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Literary Event of the Week: Laura Da' teaches "Poetry of Place"

In Seattle poet Laura Da's great poem "Passive Voice," she reflects on teaching kids to avoid passive voice using that old trick:

Circle the verbs.

Imagine inserting “by zombies”

after each one.

Of course, if the sentence works with "by zombies," it's in passive voice. But that's not the point of the poem. She goes on to imagine those kids on their summer vacations, traveling the country "on the way home/from Yellowstone or Yosemite." She pictures them getting some fresh air, addled by hours in the car, witnessing roadside attractions.

How she ties these two images together — the passive-voice zombies and the sun-baked highway monuments — is immensely pleasurable and I won't ruin it by summarizing it here.

The interesting thing about the poem is how Da', in a few short lines in the middle of a poem, places the reader so solidly in a place. You don't just imagine the summer road-trip pitstop. You're in it, you're there.

This is a rare talent in a poet. Too often, poets will fail to remember to anchor their poems in space and time, leaving the reader afloat in a mysterious gauzy nowhere. Da' never fails to remind her readers where they are.

That's why she's the perfect teacher for a free class called "Poetry of Place," which is happening in the Capitol Hill branch of the library this Sunday. Da' promises to help her students "look to land and water ways as a source of poetic inspiration."

Whether you're a poetry novice or a published author, this (free!) class is for you. All it costs is two hours of your life. Students are asked to bring a pen and paper or a laptop to write on. Da' will do the inspiration. No maps required.

Seattle Public Library, Capitol Hill Branch, 425 Harvard Ave E,, 2 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bumbershoot

Seattle has always had a hard time loving Bumbershoot. Some people quit going when the Labor Day arts festival started charging for tickets. (This seems silly to me; it costs money to pay artists and put on a show.) Some people think the big-name acts are too obnoxious. (Okay, but there's Folklife if you want a free nice, well-scaled local festival.) And some people think that the festival is now too unmoored from the city. (Who can say what the city is anymore, anyway?)

People always hate change. It's just how it is. And I try to resist it when people lament the loss of the status quo. But one element of Bumbershoot that has undeniably gotten worse over the years is the festival's commitment to the literary arts. Not too long ago, Bumbershoot brought cartoonists like Harvey Pekar and Allie Brosh to town, or novelists like S.E. Hinton and Ursula LeGuin.

Now, Bumbershoot doesn't even have a literary arts slate. Instead, they have a "Comedy & Conversation" stage, which brings stand-up comedians and podcasters and writers to the festival. On one level, this decision makes sense: writers don't pack 'em in at music festivals. But on the other hand, it's incredibly sad that Seattle's premier arts festival doesn't focus more on bringing world-class literary talent to the city anymore.

But the Comedy & Conversation stage will feature some great local writers who deserve your attention. Some highlights:

Seattle Center,

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Urban Book Expo

Last year, I interviewed Seattle author J.L. Cheatham about the second edition of the Seattle Urban Expo — his celebration of Seattle-area authors of color and independent authors who often don't get attention in local bookstores.

This Saturday, August 25th, the third annual Seattle Urban Book Expo happens on Beacon Hill. Cheatham plans the expo to be a big party, with food and kids' activities and all sorts of fun events that are intended to keep audiences there for a while. The second expo nearly doubled in size from the first, and the third looks to be the biggest, best one yet.

Don't know what to expect? Donna Miscolta reviewed the Seattle Urban Expo for us. She said only one thing was missing:

I was at the expo for an hour and a half. I think I counted two white people among the visitors during that time...Literary events too often center white writers. It happens in Seattle as it does elsewhere. Take for instance, the San Diego Festival of Books which also occurred last Saturday. Read Aaryn Belfer’s #bookfestivalsowhite. When a literary event centers writers of color, it’s an opportunity for white writers and readers to educate themselves about the lives and stories of black and brown people — an imperative in today’s racially charged climate.

If you're reading this and you're white, you should go and support an underserved community and learn about a whole group of writers who you don't see at literary events every week in Seattle. If you're a person of color, you should go and celebrate a more inclusive literary Seattle. No matter who you are, you should go.

Centilia Cultural Center, 1660 S Roberto Maestas Festival St,973-4298, 1 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Economic Utopias and Dystopias

Say what you will about our Trumpy times — and we started a book club just to talk about how terrible everything is — it is at least refreshing that people are discussing economic systems. I'm old enough to recall a time (four years ago) when discussing socialism would be enough to end a political career. Now, Democrats are openly calling themselves socialists.

Clearly, the current model of economics — call it neoliberalism, call it libertarian capitalism, call it whatever you'd like — isn't working. It's time to evaluate our economy, throw out what doesn't work, and start over. The best way to investigate our options, of course, is through fiction.

On Saturday the 18th, four local sci-fi writers (Beverly Aarons, Shweta Adhyam, Elizabeth Guizzetti, and Seattle Review of Books columnist Nisi Shawl) will discuss "economic systems in literature and how they relate to America’s current economic system." They will be moderated by a local real estate strategist as they discuss utopia and dystopia in sci-fi, and how those ideas can (and shouldn't) be applied to the real world.

That's the first half of the event. The second half is delightfully participatory, as attendees are invited to "work in groups to create their vision of an economic system they would want to leave to future generations." That's right — you get to start from nothing and figure out how you'd allocate resources in a perfect world.

This is one of the most exciting ideas for a literary event I've heard in months: a chance to learn from fiction and apply those beliefs toward the creation of something new. And even if none of the ideas created at this event lead to the foundation of a new economic model, the hosts are serving free drinks and snacks, so you'll be sure to get something out of the event.

Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts, 115 Prefontaine Place S,, 1 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Poetry Slam Sendoff

Seattle's lively slam community has lots of qualities to recommend it. Poets like Elisa Chavez and Troy Osaki are finding great success in both the spoken and written poetry worlds, for instance. Our youth slam community has maybe never been better. And our slam poets win awards on a very regular basis.

But maybe my favorite part of Seattle's slam community is the sendoff party culture that we have. It works like this: whenever Seattle sends a team to represent us in some national competition, the community throws a big party to celebrate the Seattle team's accomplishments and to wish them luck in the fight against other cities. (It's also a fundraiser; it's expensive work sending poets cross-country.) The event is kind of like sports, only there are no concussions and nobody is going to boo you for kneeling for the national anthem.

Seattle traditionally places in the top third of national slam competitions, but this team might go even farther. The four poets representing us in Chicago are io Chanae, Ben Yisrael, Garfield Hillson, and the great Ebo Barton.

This Tuesday night, visit the Royal Room to see the team in action, to get them psyched up for their big poetry fight on the national stage, and to pay for their travel and lodging and beer expenses. It's time to celebrate our community, and to stand up for Seattle artists.

The Royal Room, 5000 Rainier Ave S,, 8 pm, $10.

Literary Event of the Week: I Am Still Alive reading at University Book Store

If you're in the mood for an action-packed survival tale, Washington novelist Kate Marshall's I Am Still Alive should be at the top of your list. This is perfect summer reading: the story of a teen named Jess who struggles to survive, with the help of a dog, in the cold Canadian wilderness.

Alive is split into two interwoven narratives. The first is narrated by Jess, still reeling after her mom's accidental death, as she heads to an off-the-grid part of Canada to live with her reclusive dad. And the second is narrated by Jess after a catastrophe: her father is dead, his cabin is gone, and Jess has to figure out how to survive if she's going to get revenge.

This is fun, exciting stuff — and it's also great for young readers. The story unspools through the braided narrative, and readers can slowly piece together the climax of the book through context clues. Jess faces two distinct conflicts over the course of Alive: First, she has to learn to get along with her absentee dad and adjust to extreme rural life. And next, she must figure out how to keep the world from killing her.

Marshall clearly knows her nature. Even the cruelest parts of Alive will make you want to pack up the tent and head for the wilderness. Jess's indomitable spirit is contagious; she reminds readers that no problem is too great to overcome. All you need is brains, endurance, and a ferocious need for revenge.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 2 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Sick: A Memoir reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

"I have never been comfortable in my own body," Harlem novelist Porochista Khakpour writes in the beginning of Sick, her memoir about life with Lyme disease. "Rather, I've felt my whole life that I was born in the wrong body."

This distance between mind and body, understandably, has always made Khakpour uneasy. And so in some ways, the diagnosis of Lyme disease becomes a convenient metaphor for that distance, for the discomfort she feels inside her own body. This chronic pain and lethargy and weakness at least provides a reason why she might not feel at home in her skin. A few paragraphs later, she concludes:

Because my illness at this stage has no cure, I can forever own this discomfort of the body. I can always say this was all a mistake...I have started to consider that I will never be at home, perhaps not even in death.

Sick is a book that is always bargaining with mortality. Khakpour's story of chronic pain is the story of her existence. "I have been sick my whole life," she says, and the memoir is in many ways about knowing that she'll never know what it means to have good health, that health is the Godot that will never arrive.

When her Lyme disease gets very bad, Khakpour writes cryptic emails to friends asking them to check in on her from time to time. She starts to chafe at friends telling her to "take care of [her]self." She buys a cane. She faints. She tries different drugs. She knows that she'll never recover, which forces her to readjust her understanding of what it means to treat her disease.

Few writers could pull off this kind of a memoir without making it a laundry list of despair. But Khakpour isn't a typical writer: Sick is hypnotic in its examination of bodies in the world, and all the many ways those bodies can (and do) go wrong.

Literary Event of the Week: Hot Off the Press Book Fair

For four years now, Fantagraphics has celebrated summer with a fantastic little laid-back book festival called the Hot Off the Press Book Fair. It's pretty simple: exhibitors set up tables and sell comics in and around the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. Creators sign books. Comics nerds share the gossip and blab about freelance rates. And then the Georgetown Art Attack happens all around the fair, giving attendees the opportunity to see even more fun stuff.

This year's Hot Off the Press guest of honor is Jim Woodring, who is the best cartoonist in all of Seattle. Woodring is unveiling his brand-new comic Poochytown, which continues the story of his bizarre little cartoon character Frank and his adventures in the Unifactor, a prickly cartoon universe with its own rules and physics.

Woodring is sharing the stage with German cartoonist Lilli Loge, who has created a special Tijuana Bible for the occasion. (If you don't know, Tijuana Bibles were sex comics starring bootleg versions of popular cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and Dagwood Bumstead.) Loge and Woodring will team up to create a site-specific art installation during the show.

Other Seattle cartoonists including Simon Hanselmann, DW, Marc Palm, Tom Van Deusen, Max Clotfelter, Sarah Romano Diehl, Kelly Froh, Laura Knetzger, and more will be in attendance, selling their latest books. Local publishers like Cold Cube and Paper Press Punch will be tabling at the show, too.

Unlike most shows, which generate a kind of claustrophobic feel, Hot Off the Press feels more like a stoop party. If you get sick of browsing the booths inside, you can step outside and check out the comics on the sidewalk. Fantagraphics supplies the food and drink, Georgetown provides the ambiance, and our best cartoonists offer up the entertainment. Seems like a perfect summer evening to me.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 925 E. Pike St., 658-0110,, 5 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Poets in the Park

Redmond takes its poetry seriously. Like Seattle, they have a poet laureate program (the current Redmond Poet Laureate is Melanie Noel.) But unlike Seattle, Redmond hosts an all-day poetry festival in a city park every summer. You could make the case that Redmond is doing more for poetry as a civic art than any other city in Washington.

This Saturday, Redmond hosts the Poets in the Park celebration, an all-day hoo-hah of activities, readings, and poetry classes that is free to attend. Events include a bookmaking class for kids, poetry mini-golf, and places to create your own poetry themed art.

Readers at Poets in the Park include Washington Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna, Julene Tripp Weaver, and Jeannine Hall Gailey. Local organizations represented in the day's readings include Jack Straw Writers, the African-American Writers’ Alliance, and MoonPath Press. Classes include a tutorial on how to do a list poem and a nature walk that doubles as a poetry writing prompt.

Additionally, Redmond indie bookstore Brick and Mortar Books is hosting a book fair in which any poet can sell their books. Publishers like Chin Music Press will also be on hand, along with Poets & Writers and Rose Alley Press.

Seattle doesn't do anything like this. We really should. And we should look to Redmond as an example of how to do it.

Anderson Park, 7802 168th Ave NE, 11 am,, free

Literary Event of the Week: Side Life reading at Third Place Books

Recently, I've been thinking about the formula for the only two plots in existence: someone comes to town, someone leaves town. Cory Doctorow has made hay of these two story structures, of course — it's the title of one of his books — but that framework also applies to a hell of a lot more than just fiction.

Take, for instance, the internet. When I first came online — I was a late bloomer, this was 2000 or so — you had to go hunt for stuff online. You were a stranger, wandering the internet, going from site to site. Now, of course, the strangers on the internet come to us in our little enclaves: Facebook, Twitter.

Two recent science fiction books have been swallowing my brain and jockeying for attention recently: Bandwidth by Eliot Peper and Side Life by Seattle author Steve Toutonghi. And I think part of the reason I've been thinking so much about these books is that they address this duality of storytelling. In one novel, everything comes to you. In the other, you reach out to everything else.

Here's Bandwidth's description of the feed, a central conceit of the book:

The feed was your personal lens through which to gaze into the digital abyss, the algorithmic curator that delivered what you needed when you needed it from the surfeit. It was the permeable membrane through which you experienced and participated in culture, the arbiter of what you found when you searched and what you discovered when you dipped into the rolling, throbbing cosmos of global conversation. Any individual voice or channel or vector was necessarily partisan. But the feed itself...The feed was infrastructure. Plumbing didn't know or care about a resident's sexual preferences any more than sidewalks pondered the daydreams of pedestrians. The feed was neutral. It was inviolable. It was sacred.

If this model — the future delivered to you via feed — is sacred, Side Life's technology is decidedly profane. Vin, a tech entrepreneur on the skids, accidentally discovers a new technology that moves him out into the universe in new and unexpected ways.

Vin has no memory between blacking out in the crèche and finding himself here. This must be a lucid dream. It pulls at his awareness, requiring attention the way that driving tired does. He's confused and trying to remember who he is. He says to himself, "My name is Vin Walsh." His dream responds with mysterious certainty: "I am Winston Churchill.

When Vin enters these podlike crèches, he finds himself in someone else's body in another time and another place. At first it feels like virtual reality, a game of some sort. But then he discovers he can alter reality in the worlds he's accessing. He's not passive. He's active.

I'm inclined to want to be the someone leaving town, the person walking out into the world, and maybe for that reason the story of Side Life appeals to me more than the one in Bandwidth. But this seems to be the duality we're facing as we move into the future. Are we going to be passive citizens, receiving the information that some algorithm has picked out for us? Or are we going to move about in the universe (or universes,) breaking things and figuring out our role?

Steve Toutonghi reads this Thursday at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: A Reading for Refugees

Guess how many refugees from Iraq and Syria the United States has accepted this year. Just pick a number that sounds right to you.

Did your number have four digits? Three? If so, you expect waaaaayyy too much of this country. The correct answer, according to the organizers of this reading, is 29 Iraqi refugees and 11 Syrian refugees. That's embarrassing. Jordan, by contrast — a nation of 9.5 million people — has taken in some 700,000 refugees from those countries.

The truth is that America sucks at welcoming people in need. Tonight, a new dessert shop on Capitol Hill is hosting a fundraiser reading for the Collateral Repair Project, which "provides holistic assistance to vulnerable refugees living in Amman, Jordan" using "basic-needs and trauma-relief support" to help them through traumatic times.

The readers at this event include Judy Oldfield, Matt Muth, Richard Chiem, Jakeva Phillips, Katie Lee Ellison, and Kamilla Kafiyeva. All will be reading work on displacement and war and heartbreak and the act of being a refugee. Intrigue Chocolate, which is hosting the reading, will donate a portion of the evening's proceeds to benefit the Collateral Repair Project, in order to help a nation that is actually doing its part to be a good global citizen. Unlike the United States of America, which ought to be ashamed of itself.

Intrigue Chocolate, 1520 15th Ave, 945-3277,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Conflicts of interest abound

I try to provide alternate options in the readings calendar when there's a reading that features a conflict of interest. But this Wednesday, even my alternative to the conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. But I promise you that one of these two events will almost certainly be your favorite event of the week.

Let's talk about the first conflict of interest: Angela Garbes, who was my coworker at the Elliott Bay Book Company many years ago and was my coworker at The Stranger not so many years ago, launches her new book in a reading at the Summit. Garbes is reading from her book Like a Mother, which is about "A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy." The book has received a ton of positive pre-publication attention, including a very fancy visit to Fresh Air, so you'll probably want to go to this.

And in case it wasn't conflict-of-interest-y enough for you, Garbes is joined in conversation onstage by her old friend (and also my old coworker) Lindy West. Expect a very smart conversation about why some of the most obvious facts about pregnancy and motherhood have been ignored by medical professionals since, basically, forever.

But then across town, there's an event that's even more conflict-of-interest-y than the Like a Mother event. How can that be? Well, I'm part of it.

To celebrate the release of its third print edition, Northwest literary magazine Moss is hosting a big party. It takes place in Columbia City at Type Set, the writer-centric coworking space. Food and drink are included in the entry price (which is, uh, free) and you'll hear a ton of new work from Northwest authors.

Richard Chiem, Kristen Milares Young, and Tara Roberts will read fiction and/or prose, and then Jasleena Grewal, Troy Osaki, and Rich Smith will read poetry. I'll be interviewing the poets onstage, in part to help celebrate Moss's foray into the world of poetry, which kicks off with this collected volume. (The magazine originally only featured fiction and non-fiction; they only started running poetry last year.)

Look, I can't tell you what to do on Wednesday night. They both look like great readings. But you probably already know what you want to do — and you should definitely listen to your inner voice. Sometimes the best conflict of interest is the one that's been inside you all along.

The Summit, 420 E. Pike St., 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5, 21+. and Type Set, 3827C, S Edmunds St,, 7 p.m., free

Literary Event of the Week: Planet Funny reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

Although he first made his name as one of Seattle’s two best-known Jeopardy! champions, Ken Jennings has built an interesting post-game-show career. He’s parlayed a record as the winningest Jeopardy! contestant into literary celebrity.

In addition to a line of trivia books for kids, Jennings is the author of a funny memoir about his time as a Jeopardy! champ, Brainiac. Jennings’s charming Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks proved that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder — that there is, in fact, life after Trebek.

It’s hard to talk about Jennings in a literary context without mentioning that he is very, very good at Twitter. Jennings is, in fact, a hilarious writer who perfected the idea of a zinger that could comfortably fit inside a 140- (and then 280-) character limit. You can’t help but picture him in another life writing zingers for the nightly monologue of someone like Johnny Carson.

With his newest book, Jennings is combining his literary career with his Twitter skills. Subtitled How Comedy Took Over Our Culture, Planet Funny is a history of comedy — going all the way back to Sumeria — and a reckoning for a time in which every asshole with a Twitter handle thinks they’re the host of their own goddamned Daily Show.

Jennings has been talking about the book that would become Planet Funny for years now — it’s been so long since I first heard about it at a party that I thought maybe he’d given up on the thing — but the delay came for the best reason imaginable: he’s been deep in research. Planet Funny is a deeply considered study of where comedy began, and where it’s going.

Tonight, Jennings celebrates Planet Funny’s release with a reading before a hometown crowd at Elliott Bay Book Company. These are the kind of parties that make literary life in Seattle so much fun. Go be a part of it.

Literary Event of the Week: Cascadia Mag's Almost Summer Reading

Even though there are seemingly fewer magazines and media outlets in Seattle right now than at any point in recent memory, it is surprisingly difficult to get a publication off the ground. It takes a lot of hard work to remind people to come to a website on a regular basis — hey, thanks, reader! — and Facebook won't allow publishers to find a new audience unless they pay a disgusting amount of extortion money.

That's why I admire Cascadia Magazine for launching a publication at a time when other media outlets are dashing themselves against the rocky shore of public indifference. Bolstered by a daily news email and featuring a voracious mixture of fiction and non-fiction, Cascadia has worked hard to establish a place for itself in the landscape.

Cascadia is a fine balance of a publication: it's smart but not snarky, engaging but not needy, and opinionated without being smug. Billed as "exploring ideas and cultures from the bioregion," Cascadia features author interviews, true explorations of homelessness and equitable pot farming, fiction from writers like Donna Miscolta, and poetry from writers like EJ Koh. In case you can't tell from that list, they are not screwing around at Cascadia.

On Friday, the magazine hosts its first meatspace get-together, in the form of a reading program at Vermillion, the art bar on Capitol Hill that is as close as Seattle gets to a literary hangout. Here's Cascadia's description of the readers:

You’ll hear Donna Miscolta and Anca Szilágyi read new fiction, listen to poetry from Michael Schmeltzer and Montreux Rotholtz, view photographs by Daniel Hawkins, and hear journalists Niki Stojnic and Matt Stangel talk about issues that matter to people living in the Cascadia bioregion.

All that for the low, low cost of free? Why wouldn't you show up for this? At the very least, it's important to show your support for an organization that's happily dumb enough to try to make it in the current media scene. If you find Cascadia publisher Andrew Engelson at the event, buy him a beer and toast his impeccable taste in windmill-tilting. We need more people like him.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Reads Homegoing

This is the 20th year of the Seattle Reads program, which was originally (and, in my opinion, more successfully) known as "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." You know the idea by now: the Seattle Public Library chooses a book and delivers many dozens of copies to branches around the city. Then, in May, they bring the author to town to read in multiple locations and formats over the course of about a week.

This year's Seattle Reads choice is Homegoing, the debut novel by Yaa Gyasi. (You can see a calendar of Gyasi's appearances on SPL's website.) Homegoing tracks the lives of two sisters born in the 18th century. One is captured and sold into slavery, the other marries into a privileged family. Gyasi follows the sisters and their descendants through history with the confidence one normally associates with someone who has published a long line of novels. It is not a DFW-style doorstop, but it somehow spans 250 years from cover to cover.

Gyasi is arriving in Seattle at a high point in her career - when Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to you as "an inspiration," you know you're doing something right - but it's easy to imagine that she'll ascend to even higher peaks in years to come. The Seattle Reads program is a great way for our city to stake a claim on Gyasi's future success, to ensure that she'll return to share her victories with us for years to come.

(Various locations and times, free.)

Literary Event of the Week: Side Life reading at University Book Store

"The story has a note of urgency, but it is also set in a very familiar context," Author Steve Toutonghi told me last year about his then-upcoming novel Side Life. He was unveiling the cover of the book, and we had a great conversation about all the work that modern book covers have to do - they have to be attractive and unique in a display, on a shelf, and as postage-stamp sized images on websites.

"I'm sort of at the edge of my seat to see what this [cover] will look like in the context of a table at a store," Toutonghi said at the time. This week, he finally gets to see: Side Life is finally in bookstores everywhere tomorrow. And this Thursday, Toutonghi debuts the book in a reading at University Book Store.

Side Life certainly lives up to Toutonghi's brief description from last year: It's familiar to any Seattleite. The book takes place in and around Seattle - our freeways, our hills - and the characters in it live on the fringes of our tech-drunk culture. Vin is a wannabe tech star who has been booted from his own company. Dejected, he winds up a housesitter at a Queen Anne mansion.

And the story is urgent from the very beginning. The house in Side Life is haunted, but not by ghosts. Instead, it's haunted by technology: smooth coffins that look like a consumer tech product, notebooks full of computer code, and creeping sense that reality might not be real.

Side Life has been a long time in the making, but it couldn't feel any more relevant. In a time when seemingly everyone is welcoming always-on speakers into their homes and Seattle teeters on the edge of some ugly revelations about the state of the tech economy, this book plays up those anxieties and centers them in one very familiar, very urgent story.

University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Free Comic Book Day in Seattle

There are a lot of really fine events happening this week, but there's no question what the Literary Event of the Week is: This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, the day when just about every comic shop in the region offers up free comics to anyone who walks in.

This year's FCBD is a bittersweet one: it's Seattle's very first Free Comic Book Day without long-running downtown store Zanadu Comics, which recently closed its doors. Zanadu fell prey to some very Seattle problems - rising rent - and some of the same problem that comics shops around the country are suffering from.

Comics aren't a niche medium anymore, but the industry still behaves like it's an embarrassing hobby: there's only one nationwide comics distributor, and the two big publishers aren't drawing in audience the way they used to. It remains to be seen if Marvel Comics can recover from a recent sales slump - funny how those movie audiences aren't walking into comics shops, isn't it? - and it remains to be seen if the growing graphic novel sections in independent bookshops will carve away too much business from comics-only shops.

But enough doom and gloom! Seattle still has a remarkable array of comics shops, and many of them are hosting special events for FCBD. Outsider Comics & Geek Boutique in Fremont is hosting a ton of local cartoonists all day long, including Colleen Frakes and Tatiana Gill. Arcane Comics in Shoreline is hosting cartoonists Lisa Pelayre and Marty Gordon, along with a bunch of fun all-ages activities from Parenting Geekly and a huge sale. The Fantagraphics Bookstore in Georgetown is hosting Seattle cartooning goddess Ellen Forney, who'll be signing her new book Rock Steady.

For more information about the closest store to you, visit And while you should definitely pick up some free comics, if you're not currently strapped for cash or if you regularly attend comics shops, you should buy a book or two while you're visiting to subsidize all the books the shops are giving away to new customers. Comics have probably given you a lot of joy in your life; it only makes sense to pay some of that forward.

Literary Event of the Week: Independent Bookstore Day

This Saturday, you should prepare yourself for the best independent bookstore celebration day of the year (at least until next Saturday's Free Comic Book Day and this November's Small Business Saturday.) Yes, it's Independent Bookstore Day, in which area bookstores offer up bargains, freebies, and special events to anyone who visits. (Earlier this month, I talked with the owners of two small local indie bookstores, Burien's Page 2 Books and Bothell's Neverending Bookshop, about their plans for the day.)

Independent Bookstore Day is intended to start a national conversation about the importance of independent bookselling, and it's pretty hardcore: hundreds of Seattle-area folks will be racing around the region in an effort to visit all 19 participating bookstores and get their special passports stamped. Everyone who succeeds in this mission will earn 25 percent off all purchases at every one of the bookstores for the next year. If you don't want to devote a whole day to driving around the region, you can get stamps from three bookstores and earn a one-time 30 percent off at any participating bookstore.

There will be a bunch of special items available on Saturday, including a broadside with art representing all the participating stores and a literary map of Seattle. Additionally, audiobook retailer wonderful site that partners with independent bookstores-will be offering several free audio books and samplers for download.

You're on this site, so you probably don't need me to lecture you about why bookstores are among humanity's greatest inventions. But you might need me to remind you that, even in the midst of a fairly dreary spring, it's important to show up for Seattle's Independent Bookstore Day, to be counted as a supporter of the amazing resources that our region enjoys. We're all on the same team, here. Now let's show up for each other.

See for more information.

Literary Event of the Week: Sloane Crosley at Elliott Bay Book Company

Sloane Crosley's ascent from book publicist to popular literary humorist is well-documented, though it's not exactly unbelievable - if you want to write books, why wouldn't you get a career working with books? But still, her stint as a book publicist is a part of the mythology of Crosley. Can you believe it?, people seem to be asking when they recount Crosley's biography, she went from writing…shudder….press releases to writing comedic essays!

For me, the unbelievable part of Crosley's story came after her first book of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, was published. She ascended from basically an unknown to a literary celebrity overnight. It's as though Crosley effortlessly landed, fully formed, in the pantheon of literary humorists alongside David Sedaris and Dorothy Parker. Her talent didn't seem to require any unfurling or practice runs: immediately, she displayed a real skill for humor. The rhythm and cadence of comedy came naturally for Crosley, and she wrote like she was born to make people laugh.

I enjoyed Crosley's first novel, The Clasp, which was a wry and observant study of friendship. But I'm thrilled that her latest book, Look Alive Out There, is a return to the form that made her name - comedic essays. The pieces in this book reflect on the smallest facets of human experience, from the unique challenges of living on top of neighbors in dense urban areas to the expectation of performative do-gooderism when confronted with a moral dilemma in public.

Crosley's gifted at finding the killer line, which perfectly summarizing a situation. Here she is, falling in with friends who are into enneagrams:

One night after work, I go over to their apartment so they can figure out my personality number. This is a fantastically indulgent exercise, like a four-handed massage or group therapy in which only one person's problems are addressed.

Here she is, being sent by a magazine to investigate a chupacabra sighting in Vermont:

I am a less-than-ideal candidate for the job. I don't specialize in mythical-creature hunting or even run-of-the-mill hunting. But the unspoken part of the enterprise is not to find the chupacabra, but to find myself instead, to make a larger point about the power of the imagination, to discover a tick on my shin after traipsing through the woods. Won't that be fun?

This Friday, Crosley debuts Look Alive Out There at Elliott Bay Book Company. She'll be funny and charming and self-deprecating and hearing her read her stories in her own voice will likely make the stories even funnier than they are on paper. You're guaranteed to laugh; she's a natural at this.

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Parts Per Million reading at Third Place Books Seward Park

Portland author Julia Stoops started writing her debut novel Parts Per Million in 2002, when liberal America was trying in vain to keep President George W. Bush from going to war with Iraq. It's hard to recall now, after Occupy and Black Lives Matter and the Women's March and the March for our Lives, but 2002 made activism feel like a fool's errand. It seemed - to me, anyway, and to many of my friends - that the age of protest had passed, and that the people were powerless in the face of such relentless evil.

Parts Per Million is a kaleidoscopic novel composed of dozens of short chapters from the perspective of three activists in this time of little hope for activism. They're all compelling characters. Jen is an embittered computer hacker. Irving is a former soldier who dedicates his time to fighting the system he defended. John is optimistic but becoming exhausted that they're not making any progress. They record a radio show, but they're not sure anybody's really listening. They don't know if anything matters.

"The Marysville firebombing was the start," Ian warns us at the beginning of the book, "But what blew up in our faces that year was bigger than that blaze." The three activists find themselves at odds, serving as a kind of microcosm for the way progressives always tear themselves apart.

Parts Per Million is an ambitious first book: it's a thriller and a novel about a friendship in peril and it's a critique of protest culture and it's a love letter to those who are willing to earnestly fight for what they believe, even when it seems that everyone else has given up. (In case you were wondering where Stoops's loyalties lie, the book is dedicated to "environmental activists of every stripe," because "One day you will be considered heroes.") Fans of Edward Abbey's seminal The Monkeywrench Gang will enjoy the way Stoops rethinks and enlivens the concept for a new generation.

This Wednesday, April 11th, Stoops will read and take questions at Third Place Books Seward Park starting at 7 pm in the Seattle debut of her book. If you've ever felt helpless in the face of a giant, uncaring machine, you'll recognize something of yourself in Parts Per Million, and you'll likely find kindred spirits at the reading for the book.

Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.