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Whatcha Reading, Jez Burrows?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jez Burrows has just released his first book of short stories, Dictionary Stories, in which he also invented a new form: assembling short stories from Dictionary example sentances. (I liked the book quite a bit). He's a writer, illustrator, and designer. He, a Brit, lives in San Francisco.

What are you reading now?

I’ve accidentally ended up in the midst of two books about people in search of apocryphal or spiritual MacGuffins. The first is David Grann’s ‘tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon’, The Lost City of Z, in which he attempts to retrace the steps of the British explorer Percy Fawcett. I’m a sucker for doomed expeditions and jungle-bound lost cities, so I’m practically inhaling the thing. The second is Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s story of surviving the concentration camps of WWII and developing his approach to psychotherapy as a result. Impossible to summarise neatly without sounding glib or reductive, but I can tell it’s a book I’ll want to revisit frequently.

What did you read last?

Two totally remarkable short story collections. I suspected I might be in love with Attrib. and Other Stories by Eley Williams almost immediately, but knew it was true when I read, “I am the first to admit my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll,” or maybe, “What’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone?” It frequently reminded me of Ali Smith, another writer who wears a playful love of language on her sleeve — they both reel you in with wordplay, only to completely blindside you with their lyricism. I also loved Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, which is another slim and unassuming collection that completely took me by surprise. Profoundly strange and skin —crawling shorts that deal with gender, suicide, love, Scandinavian folklore… plus, there’s a particularly lovely coda about Tidbeck translating her own work from her native Swedish into English.

What are you reading next?

All 1660 pages of Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc have been looming over me for months so it’s probably time to take a deep breath and dive in. There are a couple more short story collections in the pile, too: Daniel Alarcón’s The King is Always Above the People and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

Whatcha Reading, Ivan Schneider?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Ivan Schneider is a writer, critic (you may have read him on this very site), and theorist on animals in historic literature. As he mentions below, he is appearing next Saturday at The Academy of Reason & Wonder in a face-off titled "CATS vs. DOGS". The physical experience, at The Grocery has sold out, but you can always tune in on the Facebook livestream.

What are you reading now?

In preparation for a “CATS vs. DOGS” talk that I’m co-hosting next Saturday at The Academy of Reason & Wonder (sold out, watch the livestream here), I’m re-reading a few of the talking-dog stories that most inspired me: “Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol, “Investigations of a Dog” by Franz Kafka, and “The Dogs’ Colloquy” by Cervantes.

Questions about real dogs may also come up, and so I’m reading The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben (author of The Hidden Life of Trees), and the bookstore pet-shelf perennial Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.

I am also finding other talking-dog stories by following the trail within Nisi Shawl’s recent column about dogs in SFFH. I read with glee her remarkable short story “Black Betty,” which to my knowledge is the first talking-dog story that brings to the forefront the racially-coded aspects of the dog’s spoken dialect (rather than the fact that it speaks at all).

Caroline didn’t like the way Betty talked. “Where’d you get her voice box, anyway, Dad?” she asked Greg. “Did you buy it off some homie on the corner?”

It took a while till Betty understood the problem. Race had never been an issue before. She had heard the Fraziers discussing white people, of course, but like any other dog, talking or non, her sense of color just wasn’t that strong.

Gradually she came to realize that what she was dealing with were sort of like super-packs. Though there were several of them, her dilemma involved only two. The Fraziers belonged to the one which called itself black; it was small and not all that powerful compared to some others. The Dunnetts were what was known as white. And apparently — because of her markings? — they’d accepted Betty as part of their super-pack, believing she was a white as well.

Until she talked.

What did you read last?

Canaima by Rómulo Gallegos (1884-1969). This 1935 novel is an adventure story about a young man who seeks his fortune in the Venezuelan jungles. Along the way we learn about the workings of the merchant class, the corrupt politicians and police, blood feuds, the exploitation of gold miners and rubber-gum extractors, and the destruction of the native peoples.

For four months in 1948, Gallegos was president of Venezuela. A military coup sent him into a decade of exile, after which he returned to Venezuela where he was named Senator for Life. His legacy includes the biannual Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, which comes with a €100,000 cash prize. Last year’s award was postponed due to Venezuela’s continuing economic crisis; and it may or may not be held again in August 2018.

This reading is part of a larger project, as I’m not just randomly pulling books off the shelf.

By way of background: I’m learning Spanish, as is the patriotic duty of every American. Or if that’s too much for you, it’s the basic civility of a good neighbor.

As I’m probably a few years away from being able to comfortably read a novel in Spanish, I’m working through a list of translated works by Gallegos, Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and others referenced in the essay collection The Great Latin American Novel by Carlos Fuentes.

I already consider this project to be a tremendous success, as Fuentes has led me to Epitaph of a Small Winner (1881) by the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis (1839-1908), who shares with Gogol a deep fascination with the nose:

Did you ever ponder the function of the nose, beloved reader? The explanation proffered by Dr. Pangloss is that noses were created to support spectacles, and I confess that for a time I found this theory satisfactory; but one day, while I was meditating this and other obscure points of philosophy, I hit upon the true, authentic explanation.

Indeed, I had merely to remember the custom of the fakirs. The reader doubtless knows that a fakir will spend long hours looking at the tip of his nose, with the sole purpose of seeing the divine light. When he fixes his eyes on the tip of his nose, he loses the sense of external things, creates within his mind a beautiful image of himself, grasps the intangible, shakes off his earthly shackles, dissolves himself, and becomes etherealized. This sublimation of one’s being, via the tip of the nose, is one of the most lofty phenomena of the spirit, and the faculty of achieving it is by no means confined to fakirs; it is universal. Every man has the need and the ability to contemplate his own nose, in order to see the divine light, and such contemplation, resulting in the subordination of the universe to one nose, establishes social equilibrium. If noses contemplated only each other, the human race would not last two centuries; indeed, it would not have survived the most primitive tribes.

The conclusion, therefore, is that there are two major forces in society: love, which multiplies the species, and the nose, which subordinates it to the individual. Procreation, equilibrium.

(translation by William L. Grossman, Noonday Press, New York 1952)

Because I will now have to read everything ever written by Machado de Assis, I will soon have to abandon my studies in Spanish so that I may take up Portuguese. In that sense, my current project is already a tremendous failure.

What are you reading next?

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

I first read Vásquez when reviewing Lunatics, Lovers, and Poets for the Seattle Review of Books. I’ve kept up with a few of the authors in that collection, such as with Valeria Luiselli’s unforgettable Tell Me How It Ends and Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow.

I was intrigued by the podcast of Mlodinow’s talk at Town Hall on his new book Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change. Then I found his earlier book, Subliminal, at Mercer Street Used Books, and bought it for the cover alone. Mlodinow has been added to my science reading list, but that’s a story for another time.

Whatcha Reading, Jonathan Evison?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jonathan Evison's latest novel Lawn Boy has just come out. Join him this Tuesday at University Bookstore for a discussion and book signing.

What are you reading now?

I'm currently reading Memento Park, which is a supremely assured, elegantly crafted second novel from a former book blogger Mark Sarvas (The Elegant Variation). Mark was always a very tough critic, not unlike Peter Bogdanovich, and like Bogdanovich, Sarvas has put his money where his mouth is and delivered a fine piece of work about fathers and sons, art, and family revelations. It's totally unlike any book I would ever write, which is another reason I'm digging it.

What did you read last?

I just finished (for the second time!) a spectacular self- published novel called Jimmy James Blood by Missy Ann Peterson. Missy comes to the literary world out of nowhere. Last I checked she was working on a road crew in Montana. It's obvious the novel is born of hard-bitten experience. Reading Jimmy James Blood is a visceral and stirring experience from the very first sentence. Missy goes from lyrical to gritty in a single turn of phrase, and she does it over and over again. I am currently lobbying publishers to grant this book the release it deserves.

What are you reading next?

Sigh. So many choices, so little time. As you might imagine, my "blurb pile" is halfway to the ceiling. I'm not even sure what's next in the queue, but in the spirit of our forthcoming NHL franchise, I'm hoping to soon read an early draft of Jarret Middleton's Heart of Winter, which is destined to be the definitive hockey novel of the twenty-first century (not hyperbole!).

Whatcha Reading, Jennifer Haupt?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Jennifer Haupt is a Seattle-based journalist, and now, novelist. Her first, In the Shadow of Ten Thousand Hills, comes out tomorrow, April 1st. Join her, in conversation with Jennie Shortridge, for her book release celebration, Friday, April 6th, at 7:00pm at The Elliott Bay Book Company.

What are you reading now?

I’m obsessed with interesting family relationships, the way we build families and the legacy of dysfunction and passion that is passed from generation to generation. Now I’m reading Jhumpa Lahari’s new collection of linked short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, which is fabulous because it takes readers to different locales, familiar (to me) and far-flung: Seattle, Cambridge, India and Thailand. The stories explore various family relationships and the emotional territory that comes along with that.

What did you read last?

The last novel I read was Before Everything, by Victoria Redel. This is a beautifully written, funny and touching, story about the power of female friendships. The story is wonderful and the structure is engaging. These women are frail and funny, and a kind of extended family.

What are you reading next?

Next up for me is The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper. I’m a bit late on the uptake for this novel about the real sisters behind the characters in Little Women, which has received excellent reviews. I usually stick to contemporary novels, which is a little weird since much of my novel takes place during the civil rights era in Atlanta and the Rwanda genocide of 1994, but sometimes I do like to dip into other time periods. Now, I’m really wanting to escape into a time when life in our country was simpler.

Whatcha Reading, Kory Stamper?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Kory Stamper is a lexographer, who worked for the Merriam-Webster family of dictionaries for twenty years. Her first book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries is just out in paperback. Town Hall is bringing her to Seattle this Sunday, March 25, at the Campion Ballroom on the Seattle Univeristy campus.

What are you reading now?

I usually have a couple of books running at once, because that's just the sort of nerd I am. My major reading is work-related: right now it's Bright Earth by Philip Ball. I'm working on another nonfiction book about color, and Ball's book is a readable and engaging book on the complexities of color by a different kind of specialist. To clear out the brainpan before bed so I can actually sleep and not bolt awake at 3:00am thinking about the color orange, I re-read a few pages of either Wolf Hall or Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. When I first got the books, I devoured them — I think I read Bring Up The Bodies in one sitting. The characters are familiar but painted in such sympathetic detail, and the writing has such a lovely texture and rhythm and playfulness to it. I re-read books like that before bed because they usually draw me in enough that I'm not trying to fall asleep while thinking about prisms and what "magenta" really means.

What did you read last?

This is going to be the nerdiest answer you've likely ever received. For work, I read a series of monographs on colorimetry (the science of measuring the visible color spectrum) by Deane B. Judd, mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s. Even though I'm no kind of scientist, there were some fascinating tidbits in there about these amazing advances science had made in the accurate wavelength measurement of color juxtaposed with the reality that, in some cases, nothing beats the human eye for perception. It makes a non-scientist like me realize just how much of the human is involved in something I assume is wholly clinical, technical.

I also just finished reading Lynne Murphy's The Prodigal Tongue, a book about the differences between British and American English. The way she delves into it is so refreshing and is generally free of the sort of finger-wagging language shaming or chest-thumping defensiveness you see from both nations when the subject comes up.

What are you reading next?

I have spent — no joke — days trying to figure this out. Most people have a "to read" pile at home; I have a "to read" bookshelf and about six pages of "to read" suggestions, most of them marked with a star or exclamation point to remind myself that I really want to read this.

First up will be the new YA novel by my sister-in-law, Vesper Stamper: What The Night Sings. It's a gorgeously illustrated story about Holocaust survivors after the war, and I've been waiting for the right time to binge-read it. Another book I have recently added to that list is Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone In The Dark; the double-obsession narrative really intrigues me. I've also got some journal articles about gender and science on my work-to-read list. And I will probably cycle out the Mantel books as bedtime reading and cycle in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Everything's better when it ends with some Douglas Adams.

Whatcha Reading, Maris Kreizman?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Maris Kreizman is a writer, critic, and author of Slaughterhouse 90210.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Helen DeWitt’s novel, Lightning Rods. Now that I’m freelancing I have some time to catch up on a few of the books I missed now that I’m not frantically trying to read new things all the time. I don’t even want to try to explain what the premise of Lightning Rods is because wow, it’s a doozy. Let’s just say that its treatment of women in the workplace is particularly disturbing and apropos in the #MeToo era. It’s one of those satires of corporate culture that I’d like to believe is too wacky and too dystopic to be true, but I never say never to anything anymore.

I also plan on going to Books Are Magic to buy Sunburn by Laura Lippman today.

What did you read last?

I was just in conversation with Elif Batuman for the paperback launch of The Idiot, and she is one of the smartest and funniest people ever. So I revisited the novel, and I got caught up in it just as much as the first time. I have never read such an earnest coming-of-age novel that was so much about intellectual curiosity (it’s set during the heroine’s first year at Harvard in 1995) and how to craft one’s own narrative. It’s an actual campus novel that doesn’t have much sex or drugs or partying in it but who cares? It’s about falling in love with ideas, as well as one pretentious upperclassman who describes a dog as such: “It has such soulful eyes. They’re somehow Dostoevskian.” What a dick, right? Perfection.

What are you reading next?

I'm working on a piece about true crime, so I recently read Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, which will change the way I read any other work of true crime from now on. It will remind me to consider the role of the journalist in the telling of a story that’s meant to entertain and horrify in equal measures. With this in mind, next up is The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, a book about the Golden State Killer that will be published posthumously. Author Michelle McNamara’s suddenly died while writing the book, and so it was up to her husband, Patton Oswalt, to tie up the loose ends. Tragedy upon tragedy, and yet I’m eager to read the piece of art that resulted.

Whatcha Reading, Rufi Thorpe?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Rufi Thorpe is the author of the novels The Girls From Corona Del Mar, and most recently, Dear Fang, With Love (which I unabashedly gushed over). She lives in Calfiornia, and aren't we curious what this is gonna be about?

What are you reading now?

I realize this is peak nerd, but I’m reading Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden, which is about the evolution of human intelligence. Sagan is trying to synthesize anthropological evidence, evolutionary biology, psychology and computer science to paint a portrait of how our intelligence and consciousness arose. I’m always a sucker for the hard-problem of consciousness, and I think when I was younger I was more interested in mystical or abstract/philosophical explorations of those central questions. But after having children, our animal nature has just never been clearer to me, and so I have had to consider human beings all over again in a new light. Sagan is accessible and funny, but the ideas are complicated and fascinating, the kind that make you gasp in the bathtub and close the book because you are dizzy with tracing the ramifications.

What did you read last?

Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. I made a commitment to myself for 2017 to read the entirety of both Jane Smiley and Margaret Atwood, which is really the ultimate form of self care because neither of them can write a book that is less than brilliant. I’ve mostly been listening to the audiobook versions. I do a lot of reading for my professional life — to blurb or review or just keep up, but I tend to choose audiobooks for my pleasure reading, and then I listen as I do dishes, fold laundry, walk dogs, drive. I love audiobooks too because they read slower than I would read the text visually, so I have room to think a lot about what the writer is doing and why and how. With Horse Heaven, which is a massive multi-threaded novel set in the world of horse racing, I fell in love in a way I’m not sure I have since I was eight and first reading Anne of Green Gables. You know that feeling of just never, ever, ever wanting the book to end? That you would willingly trade your own consciousness and life in order to exist solely in the matrix of the fictive world? That is how I felt about Horse Heaven. And I don’t even like horses!

What are you reading next?

Well, Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward is definitely on my list. I’m always extremely interested in books about prison or people getting out of prison. Prison seems to me to be the sort of elephant in the room of modern life. The US has about two million people incarcerated in either prison or jail, 1 in every 37 adults is under some form of correctional supervision. We have no coherent social position in terms of why we are doing this. No one is clear on whether incarceration is meant as punishment or rehabilitation, and meanwhile we have overwhelming evidence that spending time in prison does nothing but further criminalize people and make it less likely for them to find gainful employment and build a happy, functional life. And yet, in a single year we can spend $81 billion on corrections. We invest so much of our energy and our resources as a nation into a system that apparently does nothing positive at all. It’s so irrational that you know it is at the very heart of everything that is wrong.

Whatcha Reading, Paige Embry?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Paige Embry is the Seattle-based author of the new book Our Native Bees: North Ameria's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight To Save Them. She'll be appearing next Friday, March 2nd, at The Elliott Bay Book Company to talk about bees, her book, and her journey from geologist, to gardener, to bee expert.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Anthony Doerr’s collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. I’ve only just begun but find myself entranced by the title story, sucked in by the lure of the unfamiliar: the location in East Africa, the idea of being a blind shell collector and most of all, the exotic shells themselves and the creatures that inhabit them. As a writer, I read some of Doerr’s descriptions with awe and a little envy. On one page I find “a crab-guarded socket in the coral” and “a tiny tessellated cone.” Tessellated — what a delightful word. It is perfectly descriptive, has a pleasing sound and is also a little bit exotic—not a word commonly used in every day conversation. In short, I’m finding the first story in this collection a pleasure on many levels and I’m looking forward to seeing how the other stories compare.

What did you read last?

I like to re-read books, and when I’m under the weather I almost always pull out some old faithful. The books I choose in this situation aren’t mentally challenging, not even on the first read. What they all have is a character, or a group of characters, that I like and a world that is a respite to sink into.

The book that I turned to for this latest bout of illness was Komarr, part of a sci-fi series written by Lois McMaster Bujold. Komarr is toward the end of a series of about ten books based on a male character, Miles Vorkosigan. In the first book he’s 17 or 18 and in the last book I read he’s pushing 40. He lives in a world where humans have spread from Earth to inhabit many planets but there are no other sentient beings. The ethos of the planets varies. One, for example, is uber-liberal — a kind of Scandinavia on steroids. Miles’s planet is authoritarian, militaristic and unforgiving of mutations. Miles is smart and the son of a powerful man but he was damaged in utero and so is only 4’9”. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and over the course of the series you get to watch him grow up and deal with his reality. The stories are enjoyable, some of the side characters are well-developed and I like Miles. He and his world are a comforting place to go visit when I’m feeling ill.

What are you reading next?

For Christmas I bought my husband The Soul of the Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. I usually try and buy him a book (or books) that seem just perfect for him. I confess that I bought this one knowing he’d likely enjoy it but if he didn’t—oh well, I certainly wanted to read it. Learning about octopuses (apparently it is octopuses and not octopi because octopus is derived from Greek, and you don’t plunk Latin endings onto Greek-derived words) would be a good enough reason for me to take a look at this book but I’m also interested to see the author’s approach to the subject since she didn’t start out as an octopus expert. She developed an interest and then threw herself into research — I can relate to that — and I’m looking forward to seeing how she handles it.

Whatcha Reading, Alix Christie?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Alix Christie is a writer and journalist based in London. Her novel Gutenberg's Apprentice (which I absolutely adored) came out in 2014. She's at work on a new novel about her Scots ancestors in the Pacific Northwest.

What are you reading now?

Almost finished Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. These stories are blowing my mind. On the one hand they're visceral, sexy, physical, and on the other fantasmagorically surreal — yet also terrifyingly plausible. Each one is a take on the obliteration of the female body, the violence to which it is constantly prey in this society. Yet they're dreamlike, logical, beguiling—brilliantly devised. I am in awe of her imaginative power and look forward to reading much more.

What did you read last?

A remarkable travelogue, Notes from the Century Before: a Journal from British Columbia by Edward Hoagland, in the Modern Library Exploration Series. It describes a 1966 journey through the roadless B.C. interior east of the Alaska panhandle. I can't remember ever reading such astonishing descriptions of landscape and people. Hoagland has a razor eye and manages to marry physical traits with moral or metaphysical ones: one fellow "has a rather strange biblical face, rather like Lincoln's"; he looks "as though his face were younger underneath the skin than outside." Nor could I have imagined so many different and precise ways to depict rough and turbulent landscape: "The mountains around were like modern war. … Chains of them extended on in laughing, awesome serration to the four skylines, not a hero among them, just a fierce mass of tire irons and short knives." Some of his attitudes are dated, but the man wields absolutely extraordinary prose.

What are you reading next?

It's a toss-up between the first translation by a woman of Homer's The Odyssey and an enjoyable historical novel, in this case A Gentleman in Moscow which a sophisticated reader friend enthusiastically recommends. I admit to not ever having read the Odyssey, but reports of the brilliance and clarity of Emily Wilson's translation convinced me to buy the book. She apparently conveys Homer's women with more insight, and the opening line is a stunner: "Tell me about a complicated man." We're talking 500+ pages though, and my hibernating winter self is sorely tempted by what I am told is Amor Towles' uplifting story of a man with integrity and heart. I'll keep you posted.

Whatcha Reading, Dawn McCarra Bass?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they’re digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Dawn McCarra Bass is the Associate Editor of the Seattle Review of Books, as well as a voracious reader and writer. It was fun to hear what she picks up when she's not editing reviews and reading all those long internet articles for the Sunday Post.

What are you reading now?

I just started Descender, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. I've been collecting single issues unread since April 2015, apparently. (I have a bad habit of hoarding books I expect will be good — against, I guess, some downturn in fortune when I'll need them. Book of Dust, Acceptance, I'm looking at you.)

I am batshit, batshit crazy about Jeff Lemire; he does loneliness and desolation with exceptional clarity and grace. He doesn’t push self-pity on his characters or ask the reader to feel pity for them — just reminds you how human it is to be lost — whether he’s writing about an over-the-hill hockey player or, in this case, a little boy who’s an android. And the art by Nguyen is gorgeous, utterly signature to the series and yet infinitely adaptable to its moods.

What did you read last?

Lolas' House, by M. Evelina Galang, which captures the stories of a group of Filipino women who were held in Japanese rape camps during World War II. It went on my list while I was working on Donna Miscolta's review and finally made it to the top. It's a hard book to read; I did it in two days, then had a hangover for a week. But it's brilliantly done. Galang intersperses testimonials from the lolas, grandmother-aged women who were anywhere from 12 to 24 when they were abducted, with her own emotional and physical experience both of knowing the women and of re-living their stories with them. Were you inclined to intellectualize, she refuses to let you do it, you have to live it right along with her.

I’m not always able to read the books our freelancers cover, but I like to when I can. Our writers are fucking amazing, and their perspectives are so interesting that I can’t resist going to see for myself.

What are you reading next?

I wish I knew. I have two books sitting next to me right now, and one of them is wrapped up in brown paper with a "Phinney by Post" stamp on it — the first of the year. The other is The Correspondence, by J. D. Daniels, picked after a bit of browsing because it looked like it might fit one of my favorite categories: small, personal, surprising books. Physical format, book design, and guesswork . . . It's how I came across Maggie Nelson's Bluets, Sarah Manguso's Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, Scott McClanahan's The Sarah Book. Also incredible curation by booksellers, of course, who I'm pretty sure "force" them off the shelves like cardsharps.

Whatcha Reading, Donna Miscolta?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Donna Miscolta is a Seattle-based writer, most recently of the story collection Hola and Goodbye, and a frequent contributer to the Seattle Review of Books.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years. Authorship is attributed to Susan F. Quimpo and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo who combined their separate accounts of life (and death) during the Marcos regime. However, the two siblings sent the merged manuscript to their other siblings who also ended up contributing to the text. They were ten siblings in all — bookish, physically slight teenagers or young adults who were involved in one way or another in the resistance, drastically changing their lives. Some were detained in camps, some eventually left the country, two were disappeared. Highly readable and thoroughly captivating.

What did you read last?

I read Pretend We Are Lovely, a novel by Noley Reid. It shows the unraveling of a family in the aftermath of unspeakable loss complicated by distorted relationships with food and unmet needs for emotional nourishment. The story is told from multiple points of view, often with quick cuts between characters that magnify their individual and shared crises. I read Reid’s story collection So There! a few years ago and loved the grace of her prose and how she brings us nose-to-nose with the flawed humanity of her characters.

What are you reading next?

Mayumi Tsutakawa gave me a copy of Jacob the Mutant by Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin, so I’m going to give it a try. Experimental fiction is a challenge for me. The book is a compact little thing, which makes it all the more scary. I fear the ambiguity, enigma, and cunning compressed in those pages that will slip right past my traditionalist mindset. But it has a fabulous cover, so I’m intrigued.

Whatcha Reading, Kevin Craft?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Kevin Craft is the director of the Written Arts Program at Everett Community College, a poet, and longtime editor at Poetry Northwest. He's also our Poet in Residence for January.

What are you reading now?

I'm just finishing Langdon Cook's Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon from River to Table. It's an adventurous book — a wilderness of reportage, zigzagging all over the Pacific northwest, from Sacramento, CA to Cordova, AK, from the mouth of the Columbia to the source of the Snake, investigating in detail the history and current status of wild salmon populations. We get the big picture from this book: Native practices, the plundering greed and hydro-technical faith of Euro-settlers that caused salmon populations to plummet, the mixed blessing of the hatchery programs, the wild runs that remain. Cook connects it all to the way we live now: how salmon finds its way to supermarkets and restaurants and backyard grills. His prose is colorful, punchy, brisk — driven by a profound if understated sense for the tragedy of environmental degradation, though his real skill is hooking in the many fascinating, territorial characters who make a living around salmon, bringing their hopes and struggles for a sustainable future to the page.

What did you read last?

I recently finished reading Paisley Rekdal's Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), alongside Jason Whitmarsh's The Histories (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2017) with a group of poetry students. I was interested in exploring what is sometimes called "documentary poetics" from two very distinct angles. Rekdal's book is a brilliant example of this kind of writing: it is many documentary angles in and of itself, including a suite of recombinant sonnets written in the voice of Mae West, and sequence of sonnets paired with photographs of anonymous skulls found buried in a Colorado state mental institution. The abiding pathos with which Rekdal restores these lost voices, the comical and the tragic, deepens our sense of what poetry, as vessel and vicissitude, can accomplish in a time when public memory is all slippery slope and sloppy lies. By comparison, Whitmarsh's table of contents (most begin with the title "History of...," such as "History of Therapy" and "History of Language") reads like the course curriculum of an eccentric liberal arts degree. Most are prose poems, short fables of modern life infused with wry, quiet humor. The prevailing voice is detachment — the dead-pan mode of Lydia Davis comes to mind — detailed like a scientific proof of some elusive emotional experience. As "documentary," these poems remind us that the facts of history may be hard to nail down, but we live inside our own fictions anyway, and we're better off learning how to navigate the absurd than pretending the world can ever be made right or whole or perfectly understood.

What are you reading next?

I have a number of books lined up for a new course I'm teaching in Young Adult Literature, starting with Kirstin Levine's The Lions of Little Rock. It's such a great, eye-opener of a story, depicted in smart detail from the perspective of a shy middle school girl struggling to find her voice. I plan to revisit The Outsiders, and move from there through some recent classics and hopeful bestsellers in the genre — Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Erica Sanchez's I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Reynolds & Kiley's All American Boys, and others like it. Finding voice is a natural theme of adolescence, of course. So is parsing right from wrong, learning how to recognize truth, forming moral character and judgment. I'm interested in seeing how these themes play out in stories addressing social justice, group adhesion or exclusion, racial segregation, gender conformity, the works. I've got my hands full, no doubt. We'll see how it goes — I'm excited to discover what my students are thinking and seeing now.

Whatcha reading, Lauren Cerand?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Lauren Cerand is a literary publicist extraordinaire, PR rep, and strategic consultant based out of New York (and, full disclosure, a previous sponsor of the SRoB). She's working on great stuff this year: new works by Tayari Jones, Molly Crabapple, Daniel Handler (as well as Lemony Snicket), the Windham-Campbell Prizes, and Relegation Books.

What are you reading now?

I have been learning Italian — going to weekly language and conversation classes — for about six months, so I try to read Italian literature and books about Italian culture as often as I can. Right now I'm reading Natalia Ginzburg's Family Lexicon (NYRB Classics), which reminds me in some ways of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a novel that absolutely floored me in its depiction of a world of desire and fantasy encroached upon by malevolent forces. Family Lexicon in that in-between genre that we don't have so much here in America, a bit like French auto-fiction, where some elements are obviously novelistic and some are true and even more so, it's not really the point of the exercise. We tend to be obsessed with the idea of an objective truth to the exclusion of all else. The story is about a family living in Turin, their secret jokes and typical idiosyncrasies, and what their anti-fascism will cost them. Right now it's still early in the book, and the heroine's observations about her family, and how they might be different than other families, are richly layered with cultural and historical significance that I'm still puzzling out, sort of like when reading Georges Perec's "I Remember". So I'm taking this one slow, even though it's not a terribly long text.

What did you read last?

Owing to the aforementioned interest in Italian culture, I recently read a mystery, which I wouldn't normally gravitate to in other circumstances. It's called The Apothecary's Shop by Roberto Tiraboschi, and it was published by Europa Editions, which also put out Ties by Domenico Starnone, a novel of a marriage and family relationships that are not what they seem in retrospect. I read that a few weeks back and loved it (and which won a prize like, the next day, so I felt very clever for a moment with my morning coffee). In The Apothecary's Shop, the setting is Medieval Venice, not at all a period that I know much about. It's an extremely elegant intrigue, with cosmopolitan influences that reflect the character of the city, several unlikely plot twists, and the panache to put just enough confidence in the mind of the reader to keep the pages turning quickly. All of the characters are very strange in their own ways and very believable, and fans of Game of Thrones and all of the Law & Order type franchises would really enjoy this one. I thought I knew much more than I did, and discovering how small my vision was delighted me in the end. When I was in Venice in August, I sat for awhile in a garden on the island of Murano, and although it is small, uneventful memory in many regards, it is also a fully-formed one, and this novel was a window into things that might have plausibly happened there a millennium ago.

What are you reading next?

Right now I am waiting for a used copy of The Happy Summer Days: A Sicilian Childhood by Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, who designed jewelry for Chanel, including her iconic Maltese Cross cuffs, and then under his own name, Verdura, inspired by natural motifs, to arrive in the mail. While I'm passing the time, I'll re-read Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence, a memoir of retreats spent writing and reflecting in monasteries across Europe. When I was reading Adam Federman's terrific biography, Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray last month, the quotable electric zing of her letters ("Everything that grows has its peculiar grace."), her commitment to personal originality, and her wandering ways reminded me Fermor, and so I went to find the book of his that I own on my shelf, and wouldn't you know, it's just the right one.

Whatcha Reading, Leni Zumas?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Portland writer Leni Zumas is author of the 2008 story collection Farewell Navigator and the 2012 novel The Listeners. Her latest novel, Red Clocks, is being released by Little, Brown this Tuesday, the 16th. She'll be appearing the following evening, Wednesday the 17th, at the Elliott Bay Book Company at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

A gorgeous and gutting book of fictions called Enfermario, by Gabriela Torres Olivares, translated by Jennifer Donovan — full of bodies leaking, aching, desiring, refusing — and an exquisite poetry collection by Orlando White, who is Diné of the Naaneesht’ézhi Tábaahí and born for the Naakai Diné’e. LETTERRS maps the origins, ruptures, and wounds of language.

What did you read last?

I just finished Chelsey Johnson’s terrific debut, Stray City, which is a smart, funny, politically astute novel set in punk-lesbian 90s Portland. Another recent favorite is Samantha Irby’s knife-to-the-ribs essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I adore this book, and find myself looking for any chance to use her phrase “organizing my ketchups.”

What are you reading next?

At the top of my list is A Little in Love with Everyone by Genevieve Hudson, a hybrid memoir/commentary on Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. I’m also looking forward to Natalie Eilbert’s poetry collection Indictus and to the first English translation of Clarice Lispector’s 1946 novel O Lustre (The Chandelier), which comes out in March.

Whatcha Reading, Cat Rambo?

New column! Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Cat Rambo is a Seattle based writer, and current president of the SFWA. Her second novel, Hearts of Tabat, is coming in April.

What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading Louisa Morgan's A Secret History of Witches. Morgan's the pen name for local author Louise Marley, whose work I enjoy under any name.

What did you read last?

I just finished up John Hornor Jacob's Incorruptibles trilogy, a wild mash-up of weird Western steampunky stuff with an alternate history where Roman never fell. Highly recommended!

What are you reading next?

Next up is M. Suddain's Theatre of the Gods, which the Guardian described as "like Douglas Adams channeling William Burroughs channeling Ionesco, spiced with the comic brio of Vonnegut." How could I resist something like that?