Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Binjamin Wilkomirski’s memoir of his childhood during the Holocaust was celebrated, awarded, and then challenged. Last week’s Sunday Post included an article about the questionable veracity of David Foster Wallace and other journalistic greats. This week, an essay by Elena Lappin asks how we can bear to accuse someone who has survived immense suffering of lying about it — and how we can bear not to.
The question I wanted to ask Spielberg was an uncomfortable one: would this great archive serve the future as a reliable source of history? ‘Absolutely,’ said Spielberg. ‘Through this material, long after they are gone, survivors can speak to future generations.’ It provided, he said, ‘an unparalleled means of understanding the experience of the victim . . . They can teach us about the Holocaust in an educationally compelling and emotionally moving way.’
To break our trust in these memories would be a cruel thing; to question their veracity, equally cruel.
Min Jin Lee grew up quiet, by nature and by culture. To be a quiet woman in America, though, is to be invisible. So she learned to wield the power of language in her own way.
In Western books, heroes spoke well and could handle any social situation, not just through action, but also through argument. In Korea, a girl was virtuous if she sacrificed for her family or nation, but in the West, a girl was worthy if she had pluck and if she could speak up even when afraid. As a kid, I’d watched Koreans criticizing a man for being all talk and no work. In America, a man was considered stupid or weak if he couldn’t stand up for himself.
Both things were true: I didn’t want to talk, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid.
Agnes Callard considers Margaret Atwood’s response to a young writer from the analytical perspective of a professional philosopher. What are we really asking for, when we ask for advice? And what do we receive?
It would be really nice if information that could transform someone’s values was able to be handed over as cheaply as driving instructions.
Molly Hashimoto is an artist, illustrator, teacher, and author of the recently released book Birds of the West: An Artist’s Guide. Although much of her work depicts flora, she's most known for fauna, especially avifauna (you know, birds). She'll be appearing Thursday, May 30, at the Lake Forest Park Third Place Books to talk about the book. We hear there will be slides!
What are you reading now?
What did you read last?
Milkman by Anna Burns (2018 Booker prize winner).
What are you reading next?
Wildlife of a Garden by Jennifer Owen and Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder & Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Keefe.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cienna is off this week, volunteering advice to young spiders from broken webs, but here's a column from March of 2016.
Sometimes when I buy books from used bookstores, I feel bad, especially if they’re from small presses. Authors get royalties, however small, on each book sold new in bookstores. They get bupkis from used book sales. Maybe this doesn’t matter so much for James Patterson, but when I buy a used copy of an indie title with a tiny print run, that sale could have gone a long way toward benefitting an author, or at least helping their self-esteem. Am I being too sensitive? Or should I only buy copies of bestsellers in used bookstores from now on?
Ingrid, Crown Hill
I like readings. The one problem is I feel guilty if I go to a reading and don’t buy the book. What’s the etiquette here? Is there a rule of thumb? There are so many variations to this theme: sometimes you like the book and will considering buying it later; sometimes after a reading you decide you don’t like the book; sometimes you like the book but it’s too expensive.
I keep coming up with other examples from my life. Is it okay to tell an author you’ll get their book from the library? And what if the author at the reading is your friend?
My anxiety grows by the minute, Cienna. Only you can help me.
Dear Effie and Ingrid,
Guilt should be reserved for religion and select situations that deserve it, like telling a Girl Scout you have a tumor just so she will give you a free box of Thin Mints. To answer your questions:
Buying any and all books from used bookstores is fine. Authors also get nothing when you lend a book to a friend or check a book out from the library. Think of it this way: If those books weren’t being recirculated, they’d be rotting in basements, used as coasters in bars or burned by people like me.
First and foremost, writers are thrilled to have butts in seats at readings. You are basically doing a very specific community service for one very grateful individual when you attend them. That said, you shouldn’t ever feel obligated to buy a book. If your misplaced guilt overwhelms you, however, there is a compromise: When I attend readings and the book doesn’t grab me but I really liked the author, I try to think of a senile aunt or friendly shut-in who might enjoy its content and buy it for them as a gift.
That said, yes, you are absolutely required to buy your friends’ books if they are published authors. It is a $20 investment. If you are not willing to invest $20 in friendship, you do not deserve to have friends.
Finally, I would encourage you both to ruminate on the nature of guilt. I am concerned, based on the tenor of your questions, that neither of you has truly experienced this proverbial shit stain in the rich tapestry of human emotions. Guilt, when done right, should feel like running a coal mine marathon: You should be sweating more than normal and overwhelmed by a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness.
I recommend that you explore this feeling, either by looking someone in your life in the eye while you tell them that you love them and then taking it back 10 minutes later, or by actually running a coal mine marathon. Then you both will be better equipped to tackle slightly uncomfortable social situations, like how to conduct yourself at a book reading, in the future.
Writers Domingo Martinez, Terese Mailhot, and Margaret Malone and musician Bryan John Appleby create new work based on the Heinlein-y theme “Strangers in a Strange Land” at the flagship Hugo House reading series.Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, $25.
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page
Daneet is taking a much-deserved break during May, but will be back next month with more great coverage of the best books to hit the crime scene.
That gives us the opportunity to spend a bit of time with her past columns — and believe it, there is some gold there.
In the past year, besides reviewing fifty-four (!) books, she's also interviewed twelve authors in the one-and-only "Quintessential Interview". It's remarkable to see what the same questions posed to different authors result in.
So, for fun, we decided to poll one question from the last year of writers. So here is how the following writers answered the same question. We also recommend clicking through and seeing the rest of the interviews, and books reviewed, from the past year. No doubt, unless you're Daneet, you haven't read all of them, have you?
Laura Lippman, from May, 2018.
The contract, the deadline, the deadline in the contract, the world, the idea currently uppermost in my mind.
Spencer Kope, from June, 2018.
To answer this, I have to go back to a time when computer screens were small and monochrome, and processing speeds were measured in kilobytes, because it was the early eighties when I discovered the macabre but fascinating world of Stephen King.
I began with Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, after which I was hooked and devoured everything I could find: short stories, novellas, books, things he scrawled on napkins….Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the point. Of all the King stories I read, The Stand remains my favorite. I even liked the miniseries.
Other writers who inspire me are those who persevered: Richard Adams and his opus Watership Down come to mind. The book was repeatedly rejected before being picked up by a one-man publishing house in London; the rest is literary history. Vince Flynn is another example. He self-published his debut, Term Limits, and went on to launch the incredibly successful Mitch Rapp thriller series. Among my collection of first editions are two signed copies of this rare book.
Mick Herron, from July 2018.
Need, curiosity, excitement, guilt, habit.
John Straley, from August, 2018.
I’ve been inspired by the people I met working as a criminal investigator, and by listening to stories in bars and jail cells.
I love jokes and poetry and traveling by boat.
I like talking to strangers who are reading big fat books while sitting alone in noisy cafes.
I often get my best ideas for wild action scenes while sitting in poetry readings.
Stuart Turton, from September, 2018.
It’s funny, I’ve never thought of myself as being inspired, because I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I remember. My book is very much an Agatha Christie novel and I’ve wanted to write it since I was eight, so let’s put Agatha up top. After that it gets a lot more prosaic. I write everyday because I’d go mad if I didn’t; because I’d have to get an office job if I didn’t; because the electricity company doesn’t take ‘following your dreams’ as payment; and because I can’t do anything else.
Valentina Giambanco, from October, 2018.
- Human relationships – always a never-ending source of surprising material.
- Good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things.
- Outsiders and all those who don’t quite fit in.
- The small details of everyday life – you’re sitting in the bus and you see someone doing something and go, “Oh yeah, I’m stealing that tiny gesture.”
- Wilderness and the way that, in the wild, human beings reveal who they truly are.
Lou Berney, from November, 2018.
Chilly, rainy weather always gets me going. Reading a great novel will often temporarily crush my spirit but then a few hours later I’ll be all jacked up to hit the laptop. Driving through my hometown of Oklahoma City, watching an amazing sunset split open the sky – that’s when good ideas often come to me.
Katrina Carrasco, from December, 2018.
I love writing complex, unpredictable women; once the characters gather critical mass it feels like I’m in conversation with them and they’re showing me the way, which is an amazing process. I want a bigger canon of queer literature and I want to be part of creating it. Same for happy stories about queer people. The Pacific Northwest is a great character in itself, and time in the mountains, in the forest, or by the sea recharges me. I’m fascinated by sentence-level sound and syntax: how every line can be a poem, and how those poems can coalesce into paragraphs, and eventually accrete into a book.
Taylor Adams, from January, 2019.
I’m fascinated by storytelling momentum – that driving, can’t-stop intensity that catapults you into the next scene, and the next – so any novel that can give me that euphoric sensation is high on my list of inspirations. Film structure, too, is a great blueprint that I always keep in mind. Take the structural perfection of a movie like Die Hard, for example, for cultivating and maintaining that level of intensity. Aside from books and film, other inspirations that give me the “fuel” to put in the time writing every day are music, the encouragement of my family, and coffee. Definitely coffee.
Don Winslow, from February, 2019.
History. The news. Shakespeare. Jazz. The writers who came before.
Elisabeth Elo, from March, 2019.
Sober people. Particle physics and quantum mechanics because they remind me that there’s a great deal more to this world than we can see. My own deepest experiences because I can’t express them, which makes me, paradoxically, want to express anything I can. Fairytales for their perfect narrative structure and blunt acknowledgment of evil. Any genuine smile.
Hanna Jameson, from April, 2019.
Things and emotions that scare me. Anything David Lynch makes, says, writes, or does. Fear of being broke. Reading history. The idea that the only meaning we have in this life is in the good that we do with whatever superpowers we arrived with, and my superpowers happened to be writing and having awesome hair so I’m gonna carry on doing that.
Detail from "Telelphone with E.T. Russian" by Marie Bouassi.
Twenty years ago, it would've been unthinkable that Seattle City Hall would be home to a comics art show. But the unthinkable is now a reality: from now through July, the downstairs art gallery at City Hall is featuring an exhibit called Comix for All.
Curated by the indispensable Short Run festival, Comix for All features comics by 14 artists, framed and hanging in a downstairs hallway. The work still feels a little bit transgressive, like you might imagine a City Councilmember feeling a little uncomfortable as they walk past.
In fact, some of the work seems specifically selected to push at the austere surroundings. I'm thinking in particular of two works by Simon Hanselmann: a colored comics page that seems to be parodying Noah Van Sciver's angry-young-man comic Fante Bukowski and, especially, a poster featuring a weeping bear with yin-yang eyes that announces "ART MIGHT UPSET YOU - SOMETIMES IT'S SUPPOSED TO." But Hanselmann is not the only envelope-pusher: a page from Lauren Armstrong's comic "Cape Beer" features a pair of hands rolling a joint, putting us in the perspective of the joint-roller.
Some of the displayed art is excerpted from longer comics pages. Others are single illustrations drawn by cartoonists. Some are in color, others are in black and white. Together, the works create a kind of anthology of the modern state of alternative cartooning, exploded out onto the halls of local government.
Comics have a certain insouciance to them, an eagerness to prick at the face of authority. Who hasn't gotten in trouble for doodling in class, after all? Who hasn't drawn a caricature of an authority figure? Comics push at our leaders, find their weak spots, and expose them for all to see in an accessible, irreverent medium.
Seeing these pages on the walls of City Hall is a bit of a culture shock, but it doesn't feel like selling out. Instead, it feels like Short Run has smuggled something cool and interesting into an aggressively bland space. That's the glory of comics.
Comix for All will feature an artists reception on June 6th from 4 to 6 pm. All are welcome.
Congratulations to Celestial Bodies author Jokha Alharthi. With the book's English translator, Marilyn Booth, Alharthi has won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. As Literary Hub notes, "The win makes Alharthi the first Arabic author to win the award and the the first Omani woman to have a novel translated in to English."
Moby was recently in town reading from his new memoir. In it, he claims that he was in a relationship with Natalie Portman. Portman has now gone on the record to deny that she was ever involved with Moby. Portman claims “I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school.”
Another quote from Portman relates to an issue we posted about yesterday: "There was no fact checking from [Moby] or his publisher – it almost feels deliberate. That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn’t the case. There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check.” [Emphasis mine.]
Seriously: when will publishers start fact-checking their non-fiction books? This is making the industry look terrible.
In better news, the Vanity Fair archives — yes, all of them are open and free to browse through the end of this month.
Today, May 22nd, is Short Run cofounder/Executive Director Kelly Froh's birthday. And to celebrate, Short Run is running a one-day donation drive to raise $3,500 for this year's festival. Short Run is a free small press, minicomix, and zine festival that somehow manages to outdo itself every year. It provides financial and emotional support for hundreds of local cartoonists, and it offers year-round programming. If you care about local artists, Seattle's arts and literary scene, and physical media, you should dig deep into your pockets and offer something up to Short Run today.
Last night, Town Hall Seattle officially opened its great hall to the public for the first time in two years. During the extensive renovations to the building, Town Hall has been outsourcing its programming to nearly fifty venues around the city, and now — after a few months' delay — the venue is entering a soft-launch period before the grand reopening this September.
Earlier this week, Town Hall's curator of lectures, Edward Wolcher, gave me a short tour of the venue. There's still some work to be done, but the new Town Hall is a top-to-bottom refresh that places the building firmly in the heart of Seattle's arts community. It's always been a stately building, but now Town Hall is a smarter, sleeker, and more versatile space than ever before.
Aside from the carpeting, fresh coat of paint, and new sound-enhancement features, the upstairs great hall is likely largely as you recall it. With the pews and the stained glass windows, it resembles nothing so much as a secular church. The hall can still hold roughly seven to eight hundred attendees, making it one of the largest reading spaces in the city.
But though the Great Hall has stayed the same, the spaces surrounding it on the main floor have completely changed. For one thing, in what might be the most popular new addition for many Town Hall attendees, there are almost twenty new unisex bathroom stalls on the main floor. For another, the bar area has been expanded, offering visitors a space to pause with friends before or after a show.
There's also a new mid-size reading space off to the side of the main floor which offers Town Hall an opportunity to experiment with a new size of programming. The well-lit room, which seats less than a hundred, could be an excellent space for post-reading community discussions, or pre-reading events that give up-and-coming local talent a stage.
The downstairs space at Town Hall is virtually unrecognizable. What formerly looked like a church basement — I mean that in the warmest way possible — is now a highly adaptable space called The Forum that can expand or contract to meet any event's special requirements. In one corner of the room is a small bar and cafe area. Along the other wall are bookshelves that will soon house books written by Town Hall authors, which can be sealed off into its own small venue called "The Library."
It's remarkable what Town Hall has achieved with this remodel. They've taken two excellent spaces and evolved them into a series of modular venues that can comfortably house any event from a chamber music concert to an intimate poetry reading to a New York Times bestselling author. It's quite possible that on any given night, Town Hall could comfortably house four different events for audiences ranging in size from 20 to 750 people.
The remodel is not completely done yet; the bars aren't yet open for business, and the outdoors plaza still has months to go before it's complete. But you'll want to stop by soon to get an idea of the possibility that the new Town Hall offers. This September, the venue will celebrate its official relaunch with a monthlong festival of events intended to celebrate the organization's past and future. All are welcome.
I know I'm in a dwindling group, but I love a good literary takedown. Give me one big-name author taking the piss very publicly out of another big-name author in a book review and I'm basically a pig in shit.
The literary takedown is a disappearing subgenre of book review. Readers don't seem to have the stomach for them anymore, and publicists will likely blackball a reviewer who takes too hard a hand in their review. And yes, the subgenre has been used too much, and for some truly heinous purposes, in years past.
However, I have to call your attention to Winner Take All author Anand Giridharadas's review of the new Jared Diamond book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. Giridharadas isn't just calling out Diamond for a difference in their opinions — though there certainly are many of those — but he also cites multiple errors on Diamond's part, acccusing him of laziness and bringing the receipts to prove it.
But even if you don't want to read a takedown right now — maybe you're feeling too tender, or maybe you prefer to remember Jared Diamond at the height of his Guns Germs and Steel powers — there is still a paragraph in Giridharadas's review that I think everyone should read. It calls out the publishing industry for a practice that has gone on for far too long:
There is also a systemic issue here. The time has come for those of us who work in book-length nonfiction to insist that professional fact-checking become as inalienable from publishing as publicity, marketing and jacket design — and at the publisher’s expense rather than as a cost passed on to the author, who, understandably, will often choose to spend her money on health care. In the age of tweets, it cannot be the fate of the book to become ever more tweetlike — maybe factual, maybe whatever. The book must stand apart, must stand above.
Yes! Most people are shocked to learn that nonfiction books are not fact-checked, or they are fact-checked on the author's dime. As Giridharadas points out, this embarrassing practice does nothing but diminish books in a time when books are already being diminished in the cultural discourse. It's time to hold our authors to a higher standard — the same standard that reputable newspapers maintain. Fact-checking for all!
My life would be worthless floating face down
In that dirty old river so lovely and warm
That fateful night as while casting a spell
Loaded to the blastin’ point
Is that really Jimmy’s ring clutched in your fingers?
The kids call him Jimmy the Saint
With wicked Felina, the girl that I loved
I begged him to go slow by the coal yards
Head first to the graveyard
They said they found my high school ring
They told me he was bad
They heard him say, how can you be so cruel?
They pulled him from the twisted wreck
They all stop and stare
But you went running back and asked me why
But I’ll join you tonight and there’s nothing
But my love for Felina and five mounted
Cowboys just sweet sixteen
What could I do?
Oh what can I do?
Will I see you any more?
Hey kid, you think that’s oil?
And am I still your own true love?
Were lovers stalled upon the railroad track
By the river in El Paso at the candy store
Lyin’ there upon the grave?
Yes, we see how his car overturned in flames
How that ever can happen where the horses were tied
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest
The shadows wave into a point I’ll never kiss
Your lips again and kissed
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye
When Seattle Arts & Lectures announces their upcoming season, it's a snapshot of the literary moment and a harbinger of the literary year to come. Their picks reflect what's on our minds right now and where they think our minds will go. Big names and small; big ideas and beautiful words; politics and poetry. They put the city, the nation, and the world on stage for us.
They've just announced the speakers for the 2019/2020 season, and this is your first and best chance to get exactly the dance card you want, whether it's Patti Smith and Mary Ruefle or Lindy West and Rick Barot. Or throw the dice — put the names in a hat, draw three, and experience something unexpected.
Whatever your pleasure, you should
grab your ticket before the events start selling out. We'll see you there!
You're part of the best book city in the world, and we want everyone to know who you are. Grab one of the last sponsorship slots left this spring and put your book, event, retreat, or class in front of our readers. We'd love to see you in this space.
David Sloan Wilson's latest book completes the Darwinian revolution by applying evolutionary thought to...well, almost everything. His book offers simple ways to help discern between natural systems and human-created systems — and he explains why that's an important distinction to make. Wilson is joined in conversation by, full disclosure, my day-job boss, Nick Hanauer. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.
Seattle author Erica Bauermeister's latest novel is about a young woman who lives on a lonely but lovely island with her father. She becomes intrigued by a mysterious collection of scents that her father owns, and then a whole bunch of secrets are revealed. *Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free. *
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 8 pm, free.
The Red May series of events (motto: "Take a month off from capitalism!") continues with a conversation between Kathi Weeks, Michael Hardt, Peter Frase, and Charles Mudede about how work is unnecessary and dumb. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, http://townhallseattle.org, 7:30 pm, $5.
Writers Domingo Martinez, Terese Mailhot, and Margaret Malone and musician Bryan John Appleby create new work based on the Heinlein-y theme "Strangers in a Strange Land" at the flagship Hugo House reading series. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7 pm, $25.
Curator Kate Berwanger's poetry-at-brunch literary series continues with readers including Erika Brumett, Lin Wilsie, Sameer Bhangar, Shelley Minden, and Steve Sibra. Get drunk, get fed, and enjoy some poetry by an up-and-comer.
Corvus & Co, 601 Broadway E, 420-8488, https://www.facebook.com/corvusandcompany/, 11 am, $5.
If you've been following the work of Seattle Review of Books May Poet in Residence Doug Nufer, you know that he's a playful and curious word explorer. He loves to mash vocabularies together, to mix up technical words with poetry, to turn over boring and overused phrases to see what lies underneath.
What you might not know just from reading this site is that Nufer is a natural showman. He's a great reader of his own work, a generous host, and a very good curator of events. He's been doing events in Seattle for decades, and he's absolutely never boring.
Nufer's latest reading series is called The Every Other. It happens every other month at Vermillion, and it's not an especially high-concept deal: a few readers, a musician, and a good bar. That's all you need, right?
This Wednesday, Nufer will host the second Every Other, with a musician named Meira Jough — Nufer describes her as "a lyrical songwriter in the tradition of nomadic world folk singers" — and poets Jeanine Walker and Alex Gallo-Brown.
Walker has appeared on the Seattle Review of Books as a poet in residence, so faithful readers likely already know her work. Gallo-Brown frequently incorporates issues of labor and work into his poetry, along with generational discussions and questions of what it means to live in the modern world. This is a dazzling lineup.
As the literary performance week starts to ramp down for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, you should consider making The Every Other your final pre-summer event. It's a great lineup, the drinks are strong, and Nufer will never let you down.
Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797, http://vermillionseattle.com, 8 pm, free.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
If you like newsletters, and aren’t already subscribing to Philip Christman’s “The Tourist,” I highly recommend you do. Christman publishes thoughtful, mid-length reflections, and I often start the day with them when they come in — it sets my brain to the right rhythm for really looking at the world, instead of skimming through it like I’m living in a Twitter feed.
In this letter, Christman talks about his mother, who voted for Donald Trump and who he loves in that difficult, complicated way we love people sometimes — through a blur of their flaws and our own.
This is the part where it's tempting to write "in that moment, politics fell away, and pragmatics/common sense/simple values took over," but that sort of sentence is a lie. Your politics and your pragmatics, your common sense, your simple values, are a series of Russian nesting dolls that contain each other. My politics in that moment was that my mom had spent her life doing the best she could with the information she had, and that her best was not good enough and that mine would never be either. And neither is yours, whoever is reading this.
Writing about the amazing, dreadful field in which he’s made his career — tech — Paul Ford is gentle, wry, and fearless. We built the tools of power, he says to his industry — now we must be accountable for their use. And maybe, just maybe, consider that tech’s time to lead is ending.
It’s that second part that’s so amazing: tech issues a new call to action, to itself, every day of the week. But a call to step away from the throne? That cuts to the culture’s heart, wallet, and soul.
I wish I could take my fellow CEOs by the hand (they’re not into having their hands held) and show them Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any of the other places where people are angry. Listen, I’d say, you’re safe. No one is coming for your lake house, even if they tweet “I’m coming for your lake house.” These random angry people are merely asking us to keep our promises. We told them 20-some years ago that we’d try to abolish government and bring a world of plenty. We told them we’d make them powerful, that we’d open gates of knowledge and opportunity. We said, “We take your privacy and security seriously at Facebook.” We said we were listening. So listen! They are submitting a specification for a world in which fairness is a true currency, and then they’re trying to hold everyone to the spec (which is, very often, the law). As someone who spent a lot of time validating XML and HTML pages, I empathize. If bitcoin can be real money, then fairness can be a real goal.
James Wolcott bites into Bret Easton Ellis' career with the tenacity and repulsion of a man determined to eat a worm-infested apple just to prove the worms exist.
Bad reviews, media bashing, mockery, disdain, brutal accusations of old-fartdom — will Bret Easton Ellis learn anything from this debacle? Of course not. It would be out of character and borderline disappointing if he did. A sudden onset of empathy would neutralise the snot factor so integral to his persona and voice.
McKinsey & Co. is a stunningly successful brand story: the consulting firm that managed to sell standard-issue white male arrogance as cutting-edge business smarts. ProPublica reports on McKinsey’s questionable choice of bedfellows in Mongolia, the country’s rejection of the firm (now reversed, under new government), and suggestive echoes from South Africa and other places where McKinsey has made millions.
A diffuse operating style worked for McKinsey when it had 300 partners or so, as it did 30 years ago. But the firm now has over 2,100 partners, and oversight of their engagements remains limited. Sneader told the _Financial Times_ that he would like to see the entire partnership weigh in on more decisions. But corralling 2,100-plus partners who cherish their independence is no easy task.
In the match of the century, David Foster Wallace goes into the ring with YouTube — and loses. Will he take literary journalism down with him?
The social contract between journalist and reader — “what I am telling you strictly happened” — thus seems increasingly conditional in the case of the literary journalist, who is more incentivized to place all of their observations and reportage into an ordered narrative about what it all means. In college, I took a course called “Literary Journalism,” which makes me wince for a few reasons. First among them is how we were exposed to a wide range of great writers — including all the people I’ve mentioned today — without our professor discussing the likelihood that their work was partially fabricated. For weeks, I’d sit there thinking, “this is great material, how did they get it” without my earnest young mind considering that it was probably not as conveniently illuminating as depicted; that “they sort of made it up” was a strong possibility instead of a cynical interpretation. And yet these writers continue to be valorized.
Brad Holden is a local historian, collector, and — as he puts it — urban archeeologist. His questing and questioning of finds lead to research that became his book Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Graft in the Queen City. He'll be appearing in conversation with Thomas Kohnstamm on Thursday, May 23rd at Third Place Books, Seward Park at 7:00pm to talk about the book. Find out more information here.
What are you reading now?
What did you read last?
Before that I read Lake City by local author, Thomas Kohnstamm. A really great novel that pays tribute to "Old Seattle" by way of the Lake City neighborhood, circa 2001. Kohnstamm is a buddy of mine and he really hits it out of the park with this book. I predict it will become a local cult classic that people will still be reading 20 years from now.
What are you reading next?
The next book I want to read is Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Being a writer of historical non-fiction, Larson has been a huge influence for me. He has a knack for bringing these stories alive and turning them into real page-turners, so am looking forward to diving into this one!
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
In record terms, I’ll listen to any artist who comes out from Sub Pop. I won’t love all of their musicians, but I will at least think they’re interesting and well worth my time. Do any publishers consistently put out worthy books, to the point where their imprint on a spine makes them an automatic buy for you at the bookstore?
The only product I'm loyal to is my Hammacher Schlemmer's metal-detecting sandals, which are the closest thing I've got to a retirement plan.
That said, I gravitate towards Coffeehouse Press, Future Tense Books, Copper Canyon Press, and Tin House. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few names but I've been told that I have the attention span of a YouTube star coupled with the natural warmth of a Hollywood spider. Speaking of, did you know that eating your young is considered both Keto and Paleo?
Saturday, May 18th: Bushwick Book Club — Seattle’s only regular event that pairs local musicians with a book in order to create new music tackles Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Poets will be onhand to share their thoughts about Whitman, too. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7:30 pm, $10.
Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.
Soon I’ll embark on a bunch of plane trips: eight in the next seven months. Connie Willis remarked in her time travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog that no one from any era is satisfied with their own era’s transportation methods, and I know that’s true for me. The hurry-up-and-wait necessitated by departure and arrival schedules, the invasiveness of TSA screening procedures, cramped seats — I turn to SFFH’s visions of travel for relief, or at least variety.
Ray Vukcevich’s 2002 short story “In the Flesh” cranks up the absurdity of current security theater performances just enough for delicious but slightly awkward irony. (Warning: its accompanying illustration may be NSFW.) Looking into the future many believe is science fiction’s rightful turf, we find authors imagining flying cars and spaceships. Though they’re more evident in film and television than in written formats, flying cars have long been one of the genre’s staple props. They’ve yet to become a staple consumer item in reality, however. And space ships? Regarding them we’ve regressed. They used to actually exist, and now they’re little more than presidential wet dreams.
But when it comes to imaginary vehicles the leader of the free world has a myriad to choose among. From the sentient, planet-sized, interstellar craft of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series to the darkly echoing, utilitarian Martian ferries of Richard Morgan’s Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Thirteen, there’s quite a range. Hard science fiction is also used to addressing space ship practicalities such as power sources (solar sails, for instance, á la Clarke’s “Sunjammer”), or the many years of most voyages’ duration (generation ships, for instance, á la Rivers Solomons’ An Unkindness of Ghosts).
Not everyone expects such down-to-earth considerations in their SFFH, though, as one author’s recent remark about “traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots” indicates. And of course the imaginative genres can oblige. But even when writers draw on standard story furniture such as force beams, the trickier corollaries of these axiomatic elements of the SF universe come under scrutiny. Exactly how do “transporters” such as Star Trek’s work? By destroying the original of a person and reconstituting her as a copy? “Think Like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly explores the rather gnarly ethical problems that solution brings up.
Fantasy also transports people instantaneously — magically! And it presents plenty of alternate means of travel as well, from rides on dragonback to steampunk’s ubiquitous dirigibles to shortcuts through Fairyland like the one taken by the protagonists of Zen Cho’s latest novel, The True Queen.
As for Horror’s connection to this month’s topic, what’s usually involved is travel without warning to a lesser known, more troubling land, as in Marc Laidlaw’s “Cell Call.” Sometimes it’s the land of the dead; sometimes it’s a hazard-ridden mindscape, as in H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (which Kij Johnson responded to in a tone of feminist insouciance with her novella “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe”).
“Where do you want to go today?” asked the 1990s Microsoft advertising slogan. Or where would you rather not go? One way or another, SFFH will take you there.
Amnesty (Tor), the third and final book in Lara Elena Donnelly’s ravishing Amberlough Dossier is thicker than the first two. This is a good thing. Neither the author nor her audience want to reach the end of the decadent adventures of Aristide (drag queen, smuggler, and sometime revolutionary) and his lover Cyril (collaborator and spy). But with the Nazi-like Ospies finally out of power and Ari’s bomb-wielding comrade Cordelia martyred and memorialized, with Cyril’s diplomat sister free from the fascist former government’s manipulation and Cyril himself returned from years of imprisonment and torture, there are only a few more escapes to engineer, a few more dangers to flaunt. Our louche heroes, rightly worse for many years’ wear, deserve a conclusion. Donnelly provides them with one that’s satisfactory as well as plausible, but may still provoke re-readings. After all, how many multivolume secondary world genderqueer espionage epics are out there? Not a lot. Not nearly enough.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Vintage), for instance, is unlike the Amberlough books except for two things: it messes around with gender, and it’s delicious. Its author, Andrea Lawlor, set their tale of a shapeshifting twink’s lesbian love affair firmly in the U.S. of the 1990s. The only espionage hero Paul Polydoris indulges in is disguising himself as “Polly,” a woman complete with vagina, clitoris, urethra, and g-spot — but no menstrual period. Yet even while crashing the TERF-identified Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and rapturously surrendering to couplehood with a butch dyke, internally Paul never switches pronouns. He consistently identifies as male, redefining and complicating the concept of “masculinity.” For those of us hooked on the cognitive estrangement of SFFH this is an alluring narrative cocktail. Frustratingly for genre fans, though, Paul fails to uncover the cause of and mechanism behind his self-generated sex changes — in fact, he barely tries. And that’s how, ultimately, this book earns its label as “Literary Fiction” — by falling short of speculative fiction’s more rigorous standards. Nonetheless, the fall is sweet fun. Jane, Paul’s best friend, always feels better “when she [has] brought herself around to a critique of the heteropatriarchy.” Me too.
The finalists for the 2019 Locus Awards have been announced! Once again they’re being presented in dear old Seattle during the fabulous Locus Awards Weekend, which is sort of like a scaled down sercon, but with Hawaiian shirts and donuts. Readings and presentations and workshops, in other words, plus Connie Willis describing — in an intimate setting — how it feels to be bitten by a bat. Also, there will be at least two plastic bananas.
If you’d rather avoid the bananas you may want to swallow dissatisfaction with today’s transportation options and fly over to South Africa for Geekfest 2019. Confusingly, there’s a similarly-named one-day event held in South Jersey, but the Pretorian Geekfest lasts an entire weekend and promises cosplay, LARPing, and celebrations of geek culture (that being part of the con’s name) and Japanese culture (that being the con’s theme this year). And also, presumably, their overlap.
Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts and Lectures unveiled this year's Summer Book Bingo board. It includes squares like "book about disability" and "made into a movie." The game began yesterday and it continues through September 3rd. Download your cards here.
Seattle Arts and Lectures unveiled their 2019-2020 season this week, as well. Events include a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates and readings from Lindy West, Amor Towles, Patti Smith, and many more. Read all about it on SAL's site.
Great Seattle cookbook store The Book Larder is launching a podcast!
Amazon bounced Portland indie bookstore Powell's from its website for no reason. They only reinstated Powell's after Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week investigated.
To put it in Hollywood pitch-meeting terms, Outer Darkness is Star Trek as written by H.P. Lovecraft (without the latter's monstrous racism.) Like most pitches, it's an accurate description, but it's also wholly inadequate.
The new series — the first collection of which went on sale yesterday — is written by John Layman and illustrated by Afu Chan. Outer Darkness seems set on upending audience expectations. Chan's art, for one thing, is cartoonier than you might expect for a horror artist.
Horror comics, from EC Comics to the modern day, tend to lean on realistic art in order to make the audience as squeamish as possible. When the neck being menaced by a butcher knife looks realistic, for instance, you're more likely to wince in sympathy than if it's a simplistic cartoon neck. But a more realistic artist would likely make the sci-fi setting feel cheap or unbelievable.
Chan, though, is a perfect fit. He can illustrate a haunted sun or a starship's bridge overcome with a plague of demonic eyes. It's all one cohesive universe, and nothing feels too bizarre to believe. Without his deceptively simple designs, the book would likely fail to blend the magic and the science in a believable fashion.
Layman obviously has a plan in mind for this book. Captain Joshua Rigg is a compelling lead character — he's just taken command over the Charon, and nobody (including the reader) knows if they can trust him. He's not afraid to bend the rules to do a little treasure hunting, but he seems to have some sort of a half-baked moral code in place.
Part of the pleasure of this first volume of Outer Darkness is seeing what kind of world Layman and Chan are building. The ship has its own exorcist, and a mortician on hand. It's powered by a demon god rather than a warp core. Death isn't as permanent as you'd expect.
Outer Darkness is a classic sci-fi adventure story turned on its head, a story about bad people trying to thrive a dark universe. It's an ingenious premise, and Layman and Chan make the most of it.
Please join us for SoulFood Poetry Night at 7:00 pm on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at SoulFood Coffee House in Redmond, Washington to celebrate the 25th anniversary of FLOATING BRIDGE PRESS. This month our featured performers are Floating Bridge Press poets Katy E. Ellis, Natasha Kochicheril Moni, Rena Priest, Michael Schmeltzer, and Dujie Tahat. Please also bring your own poems for our open-mic reading. Be there!
If you want to know what a writer should not do when presented with a negative review, please read this long and cringe-worthy email from a sci-fi writer to a site called Sci-Fi and Scary. Seriously — just when you think it's gotten as bad as it possibly can get, it takes a turn for the worse.
A few months ago, we told you that the second largest book distributor in the country, Baker & Taylor, is getting out of the indie-bookstore-supplying business. This is terrible news for independent bookstores, which now have only one option to get books in a timely manner. Publishers recognize this, and are trying to make up the difference for indie bookstores. It's unclear if this new program is anything more than lip service, but it's important to note that even the publishers realize what an existential threat Baker & Taylor's retreat poses for the entire industry.
Here are fifteen reasons an old-time-y movie studio is not going to turn your screenplay into a silent movie.
Here is some bad writing advice from Ernest Hemingway.
Seattle poet Bill Carty collects the beginnings of poems while he's walking around in the world. "A lot of the more recent poems [in his debut collection Huge Cloudy] began in my Notes app on my phone," Carty says.
"I have two young kids, so I'm often pushing them around in a stroller" in his Green Lake neighborhood, Carty explains. He'd hear or see something — "an overheard conversation or specific trees" — that he would then record.
"I still do most of my writing at a desk in an office surrounded by books," Carty says, but those notes from his walks prompt him into writing "so I'm not sitting down with nothing." Even if nothing specific from the notes winds up in the final version of the poem, they'll still influence the text in subliminal ways.
This coming Sunday, Carty is celebrating Huge Cloudy with a walking poetry reading that stretches three miles around Green Lake and Phinney Ridge. "I want to bring the poems back to those places" that inspired them, Carty says. You can find a full schedule and map on Carty's site.
The reading starts in the northeast corner of Green Lake at 12:30 pm. "There's a cedar tree there that fell down in a storm in August, 2015, which is when my daughter was born," Carty says. "I remember walking around the lake and seeing that tree, freshly fallen, and it was cut up in pieces, different segments at a time, and taken away." The tree and its removal inspired a poem that ends the book and begins the reading.
"Starting with that tree, we'll then move around Green Lake, up through Woodland Park, down the west side of Phinney Ridge toward the 418 Public House, which is where the final gathering will be," Carty says.
At various stops along the walk, various Seattle poets will read a piece or two. Confirmed guests for the afternoon include Gabrielle Bates, Kary Wayson, Dujie Tahat, Alex Gallo-Brown, and Jane Wong. Weather permitting, Carty says, a kiddie pool might get involved. And "I have a megaphone. I don't know that it I'll actually use it, but it will at least make me look official."
The Huge Cloudy launch is a big experiment, and Carty's not sure how it's going to turn out. He says that the 418 Public House asked him how many people to expect for the reading/book sale/launch party. "I told them I don't know — it could be five, could be 30, it could be everybody would have dropped off the hunt by then. I'm not really sure." He doesn't sound worried at all.
Carty sees the event as a demonstration of a quote from Joshua Beckman: "I don’t imagine that the central location of poetry is the book. Really, no, I imagine the central location of poetry is the world."
Beckman's words lit a candle deep inside Carty: "that's a really interesting way of thinking about where poems start and where they're quote-unquote finished in terms of being on the printed page," he says. To celebrate the book's publication, he's going to release those poems back into the world where they were born, to see what happens next.
According to CNN polling, only three percent of Americans have read the entirety of the Mueller Report, while 18 percent claimed to have read "some" or "a little" of it. That means more than three-quarters of all Americans have not read any of the Mueller Report.
Not every American should read the Mueller Report, of course, but it would be nice if we could get those numbers up a little bit higher. It's important to understand and to share actual information, rather than just a series of rage-baiting headlines. The more people who can understand the breadth and the depth of the Mueller investigation, the better public discourse will be.
With that in mind, on June 5th the Reading Through It Book Club will be discussing The Washington Post's edition of The Mueller Report at Third Place Books Seward Park. We'll be meeting at 7 pm, per usual, and there's no pre-registration. The book is on sale for 20 percent off right now at Third Place, but no purchase is necessary to attend.
This is an important opportunity to talk about what's in the Report, what's not in the Report, and what it all means for the next year and a half in American politics. It's okay if you don't read or understand the whole report before the 5th; we fully expect to be working through the book together, and that means making room for all the things we don't know.
The Reading Through It Book Club has been a pretty special experience for me. It's a space that allows people to wrestle with big ideas of what it means to be an American after Trump's election. With the Mueller Report, we have a chance to stare directly at the presidency, to see what the record says, and to understand what we know. If you're curious about the Mueller Report, this is your chance to do so in a room full of supportive people with the same goals. I hope to see you there.
Published May 14, 2019, at 12:00pm
Travel guidebooks have slowly lost the attention of readers as smartphones and internet access have become universally adopted. A new, beautifully illustrated book recasts the idea of what travel books might be: this one is an intimate account of a journey that puts readers in the passenger seat.
I feel that luck is one thing
I was smart enough to go through
Dressed in overalls and meeting
Opportunity measured by
Your most unhappy customers
Who know something
When nobody is looking.
The worst mistake a boss can make is
The opposite of love, the secret of business,
The trouble with learning from one acorn.
Miracles are nothing, the creation of any place
Worth going to arrive at a conclusion.
Failing nineteen times, I’ve learned the one
Who brings out the best in me
Looks like an empty mind
With an open one to ask a better question.
It’s indifference not to say well done
To get a better answer and start doing
The history of tomorrow nobody else knows
To be receptive of feedback.
Anything worth doing is the name
We give our mistakes to see
What is right when you hit bottom.
Success is how high you bounce
Your chances of success,
The key to success, and succeding.
Going on four years, now, the award-winning Seattle Review of Books has been funded in a novel way: by you. No, not like NPR with donations — our funding is by you, independent writers, and artists. It's from you, local foundations offering programs and events. And you, charitable donations looking to get your message out to a public who care deeply about books and the book culture of our amazing city.
Why do our sponsors return again and again? Our sponsorships are inexpensive, and the only way you can capture Seattle's reading public in one place. They work to reach the audience you want to reach. One sponsorship buys our site out for an entire week, and puts your content front-and-center on every page across the site with original writing. Find out more on our sponsor page.
We just marked down the few remaining slots before we release our next block to sponsors — snag these quick before they go, and let us help you show our readers what you've been working so hard to bring into the world.
This is reading for a book about a Seattle woman who, in 2008, reported that she was raped by a masked man. Police doubted her story and accused her of false reporting. Later, a Colorado police officer would eventually discover that the Seattle woman was telling the truth the whole time. What a terrible story, but what an important story to tell. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
See our Event of the Week column for more details. Tuesday: Book Tree, 609 Market St, Kirkland, 425-202-7791, http://www.booktreekirkland.com/, 7 pm, free. Thursday: Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
Next month, the long-running WordsWest Literary Series will host its final reading. This month, the series welcomes Seattle novelist Erica Bauermeister and poet Alan Chong Lau to put the "ultimate" in "penultimate." C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW, http://wordswestliterary.weebly.com, 7 pm, free.
Cascadia Magazine joins forces with UpZones Podcast to discuss what it means to be from Cascadia. They'll be joined by a poet, a high-speed rail advocate, and an expert who will explain what fossil fuels are doing to the environment. There will be time for audience questions.
Horizon Books, 1423 10th Ave, https://www.seattlehorizonbooks.com/, 6:30 pm, free.
Seattle's only regular event that pairs local musicians with a book in order to create new music tackles Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Poets will be onhand to share their thoughts about Whitman, too. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org, 7:30 pm, $10.
Does it strike anyone else as hugely funny that Lies My Teacher Told Me now comes in a young readers edition? Shouldn't they have changed the title to Lies My Teacher Is Currently Telling Me? In any case, this book, which re-examines history through a critical eye, is a very important one and it's great that kids now have more access to it. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333, http://thirdplacebooks.com, 7 pm, free.
You have two opportunities this week to help a grande dame of Northwest poetry unveil a new book. On Tuesday, Tess Gallagher will be debuting Is, Is Not at Book Tree, a lovely store in Kirkland. And on Thursday, Gallagher brings her newborn book to Elliott Bay Book Company. You should attend one of these events.
Gallagher is a tremendously influential poet. I've lost track of how many poets I've interviewed who cite an encounter with Gallagher as the beginning of their life as a "real" poet. These stories vary — sometimes the poet becomes friends with Gallagher, sometimes they just exchange a few words after a literary event — but they are all career-altering moments.
Her career spans nearly five decades, and Gallagher has made the most of every moment of it. She has taught poetry to hundreds of students and edited anthologies and written short fiction and published dozens of books. It's impossible to account fully for her influence because her fingerprints are all over Seattle literature.
Gallagher's latest poetry collection, Is, Is Not, is very interested in time. These are poems about aging and all the frailty and confidence that it brings. Some poems skip forward in time, while many gaze backward. She writes that sometimes all it takes is patience to win a battle: "...wait long enough and things/will turn, will wear themselves out."
Ultimately, you can read Is, Is Not as yet another poetry book. But it also feels like a scattered memoir, a Vonnegut-like journey in an unmoored time/space continuum. The only constant theme in the book is Gallagher herself: all the watching, noting, remembering, and aspiring comes originally from her. And why wouldn't everything come from her? She has been a pillar of Northwest poetry since before many of your favorite poets were born. That kind of longevity and quality deserves a celebration. Or two.
Tuesday: Book Tree, 609 Market St, Kirkland, 425-202-7791, http://www.booktreekirkland.com/, 7 pm, free. Thursday: Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com, 7 pm, free.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
There’s a swathe — a broad swathe, of which “broad swathe” is one — of overused words and phrases that I struggle each week to avoid … There’s no better word, though, than the detestably common “gripping” for this essay by journalist Wil Hylton. For years, Hylton carried on an intense if intermittent relationship with his aggressive, violent, fascinating cousin. Here, he examines how his own ideas about being a man led to a nearly fatal attack from one of his most intimate friends.
I loved the shelter of his violence. It gave him the power to make wrong right. It made no difference that he never did, only that he could. I loved that when he came to a party, people made room for us to pass. I loved when he told me about breaking a pool cue in half and beating two guys with the fat end. I loved him even when I hated his violence, even when it hurt me.
This is a strange and lovely possible truth, and an interesting showcase of how scientific proofs are built. As a bonus, read this, about Norway’s fascination with its captive wolves and visceral resentment of the free ones. (Spoiler: The most violent opposition to wolves comes from older white men.) Wolves are returning to the Pacific Northwest — how will we respond? Are they other? Or are they us?
When watching the dogs in the Mexico City dump, a number of our students would say, “These dogs are different from real dogs — these are mongrels.” The implication is that the kennel club breeds are the ancestors of the village dogs. People seem to believe that if a dog doesn’t look like one of the kennel club recognized breeds then it must be a hybrid or mongrel. People think if you let all the pure breeds go and they interbreed for a few generations, the resulting population of dogs would look like the Mexico City dump dogs.
Rebecca Solnit brings her furious eloquence to bear on Democratic presidential field. This is a no-brainer: the more often we say that only white men have the potential to beat the whitest, mannest man in our country in the 2020 election, the more true it becomes. Marketing 101! Here’s hoping journalists get the message.
The New York Times in all its august unbearability just published this prize sentence in a piece about Joe Biden’s failure to offer Anita Hill an apology she found adequate: “Many former Judiciary Committee aides and other people who participated did not want to talk on the record because they feared that scrutiny of Mr. Biden’s past conduct would undermine the campaign of the candidate some think could be best positioned to defeat President Trump, whose treatment of women is a huge issue for Democrats.” That translates as, let’s run a guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and let’s ignore that treatment because even so we think that he’s best positioned to defeat the guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and also fuck treatment of women, especially this black woman, as an issue, really.
Finally! An essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard from which you can extract everything important without reading a word. In fact I suggest you do, or rather don’t, and go directly to the portfolio of Stephen Gill, the amazing photographer Knausgaard profiles. Gill’s images of birds are precise, messy, delicate, feral, awkward, sublime — all the perfection of imbalance that Knausgaard’s writing so deeply fails at every time.
All kinds of birds, from the smallest sparrow to the biggest eagle, were drawn to the pillar. Not only were they drawn down from the sky but the sky was drawn out of them: the birds in Gill’s images are so physical, so of the body, so material as to make plain to us how even their flight belongs to the ground. These birds came from the earth, there is nothing ethereal about them. The order to which they belong is prehistoric, predating our own by millions of years, and, although they have developed optimized beaks, claws, eyes, wings, they still struggle against matter every single day, the way they’ve always done — tossed about by the wind, compelled from their perches, dipping their wings to the water on hot summer days. That they are never perfect, that they are forever improvising, that no fixed form exists in their lives, are things I have never thought of as applying to birds until I saw these photographs.
In The Word Pretty, Elisa Gabbert says that “notebooks achieve so much of what poetry tries to achieve, but organically” — beginning and ending where they will. Instant amnesty for inveterate notebook start-and-abandoners everywhere! Robert McFarlane probably finishes his notebooks. But we love this photo-essay anyway — images from the notebooks he kept while traveling for his latest book.
The notebooks vary from a tiny lilac-coloured Moleskine just seven or eight centimetres high, to robust hardback journals, tough enough to withstand being dragged through limestone tunnel systems and soaked in slate mines. I’ve doodled on the covers of some of them; the ink has faded from black to sepia on the oldest of the notebooks, where they’ve seen the most light.
There are places in these notebooks where my handwriting has been smudged into illegibility by underground streams, or where mud and silt stains the pages brown, or where the spines and corners have been foxed and folded. These are, to me, as much part of the archive of a landscape as my poor-quality biro sketches and my transcriptions of conversations.
Doug Nufer is a writer and poet who usually works with formal constaints. He has written many books, most recently Metamorphasis. He's our Poet in Residence for May.
What are you reading now?
Now I'm reading Van Gogh: the life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. It's taking a while because Kathleen and I read it aloud in small sections. Although we know what happens, there's a lot of suspense because he takes forever to start painting and there are few years remaining before he dies.
What did you read last?
Last I read The Lachrymose Report by Sierra Nelson and Selected Poems 1962-1985 by Clark Coolidge. I'd been going through the 460-page Coolidge book for years, while reading other books. I had bought Sierra's book as a present for someone, with the plan to read it and then give it away, but then I just decided to keep it.
What are you reading next?
Next I may read The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama, which covers a historical period of The Netherlands before Van Gogh's time and seems to have a lot to say about our own imperial capitalist age. Or I may re-read Inferno, a parallel text of Dante and a verse translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. I had been ransacking Inferno for a writing project where I extracted smaller words from larger ones in their or my English translations (Inferno/ infer; direct/ dire), and when I saw this was a waste of time, it occurred to me that at least I got to re-read Inferno.