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Whatcha Reading, Martin McClellan?

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.

Martin McClellan is the co-founder of this site, and when we started this column, we thought featuring the people who work on the site once in a blue moon might be a nice idea (see what associate editor Dawn McCarra Bass was reading a few months ago). You already know mostly what we read by reading our reviews, but in particular Martin (who is writing this in third person, uncomfortably), reviews much less frequently than Paul (although more frequently than Dawn), so there are many books he doesn't get a chance to talk about.

What are you reading now?

I'm in the middle of Patrick deWitt's upcoming French Exit. I really liked The Sisters Brothers, and deWitt is the kind of writer who can pull off stories from radically different genres with what seems like little effort. I can't even imagine how much work that takes.

I'm also listening to the audiobook of Wolf Hall. I wanted to watch the miniseries, but knowing how marvelous a writer Hilary Mantel is, I didn't want to deny myself the pleasure of her prose and storytelling. But, I was feeling a little bummed that I couldn't watch along while I read, until I remembered that, duh, this is the British Reformation and, duh, I know the story pretty well. When I realized that, I've been gleefully watching episodes as I listen, more-or-less in parallel (not everything happens in the same order in both mediums). I just hope everything turns out okay for that dynamic, engaging Boleyn woman.

What did you read last?

I just finished reading Dave Eggers' The Lifters to my son, and I absolutely love this book. The last book we read together was John August's Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, and although we both enjoyed it, I think my son liked it a lot more than I did. For me, August (who I admire so much, and have learned so much from, in his blogging and giving back to the screenwriting community on his podcast Scriptnotes) laid his book out sensibly, and with some interesting bits, but the overall feel was like a soup you just made, where the flavors haven't meshed yet.

Eggers, in contrast, lives in his sentences. They're lovely, and his turn of phrase is disarmingly good and charming — which is a joy, since you can sometimes feel him appropriately holding back his more whimsical nature in his non-fiction, but also even in a book like The Circle. It's always seemed that he wanted to deliberately move out of the looming shadow of the deep ironic humor of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genious by paring his craft down to a simple, reliable kit of tools. Which is not to say his work suffers for it — I generally always come away from an Eggers read feeling better off than when I started.

But The Lifters is something special. He has fun with it, and it shows in the language. There is whimsy and irony, and some pratfalls so well played you can hear the snare hit when you turn the page. That's all nice, but The Lifters doesn't succeed because of that. It succeeds because it's got a message embedded in a slowly-revealed heart-rending metaphor, and the message is a really good one that the story illustrates, but doesn't belabor or become beholden to. I would recommend it as a read, even for non-middle-grade readers. It's the most fun I've had reading a book in years.

I think August he'll need to write a few more novels before they come alive in your hands. Since this is the first in an Arlo Finch series, perhaps he will. In the meantime, The Lifters is self contained (no setup for an obvious sequel), and will remind you more of the kind of mid-century books for kids that were such a joy to read, and were obviously written by brilliant writers who were palpably enjoying themselves so much when they wrote that their enthusiasm infects the page even when the story turns sad.

What are you reading next?

I know that you, reader, have an enviable to-read pile. This is the curse of those who love to read. But, have you seen our Mail Call? The to-read pile of a person involved with a review site is towering, which goes to show optimism is never tied to any sense of realism. But, there are a few standouts that have come in the mail I'm very interested in, and also I picked up some titles at local Indy bookstores recently.

I'm really excited to get to Rachel Kushner's new book The Mars Room. I enjoyed Telex from Cuba, but I absolutely adored The Flamethrowers, with its deep interrogation of being a woman inside of men's spaces, and a protagonist fighting so hard to claim her identity and make her mark. It's one of those books that flew into me hard and left wing prints on my chest, although what I'm left with are fluttering impressions more than a comprehensive memory of the plot points. I'd be into revisiting that as well, but dammit, adding books I've already read back on the to-read pile feels like cheating myself out of a totally new book.

I went and saw Molly Crapapple at the Elliott Bay Book Company, and her co-author Marwan Hisham Skyped in from Turkey. Their book Brothers of the Gun is a biographical telling of Hisham's witnessing ISIS taking over his town in Syria, and clandestinely reporting on them. The talk was fascinating, and the book seems so compelling — they collaborated both on the text, and the images, which Crabapple drew, and Hisham art directed (eighty-two of them, the same amount as Goya's The Disasters of War). I'm reserving this when my heart can take it.

Charles Johnson's The Way of the Writer is on my stack. I have a weakness for writing inspiration or instruction books, especially ones from great writers. The format is the best kind of self-help, married to the kind of view into a writers mind and process that, because of the solitary nature of writing, is rarely granted. I love the intimacy of that glimpse on how another mind approaches writing, and Johnson's writing is so clear and bright, and his history of instruction and teaching so long, that I'm sure this one will be a standout on my little bookcase of like titles.

And finally, our Reading Through It book club is reading Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, so I'll definitely finish that one by the 5th of July, when we meet at Third Place Books in Seward Park. This book is supposed to be very compelling, and the kind of thing you'll swallow in a few big gulps. If you've read it, or it's on your list, come join us in July for our discussion — it's a friendly group, and we always have a lively talk.

Whatcha Reading, Jessixa Bagley

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.

Jessixa Bagley is an award-winning, Seattle based illustrator and children's book author. Her books include Boats for Papa, Before I Leave, Laundry Day, and most recently, Vincent Comes Home, which was a collaboration with her husband, Aaron (whose work you may recognize).

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading a book I feel simultaneously everybody is reading and also not enough people are reading, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. It’s about having effective conversations about race. This book really says it all. I don’t use Twitter much, but as I’m reading this book, I feel like I should be live tweeting every line I read. If you are a person of color, I guarantee you’ve have more awkward conversations about race than you care to recall. And if you are a person of "non-color," then I guarantee you have questions or thoughts about race you just aren’t sure how to express or maybe you need some help in the most appropriate way to express them. And yes, as Ijeoma states very upfront in the beginning that if you are white, parts of this book will probably make you feel uncomfortable. We'll I’ve been personally uncomfortable with regards to my race my whole life, including situations with family and close friends, so I think feeling uncomfortable while reading a book is nothing by comparison. I think this book is just what we need right now. If we don't start talking productively and respectfully about race we won't ever really get anywhere. And our kids won't get anywhere. We need to get better at these conversations so eventually they can stop happening all together and we can just talk about Netflix guilt-free.

What did you read last?

I just recently finished reading, Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement. I ADORED this book. It was like taking a time machine (probably a Delorean) back to the New York City art scene in the early 80's. The book is about about the famous graffiti artist/expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and his relationship with his "girlfriend" Suzanne Mallouk. The book is from Suzanne's perspective and written by a mutual friend. It painted such a vivid picture of the experience of what it was like to know Basquiat and understand the ideas and process for paintings. While reading, you really feel like you are there seeing the intense electricity (and sometimes bizarreness) of the highs and the lows of their love and lifestyle. Stylistically, it is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever come across. Each chapter reads like a gorgeous poem (also in length) and ends with detailed background information about what was happening at that point in their relationship explained by Suzanne. The best part is that throughout the book they'll talk about some incident that happened (like the time Suzanne attacked Madonna in a club in a jealous rage) and Basquiat painted a painting about the incident. On my own I would look up the paintings as a read so I could get a richer understanding of Basquiat's work. This book invites you into the most elite, intimate, cool kids party ever. You feel like you know Jean and Suzanne after reading. It's real and beautiful and ultimately very sad. Even if you don't know much about Basquait or his artwork, I think anyone who appreciates exquisite writing and art at all would love this book.

What are you reading next?

I make the "mistake" of enjoying re-reading books. I can't help it. I know my book reading time is limited, but I really like it. I'm part of the re-run generation. Every book makes you feel different things and some books I want to experience the feelings of all over again. So my next read is a re-read of This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. I have to be honest, I don't remember much about this graphic novel. (Parent brain tends to erase 90% of the details in my memories lately.) But I remember LOVING this book. The art, the adolescent coming of age story, the teen feels... I remember it's very beautiful and really captures the awkwardness of being an almost-teen and how you fit (or don't fit) in the world. I think it will be a perfect transitional book into summer and probably leave me feeling very insecure, melancholy, and heartbroken.

Whatcha Reading, Lucy Bellwood?

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.

Lucy Bellwood is a (best title ever coming): professional Adventure Cartoonist. She's based in Portland. Her latest book 100 Demon Dialogues (full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer, and even got one of the adorably awesome Demon plushies) is great — funny, interesting, empathetic, and honest about the process of making art. Her previous book, Baggywrinkles, is a fun, fascinating, and educational comic about her experience working on square-rigged ships (really!). She's appearing twice in the Seattle area in the coming week: 7:00pm Friday, June 8th, at Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond Town Center, and 2:00pm on Saturday, June 9th, at Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique. It's worth your time to go see Lucy in person!

What are you reading now?

Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. I fell in love with the beautiful, clothbound Narnia books in our house when I was very young. My mother used to read them to me before bed. (I’m even named, in part, after Lucy Pevensie.) Like Miller, I didn't encounter the books’ Christian themes until I was a teenager, and felt deeply betrayed once I had. Returning to Narnia through Miller’s criticism is rekindling all the things I loved about the series as a child, but with an insight and breadth I couldn’t lay my hands on in high school. There’s a compassion and curiosity to her analysis of Lewis’s life and influences that I really love. This isn’t a map of how Christian themes permeate the text, but rather a broadening web of literary theory, personal anecdotes, and biographical detail. I’m so, so glad I picked it up.

What did you read last?

Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. I tore through it in one sitting on a flight home from Toronto, in tears maybe 70% of the time. I loved reading Chee’s thoughts on money and writing in Scratch, which is definitely one of the best collections I’ve read this year, but I wasn’t prepared for the force of reading so many of his pieces back to back. He’s a fabulous writer — vulnerable, insightful, and cripplingly precise. His articulation of the creative process—particularly the interplay of trauma, identity, and discovery is so accurate. It’s a very distinct pleasure to see how writers approach the same themes through different biographical lenses over time, and this collection is perfect for that.

What are you reading next?

Authenticity is a Feeling by Jacob Wren, who’s the co-artistic director of an experimental theater group I’d never heard of called PME-ART. I snatched it off the Staff Picks shelf at Type Books in Toronto because it claims to investigate the challenge of “being yourself in a performance situation.” As an autobiographical cartoonist with a penchant for oversharing and a background in theater, this is something I think about a lot. A huge portion of my creative and professional life takes place online. As I branch into doing more facilitation and public speaking I’m mulling over how we can ever present complete, truthful versions of ourselves to an audience. (This line of thinking really kicked into high gear after I saw In & Of Itself, an indescribable show by Derek DelGaudio, last October. It’s closing this summer. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you check it out.) I’m also guessing this is going to pair really well with Marina Abramović’s memoir, Walk Through Walls, which has been in my to read stack for a while.

Whatcha Reading, Levi Stahl?

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.

Levi Stahl is associate marketing director at the University of Chicago Press, where he's worked since 1999. He is also the editor of The Getaway Car: A Donald E. Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. He's a great follow on Twitter, where he often posts passages that catch his eye, from whatever he's reading. This complete delight stands out, on a website full of so much undelight.

What are you reading now?

Stephen King's The Outsider. I will confess to being unsound on the topic of King: he was too important a part of my early teen reading life for me to ever be able to make a fully rational, objective assessment. I can see the flaws: his prose, especially in recent years, can be too casual; his humor almost all falls flat (he has what I tend to think of as a Boomer belief that irreverence is interesting and funny on its face); he seems never to have had the benefit of a skilled editor who could help him tighten his work. But when the books work (such as, off the top of my head, The Stand, Night Shift, The Shining, It, Pet Sematary, Lisey's Story), they lock in and pull you along with an incredible narrative power, combining an urgent desire to simply find out what happens next with an equally strong desire to see the characters come through it somehow. And if you're reading the right book late at night, he can still legit terrify you.

All of which is preamble to: after a few books that I felt were misfires, The Outsider, 200 pages in, is a remarkable return to the heights. It could all fall apart in the last two-thirds, but, lord, right now I am having trouble not scrapping my workday and going back to it.

What did you read last?

Adrian Bell's The Cherry Tree. First published in 1932 and republished recently by Slightly Foxed, a small UK-based publisher that specializes in what I call (with no intention of disparagement) minor English memoirs, in beautiful little cloth-bound limited editions, it's the third part in a trilogy about Bell's experience becoming a farmer in Suffolk in the 1920s. Bell wasn't raised to the work — he had a privileged urban upbringing and surprised his family when he announced after leaving school that he was going to go work on a farm. But he took to the work as if fated, and his three books about learning to farm and making his home in a small village offer a wonderful combination of period detail, entertaining stories, and beautfully understated nature writing. As a kid who grew up in an American farm family at a very different time and has acquired a deep love of the English countryside and the accompanying nature writing tradition, Bell's books couldn't be a better fit for me. For those coming newly to his work, I actually think reading them out of order is best: the middle volume, Silver Ley, is the most interesting and welcoming; once he's hooked you there, you can move on to Corduroy and The Cherry Tree.

What are you reading next?

Well, if Stephen King can sustain me until Tuesday — which, let's be honest, is doubtful with a long weekend coming — I'll turn with great anticipation to a book that's being published that day: Kudos, the final volume in the loose trilogy that English novelist Rachel Cusk began with Outline and Transit. I only started reading Cusk last year, and when I drew up a list of my twenty favorite writers on Twitter the other day, she easily took a space. All of Cusk's novels offer insight after insight into human behavior, often phrased with aphoristic precision. In this most recent group, however, she's taken a noticeable step forward — and what makes them stand out is that they're fundamentally novels about listening to other people tell their stories. There's an "I," about whom we do learn a fair amount, but her life is primarily there as the stage on which people around her talk about their lives, in a fashion that nears oral history at times. Yet it's oral history presented through a narrative perspective that quietly offers judgment — people damn themselves with their own solipsistic words, and Cusk, without being so ham-handed as to point it out, nonetheless makes sure we don't miss it, and in seeing it, find ourselves thinking about our own failings. "How often people betrayed themselves by what they noticed in others," her protagonist thinks in Transit. It's a line I've not been able to forget. I cannot wait to read this book.

Whatcha Reading, Molly Crabapple?

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.

Molly Crabapple is a New York based artist and writer. Her latest book Brothers of the Gun, a collaboration with Syrian author and journalist Marwan Hisham, was just released this week (we reviewed her memoir Drawing Blood). She's appearing this Monday, the 21st, at The Elliott Bay Book Company, with Hisham joining via Skype.

What are you reading now?

Mathias Énard's Compass, the most dense rich and brilliant novel about orientalism (in every sense of that word), love, and the impossibility of disentangling east and west.

What did you read last?

Rania Abouzeid's No Turning Back, which is an astounding work of journalism about how the Syrian revolution became the Syrian catastrophe.

What are you reading next?

Ece Temelkuran's Women Who Blow on Knots.

Whatcha Reading, Nicola Griffith?

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.

Nicola Griffith is the author of seven novels. Her most recent, So Lucky, is being released this Tuesday, May 15th. She'll be making two appearances — the 15th at Phinney Books, and the following night, May 16th, at the Elliott Bay Book Company. Appearances by Griffith are rare, even in her home town, so get out and take advantage! But if you miss her (or, make it but want more of her voice in your life), be sure to check out So Lucky on audiobook — her debut as a narrator. Maybe she'll narrate the next Hild book, Menewood, when that is released, as well...

What are you reading now?

I always have several things on the go, for different times, moods, and contexts.

The book I really want to be reading all the time right now is nonfiction: Building Anglo-Saxon England, by John Blair. But I'm not reading it at all, just glancing at it longingly and waiting for a book stand to arrive: it weighs about 5 lbs. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. It's a massive, heavily illustrated offering from Princeton University Press that brings together the latest understanding of the Anglo-Saxon built environment and its inhabitants. But, oh, if you like the details in Hild about how the A-S world worked — and big hands and biceps of steel, or, y'know, a bookstand — you'll eat this with a spoon.

To read on my phone or for ten minutes with a cup of tea, I have Passing Strange, a novella by Ellen Klages set in in 1940s San Francisco, full of magic, pulp fiction cover paintings, and lesbians in love. Currently shortlisted for the Nebula Award.

To read aloud to Kelley at night, I have Patrick O'Brian's HMS Surprise, third in the Aubrey/Maturin series. These are magnificent books: Jane Austen on a ship of war, with the humanity, joy and pathos of Shakespeare — not only brilliantly written but absolutely fabulous to perform.

What did you read last?

Coming in July The Mere Wife, Maria Dahvana Headley's astonishing reinterpretation of Beowulf. This is Beowulf in suburbia—epic, operatic, and razor sharp. It uses Beowulf’s three-part structure and a fascinating take on Old English traditions of animism to create a story not of a thick-thewed thegn but of women; women at war, literally and figuratively. It is Maria Dahvana Headley’s women who are the givers of grief, the dealers of doom.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Kelly Robson. This is another novella, time-travel ecofiction in which physically modified humans from a post-ecocatastrophe future go back to Ur to sample the flora and fauna. Things do not go as planned, and Robson doesn't flinch from dramatic choices.

What are you reading next?

A Woman, In Bed, Anne Finger. I met Anne last month and loved the bit she read aloud. Excitingly, it's published soon after my novel, So Lucky, which means for the first time (to my knowledge) two #CripLit novels that pass the Fries Test are out within a month of each other. I am thrilled!

The Best Bad Things, Katrina Carrasco
I read 5 pages a couple of months ago and it's very promising: a supremely visceral novel set in the late nineteenth-century Pacific NW in which a woman disguises herself as both a man and woman to investigate opium smuggling. Seattle resident Carrasco is not afraid to take risks. Now that I have an ARC, I look forward to the rest. Out in November.

The Consciousness Instinct, Michael S. Gazzaniga
I'm dying to see how Gazzaninga tackles the question of consciousness and the relationship between brain and mind. Is consciousness an instinct? I hope to find out.

Whatcha Reading, Kim Fu?

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.

Kim Fu is the Seattle-based author of two novels — 2014's For Today I Am a Boy, and most recently, the only-months-old The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, which our own Paul Constant called "...the first truly great novel I’ve read in 2018," and he continued the praise with "...and it sets a high bar for every novel I’ll read for the rest of the year" — and 2016's poetry collection How Festive the Ambulance .

What are you reading now?

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a new essay collection by Alexander Chee. I’d previously read a number of the essays when they appeared online and in magazines, but the effect of reading them together is already quite different, because of their cumulative narrative power — the story of a career and a life — and how long you get to stay continuously bathed in Chee’s hypnotic, exquisite voice. I’m also halfway through Val Wang’s memoir Beijing Bastard, a window into Beijing at the end of the twentieth century, a crucial and chaotic moment in its development as a modern city.

What did you read last?

I just finished The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, a novel that reminds me of Jane Austen in the best sense — an almost sociological examination of a particular cross-section of white womanhood and the quadruple-bind of women’s choices, firm in its viewpoints and sympathies, entertaining and observant. Before that was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a multigenerational epic of a Korean family, set primarily in Japan; it made me sharply aware that “history” is living and endless, as much of the present as the past. Of the books I’ve read in the last couple months, my favorite is American Romances by Seattle’s own Rebecca Brown — a formally inventive wonder that defies categorization, a mix of fact and fiction, essayistic and poetic thinking. (Getting a jump on the next question, Brown has a new book coming out this fall.)

What are you reading next?

My TBR pile is always towering and enormous. The ones I can see from my desk: Things are Good Now by Djamila Ibrahim, Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker, Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (stories), Nature Poem by Tommy Pico (poetry), All True Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley (novel), Nine Continents by Xiaolu Guo (memoir), and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (because it’s almost summer).

Whatcha Reading, Kit Bakke?

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.

Kit Bakke is a Seattle-based writer, activist, and retired pediatric oncology nurse. Her third book, Protest On Trial: The Seattle 7 Conspiracy has just been released by the Washington State University Press. Kit appears tonight, Saturday April 28th, at the Elliott Bay Book Company at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

The Overstory by Richard Powers. Amazing and totally wonderful.

What did you read last?

Winter by Ali Smith, second of her seasonal trilogy. I like her writing a lot; pretty fearless about making readers do some of the work, but rewarding them at the same time.

What are you reading next?

Moby Dick by Herman Melville which, believe it or not, I've never read. Over the past 4-5 years I read War and Peace, and Don Quixote, both for the first time. Loved them both. I definitely advise waiting until you are an adult to read these wonderful books; I think you both enjoy and get a lot more out of them when you've been around the block a few times yourself.

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.