The winning Bastards

Last week, I reviewed Theory of Bastards, a remarkable novel about bonobos, scientific research, and disastrous climate change written by Audrey Schulman. I said that Bastards was the best novel I'd read in months, an actual page-turner of a book that blended literary fiction with sci-fi and anthropological reaearch.

Over the weekend at Norwescon, SeaTac's annual huge sci-fi convention, Theory of Bastards was given the Philip K. Dick Award, which recognizes " a distinguished work of science fiction originally published in paperback form in the United States."

The PKD Award is, in my opinion, one of the most consistent awards of literary merit, which is to say that even if you don't love every award-winner, you will at least find them worthy of your time and attention. So please — don't just take my word for it: Theory of Bastards is something special. Don't sleep on it.

Always Occasional

Published April 23, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country .

As Barack Obama's second inaugural poet, Richard Blanco burst onto a larger stage of American poetry. His latest book examines the complicated relationship between poetry, civics, and citizenship.

Read this review now


so far

Your new favorite blog is by Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has sponsored us before (thank you, thank you, Nicole!), but this is the first time we've turned in her sponsorship copy late. What held us up? She's here to promote her blog, and she sent so many juicy links that we fell down the rabbithole and barely made it back for dinner.

Dieker is the most approachable intimidating person we've ever met. She's a novelist, a freelance writer, a teacher and a speaker. And an editor! Writing about Nicole, you could easily run out of commas (yeah, it happens).

Dieker knows the creative life and what it takes to make money living one, and she's sharing what she's learned through daily posts that are funny, smart, open, and completely without pretension. If you write, edit, teach, or speak for a living — or want to — her blog is exactly the companion you need for the journey. AND she's taking pitches. Hop over to our sponsor feature page for a sample post on the WORK vs. the LIFE, then put her in your RSS feed.

The first half of the year is almost over, and we have just a few sponsorship slots left! Our readers want to be your readers too. Drop us a note so we can hold your spot before the last few slots are gone.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 22nd - April 28th

Monday, April 22: Poetry on Buses

April is National Poetry Month. This week brings Earth Day. Today, Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit join forces to create an event that celebrates both events at once. As part of the Poetry on Buses program, local poets Jourdan Keith, Patricia Ferreyra, Liz Kellebrew, Paul Mullin, and Simon Wolf will read new work to help unveil a poetry installation at the Northgate Transit Center. Northgate Transit Center, 10200 1st Ave NE,, 5 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 23rd: Poets Spring Forth

Here is an insanely long list of poets who will be reading work at University Book Store to celebrate the closing of National Poetry Month: Christianne Balk, Michele Bombardier, Erika Brumett, Thomas Brush, Joanne Clarkson, Lyn Coffin, Kevin Craft, , Laura Da', Tige DeCoster, Suzanne Edison, Kayt Hoch, Sarah Jones, Carol Levin, Jayne Marek, Robert McNamara, Paul Nelson, Sierra Nelson, Raúl Sánchez, Heidi Seaborn, Martha Silano, Judith Skillman, Lillo Way, and Carolyne Wright. If you can't find someone to enjoy in that list, you must hate the very idea of poetry. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 24th: The Bird King Reading

Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson reads from her latest book, which is set in the waning days of Muslim Spain. Wilson read in Seattle a while ago for this book, but now she's closing out her tour with a Seattle-area appearance. I loved the hell out of The Bird King and I bet you will too. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 25th: Kundiman Showcase

This reading celebrates Asian

American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with Northwest AAPI writers, all of whom are affiliated in one way or another with the great national AAPI poetry organization Kundiman. Readers include Jerome Baek, Dujie Tahat, Diana Xin, Daniel Tam-Claiborne, and Troy Osaki—all Kundiman fellows or friends of Kundiman hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 26th: A night of storytelling with Johnny Moses

Johnny Moses is a Northwest Native Storyteller, which means he shares stories from the Duwamish Tribe in prose and song. Come learn about the history and culture of Chief Seattle's tribe from a locally celebrated author and performer. Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, 4705 West Marginal Way SW,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 27th: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

See our Event of the Week column for more details.

Sunday, April 28th: Much Ado About Mean Girls Reading

Much Ado About Mean Girls is Portland author Ian Doescher's mashup of Shakespeare and the hugely influential Tina Fey-written movie about conflict between young women in high school. I'm all for anything that brings more attention to Mean Girls, even if the movie is maybe more appropriate to be made over into an Austen novel than a Shakespeare play. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 6 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

Every year, Seattle-area bookstores team up to celebrate a very special local edition of the national holiday known as Independent Bookstore Day. While bookstores around the country are celebrating IBD with special events, limited-edition books and merchandise, and snacks, Seattle tends to get a little...extra.

Seattle Independent Bookstore Day features a competition of sorts: if you pick up a passport stamp at every single participating bookstore in the Seattle area — that's 26 bookstores, though you only have to visit one location for local chains like Third Place Books and University Book Store, so it's actually more like 21 stores — in one day, you'll get 25 percent off at all the bookstores for the whole next year. Last year, some 500 foolhardy people completed that challenge, and organizers are expecting more this year.

This Saturday, a pair of new stores are joining Seattle Independent Bookstore Day. First of all, Pioneer Square's beautiful Arundel Books is finally jumping into the fray. They're one of the finest used bookstores in town, and they also partner with a local press that publishes a few titles. And second of all, Madison Books, the sister store to Phinney Books, is officially opening for business on Saturday. (I interviewed Madison Books manager James Crossley late last year during the store's soft opening.)

Each of the stores has their own individual programming, so check with their individual websites for more information. Third Place Books is offering appearances from a slate of authors including Laurie Frankel, Angela Garbes, Eli Sanders, Jill Lightner, Martha Brockenbrough, and more. Ada's Technical Books is presenting maybe the best lineup of the day with a reading from Sarah Galvin, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Emmett Montgomery, and Sierra Nelson.

Whether you visit all 26 bookstores or even just one, it's important to go show up for Seattle Independent Bookstore Day. At a time when corporations are swallowing everything and the perception of infinite choice hides an ever-increasing homogenization of culture, we need these local outposts more than ever. This Independent Bookstore Day, tell the world you care about your neighbors, and your city.

The Sunday Post for April 21, 2019

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.

The Metrics of Backpacks

Victoria Gannon is a writer and editor in the Bay Area who tried, for a while, to make a living writing "content" for a technology company. Her account is completely different from the standard-issue tech takedown (which, yes, I'm very fond of posting here). It's tech through a personal and social lens, tech with all of the sexism and none of the shine — full of petty power plays and craft beer as sweet as soda.

On Fridays we have happy hours that begin at three. A service delivers local microbrews to the office. The beers are yeasty and thick, with flavors like peanut butter and oatmeal stout. When the happy hour is announced on Slack, a man will respond by writing “beer” and posting an emoji of a beer mug. Then another man does, and another, writing “beers,” “lots of beers,” “beers, beers, beers,” and then they post gifs of men drinking beer.

I am in a foreign country; these are my hosts.

The Writer as Non-Commodity

Lisa Wells does a lovely job of separating the confusing, mysterious, semi-mystical drive to write and the rather more straightforward desire for approval. This is full of good quotes from writers with surprisingly (to this writer!) well-balanced and healthy inner selves.

What would the writer's life look like if these were the models we learned and followed?

I don’t think these writers are unique in their sense of scarcity. I’m sure scientists, celebrities, entrepreneurs of all stripes, the most talented hairdressers—I’m sure they ride the same waves of warmth and disappointment. Thanks to social media, we now have unprecedented access to all the shit we aren’t getting, all the lists without our names, all the parties we weren’t invited to. And it seems to me, if we hope to have any shot at joy, or at making something of lasting value, we’re going to need to summon uncommon insight in response.
Consider the Golden Mole

If the London Review of Books were Cute Animal Twitter, this is what it would look like: images of a shining, tiny, iridescent mole — and brief but erudite commentary on its evolutionary history. Yes, we just said "squee," both over the photographs and the word "autapomorphic." "Autapomorphic"! Talk about shiny. Follow with this story about the Devils Hole pupfish, in which the environment shows its legal teeth.

The golden mole is not, in fact, a mole. It’s more closely related to the elephant, and though most are small enough to fit in a child’s hand, their bodies are miniature powerhouses: their kidneys are so efficient that many species can go their entire lives without drinking a drop of water. The bone in the mole’s middle ear is so large and hypertrophied that it is immensely sensitive to underground vibrations; waiting under the soil or sand, the golden mole can hear the footsteps up above of birds and lizards; it can distinguish between the footfall of ants and termites. With their powerful forelegs and webbed back feet, they are described by scientists as ‘spectacularly autapomorphic’. They have been like nothing but themselves for far longer than us.

Whatcha Reading, Twitter?

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

A few weeks ago I asked Twitter to take part in this column. I wanted to throw my favorite three questions to the world and see who responded. Would the answers be different than the (mostly) published writers I normally have in this space? The variety of what you all are reading is really wonderful, and reflected what we always imagine to be the bookshelf of the average SRoB reader. From novels to non-fiction, from environmental to education, from science-fiction to thrillers to YA — nice to see a little of everything here mixed on the collective shelf. Thank you so much to everybody who took part!

What are you reading now?

What did you read last?

What are you reading next?

The Help Desk: How do I made reading the first priority for my second cousin?

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

Dear Cienna,

When I went home for Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice that my cousin is a terrible father. His son is ridiculously smart. At nine years old, he told me he was interested in studying the Titanic because he enjoyed “the irony of it all.”

But my cousin actively makes fun of his kid for being too brainy, often yawning loudly or complaining that he’s bored when his son talks about books he likes. The most charitable interpretation I can offer for my cousin is that he doesn’t want his kid to be alienated in his rural community for being too much of a bookworm. But there’s not really an excuse.

I moved away from my family because of crud like this, but what can I do to help my cousin’s kid grow up with a love of books?

Steve, Capitol Hill

P.S. Here’s another question: does being my cousin’s kid make him my second cousin? I’m terrible at genealogy stuff.

Dear Steve,

It's a shame your cousin is proverbially pissing on the beautiful gift that is an inquisitive child – especially when studies show that both fathers and children benefit from shared reading sessions. As a new parent myself, I struggle to get my daughter Beatrix interested in books. When I slip them into her cage, she hisses and eventually eats them. At first, I suspected the spiders of feeding her lies about how reading isn't "cool." But perhaps she instinctively knows that the droopy tube sock filled with vaseline and rocks who dines with me each night is no substitute for a father. Or maybe my idiot pediatrician was right and gators are dyslexic (and allergic to tanning spray).

None of that helps you, though – or your jr. cousin jr., which is how I'd pencil him onto your genealogy napkin had Beatrix not eaten my pencil.

I have two suggestions for you: one is cheaper but more work, the other is more expensive but easier.

Here's the cheaper one: Whenever you go to garage sales or used book stores or library sales, buy him books – all sorts of books. Books of all genres and as cheap as they come. Then, depending on how often you venture home to visit family, present him with these hoards of books and watch as his eyes light up and his brain shorts out. (Growing up, I had a family friend who I realize in hindsight was a hoarder but who did this exact thing for me the two or three times I saw her every year and it was the highlight of my childhood.)

If that isn't workable, you could gift him with an e-reader and give him money for e-books on holidays – along with recommendations for your favorites. I prefer physical books to e-books in general, but for a kid who's bullied by his dad, something small and discreet might work best.

Finally, the next time you hear your cousin bullying jr. cousin jr., please stick up for him. Unless he is also equipped with 80 teeth that can fully dismember a goat in 17 seconds, he can't do it for himself.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Erased

Portrait Gallery: Paul Constant

Conflict of interest week continues apace, here at the Seattle Review of Books. As you surely know, our co-founder Paul Constant's debut Planet of the Nerds is in shops now. Turns out, he's never had a portrait from our resident portrait artist. Well, that's something we can remedy.

And mark your calenders: Paul will be appearing to talk about his new series, and the work he's done with one of Ahoy Comic's other titles, The Wrong Earth. That's on Saturday, May 11 at the Elliott Bay Book.

The Future Alternative Past: Gender is a binary: yes or no?

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.

SFFH (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) is a verbal vat boiling over with possible ways of complicating gender categories. The genre even gives out a literary award for doing so — the Tiptree, which is named after James Tiptree, Jr. (70s author Alice Sheldon’s penname).

Foremost among SFFH’s early gender-role questioners is Samuel R. Delany, an out gay black man. In Delany’s 1976 novel Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, citizens of Neptune’s moon switch up the physical manifestations of their gender at will. That Bron, the book’s whiny and unreliable narrator, tries to use this gift to manipulate others into satisfying his desires against their druthers is a source of drama, not an authorial condemnation of the practice. If that isn’t obvious to anyone on reading it, interviews with Delany and his literary track record would back the assertion up. After all, in his first short story, “Aye, and Gomorrah,” Delany arguably anticipated another area of divergence from assigned norms — this time the related norms of sexual orientation — with his depiction of the asexual “Spacers.”

As a Delany disciple, I’ve done my writerly best to represent the fluidity of gender in my own work as well — particularly in my cyberpunk Making Amends stories. In “Deep End” and “The Mighty Phin,” a prisoner is forced to present as a man in cyberspace and denied access to inhabiting a female body. “In Colors Everywhere” takes place on a colony world where gender self assignment is a regular matter of course, from childhood on. And in my fantasy “She Tore,” one of Wendy Darling’s lovers is the shape-and-gender-shifting Tiger Lily.

Four Roads Cross, part of Max Gladstone’s wonderful Craft Sequence, also features gender expression made corporeal via magic. The enchantment responsible for this isn’t the novel’s point — just a milestone in the main character’s career.

That takes care of science fiction and fantasy, and I don’t have any ready examples of horror along these lines. Doesn’t it seem unlikely, though, that fiction which rejects rigid gender assignments would fit easily into such subgenre pigeonholes? Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, for instance, first book in his Machineries of Empire series, reads a lot like military SF — rocket ships, rank, weapons of planet-wide destruction — yet there’s a distinctly supernatural element to it, too. Nebula winner All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is both science fiction and fantasy. Though Gambit implants the consciousness of a long dead man in a woman’s body, Birds leaves gender alone. But both authors are trans, and thus familiar with the boundaries of gender identity and their permeability.

Source and content; subject and background. There’s so much to take into account. So much more than the possibility of subversion of current definitions to investigate. Where should you start? Later in this column I review the most recent book by Rachel Pollack, who like Delany is a genderfloomping veteran. Maybe there. Or if you prefer beginning with newer challengers of the status quo, check out GlitterShip, an audio magazine/podcast of SFFH by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer authors where you’ll find choice stories representing gender in all its fascinating and seemingly endless configurations.

Recent books recently read

Latest in Terry Bisson’s audacious Outspoken Authors series, The Beatrix Gates (PM Press) showcases three Rachel Pollack stories and one essay she wrote exclusively for this book, plus a playful yet revealing interview. Way back in 1971 Pollack “transitioned” (a word she notes didn’t exist at the time) to public acknowledgement of her female identity. With firm grace and poetic candor she confronts changes in language, the ungraspableness of life’s divinity, and the aching hunger we all feel to receive the twin blessings of comprehension and acceptance.

Though slim, this is an expansive volume, a collection of stories burning to be told, yearning beautifully to be read. The mythic straightforwardness of “The Woman Who Didn’t Come Back” and “Burning Beard” perfectly set off the meta-leveled delicacy of the title story, the cult classic “The Beatrix Gates,” which contains a confessional, a fairytale, and a quantum-based far-future extrapolation of the science of self-transformation. Pollack’s comics and tarot-related writings aren’t included in this book, but they’re alluded to in the interview and listed in Bisson’s Pollack bibliography. All serve to illustrate how far the author has traveled and how far she’s willing to help us go.

Miranda in Milan (Tor), debut author Katherine Duckett’s queer sequel to William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, makes of the formerly exiled sorcerer Prospero’s daughter a heroine, and of Prospero himself a power-mad villain. Abandoned by her fiancé Fernando and shunned by Milanese courtiers as a too-vivid reminder of her zombie mother, Miranda seeks refuge in the ducal palace’s secret passages and solace in the arms of her Moorish maidservant, Dorothea. While rooting for the blossoming of their secret lesbian love, I longed in vain for Duckett’s accounts of many of the adventures that fed and watered it.

Couple of upcoming cons

For the third year running I’m recommending that you attend WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention happening in Madison, Wisconsin. Is anyone out there listening to me? Then go. These days no con is without its shenanigans, but WisCon consistently attempts to address its problematic issues and gives voice to those disagreeing with how they’re dealt with. And though my mother won’t be attending this year — she died six-and-a-half months ago — a memorial panel will honor her late-blooming participation in this annual celebration of nonhegemonic fun.

If nonhegemonic fun is what you’re looking for, Balticon is your next best bet. But it’s the same weekend as WisCon, so you’re going to have to pick one or the other. In addition to the requisite panels, gaming, masquerade, art show, and dealer’s room, Balticon offers the three-hour Balticon Short Film Festival and the Compton Crook Award ceremony.Maybe base your decision on airfare? Or maybe on the Guest of Honor line-ups? WisCon’s G. Willow Wilson and Charlie Jane Anders arm-wrestling Balticon’s Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, and Charles Vess — such a tough call.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The barely collected Neil Gaiman

Recently at Third Place Books, I bought a used comic. There's nothing unusual about that sentence. But the comic was written by Neil Gaiman and I'd never heard of it, which is a pretty damn rare occurrence.

Flip past the atrocious Frank Miller cover to the indicia page and you'll discover that Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame was originally published in 2000. Flip even further into the book and you'll learn in the introduction that DC commissioned Gaiman to write Green Flame to close out an anthology title in the year 1988.

Somehow, a Gaiman Superman comic had gone unpublished for twelve years before DC decided to pay artists to draw the book. And then the book almost immediately went out of print after it was published the first time, almost 20 years ago. Given Gaiman's global cachet, this seems like an almost criminal oversight on DC's part.

As a work of juvenilia, Green Flame is a lot of fun. It was written at the very beginning of Gaiman's career, and his dialogue evokes standard superhero fare, not his more literary Sandman comics. These are classic versions of Superman and Green Lantern: clunky, stiff, more than a little bit square.

And the plot's pretty old-school, too — mired in continuity and not necessarily new-reader friendly. Aching from a breakup, Green Lantern seeks out Superman for relationship advice, and the two investigate a mysterious artifact tied to a previous incarnation of Green Lantern. Then everything goes to Hell (literally).

As the heroes progress through the fairly straightforward plot, a few Gaimanisms make their way to the surface of the book. Superman explains that he can't look directly at a magical artifact with his X-ray vision because "it seemed if I could look into it forever." The decision not to show the reader what Superman sees, in a media that is almost entirely devoted to image, must have required some intestinal fortitude, but Gaiman pulls it off, trusting the reader's imaginations — the real special effect in comics — to surpass anything an artist could put on the page.

But the real reason to read Green Flame is to appreciate the differences in the art styles of Gaiman's collaborators. These are stalwart superhero artists: Mike Allred, Kevin Nowlan, Eric Shanower, and more. These artists happily delivered their best work, from Nowlan's dark and creepy exploration of the Green Flame's origins to Jason Little's cheerful, cartoony resolution for the book.

Green Flame could be most charitably described as n early effort, and it is incredibly uneven, though there's real pleasure in watching the collaboration between Gaiman and his very fine artistic collaborators. And watching Gaiman take a stumble on one of his first outings is a genuine thrill. Here is a master of the form just taking his first baby steps into the world.

Mail Call for April 17, 2019

The Seattle Review of Books is currently accepting pitches for reviews. We’d love to hear from you — maybe on one of the books shown here, or another book you’re passionate about. Wondering what and how? Here’s what we’re looking for and how to pitch us.

The National Book Critics Circle needs your help

National Book Critics Circle president Laurie Hertzel published an open letter asking for literary critics and fans of literary criticism to donate to the NBCC:

Since 1974, the NBCC has offered two kinds of memberships—voting, and non-voting. Voting memberships ($50/year) are available exclusively to working critics and book review editors. Voting members have a say in choosing the John Leonard Prize for best first book, and in selecting candidates for the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. They can nominate their own work for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which carries our only cash prize—$1,000. And they can, of course, attend the annual meeting, run for the board and get further involved in a multitude of ways. We have adjusted our requirements, and you can now join with just one published review.

I've never been a member of the NBCC, mostly due to my instinctual belief in the old "never join a club that would have you as a member" schtick. And if you really want to support literary criticism as a necessary part of the cultural conversation, I'd just encourage you to start reviewing books that you read as a regular practice.

But if you want to support literary criticism in newspaper journalism, supporting the NBCC would be a good thing to do. Simply subscribing to newspapers isn't enough anymore — book review sections of papers are the first to be cut, and book reviewers are seen as expendable in the newspaper business. So donating to the NBCC sends a very specific message to an audience that desperately cares where you're sending your money.

The primate remembers

Published April 17, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway, Hilde and Ylva Østby's Adventures in Memory, Halle Butler's The New Me, and Audrew Schulman's Theory of Bastards .

The books we choose to take with us on vacation can change the way we think about our trips, ourselves, and everything we know.

Read this review now

The blue-collar novelist

Last month, Jonathan Evison was on tour to celebrate the paperback release of his most recent novel, Lawn Boy. When Lawn Boy was first published, I praised the book on this site for its unapologetically blue-collar perspective. It's a novel that is unafraid to address class in Seattle, centering around a Bainbridge Island landscaper named Mike Muñoz who can barely hold his life together under the lingering threat of destitution.

Thanks to its raw class distinctions, Lawn Boy felt unique among all the novels I read last year. It was a book concerned with the same issues that your average American is most concerned about — mainly, work.

On the phone, Evison agrees with my assessment that Lawn Boy sticks out in the modern field of literary fiction. He says he's sick of reading a novel only to discover that "the whole conceit of the book will be structured around the seating arrangements of a fancy wedding in Cape Cod or something."

Evison continues, "I like reading books where people have real jobs." While blue-collar novels are scarce these days, Lawn Boy isn't the only example: Evison praises Northwest novelist Pete Fromm's latest book, A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do, about a carpenter whose wife becomes pregnant with their first child. "It was just so refreshing to read about a guy swinging a hammer and hanging some sheetrock," Evison gushed over Fromm's book. "People with real problems, you know?"

So why are books about ordinary Americans so hard to find? Why are so many novels about people of means? Evison says the "wealth disparity" in books on fiction shelves "speaks to the kind of people that are writing them. In order to break in to publishing, you'll have more of a chance if you're from some kind of money."

And reading has become a pastime for the privileged, too. "I think it's hard to get on the radar of working class people," Evison says. "I think populist fiction is kind of dead." But now that his book is in a more affordable format, "one of my hopes for the paperback is that it can reach a more egalitarian audience," he says.

Evison has worked more than his share of blue-collar jobs — including a stint as a landscaper — but now he's that rarest of beasts: a blue-collar novelist. He doesn't supplement his income with a tenured teaching gig at a prestigious university or a string of high-paid teaching gigs. Novels are his career.

So what's next? "I feel like I'm still learning, and that's the most exciting thing. I'm writing two books right now that I feel are the best things I've ever done." His latest novel is an epic story from multiple perspectives that evokes his earlier Pacific Northwest dynasty novel West of Here. "So much of the book I'm writing now makes me feel like West of Here was on training wheels."

Evison explains, "I've developed so many more tools" to help capture a huge story with an enormous cast. "Now I feel like I've got enough experience. It's kind of like an older ball player where the game slows down and can kind of see it unfolding and they can anticipate better." When you approach writing as a craft — a job that you need in order to survive — you learn how to improve your art without losing touch with the reasons why you're writing in the first place. It's a lesson that most of the the publishing industry could stand to learn.

Book News Roundup: Never go full Franzen

  • Shelf Awareness is hiring a publishing assistant to help coordinate review copies, produce the email newsletter, and other administrative tasks. If you'd like to work in the publishing industry, here's your chance.

  • The Establishment shut down yesterday. The intersectional feminist publication co-founded, in part, by Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo, was drawing over a million readers a month, but it couldn't monetize those readers.

  • Let me repeat: publishers can't turn a million readers a month into any kind of sustainable business model. The internet is deeply broken.

  • You have already heard that yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Richard Powers for his novel The Overstory. Powers is a great, very smart novelist and The Overstory is a very good book. But I do wish that Tommy Orange's novel, There There, had been named the winner of the Pulitzer rather than the runner-up. Powers is in no need of a higher profile, and bestowing the Pulitzer to a debut novelist would have been a powerful statement. Still, the other literary awards — particularly Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom and The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke — seem very on-point. And it's good to see a book from Milkweed Editions on the runner-up list for the Pulitzer for Poetry — Milkweed is consistently one of the best publishers in the US, and they deserve greater attention.

  • Sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe died yesterday. Cory Doctorow wrote a brief but loving tribute at BoingBoing.

  • Did you see Ian McEwan's Guardian interview? Seems the poor fellow Franzened all over himself by blabbing about things he doesn't understand:

There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you. If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.
  • Why is it that when so-called serious white men deign to pay attention to a genre, they have to act like they've discovered it?

But who will review the reviewer?

Published April 16, 2019, at 12:00

A bunch of comic artists review Paul Constant’s Planet of the Nerds .

Turnabout is fair play: Paul Constant has been reviewing books and comics in this town for many, many years. It's time we let people he's reviewed take a crack at his new comic, Planet of the Nerds

Read this review now


This is how it happened: associatively and with feeling. In the trees, I crouched, adhering, quick. There was a bucket, so I kicked it, took a wicked licking at stopgap. My stance steadlong and headfast, I was asked to leave — make my takeaway and say hell no to the hedge. They never forgave the broken plate I refused. No longer their baby, from then on I was B. Somewhere, anywhere else. No risk for the watered, no wear for the warned. Instead of listening, I lessened and lessened, then nothing was left. Nothing to identify or inside me out. Just a bright and liquid surface with no edge — infinity pool tricked out with a system of interlocking sparks. What we tuck away we plug away at in the dark. The clock strikes none, the glass won’t run, interior bonded, bronzed.

Planet of the Nerds is here this week!

Sponsor Ahoy Comics is back to promote our very own Paul Constant's comic debut: Planet of the Nerds. It's a big, fun premise sitting on one of the most beloved tropes of the 80s: jocks are picking on nerds. One jock, in particular, has it out for one big nerd.

Find out what happens this week in the debut issue, and then subsequently each month as the jocks are cryogenically frozen, and transported into today's world, where (sacre bleu!) the nerds are in charge. Read four pages from the first issue on our sponsor's page.

(Because Paul is co-founder of the site, we've also included a disclosure about conflict of interest, there, too.)

When you sponsor us, you put your book, event, or residency in front of our readership of book lovers and industry professionals. And you're helping keep Seattle's amazing community of writers, reviewers, and readers vibrant. Want to join us? Check out rates and dates at

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 15th - April 21st

Monday, April 15: The Deepest Roots Reading

Local writer Kathleen Alcalá's The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island examines food at the hyperlocal level, using food as a way to explore the region's history, culture, and landscape. University Book Store,  4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400,, 6 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 16: Go Ahead in the Rain Reading

Hanif Abdurraqib's book about A Tribe Called Quest has one of the most striking covers I've seen in a good long while. It also, based on the response the book has been getting online, is a very, very good piece of music writing. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 17: WordsWest

Ilya Kaminsky is a celebrated poet whose next book about his experiences with hearing disabilities, Deaf Republic, will be out soon. Mark Doty is the kind of poet that other poets swoon over. He writes deep and raw poems about his own life that inspire jealousy in all but the best poets. Together, they will read poems at West Seattle's best reading series. C&P Coffee Co., 5612 California Ave SW,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 18: New Suns Reading

Our own sci-fi columnist, Nisi Shawl, has edited a new anthology titled New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. It features work by writers including Seattle-area genius E Lily Yu, along with Indrapramit Das, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Jaymee Goh. The book also features an introduction by...maybe you should sit down for this...Levar freakin' Burton!

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

Friday, April 19 and Sunday, April 21st: Bibliophilia

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, various times.

Saturday, April 20: Bushwick Book Club: The Parable of the Talents.

The local organization of local musicians, which translates books into original songs, takes on one of Octavia Butler's very best books. Guest-curator DJ Riz Rollins selected musicians for the evening, including JR Rhodes, Om Johari, Tiffany Wilson, Okanomodé, Reggie Garrett, and Nikkita Oliver. This one is going to be special. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave S., 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Bibliophilia Storytelling Festival at Hugo House

The fourth annual Bibliophilia Storytelling Festival is the rare literary festival you can attend from beginning to end. It only stretches over three days, and it all takes place at Hugo House. It's a presentation of Word Lit Zine, the magazine produced by Seattle storytelling dynamo Jekeva Phillips, and it incorporates multiple media into the fun. Events include:

I often hear authors complain that the reading format has grown stale, that nobody wants to see someone stand onstage and read a wall of text to a crowd. They're wrong, of course; people still love to attend readings. But it's fun to get some creative people into a room and reimagine ways in which literature can interact with other arts, too. When you experiment with two potent forms like literature and theater, you're likely to invent something interesting along the way.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, April 19th - 21st.

The Sunday Post for April 14, 2019

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.

The American Worth Ethic

How does Rain City become Tent City? In part, says Bryce Covert, through an American ideology that links wealth to virtue, poverty to indolence, and assigns benefits accordingly. Fortunately we now have a Commander in Chief who is visible evidence that money and power are an outcome of ingrained prejudice and privilege. And cheating at golf.

Our country has a history of only offering public benefits to the poor either deemed worthy through their work or exempt through old age or disability ... Largesse for the rich, on the other hand, has rarely included such tests. No one has been made to pee in a cup for tax breaks on their mortgages, which cost as much as the food stamp program but overwhelmingly benefit families that earn more than $100,000. No one has had to prove a certain number of work hours to get a lower tax rate on investment income or an inheritance. They get that discount on their money without having to do any work at all.
The Death of an Adjunct

Thea Hunter worked hard — very hard — but unfortunately didn't know how to cheat at golf (see above), so did not benefit from the job opportunities and health insurance that accrue to those who do. Adam Harris explains how an injustice-weakened academic system took her from a "pioneering" researcher, with a world of opportunity, to the hospital bed where she died.

Had she been tenured, she would have experienced a sort of security that tenure is designed to provide: a campus office of her own, health insurance, authority and respect with which to navigate campus bureaucracy, greater financial stability. Without tenure, she was unprotected, at the whim of her body’s failings, working long hours for little pay, teaching large survey classes outside of her area of special expertise. As Terry McGlynn, a biology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Full professors benefit from the exploitation of non-tenure-track instructors.” Adjuncts often do the work that other professors don’t want.
Behind the Process of Helvetica's 21st Century Facelift

So delightful that someone like Charles Nix, who led the recent Helvetica redesign, exists — to care so deeply and unreservedly about smoothing out the ragged edges of the world we read through.

There are moments in your life when you suddenly understand the concept of joy. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about it, but the first proof that we pulled off Helvetica Now micro was one of those moments of my life. Like “Oh my god, the theory is true.” Every hypothesis we had about how a micro type could be made more legible, how it could preserve the impression of Helvetica, it played out.

And I just remember reading 3pt and 4pt type and thinking it’s a marvel because Helvetica always died at 6pt for me. It died at 7pt or 8pt because of the closed apertures, because of the cramped forms and tight spacing. Having it suddenly be incredibly legible at 3pt is one of those moments where the skies open up and the angels sing.

Instead of shaking all over, I read the newspapers.

Colm Tóibín writes with great eloquence about Colm Tóibín's balls. (Also an eloquent account of being surprised by cancer, told with dry wit that does not at all obscure the misery and terror of the experience.)

In those ten minutes, as the pain became so intense that I actually believed I was going to have a baby, I imagined appealing to the pope to let me through. I would apologise for all the rude things I have said about him. I would take back the assertion that he doesn’t mean a word he says. I would withdraw my view that at least we knew where we were with the previous two. With Bergoglio, no one knows where they are. I would tell him that I was sorry I had said this and would promise to be even more emphatically and eternally sorry if he let me through. This kept me busy as the throbbing pain became more and more unbearable. Finally, the nurse called back and told me to get the oral morphine I had used before. She told me exactly how much I could take. If the pain was still there in an hour, she said, I was to call back.
The key to glorifying a questionable diet? Be a tech bro and call it ‘biohacking.’

We've watched tech worship change our city, gut our nonprofits, and clutter our streets with construction and a plague of mid-lane Uber parkers. Now Jack Dorsey and his ilk are disrupting dysfunctional eating? Here's to a world that responds to this the way it should — with an eye roll and a Twitter log-off.

It’s both thought-provoking and aggravating to think about how tech bros have managed to hijack the whole dieting concept. To move from “you’ll never guess how many calories are in just one of these,” to “the experience I had was when I was fasting for much longer, how time really slowed down,” as Dorsey said in his interview.

One wants to grab him by the hoodie strings and bellow, “that’s not mental clarity, my good man — that’s starvation.”

Whatcha Reading, Clare Johnson?

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

Clare Johnson is a Seattle-based (and Seattle native!) visual artist and writer. Her writing has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Shake the Tree, and Raven Chronicles. And, of course, we feature selections from her long-term auttobiographical Post-It Note Project each week on our Instagram (there's always lots more to see on her Instagram). She has a few posters of the project available — contact her through her website for details.

What are you reading now?

Answering this publicly brings up some real insecurity, a quick gulp of seriously, what AM I reading??? Seeing other writers’ answers is always a little intimidating; before agreeing to the column I had to do some mental checks about whether I could answer truthfully and still maintain any semblance of dignity. Upon consulting my conscience, I decided to be bold and disclose I’m currently reading Waterlog, by Roger Deakin. A close friend sent it as a surprise random February gift, recognizing it as a weirdly perfect observation so astute that my ex-wife had also given it to me over a decade ago, back when we were together in England and I was longing for places to swim outdoors. My reading habits are fickle and slow, confusing to even myself, so despite agreeing that this book seemed written exactly for me, I also had still never gotten around to reading it. The sweetness of my friend’s gesture made it newly urgent and special, so I started the newer copy. Big surprise, if you are me, this book about swimming in the British Isles is ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY DELIGHTFUL. The author travels all around the UK, and just, you know, goes swimming everywhere. And talks about it A LOT. Being immersed in his nerdy enjoyment of each swim’s specifics is the perfect antidote to living in the season where I can’t swim outside every day. It’s dense with water-centric British vocabulary, validating the now-invisible part of me that became an adult there, with Deakin wandering in a strangely natural way into fascinating quirks of history, place, politics, community and lost landscapes, even mystery (what happened to all the baths in Bath...?). I cannot get enough of this.

What did you read last?

A mixture of books, but not in a glamorous “I’m such a good reader” way—more in a haphazard, “I don’t have a good reading routine set up in my normal life” way. Despite loving reading, I’m pretty slow to finish books. Reading at bedtime is hard on my insomnia, and I’m still working on treating reading during the day as a valid part of my work, rather than a crazy indulgence. I am also DEEPLY COMPELLED to re-read everything, further slowing my progress on new stuff; I recently re-read Alys, Always, the first novel by (my former student!) Harriet Lane. I can’t get over how real her prose feels—descriptions of characters, feelings, and especially the North London setting are all shockingly spot-on, like her words found a silent part of me, perceptive and concise in that clever “yes! exactly!” way, yet sneakily unlabored-feeling. She also pulls off a masterfully subtle character twist that floors me every time. Mixed in there I also read Instruments of the True Measure by Laura Da’, a little late (I bought it at her BREATHTAKING book launch last November) but uncharacteristically fast—collected, her poems make arresting page-turners. Like a series of perfectly executed moments opening clear-eyed cracks in the brutal vastness of erased histories, delicately, determinedly, isolated but also gathering unspeakable heft. I already want to re-read it back-to-back with her first book, Tributaries. I also just finished The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco; my parents gave it to me for Christmas with a tag saying “Can’t remember what this is exactly, maybe you asked for it or know why we’re giving it to you?” I had no prior knowledge of this book, but guys, my parents know me well. Inspecting its jacket, their reasoning was instantly clear to everyone. This novel is like Deadwood meets 1880s Port Townsend....but starring an unstoppable queer biracial gender non-binary Pinkerton Agency Women’s Bureau former detective!!!! ALSO SUCH RUTHLESS WOMEN. Not a feel-good read exactly, and definitely not for the faint of heart—every chapter could be titled More Injuries For The Main Character. That said, someone please make a movie of this ASAP.

What are you reading next?

Well apparently I need to figure that out. Sublime Subliminal by Rena Priest has been waiting patiently in my stack of please-pay-attention-to-me-NOW books on my bedroom floor. Reading with her at Lit Crawl was such an honor—her poetry feels uniquely friendly and fierce, cunningly playful and also urgently serious. In a confusing juxtaposition, Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked is also in that stack, and may win because I impulsively borrowed it from someone who probably didn’t realize how long it takes me to get my act together, reading-wise. I was staring at their bookshelf all through a game night, noting a serious Nick Hornby section—including two copies of this (maybe I’m embarking on a project of only reading books people own two copies of?). I got curious to see how I feel about Hornby as a grown-up. It sounded fun—I have memories of laughing out loud reading About a Boy in my freshman dorm room — but now I also recall an itchy sadness — and just overhearing the movie version of High Fidelity a few months ago made me unspeakably grouchy. Now I’m nervous the generous book owner could be reading; don’t worry, I do always return everything! At the same time, lately I’ve caught myself longing to re-read (for the 5th time?) The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter. It’s billed as “an erotic murder mystery” but key to know is the hard-boiled ex-cop-turned-private-eye is a dyke, and the whole thing is Written. In. Verse. Some of my favorite poetry ever. It’s also past time for another Easy Rawlins mystery by Walter Mosley; life is better when I read at least two a year, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown is up next. If you haven’t read this series STOP EVERYTHING AND GO DO IT. Flawless plotting and atmosphere, jaw-dropping sentences, a joy to read and yet also leanly un-frivolous, interweaving the worthy ugly questions of our flawed country into every piece. I mean, but this is all just my opinion. It’s ok if you don’t like what I like.

The Help Desk: "Funny" books are not

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

Dear Cienna,

What's the one thing that will ensure that you never buy a book when you see it on the new releases table at your bookstore?

Capitol Hill

Dear Deborah,

How kind of you to ask. I love discussing my pet peeves as much as Beatrix, my exceptionally gifted daughter-gator, loves playing "Got Your Nose!" with kittens.

Pet peeve no. 1: I won't buy books with jacket blurbs that compare the author to a more famous author that I like — I'm routinely disappointed by the comparison and I think it's a lazy shortcut to get people interested in a book. Pitch the book on its strengths, not someone else's!

Pet peeve no. 2: I would rather let ravens pluck out my eyes than read a book that is classified as "humor" or shelved in the "Humor" section of a bookstore, which some stores have. Calling humor a genre is like calling the sun a chandelier: stupid. It's not a genre and the books that are typically shelved there are about as funny as watching Beatrix try to give a kitten back its nose.


Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Mush

Portrait Gallery: The Sound and the Glory

Matt Pentz is a local sportswriter. The Sound and the Glory: How the Seattle Sounders Showed Major League Soccer How to Win Over America is a book about our soccer team, which has been an example for other American soccer teams. He'll be reading Thursday, April 11 at Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Shields up

Published April 11, 2019, at 12:00pm

Ivan Schneider reviews David Shields’s Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump .

Is it fair that David Shields has become Ivan Schneider's beat? He used to talk about Cervantes, but now he needs to remind us of that time we neglected him. Sorry, Ivan! Anyway, here is Ivan looking at Shields book about Trump, which isn't even his latest.

Read this review now

Thursday Comics Hangover: Politics as character development

A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Tacoma cartoonist Peter Bagge and former Seattle cartoonist James Sturmp onstage at Elliott Bay Book Company. Bagge was in town to promote his third in a series of biographies of notable American women from the late 19th and early 20th century, Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story, and Sturm was here to talk about Off Season, a fictional account of a relationship falling apart against the backdrop of the 2016 election.

As a frequent moderator of multi-author discussions, I try to find a tie between the books and authors, but finding a thread between these two books is pretty tough. One is fiction, the other is non-fiction. One is heavily researched, the other began as a series of formal experiments. One is deeply funny, the other feels like a tragedy.

But eventually, I did find my tie. Both books employe politics as a kind of ambient soundtrack in the background of the stories, and politics plays a very important role in the lead characters' inner life.

In Off Season, the protagonist — an angry and alienated man — becomes more and more attracted to Trump as his chances for reconciliation dwindle. He looks back fondly on the days when he and his significant other were both Bernie supporters; now the divide between them is huge and widening. The closer he gets to Trump, the more we despair for him.

And in Credo, Lane's lifelong struggle in what was likely an undiagnosed case of manic depression or bipolar disorder includes politics when it flares up. Lane became a noteworthy libertarian who wanted the government to leave her alone, and the more political she gets in Credo, the more lucid she becomes.

The choice to employ politics as a background buzz in a comic might offend a few purity-obsessed true believers, but it really makes a special kind of sense. So much of what we say and who we are is now tied up in our politics, after all, that it's become an identifier of everything about us. Tell me how you voted in 2016 and 2018 and I'll likely be able to tell you where you shop for groceries and how you feel about religion. Why wouldn't' a writer want to include that information in story?

The risk, of course, is that Credo and Off Season run the risk of scaring off half the potential audience. It's possible that right-wingers might be offended by the portrayal of a Trump supporter, or that left-wing audiences might be turned off by Lane's libertarianism.

But honestly, I don't think so. Just as in politics, it's lunacy for cartoonists to aim broadly for an audience of "everyone." The audiences Sturm and Bagge want to reach with these books are likely the same audiences they always reach: thoughtful people who trust great artists and are eager to examine the ideas those artists want to explore. That audience is going to love the everliving fuck out of these two books.

Meet the Seattle area's newest publisher, Silent Academy

Even in a region as literate as the greater Seattle area, new publishers don't pop up every day. So when I heard about a new small press called The Silent Academy launching out of Port Townsend this summer, I had to investigate further. What kind of person, in the year 2019, is launching a publisher of poetry and experimental literary works?

It turns out that Andrew Shaw, Silent Academy's publisher, doesn't sound like a fool or a wide-eyed innocent. Instead, he's a globe-trotting former radio and print journalist who has been publishing poetry for most of his adult life.

But as Shaw watched journalism turn into an online-native endeavor, and as his role changed "from a freelancer to staff writer and an editor and then a director of content," he saw the importance of writing take a back seat. Journalism, he says, "become less to do with what I'm in love with and everything to do with selling advertising units or securing revenue streams, and that's the fastest way to kill any kind of art."

"So I quit my job," Shaw says, matter-of-factly. "I concentrated on doing some writing of my own and I was speaking with a friend — writer/artist/musician and inventor Bill Drummond, who has the most fascinating Wikipedia page on Wikipedia." Shaw told Drummond that he was feeling burnt out and lost and Drummond replied, "just do what you do, but do it for yourself."

Shaw had made the move to Port Townsend about four years before, after he and his wife fell in love with the region. "I don't want to be anywhere else now," he says. But is Port Townsend, which is also home to the amazing Copper Canyon Press, big enough for two poetry publishers? "Yeah, definitely," Shaw says, without missing a beat. He's a fan of what Copper Canyon does. "They remind me of Sub Pop — they're small, but they're huge. The Pacific Northwest does seem to nurture and sustain the niche," and Shaw believes that The Silent Academy will find its own niche just fine.

Shaw says Silent Academy's mission statement "changes every day depending on who asks." But if you press him for a moment, he elaborates: "I like the idea that what we want to give people things that they've not seen before, but also provide a home to writers and artists with the freedom to make mistakes and to not necessarily worry about a template of what previous success may have looked like."

"We want to show the accessibility of poetry rather than have it seen as something beyond the normal," Shaw says. This summer, he'll publish Silent Academy's first collection, as well as the first wave of an ongoing series of pamphlets. He plans on publishing just a couple books a year to start, along with three pamphlets every quarter.

Silent Academy is unabashedly analog: "Everything's going to be physical," Shaw says. Ask him what book he wishes Silent Academy had published and he gives two very different answers: first, he's a fan of the "surprising" nature of John Lennon's "A Spaniard in the Works and Garcia Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love, which he says is "exquisite beyond measure."

Ultimately, Shaw believes his art is about planting a flag in the ground and making a statement. "I like the idea of presenting something, rather than actually having a straight debate. So, you know, if you are against tyranny, don't fight tyranny — make something beautiful." As a publisher, Shaw says, he wants to make something "that's counter to the hideousness of what's currently going on. To have joy is an act of resistance."

"That's our mission statement for right now," he laughs.

Born in chaos

According to biographical materials supplied with her first poetry collection Give a Girl Chaos {see what she can do], Heidi Seaborn had a whole life as a traveling executive before she returned to poetry, in the form of a Hugo House class, just a couple years ago. After years of not writing anything of literary merit, the poems seemed to pour out of her.

Chaos is a collection that feels like a memoir. Most of the poems are built around a single moment — a swarm of butterflies surrounding Seaborn, say, who "flirted/with eyelashes/fingers/then flew to Mexico" and set squarely in a very specific place. These are shards of memories from a long and adventurous life.

Seaborn floats in the Dead Sea and stands in line for bad food in East Germany and travels by motorbike through Nepals. In between each poem, it's easy to picture a plane towing a thick red line from city to city across a giant globe, Indiana Jones-style. Part of the joy of flipping pages through Chaos is looking around to see where she's taken the reader now.

Seaborn has a poet's eye; she can find something remarkable in any given moment. You get the sense that even had she stayed in Seattle for her whole life — even if she never left city limits — she would have a book of intense personal poems to share with the reader, and they would be just as fascinating as this travel-heavy volume.

The language here is vibrant and, often, unforgettable. One poem begins with one of the briefest summations of childbirth I've ever read — but one that is as evocative as any I've ever read, too: "—awful scream/& I was done/& it was human." Later in the poem, she sees her baby with his "eyes open/flash of fish under water." The primal visions of childbirth, of making something from nothing, has rarely felt so vivid in so few lines.

It's perhaps a bit obvious to say about a book of poetry from an author who has only been writing for two years or so, but some of Seaborn's writing could use a little refinement. She refers to "playing opossum" in an early poem, for example, which is a cliched arrangement that lacks freshness. A poem about the ocean includes "scuttling" crabs and "the sea claim[ing] its birthright" and several other exhausted words and phrases. Poetry should never lean on those same words that everyone else relies upon for daily use; the whole point of a poem is to give us new toys to break and burn. In Seaborn's enthusiasm to finally land these poems on the page, she allows a few easily dodged cliches to slip through, and the book is the worse for it.

But these are not deal-breakers; Seaborn's poems take us places and expose us to thoughts we've never quite seen in a poem before. She gives us an argument that materializes in the form of gypsy moths:

Their dusty wings powder my hair

before drawing to the light.

Burning bright, singeing wings.

Who hasn't expressed themselves with hateful words that explode into dust and leave trails of fire across the sky? These are the words that hurt, from before they're spoken until well after they've stopped reverberating in the air. This is the power that Seaborn has — an eagerness to reveal new ways to see a world that feels as ancient as language itself. We're glad that she's, finally, arrived.


(Side-scroll to see full lines)


Little birds that can sing and won’t sing should be made to sing.
                  Abroad one has a hundred eyes.          At home not one.

There is a witness everywhere.
                              Keep your purse              and your mouth              close.

Words and feathers the wind carries away.
                  What cannot be cured must be endured.

One must howl with the wolves.
                              When the heart is full                      the tongue will speak.

Little birds that can sing and won’t sing should be at home
                  Little birds that can sing and your mouth close.

Keep your purse and a witness close.
                              Keep your words and feathers and your mouth be endured.

Keep birds abroad and feathers at home.
                  At home                      not one feather will sing.

At home            the wind has a hundred eyes.
                              There is a witness abroad                      the wind at home.

Keep your wolves and your cannot close.
                  Wolves should howl                      must be made to sing feathers.

Should your feathers close                           the wolves will speak.
                              Little wolves that can speak witness everywhere.

Little wolves that can bird and won’t bird should be made to bird.
                  Little birds that can sing should be made               wolves.

Little birds that can howl the wind carries away.
                              Words and birds the wind can sing.

Words and birds and your mouth close.
                  One must close when the heart is full.

One cannot sing with a mouth close.
                  One must howl                      one must sing.

Keep your must and be made to should.
                              Keep your must                      the heart will speak.

Abroad one has a hundred eyes                    at home words and feathers.
                  Abroad one has a hundred eyes                   words cannot be cured.

One cannot speak with a mouth full of feathers.
                                              One cannot speak with a mouth that can sing.

Feathers cannot be made to sing.
                                                                  Feathers cannot tongue the heart.

Keep your heart and your eyes close.
                                              Keep your words and your witness everywhere.

Little birds that can sing the wind carries away.
                  What cannot be feathers should sing and must howl.

What cannot be feathers must be little wolves.
                              Words and feathers must be endured.

Little won’t has a hundred words and should be made to must.
                  Won’t sing a hundred words                      and should not one.

Won’t is a witness everywhere.
                              Won’t cannot howl with the wolves.

Keep your won’t and your should close.
                                                            When the heart won’t the tongue and purse will.

When the heart won’t the words and feathers should.
                  Won’t is at home                 abroad one is made to.

Won’t your mouth close and your wolves full.
                              There is a full mouth everywhere.

Won’t                      speak                      of little                       wolves.
                  Little birds that can witness and won’t witness should be made to witness.

There is a full purse                      and a tongue is your witness.
                              Words and feathers tongue the witness.

Keep your tongue and your mouth has a hundred eyes.
                  Keep your hundred eyes with the wolves                      and howl.

Wolves and feathers the wind carries away.
                              Witness your everywhere and keep wolves close.

Keep your mouth full of little birds.
                  Little birds                      when the heart is full will speak.

When the howl is full                      the mouth will close.
                              When the mouth is close no howl carries.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 8th - April 15th

Monday, April 8: The A List Reading

Seattle mystery author JA Jance is very likely the biggest-name novelist in Seattle right now. Today, she comes to town with one of her Arizona-set books, about revenge and a dead friend and an evil doctor. Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 366-3333,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 9: The Future of Humanity Reading

Wildly popular science writer Michio Kaku is back on the book-writing game. Tonight he'll be reading from The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. It's supposedly a more optimistic view of the future than the one you've had in your head for at least the last three years. Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave, 652-4255,, 7:30 pm, $5.

Wednesday, April 10: Cannabis Reading

Cartoonist Box Brown's latest book, Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America is the history of how a beloved narcotic was criminalized. Tonight, Brown will appear in conversation with fantastic local cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. Brown is doing another event in town to talk about the pot side of the book. This should be a fascinating conversation about the craft and art of comics. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 11: Indigenous Futurism

Portland State University professor Grace L. Dillon will discuss "Native-centered worlds liberated by the imagination" through utopian visions in novels, film, and other media. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 1st Ave, 625-8900,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 12: The Sound and the Glory Reading

Matt Pentz is a local sportswriter. The Sound and the Glory: How the Seattle Sounders Showed Major League Soccer How to Win Over America is a book about our soccer team, which has been an example for other American soccer teams. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 13: The Best We Could Do Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, April 14: This Life of Mine Reading

Anne Phyfe Palmer is the founding force behind Seattle's popular 8 Limbs Yoga Studio. Her new book is a journal intended to help people capture the unique elements of their own life stories. Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Literary Event of the Week: Seattle Reads The Best We Could Do

Last week, I raved about this year's Seattle Reads selection, Thi Bui's graphic memoir The Best We Could Do. The book, about Bui's family's evolution from war-tossed citizens to refugees to Americans, is a fantastic answer to the kind of questions that lazy comfortable Americans ask about immigrants: why do they come here? Why don't they stay home?

The book is very clear: they don't stay home because home doesn't exist anymore. But Bui does impressive work moving between the macro and micro views of her own story. This is at once a sweeping story of immigration and a closely drawn portrait of a family struggling with a cycle of neglect and abuse and heartbreak. Last week, I wrote that "Like most family histories, [The Best We Can Do] spins forward, then backward, then forward in time again."

Bui will appear all over town this week as part of the Seattle Reads program. There are book group meetings to discuss the book in Magnolia and Columbia City and Northgate Community Center.

On Saturday night, Bui will read at the central library branch downtown, along with a staged reading of the book with local theater luminaries Susan Lieu and Kathy Hsieh. There are also special meetings for low-vision readers and seniors as well. It's almost harder to not attend one of these events. I recommend that you do; this is the kind of book that will make you think differently about your neighbors, in the best way possible.

Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

The Sunday Post for April 7, 2019

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.

Free Indirect Suicide: An Unfinished Fugue in H Minor

Any excerpt I pull from this stunning, humbling essay by Seo-Young Chu will mislead you. So it's a question of which wrong direction to lead you in, hoping you'll follow it to the whole. The emotional force of this piece is crazy intense; the formal imagination is crazy good.

[No, I truly can't pick an excerpt that will do this justice. Just read it. Go!]
On Flooding: Drowning the Culture in Sameness

Soraya Roberts has so many good points in this article about the sameness of the media we consume (ugh! I mean: the words we read, the television and movies we watch, the art we look at). Somewhere in the muddle between "content creation" and "content curation" and algorithms that choose our preferences for us, we're losing the voices we'd most like to hear.

Now what?

The irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.
Wading Through the Sludge

What's the cost of paperwork? Maybe the right to vote. Maybe access to an education. Maybe the ability to feed your children or keep them housed. Cass R. Sunstein on the burden of red tape, and who carries the real weight of it.

For paperwork burdens, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler has coined a good term: “sludge.” You might want to sign your child up for free school meals, but wading through the sludge might defeat you. To get financial aid for college, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s long and complicated; many students give up and fail to apply to college at all. The right to vote may be the most fundamental right of all, but if the registration process is full of sludge, a lot of people might end up disenfranchised.
Wading Through the Sludge

What's the cost of paperwork? Maybe the right to vote. Maybe access to an education. Maybe the ability to feed your children or keep them housed. Cass R. Sunstein on the burden of red tape, and who carries the real weight of it.

For paperwork burdens, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler has coined a good term: “sludge.” You might want to sign your child up for free school meals, but wading through the sludge might defeat you. To get financial aid for college, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s long and complicated; many students give up and fail to apply to college at all. The right to vote may be the most fundamental right of all, but if the registration process is full of sludge, a lot of people might end up disenfranchised.
The Chinese Burner

What happens when China's tech elite attend Burning Man? Science fiction writer Chen Qiufan's observations from the desert in Utah. The tidbits about his experience at the event are interesting, but even more so is the insight into the tech giants of a dramatically different culture.

In the past twenty years, the Chinese tech industry has experienced explosive growth. Terms like _langxing_ (“wolf instinct,” as in _The Wolf of Wall Street_), _yeman shengzhang_ (“savage growth,” as in, “That was savage, man!”) and _jiangwei gongji_ (meaning a blow so powerful that it flattens your opponent from three dimensions to two dimensions, from the famous sci-fi novel _The Three-Body Problem_) have become popular among Chinese tech entrepreneurs. They act as the first generation of pioneers journeying into the virtual New World. They imagine themselves as packs of wolves in the Mongolian plains who can only survive and emerge victorious through bloody combat, incessantly stalking new territory and prey.

Whatcha Reading, Amaranth Borsuk?

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

Amaranth Borsuk is a poet, scholar, and book artist working in print and digital media. Her latest work is The Book, which looks at the role of books in the digital age. Borsuk is our Poet in Residence for March (we've published one poem so far: STRAP ON A WITNESS WHEN YOU GO OUT WITH THE TONGUE IN YOUR MOUTH WORN THIN FROM WALKING). She's running a workship today at the Northwest Film Forum that will explore what compels participants about the integration of poetry and images, and they will write, film, and expiriment with developing video poems. There will be a screening of films created in the workshop on April 25th.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Who the Hell is Imre Lodbrog (Outpost19, 2018) by Barbara Browning and Sébastien Régnier. Browning writes fabulous autofictional multimedia novels that include videos and music she creates through a panoply of alter-egos. This co-authored book tells the story of her friendship with a French musician whose real life sounds as though he were drawn from one of her novels. The two strike up a correspondence through mutual admiration of one another's Soundcloud accounts (Browning posts Ukulele covers she records as gifts to friends), and a long-distance friendship and collaboration takes shape. As someone who collaborates often, I admire the spirit that draws them together.

What did you read last?

I recently read Cecilia Vicuña’s beautiful artist's book About to Happen (Siglio, 2017) with a group of Bothell MFA students who are launching an eco-poetic journal called Snail Trail. In addition to exquisite photographs of her landscape-based installations of ephemeral artwork, the book includes poetry and poetics by Vicuña, and some very helpful contextual writing about her work. We are all eagerly anticipating Vicuña's upcoming show at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and her April 16th performance lecture at UW Bothell (which is free and open to the public)!

What are you reading next?

The catalog for Speech/Acts (Futurepoem, 2017), an exhibition of black artists working in experimental poetry curated by Meg Onli at the ICA in Philadelphia at the end of 2017. In addition to photographs of the exhibition (which I sadly did not get to see in person), it includes writing by some amazing poets: Harryette Mullen, Simone White, Fred Moten, and Morgan Parker. Also my former colleague Sarah Dowling's Translingual Poetics: Writing Personhood Under Settler Colonialism (Iowa, 2018), which explores the critical-creative work of multilingual poetry by a number of poets I admire, including Jordan Abel, Myung Mi Kim, M. NourbeSe Philip, Layli Long Soldier, and Vicuña. Both are intense and inviting volumes from which I have much to learn.

March 2019's Post-it note art from Instagram

Over on our Instagram page, we’re posting a weekly installation from Clare Johnson’s Post-it Note Project, a long running daily project. Here’s her wrap-up and statement from March's posts.

March's Theme: Carried Somewhere Else

When I said that choosing post-its for publication turned into a delightful family activity in February, what I really meant was that both my parents were choosing post-its. While my dad was picking for February, my mom sifted through options for March. This led to some minor disagreements about who got which dates—they were both really attached to the drawing about artists jumping through hoops. Dad won out somehow, keeping it in the February batch; it probably reflects well on everyone involved that no one turned into the terrible villain who tells the guy with the broken back and pneumonia that NOW AFTER ALL THIS he has to choose a different post-it. My mother’s March choices tell extra stories through her perspective. I made the snail to show feeling fragile and ill-equipped, a hesitant snail seemed similarly vulnerable—but also conversely better protected, why don’t I have my own shell at the ready. She chose it because I rescue snails from her garden, relocating them to less treacherous habitats down the street. My companionable concern for their safety makes family members think of me whenever they see snails or slugs; I do not regret that this has led to countless gifts of snail/slug mementos decorating much of my living space. The aunt who uses her bra as an extra pocket was coincidentally about to visit again now. When she arrived I told her about the post-it, made during a similar visit 7 years ago, and she happily exclaimed “well that sounds about right but you know now my friend said I’ll kill myself.” Then explaining “the waves going in you or something when I thought it was the smartest thing,” so now the cell phone is sadly carried somewhere else. There’s a real shifty quality to my grandma’s family’s sentences, I feel like I’m listening in slow motion. In that 7-years-ago March, I was planning a series of drawings inspired by books, rereading old favorites—BUT FOR WORK—a really helpful psychological distinction enabling me to relax into rare hours of reading in bed. My mom’s an English teacher, reading a shared love; she didn’t know what the post-it was about specifically but so many of those favorites were books from her. The art is the cover of The Long Winter, the first chapter book I ever read. It’s hard to revisit those frontier homemaking books of my childhood, historic atrocities pushing at the edges of every main character. But they also show me I’m still 2nd Grade me, my drawings like carefully stocking emotional provisions for the winter of each day. When I said I wished people also liked them for how sad they are, I meant my drawings. But my mother was thinking of being chided for telling sad stories about everyone she meets, distant strangers’ disasters and heartbreak wandering into all our family dinners. She chose the moon drawing because she also loves showing us the moon. I drew it on a trip to visit my friend in Turkey, it’s the bedroom in her partner’s house. We were staying there instead of her own place because it was closer to the hospital; every time I visit her family has an emergency. Except maybe last time I was the emergency. We all have emergencies all the time now anyway, I should visit her more often.

The Help Desk: A loan and unloved

Cienna is visiting her spider farm this week, so this column is a re-run from three yars ago. 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

Dear Cienna,

A co-worker and I often trade book recommendations. She has more seniority than I do but we are both in management. She recently went on a vacation and borrowed two of my paperback books that I had recommended to her. But she only came back with one of the books. She said the other one had fallen in the pool and then she ended up giving it to one of her fellow vacationers. She half-heartedly mentioned that she’d look for a used copy of the book to replace it. It’s been a few months and she hasn’t. Any advice?

Feeling Burned in Ballard

Dear Burned,

You are never going to get that book back. We both know that. What you need to do is suck it up and do the adult thing: drop it. Keep lending her books. Likewise, return her books in pristine condition. Smile at her in hallways. Volunteer to partner with her during team building exercises at work. Eventually, ask your spiders to make themselves scarce for an evening and invite her over for dinner. Over a bottle or two of mid-range wine (don’t go cheap, she’s not a monster), ask her searching questions about her life’s goals and ambitions. Press her about family or her partner, if she has one. If she doesn’t have a partner, ask her why she thinks she is not worthy of love? When she’s ready to leave your home at the end of the night, brush your fingertips down her arm, look deep into her eyes and tell her that you admire her. Continue cultivating her friendship. Invite her to happy hours, birthday parties, book readings. Invent inside jokes. Trade family recipes. Text emojis apropos of nothing.

Then, months from now, when the book she failed to replace is a distant memory, invite her to join you at a weekend Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale. The sales are popular and a ton of fun, especially for two best friends who share the same passion and taste for literature.

Offer to drive.

Pick her up.

Tell her you need to make a quick detour before hitting the book sale.

Drive her to the desert.

Tell her to get out of the car.

Then, leave her for dead with nothing but a Danielle Steele novel and 6 inches of garden hose.

Consider it your own version of Naked and Afraid, Book Stealer Punishment Edition.

There are downsides to this plan – if she survives you will likely be written up by HR. But I think we can both agree it will be worth it.



Aaron Bagley's Dream Comics: Muppet mixtape

Portrait Gallery: Morgan Parker

Promotional materials describe Morgan Parker’s new book, Magical Negro as “funny exploration of Black American womanhood” and “an archive of black everydayness.” It’s a collection of smart and raw poems about grief and anger and joy and disbelief and everything else that it means to be a black woman in America today. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Kissing Books: The problem with cruel

Every month, Olivia Waite pulls back the covers, revealing the very best in new, and classic, romance. We're extending a hand to you. Won't you take it? And if you're still not sated, there's always the archives.

April is the cruelest month, according to one of our crueler poets — so what better time to talk about cruelty in romance?

Cruelty, as a character trait or behavior, is largely the province of male main characters, especially in m/f romances. Heroes get to curl lips, issue scornful declarations, hold themselves aloof from the suffering of lesser beings; heroes have eyes like ice chips, and dungeons full of whips and shackles, and inflict punishing kisses upon their love interests.

Heroes can never really be too cruel: so long as you offer a compelling enough backstory (some woman betrayed him, his family abused him, his government ordered him to murder and torture) you can excuse almost any kind of cold-heartedness.

Heroines are allowed to be frosty, or wary, or lonely, and increasingly heroines are permitted to be angry (some delightful new examples are reviewed below) — but it’s common knowledge among romance authors that if you write a heroine as anything approaching cruel, even if it’s only a single line in a single scene, you are going to get a flood of reviews calling her an ungrateful bitch who doesn’t deserve true love.

The double standards really aren’t hard to uncover. We expect and excuse cruelty from men; we abhor it from all other genders.

Cruel heroes often bother me because so many times their cruelty is paired with vast amounts of political, social, financial, and/or magical power. Aristocrats, bikers, billionaires, SEALs, cops, alpha shifters or vampires or ancient dragon spieces older than humankind — romance will happily fetishize cruelty as long as it’s tied to power and a sick set of abs.

To give one typical concrete example, I once read a cop hero who used police databases to find the heroine’s number, and call her to talk dirty and badger her for a second date while she was at her job at a women’s rape/domestic violence clinic; she agreed because “he would probably just show up at her house anyway” and over the rest of the novel he proceeded to blow past her safewords, laugh at the idea that her body was her own, and take total control of her life.

The author referred to this as a “negotiation.” Reviews are largely positive.

On a panel at this most recent Emerald City Comic-Con, my fellow romance authors and myself talked about the Sexified Villain: characters who are antagonists in the story arc but who nevertheless become fan favorites, romanticized and swooned over. Nicholas Kole flipped the phrase manic pixie dream girl into depressive demon nightmare boy to describe this trope, and it really can be alarming how many people rush to excuse selfish behavior and even outright evil from such characters (Loki, Kylo Ren, and Draco Malfoy being prime examples — but also the Phantom of the Opera, Severus Snape, Christian Grey, and a few incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty both).

Plenty of romance heroes fit this archetype: widowers in a Gothic manor, orphaned billionaires, outlaw gang leaders, etc. An old theory from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women holds that romance arcs function to tame/civilize male power and bend it to the heroine’s benefit, which implies romance novels/sexified villain fandoms are treatments for the symptoms of patriarchy which avoid curing the disease itself. Which is a fancy way of saying that girls romanticize Draco to cope with the fact that Draco or someone like him has the power to hurt them.

But what if it’s a little weirder than that? What if young women and girls learn early on to recognize the lies that patriarchy tells? Girls aren’t really people, for instance, is a pretty easy lie to see through when you are in fact a girl and a person. So you start to assume that everything is lies, because you know that what you’re hearing from patriarchy isn’t credible. You rewrite the script in your head as a matter of course. This guy is bad is therefore something you’d be ready to resist or reject or find alternate explanations for, because you’re used to having to do that same kind of calculation for yourself and every other woman and non-dude person you know.

And since we’re talking media properties, odds are this character is being played by someone cis, thin, able-bodied, white, etc., which means they tick a lot of the same boxes necessary to be considered Officially Beautiful. You take a self-protectively revisionist mindset, a hot actor, et voilà! Sexy Draco!

I find myself performing a similar kind of mental acrobatics all the time — quite deliberately with the Other Woman whenever she appears in a romance (I’m something of a Caroline Bingley apologist), but also among my fellow readers and critics. If I see an author refer to a reader/reviewer as “mean” or “rude” or “snarky,” odds are I’m already halfway to believing the reader’s take on the book. This is not because all reviews are brave bastions of truth (for instance: Voldemort’s one-star review of the first Harry Potter book), but rather because I’ve grown used to seeing sharp, accurate critiques of individual works decried as “attacks” or “bullying” on social media — particularly when those critiques come from marginalized voices calling out racism, ableism and the like.

There is a pronounced culture of we should only say nice things in romance reviewing circles. Not coincidentally, there is also a type of White Lady who cares most vocally about politeness when it works to preserve her personal comfort and self-image. She has also grown up in patriarchy, and believes the lie that she is naturally nice, nurturing, and self-sacrificing. She believes other women are supposed to be those things, too, especially women with less social power — because those are the rules that put her almost at the top of the pyramid, just beneath White Men but above Black Men and Black Women and Queer Men/Women and so on. If you aren’t officially allowed to win, you’ll fight to stay in second place if it means not being last. And you’ll be incensed if anyone you think of as beneath you in the power structure decides the rules need to be thrown out altogether.

If you throw out the rules, second place has no value.

Of course this means that the Venn diagram of authors happy to fetishize male cruelty in fiction and authors who call critics and especially black and brown critics big ol’ meanies is essentially a circle. The playbook is stunningly predictable. You could set your watch by it, if your watch measured internet dumpster fires instead of time. And seeing it play out over and over has taught me that when I see anti-oppression analysis called out as mean — as cruel — it’s code for: This person dares to believe their words have power, when they should be yielding to mine.

Power is the ability to be cruel without consequences. Men who harm women get excused. White women who harm black people get excused. It would be enough to send a romance author/reviewer into a complete tailspin of despair — if it weren’t for all the other authors and reviewers and readers who see the same thing, both in and out of fiction, and are pushing back against it. For example, just off the top of my head:

  • The Governess Affair and Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
  • A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
  • A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
  • A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
  • Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles

All these books feature powerful, cruel men whose power must be broken or tempered in some way by the main characters. These books defend justice, and love, by fighting against cruelty. They use tenderness, honesty, warmth, consideration, blackmail, lies, thievery, arson, and murder — that last because as the author admits: “some villains need to die.” Mrs. Martin’s and A Duke In Disguise are reviewed below, along with books by Alyssa Cole, Rachael Stewart, and Rebekah Weatherspoon. Consider this month’s column not only cruelty-free, but cruelty-defeating.

Recent Romances:

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan (self-published: historical f/f):

Elderly lesbians take revenge for a lifetime of injury and insult while falling in love and literally burning everything down.

That’s it, that’s the review.

What more need be said? It’s exactly what you want based on that sentence, written in some of Courtney Milan’s best and funniest and most righteously infuriated prose. Violetta and Bertrice ought to be new patron saints of romance, with acolytes bringing offerings of chocolate and making cheesy toast over the pyres of contemptible men. And I know that sentence only makes sense if you’ve read the story — but the great generosity of this book is how it offers the reader a wealth of symbols, chants, and charms against terrible men. Against fear and invisibility and helplessness. In the week since finishing this I’ve taken to muttering “Robby Bobkins” under my breath when the terribleness is too much, and feeling my spirits rise again.

We need this book right now. Thank fuck we’ve got it.

One was impossible. One was contained. Alone, Mrs. Martin had felt cribbed in, made of complaints and unable to move. Two was a more dangerous number.

Mr. One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart: (Harlequin Dare: contemporary m/f):

Harlequin’s new Dare line promises books that are “fun, edgy, and sexually explicit” and this juicy little drama nugget certainly delivers on that. This is a corporate-world “well that was some great casual sex — what do you mean we’re now business partners?” romance with high tones of old-school glam: skyscraper heels, perfect martinis, and a sophisticated heroine who knows precisely what she wants in bed. Jennifer is a sharp executive whose business acumen is never undermined by either the plot or the hero, and Marcus is just the right mix of cold corporatism and unrestrained lust. He is walled-off emotionally, but comes off more as stern than cruel. Their connection is electric and the best part of the story — heat and tension and magnetism that twists the emotional knife in a rich and satisfying way. Rarely has a forbidden romance been so plausibly, palpably irresistible.

Unfortunately some of the scene detail in this classic set-up hasn’t worn well. For instance, if I were a chauffeur, and my boss showed up with a disheveled, unconscious woman I’d never seen before and carried her into his bedroom, I’d hope I would have some pointed questions for him. (We know Jennifer was an enthusiastic participant, but the driver does not.) We’ve also got one of those No-Woman Beds I mentioned last month!

So yes, the book was enormous fun, but it also made my critical-historical brain start kicking up the dust of ideas. Dare is a line marketed as aggressively modern, so it begs the question: are the seeming-retro touches in this book part and parcel of that edginess? Regression presented as rebellion? It’s certainly a departure from the light rom-com tone many contemporaries are currently exploring — but if you look back to the pre-rom-com generation, the Jayne Ann Krentz/Judith Krantz years, Dare looks more like a continuity than a clean break. Like a notable nose, that happened to skip one generation of the family. Still, it’s nice to have options, so if you’re feeling like some of that Old Skool tone you’re in for a very good time.

His jacket lay across the arm of the chair, his forearm resting upon it. His other arm was folded, his hand curving over his inner thigh, his trouser-clad legs relaxed and spread. Open and vulnerable. The sight did things to her, things with a potency that almost scared her, and she flexed her fists into the bunched-up fabric of the sheets.

Can’t Escape Love (Avon Impulse: contemporary m/f) and A Prince on Paper (Avon Books: contemporary bi m/f) by Alyssa Cole:

At some point we are going to have to start referring to 2018–2019 as Alyssa Cole’s annus mirabilis. The entirety of the Reluctant Royals series thus far has appeared in that span, as well as two stunning entries in the Loyal League series. And a story in Bingo Love Vol. 1: Jackpot Edition.

It’s like when you learn that Dolly Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” in the same day. How the hell does she keep doing it?, mixed with profound gratitude that we are around to enjoy it.

The first book, Can’t Escape Love, is a novella-length Sleeping Beauty riff: heroine Reggie contracted meningitis in her youth and spent some time in a coma, and then more time coming to terms with the resulting physical and emotional fallout (ataxia, strained family relationships). Since then she’s built up a geek girl social media empire on the verge of becoming a powerhouse, and somewhat repaired her relationship with her twin sister Portia (of #swordbae fame). Gus is the puzzle-solver whose YouTube channel is the only thing that helps her sleep — and who is currently designing a high-profile escape room based on her favorite anime. Which is also a Sleeping Beauty riff. Everything in this novella is so richly layered and thoughtful that it feels like a complete world of its own. There’s not a wasted word in here.

Wealth is often packaged as a fantasy in romance: we’re treated to long descriptions of the hero’s penthouse, or manor, or beachfront getaway. Here it’s Reggie’s home that gets the lush descriptions, but the fantasy is accessibility: an environment that treats the disabled heroine’s physical needs as a matter of course, and is designed to answer them. Wealth certainly makes this fantasy possible — multiple custom wheelchairs are expensive — but there is a significant moral and psychological difference between money-as-escape and using-money-to-escape.

The novella fills in some of the between-the-lines from A Duke by Default: the full-length A Prince on Paper moves events further forward. Took me half the book before I realized what fairy tale we were dealing with, and then I damn near cheered, so you’ll forgive me for keeping it a smug secret so you can enjoy the reveal.

Our heroine is Nya, Prince Thabiso’s cousin, still reeling from the uncovering of her father’s betrayal and villainy in the first book in the series. (Um, spoilers!) Within five minutes I was muttering oh no to myself and wrapping my arms around my stomach to try and hold myself together — one of the great perils of reading romance is that sometimes you look into a book and the heroine stares back into your soul like you’re looking into a secret, agonizing mirror. Nya is lonely and self-conscious, both soft-spoken and sharp-tongued — and always, painfully aware of her own inconsistency. Even trying to write about this feels like I’m splashing my own issues all over this review in a manner that verges on oversharing. I would die for her, we say when we find the heroines who really reflect us — but it’s more than that. I’m dying with her, every time I turn another page.

Nya is glorious, and Johan deserves her.

This book has taken a place on my list of all-time favorites, alongside Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress and Julie Garwood’s The Bride. Do not miss.

His head was dropped down, a mass of wild auburn, but it jerked up as the wooden door creakily announced her entry. She was met with ruddy cheeks and a sharp gaze that resonated within her private hollowness, like the sad moan of wind over the mouths of empty glass bottles.

A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian (Avon Impulse: historical m/bi f):

Finally, a romance highlighting Britain’s class conflict and paranoid fear of revolution in the post-Waterloo years!

That’s not a joke: I’m writing a seditious printer/engraver heroine myself currently, and am thrilled that Cat Sebastian has already brought us a seditious printer heroine to help establish that publishing in the early nineteenth century was often a radical, risky, at-odds-with-the-government-and-the-police kind of enterprise. So definitely part of my pleasure with this one was nerding out hard over names like Hone, Cobbett, Wollestonecraft, and Lord Sidmouth (that jerk).

Usually in duke-centric historicals we look at the class structure from the top down; here we start at the bottom, with heroine Verity Plum worried about actually having enough food to put on the table even before her firebrand brother Nate thoughtlessly invites three of his friends home for dinner. Hero Ash is an engraver (and epileptic) who rents a room with the Plums; he always smells of copper and rosin, the way Verity’s hands are always stained with ink, because when our characters aren’t working they’re worried about working (or cleaning up the workroom after the redcoats toss the shop on a trumped-up search warrant) in ways that will feel painfully familiar to any modern-day freelancer. It’s not all anxiety, however: Verity’s new ladies’ magazine/advice column and a filthy book about famous royal fraudster Perkin Warbeck keep things fun and witty in the best Cat Sebastian style.

The revelation that Ash is actually a duke’s long-lost heir crashes into this comfortable pattern like a cannonball, leaving smoking rubble and shrapnel in its wake. Descriptors of wealth and privilege that would feel matter-of-course in another romance novel here strike the reader as ridiculous, unnecessary, ill-gotten luxury (the value of a long setup cannot be overstated). Ash knows Verity would barely consider marrying him as a tradesman — she’d laugh in his face and call for a guillotine if he proposes as a future duke. Their whole relationship is prickly, argumentative, couched in inside jokes and half-truths and feigned indifference that fools absolutely no-one — and it’s hot enough to burn your fingertips as you speed through the pages.

This is a book about privilege versus principle, and surviving human malevolence, and resisting political tyranny, and I am so very, very happy it exists. Because “there might not be a difference between hope and stubbornness” is a sentence I very much needed to read, and suspect others will too.

Both men tilted their heads and regarded her. “Just out of curiosity, how often would you advise women with errant husbands to have their spouses abducted by pirates?” Nate asked.

“I’d have to look into the costs. Right now it occurs to me that one might arrange one’s obnoxious brother to be taken away. Might be worth a few pounds, especially if you keep bringing strangers to eat my mutton chops.”

This Week’s Polar Opposite of the Cruel Hero Trope

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon (self-published: contemporary m/f):

I’ve been saving this gem for a time when I really needed an uplift, and after the past few weeks in Romancelandia, I’m enormously glad I had something to escape into. Rafe is the absolute opposite of the stereotypical alpha hero: nurturing, considerate, sweet. Adorably wonderful with kids. Still has the sick abs, though, but since sick abs are not a moral flaw nobody’s inclined to complain.

Certainly not cardiac surgeon Sloan, whose six-year-old twins are more than a handful and whose live-in nanny up and quit without notice. Rafe is an emergency call and comes highly recommended by trusted friends. His enormous, muscular, tattooed, bearded biker body is the most tempting thing she’s seen in years — but her children come first, so she’s going to button up all her lust and keep things pleasant and professional and tidy, and everything will be just fine.

Reader, I cackled. We all know how this is gonna go.

There are romances that aim for a lyrical tone, historical texture, champagne fizz and froth. Weatherspoon’s vampire romances are glazed with a bit of pulp glitz, but the voice of this contemporary is best described as a direct motherfucker. Like Rafe himself, Rafe tells you upfront what you’re promised (a buff male nanny) and then just … goes and does it. No hesitation. Childcare, emotional support, cooking, cleaning, and some A-plus dicking — not out of any urge to control or posses, but simply because he cares. It’s pure, golden, every-level-of-fulfillment fantasy on a platter and it’s like water in the desert for Sloan, who spent her youth being a med-school prodigy and then married to a true contender for Asshole of the Universe. She deserves this. She needs this. And this reader loved watching her get it.

Nothing in the world is so good as a book that takes a flimsy, one-liner premise and then treats it with such care and attention that it blossoms into something that feels like a gift.

Sloan wished she didn’t have a visceral reaction to her ex-husband, but any time she was near him she felt like a trapped and wounded animal. She’d chew her own leg off to get away from him. He was handsome as hell and dressed his ass off, but god he sucked.

Thursday Comics Hangover: The Handmaid's Comic

Are we as a society in danger of The Handmaid's Tale fatigue? Of course not — especially when the adaptations of Margaret Atwood's novel have been so good.

It's true that it's harder to watch Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale TV series, now that a woman's right to choose is more imperiled than at any point in the last 40 years. Fiction is treading dangerously close to the daily headlines in places like Georgia. Influential men promoting a regressive, anti-woman agenda — men like spineless evangelical zealot Mike Pence — are barely trying to conceal their contempt for women anymore.

But again, the show is really good, so we still watch it. And even though we may be nervous about Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale sequel due out this fall, she has earned our trust a thousand times over.

And now, Vancouver BC cartoonist Renée Nault has adapted The Handmaid's Tale into a hardcover graphic novel, and again I approached the endeavor with some nervousness. Does the world really need another adaptation of Atwood's dystopian future, now that we're on our way to making it a dystopian reality?

Turns out, yes we do! Adapting literary classics into comics is unbelievably tricky work, usually resulting in a few staid drawings next to gigantic walls of text. But Nault's adaptation is deft and it reconfigures the book into a new medium while respecting both the original text and the rules of the medium. You don't need to have read the original to read this adaptation. It stands on its own as a very good comic.

Nault's delicate lines form a vocabulary all their own. The handmaids look like gaudy red obelisks — tall and pointy and red as blood in snow. But their faces are whorls and knots of anger and frustration. Nalt clearly brings a manga influence to the book — the characters' eyes are large and expressive, and the panel transitions are less action-to-action-oriented than American comics tend to be. But there are plenty of other influences here, too: I see the pinched Puritanical influence of early American illustrators like John Singleton Copley, for instance. It's a timeless mix of art: the book feels simultaneously like an artifact from both the past and the future.

For legal and artistic reasons, this isn't just an adaptation of the TV show. While the basics of design are the same — the handmaids wear the same basic outfits, obviously — the characters do not resemble their Hollywood counterparts in any way, and the comic hews more closely to the book in several important ways.

But let's be clear: this is great comics. If you agree that the most basic definition of comics is a fluid dance between words and pictures, you will very likely be struck by the beauty of this book. Several sequences like a nearly wordless, dense sequence depicting Offred fleeing to a surreptitious meeting in the city reflect all the tension and claustrophobia of a great noir film, all in a single page. And her use of color is masterful, treating the red of the handmaid habits as a visual signpost guiding the readers through to the visual bloodbath of the book's conclusion, when the color spills out of the lines and drips everywhere.

It's been a long time since I've seen this skilled an adaptation into comics form. (You might notice that I have not mentioned the recent graphic novel adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. I assure you that my silence is not an accident.) What Nault has done here is stunning: she has taken a story that has verged on overexposure in recent years, and she has breathed fire into it. This is an adaptation as personal, and as important, as if Nault herself had come up with the story herself.

To the best of your ability

For years, I laughed at the inept people at the beginning of late-night informercials — people who always seemed comically incapable of performing simple everyday functions like making food, or carrying groceries, or reaching items on high shelves. Compilations of informercial ineptitude like this one are all over the internet:

But then I read an essay which pointed out an obvious truth that I never bothered to see: the products in most of these infomercials are intended to make life easier for disabled people. But because popular culture traditionally averts its eyes from disabled people, production companies hire able-bodied actors to demonstrate why these products are necessary. They look ridiculous because they're pantomiming everyday life for millions of disabled Americans, but they're not disabled. It's an act of erasure that stops being funny when you realize the truth behind the scenes.

Last night, the Reading Through It Book Club gathered at Third Place Books Seward Park to discuss Seattle author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. It's a collection of essays by and for disabled people, with the ambitious goal of promoting a society operating under an agenda of "radical love" that is more inclusive and caring.

The conversation was lively and surprising. I admitted that no other book in our book club's two-and-a-half years has ever moved me to tears so often. The vulnerability and frustration in these pages is visceral, perhaps most so in a letter anarchist/performer Loree Erickson posted online before visiting Washington DC. Keep in mind, this letter is intended for strangers:

I use a wheelchair and I am looking to recruit folks to help with my personal care needs (fancy words for getting into/out of bed and going to the bathroom). No experience needed (I am really good at talking folks through it plus what I need help with is pretty straight forward) and ya only have to be sorta buff. I [weigh] around 130lbs, but it is not as bad as it seems. If you're worried about lifting I might be able to buddy you up or maybe you can buddy yourself up with a friend. Two people makes it way easier and yay for safety! :-) It doesn't take that long (around 1 hour — usually less to pee and a bit more to get into/outta bed). I usually pee at 12ish, 5ish and then when I get into bed and wake up. If you don't have a lot of time, even one shift would be so extremely helpful.

If you are interested let me know or if you know anyone else who might be interested, please send this their way (I appreciate people of all genders helping me). I need to know as soon as possible so that I know how stressed out to be. Plus we are coming soo soon! :) Also if you can send me your availability that would be amazing

The warmth and openness and optimism of that open letter broke me wide open.

The idea of disability encompasses so many different experiences — blindness, Deafness, paralysis, chronic pain. Each of these experiences brings its own demands and limitations and truths — there's no single "disability agenda" that can be encapsulated in a single manifesto.

Many members of our book club felt overwhelmed by Care Work. That's understandable — the book is a collection of essays intended for a few different audiences — in one piece, Piepzna-Samarasinha is talking directly to other disabled activists, in another she's aimed at a more general audience. Someone at the book club said that Care Work was the equivalent of taking a 301-level course without taking the 101-level first.

But just about everyone agreed that exposure to these ideas was important. More than half of the group had direct and personal experience with disabled people in their lives, and those experiences helped them to see the world differently. That visibility matters.

I'm still thinking about something a member of the group said last night that I found to be particularly enlightening. She said that architects no longer design buildings with special features for disabled users. Instead, they aim for what they call "universal design." The accessibility of those features — ramps, easy-to-open doors and convenient storage and so on — actually benefit everyone. This isn't a debate that anyone has to lose. Accessible and caring design is additive — it's good for all. The same additive law applies to Piepzna-Samarasinha's radical caring agenda: when you orient your civilization to care for people in need of help, everyone benefits.

Book News Roundup: Are you Redmond's next poet laureate?

  • The City of Redmond is still looking for a Poet Laureate, and you have until April 29th to apply. Important: You do not have to live in the city of Redmond to apply, or to serve as Poet Laureate, though the winner will be expected to travel to Redmond to take part in arts ceremonies.

  • Did you know that Microsoft has an e-book library? They're closing it this summer, and BoingBoing notes that Microsoft is "taking away every book that every one of its customers acquired effective July 1." That's right: you didn't buy the book from Microsoft, you bought a license to read an e-book. Now they're revoking that license. The same thing could happen with Amazon one day, too.

  • Read all about the shitty kids' book that figures into a conspiracy that just may bring down the career of Baltimore's mayor.

  • This year's Hugo Award nominees are mostly women and that is fantastic news.

How you can help fight for the right to read in Washington state prisons

Over the weekend, the good people at Books to Prisoners, a Seattle-based nonprofit that delivers used books to incarcerated individuals, noticed that the Washington State Department of Corrections quietly made a change to their book policy. According to the new DoC rules, the state would only allow select organizations to donate new books to prisoners.

The problem is that nonprofits like Books to Prisoners provide quality used books to prisoners in much greater quantities than any organization supplying new books could match. Over the phone, Books to Prisoners' secretary Andy Chan tells me that the dictionary is always in high demand, as well as books on vocational training, GED preparation, and genre fiction. Without your donated used books, countless incarcerated people will have to go without any books at all.

Last year, Departments of Corrections in New York state and Pennsylvania both tried to pass similar used book bans, but Chan says "none of them have stuck." Outrage from ordinary citizens forced the states to reverse their decisions. Since the Washington DoC's used book ban was discovered, Books to Prisoners organized a "phone zap," in which people called DoC Prisons Division Correctional Manager Roy Gonzalez to demand that he reverse the policy. (Full disclosure: I called Gonzalez and left a message during the political action.) Those calls successfully overloaded the phone system and broke Gonzalez's voice mailbox. And they've gathered more than one thousand signatures on a petition demanding the reversal of the policy. (Full disclosure: I signed the petition.)

The DoC hasn't responded to the protest aside from what Chan characterizes as a "boilerplate" statement claiming that "prisoners in eight out of 12 Washington state prisons have access to a full library." That doesn't explain the change in policy, and, as Chan notes, it doesn't recognize the fact that Books to Prisoners gets plenty of requests for books from those prisons with supposedly full libraries. Clearly, the system isn't getting enough books into the hands of people who need them.

Why would Washington's DoC try this ban when it flamed out so spectacularly in two other states last year? "I'm guessing, because they haven't told us specifically," Chan qualifies, but he suspects that it's what he characterizes as a "mass hysteria" based on the theory that "perhaps used books from nonprofits is one of the routes" for drugs to enter prisons. Chan specifies that nobody has ever presented any proof that "a nonprofit such as Books to Prisoners has ever sent in any kind of contraband," but the organizations are still wrongly identified as a weak spot in the prison's defenses.

Still, Chan wants to be clear that this is all conjecture: "we don't know [the reason for the DoC's ban] because they have not responded, as yet, to our attempts to contact them," he says.

(Side note: Whenever I write about organizations like Books to Prisoners, some jackass will always respond on Twitter with a smug one-line response like "they should've read a book before they went into prison." Respectfully, to whoever is about to respond to this piece with that line: fuck off. Books are how we teach ourselves to be better people. Books help us get into the minds and hearts and experiences of other people. Books foster empathy and they help us aspire to being a little better tomorrow than we are today. There is no crime so horrendous that I would deny someone a book as punishment, and if you believe that the American prison system should be rehabilitative and not simply a place where we stick people until they die of old age, you should feel the same way.)

So what should people do now? Chan wants people to follow Books to Prisoners on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on actions. And he says, "we're going to start contacting Governor Jay Inslee, who is a professed believer in the need to decrease the recidivism rate of Washington state prisoners."

Inslee is currently running for president, Chan notes, "and his very own Department of Corrections is doing something which is, completely contradicting his idea." Obviously, a used book ban isn't going to help with recidivism rates.

"I don't know to what extent they informed [Inslee] that they were going to do this, and the reasoning for why they were going to do this, but he needs to be able to explain to us, if his Department of Corrections is not going to, why it makes sense to have done this," Chan says.

Books to Prisoners is off to a great start with this campaign — they went from discovering the policy to jamming DoC's phone lines in less than 24 hours. But they can't do it without your help. Follow Books to Prisoners on social media and help them out with actions when you can. Any policy that discourages reading in our prisons is a policy that harms us all.

If all Seattle read The Best We Could Do...

Published April 2, 2019, at 1pm

Paul Constant reviews Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do .

Later this month, graphic memoirist Thi Bui will be reading from and discussing her book The Best We Could Do at libraries around Seattle. It's exactly the book that Seattle needs right now.

Read this review now

Vonda N. McIntyre, 1949 - 2019

Sad news: Seattle sci-fi author Vonda N. McIntyre passed away yesterday, less than two months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

An award-winning author of novels and non-fiction and film and TV show adaptations and short fiction, McIntyre also leaves behind another tremendous legacy: she helped bring the Clarion West sci-fi writers' workshop to Seattle in 1971, which means generations of young writers owe their careers to McIntyre.

One of my favorite McIntyre stories revolves around a convention panel where McIntyre grew weary of fans griping about bad sci-fi TV shows. McIntyre recounted in 2009:

I listen for a few titles, and then I say, “Wait a minute. I can’t believe this. Haven’t you people been watching the *Starfarers* miniseries?”

And then I told them the plot.

By the end of the panel, I had everybody eating out of my hand, believing *Starfarers* had existed but had been so misscheduled and unadvertised that every single audience member had missed it. I claimed I had heard of some bootleg tapes floating around but as far as I knew recordings of the show could not be purchased.

A local filmmaker, sitting in the front row, jumped up at the end of the hour and said “I’m going to find those tapes!” and rushed out of the room.

McIntyre then went on to write four Starfarers books, based on her prank at the panel.

That eagerness to create something positive out of boring old fan negativity, that ability to craft a mythology from nothing and have a roomful of fans eager to believe it, is a big part of McIntyre's charm. She willed a community into existence here, and Seattle is the worse for her passing. There will be a public service for McIntyre sometime in the next month; we'll let you know when we know more.



Put the wet trash in the oven and hang your door bouquet. It’s a season of rickety picture hooks and ticketed adjunct sleeping positions. Where a whistle is heard, tiptoe hunchfront hustleaway in a hey diddle goodnight stupor. But bubbling up numbtacks. Take time to heal, so subtle your way out the garden gate full of repressed shimmer. Maybe don’t worry about slithering into last season’s lacks, and let the froth on your whiteness settle. Whip over when you feel a second sleep coming on. If you can’t sit back, sit still. Good ribbons.

Just a few tickets left for Anne Lamott this Sunday!

Sponsor Northwest Associated Arts throws the best events. Did you hear that they're bringing Anne Lamott to town? Seriously. It's right close: April 7. That's this Sunday!

If you're a writer, you already have a copy of her infamous and beloved Bird by Bird, but have you seen her talk? Lamott brings a terrific curiosity and thougtfulness to every topic that pulls her attention. And she's one of those writers — and presenters — who make you realize that you're suddenly fascinated and interested by what pulls her attention, too. It's a powerful thing she does.

Her latest, Alomst Everything: Notes on Hope, tackles big topics with her normal aplomb and heart (but not that kind of heart. Lamott wears the kind that cynics know is authentic), and you will be guarenteed lots of laughs, and probably very few dry eyes in house at times. Find out more about this event on our sponsor feature page, and then grab yourself a seat before they're all gone!

Got an event you think our readers would love? You can sponsor us, too. If you have an opportunity you’d like to get in front of our readers, reserve your dates now.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 1st - April 7th

Monday, April 1: Almost Yankees Reading

I don't focus much on sports in this column because, well, I hate professional sports. But it's hard to deny the connection between bookishness and baseball. There's something about reading and baseball that go really well together — maybe this is just as simple as the fact that it's not uncommon to see people reading to pass the time at ballparks. So to celebrate this link, maybe attend this reading from Almost Yankees, a study of one season in the life of a Yankees minor-league farm team. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, April 2: Two Poets

Laura Eve Engel is a musician and poet whose most recent book is titled Things That Go. Bill Carty is a Seattle poet who has been published at a ton of places. His upcoming book is titled Huge Cloudy, and he edits at Poetry Northwest. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Wednesday, April 3: Unmarriageable Reading

Soniah Kamal's second novel is a Pakistani twist on Pride and Prejudice. For the Seattle part of her tour, she'll be in conversation with Seattle University professor Nalini Iyer. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Thursday, April 4: Magical Negro Reading

Promotional materials describe Morgan Parker's new book as "funny exploration of Black American womanhood" and "an archive of black everydayness." It's a collection of smart and raw poems about grief and anger and joy and disbelief and everything else that it means to be a black woman in America today. Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, 322-7030,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, April 5: The Outline Trilogy Reading

Rachel Cusk has long been celebrated as a great author, but now that she's completed her Outline Trilogy — three novels capturing the experiences and encounters of a British author — the word "masterpiece" is starting to be thrown around. Come find out why, before you're paying a lot of money to see Cusk read in the very near future. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Saturday, April 6: Cadence: Video Poetry Festival

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave,

Sunday, April 7: Orcas Island Lit Fest

All weekend long, authors including Anastacia-Renée, Keetje Kuipers, Rick Barot, Donna Miscolta, Sonora Jha, and Kristen Millares Young will be participating in a literary festival on scenic Orcas Island. Why aren't you there right now? Orcas Island,

Literary Event of the Week: The Cadence Video Poetry Festival

As you most likely know, April is National Poetry Month. And all month long, Seattle will be celebrating with poetry readings in nontraditional spaces. We'll highlight some of the best events here on this site in the days and weeks to come, but one of our favorite Poetry Month events is already upon us. It doesn't happen in a bookstore, or even in a civic space that sometimes hosts readings. This one happens in a movie theater.

For every Thursday this month, Northwest Film Forum is hosting Cadence: Video Poetry Festival, a collaboration between poetry and film curated by Seattle writer Chelsea Werner-Jatzke. Its mission statement is pretty clear: "Cadence approaches video poetry as a literary genre presented as visual media that makes new meaning from the combination of text and moving image." The second year of Cadence features a wide range of programming including workshops and screenings and the public creation of new video poetry works and more.

On Saturday at 11 am, Seattle Review of Books' April Poet in Residence, Amaranth Borsuk, will be teaching an all-day workshop named "The Image Speaks." The listing for the workshop promises that participants "will write, film, and experiment, conceptualizing and developing video poems that may stretch the bounds of the genre. No experience with either poetry or film is necessary."

Catherine Bresner will serve as poet-in-residence for the duration of the festival, including a display in NWFF's lobby and a youth video poetry workshop on April 13th. Poets who created new work in the workshops will get to screen their work at NWFF on April 25th.

Thursday screenings are themed. April 4th features video poetry created by local organizations including " Interbay Cinema Society, Jack Straw Cultural Center, Mount Analogue, Poetry Northwest, Pongo Publishing, and Seattle City of Literature." And April 18th will feature an international showcase of video poets from Europe and the Middle East.

This isn't a pivot to video, or a bitter attempt to win over future generations through a friendlier medium. Instead, Cadence is an attempt to collaborate on something new by combining two old genres into a bold new field of study. It's National Poetry Month. Go discover a new world.

Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave,

The Sunday Post for March 31, 2019

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.

Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem

Like Uber, like Lyft, like other gig economy “innovations,” Air BNB succeeds by slapping a brand and a professional veneer across a personal exchange — in this case, what we used to describe as “crashing with a friend,” except the friend doesn’t know you and is renting you a bit of their home, for a bit of time, with a bit of wariness on both sides.

Putting your suitcase down in a stranger’s home is a bit of an intrusion, even if one we’ve bought and paid for. Are we really surprised when those strangers intrude right back?

Alfie Day told me he found a camera in his rental’s living room while he and his girlfriend were visiting his brother in Bulgaria. Day works in IT, so he performed an Nmap scan to learn more about the devices in the home. He discovered that the host had installed a type of camera that could be remotely controlled to pan, tilt, and zoom in on anything it sees. The expanded field of view meant that while the camera was in the living room, it could discreetly follow guests from room to room. The scan also revealed that the camera had a high-capacity storage system that lets users share very large files quickly across the same network.
Confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people

White people: Shhhhhh. Stop talking. Listen. Ijeoma Oluo has something important to say. Also, just shhhhh.

Every time I stand in front of an audience to address racial oppression in America, I know that I am facing a lot of white people who are in the room to feel less bad about racial discrimination and violence in the news, to score points, to let everyone know that they are not like the others, to make black friends. I know that I am speaking to a lot of white people who are certain they are not the problem because they are there.
Writing Sex for Money is Hard F*cking Work

Sandra Newman supports her novel-writing habit with a somewhat different application of her skills.

As everyone knows, when you’re not in the mood for it, porn is gross. After the first few hours, it was also unendurably boring. Nonetheless it made me horny, in a downtrodden, creepy way. I was disgusted and horny and disgusted by my horniness. I was hornily falling asleep in my chair. I was hornily staring out the window and hornily wondering how I got to this point.
Unfeeling Malice

Michele Pridmore-Brown reviews Aspberger’s Children, by Edith Scheffer, which explores the influence of Nazi ideology on current understanding of “normal” neural function. This is a horror story (Asberger sent so many nonconforming children, especially girls, to their deaths) but also a story about the impurity of science and a case study of how benevolence becomes the rouge on evil’s cheek.

None of this is where Sheffer started. Her initial interest was visceral and personal. She came to the subject thinking quite simply to honour Asperger. Her son, like an ever increasing number of boys in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Asperger, Sheffer assumed, was an early proponent of neurodiversity, someone who promulgated multiple ways of inhabiting the world.

What she found in the archives was far more complicated.

Whatcha Reading, Laila Lalami?

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

Laila Lalami is a once Seattle, now Los Angeles-based novelist, essayist, and critic. She's written four novels, her last, The Moor's Account, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest, just released, is The Other Americans. She'll be reading next Tuesday, April 2, at the Central Seattle Public Library at 7:00pm, co-presented with the Elliott Bay Book Company. This is one you won't want to miss, and it's free to attend.

What are you reading now?

When I stopped by Brookline Booksmith to sign some books, bookseller Suchi Saraswat pressed into my hands a copy of Carolyn Forché’s What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.

What did you read last?

On my flight from LA to Boston, I read an ARC of Suketu Mehta’s new book, This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto.

What are you reading next?

Tembi Locke’s From Scratch, a memoir.

The Help Desk: Shelfish children

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

Dear Cienna,

Every time someone asks an author if they have a favorite book of their own, the author mumbles something about choosing between children and refuses to answer. But tell me the truth, Cienna: authors definitely have favorites among their own books, right?


Dear Shannon,

Of course authors have favorites; anyone with pets or children knows that. I myself was an only child for years and even then I wasn't my mother's favorite — I came in fourth behind The Bottle, our family border collie, and a photo of an alligator in a fur coat she found charming.

Then Los came, and the favoritism became even more apparent. He was read books with pop-up mice and fun rhymes, beautifully illustrated and inscribed with love, while I was taught to read whether a medicine bottle for sure said “DO NOT DRIVE HEAVY MACHINERY” in all caps like a direct order — or was it worded more whimsically and listed somewhere after “Take with food”?

Some people change with time, as do their favorites. After 35 years, I have found small ways to worm my way higher into my mother's pickled heart. For instance, if I'm standing in an empty room full of spiders, I can usually rank third — second if I soak myself in gin first. And while children repulse me, I recently adopted a small alligator in a fur coat, which has given us something to bond over. Together, we are teaching Beatrix to read pill bottles. Mother will very likely include her in her will.

You see? Happy endings exist even for the unfavorited.


The Portrait Gallery: James Sturm

James Sturm’s new graphic novel, Off Season, is about a relationship that falls apart in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. He'll be appearing Saturday, March 30, with Pete Bagge at the Elliott Bay Book Company, hosted by our own Paul Constant. 7pm, free.

Criminal Fiction: Time marches on

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Donna Leon’s Venice-based Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries are rife with musings on the human condition and a rich range of criminal activities, from the most basic petty theft to cold-blooded murder. Unto Us a Son Is Given (Atlantic), the 28th outing for Brunetti, his whip-smart wife, Paola, and his fellow detectives, is redolent, as always, with the sights, smells, sounds, and mealtimes of the water-immersed city: Brunetti uses frequent coffee breaks to mull over his cases, and family dinner time to argue the rights and wrongs of human morality with his chatty children. In Leon’s latest, a pleasantly deceptive lull – imposed by contemplative discussions of familial and non-familial obligations as well as a telling reading of Euripides’ The Trojan Women – is dissolved with deadly force.

A series of road trips provide just a smidgen of the wild action in William Boyle’s A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself (Pegasus). When mob widow and Brooklyn resident Rena Ruggiero brains her neighbor with a glass ashtray during an unwanted sexual advance and then flees to her daughter in the Bronx, she implicates herself and a decidedly motley crew of others in an intricate tangle of violence, car chases, terrifying killers, and the edgier sides of familial function. Like tasty breadcrumbs through a sinister forest, Boyle strews his narrative with welcome cultural markers and references — Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, the Paul Newman of Nobody’s Fool, the now-defunct Catskills resorts, Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, champagne that “‘tastes like rainbows’” — and more than a little bit of straight-talking philosophy. Boyle’s noir novel is an appropriately dark tale of gangster life; it also shimmers with friendliness, affection, humor, and the myriad stories people tell themselves and others in order to survive.

American Spy, a debut novel by Lauren Wilkinson (Random House), tells the story of FBI agent Marie Mitchell and her undercover involvement in West Africa during the Cold War of the 1980s. But it is also about growing up African-American in the 1970s; about the family ties that bind and break; about destructive politics and community-focused advocacy; about the impact of cynicism; about the rejection of that cynicism; and it is about partnerships driven by mutual respect, and parental dotage that is both protective and empowering: “I wanted to form you into agents of change,” is one mother’s message to her children. Laced within this structured, straightforward tale of espionage and manipulation, is a deeply told tale of love in its many, many facets.

In Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party (William Morrow), a gang of old university friends gather for their annual New Year’s Eve holiday – this year’s model features a glamo-rustic hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands – and promptly get snowed in. Also on hand: a lustful Icelandic couple, a morose estate manager, two taciturn workers, and a bevy of shotguns. As the festivities spiral out of control, frustrations and betrayals rear their inevitably disturbing heads. Foley limns the emotional baggage and jealousies that long-time relationships can sometimes harbour, along with, of course, true intimacy and true love. This taut thriller, making canny use of its multiple narrators, also delves pleasingly into the minutiae of the seemingly carefree days and boundless party nights before so-called adulthood hits.

The Quintessential Interview: Elisabeth Elo

In Finding Katarina M. (Polis), D.C. doctor Natalie March knows her mother’s parents’ history of being banished to the gulag, where they promptly vanished into that network of labor camps. But then a young woman turns up on Natalie’s turf, claiming to be Natalie’s cousin: Natalie’s grandmother, Katarina, the cousin claims, is still alive in Siberia. More than intrigued, Natalie sets off to a remote part of Russia on a determined fact-and-grandmother-finding mission. Insistent in its twisting narrative, the novel takes a turn into something darker, stranger, and much more terrifying as it unfolds. Luckily, Natalie remains a compelling companion for the startling journey Elo has generated.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

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.

Top five places to write?

For serious writing: my desk. For revising manuscript pages: my living room couch or any coffee shop. For early drafts in longhand: my car parked in a shady lot overlooking the Muddy River.

Top five favorite authors?

Edna O’Brien. Edward St. Aubyn. Graham Greene. Shakespeare. W.B. Yeats.

Top five tunes to write to?

I need silence to write. But when I’m getting distracted or I have to do some writing-related task I don’t want to do, I listen to jazz piano. My favorite artists are Keith Jarrett and Akiko Grace. Next comes jazz guitar, especially Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny.

Top five hometown spots?

Coolidge Corner Theatre. Brookline Booksmith for its many author events (and books). Boylston Street because a lot of my life happened there. Pizza Stop pizzeria a block away from my house for its chicken caesar wraps and because it hasn’t changed in 30 years (not an exaggeration). The park across from my house where I go every morning with my dog and always end up noticing the sky because there aren’t any buildings to get in the way.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Thunderbolts and lightning

The first issue of writer Kieron Gillen's Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt was a solid-enough revival. Thunderbolt is a classic superhero who, unlike his peers published by Charlton Comics — the Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom — never really managed to catch on. In fact, when Alan Moore was forced to swap out the Charlton characters for thinly veiled analogs in the book that would become Watchmen, the Thunderbolt analog who played the villain of the book, Ozymandias, probably surpassed his original character in terms of name recognition.

Gillen overtly toyed with that Ozymandias connection in the first issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. The book clearly showcased many callbacks to Watchmen — the nine-panel grids, the Moore-inspired dialogue — and it pitted multiple versions of the character against himself. The book was interesting, but there have been so many riffs on Watchmen that it didn't really stand out.

In the second issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, though, Gillen breaks the damn comic. In a good way. One Thunderbolt crosses dimensions to fight an evil Ozymandias-like Thunderbolt by violating the 9-panel grid in a postmodern assault on Watchmen's rigid structure. Just to add to the book's self-referential flavor, Thunderbolt even notes before he breaks the panel borders that "This level of formalism is dangerous. We could lose some people."

Perhaps. But that kind of manipulation of the rules of storytelling is one surefire way to make me a fan of the book forever.

And then, in the third issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, which came out yesterday, Gillen breaks the book again, sending one Thunderbolt into a completely different genre of comic. (I don't want to spoil the final reveal of the book, which is one of the great last pages in recent comics memory.) It's pretty clear by now that Gillen is out to break the story and the form of comics again and again with every issue. He's doing more than just resurrecting an old character — he's forcing that character to come to terms with his own history in very literal terms.

Just as my regard for the story expands with every new issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, my respect for artist Caspar Wungaard grows, too. He's a very talented artist who can draw the hell out of a scene with two characters quietly talking, but Wungaard also can express some very complex concepts with a frightening ease. The concepts that Gillen unspools here are as complex as if I gave you a pen and a piece of paper and asked you to to draw the fourth dimension, or the passage of time. Wungaard makes the impossible look effortless.

As Thunderbolt himself notes, this kind of formal play isn't for everyone. Plenty of readers will find this series to be a little too impressed with itself. But anyone who is interested in the kind of broad information that a comics page can convey, and anyone who wants to know how hard you can push at the idea of a comic before it breaks forever, will be in heaven.

Aggrieved identity politics snowflakes offended by milkshakes, calls for basic human decency

Heather Antos is a comic book editor who was targeted by creeps in an online smear campaign because she posted a selfie of herself and other female Marvel employees drinking milkshakes. Seriously, that's all there is to that story: Antos spent months absorbing hate because she is a woman who works in the comics industry.

Yesterday, Antos — who now works at Valiant Comics — tweeted "PRO TIP: Industries are small. People talk. Don't be a dick." Pretty innocuous, obviously, but it was enough to convince the conservative comics chud to climb out of their sewers and take great offense:

Social media obviously amplifies the worst of us. It encourages white male victimhood and it makes it way too easy to lash out anonymously. There's a whole subculture of conservative Trump fans in comics who are convinced that they are the mainstream, even as they self-publish themselves into oblivion.

But, c'mon: if you take offense at someone saying "don't be a dick," folks, the odds are about 100 percent that you're being a huge dick. This is just basic arithmetic.

Book News Roundup: The first Seattle Children's Book Festival will be September 28th

  • Save the date: September 28th, 2019 is the very first Seattle Children's Book Festival. It's free, it will happen at Greenwood Elementary School, and it will benefit Seattle school libraries, which is a very good cause. Here's a partial list of authors who are attending, and here's how you can apply to be a participating author.

  • You've only got about five days left to apply to be Hugo House's Writer in Residence.

  • Oprah is bringing her book club back — this time on Apple's luxury TV streaming service, which is debuting later this year.

  • The LifeWay chain of Christian bookstores will be closing this year. That's 170 stores around the country.

  • Bret Easton Ellis is a troll, and I find it's best to ignore him. But if you're going to pay attention to Ellis, you should do what Andrea Long Chu does in this review of his latest book: just totally fucking cream him:
    This presents a problem for the reviewer in my position: namely, whether to take the bait. I could write an incensed review that fiercely rebuts White’s many inflammatory claims, thus giving the impression that they should be taken seriously; if my review were to go viral, it would likely trigger more bad coverage on pop-culture websites like Vulture and Vice; Bret Easton Ellis might trend for a bit on Twitter, where we would all take our best shots at dunking on this dude; and at the end of it all, the author would get to feel relevant again, and maybe finally write a movie that people actually liked. But why bother? For years now, Bret Easton Ellis has been accused of being a racist and a misogynist, and I think these things are true; but like most things that are true of Bret Easton Ellis, they are also very boring.

Martha Silano may not know it, but she's as Seattle as they come

Our March Poet in Residence, Martha Silano, can recall the exact moment that she fell in love with poetry. "When I was seven," she explains, "I had an amazing second-grade teacher who read us a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson and a Poe poem."

But what happened next was the real strike of thunder. "And then when she read Emily Dickinson, it was sort of like the one-two punch. It was just a short poem — 'the rose is out of town' — but I was just absolutely enthralled."

From then on, Silano knew that poetry would be important to her. When she was nine, she recalls, "I told my mother I really needed a notebook," and that began a long history of cramming journals full of writing.

In ninth grade, Silano's appreciation saw a evolutionary leap forward when another beloved teacher insisted that her class go to see Robert Bly read when he was in town. This was her first time seeing a poet read their own work, and it resonated deeply with her: "it was the seventies and he was putting on masks and talking out against the Vietnam War. And I came home just all jazzed up." Bly's reading crystallized something in her: "I want to be a rebel," she realized that night: "I want to be a poet."

Silano went to school in Iowa and the University of Oregon, but she eventually wound up in the MFA program at the University of Washington. On her first night in Seattle, she almost attended a show from a popular new local band called Nirvana.

Since then, Seattle has been her home. "I never left," she says. So does Silano think of herself as a Seattle poet? "Not many of my poems are about Seattle," she demurs. "There was a special Seattle Magazine contest to write a poem about Seattle and I couldn't do it. I love living here, but I don't write poems about Mount Rainier."

Of course, Silano has a direct lineage that can be traced through the tradition of modern Seattle poetry. At UW, she studied under Theodore Roethke's most famous student, David Wagoner. Almost immediately, Wagoner started pulling one of her poems apart. "he said to me at the very beginning, 'if you would just figure out the music, the rhythm, the metrics, all your problems will be solved.' I went home and wrote my first sonnet because I was determined to show him I could get a handle on the metrics."

"I will always say David Wagoner was the teacher who changed everything. He rearranged my brain," Silano says, laughing that even though she's "such a feminist," she's so closely aligned in her educational history with white men — "the patriarchy." To clarify, she adds, "Heather McHugh was there, too and she was really, really important. And Linda Bierds was there, and she was important, too. I mean, I got the trifecta."

A lot of poets know how to kick off a poem with a memorable first line. But Silano's poems stand apart from the crowd because she is fantastic at writing a grabby last line — the kind of closing that leaves the reader with wind whistling in her ears. "I am never ever sure how the poem is going to end" when it begins, Silano says. "There are poems where I have worked on the ending for years, and there are ones where I get them fast — a total trance situation."

"It was Molly Tenenbaum who taught me how to tiptoe out of a poem," Silano clarifies. Tenenbaum, who was in a writing group with Silano for years, taught her that "you didn't have to put a big bow on it. My bows were just too big, and then I got more brave. I unlearned the big-bow ending." Silano has been in poetry writing and writing generation groups with some of the biggest names in Seattle poetry: Kary Wayson, Rebecca Hoogs, Kelli Russell Agodon, Erin Malone. Each of these poets has taught Silano something important about craft, and added to her experience in the Seattle poetry tradition.

It's that brilliant collection of Seattle poets who taught Silano how to expand her poetry horizons and experiment with form. She has written sonnets and pantoums. She notes with pride that she recently perfected a ghazal. "I'm following where the poem leads me," she says. "When I start to write a poem, I have to be prepared that it might not want to be free verse." And then, after a thoughtful pause, Silano adds, "but what a relief when it wants to be free verse!"

Everything is fine(s)

You should read this piece by David Kroman explaining why Seattle might soon vote to eliminate library fines altogether. Turns out, it's a class issue:

“Overdue fines do not turn irresponsible patrons into responsible ones,” the report read. “They only distinguish between patrons who can afford to pay for the common mistake of late returns and those who cannot.”

The columns of power

Published March 26, 2019, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant reviews Jean Godden’s Citizen Jean: Riots, Rogues, Rumors, and Other Inside Seattle Stories .

Tonight, former Seattle Councilmember Jean Godden will discuss her new memoir at Folio Seattle. Her book starts as a toothy tell-all, but it loses those teeth as the author gets closer and closer to the levers of power.

Read this review now



of that star in Orion
that isn’t a star
but a nebula
giving birth to 100s
of infant stars;
if I’m not half
as helpful, a force
against the dark,
then I’m as green
as just-mown Astroturf,
as the monster my daughter
insists is under her bed
with the lime Hi-Chew
wrappers, the balls
of chartreuse yarn
she never did make
that macramé parrot with.
Jealous like Medea, who doused her hubby’s
flavor-of-the-week with fiery
brew, like the girl who pulls
the braids of the girl she wishes
she could be but can’t
because her mother won’t buy her
white patent-leather go-go boots,
nor will she be spending spring break
in the Bahamas. Oh, jealousy,
Natalie Merchant croons, nodding,
tossing her locks until heck,
she’s making us jealous of her
Oh, jealousy. Jealous of the thief
who shoplifts cake mix, shortening,
a couple tubs of pink goop,
so she can bake her kid
a birthday cake, of a thief
because jealousy steals more
than ten white tapers ever will,
though not jealous of the crickets
stuck in a gecko cage, fat and happy
as they crowd an apple core
at the table of thanks, while inside
a fake rock sleeps the unchirpable.
Jealous, though, of their easy envy
of the uncaged; they know nothing
of prizes and preaching, of poverty,
though maybe a lot about loss, but
not what it means when the radio
says holed up, at large, fleeing.
Loved ones and armed. Says scene,
which today was a place where
people eat. Says senseless says shot
says shooter, says shoot shoot
, but aha, the crickets are silent,
are digging into the soft, sweet flesh
of a Honey Crisp, all for one
like Melville described extracting
ambergris from whales, elbow
to unjealous elbow, or so it appears
crickets don’t covet another
cricket’s chirp, another cricket’s cercus
or palps, though who am I to assume?
I know we all have wants, a desire
to watch Orion rise in the eastern dark,
find the fuzzy star that isn’t a star
in Orion’s sword, home in on that cloud
of dust and gas, stare for so long I forget
my nephew and I will never agree
about guns, who uses them and when,
forget who I am, what I don’t have,
what I didn’t win, stare without resentment
at the cold night, at the place where
a whole bunch of the future is being born.

Get tickets now for the 14th annual Libraries Unbound!

Thank you, Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, for sponsoring us this week.

The world's best book city deserves a great university library — and Friends of the UW Libraries helps the University of Washington continue to hit that mark. We're graced with a university library system that stretches over four cities and houses millions of books.

Friends of the Libraries helps make sure our college libraries are thriving and relevant, not just museums for books. The annual fundraising dinner is your chance to be part of it. Scheduled for May 2, 2019, Libraries Unbound is keynoted this year by Amy Tan and emceed by Mona Lee Locke. As in past years, every single table at the event is hosted by a local literary light. Check out the full list on our sponsor feature page, then grab your ticket before the event sells out.

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.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from March 25th - 31st

Monday, March 25: All Its Charms Reading

All Its Charms is the latest poetry collection by Seattle-area author Keetje Kuipers, who edits at Poetry Northwest and teaches at Hugo House. Kuipers will be joined by poets Geffrey Davis and Erika Meitner. Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St, 633-0811,, 7 pm, free.

Tuesday, March 26: Citizen Jean Reading

Jean Godden was a columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer back when it was a printed paper. Then she was on the Seattle City Council. Her new book, Citizen Jean, tells the stories she was too polite to tell back in the day. Tonight, she's in conversation with Seattle media mainstay David Brewster.
Folio: The Seattle Atheneum, Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St #307,, 7 pm, $10.

Wednesday, March 27: The Every Other

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, $5.

Thursday, March 28: Radicalized Reading

Cory Doctorow is a very smart writer who knows a lot about copyright and technology and the awful things that people do with copyright and technology. His latest book, Radicalized, lays out four potential near-future dystopias, including a pharmaceutical horror story and a play on Superman. Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636,, 7 pm, free.

Friday, March 29: Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga Reading

Baro Tirinta Af Soomaaliga means Learn to Count in Somali. This is a bilingual book for kids that was created by five Somali families from south Seattle. This is an opportunity to meet the kids and parents who helped make the book a reality.

NewHolly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave S, 206-760-3296,, 5:30 pm, free.

Saturday, March 30: Two Cartoonists

Peter Bagge continues his remarkable series of biographies of great American women with Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story. James Sturm's new graphic novel, Off Season, is about a relationship that falls apart in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. Together, the two men have the better part of a century's worth of experience in the comics industry. I'll be joining them onstage to talk about their careers, their latest books, and whether there's any hope for comics. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600,, 7 pm, free.

Sunday, March 31: Hard to Love Reading

Hard to Love is a book by Briallen Hopper that collects essays about love and friendship that fall outside the realm of marriage — the relationships "that are often treated as invisible or seen as secondary." The book's promotional materials promise that it's "a series of love letters to the meaningful, if underappreciated, forms of intimacy and community that are tricky, tangled, and tough, but ultimately sustaining." Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave S, 474-2200,, 7 pm, free.

Event of the Week: The Every Other

Doug Nufer is a Seattle original. He's been in Seattle since seemingly forever, publishing challenging Oulipian novels and poems, and reading in every bar, coffee shop, or bookstore that will have him.

For many years, Nufer hosted and curated a reading series called The Bar Room Writers Offensive at Barça on Capitol Hill. Sometimes he'd host wearing a forest ranger's outfit. Other times, he'd wear a suit. He'd introduce writers who excited him and charm the audience with inter-reading patter. Watching Nufer read at Barça, you got the sense that he is happiest with literature when it's alive and interacting in the world.

This coming Wednesday, Nufer is launching a new reading series at Vermillion, right next door to Barça. This series is called The Every Other because it takes place on the last Wednesday of every other month, and it features readings and music.

The first Every Other guest to share the stage with Nufer is Amber Nelson, the poet who wrote the amazing collection The Sexiest Man Alive, which is a series of monologues written from the perspective of People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. You might know Nelson as the publisher of the dearly beloved and absolutely missed alice blue books, but her poetry is good enough that it cures the sting of alice blue's disappearance.

Nufer and Nelson will share the evening with two musicians: drummer Bob Rees and saxophonist Wally Shoup. Shoup is an internationally known local musician who plays jazz all over town and has frequently collaborated with Nufer, including improvised live accompaniment for some of his most memorable poetry readings. He and Rees have played together for many decades.

This is an old-school Seattle literary event: some music, some booze, some experimental readings and art for the joy of art — and all for five bucks. If you're on the Keep Seattle Weird bandwagon in the face of encroaching gentrification and development, you should know that it doesn't get any weirder — or better — than this.

Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, 1508 11th Ave., 709-9797,, 8 pm, $5.