squirrel in our story has fallen into a pond.

The water and the squirrel fight their failing.

The water taps the lungs. The ghost leaves a lotus.

I didn’t know the password. The password was not squirrels.

There was a key but it was waterfalls.

Let’s talk about something else.

I barely knew them, but they kissed me everywhere, the squirrels.

It wracked my nerves but gave me purchase
for the password. Here and there a leaf fell down my shirt.
The leaves that cannot open things panic in the lock.

The hinge hears the blossom panic in the door.

That is the key.

The sinks are shallow so no one will drown.

The deer is catching up.

Its eight legs in the corner are listening to the edge. At the edge is a boy under glass

who looks through sheets of water.

It went around, it came around

In his introduction to the Hugo House’s Lit Series event on Friday night, event programmer Peter Mountford called “what goes around comes around” the “immaculate conception of clichés.” Most clichés, he said, have very clear, recognizable origins, but “what goes around comes around” has existed for as long as language has existed, and it can’t be broken down into any simpler parts. It’s one of the clearest, simplest concepts that exists in written language.

Which makes sense. Repetition holds a strange power for humans. We use repetition to calm ourselves and others, but repetition can also be incredibly annoying. Artists will use repetition as an artistic device, by mirroring an event at the beginning and end of a piece of art to demonstrate a change in the audience’s perception. Critics like to repeat an artists’ words back to the artist, as a refutation or a bolstering of a point. One of the easiest ways to get a laugh is to bring down an arrogant character with their own words or actions. Just about everyone on earth, regardless of their religion has a basic understanding of what karma is.

So the four artists the Hugo House asked to respond to the cliche — Seattle poet Sierra Nelson, author Heidi Julavits, Seattle musician OC Notes, and celebrated poet D.A. Powell — were dealing with elemental stuff. The pleasure of the Hugo House’s Lit Series is watching how many different ways the theme can be interpreted. But there was a risk with this particular assignment: the simplicity of “what goes around comes around” could also be a problem with creative interpretations of it — if this idea seems hard-wired into our brains, maybe that understanding might resist deeper explanation?

OC Notes recognized from the stage that he and Nelson demonstrated a similar understanding of the theme, in particular with reference to karma. Nelson started the night reading a list of words and phrases relating to the theme — dirty dishes, hangovers, ouroboroses — and the audience arrived to discover that every seat in the house had an index card with one of the phrases written on it. (Mine was “Diet Crazes.”) She encouraged people to introduce themselves to each other as the concept written on their card, creating a moment where the poem came alive.

Nelson’s greatest strength is in her scientific approach to poetry, her willingness to throw poems against a thesis in an effort to create a crack where meaning can get inside. She unveiled a number of repetition-based poems — pantoums, blues lyrics — to bring the theme into the form, as well as the spirit, of her work. Along the way, she unveiled several gorgeous little observations, about Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Justin Timberlake, and the stunning revelation that Aplets and Cotlets are the flavor of grief. OC Notes shared Nelson’s spirit of investigation, crossing musical genres and demonstrating a playfulness in his three songs created just for the evening. The last song, a blues-based declaration that “Karma’s calling on the line/won’t you please pick up the phone?” captured perfectly the dread of actions coming back to haunt a person.

Powell was less successful. His interpretation of the theme materialized as a batch of new poems written in the spirit Powell brought to his poetry when he first started writing as a teenager. This kind of neo-juvenilia was occasionally funny, but Powell stuck with the theme way too long, reading what felt like dozens of poems, many of which had titles like “That Pussy Is Tight” and “Fuck Buddy.” At five minutes, it would have been a hilarious interlude. At near twenty minutes, it was interminable.

Julavits addressed the theme with an essay — possibly one that might expand into a book, she mused from the podium — about the possibility that one day her young son might rape a woman; every rapist has a mother, after all. Julavits reflected on her son's infancy, when he screamed and cried and demanded her body with the bone-deep understanding that he might die if she withheld her body from him. She called her father “a total non-rapist,” but suggested that, basically, she didn’t understand how to raise someone who would not rape. While all the other artists responded to the theme with a florid spray of playful work, Julavits dug deep inside, questing around parenthood and free will and destiny and consent. Without the density of her inquiry, the night might have felt a little too light. With her essay, everything came back around to making sense again.

The art that comes from restriction

Our thanks to Sagging Meniscus Press for sponsoring the site this week with a truly unique, and remarkable, book: The Too-Brief Chronicle of Judah Lowe, by Christopher Carter Sanderson. On our sponsors page we have three excerpts: from the introduction, which sets the stage, and from each of the two sections of the book, each told through the lens of severe restriction. All art comes from the artist creating rules and restrictions — some of them mundane, such as the choice of paint or the size of canvas, some of them severe (those of you who saw the brilliant film The Five Obstructions will know what we're talking about). Certain artists work within severe restriction, and the work, like it does here, can end up bulging at the seams. You really have to read this.

Sagging Meniscus took advantage of our sponsorship program — new dates are now available through the Summer. If you're a small publisher, writer, poet, or foundation that is looking to back our work, and advertise your own in an inexpensive and expressive way, take a look at our open dates. We'd love to talk to you about the possibilities.

Caught after dark in Lovecraft Country

Published February 15, 2016, at 12:00pm

Edward Austin Hall review Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country.

Matt Ruff's new book Lovecraft Country turns old H.P.'s racism on its head. It's an ambitious work, attempting to use genre to undermine America's racism against African American people. Was he able to pull it off?

Read this review now

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from February 15th - 21st

MONDAY Start your week in readings at Third Place Books up in Lake Forest Park. Debbie Clarke Moderow reads from her new book Fast into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail. If you’ve ever wondered about sled dogs — and c’mon, pretty much everybody has wondered about sled dogs — this is a good chance to learn.

TUESDAY Seattle author Matt Ruff finally debuts his long-awaited novel Lovecraft Country at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight! This event is years in the making — I’ve been waiting for this book to drop since Ruff read a bit from it at Hugo House way back in 2008. I’ve read Lovecraft Country and I can tell you it’s worth the wait; it’s a horror novel that mixes together America’s racist past, the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft, Lovecraft’s infamous racism, and Ruff’s assured storytelling. This is a book that works on every single level. However, because I’m joining Ruff onstage for a Q&A at this event, that could be construed by some as a conflict of interest. And because we take our selection process at This Week in Readings seriously, we always provide an alternate event for you to consider when there’s a potential conflict of interest.

And so our ALTERNATE TUESDAY event is the February Literary Mixer at The Hideout. I went to the last Literary Mixer and had a lot of fun. Here’s the deal: bring the book you’re reading. Buy a drink. Talk to people about the books they brought and be prepared to talk about the book you brought. That’s it! (You might want to bring a piece of paper and a pen so you can write down some book recommendations, too.)

WEDNESDAY Tonight, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore reads at The Furnace Reading Series at Hollow Earth Radio. The Furnace is a reading series in which one writer reads their short story with audio accompaniment — music, sound effects, etc. When Sycamore moved to Seattle from San Francisco a few years back, she became a cornerstone of the literary community almost overnight. Her memoir The End of San Francisco is about gentrification and sexuality and what it’s like to watch a city die. That’s going to be a big part of her reading tonight, apparently: press notes say she’ll be reading from an “elliptical essay [that] ruminates on the complexities of desire and belonging in a shifting community.”

THURSDAY It’s a book party to celebrate the release of Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night at Hugo House. Queen, Chee’s second novel, is about an opera singer who is cast in a production that is adapted from her own life story. This is a big, buzzy book that everyone is talking about. After the reading, incredible Elliott Bay Book Company bookseller Karen Maeda Allman will lead a Q&A.

FRIDAY Internationally celebrated Spanish painter Ricardo Cavolo will debut his new book 100 Artists to Listen to Before You Die at Ada’s Technical Books. This is a gorgeous book — part comic, part diary, part fan’s notes — that is published by the very exciting London comics press Nobrow. Seattle cartoonist Fran Lopez will conduct a conversation and Q&A with Cavolo.

SATURDAY Did somebody say "conflict of interest?" Paul Constant will be giving a lecture and hosting a conversation about book-to-film adaptation at the Northgate Barnes & Noble at 1 pm this afternoon. This event is part of a book fair to benefit the good people at Scarecrow Video, which is the greatest damn video store in the entire United States of America. Come out and show them the love.

And your ALTERNATE SATURDAY event is the Bwitch Zine Release Party at Push/Pull. This is a thematic anthology zine — this edition’s theme is “dark fairytale” — that is “for all the girls in the comic scene that want to be heard and express themselves.” This event offers free snacks and drinks, as well as some sort of a musical act, which has not been announced yet.

SUNDAY The Monorail Reading Series happens tonight at the Fred Wildlife Refuge. Tonight’s readers are Lisa Ciccarello, Willie Fitzgerald, and Feliz Lucia Molina. Ciccarello is a poet who has published one collection and eight chapbooks. Molina is the author of two books, with a chapbook and another book on the way. Fitzgerald has published fiction and non-fiction in a bunch of places, including right here at the Seattle Review of Books. A boozy-fun reading from a bunch of up-and-comers seems like a great way to cap out the week.

Sunday Post for February 14, 2016

Samuel R. Delany Speaks

Wonderful interview with the one and only Samuel R. Delany, by Cecilia D'Anastasio.

When he was 11, Samuel R. Delany stayed overnight at a Harlem hospital for observation. It was 1953, and nearly a decade before Delany would publish his first science-fiction novel. He had already realized he was gay. With trepidation, he asked the doctor, a white man, how many gays existed in America. The doctor laughed. “[He] told me it was an extremely rare disease,” Delany says. “No more than one out of 5,000 men carried it.” Rest assured, the doctor added, no medical records existed confirming the existence of black homosexuals. “Simply because I was black,” Delany says, “I didn’t need to worry!”
How Valley of the Dolls went from a reject to a 30-million best-seller

Self promotion was Jacqui Susann's game, and she was so good at it, that she started a viral movement without that crutch, the internet, that we all rely on now. Martin Chilton writes it for the Telegraph.

Her novel Valley of the Dolls was dismissed as "painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish". So how did such a poor book go on to be registered in The Guinness Book of World Records in the late Sixties as the world's most popular novel? The success of Valley of the Dolls – to date more than 30 million copies have been sold worldwide – is a tale of one of the most tenacious and sharp-eyed publishing campaigns of all time.
Liquid Assets

In drought, with water as a diminishing resource, controlling a very limited resource becomes a playground for people who like to make a lot of money. Abraham Lustgarten, in a very long and detailed piece for ProPublica, looks at Wall Street's interest in Western water rights.

Deane is not a rancher or a farmer; he’s a hedge-fund manager who had flown in from New York City the previous night. And as he appraised the property, he was less interested in its crop or cattle potential than in a different source of wealth: the water running through its streams and coursing beneath its surface. This tract would come with the rights to large amounts of water from the region’s only major river, the Humboldt. Some of those rights were issued more than 150 years ago, which means they outrank almost all others in the state. Even if drought continues to force ranches and farms elsewhere in Nevada to cut back, the Diamond S will almost certainly get its fill.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin - Kickstarter Fund Project #6

Every week, the Seattle Review of Books backs a Kickstarter, and writes up why we picked that particular project. Read more about the project here. Suggest a project by writing to kickstarter at this domain, or by using our contact form.

What's the project this week?

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. We've put $20 in as a non-reward backer

Who is the Creator?

Arwen Curry.

What do they have to say about the project?

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a feature documentary, explores the remarkable life and legacy of the groundbreaking 86-year-old author.

What caught your eye?

This one is pretty self-evident. Le Guin is one of the greats. Like so many, the Earthsea books cracked open my mind when I was a kid, and my mom read them to me, a little bit at bedtime over months. A school for wizards? Whoa. What an amazing thing to consider, and her mix of beautiful prose, great humanity, and startling insight into the minds of all kinds of characters cemented her legacy. And then she wrote a ton of other great books.

The filmmakers have Le Guin's full cooperation. This will be a rare and privileged look into the woman who created so many great works.

And, even better, she's a Northwest writer — she's lived in Portland since 1959.

Why should I back it?

Because, odds are, you're a Le Guin fan as well, and the idea of watching a few hours of her talking about her writing — as well as interviews with other writers like Michael Chabon and Margaret Atwood, is just thrilling.

"Any kind of imaginative fiction trains people that there are other ways to do things and other ways to be. There is not just one civilization, and it is good, and it is the way we have to be. It trains the imagination." - Le Guin, from the video.

The rewards, especially if you dig deep into your purse, are good. Signed artificats, and even a 1-minute audio answer to a writing question from Le Guin herself. But, like all films, the reward is the film itself.

How's the project doing?

20 days to go, and they've up over $140k of their $80k goal, so quite well. But, like I said last week, filmmaking is expensive. This money they're raising secures another funding grant that covers most of their costs, but they will use every penny we throw at them, and then some.

Do they have a video?

Kickstarter Fund Stats
  • Projects backed: 6
  • Funds pledged: $120
  • Funds collected: $40
  • Unsuccessful pledges: 0
  • Fund balance: $920

From the fine folks at Publishers Weekly:

Bookstores sales rose 2.5% in 2015, marking the first time since 2007 that sales in the sector were up. According to preliminary figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, total bookstore sales in 2015 hit $11.17 billion, up from $10.89 billion in 2014.

To celebrate, let's visit a few bookstores this weekend, okay?

Cienna Madrid is celebrating the long Presidents' Day weekend by not offering any advice at all. Never fear: she'll be back next week with an all-new column. If you're desperately in need of a Cienna fix, may we humbly suggest you investigate the Help Desk archives? That's 25 weeks packed full of literary advice!

Book News Roundup: The huge success of #1000BlackGirlsBooks

  • We told you a couple weeks ago about Marley Dias, the student who, "sick of reading about white boys and dogs," launched the #1000BlackGirlsBooks hashtag. Now, according to Vox, Dias's mission is complete: She has collected 1000 books featuring black girls as main characters, and is donating them to libraries in her school and to an elementary school in Jamaica. Here is Dias on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, discussing her project:
  • Here is a sentence that is full of awesome: Shoreline Community college students, inspired by a social-justice-themed science fiction anthology, are hosting a book drive benefitting Books to Prisoners. Read more here.

  • The Douglass-Truth branch of Seattle Public Library is hosting a display featuring the history of the Seattle Black Panther Party. If Beyoncé's incredible Super Bowl show piqued your interest in the Black Panthers, this is a good way to learn more.

  • I like Medium as a website; I think it's a great way to adapt blogging into something a little more thoughtful. But it does seem to be full of Tech Folks with Opinions. Like, for instance, Vinod Khosla:

If luck favors the prepared mind, as Louis Pasteur is credited with saying, we’re in danger of becoming a very unlucky nation. Little of the material taught in Liberal Arts programs today is relevant to the future... Though Jane Austen and Shakespeare might be important, they are far less important than many other things that are more relevant to make an intelligent, continuously learning citizen, and a more adaptable human being in our increasingly more complex, diverse and dynamic world.
  • Look, I could go on about this, but I just want to leave a little thought here in response: science is very important! Obviously. But why do we have to promote science at the expense of literature? Shouldn't a good education produce well-rounded students? Shouldn't we be concerned about the humanity of students, as well as their marketability? Good, lord, why would we transform education into an all-or-nothing proposition?

So this is a big deal: Hometown Heroes is a one-day, free, all-ages comics art show "formed out of a desire to connect creators, readers, and the stories that bond them in a new way." It happens on April 8th from 6 to 11 pm at 1927 Events (1927 3rd Ave). I love Emerald City Comicon as much as anyone, but you can't really argue that ECCC gives as much attention to Seattle comics creators as it used to; the show has become a very big, very mainstream event. And that's great! But Hometown Heroes offers a chance for Seattle's indie comics community to show off what they've been working on, which is just as important. This could be the perfect springtime complement to the Short Run Festival in Seattle's comics calendar year. If you're considering attending, go click the "interested" button on Facebook.

Portrait Gallery: Judy Blume

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

Judy Blume is certainly somebody we don't need to say very much about, other than tomorrow is her birthday. Millions of kids learned about themselves, and their friends, neighbors, and siblings through her empathetic and big-hearted works. If she were here, we'd say thank you Judy Blume! We here at the Seattle Review of Books wish you a very happy birthday.

Book News Roundup: Seattle's housing crisis, in comic form

  • Mary Ann Gwinn at the Seattle Times offers an in-depth preview of Third Place Books' new Seward Park store, which will open in late April.

  • Seattle author Lesley Hazleton's upcoming book on agnosticism, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, has earned two places of pride in the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly. Hazleton's book received a starred review praising "her appealing voice and accessible prose," and it was also chosen as a most-anticipated book of the spring. Agnostic is due out this April, and we can't wait.

  • The award-winning Ms. Marvel comic written by Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson has been nominated for another award — this time, it's up for the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics. McDuffie was a giant in the comics world and a champion for diversity in a time when it seemed as though comics would always be the province of straight white dudes, so this is a real honor. Congratulations to Wilson, and a recommendation to our readers: the most recent issue of Ms. Marvel, which hit comics stands yesterday, might be her best yet.

  • Seattle cartoonist Tom Van Deusen has a pretty great autobiographical comic in this week's Seattle Weekly about Seattle's housing crisis. You really should go read it.

  • Some bad news for authors that we found in the Melboure, Austrailia newspaper The Age:

Recent surveys in Britain, the United States and Australia have revealed a serious slump in the income that authors receive from their writing. In Australia, authors have seen their average income from writing decrease from about $22,000 in the early 2000s to less than $13,000 in 2015. For many authors, that means they can no longer earn a livelihood from their work.
  • And because it's always better to end on a weird note than a bad note: Amy Brady has published a remarkable interview with the founders of the dark web's first literary magazine over at Literary Hub.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Mean girls gone wild

Some of the best comics-minded thinkers — Grant Morrison, Kieron Gillen, Kelly Sue DeConnick — love to talk about comic books in musical metaphors. It’s an apt comparison; sometimes going to the comic book store and picking up a few comics is reminiscent of visiting the record store and walking out with a bag full of singles. They’re tiny bursts of art in an eminently consumable, commercial format, and they have their own aura of cool about them.

If Vancouver cartoonist Ryan Heshka’s Mean Girls Club was a record, it would be a blistering woman-fronted punkabilly band's 45, the kind that begins and ends in just under two minutes but somehow expands to consume entire weeks of your life. It’s a gorgeous, self-contained dirty thrill of a book, one that feels simultaneously retro and modern.

It helps that the whole comic as an object is aesthetically pleasing. Published by London comics company Nobrow as part of their 17x23 series — described as “a graphic short story project designed to help talented young graphic novelists tell their stories in a manageable and economic format” — Mean Girls Club is a beautiful package. It’s squatter than most comics, squarish, printed in shades of hot pink on quality paper with french flaps. Very few comics these days, aesthetically, look this good.

Mean Girls Club is a short story about a street gang of unruly women: Pinky, Wendy, Sweets, Blackie, Wanda, and McQualude. They torture innocent people. They take fistfuls of pills and slap each other with fishes and punch well-meaning nurses right in the jaw. And then the mayhem really starts.

Heshka’s retro art recalls a cross between Richard Sala and Charles Burns, and he squeezes invention out of the limited color palette on every page. Most readers of Mean Girls Club will burn through the book in a matter of minutes, but they’ll want to read it over and over again, because it’s just so damn catchy and pretty and funny and raw. If this was a record, you’d wear out the grooves in a matter of weeks.

This is not a drill:

The eighth installment of the Harry Potter series, the two-part play, "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," will be published as a book this summer, author J.K Rowling announced on her Pottermore website Wednesday.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be released on July 31st, which is canonically Harry Potter's birthday. Presumably, it will break all previous sales records for plays.

Book News Roundup: Celebrate Sherman Alexie, Get a New Job, and Change the Font on Your E-Reader

  • Congratulations to Sherman Alexie, who is this year's Pierce County Library system selection for Pierce County Reads. The library chose five of Alexie's books for everyone in Pierce County to read. They are: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Flight, and War Dances. I wholeheartedly agree; everyone in Washington state should read all of those books.

  • Seattle Arts and Lectures is hiring a Program Associate for its Writers in the Schools program. If you support writing education for kids, this might be the job for you.

  • The lineup for the third Rainier Valley Lit Crawl has been announced. This one happens on March 5th. Start getting excited. One of the readings will happen at the Peruvian chicken joint Big Chickie, which surely represents some kind of a first in Seattle literary history.

  • Nationally, the book Twittersphere is very excited that Lisa Lucas, the former publisher of Guernica, has just been named the third Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, which oversees the National Book Awards.

  • Selma director Ava DuVernay is being pursued to direct a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. I would watch the hell out of that.

  • In the face of a consumer revolt, Amazon has changed the weight of a Helvetica font on its Kindle e-readers. Readers weren't happy when Amazon swapped out the font for a lighter version.

Songs are not poems in fancy clothing

Published February 10, 2016, at 12:01pm

Mairead Case review Simon Joyner's Only Love Can Bring You Peace.

It's one thing to love Simon Joyner's music. Is it possible to love the lyrics, when they're stripped of the music and bound in a book?

Read this review now

Meet Brad Craft, University Book Store's used book buyer

Brad Craft, the used book buyer at University Book Store, says he “didn’t grow up in a bookish atmosphere” — he didn’t have access to a good library, and none of his teachers introduced him to the joys of literature. Where did he learn to love books? “Yard sales,” he says. He was especially drawn to a certain type of book: “I’ve read more gothic romance novels than most men my age,” Craft explains. He assumed the bodice-rippers that he bought from his neighbors were classics of literature. “They looked like classics to me,” he says. The women on the covers “were in historical costumes,” after all, just maybe with a little more cleavage than you’d find on the cover of your typical Bronte book. For a long time, Craft says, “I couldn’t tell you the difference between a novelization of Airport ’77 and a Jane Austen novel.”

But he did eventually move on from the smut to the real classics: “I didn’t read Austen until I was in my late thirties, and then she was a revelation.” Now he’s obsessed, calling himself “a big set person.” At his home, he has matching sets of works by Fielding, Kipling, a 24-volume Balzac collection and “four sets of Dickens, I’m afraid.” What’s his favorite Dickens? “David Copperfield is close to my heart. I’ve read that more than all the others, including The Pickwick Papers. And I’m a big fan of The Old Curiosity Shop. I don’t even like allegory, but I think it’s a really exquisitely achieved allegory.” Craft has heard the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde that a reader “would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of [Curiosity Shop’s] little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter,“ but he disagrees: “I actually think it’s beautifully done.”

Craft worked at the late, lamented Stacey’s Books in San Francisco for 12 years. He’s done time at other used bookstores, and he even worked a handful of months in a corporate bookstore — “I had no emotional attachment to the place, but it did give me insights into the sale of things that happened to be books.” He can’t recall exactly how long he’s been at University Book Store — 12 or 13 years, give or take — but he knows that he helped convince management to add used books to the bookstore’s stock about a decade ago. He’s been behind the counter ever since.

Craft has been drawing since even before he could read. “My mother tells me that I drew before I talked. If she wanted me to be quiet and content, she just put a drawing implement in my hand and put me in the corner and I kept myself busy.” He started out copying John R. Neill’s illustrations from the Oz books, and even today he posts his bookish illustrations on his blog, Usedbuyer 2.0. A collection of his illustrations is for sale at University Book Store, and he sells author caricature calendars every December.

With all the talk about classics and used books, some might be surprised to learn that Craft is an avid podcaster. He’s been recording his Breakfast at the Bookstore show with Nick DiMartino for over a year now. “I’m a relatively late adopter of technology,” he admits, “but then I can become very enthusiastic.” Craft got into literary podcasts as a fan, but then he discovered that most of them were “over-specialized,” focusing only on specific subgenres of mystery, say, or certain types of science fiction. Instead, he wanted to do something a little broader, talking about all kinds of book-related topics with all kinds of guests.

Craft also headlines events at University Book Store on a regular basis. He reads Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” every year at the holidays — this last year was his eighth performance — and he’s also celebrated the birthdays of Dickens and Thackeray with readings, as well as a celebration of the poems of William Cowper. (“That was a barn-burner, right there,” he laughs.) “It allows me to serve ham three or four times a year,” Craft says, and it provides a rare opportunity for adults to sit and be read to, which is a pleasure that too many people give up after childhood. “I just think literature is meant to be read aloud,” Craft says. “The greatest literature needs to be put into the air now and again.”

What does Craft love most about University Book Store? “Perhaps its age more than anything else,” he says. “There’s a tradition here of respect both for the customers and the employees. They really want their booksellers to have things like health insurance and a livable wage. The values clearly are from an earlier era in a lot of ways — in a lot of good ways.”