People ask me all the time how I read so much. They usually don't like my answer: I don't watch as much TV as the typical person, and I don't play video games. There's no easy quick-fix, besides the fact that you have to make time in life for the things that you really value.

With that in mind, I'd like to direct your attention to this Harvard Business Review piece by Hugh McGuire, titled "How Making Time for Books Made Me Feel Less Busy." McGuire details how he became a reader again, but he also explains why this is important: "Reading books again has given me more time to reflect, to think, and has increased both my focus and the creative mental space to solve work problems. My stress levels are much lower, and energy levels up." Like any shift in behavior, carving more time for reading out of your schedule takes real work. But it's also intensely rewarding. Nobody on their deathbed ever laments the fact that they wasted their lives reading too many books.

I'm a big fan of Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie's podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. Many conversational podcasts don't work because they feel unstructured, but Tiny regularly delivers smart and funny conversation on a few tightly focused subjects.

Just this morning, a very special episode of Tiny was published. This one was taped live at Bumbershoot a week or so ago, and it features special musical guests Rachel Flotard and Neko Case. And Walter and Alexie read new work, too. Alexie shares one of the 145 poems (!!!) he's written since his mother's death in July. It's about grief and recovery and ritual, and it's maybe one of the best recordings of Alexie's live performance that I've ever heard. If you've never seen Alexie read live, this recording will give you a rough approximation of why he's one of the best readers in the business.

Jess Walter's poem is about Seattle. Specifically, it's about the apocalyptic summer that Seattle just lived through, and his poem is one of those wonderful stews that just gathers bits and pieces from the culture around itself and lets them melt into each other. Chances are, if you worried about it this summer it's in this poem: gentrification, Amazon, the Subduction Zone earthquake, bad traffic, Uber, lines at pot shops, the proliferation of Duck Tour boats. The poem itself feels cathartic, as though Walter is relieving the pressure that Seattle has been under for the past year. Like any poem stuffed full of references it's got some corny moments, but brief flashes of corniness can't destract from the poem's value. It's really something quite remarkable.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Hey, kids! Head Lopper!

(Every comics fan knows that Wednesday is new comics day, the glorious time of the week when brand-new comics arrive at shops around the country. Thursday Comics Hangover is a weekly column reviewing some of the books I pick up at Phoenix Comics and Games, my friendly neighborhood comic book store.)

In nerd vernacular, the phrase “Hey, kids! Comics!” has taken on a couple of disparate meanings. It originated as a sign on the top of drugstore comics spinner racks (some iterations of the sign were paired with another sign that read “Wholesome entertaining comics”). The phrase has an earnestness to it that’s highly appealing, but it also smacks of a kind of charming hucksterism, not unlike the persona that Stan Lee would develop in early Marvel Comics letters pages.

Over time, though, the phrase has taken on a distinctly ironic flavoring. You’ll now most frequently find the phrase “Hey kids! Comics!” in comments sections, where fans will use it to mock too-gory or overly serious superhero comics. The first time I started seeing it with any frequency was around the time that writer Geoff Johns rose to ascendancy at DC Comics. Johns had a tendency to write comics in which B-list superheroes had their limbs torn off by villains, which annoyed people who liked to read comics to forget about things like violent dismemberment.

But the whole time I was reading the first issue of Andrew MacLean’s new self-described “Quarterly Adventure Comic” Head Lopper, the phrase “Hey, kids! Comics!” kept reverberating around my head like a pop song. Not in a bad way, mind you. The truth is, Head Lopper is the kind of comic that reminds me why I fell in love with comics in the first place. The action is too ridiculous for any movie CGI to convincingly capture and the premise is so cartoonishly simple — in ancient times, a large man with a sword travels around lopping heads off of people and creatures in exchange for money — that it allows a whole lot of artfulness to sneak in around the edges.

Here’s the story: Head Lopper (who is also known alternately as “Son of the Minotaur” or “The Executioner” or, as he prefers to be called, “Norgal”) has just lopped the head off a monstrous leviathan. Now he’s trying to collect payment for the deed. He’s double-crossed, of course, and so then he heads out in search of vengeance. Oh, and for some reason he has to carry around a severed witch’s head that won’t stop talking. (She shouts at Head Lopper early on, “Check your squinty eyes, oaf! I see, I hear, by Alba, I move!”) Head Lopper is a man of few words, a gigantic overstuffed couch of a barbarian, and so sometimes his tolerance for chit-chat flags.

Really, that’s about it. Head Lopper is just a story about a man who does a very specialized task — again, if you forgot already, he lops the heads off of his enemies — and happens to be very good at it. It’s a fantasy comic in much the same way that, say, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is a fantasy comic. Head Lopper is not so much interested in deep Tolkien-ish world-building as it is in fun artistic challenges.

Most artists doing mainstream superhero comics should study these fight scenes; MacLean’s simplistic animation-style drawing is wonderfully fluid, and so a scene in which, say, Head Lopper fights a giant wolf, is easy to follow and it conveys a lot of information in an economical fashion. You can follow every step and slash that Head Lopper makes with his giant sword as he hops around the wolf’s enormous body, leaving strategic slices in his wake.

Many pages of Head Lopper pass by without dialogue, but MacLean crams his panels full of so much detail — the masonry of a child-king’s throne room, a stack of firewood piled up next to the front door of a home — that you can’t just mindlessly flip through the comic. There’s a lot going on under the surface of this silly story about a man who wanders around and fights monsters.

In the back pages of Head Lopper, MacLean explains why the book is coming out in huge hunks of fifty or sixty pages on a quarterly basis:

Here’s what I want in every issue of Head Lopper: long fights, dark jokes, creepy atmosphere, short plots and long plots, and comfortable conclusions that, hopefully, still leave you wanting more. The standard comic length would make me cut something short.

I agree; I wish more artists would experiment with this format. Head Lopper feels less like a brief installment in a larger story and more like a short novella that dips into a pre-existing fantasy world. It’s substantial and experimental and fun. In other words: Hey, kids! Comics!

Alex de Campi's critically acclaimed Wonder Woman comic, Sensation Comics, is being canceled. DC Comics has moved the separate ongoing Wonder Woman comic, which is terrible, under the Superman editorial banner. On her blog, de Campi makes pubic some gossip that's been writhing just under the surface of the comics industry for decades now:

Now, the Superman office allegedly employs no women, and a cursory glance over the mastheads of several Superman titles and Wonder Woman seems to confirm that allegation. The reason, I’ve been told by several people who work or used to work at DC, is because one of the most senior editors is a sexual harasser with multiple incidents on his HR file. I don’t use “alleged” here because at least one incident (grabbing a woman’s breasts) happened publicly at a corporate social gathering with multiple witnesses. There was also something about sticking his tongue down an artist’s girlfriend’s throat when the artist was in the bathroom. Again, public gathering.

This is not a case of one bad apple:

I’m also talking about it because man, I am sick to death of corporate comics telling me they caaare about me and my lady-dollar as a reader, and then continuing to employ / protect known harassers. Kids, there are five known big-name, vindictive harassers in comics, and about three bad drunks. Two harassers are writers employed by DC; one is a DC editor; two are writers employed by Marvel.

This is a culture of silence and an old boys' club and it needs to end. In the meantime, it's surely not going to get easier in the short-term for di Campi as she faces the wrath of the angry white male geek internet. Go seek out some of di Campi's books and give them a try; if you like them, buy them. Amplify her message and show her your support as best you can.

The Asian-American Writers Workshop has published an anthology of essays (self-described as "a Forum") titled "After Yi-Fen Chou." In it, 19 Asian-American authors respond to the Best American Poetry 2015 controversy. Some of the pieces are hilarious. Many are furious at Michael Derrick Hudson for submitting work under the name Yi-Fen Chou. Others are furious at the book's editor, Sherman Alexie, for choosing to leave the poem in the anthology after he discovered that Hudson had appropriated another culture to submit his work. Others are mad at the whole goddamned system. And damn, the erasure by Minal Hajratwala is a real mic-drop moment. I haven't read a literary burn like that since Gore Vidal died. It's a fascinating collection of voices, and well worth your time. The AAWW has also created a White Pen Name Generator (the first one I pulled up was "Emily Bates") and, more substantially, they're encouraging the Twitter hashtag #actualasianpoet to encourage the discovery of, well, actual Asian-American poets.

Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 22nd — that's the date for Lit Crawl Seattle, the annual three-part literary pub crawl that happens all over downtown, Capitol Hill, and First Hill. Organizers at Lit Crawl just announced their full schedule and it's ridiculously packed with local talent. There are scores of readers — somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 — and dozens of readings to suit just about every literary taste.

A tiny handful of event titles include the self-explanatory "Native Writers from Seattle & Beyond;" "Quick & Dirty: A Reading by [awesome local publisher] Shotgun Wedding;" "Sin Is Always In: Writings About Sex, Drugs, & Violence;" and "Late Night at the Library: Spooky Stories in the Stacks." Organizations headlining events include Hedgebrook, the APRIL Festival, the James Franco Review, Poetry Northwest, Spartan, Tin House, Instant Future, and City Arts.

We'll be highlighting potential Lit Crawl routes for you in the weeks to come, but for right now, go soak in the glorious too-muchness that is the complete Lit Crawl schedule. You've got plenty of time to figure out what you'll be doing on the night of the 22nd.

Finding the inner mystery geek in all of us since 1990

JB Dickey happened to walk into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on the day that they received their first order of books from late, lamented west coast distributor Pipeline in 1990. There were boxes everywhere. He made a deal with Seattle Mystery founder Bill Farley: “I traded him work for store credit” on that first day, Dickey says, and “a few weeks later, I ended up starting with him part-time so he could do other, non-bookselling things.” In those early days, Seattle Mystery Bookshop was one of hundreds of mystery-only bookstores in the US. Today, Dickey estimates that it's one of "about fifteen, maybe twenty."

Before he became a bookseller, Dickey was a painter — one of his originals hangs behind the register at the Bookshop today — and he never suspected that he’d one day wind up owning the store, even though “I’d been reading mysteries for most of my life, and I was on a heavy diet of mystery movies and TV shows, so I was familiar with all the conventions.”

Turns out, bookselling was in his blood. He concedes that “it was a nice fit.” First he worked one day a week, which quickly became a couple days a week. By the time his son was born in 1993, Dickey says, “it was really evident that it was time to close up my studio and just sort of give myself over” to the store. “I never set out to be a bookseller, and I never set out to be a small business owner.” But here he is.

It’s a Monday afternoon, and Dickey and Seattle Mystery bookseller Amber are on duty. Amber’s specialties include urban fantasy, golden age mysteries, Agatha Christie, and mysteries for kids. Dickey reads literary fiction, big-name authors like Lee Child, and true crime. On the staff, everybody knows everybody else’s beat, but their tastes evolve naturally. Dickey says, “I’ve never been one to assign reading. We all read whatever we want to read.”

Does Amber ever try to convince Dickey to give urban fantasy novels a try? “It’s just not his bag. If I had to recommend one, though, I think the author he’d like the most would be Jim Butcher. But you can’t force somebody to read something they’re not interested in reading,” she says.

So what do they do when someone comes in who says they don’t especially care for mysteries? Amber usually proposes a thought experiment: “think about what you watch on TV and think about the movies you like.” Most people don’t think of themselves as mystery fans, she says, but they'll spend hours a week watching mysteries. “Chances are we can find something for you.” Dickey adds, “sometimes people will say ‘I don’t really read mysteries,’ and then you ask them a few questions about their interests. Maybe they like to travel, so you can get them a mystery set in a foreign land. Some kids are interested in science or computers. There are mysteries that are set in every different kind of passion.”

With such a varied stock, do they ever fail to find a book for a customer? “We couldn’t find an accordion mystery,” Amber admits. Also, “we couldn’t find a mystery set in the French Revolution,” although a few days after that customer search happened, she said she realized that The Scarlet Pimpernel would have fit the bill. Dickey and Amber start sharing customer service stories. They recall the young man in his 20s who was despondent after the staff had to inform him that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person. One woman asked if Jessica Fletcher (of Murder She Wrote fame) ever came in for a signing.

Amber and Dickey start talking about Sherlock Holmes, which turns into a conversation about James Bond. Soon, they’re discussing a wide range of subjects: whether the larger trade paperbacks that have largely elbowed out smaller, cheaper mass market paperbacks are “elitist;” ways the publishing industry could have better handled the transition to e-books; the importance of fan fiction. It’s a delight to listen to people talk about books with such passion and knowledge. When I say as much, Amber nods. “We love our books,” she says. “We love ‘em. You don’t get into books for the money. You have to love them.”

I was so excited to report the Man Booker Shortlist names (and the attendant Seattle connection) yesterday that I completely failed to follow the advice of Seattle author Nicola Griffith: I didn't count the number of women's voices on the list. Luckily, Griffith did do a gender count, and she finds the results to be "appalling." There are fewer women on the shortlist than usual, she says, and very few of the books are about the experiences of women.

This year, 2 of the 6 shortlisted books are written by women. Between them they wrote 6 protagonists, 5 of which are men.2 One male author writes about 1 woman (though he also writes about 3 men). So this year, of the 15.4% of protagonists who are female, a pitiful 7.7% are women written by women.

I interviewed Griffith on this subject a couple months ago, and it seems that I've already forgotten the lessons of that interview. I should have known better, and I should've done better in my post yesterday. If we want publishing to become more inclusive, we need to submit every literary prize to this kind of scrutiny.

Wordnik is the largest dictionary in the world, if you count by number of words defined. They do things a little differently, not unlike an OED for the twenty-first century. They are a data operation, and on every Wordnik definition page you'll not only find the word you're looking for and its definition, but etymologies, related words by type, a reverse dictionary, and some amazing discoveries that come in through their programmatic tools. Like, for example, lists of people on Twitter who has claimed they love or hate the word, or Flickr photos that use it. A good example is the word 'review'.

It's a logophile's delight, and even better, they have an open API for programmers to build on, making it the basis for many a tool or game that needs a corpus of information on which to develop their work.

Today they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to help them find — programatically — a million words that are undefined in the dictionary. It's audacious and brash, and brilliant.

Today, local literary magazine The James Franco Review, which treats every submission as though it was written by James Franco, started rolling out an "Emergency Issue" on art and engagment. What does that mean?

Writers, editors, and artists around the country explored what it meant for them to be politically or consciously engaged in their work and to also examine literature’s relationship to safety.

The first piece, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, is live now, and it's powerful stuff, about her own experience with a white writer who workshopped a story with a black protagonist.

Someone “hinted” at the “potential” problem of the protagonist’s race. That was enough for the writer to decide to make the character white. It’d be easier. A wave of relief washed over the room.

I'm so excited for this "Emergency Issue." And I love the idea of an Emergency Issue, too. It makes the act of publication so urgent and relevant. Go give the JF Review your attention.

And while we're talking about awesome local literary magazines, the Moss Kickstarter has already met its goal with 21 days left to go. If you're interested in owning an attractive print anthology of Northwest writing, you can go buy a copy for $10 and up. Moss generously makes their magazine available for free online, and this is a way to invest in the magazine's future.

And then there were six. Here's the Man Booker Prize shortlist:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The last two books are by American authors, a first for the Man Booker Prize. Of those two Americans, Hanya Yanagihara is considered a frontrunner for the prize. And you'll have a chance to see her in person; Yanagihara will be reading at University Book Store on November 20th, in conversation with Shelf Awareness associate editor Dave Wheeler.

We Walk A Heart Around Lake Union

and you point to buildings and streets
that bear the scars around your own:
the elementary school that taught you
difference and its consequences; the law
firm where twenty-five years later your daily
prayer and hijab reinforced the lesson.
There, the bus stop where you last saw
your brother, out of his mind and out of your
reach, his mouth an open sore.
We’ve talked many times before about
what it means to be noticed, to be
threatening and invisible at the same time.
In this way, we are sisters. We stay close,
two brown women walking together.
This city’s always been very segregated
and it’s true that when you walk north
the prices rise and the faces pale.
We touch the Scotch broom and lilacs
erupted in spring, notice the renegade ferns
growing upon the stumps of old docks.
All along the water’s edge, we note the glorious blue
made bluer by the hulls of gleaming white boats;
upon a hillside suffuse in green, amid artifacts of rust,
people fly kites, edging out over the skyline.
On your left! Bikers zoom past us, their spandex,
the shine of their helmets, rejoicing.
It’s true that people here are different
when exposed to the sun; they crowd
the sidewalks with strollers and wagging dogs.
Sunglasses, then. Smiles and hellos.
We pass condo after condo, clustered houseboats,
marinas of artisan sailboats, luxury yachts.
Who are these people, we ask, looking in.
All day you’ve spoken the landscape of your life
as we walk among places that no longer exist —
neighborhoods reconceptualized and fenced off.
This city does not want me.
What do we do when the ground we claim
as home changes beneath our feet?
Landscape, layered. You can look back,
remember the stories beneath all this shine.
We part ways upon a freshly paved greenspace.
In the shadow of History and Industry, people
play bocce on gravel among orange café seating.
Beneath an awning along the water,
a man carves a canoe from salvaged cedar.

From landscape / heartbreak

Catapult, a new publisher and online platform, launched today. (Yes, as the Wall Street Journal noted last week, it's funded by Koch money. Not that Koch money.) Their first print book is a short story collection by Padgett Powell, and there are plenty more on the way.

Everybody in the book business is very excited about Catapult for a number of reasons: first up, they're publishing a lot of great stories on the site for their first day, including one from Joy Williams. Also, they're inviting writers to share stories about their process; Sarah Gerard has written a story about teaching a writing class the day after the recent mass shooting in Charleston.

But maybe the most exciting part of the site is the Community page, which invites writers to share stories and invites readers to offer feedback on those stories. Catapult will publish pieces from the Community page and pay writers for their work. There have been plenty of attempts to offer aspiring writers a platform and a virtual workshop for their fiction, but like most attempts to build communities online, most of those sites have not worked out. (Wattpad is probably the closest thing to a success on that front so far.) Will Catapult become a home for aspiring authors? It's possible; someone will get it right at some point. In any case, based on my Twitter feed this morning, the site is building up a tremendous store of goodwill from virtually every aspect of the publishing industry. Let's hope Catapult uses that goodwill to launch (sorry) some exciting diverse voices into the publishing business.

In case you weren't keeping track, Arundel Books, which used to be a beautiful bookstore on 1st Avenue downtown, is now a beautiful bookstore in the old Wessel & Lieberman space facing Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. And Arundel founder Phil Bevis still publishes books, both under the Arundel Press shingle and, more expansively, as Chatwin Books. (One of Arundel Press's titles, Nicole Sarrocco's Karate Bride, is a Seattle poetry classic.)

Bevis has just announced that Chatwin Books is publishing collected poetry editions (with previously published and new work) from three poets: Maged Zaher, Jack Grapes, and Rex Wilder.

Zaher's will be the first in the series. Titled Opting Out: Collected Poems (2000-2015), it will be out sometime this winter. Next will be Last of the Outsiders: The Collected Poems of Jack Grapes Volume I, out in late winter or spring 2016, with the second, still untitled, volume arriving later in the year. The Collected Poems of Rex Wilder will be published in spring of 2016. (Bevis thanks Red Hen Press for giving "generous permission to use work from" Wilder's two recent Red Hen releases.)

Wilder and Grapes are both California poets. Zaher is a proud Seattleite (by way of Egypt), and a substantial collection of his work is a big deal for the Seattle literary scene, even moreso because he's being published by a Seattle press. Expect to hear a lot about this book in the next few months.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from September 14 to September 20

The Seattle Review of Books recommends one literary event for every day of the week. As always, we aspire to a nice mix of national and local authors in a variety of venues. This week, we’re following the suggestion of one Jeff Youngstrom, who wants us to bold the author names in this post. What do you think? Helpful? Not helpful? If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them. You can always hit us up on Twitter or email.

MONDAY We start the week off with a huge name: Salman Rushdie reads at Town Hall. His newest book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, “follows the lineage of the mythical Jinn and their part-human children with fantastical powers.” It’s reportedly a tribute to traditional Middle Eastern storytelling. While it’s true that Rushdie has not written a great book in a very long time and he’s been too easily distracted by celebrity nonsense over the last decade, he’s still one of the most important authors of our time. If you’re a young whippersnapper who doesn’t know about the fatwa against him, you should understand that it was a very big deal.

TUESDAY University Book Store hosts a celebration of a collection of essays from scientists and authors. All the essays are about dirt. Literal dirt. The book is titled Dirt: A Love Story. You’ve got to love books that focus on bizarre subjects with a passionate fastidiousness. Contributor David R. Montgomery will be reading and signing at this event.

WEDNESDAY You’ll want to head to Hugo House tonight for the latest edition of Wage Slaves: Tales of the Grind, which is a work-themed reading series that launched a couple years ago. Tonight features a doozy of a lineup: Bruce Barcott, Sam Ligon, and Brian McGuigan, in addition to SRoB-featured poet Anastacia Renee Tolbert and SRoB interviewee Kate Lebo, who’s coming back from Spokane just for this reading. Doughnuts and coffee will also be served, as is Wage Slaves tradition.

THURSDAY Seattle Review of Books co-founder Paul Constant — uh, that’s me — will be giving a talk about Seattle and the Future of Books as part of the 28th Ignite Seattle lecture series at Town Hall. I’m petrified of the Ignite format, a Powerpoint talk in which the slides advance every fifteen seconds whether the reader is ready for them to advance or not. So this could be a disaster. Fun!

However, we have a rule here at Seattle Review of Books. If we’re recommending an event in this column that Seattle Review of Books is taking part in, we’ll also recommend a second, non-SRoB event. We don’t like conflicts of interest any more than you do. So our ALTERNATE THURSDAY event is the Dock Street Salon at Phinney Books, featuring local authors Donna Miscolta and Allison Green. Miscolta is celebrating her new book contract and Green is the author, most recently, of The Ghosts Who Travel with Me. They’ll read and discuss their “publishing journeys” for the Salon part of the night.

FRIDAY For the last day of the work-week, you should head down to the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library for a reading from Erica Jong. The Fear of Flying author reads from her new book, Fear of Dying. Like the title says, it’s a rumination on mortality that plays on the title of her classic novel. (She also wrote a book titled Fear of Fifty.) Like everyone, I read Fear of Flying when I was way too young to appreciate anything but the sex scenes. I have not kept up on Jong since then. But she’s at an interesting place in her career and this is sure to be an interesting reading.

SATURDAY Go to Seattle First Baptist Church for a reading from Richard Blanco, who you probably know best as “the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve” as an inaugural poet. Tonight, he’ll be reading from his memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, but you’ll probably be able to talk him into reading some poems, too. Though his poem at Obama’s second inauguration was frankly lackluster, he’s a very good poet.

SUNDAY The last featured reading of the week is The Buddhists in the House, a special poetry reading at Gallery 1412. Readers include Maged Zaher, Deborah Woodard, Norman Fischer, and Susan Schultz. Expect Buddhist-themed poetry and also, because Zaher and Woodard are involved, expect brilliance, too.

The Sunday Post for September 13, 2015

Man, weeping

Sandra Newman — who is the funniest person on Twitter, and an amazing writer to boot — looks at the history of male tears.

So where did all the male tears go? The truth is, we don’t know for certain. There was no anti-crying movement. No treatises were written against men’s tears, and no leaders of church or state introduced measures to discourage them. Their decline occurred so slowly and quietly that no one seems to have noticed it happening. But by the 18th century, proponents of the Cult of Sensibility were exhorting men to be more sensitive, with an emphasis on free-flowing tears, which implies that males were already regarded as lachrymally challenged. By the Romantic period, masculine tears were reserved for poets. From here, it’s just a short leap to the poker-faced heroes of Ernest Hemingway, who, despite their poetic leanings, cannot express grief by any means but tippling and shooting the occasional buffalo.
By Any Other Name: The Best American Pseudonym 2015

Over at the Kenyon Review, poet Amit Majmudar takes a deep, nuanced, and fascinating looks at the Sherman Alexie white-poet-appropriating-Chinese-name-for-idiotic-reasons thing (white dudes: on't do it).

Editors often say they are looking for what is “unconventional” or “new,” but the new doesn’t exist (just ask Ecclesiastes), and literary conventions vary from clique to clique and era to era—is free verse conventional, or is a sonnet conventional? Depends on which century you’re referring to. What readers and editors alike desire is for the familiar language—English—to be estranged into poetry. For the familiar object to be perceived anew, as a strange thing, as if for the first time…so that a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before is no longer a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before. It is, forever after, the red wheelbarrow.

And that is what the byline “Chou” did to Hudson’s competent poem. “Chou” estranged what were thoroughly unstrange cultural references and sentiments. If we take a poem as inclusive of its byline—much as the word Monet at the bottom right hand corner is part of the painting of waterlilies—then that pseudonym is the most ingenious, most poetic part of a goodish poem; from this perspective, Alexie’s positive response to it was not a matter of nepotism at all.

I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids

Anybody who has read around ages-old racial stereotypes in popular kids books while reading before bedtime will appreciate this Leigh Anderson piece on just that topic. It starts with her deciding to order a copy of Little Black Sambo.

I remember the story primarily for its description of the tigers chasing one another round and round a tree until they melt into butter, butter that Sambo's mother uses for a stack of crispy pancakes. In the 35 intervening years, I knew the book had been relegated to the dustbin of racist cultural artifacts, but I didn't remember it well enough to know why.

The young woman at the bookstore register flinched when I asked for the book and said she couldn't order it for me; Amazon, until recently agnostic on race relations, dropped a copy in a plain brown wrapper on my doorstep. A quick skim revealed illustrations with the minstrel-show aesthetic — bright, white, round eyes, bulging red lips — of "darky" iconography.

High Schoolers Stage "Read-In" Protest in Solidarity with Teachers' Strike

Seattle teachers are striking. We absolutely love the gumption of the kids, in this Rich Smith piece from The Stranger, staging a read-in. First, what a fantastic form of protest. Second, we at the SRoB are behind the teachers 100%. My kid is sitting out his first few days of Kindergarten during the strike right now, and we couldn't be more proud of where his teachers have drawn the line in the abuse the legislature and school district keep dumping on them. No cost-of-living increase in six years means their salary goes down every year. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court fines our pathetic legislature, who only find constitutional adherence something to crow about on the national level.

I propose that today when you read, read for the teachers. When you read this link, or whatever book you're on right now, think back to the teacher that inspired you to learn and want to keep learning. Then maybe write a note to your state respresentative and tell them to get their damn acts together.

Eli Konsker said he organized the event in solidarity with the teachers' strike because teachers have supported him during his three years at Nathan Hale High School. But he also wanted to offer students a chance to be productive even though they weren't in school. "I invited people to work on college essays, finish up summer reading, anything educational," he said.