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Whatcha Reading, Ruth Dickey?

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.

Ruth Dickey is the Executive Director of Seattle Arts & Lectures, an avid reader, an ardent fan of independent bookstores, and an often-procrastinating writer. Fact: this column was largely inspired by receiving emails from Ruth, which include a signature that lists what she's reading, and it is always something compelling.

What are you reading now?

So allow me to begin with a confession: I usually have at least two books I'm reading at once, and sometimes an embarrassingly large stack. I think it's because the amount of things I want to read vastly outpaces what I can actually read. My current two I got in a bookstore at JFK (because a cross country flight without a book is tragic!): Alexandra Fuller's Quiet Until the Thaw, and Ingrid Fetell Less's Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. I lost my mom five years ago this fall, and she loved Alexandra Fuller's work, so finding this pair of books felt like a special gift at a time when I was particularly thinking of my mom and loss and the funny ways that grief moves through us.

What did you read last?

This summer I had the great gift of walking a chunk of the Northern Route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and the last two books I read were both ones I found at the end of my journey: Joanne Harris' Chocolat (in a pizza place in Arzua) and Haruki Murakami's Men Without Women (in a bookstore in Madrid). I love how often books show up in our lives at times we need them, and Harris' story of the triumph of love and compassion over rule and dogma combined with Murakami's haunting stories of people finding their way and the image of a moon made of ice somehow felt like the perfect combination to carry me home.

What are you reading next?

Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Unsheltered. I absolutely adore Barbara Kingsolver's work, and am looking forward to her new novel and her visit to SAL on October 25th (it's sold out, but we'll be selling standby at the door!). And next in line is another upcoming SAL author I really admire, Valeria Luiselli. I'm looking forward to reading Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, and to having her at SAL April 17, 2019. Both of these authors tackle issues of justice and compassion and our complicated world in such thoughtful and insightful ways — a perfect balm for these times.

Whatcha Reading, EJ Koh?

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.

EJ Koh is the author of A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Editors Prize, and her memoir The Magical Language of Others forthcoming from Tin House. Her poems and translations have appeared in Boston Review, Columbia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, PEN America, World Literature Today, and of course, here on the Seattle Review of Books. She has accepted fellowships from The American Literary Translators Association, Kundiman, and The MacDowell Colony.

What are you reading now?

A collection of fiction by Korean women The Future of Silence translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. It’s one of very few collections of Korean writing in the English-speaking world. Stories like O Chong-hui’s “Wayfarer” and Park Wan-so’s “Identical Apartments” make noises in my heart, noises I've never heard. One of my favorites, So Young-un’s “Dear Distant Love,” with its repressed, reclaimed visuality and story is darkly moving.

What did you read last?

After Jhumpa Lahiri published her self-reflections in the Italian language, I picked up the English translation In Other Words. The possibility of a new language giving birth to a new voice is both familiar and startling. I ask myself these same questions: Could I write a story in the Korean language? Would I dare to write a poem in the Japanese language? How does this change my writing, the place from which I speak?

What are you reading next?

I will begin Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me. It’s a debut that tackles the birth of modern Korea, beginning at the refugee camps and through the aftermath of war. I’m looking forward to experiencing the characters, the intimate story, but especially the lessons.

Whatcha Reading, Stesha Brandon?

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.

Stesha Brandon is a wonder. Formerly of Town Hall Seattle and University Book Store, Stesha is currently the Literature & Humanities Program Manager at Seattle Public Library, and serves as board president at Seattle City of Literature. Other volunteer service includes the Bumbershoot Task Force, the Washington State Book Awards jury. When she's not reading, Stesha keeps chickens, knits, and bakes tasty treats. On that last point, a point of editorializing: if you've been the beneficiary of Stesha's baked goods, you understand just how much "tasty treats" is totally underselling her absolutely divine pastries.

What are you reading now?

I’m finishing up Diane Setterfield’s forthcoming book, Once Upon a River. It’s eerie and atmospheric and feels a little like a fairy tale. The story centers on a young girl who may have been drowned, and then comes back to life. It doesn’t come out until December, but it feels perfect for a fall/winter read.

I’m also reading local chef and author Becky Selengut’s newest book How to Taste, which is super interesting. It talks about how our taste functions and has experiments/recipes so the reader can experience firsthand what Becky is talking about.

What did you read last?

I just finished listening to Meet Me at the Museum, which is an epistolary novel of two letter writers, one in England and one in Denmark, and how their connection shapes their lives.

And anyone who knows me knows that I read cookbooks like novels. I just finished Molly on the Range, by Molly Yeh. It has a wide array of recipes that highlight that she’s a city transplant into Midwest farm life.

What are you reading next?

This list is always long and gets longer by the day! I’ve got a big stack of books waiting, but I’m excited to read We That Are Young by Preti Taneja. It’s a resetting of King Lear in contemporary India. I’m also looking forward to reading Nicola Griffith’s So Lucky. Nicola is one of the most interesting people writing these days, and I can’t wait to dive into her newest book. I’ve also just checked out Wait, Blink by Gunnhild Øyehaug — a Norwegian novel on the longlist for the National Book Award in Translation and Fledgling by Octavia Butler. I’ve read several of her books, but somehow never got to this one.

Whatcha Reading, Somaiya Daud?

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.

Somaiya Daud is a Seattle-based writer and PhD student. Her first novel, Mirage, was just released in August by Flatiron Books. She'll be appearing at the Portland Book Festival in November, which by itself is a great reason to plan a trip south, but with Daud appearing, you can go and cheer on Seattle talent while living your best PDX life. Sounds like a great little getaway!

What are you reading now?

I have been in the mood for a lush, sprawling fantasy so I just checked out Jacqueline Carey's Starless and I keep starting then pausing my re-read of her older Kushiel books. I'm also doing a lot of research reading for the second Mirage book and that includes Consorts of the Caliphs by Ibn al-Sa'i, The Hunt in Arabic Poetry by Jaroslav Stetkevych, and selections from Classical Arabic Literature, a curation put together by Geert Jan Van Gelder.

What did you read last?

I just wrapped up Sarah Maclean's Wicked and the Wallflower, and finished a reread of Rachel Neumier's Winter of Ice and Iron.

What are you reading next?

I have quite the stack! I'm planning on rereading Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson! My new reads stack is currently sitting in my living room and includes: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal (I have been excited for this for a while!), Black Wings Beating by Alexander London, Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. Oh! And Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan (if my library would bump me to the front of the line, please and thank you!).

Whatcha Reading, Deb Caletti?

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.

Deb Caletti is a Seattle-based author, and National Book Award finalist. She won the Washington State Book award for Honey, Baby Sweetheart, which is just one of her fifteen YA and adult novels. Her latest is the YA novel A Heart in a Body in the World. You can see her talk about it in conversation with Martha Brockenbrough next Thursday, September 20th, at University Bookstore, and at the Lake Forest Park Third Place Books, on Saturday the 22nd.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success. When I saw the review copy at BEA, I knew I had to have it, because I really liked Little Failure. At that point, I’d already gone past the number of books I could reasonably fit in my bag, but we are so greedy, us book lovers. It wasn’t quite the straw that broke the author’s back, but it was the ARC that literally broke the suitcase. I walked around two airports with the handle of my bag stuck halfway up, thanks to Lake Success, but it’s been worth it so far. Shteyngart’s so great at small moments of insight, and unexpected details that are surprisingly funny or vivid or poignant. He’s a compassionate writer, and I always love that. ou feel like it’s you and Gary there together in the crazy world of humans, and you’re better for it.

What did you read last?

I just finished by Wait, Blink, by Gunnhild Øyehaug. It’s a charming, odd, yet quietly profound novel of connected stories. I loved it. I was really happy to see it this week on the National Book Award’s inaugural longlist for translated literature. I also recently finished I am, I am, I am, by Maggie O’Farrell. Its subtitle is Seventeen Brushes with Death, and each chapter heading is labeled with the part of the body (lungs, heart, neck, etc.) related to the experience. I always know I’m in good hands as a reader when a book makes me want to write, and this one did that. It’s honest and intimate without feeling confessional, and the writing is beautiful in parts.

What are you reading next?

After I read The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston, I was so crazy about it that I read The Lost City of Z (David Grann), and then A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford. Now, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari is up next, as well as The Dinosaur Artist, by Paige Williams, and She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, by Carl Zimmer. When I emerge from the deep jungle of history-plus-science, Lydia Millet will be waiting for me in the daylight of today, with Fight No More, her newest book of stories, which are all connected through a central character — a lonely Los Angeles real estate broker.

Whatcha Reading, Maria Dahvana Headley?

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.

Maria Dahvana Headley, is an author, editor, playwright, screenwriter, and monstermaker — to quote her website. She's a bestselling author of the YA space fantasy Magonia, and most recently, The Mere Wife which re-imagines Beowulf in the modern age. She once called Seattle home, but now writes from new York.

A night not to miss: this Monday, September 10th, Nicola Griffith will be interviewing Maria Dahvana Headley in the Microsoft Audtiorium at the central library, a joint production of the Seattle Public Library, and the Elliott Bay Bookstore. Starts at 7:00pm.

What are you reading now?

Sometime in recent months, I discovered that I had four books called The Changeling on my shelves, which tells you something about the kind of person I am. I'm definitely not a changeling — I actually come from a weirdo magic family, and was never trapped among Muggles — but the moment I learned the term, age 8 or so, I was like...OMFG LEMME BE A FAIRYLAND PROBLEM CHILD. I learned about changelings from the Zilpha Keatley Snyder novel (1970), which is actually about class, creativity and friendship between girls, but which deals in the story of an artistic, brilliant, and very poverty-stricken girl who believes she came from the fairies rather than from her own family. I loved Snyder's books because they were about people like me, wandering around rather below the working class, rather than about children who came from money, manses, and well, WWII-era England, however perilous. I was interested in the longform peril of poverty and daily life. Snyder's work was all rooted in imaginative games, and I'm currently also reading this badass academic paper by Cathlena Martin, about how Snyder's The Egypt Game as well as other children's lit preceded and plausibly influenced Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games (which are usually credited to influencers like Tolkien). So, back to Changelings, various versions: Last year, I read Victor LaValle's brilliant novel version in which a couple deals with a horrific and agonizing child-swap. And now, right now, I'm reading Joy Williams's The Changeling for the first time, though I've been a fan of Williams's work for years, beginning with The Quick & the Dead, another book about fiery, difficult, magical friendships between girls. Williams's Changeling is thoroughly my kind of book — the kind that can't be compared to anything, but hey, say, Malcolm Lowry mashed with the surrealist eerie (surreeriealist?) plots of Shirley Jackson. In it, a floatingly aimless mystic of a young woman falls into a strange as fuck clan mostly made of children, but run by an abusive man. Williams is killingly precise and poetic, and each sentence makes me suffer, because each paragraph made of these sentences is basically a novel unto itself. For example: "...after the first (child), Aaron truly believed himself to be a sinful man. He invented the Devil for them then. Emma didn't care. She had always been below good and evil. Her magic had never been anything trivial. No burying of teeth or hair. No communions of blood and excretions. If Aaron chose to believe in something as trivial as the Devil, Emma allowed him his foolishness." This is in a recounting of the child tribe's story of their origins. The particularity of it! The simplicity of it — below good and evil! — and a couple of pages later? "It was Emma that seemed to have an excellent relationship with God. They were like two bears in the same den. Dismissing faith, Aaron took up with superstition." Ahhhh, I'm dead. It's like a four paragraph dissertation on the labyrinthine ways of toxic masculinity. I have to read this book in short bursts. Right now, I'm halfway through, and panting. The last Changeling on my shelf is Thomas Middleton's play from the 1600's, but apparently I could also read some Ōe. I'll no doubt one day give in and write a changeling story of my own. If you let a story concept gestate for 33 years, you know you have to surrender and give it to the fairies. Fine, fine, I'll give birth to this story. Oh, uh-oh, what is this in the cradle?...Welp.

I mean, that's what this whole profession looks like from the inside.

What did you read last?

Last book I read was in Australia, because I was at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and during it, I slunk into several bookstores ostensibly to sign my own books, but really to paw at books I hadn't yet seen in the US. So, on the flight back to the US a few days ago, I read three in a row, and they had things in common, and I was excited! Beyond the Wreck, by Jane Rawson, is intensely researched historical fiction but also has a cephalopod shapeshifting alien, so. SO, it's remarkable. It's got many different POVs and a whole lot of weird, but the weird is firmly rooted in the difficulties of having a mortal body, and conversely in the difficulties of being a wandering lonely creature whose body doesn't work out well on our planet. It's dark and beautiful, and puzzling and unresolved, and I was way into it. Then, I read Flames by Robbie Arnott, which begins with a family of women resurrecting post-cremation and living on for a few days in human/botanical hybrid format, and takes us on a wander through a world in which tuna fishing is done only by fishers who've bonded with seals, fire is a father, and love of creatures and landscapes is a motivating force. Then I read A Superior Spectre, by Angela Meyer, which is a dual/linked timeline story about a near-future dying man from Australia who uses a device to connect his mind to the life and mind of a young woman in 1860's Scotland. He ends up haunting her, but this book is complicated and intriguing in a host of ways, not least because of the way it deals with sexuality, ethical responsibility, and again, toxic masculinity. All these books had in common the notion of melding one's consciousness with the consciousness of someone else, whether human, creature, or alien, and also the notion of time being a fluid concept. They were also all page-turners, however unlikely that sounds. And man, they all made me cry. Cool shit is afoot in Australian lit.

What are you reading next?

I don't have this book yet, because it's not out yet, but I'm coveting Elizabeth Hand's Curious Toys, which I've been coveting ever since I heard about it. It's a novel about Henry Darger, and Liz's work is always erudite, elegant, and scathing. I'm also coveting Jeff Ford's Ahab's Return, which is a Moby Dick riff in which Ahab washes up in a Manhattan full of deep story -—Jeff manages to work in language that often seems domesticated but lands in you like a thing with long claws. And ooh, also That Which Girls Conjure Will Help Them Survive, by Kristen Stone. My friend Sarah McCarry's chapbook series Guillotine is impeccable, always, and this novel is about several generations of building a family, and surviving the inheritance of trauma.

Whatcha Reading, Kelly Froh?

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.

Something slightly different this week! We're breaking the question-answer format to make room for some badass comic reviewing:

Kelly Froh is the Executive Director of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. This year’s fest takes place on Saturday, Nov. 3rd at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. She is also a comic artist, and sometimes, after all the dishes are done, and she’s read all the comics she bought, works on her own books.

Fruit of Knowledge by Liv Strömquist (Fantagraphics, 2018)

Um. I’m 44 and I learned things about my own body in this book. Strömquist provides some pretty intense research that charts not only women’s inequality (with focus on how the studying and writing about our sex organs has changed over time in order to fit Christian ideals or freakish academic interest) but also the shoddy science behind gender binaries, and the longest, most accepted myth that conveniently sells women a lot of f-ing products. Her comics make the outrage from the information in this book a bit easier to take, sort-of, I had read it in 3 sessions.

Nausea by Abraham Díaz (Kus!, 2018)

(I ordered this book from Seite Books in LA — perhaps the greatest curated selection of zines & comics I have ever seen — but Fantagraphics Bookstore in Georgetown may carry it as well!)

Three people’s nights run parallel in gritty Mexico City. Sex, drugs, and plenty of crime, this comic hits all marks. All 3 stories end worse than you can ever imagine. I love this artist’s rough drawing style so much, it’s so refreshing in contrast to the soft and fluffy stuff that is popular right now.

PP 911! by Julia K (Cold Cube Press, 2018)

Who is this little person? Is it Julia K? Her subconscious? I really got a kick out of their quick thoughts in these short strips and single images. “Intimacy issues? Schmintimacy schissues!”

Crystal Bone Drive by Tetsunori Tawaraya (Hollow Press, 2017)

(I ordered this book from Seite Books in LA)

Ok, I admit I have no idea what the story is here (maybe like, a space adventure, with warring creatures?), but I have looked at this book 10 times because the art is done on black scratch board and printed in silver ink. It’s a beautiful book, Tawaraya’s lines are thin and perfect, you can get lost in them and forget to look at the larger image on the page. What a feat too, I mean, you can’t erase scratchboard. If you mess up you’d have to start over!

Whatcha Reading, Sharma Shields?

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.

Sharma Shields is a Spokane-based novelist and short story writer. Her latest, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac won the 2016 Washington State Book Award in Fiction. Her short story collection Favorite Monster was published in 2012. And, soon to come: The Cassandra, a novel set in Hanford in the 1940s, coming in February of next year. It looks amazing — it would be a fantastic idea to pre-order your copy now!

What are you reading now?

Pachinko by Min Lin Jee, a toothsome, engrossing, moving addition to the family epic, a category of literature I adore that includes Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

What did you read last?

  1. Circe by Madeline Miller — such a Greek myth pleasure bomb. The scene where Circe first turns men into pigs is awesomely, satisfyingly rendered.
  2. So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, a kickass novel about the monster of multiple sclerosis; this was an intimate, difficult, and ultimately bracing read for me given my own struggles with MS. Also — damn! — Griffith writes the most gorgeous sentences. Excited to read Hild, too.
  3. The Bell by Iris Murdoch. Murdoch never hesitates to straight-up imperil her characters. I relate so much to their vulnerability.

What are you reading next?

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Florida by Lauren Groff. I've also placed on hold Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras and She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (both will be published this fall).

Whatcha Reading, Jessica Mooney?

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.

Jessica Mooney is a Seattle-based writer. Her criticism, essays, and short stories have appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Rumpus, Salon, City Arts Magazine, and of course here, where she reviewed, Kristen Radtke's Imagine Wanting Only This, and Leni Zumas' Red Clocks. Jessica's story "Love Canal" was one of the first pieces of fiction we published. That's not even talking about her non-literary career, in the field of global health for an international nonprofit; her scientific research has been published in Prevention Science and the Journal for Health Disparities Research and Practice. She's received grants from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and 4 Culture, and was a previous Made at Hugo House fellow.

What are you reading now?

I always have a few books going in rotation. Right now it's There There by Tommy Orange, who is not only an incredibly gifted writer, but a kind human being; Tonight I'm Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson; and I finally picked up Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I'm also reading the Human Bone Manual as research for a novel (great summertime creepy read!), and a few Oliver Sacks essays, which I've done every August the past fseveral years to commemorate his death — "My Periodic Table" just crushes me every time I read it.

What did you read last?

After hearing David Naimon interview Urusla K. Le Guin on on his (very excellent) podcast "Between the Covers", I picked up Conversations on Writing from Tin House Books. I also just finished reading Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, both of which I highly recommend for their brilliant off-kilter prose and straight-for-the-jugular humor.

What are you reading next?

Looking forward to Rachel Kushner's Mars Room, Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, and I just ordered Kristen Arnett's Felt in the Jaw, which I can't wait to read with a bottle of BOGO wine, purchased from 7-Eleven, of course, as the good author intended.

Whatcha Reading, Kamari Bright?

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.

Kamari Bright is a poet, filmmaker, artist, and musician, who also happened to be our Poet in Residence for July. See the five poems we published: Chalice, And the Moon, Nephilim, The Garden, Eve, and our interview. She'll be appearing at the 3rd Seattle Urban Book Expo, on August 25th.

What are you reading now?

Rock | Salt | Stone by Rosamond S King

What did you read last?

I Think I'm Ready to See Frank Ocean by Shayla Lawson

What are you reading next?

(Hopefully) Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Whatcha Reading, Austin Woerner?

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.

Austin Woerner is a Chinese-English literary translator. In addition to Su Wei's novel The Invisible Valley, just out from Small Beer Press, he has translated two volumes of poetry, Doubled Shadows: Selected Poetry of Ouyang Jianghe, and Ouyang Jianghe's book-length poem Phoenix. Formerly the English translation editor for the innovative Chinese literary journal Chutzpah!, he also co-edited the short fiction anthology Chutzpah!: New Voices from China. He holds a BA in East Asian Studies from Yale and an MFA in creative writing from the New School, and is currently a lecturer at Duke Kunshan University just outside of Shanghai. He's appearing tonight at Elliott Bay Books to talk about The Invisible Valley.

What are you reading now?

I've been rereading Waiting by Ha Jin. While I was translating The Invisible Valley I actually steered away from fiction set in China, because I wanted to develop my own ear for how to evoke a Chinese cultural setting in English. (I guess you could call it "reinventing the wheel.") But now that I actually live in China, I'm more and more fascinated by Chinese emigrant writers like Ha Jin and Yiyun Li, who write in English about experiences they had back in China in more or less the same time period as The Invisible Valley is set. (And in such beautiful English! As an EFL writing teacher I'm in awe of people who develop a fine literary style in a foreign language.)

What I like about Waiting is the way its main characters feel so real, their emotions so relatable, despite the fact that their culture and life circumstances are so vastly different from the novel's intended readers. At the same time, living in China has given me an appreciation for certain dimensions of their experience I wouldn't have understood well before. Back in the Maoist era people had such little latitude to make decisions about their own lives. So the story's drama takes place in the tiny range of motion available to them. Obviously things've changed a lot since then, but some things still resonate.

What did you read last?

Over the past year I've been dipping in and out of Jonathan Spence's Return to Dragon Mountain. Spence recreates in novelistic detail the life and times of Zhang Dai, a Ming-dynasty aesthete and man of leisure known for his gem-like prose essays. Zhang's world is the that of the "scholar gentry" of the lower Yangtze delta, a privileged elite who passed their days in painting, poetry, tea connoisseurship, and other charmingly frivolous-seeming hobbies. Zhang famously said, "A man with no excesses is not worth befriending," and Spence conjures Zhang's character through his obsessions: finding the perfect springwater to brew the perfect cup of tea, directing amateur operas, inventing witty taxonomies to categorize the different kinds of people who go boating on West Lake in Hangzhou, and so forth.

Though it's easy to laugh off Zhang's pastimes as the dissipations of a silk-slippered aristocrat, it's not hard to see parallels to our contemporary era of abundance. When your basic needs are already amply met, what do you do with your time to give meaning to your life? (Later, when the Ming dynasty fell, his family would lose everything, and that foreknowledge lends his reminiscences the air of an elegy for a lost world.) The area where I now live and teach is more or less Zhang's home turf, and though the freeways and freight barges and endless factories of the modern-day Yangtze delta are a far cry from Zhang's pleasure boats and gardens, I feel like Zhang's spirit hovers over them still.

What are you reading next?

This summer, taking The Invisible Valley on tour in the U.S. has given me the opportunity to meet many new literary friends and reconnect with old ones, and their books are now weighing down my China-bound suitcases. A few I'm especially excited to read are The Wrong Heaven by Amy Bonnaffons, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson, and State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang. You should check 'em out too!

Whatcha Reading, Tom Nissley?

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.

Tom Nissley is a lot of things: author of the fascinating A Readers Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year, eight-time Jeopardy! champion, and owner of the delightful, and well-loved, Phinney Books. If you like any of his recommendations, it would be only fair to go order them up from Phinney Books, and be sure to check out their awesome Phinney by Post program.

What are you reading now?

There are two kinds of reading I like best: when I'm so far into a good book that I put everything else aside (ha! not likely) and just turn the pages, and when I'm juggling a few good books, going back and forth between them. Right now I'm happily doing the latter. I've just started two books of short stories, Toni Cade Bambara's Gorilla, My Love and Sara Gallardo's Land of Smoke, and have one longer book, Paul Broks's The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness, poised to join them. Gorilla, My Love's been in the back of my mind to read for decades (it came out in 1972), but once I actually read the "Sort of Preface" that starts things off (go read it yourself — you can find it on Amazon) there was no going back, and the first two stories have not disappointed. And I had no expectations for Land of Smoke (by an Argentinian writer, written around the same time as Bambara's stories but only now translated into English), and had even forgotten I had ordered it for the store, but once it arrived, as a beautiful little Pushkin Press paperback, I couldn't help but pick it up and look through it, and once I had read the strange and confident openings to a few of the stories, well, see above, re: no going back. And The Darker the Night? Again, a book I had forgotten even ordering for the store, but somehow it talked its way into my book bag when it arrived. It appears to be a mix of memoir, science, and philosophy, a combo that might be tough to pull off, but I think it might be good, and just right for my current heightened sense of mortality and general doom.

What did you read last?

I just finished Dan Kaufman's The Fall of Wisconsin, a book about how that state went from Fighting Bob La Follette to Scott Walker, which was useful and sad-making, though he was trying his best, in good Wisconsin style, to be optimistic. And before that, I was on vacation and read two disappointing books (Margaret Millar's The Beast in View, a "crime classic" I had high hopes for but was too dated (multiple personalities!!), and John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies, a John Irving-style over-the-top epic that so many of my bookish friends have loved but just wasn't for me) and two I loved: Outline, the first in Rachel Cusk's recently completed trilogy, which somehow makes a non-story about the people a writer meets while flying to Athens to teach a workshop into a totally compelling read, and The Women in Black, a perfect little comic novel from Australia about the employees in the Ladies Frocks department at a Sydney department store in the '50s. It's the most charming thing I've read in ages.

What are you reading next?

The list is long, and, as always, will end in failure, but I am certain I will at least read the other two (Transit and Kudos) in Cusk's trilogy by the end of the summer. Also on the list (some catching up, some trying to get ahead): Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Nick Drnaso's Sabrina, Iris Origo's War in the Val d'Orcia, Olivia Laing's Crudo, Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing, and whatever poems my friend Josh Feit posts at Opposite Hex.

Whatcha Reading, Anita Sarkeesian?

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.

Anita Sarkeesian is the creator and executive director of Feminist Frequency. If you haven't watched any of their amazing critical video series (beginning with Tropes vs Women in video games, which landed Sarkeesian as one of the primary targets of the organized harassment known as Gamergate), they're excellently produced, entertaining, and educational looks at video games, movies, and overlooked women in history, always through a feminist lens. Sarkeesian also hosts the Feminist Frequency Radio podcast, and if that wasn't enough, she and podcast co-host Ebony Adams have a new book coming out! History vs Women: History vs Women: The Defiant Lives That They Don't Want You To Know has a street date of October 2nd, but you can get pre-orders in now. Perhaps through a local indie bookshop?

What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading the final entry in NK Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy. I’d first heard of Jemisin because so many of my friends were raving about her writing. To be completely honest, I started reading The Fifth Season, the first book in the series, about three times before I actually got through it. The early sections just weren’t grabbing me, but of course I wanted to get into it because my friends loved it so much. Then I met Nora and she was so wonderful and smart and thoughtful that I was like, OKAY, GODDAMN IT, I HAVE TO READ THIS THING! Thank goodness I did, because once I got about a third of the way through the first book, I was absolutely riveted. The character development and world building in this series are spectacular. It’s a completely foreign world that nonetheless feels all too familiar because Jemisin, a masterful storyteller, weaves together so many contemporary societal problems and roots them organically in her meticulous fantasy universe. It’s just thrilling to come across writing that’s simultaneously so imaginative and so replete with meaning. The Broken Earth Trilogy reminds me that fantasy isn’t just the stuff of white men warring over a throne; it can be rich, fascinating, complex, and diverse, too.

What did you read last?

Franchesca Ramsey’s Well That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist. Ramsey walks readers through her life and career path. We might see folks “make it big” on YouTube and it’s as if they just burst onto the scene out of nowhere; we often don’t realize the years and years of hard work it took for them to be noticed. In Ramsey’s memoir, she talks about how the video that put her on the map, “Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls,” came to be, and how it helped her get to where she is now, with a show on MTV, and a gig as a writer and correspondent on the (sadly canceled) Nightly Show, among other exciting achievements. She doesn’t shy away from discussing all the bumps along the way, too, and I appreciate Franchesca’s candor about falling into activism, learning how to talk about issues of privilege and oppression, and the ways in which she’s messed up from time to time.

What are you reading next?

My two fave genres are scifi and memoirs so I often just hop between the two. Next I want to read Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour. Recently, I read one of her novels, The Last Illusion, which I loved. It’s a fascinating tale of a boy who was raised as a bird, a narrative which allowed Khakpour to really explore socially learned masculinity in American culture and its consequences. Sick is her latest book about living with late-stage Lyme disease and the struggles of chronic pain and illness.

Whatcha Reading, Anca Szilágyi?

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.

Anca Szilágyi is a Seattle based writer, originally from Brooklyn. We said her wonderful first novel, Daughters of the Air, "feels as real and as insistent as the vein pulsing just over your right eye" and was "a creation of unearthly talents." She's been awarded fellowships from Hugo House and Jack Straw, was the inaugural Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award recipient, and was awarded a grant from 4Culture to work on her novel-in-progress Paralegal.

What are you reading now?

I'm part way through Alison Hawthorne Deming's Zoologies, a collection of essays exploring animals and the human imagination. There's a great anecdote about crows dropping walnuts in crosswalks, letting cars crush them open, and safely swooping down for the tasty nut meat when pedestrians have the light. I'm also falling in love with Tara Hardy's poetry collection My, My, My, My, My, which is just so vulnerable and vital.

What did you read last?

I gobbled an advance review copy of Barbara Barrow's The Quelling, out in September from Lanternfish Press (full disclosure: LFP is my publisher). It's about twin sisters growing up in a psychiatric hospital after being accused of murder as children. It's ferocious and eerily tender.

This past weekend, I also devoured The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. I found myself jotting down many quotations, but this one is essential: "Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise...If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!"

What are you reading next?

I'm eager to read Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (trans. Ros Schwartz) which the publisher describes as "half memoir, half philosophical treatise" that "muses on how translation can be an exercise in empathy between those in exile." Also in the queue, Umami by Lala Jufresa (trans. Sophie Hughes). I have a soft spot for precocious 12-year-old protagonists. Plus the word umami and the name Lala Jufresa make me smile.

Whatcha Reading, Chelsea Hodson?

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.

Chelsea Hodson is the Brooklyn-based author of the book of essays Tonight I'm Someone Else, and the chapbook Pity the Animal. She'll be making a Seattle appearance this Monday, July 2nd, at the Elliott Bay Book Company, in conversation with Christopher Frizzelle. Personally, I would ask her about Mons Tua Vita Mea writing workshops she runs in Sezze Romano, Italy, because that looks like a dream come true.

What are you reading now?

I just started reading an advanced review copy of Floating Notes by Babak Lakghomi, a novella which comes out soon from Tyrant Books. I really love seeing what writers can accomplish in books less than a hundred pages, so I look forward to finishing the book soon. The back cover copy says, "There are no clear answers, there are no solutions," which is right up my alley — these days I embrace ambiguity in art more than anything.

I'm also halfway through another Tyrant book — Vincent and Alice and Alice by Shane Jones, which won't be out until next year, and encompasses my favorite combination: laugh-out-loud funny and knife-in-your-heart sad.

What did you read last?

I've just finished Black Swans by Eve Babitz, one of my favorite writers. The first story opens with a page that says: "Jealousy — It's only temporary: you either die, or get better... Something we used to say about life in general, feeling sophisticated and amusing in bars, back in the days when we thought how you behaved was the fault of other people." I don't know how anyone could stop reading after a first page like that. There's a glamour to Eve Babitz's writing that I appreciate, and a kind of confidence that makes anything she writes sound like a universal truth.

What are you reading next?

I bought Bethany C Morrow's novel, MEM, after being really impressed by hearing her read from it in New York a few weeks ago. In this book, "Mems" are memories that have been extracted from one's own mind and manifested into a complete separate being. I really liked what I heard, so I'm excited to read more.

I also just received an advanced review copy of Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson, which will be published later this year. Subtitled "The Last Rock Novel," this book has two sides — Side A and Side B — and can be read either side first. I've always admired Jeff Jackson's experiments, and I think this novel seems unlike anything else I've ever read, so I'm really looking forward to diving in.

Whatcha Reading, Karen Maeda Allman?

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.

Karen Maeda Allman is the author events co-ordinator at the Elliott Bay Book Company. A former nurse and punk rocker, she has served on numerous jury and awards panels, including the Washington State Book Awards, the DSC Prize, NEA Big Read Book Review Comittee, and the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Karen was recognized by Seattle Arts and Lectures in 2017 by being named as a Prowda Literary Champion.

What are you reading now?

One of the great pleasures of bookselling is talking about books with customers, sales reps, publicists, and all sorts of people I meet while working on author events out in the community. Recently, I attended Book Expo, which is an annual trade show and publishing event, and during a meeting with one of the publicists from Simon and Schuster, I for a book recommendation. She told me about one of their fall books, a memoir by Sarah Smarsh called Heartland: a Daughter of the Working Class Reconciles an American Divide. I was immediately struck by the fact that this book is set just outside of Wichita. I was actually born in Wichita and I know nothing about the city or about the farming communities that surround it. I didn’t ever think about this place and as I read this book, I began to wonder why.

Sarah Smarsh’s family has farmed for 5 generations, but her family and her community’s relationship with the land is unraveling. The reasons are part economic and part political, but the crushing inequality and unfairness that members of her community face is intensifying. Life was always hard, but not this hard. She also lays out some of the ways in which her political views and alliances have changed. Any notion of a one-size-fits-all rural point of view crumbles pretty quickly.

Our country is clearly polarized and this book is one that can help us understand some people in a part of the our country that urban blue staters might not think twice about or maybe think about with rancor. I’m hoping it’s a conversation starter.

What did you read last?

Like many people, I’ve been captivated by Lauren Groff’s storytelling, both in her novel, Fates and Furies, and now in her short story collection, Florida. Her stories have an element of spookiness rarely seen in the literary novels I’ve read.

I’ve also been enchanted by Anne Youngson’s novel, Meet Me at the Museum (Flatiron), in which an English farm wife begins a conversation through her correspondence with a Danish professor. Initially the letters are about the Tollund Man, the perfectly preserved body of an Iron Age man that is the subject of the professor’s expertise, but the emotional intimacy between the two grows as they begin to share the details of their lives. I’m not always a fan of epistolary novels, but this one pulled me right into their lives. Tollund Man also fascinated Seamus Heaney, who wrote a poem about him, and, having seen a similarly well preserved Iron Age woman elsewhere, I understand his eerie appeal.

What are you reading next?

I have a huge to-be-read pile next to my bed, one by my desk at home, another under a pew in the living room and let’s not even talk about what’s waiting by my desk at work. At the top of my pile is: Nicole Chung’s memoir, All You Can Ever Know (Catapult), the story of a Korean American adoptee’s relationship with her white, adoptive family in Oregon and her search for her birth family. Next, I think it’s Tim Mohr’s Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Algonquin Books). I’m fascinated by Berlin and want to learn more about the role of punks in the political resistance of the time.

A friend from one of the organizations I’ve worked with for years stopped in yesterday and told me that I must read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Convergent) by Austin Channing Brown. "Read this and then I want to talk about it,” he told me. I’m Still Here, written by a Black, Christian writer, promises to help us analyze our failures at achieving racial justice (and examines the connection she makes between white Evangelicalism and rising racial hostility in our country). Perhaps she is trying to give us some hope as well as some tough love, which I think is much needed. Is it a coincidence that Austin Channing Brown will appear in Seattle on August 2 at 7 pm at Quest Church, 1401 NW Leary Way? Yes, actually.

But that’s not all. On my way out of the store tonight, I checked my mailbox and there was an advance copy of Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’ and that went straight into my book bag. She’s one of my favorite poets and I’m sure that’s exactly what I’ll need to read on the bus to Bellingham tomorrow.

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.